Forsaken, abandoned, and duped, Miss Jemma Adair has no other recourse but to request her grandfather’s help to avoid living on the streets. His asking price? She must marry a neighboring lord’s odious son. Thankfully, there is a way out of her dilemma—ensuring the rake never asks for her hand. But what is Jemma to do when her ally is an all-too handsome silver-tongued lord with a penchant for poetry that makes her question giving her heart to another man?
Philip De Vere, Lord Harthorne, wishes to marry for love, but inherited debt and family obligations force him to seek a wealthy wife. Yet experience has taught him that ladies of the ton prefer rogues to gentlemen with a poet’s soul. But when an unrepentant hoyden claims to know a thing or two about how to make a man a rake, Philip finds he cannot resist Jemma’s offer or her.
Excerpt: Philip barreled out of the study, down the corridor into the main hall, and brushed past the footman who was reaching to open the door for him. Philip, needing an escape from his own thoughts, flung open the door and stormed outside. He would have kept going straight to his awaiting carriage if he hadn’t crashed right into something very soft. That something let out a hearty umpf that told him right away the something was a someone. And when he looked up, he realized that someone was Jemma, teetering on the edge of the steps, her eyes wide and her arms waving frantically in the air as she tried to right herself.
For a moment, he stood stock-still, fascinated with the emotions careening across her lovely face. Determination. Fear. Frustration. Back to determination. An inspiration of words hit him: An Ode to a Tempestuous Woman.
She swayed backward, and he reached out and snagged his hand about her waist to save her. He meant only to bring her forward, but he overestimated how hard to tug and she ended up barreling into his chest, her hands grasping—no doubt in self-preservation—both his arms. The beat of her heart hammered against his chest, and the poetic words that had failed to come to him for more months than he could remember flowed through his mind as he stared down into her dazzling eyes. How had he failed to notice that gold flecked her blue-green eyes? He’d never seen the likes of her color.
“I could write a hundred poems about your eyes,” he blurted, lost in them.
Immediately, she tugged away, then moved down to the step below him and tilted her head up to look at him. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the setting sun, or maybe to hide her eyes from him so he wouldn’t wax eloquent about them anymore. He felt like a fool. He could make a joke of it to save his pride, but he refused to do so.
The moment she realized he wasn’t jesting was clear by the flair of her nostrils and the subtle way she tried and failed to inhale a deep breath. “How boring that would be,” she finally said. She lifted her chin. “Would it go something like, She had round eyes, very oddly colored both green and blue?”
Ah. She didn’t truly see herself. Given that he barely knew her, he couldn’t decide if the revelation was surprising or shed light on her prickliness. If she saw herself as odd, maybe her sharp wit was a defense against her insecurity. The thought tightened his chest. His sister had seen herself in that same light for most of her life, and it had been hard to watch the toll it had taken.
Devil take it. He should simply leave, but he couldn’t do it. He wanted her to see herself through his eyes, so she would have a bit of confidence when having to brave the cruel ton in her debut. “I think the poem would go more like this: She had eyes of emeralds and sapphire ice, entrancing and fearsome at once. Beguiling, beseeching, bewitching in thrice…”
His heart pounded as he looked at her. He didn’t know where that had come from, but he was damned proud of it. That was his one last act as a non-rake.
She turned her face away for a moment, and when she glanced back at him, she shook her head, almost as if at herself. “You have a beautiful gift for lying.”
He frowned. “Was that your version of a compliment?”
She cocked her head and drew her eyebrows upward. “Take it as whatever you desire.”
He wanted her to realize she was lovely because soon she would realize how little it might matter without a dowry, but it appeared he had bungled it. He could feel the heat in his cheeks. Rakes didn’t blush, damn it all.
“I do not lie, Miss Adair.”
“You’d be the first man, then, Lord Harthorne.”
“Jemma!” a voice said in clear dismay from a few steps beneath her. Philip blinked in surprise at Jemma’s sister, Miss, Miss― Ah, hell. Her Christian name had completely escaped him. He could recall she was the younger sister, though, so propriety demanded he use her Christian name. Jemma had struck him dull-witted. Fine start to being a rogue, this was.
He sketched a hasty bow. “I didn’t see you standing there Miss…?” He certainly couldn’t pretend he remembered her name when he’d just told Miss Adair he didn’t lie.
“Miss Anne,” she said, offering one of her pleasant smiles.
She was a pretty thing, her pale looks currently all the fashion, but strangely not compelling to him as her flame-haired, freckle-flecked sister was. Everything about Jemma begged inspection, dissection, and quill to paper to figure out the conundrum she presented. Whereas Miss Anne appeared to be an open book. There was nothing wrong with that, but he had always liked the puzzles of life.
He cast a sideways glance at Jemma and found her studying him as if he were some foreign specimen she wasn’t sure whether to crush under her slipper or capture in a jar. “It’s a pleasure to see you again,” he said to Miss Anne.
“You’ll be seeing more of me,” the young lady gushed. “And my sister. We’re making our debut this Season.”
His gaze immediately went to Jemma’s face. He couldn’t help it. She displayed her displeasure vividly. A dark scowl marred her lovely features, and her lips pressed into a thin, white line. Clearly, she was not nearly as pleased to be making her debut and partaking in the Season as her sister was. He could relate. The prospect of countless balls filled with nonsensical chatter, false smiles, and his having to actively search for an heiress did not entice him in the least, but it was necessary.
“I wish you both happy hunting,” he said, unsure what else to say. “I’m certain we will run into one another again very soon.”
Jemma snorted, and her sister elbowed her in the side. Jemma cut her eyes to her sister before focusing on him once again. Something mischievous stirred in the depths of her eyes that matched the wicked smile suddenly lighting her face. “Is that what you are doing, Lord Harthorne? Hunting?”
“Are you?” he parried to sidestep the need to lie.
“No. I’m running.”
“Jemma,” her sister groaned.
She shrugged. “I doubt Lord Harthorne is bothered by me speaking my mind. Are you, Lord Harthorne?”
He had to smile. He rather liked her bold nature. “As long as your words don’t sting me, I am not bothered a bit. In fact, I find I’m quite intrigued.”
Her eyebrows knitted together. “My aim is not to intrigue.”
“Don’t you want a husband, Miss Adair?”
“About as much as I want the plague,” she replied cheekily.
He threw his head back and laughed, even as her sister grabbed her hand and started tugging on her. “I’m terribly sorry, Lord Harthorne. My sister is not herself tonight.”
“I’m myself,” Jemma called over her shoulder as her sister dragged her up the few steps to the front door.
As the door opened, Philip remembered the money in his coat. He’d forgotten to give it to his sister. “Miss Adair!”
Jemma swung around to face him and quirked her brows up. “Miss me already?”
By God, she was an outspoken lady. He itched to get home and create a poem worthy of her.
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