Clarissa Townsend has given up on anyone ever wanting to marry her. It isn’t that she’s ugly, because she’s been told by many that she’s quite beautiful. It’s her blasted limp. A carriage accident when she was fifteen resulted in ugly scarring on her leg, and left her with a horrible limp that keeps her from dancing, and sometimes walking.
Lord Robert Cresthaven came to America in search of a bride, and the moment he sets eyes on Clarissa, he knows he’s found her. With her raven locks and pale complexion, she’s the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen. Her limp doesn’t detract from her beauty in his eyes and he’s determined to have her, at any cost.
A scandal. An unwanted marriage of convenience. And a damsel in need of rescue.
When Lord Cresthaven is caught kissing Clarissa at a ball, it’s all anyone can talk about. But things don’t go according to his plan. He had every intention of marrying her, until her parents locked her away and promised her to another. What’s a lord to do when the only woman he’s ever wanted to marry is kept out of his reach? Anything necessary.
Clarissa backed into the corner, her leg throbbing in agony, the limb barely holding her weight. She’d seen that look in men’s eyes before, just never directed her way. Lust. Want. Need. Desire. They pulsed in the handsome lord’s eyes. Why he was paying her any attention she didn’t understand. He was part of a large group of visiting lords from England, none of them set to inherit, but they’d been on everyone’s invitation list it seemed. This wasn’t the first time she’d seen Lord Cresthaven, but she was fairly certain it was the first time he’d noticed her.
“Please, my lord. I don’t want any trouble.” Her voice trembled and she wasn’t certain if it was from the fear of being caught alone with him in the library, or the warmth spreading through her at his nearness. She’d been around attractive men before, but none had ever affected her this way.
“Who said anything about trouble? I merely wish to get to know you better, Miss Townsend.”
She swallowed hard, knowing exactly how he wanted to get to know her. It wouldn’t be the first time a man had propositioned her, saying they would be doing her a favor, since it was clearly obvious no one would want a lame wife. They seemed to think she would be good enough to dally with, but not marry. It hurt, their rejection, and embarrassed her that the men in her world thought so little of her.
At the age of twenty-three, her parents were becoming discouraged. There had been a talk just the other morning, at breakfast, about finding her a shopkeeper for a husband. It was a perfectly respectable position, even if it would put him beneath her socially. Not that she cared one bit. As long as the man was kind to her, could she really argue the matter? Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if he was to be handsome as well as kind.
Not that Clarissa had ever seen anyone as handsome as Lord Cresthaven, an earl’s fifth son, if she’d heard correctly. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he was a stark contrast to her black locks and gray eyes. When her friend, Vanessa, had seen the direction of Clarissa’s gaze earlier, she’d tittered and claimed that Clarissa and Lord Cresthaven would make a striking pair. Not that Clarissa held out any hope that he thought of her as anything other than something to play with. There was heat in his gaze, but if he were marriage minded, surely he wouldn’t dishonor her by undressing her with his eyes the way he currently was.
“My mother is probably looking for me,” she stammered. “We’ll be missed.”
“What’s the worst that could happen should we get caught?”
“I’d be ruined,” she said softly. “Please, my lord. Don’t do this.”
It seemed to give him pause for a moment, but just for a moment. He prowled closer, his legs brushing the hem of her dress. He was close enough now that she could smell him, whatever divine scent he’d splashed on and the scent of cigars. Clarissa’s heart hammered against her ribs and she clenched her hands at her sides to keep from reaching for him. She’d never before wanted to feel a man’s arms around her, not like she did right that moment.
He didn’t disappoint her. Cresthaven drew nearer, bracing one hand on the wall beside her head and placing his other at her waist. He leaned closer still, his breath fanning her lips. Clarissa felt her breath catch in her throat as she wondered whether or not he would kiss her.
“Miss Townsend, do you know why I followed you in here?” he asked, his voice a deep purr.
“N-No, my lord.”
“Because I can’t remember the last time I saw such a tempting morsel. I’ve watched you. If you can’t dance, why do you attend the balls? It must be miserable to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone else.”
“My mother makes me,” she said in a near whisper, embarrassment burning through her at her inability to dance like the other women.
“You’re older than the other debutantes. How many seasons have you been out?”
She felt her cheeks flush. “We don’t exactly have a season like they do in London, my lord, but to answer your question, too many. This is to be my last ball.”
His eyebrows arched. “Last ball? As in ever?”
“Possibly. My family name is a good one in the community. Someone will wish to marry me for that alone.”
“You mean to marry beneath you then?”
She looked away, her gaze dropping to the carpet. Why didn’t the insufferable man just leave? Did he have to break open all her wounds and make her bleed? It was embarrassing enough knowing that no one wanted you, but to have it pointed out by a man who was damn near perfect? It was intolerable. Clarissa tried to wriggle away from him, but his hand tightened on her waist.
“I’m not done with you yet, pet.”
Her gaze lifted to his, but she couldn’t decipher the emotions in his eyes. He was a master at disguising his thoughts.
“Please, let me go, my lord.”
Her lips parted. “What?”
“My name. It’s Robert. As opposed to you ‘my lording’ me to death.”
Clarissa felt the fire build in her cheeks again. “That’s too familiar, my lord. We don’t know one another well enough to use our Christian names. We’ve never been formally introduced at all.”
“Maybe not,” he muttered, “but it didn’t stop me from asking about you. Will you really deny me the only thing I’ve asked of you? What possible harm will befall you if you call me Robert when we’re alone?”
“I suppose it would be all right.”
His lips tipped up on one corner. “Good. Now to the other matter.”
“Other matter?” Her brow furrowed.
“The matter of the kiss I’ve been dying to bestow upon your rather distracting lips since the first moment I saw you.”
“My lord. Robert.”
“I like my name falling from your lips,” he said as his nose brushed hers.
“You’re going to ruin me. Just let me go.”
“Can’t? Or won’t?”
He pressed his cheek to hers, his breath teasing her ear. “Maybe a little of both. I’ve wanted you for weeks now, and now that I have you in my arms, I find that I cannot release you.”
“You’re toying with me. We both know what you want from me, and it isn’t marriage.”
“And what do I want from you?” He pulled back to look into her eyes once more. “What do you know of my desires and wants? The need that burns inside of me every time you’re near?”
“Y-you want t-to b-bed me,” she stuttered.
The look in his eyes warmed and a smile stretched across his handsome face. “Oh, I definitely want that, my delectable Clarissa, but I want so much more than a simple tumble.”
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