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First pages

Prologue

Somerset, England 1810

 

Anna Colbrook watched from the sitting room window as Mr. George Harley’s carriage left Wareton Manor. The sound of the wheels crunching against the drive faded along with her dreams—dreams of finally having a home of her own, and a husband she might grow to love.

From the moment they’d met, Anna had been attracted to Mr. Harley’s gentle smile and wry humor. Other gentlemen had quickly lost interest in her when they learned of her modest inheritance, but not him. And though they’d known each other only a few weeks, she hadn’t been surprised when he’d proposed. Finally, she would have a chance at happiness. She could experience the joy of affection deepening into love.

And she could escape the despair of Wareton Manor.

But after speaking with the earl for only a few minutes, Mr. Harley had stormed out of the manor without a word.

After watching his carriage leave, Anna forced back tears and strode into the study.

Within, Alfred Sinclair, fifth Earl of Wareton, hunched behind his enormous desk. The candles in the room were unlit, the curtains drawn, and the coal fire glowed feebly. The dim light deepened the shadows on his ashen face.

"Your Mr. Harley was most displeased with my refusal,” Lord Wareton rasped. “And most surprised." His dark eyes, sunken beneath bushy gray brows, looked almost cheerful.

Anna marched to the desk. Her stomach rolled at the stench that surrounded him: stale perspiration mixed with the sharp, alcohol scent of laudanum.

"Why did you refuse him?" she demanded, forcing herself to speak calmly.

Her mother had been the earl’s daughter-in-law, his son Gerard’s second wife. In the years since her mother and stepfather’s deaths, the earl had rarely let a day pass without reminding Anna how much he resented her presence in his home. She had believed that he would welcome her marrying. His unexpectedly allowing her to finally spend a season in London had even made her hope that he might care just a bit for her after all.

The glee in his eyes now made it clear that she’d been a fool.

"You assumed I would agree," he said, "but you should know better.” The high-backed chair creaked as he leaned forward. He’d grown so stooped over the past several years that the worn spot in the wood where he’d rested his head for decades was now several inches above his bent head.

She gripped the edge of the desk. "Why?"

"Because I am old. And ill. While you have been off enjoying yourself these past weeks, I have been considering what will happen after my death." He straightened as much as his crooked back would allow. "I want you to care for your stepsister.”

"You know I would never abandon Madeline! She could come live with me—"

“She is the granddaughter of an earl. She belongs here, not in some pitiful manor no bigger than my stables.” He began to cough, a dry hacking that made him tremble. He still managed to choke out, "Mr. Harley’s home would have been well enough for you, but not for Madeline."

Of what use was a huge manor when it was so cold and so lacking in love? Mr. Harley’s home would have been the warmest home Madeline had ever known. But Anna knew better than to speak such thoughts aloud.

Instead, she forced herself to say calmly, "I am old enough to marry without your permission.”

"You are." His coughing subsided, and he wiped spittle from his mouth with the sleeve of his black coat. "If you can find a gentleman who will have you now."

Her mouth went dry. "What do you mean?"

"I have settled the terms of your inheritance,” he said. “Now, if you marry before your stepsister, you forfeit everything. I’ve also ensured that when I die, Horace or—God forbid something befalls Horace, if that wastrel Adrian should inherit—neither of my nephews can undo it.”

She gripped the desk tighter, ignoring the pain in her fingers. “That was my mother’s money,” she said, “intended for me.”

“Yes, and she gave me the care of it. We both know your inheritance is all you have to bring to a marriage. You have no rank, no great connections.” He leaned back in his chair and tapped his gaunt fingers together. “So you will stay here, unless you can find a man who will marry you with nothing.”

A man who would marry her with no money?

Even her mother, beautiful as she was, was married for her money. Twice.

Finding Mr. Harley, a gentleman who wanted her despite her modest dowry, was a miracle enough. But he could not likely afford to marry her with nothing. If she were forced to wait until Madeline married, she’d be at least twenty-seven—hopelessly on the shelf.

Her face grew hot. "But Madeline is only twelve—”

"It is only six years until she is out. Not likely much longer until she marries.” He spoke with the same cold, bored tone he used when he ordered her to change the dinner menu or have a carriage brought round. “You have enjoyed many advantages living here, advantages far above your birth. Is it so unreasonable that you stay to care for her?"

“I shall always care for her,” she said, “as long as she needs me, whether I am married or not. I only want a home of my own!”

His pale lips twitched into a horrible smile. “My dear, your home is here.”

For years, she’d longed to hear those words from him. Now he had finally spoken them, but to imprison her.

Suddenly, she wanted to scream at him all the things she never dared, and to lift the heavy paperweight close to her hand and hurl it at his miserable face. Years ago, she’d given up hope of ever winning his affection. But she never thought that he despised her enough to crush all her dreams.

From the hallway behind her Anna heard sounds of arguing and the scuffing of feet on the floor.

“Anna!” a girl’s voice called out. “Sophie will not let me come in—” More muffled arguing followed.

Madeline.

Fresh anger surged through Anna. If not for Madeline, she’d be free to marry—

She forced the thought away. No, Madeline was only a child. It was not her fault. Only Lord Wareton’s.

And if Madeline learned what had happened, if she knew why her grandfather was forcing Anna to stay, it would break Madeline’s heart. Madeline had already known far too much sorrow in her short lifetime.

And now, Madeline was all Anna had left.

Anna glared at Lord Wareton. The miserable wretch had won. And he knew it. She couldn’t bear to look at him a moment longer.

She turned and strode from the study, nearly running into Madeline waiting outside the door. Madeline’s black braids were mussed and one of the snowy ribbons undone. Sophie, her white cap and apron crooked, held Madeline by one arm.

“I tried to keep her away, miss,” Sophie whispered.

“Why did Mr. Harley leave?” Madeline pulled free from Sophie and grasped Anna’s sleeve. “Will there not be a wedding?”

“No,” Anna said, “there will be no wedding.”

Sophie shook her head and turned away. She stood with her back to them, her apron raised to her face.

“Why not?” Madeline frowned. “Does Grandfather not like him?”

Anna reached out and began retying the satin ribbon in Madeline’s hair. Her hands trembled, and it took her two tries to make a proper bow.

“Is it because I was not friendlier when he first arrived?” Madeline lowered her gaze. “It was just . . . He was going to take you away and it was so sudden. But it was wrong of me. I like him, truly I do.”

She is just a child, Anna reminded herself, a child who needed her desperately.

“It has nothing to do with you,” Anna said.

“Do you not like Mr. Harley?”

“I do.” Anna smoothed Madeline’s braid. “But I will stay here with you.”

Madeline frowned. “But when will you marry?”

“I do not know.” Anna forced a smile. “Perhaps not until you are married first.”

Sophie, her back still turned, sniffled loudly.

“Truly?” Madeline’s face brightened and she threw her arms around Anna. “Then we could have a season together! I wish I were eighteen now. I wish it were not so far away.”

Once again, Anna fought back tears, and she forced herself to hug Madeline back.

Soon Lord Wareton would be gone. No matter how old she was, no matter how difficult he’d made it for her, Anna vowed that one day she would marry.

The miserable old wretch wouldn’t win in the end.

Chapter One

Somerset, England 1816

 

Adrian Sinclair, seventh Earl of Wareton, had enjoyed more pleasant meals while camped in a muddy battlefield with the rain battering his leaky tent and a bayonet wound throbbing in his side. The bread had been stale and the cheese moldy, but at least the company had been warm. Here at Wareton Manor, it was quite the opposite.

He savored a mouthful of exceptionally good red wine as he looked across the linen-draped table.

“Improvements?” Miss Anna Colbrook lowered her fork to her plate, a bite of roasted pheasant untouched on the end. “What do you mean?” It was the most she’d said to him since his arrival that afternoon.

“The design of the orchards is outdated,” he said, setting down his wineglass, “and while the grounds are well kept, some areas need enhancements.”

“Enhancements?” She frowned at him as if he were saying something impossible. Was that to be the extent of her conversation, to repeat everything he said back to him?

“How do you find your dinner, Lord Wareton?” Madeline said quickly.

Adrian turned his gaze to his cousin. At least she was friendly. He’d been worried about meeting his new ward, but he was relieved to discover she was sweet-tempered and diplomatic—nothing at all like her stepsister.

“Everything is delicious,” he said. As he enjoyed a bite of pheasant, he was forced to admit that the food was far better than at his home at Eastgate. Even so, he looked around the table at the members of his new household and wished he were back at Eastgate, lounging in his study with a good book and a mediocre dinner in peaceful solitude.

He hadn’t lived with a female since he was orphaned at thirteen. Boarding school and a bachelor’s existence in London had taken up much of his life before the military, and since returning home, he’d lived alone except for the intermittent company of his brother Edmund. Suddenly, along with unexpectedly inheriting an earldom, he was the head of a household of four female relations. A disorienting situation to say the least.

“Adrian,” his aunt, Lady Carlton, said, “your sister, cousin, and her stepsister require new wardrobes.”

“Of course,” he said.

“We must get started immediately,” Lady Carlton said.

“Whatever you wish,” he said. He was depending on his aunt to manage such matters.

“I shall have new ball gowns made,” his sister Cecelia said, smiling across the table at Madeline. “One in burgundy with satin—”

“Burgundy?” Lady Carlton said from beside Cecelia. “I think not.”

“But why?” Cecelia’s pale blue eyes narrowed and she fidgeted with her fork.

“You are only nineteen,” Lady Carlton said. “You will look like a jezebel.”

Adrian sighed. Cecelia and Lady Carlton had grown so alike that they now looked more like daughter and mother than niece and aunt. They had always resembled each other in their fair coloring, but now they also shared mannerisms. When annoyed, Cecelia mimicked his aunt’s hair toss, the arrogant tilting of her head that practically pointed her nose to the ceiling, and even the way her nostrils flared when she felt truly put out. She hadn’t yet developed Lady Carlton’s terrifying scowl—Cecelia still pouted petulantly instead—but he feared it was only a matter of time.

Poor Cecelia. He blamed himself as much as his aunt. After observing his sister and Lady Carlton together for the past few days on the journey to Wareton, it had become clear that leaving Cecelia in their aunt’s care for so long had been a mistake. An enormous mistake.

Yet another failure to add to the horribly long list he’d accumulated during years wasted in selfish indulgence.

But no more. All that would—had already—changed. He was an earl now, and he had great responsibilities that he had every intention of living up to.

He would see the estate prosper. And fulfill his family duty by seeing Cecelia, Madeline—and even Miss Colbrook, if he could—married off. As soon as possible. He would then be able to manage his new estate without distraction.

His aunt inspected Madeline and Miss Colbrook from across the table. Madeline glanced at Lady Carlton nervously, but Miss Colbrook ignored her and continued to eat.

“You, Miss Colbrook,” Lady Carlton said, “need the most improvement. To begin with, we must lower your necklines. I will select new styles —”

“Thank you, but I can choose my own gowns,” Miss Colbrook said.

Lady Carlton frowned. “Nonsense. You need my help. Far more than the others.” She eyed Miss Colbrook’s gown critically. In his aunt’s view, anything but the latest fashions and one might as well be wearing sackcloth.

The offending gown was plain, high-necked, and a pale blue—several years out of fashion but still quite acceptable. It was the type of gown a woman wore when she didn’t wish to draw attention to herself, neither too shabby nor too stylish. Her chestnut-red hair was likewise pulled back into a simple, unadorned knot, except for a few loose strands that she was constantly tucking behind her ears.

But the simplicity of her dress did nothing to disguise Miss Colbrook’s beauty. Indeed, even if she had been wearing sackcloth, he’d still know she had a stunning figure. He recalled her curves quite well. Likely because her appearance was usually the only pleasant thing about her.

“Miss Colbrook,” Lady Carlton said, “I must insist. We must improve your wardrobe if we are to find you a husband. Do you not agree, Adrian?”

Four sets of female eyes looked to him.

He glanced from his aunt’s stern face to Miss Colbrook’s even graver one and quickly took an enormous bite of herbed potatoes. He chewed slowly, shrugging noncommittally. As he’d hoped, his aunt continued on.

“I shall brook no refusal,” Lady Carlton said, turning back to Miss Colbrook. “You must allow me to help you.”

“You are too kind,” Miss Colbrook said, “but surely your efforts would be better spent on Madeline and Miss Cecelia.”

“Adrian,” Lady Carlton said, “do you not agree that Miss Colbrook needs my guidance?” Unfortunately, this time his aunt waited for him to finish his bite of food.

“Not if she does not want it,” he said.

Miss Colbrook’s eyes widened, as if she’d not expected him to defend her. Madeline and Cecelia stopped eating, both watching the exchange with great interest.

“She is of an age that she can make her own decisions,” he added.

A sudden pain shot through his temple, likely the beginning of another headache. He’d never suffered from headaches until a few days ago. He was weary from traveling and had no wish to be caught in the middle of their argument. Miss Colbrook’s appearance was certainly not the reason she remained unmarried. More likely it was her icy personality.

“Miss Colbrook,” Cecelia said softly, “I think your dress is quite lovely. The color suits—”

“Do not lie, Cecelia.” Lady Carlton said, scowling. “And stop fidgeting like a child. Your manners this evening are disgraceful. I can only imagine what your cousins think.”

“Surely, none of us could claim perfection,” Madeline said, forcing a smile.

Lady Carlton sniffed. “I am always most exacting about such matters.”

“Of course, Lady Carlton,” Miss Colbrook said, “some of us come far closer to perfection in manners than others.”

“Indeed.” Lady Carlton nodded curtly, clearly taking her words as a compliment. Adrian had no doubt that Miss Colbrook meant quite the opposite. Foxed as he’d often been when he’d encountered Miss Colbrook in the past, he could still clearly recall many of her put-downs.

Miss Colbrook met his stare. “Lord Wareton,” she said, “do you plan on replacing any of the staff?”

In contrast to her sharp gaze, her voice was soft, with a hint of huskiness he might find pleasing—if she would only say something pleasant.

“I cannot be certain until I’ve had a chance to look over the entire estate,” he said, “but if everything is as well run as the kitchen, perhaps not.”

She seemed relieved by his answer; the furrow in her brow disappeared.

“The past few years while the last earl remained abroad,” Madeline said, “Anna was quite involved in caring for the estate.”

“Indeed.” He took a sip of wine and gazed at Miss Colbrook. If she had been helping his cousin Horace manage things from overseas, that could account for some of her behavior since his arrival. Her dislike of him likely explained the rest.

“Anna,” Madeline said, “perhaps you should accompany Lord Wareton when he tours the estate tomorrow?”

“Mr. Evans will be here,” Miss Colbrook said, frowning. “He is planning on escorting Lord Wareton.”

“But you know the manor as well as Mr. Evans,” Madeline said.

“I am certain that Lord Wareton would prefer the steward’s company.” Miss Colbrook gave her stepsister a hard look. Everyone else at the table watched him, waiting for his response. He wasn’t eager to spend much time with her, but if she’d been involved in managing the estate for his cousin, it made sense for her to go with him.

“I can meet with the steward at another time,” he said. “I would be pleased if you would accompany me, Miss Colbrook.”

Her full mouth thinned into a familiar frown. Although she’d barely known him before they encountered each other in London six years ago, from the start she’d seemed offended by his reputation alone and had treated him with a chilly reserve. If he didn’t deserve her contempt at first, he’d soon earned it with his rudeness. While he’d offended many people during his years in London, she’d been especially satisfying to unnerve. He suspected now it was partly because he found her gaze particularly piercing, her blue eyes reflecting too well the truth of what a wastrel he’d been.

He didn’t blame her for her past contempt. For years, he’d done his best to unnerve many attractive young women, including her. He’d looked at the world with disdain, and when he lost himself in drink or gaming or women, he’d been skilled at denying any sense of guilt or responsibility. For too long, he’d behaved without a thought for anyone else. But that was when he was a different man, before everything changed.

Well, maybe not everything.

As he gazed at Miss Colbrook, an old but familiar desire to annoy her overtook him. He couldn’t resist adding, “A ride together will allow me to tell you about all the improvements I have planned. If that is agreeable to you?”

“As you wish,” she said. Her tiny gold earbobs—the only jewelry she wore—flashed in the candlelight as she dropped her gaze to her plate. She began cutting up her asparagus, allowing her knife to squeak repeatedly against the china.

***

“Tell me, Miss Colbrook,” Lady Carlton said later that evening, “is it true you’ve received no offers of marriage these past six years?”

The sitting room was suddenly so quiet that Anna could hear the fire hiss in the hearth behind her. On the sofa across from her, Cecelia and Madeline turned towards Lady Carlton. Madeline’s mouth had fallen open in shock. Even Cecelia looked embarrassed. And Lord Wareton at least had the decency to cringe. The chair he sat in on the opposite side of the hearth—Anna’s favorite chair—creaked as he leaned back, closed his eyes, and began rubbing his temples.

He looked as if he wished he were anywhere else. One thing they could agree on, Anna thought.

She folded her hands in her lap and forced what she hoped was a serene smile. Meanwhile she silently wished the ground would open up and swallow the new arrivals to Wareton Manor, leaving her and Madeline in peace.

Well, maybe not Cecelia. The earl’s sister might be quite tolerable away from her overbearing aunt. And Lord Wareton, unpleasant as some of his comments at dinner had been, was still vastly improved from years before. He was sober anyway.

He certainly looked healthier. He’d always been handsome, but now there was no hint of dissipation in him. His hazel eyes were unclouded by drink. His legs were more muscular than she recalled, and his shoulders broader. Not that she cared one bit about his impressive physique. Other than her fear that after a few more evenings, his large frame might break her favorite chair.

“Do not look so shocked,” Lady Carlton said, glancing around. “I only raise the most important issue, one that is on everyone’s mind.” She returned her gaze to Anna. “After all, you are the one we shall likely have the most trouble finding a husband for.” Lady Carlton pointed an embroidery needle in Anna’s direction. “You lack the direct connections or fortune of Cecelia and Madeline. And your age presents a challenge. However, I was married for the second time at your age and I refuse to give up on anyone, no matter how old.”

“You are too kind,” Anna said, unable to keep her tone even.

It was their first night at the manor. She must try to be polite, no matter how much she had been dreading the new earl’s arrival, and no matter how rude his aunt was. And she knew the topic of marriage would be unavoidable. Which was fine, so long as no one pried too much.

“Who was the gentleman who offered for you?” Lady Carlton asked.

“Mr. George Harley,” Anna said.

“Yes, I recall now,” Lady Carlton said. “I heard you turned him down.”

Anna said nothing. Let her believe that. She’d allowed so many people to believe it for so long, she’d almost convinced herself. The truth would have been far too painful for Madeline as a child. Perhaps now that Madeline was old enough to not necessarily blame herself, Anna would finally tell her stepsister what had really happened. But not yet. And certainly not here, in front of people who were practically strangers.

“And is it true your parents left you only 4,000 pounds?” Lady Carlton asked.

“Yes,” Anna said.

“A modest sum,” Lady Carlton said, “but enough to attract a suitable gentleman for you, I would think.” She pointed the needle at her again. “If you would only make it clear that you would welcome an offer, you might manage to find a suitor.”

“Anna remains unmarried because she chooses to,” Madeline said, “not for lack of a suitor.”

Wonderful. Anna glared at Madeline, adding her stepsister to the list of people she wished the earth would swallow.

“Indeed, Miss Madeline.” Lady Carlton jabbed her needle into her embroidery, leaving it there. “And what gentleman has expressed interest in your stepsister?”

“I am . . .” Madeline glanced at Anna and looked quickly away. “Not at liberty to say.” Madeline grabbed her own needlework from the table beside her and hunched over it until her dark curls hid her eyes.

Lady Carlton leaned forward. “I shall learn soon enough, so you may as well tell me now—”

“I have no suitors,” Anna said, “because I have made it known that I wish to remain here with Madeline until she marries.”

“An older sister waiting for a younger to marry?” Lady Carlton scowled. “Nine years younger? Ridiculous!”

Madeline’s fingers stilled on her embroidery. She lifted her head and glanced toward Anna.

Anna pushed away a familiar stab of annoyance. It was not Madeline’s fault that her grandfather had been so cruel. She never wanted Madeline to feel guilty for what had happened. She met Madeline’s gaze and smiled.

Madeline quickly returned the smile and resumed her needlework, her head held higher.

Anna leaned back in her chair. She met Lady Carlton’s sharp gaze and smiled again. Lady Carlton’s frown grew.

Horrid woman. And yet, she should still probably welcome her arrival. And Lord Wareton's.

Madeline was eighteen now, at last old enough to marry, and Lady Carlton and Lord Wareton would help secure Madeline’s future. Anna wanted more than anything to see Madeline happily settled. And once Madeline wed, Anna would finally be free to do so as well.

But she’d be damned if Lady Carlton would choose one gown for her, let alone a husband. She refused to be manipulated into marriage and to be used as a commodity like her mother was. When she married, it would be on her own terms.

And the truth was, although once she’d been desperate to escape Wareton Manor, everything had changed when the old earl, Alfred Sinclair, had died.

His heir, Horace Sinclair, the sixth Earl of Wareton, had been in no hurry to leave his beloved home in the West Indies. Anna had boldly written to him and offered to manage things in his absence. Miraculously, he’d agreed.

So, after years of being a poor relation relegated to the shadows, she had become caretaker of a vast estate. She’d immersed herself in improving Wareton, challenging herself to see how quickly and how thoroughly she could banish the dismal atmosphere that had hung over the estate for so long. She’d fallen deeply in love with Wareton, and at last it had felt like her home.

But she’d been deceiving herself.

She never truly belonged here, as the new earl’s presence reminded her. His aunt had already returned her to her proper place as a step-relation, fortunate to be permitted to live in a household so far above her birth. Undoubtedly, she should be grateful for the past few years of happiness. At the moment, she just couldn’t bring herself to feel thankful.

“Now that we are living with Madeline,” Lady Carlton said, “there is certainly no reason to continue to deny yourself opportunities. I shall help—”

“Lady Carlton,” Anna said, rising, “it is kind of you to concern yourself with my happiness, but you must excuse me. I have a book I am eager to finish.”

“Books,” Lady Carlton murmured, frowning. “No wonder.”

That comment snuffed out any guilt Anna felt about not remaining by the fire. She snatched a book from a nearby shelf and marched to the window seat at the far side of the room.

A person could only endure so much in one day.

***

Adrian envied Miss Colbrook’s escape.

As his aunt began to interrogate Madeline about local bachelors, Adrian stood. He took a turn about the room, wandering from painting to painting. He only half-listened to the ladies’ conversation about potential husbands, though he knew he should probably pay close attention. Marrying them off was of primary importance.

Unquestionably, Miss Colbrook would be the most difficult to find a match for. Her decision to remain with her stepsister had probably cost her any chance of marrying. In spite of his aunt’s determination, Miss Colbrook would probably end up a spinster, likely living with Madeline when she married.

Yet if Miss Colbrook already had a suitor, as her stepsister implied, perhaps there was still hope. Then again, she might have little interest in the gentleman or in marrying at all. Remaining at Wareton to care for her stepsister might simply be an excuse to avoid marriage altogether.

As he neared her, he paused. “What are you reading?” he asked.

“A book.” She didn’t glance up, but briskly turned a page and kept reading.

She hadn’t changed much. She was still an extremely irritating woman. And now she was snubbing him on his first night at his new home. After nearly a week of traveling, three days under constant barrage from Lady Carlton’s prattle, and now faced with Miss Colbrook’s rudeness, his patience was wearing thin.

He crossed his arms. “What is the title?”

“A Guide to Game Keeping.” She kept her eyes on the book.

“Game keeping.” Leave it to her to be reading something so unconventional for a woman.

“Yes.” She finally looked up from the book. “Have you not read it?”

“No.”

“Ah.” The look she gave him implied that she’d expected as much. “You really should read it. It is considered the best—”

“I am familiar with it.” Arrogant woman. Did she believe he was that ignorant?

“Then why have you not read it?” She drew a bookmark from her lap and dropped it between the pages. She gently closed the cover and gazed up at him. “Do you not keep game at Eastgate?”

Her eyes were a lovely deep blue, and so deceptively sweet looking.

“I do,” he said, irritated at himself for noticing her eyes. “My steward has read it.”

She straightened and frowned. “Ah.” And there it was again, that look both disapproving and yet not surprised. “Of course.”

She might have time to sit about reading every detail of estate management, even those best left to the staff, but he had more pressing matters to see to.

“Is the steward here not competent?” he asked.

Her eyes widened and then narrowed. “Mr. Evans is quite competent. I hired him myself.”

“And the gamekeeper as well?”

“Of course.”

“And yet you still feel that you must read this?” he asked.

She scowled. “One cannot judge competence from a position of ignorance.” She flipped the book open again.

A blatant insult now. He felt a jolt of anger that energized him; for the first time in days, he realized that he didn’t feel tired and bored. Annoyed, but at least not bored.

“Indeed,” he said. “But the care of the estate is no longer your concern.”

She flinched, and he pushed away a twinge of guilt. He only spoke the truth, a truth she obviously needed to be reminded of. Besides, she’d been rude to him since his arrival.

She kept her eyes on the book, frowning. But she was only pretending to read; he could tell that her eyes were moving over the same lines again and again.

“I also have no need of a book on the subject,” he added, “as I am quite knowledgeable from firsthand experience. But I am not surprised you require such a book, you likely have no personal experience with—”

She abruptly raised her head. “You know almost nothing about me.” She dropped her gaze back to the page.

He knew one thing about her—she wasn’t hampered by an overabundance of good manners. He found it both irritating and refreshing.

“Adrian!” Lady Carlton called out. “I must speak with you.” He turned away but as he crossed the room, he glanced back at Miss Colbrook.

She was right—he didn’t know her at all. He had the sudden disturbing notion that he wanted to know more about her, much more. Purely to find a way to convince her to marry, of course.

The sooner she left his home, the better.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Elizabeth Rue lives in Massachusetts with her high school sweetheart husband and two children. She was a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® Contest in 2016 and 2017.

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but I began to pursue writing seriously about ten years ago.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
.Finishing it! I love to revise and edit, and it can be tough for me to let go of a manuscript.