One bashful lady discovers her dashing husband might be a traitor to their country.
Desmond Rawlington, Marquess of Dunsmore and seductive charmer, needs a Delacorte sister as a wife. When the eldest elopes, Desmond marries Ainsley only to find himself falling in love with the enchanting young woman, despite her quirky habit of hiding behind draperies.
Lady Ainsley Delacorte, the shyest person anyone has ever met, is nervous around servants, overwhelmed by the ton and forced into marriage. Her reluctance fades with her husband's sinfully romantic touch, but she can't forget he's involved in a traitorous plot to return Napoleon to power.
When Ainsley is caught with an incriminating letter she stole from her husband, Desmond intervenes. Will they face the gallows or can love save them?
Warning, this title contains explicit sex and graphic language.
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May 14, 2007
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Excerpt from One Bashful Lady by Brenda Williamson
Desmond brushed off his sleeves, straightened the cream silk cravat and raked a hand through his hat-ravaged hair. He looked up, not for the reason that he had finished his perfunctory grooming, but because he sensed someone watching him.
A halo glowed above the head of a young lady standing on the staircase. Her stillness reminded him of a startled animal. If the beautiful vision on the riser was his intended bride, he'd be a blessed man. However, he feared there might be no way to start his heart again if the angel belonged to another.
"M'lord?" A servant spoke and Desmond raised a hand to silence him.
He waited for the young lady to speak. Only the longer he stared, the less likely it seemed she'd make any noise. Not a sound stirred. Not even a rasp of air to say she was real. He usually got some response from women, even if it was a sigh. Then he witnessed the truest form of innocence. Shyness washed over her face in a red blush and he watched with stunned bemusement as the lovely young lady hurried down the remaining steps.
"Good evening. I'm Lord...Dunsmore." His declaration faded.
Her flight did not end with him. It began.
She moved like a gazelle, and in seconds, she disappeared from sight. He looked to the servant with question, yet shook his head, indicating the man need not give a response. Desmond had no wish to pry.
"My Lord Dunsmore, forgive my delay." The duchess descended on him. "Servants are not what they used to be and I'm afraid the French are far worse than our English ones."
"Your Grace." Desmond bowed. "You do me an honor to have me in your lovely home."
"Thank you, my lord. We shall conduct our conversation in the drawing room."
He followed her slow walk toward the doorway. "I fear I have given a fright to a member of your family."
While the girl intrigued him, he didn't think he'd like one who might be daft. However, bound by honor, he would not shirk his responsibility even if he was being tricked into marrying a mute.
Besides, he hadn't come for a bride, but a wife with the Delacorte name.
"About the arrangement I had with your grandfather, the duke, there is a slight problem," the duchess commented nervously.
"Oh?" Desmond stopped walking. "What sort of problem?"
"This is just dreadful to have to tell you, but my daughter, Lady Delacorte..." She paused, wringing her hands together. "She's burdened with a malady preventing her from...ah...wedding you."
Warily, he eyed the woman's uneasiness.
"Preventing her," he repeated. "If you mean because she can't speak, I assure you the condition of silence would be no problem."
"Oh, heavens no, I'm not talking about my younger daughter. I know this is a terrible inconvenience. There's no way to express how upsetting this has been for me, but Lady Delacorte ran off to marry a baron, a Frenchman, no less. I had no way to stop it. I hope you can forgive this insult to your good name."
"This is more than an inconvenience, Your Grace. This is a direct affront to the duke. Announcements that I am marrying the Lady Delacorte are being made in England as we speak."
Desmond glanced at the empty path the young lady had taken into the drawing room.
"The girl I saw who fled my presence. You said she is a daughter. Is she of marrying age?"
"Why yes, yes she is. Ainsley is beyond that age. She's twenty-one, and oh my lord, what a wonderful solution!" She clapped her hands together. "She'd be much more to your liking. Lady Delacorte has always been a troublesome child. She would not have been right for you at all as your wife. Lady Ainsley is quiet, reserved and quite intelligent."
"Except she can't talk."
"On the contrary, you have it all wrong. Lady Ainsley has no trouble speaking when she wishes to. She's merely shy. Poor child simply puts a mother at her wits' end with her silence, but you did say silence would not be a problem."
"Shall we conclude our deal then?" He waved a hand for her to go into the drawing room before him.
The duchess sat in a chair and he took a place on the settee.
"Pierre, please bring Lord Dunsmore and myself a cognac. Also, some of those delightful little cakes, what are they called again?" While the duchess conversed with the servant about wine and petit fours, Desmond felt a chill from watchful eyes and remembered the girl.
Discreetly turning his head, he spotted the young lady on the opposite side of the open door. She stood absolutely still, petrified no doubt, by the plot against her. He took pity on her as she stared at him with a glassy, dazed expression. Her bright blue eyes, wide and beautiful, locked on his and he felt compelled to help her. The gorgeous creature and her radiant gaze made his body harden and ache in anticipation of their wedding night.
Desmond turned back to the duchess so as not to draw attention to Lady Ainsley. But the duchess was fretting over the lack of petit fours while he cared nothing about eating.
His gaze returned to Lady Ainsley. He offered her a smile and a solution. Desperately frightened, she needed a moment to compose herself before he requested to speak to her.
"That is a lovely vase, Greek I believe." Desmond pointed to the urn behind the duchess making her turn her head away.
Discreetly, he waved a hand at Lady Ainsley to flee.
"I must say I wasn't aware that it was." She glanced over her shoulder for a second, then turned back to him. "I'm simply at a loss about designs other than those popular in England."
He looked at the doorway hoping the lady's petrified state had not fastened her to the wall as an ornament.
She was gone.
Would this daughter flee the house as well? With one Delacorte lady running out on the marriage contract, how could he be sure this one wouldn't do the same?
"There you are, Mavis." The duchess rose from her chair. "Find Lady Ainsley and bring her immediately."
"Yes, Your Grace."
"Tell me about Lady Ainsley," Desmond prompted the duchess. "She isn't mad or sickly? You did say she wasn't mute."
With a marriage strictly of convenience, it shouldn't have mattered.
"Ainsley is in perfect health. She is bright, energetic and loyal."
While any wife he had might stay locked in her room forever, he didn't want to imagine Lady Ainsley being aloof. Unlike associates and friends, he, too, would be loyal. A mistress took what she could get. A wife deserved his courtesy instead of having him gallivant about the ton like some kind of immoral rake. As much as he conspired to wed the girl for power and position, he had honor.
"And this silence she keeps? A vigil of some sort?" He continued his inquiry while waiting for the girl to appear.
"Ainsley suffers shyness when speaking to strangers, m'lord. She prefers to cut herself off from society instead of embracing the gaiety of our culture. Though, I assure you, I see this as a good quality in the wife of a duke. You would have no need to worry about her stepping beyond the bounds of protocol. She is ever the dutiful child and should you be blessed with heirs, my daughter possesses a great affection for children."
Children. He had not considered children. All he planned, or his grandfather plotted, was for him to marry a distant cousin of Prince George.
Lady Ainsley Delacorte, a relation to the Crown, and as far removed as one could get, still provided him that link. They would get invitations to social affairs and he'd be in a better position to restore pride to his family.
"So this shyness is only with strangers?" He did not intend to be a stranger to the lady's bed.
"She comes by the affliction quite unnaturally. When young, Ainsley was ever the talkative child, but withdrew after her father died. He spoiled the girl. I suppose this is her retribution against... Well, I don't exactly know what it's against. She simply refuses to entertain the idea of socializing with her peers. She does have a fine voice, m'lord. With a gentle heart and a bit of kindness, she'll come around. It will not hurt in the least for her to have such an attractive, young husband either." The duchess laughed.