Miss Esme Canville's brutal father is resolved to marry her off--but she won't submit tamely to his decree. Instead, she'll offer herself to notorious rake Captain St. John Radwell and enjoy all the freedom of a mistress!
St. John is intent on mending his rakish ways. He won't seduce an innocent virgin. But Esme is determined, beautiful and very, very tempting....
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July 31, 2007
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Excerpt from An Unladylike Offer by Christine Merrill
"If you're cold, Miss Esme, I could ask a footman to lay the fire."
Esme Canville resisted the impulse to gather her shawl more tightly around her. "No, Meg. I am quite comfortable. No need for a fire. No need for anything, actually. I am content."
The maid continued to bustle around the room, straightening things that had been straight enough for hours. "You're sure, miss? Because it seems a bit chill."
"No, really. I am fine. You may go." She tried to sound firm without drawing attention. "I wish to spend the morning reading."
Was the maid watching her with too much interest? It was so hard to be sure. Meg was new, and quite devoted to the master of the house. Certainly not someone Esme could consider an ally. But not an enemy, either, she hoped. Still, if her father had requested a report on any unusual behaviour, it was best not to provide fodder. She moved to the settee, and picked up her book.
Meg hesitated, and then said, "If you're sure, then. But it is still quite cold."
Esme gathered as much hauteur as she could muster. It would not do to allow her lady's maid to decide for her. "I find it invigorating. And most economic. I am sure my father would not approve of me wasting coal in the morning, when the afternoon will be temperate."
Meg nodded, approving of anything that Mr Canville approved of. "If that is what your father wants, then of course, miss. But you'll ring..."
"If I need anything. Certainly. You may go, Meg." The maid let herself out of the room and Esme breathed a sigh of relief as she hurried to the fireplace. Meg took her new duties far too seriously. It had been better when Bess had held the job. But then, Bess had been too good a friend to Esme for her father's taste. And when service to her lady had smacked of disobedience to her master, that had been the end of her. And now, the much more cooperative Meg was trying to lay fires where none were needed.
Esme dropped her shawl carefully on the hearth in front of her and knelt on it, silently thanking the staff for the cleanliness of the slate. What ashes there were would hardly show on the shawl's grey wool. She opened the damper and leaned her cheek against the bricks at the back of the fireplace.
Voices travelled faintly up from the room below. Her father's study was just as cold and fireless as her bedroom, and it shared a chimney. Esme closed her eyes, trying to imagine the men below.
"...for coming here today. I am sure we can find an arrangement that is agreeable to all parties concerned." Her father was speaking.
"But without even a meeting? Are you sure...?" The visitor's voice trailed off as he walked away from the fireplace.
Esme hissed in frustration. If they didn't stand still, how was she to hear?
"A meeting is not necessary." She could almost see her father waving a hand in dismissal. "She will do as she's told in the matter. And you have seen the miniature, have you not? I assure you it is a good likeness."
Esme touched her own hair. The portrait was a fair likeness of her at best. And done several years ago. At twenty, she was hardly on the shelf, but she was not the wide-eyed innocent in the little painting.
"...lovely." The man was walking back towards the fireplace again and his voice grew louder. "Very much to my taste. And she will agree? You're certain of it?"
"I fail to see how it signifies. She will do as she's told, or face the consequences. And since it is you or no one, she'll soon see the wisdom of cooperation. It is more than a favourable match, milord. She would be a fool to hope for better."
The voices faded away again as the men in the room below walked towards the desk. Esme's mouth compressed to a thin white line. How could she hope for better? She was not to be allowed a Season. Ever. Or to travel unescorted by her father into any of the social circles that other young ladies were permitted to as a matter of course. Evenings were spent at home or in the company of her father and his friends, who were almost all as old as he. Certainly not marriage material.