My latest Regency Romance, A Scandalous Proposition, will be released by Carina Press on September 13. In it Major Lord Adam Fitzroy is on furlough when he rescues a beautiful woman from an inn on his way home to Portsmouth. When he subsequently discovers that she has links to the local brothel and acts as paid companion to his mother he has a problem, poor chap. He ought to denounce her for the harlot he believes her to be, obviously, but something about her makes him hesitate. Florentina, for her part, is no whore but involved in a dangerous business that could get her and many others killed if it became public knowledge. So when Adam tells her that the price for his silence is one wicked night in her company, it leaves her with a bit of a dilemma.
Here’s how Adam propositions her:
“I am not the conniving individual you appear to take me for.”
“But you still gave me a false name.”
“I was being cautious. I had no idea who you were.”
“What did you imagine I would do to you?” he asked. She merely glared at him. “Thank you for your high opinion of me. I’d just rescued you, treating you with the respect due to a lady. In my anxiety for your safety I forgot to mention my name straightaway, and for that reason you felt you couldn’t trust me.”
Damn his eyes, why did he always have to sound so reasonable? “It’s not so much a matter of trust exactly. It was simply that circumstances conspired against me. As soon as you told me who you were, you spirited me through the kitchens of that inn. It was hardly the sort of conversation that could be conducted between the pots and pans, in front of intrigued kitchen maids.”
“Nevertheless, by the time we reached Oakley Common, you could have said something.”
No, she couldn’t. It had been imperative that she reach Chamberleigh and warn Christine of the danger they were now facing. “Well, I―”
“Don’t bother to invent any more Banbury tales for my benefit, Mrs. Smith. Entertaining as they are, I don’t have time for them and so I’ll save you the trouble by telling you what I think.”
“This ought to be interesting,” she muttered, still seething at his high-handed attitude.
“You couldn’t remain with your husband’s aunt and required an alternative means of supporting yourself. You were noticed by someone who persuaded you to join Christine’s establishment.” His eyes travelled the length of her body, lingering on her breasts, which was when Florentina realised just what an inadequate disguise her ill-fitting gown was turning out to be. “You certainly have the beauty and the necessary physical accoutrements to excel in that profession, even if you have done all you can to disguise them from me today.” She flushed angrily, mortified and insulted. Judging from his twisted smile, her discomfort afforded him some satisfaction. “And you have been…er, working for Christine ever since. Am I right?”
Florentina stopped dead in her tracks and gasped in outrage. She’d spoken the truth about her husband. She’d loved him passionately. He’d died in defence of his country and she still missed him every single day. Despite everything, surely his lordship could see that? She had frequently heard the dowager praise her son’s deep sense of perspicacity. But it was now clear that a mother’s partiality had caused her to mistake a quick mind for a just one. He saw only what he wished to see and lacked the ability to think laterally. Did he really suppose she would willingly prostitute herself, become the plaything of any man who could afford her price, after she’d experienced the bliss of such a tender, all-encompassing love? Did he think her as shallow and grasping as that?
She chanced a glance at his profile. His features were set in stone and she could see by the set to his jaw that he very likely did.
This was too much! He’d insulted her by every means at his disposal and Florentina’s temper flared. If he really thought her to be a light-skirt, then she wouldn’t disappoint him.
“Indeed, my lord.” She fluttered her lashes in the manner some of Christine’s ladies employed when conversing with members of the opposite sex. In the past the gesture had always left her with an overwhelming urge to giggle but today giggling was the last thing on her mind. “And I can assure you that the financial rewards enable me to live very comfortably.”
His lordship snorted. “If that’s the case, why are you ensconced with my mother?”
“Oh, I own that was fortunate. I’m acquainted with Lady Madison, you see, and she happened to mention my requirement for employment to your mother.”
“Lady Madison not being aware of your true vocation, presumably?”
“No, indeed. I could hardly reveal my real reason for being in the district so invented the need for a respectable position to put her off the track.”
“And when my mother took a liking to you, you recognised an opportunity to ply your trade under cover of your duties as her companion.”
“Sí. It was altogether too good an opportunity to pass up.” She smiled at him in an effort to disguise the strain she felt at perpetuating this myth, astonished by his readiness to now believe every word she spoke. She thought of her elder brother, still acting as a scout for the British, doubtless in perilous territory. Images of his charming smile stiffened her resolve. “It means, you see, that when I become too old and ugly to please my gentleman callers, I will have another means of support.”
“Yes, and with the dower house being so close to Christine’s establishment it must be easy for you to carry off the deception.” He bowed mockingly. “I congratulate you on your cunning.”
Florentina didn’t dare to look at him but could hear the disgust underlying every word he spoke. If she saw it reflected in his expression, she doubted whether she’d be able to continue with this charade and would instead give way to the very real desire to strike him. And so she disciplined herself to block out his words and continued to play the part she’d invented for herself. Better for him to believe she was a doxy than demand an alternative explanation for her behaviour, forcing the truth out of her by threatening to remove her from the dower house.
She couldn’t risk that. Too many peoples’ lives depended upon her remaining silent. She thought about them, about the manner in which they were suffering. What did one man’s poor opinion matter in comparison to what they were forced to endure?
“Indeed.” She tossed her head and smiled flirtatiously. “I’m very selective in my choice of gentlemen, you see, so there’s no necessity for me to be away from the dower house too often. And I only make myself available to those whom I do choose to entertain, once Her Grace has retired for the evening and there’s no danger of her being in further need of me.”
“Or, if that proves impossible, you can always invent a need to visit an ailing aunt.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“And so we return to the question of our first meeting at that inn, where you were being pursued by a very determined man.”
Damnation, she’d hoped he would become too preoccupied with maintaining his position on the moral high ground to remember that.
“That was a misunderstanding” was all she could think of to say.
“Not that I blame him for his determination.” He spoke over her pathetic explanation and raked her body insolently with his eyes again. “In view of my subsequent discoveries about your occupation, it’s not difficult to conjecture your true purpose in visiting the capital.”
Florentina nibbled her index finger. Put like that she supposed he had a point. But she had no intention of embarking upon a discussion about Reynolds for fear of where it might lead. To divert him she recklessly broached the matter foremost in her mind.
“What do you plan to do with your knowledge? Shall you inform Her Grace?”
“That rather depends.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Then permit me to enlighten you. My actions are dependent upon your willingness to entertain me.”
“Don’t look so outraged, Mrs. Smith. You are a courtesan of some sophistication and must know precisely what I have in mind. Nevertheless I shall articulate my terms, since it’s obvious that you wish to hear them spoken aloud. I require you to meet me in the summerhouse this evening.” He waved toward the structure in question, as though she didn’t already know its location perfectly well. “Once my mother has retired for the night, naturally. You’re already skilled at leaving the house when she’s abed, so that shouldn’t prove an impediment.”
He was serious. He actually wanted her to go through with this. Florentina felt her heart bang painfully against her ribs as she considered the awkwardness of her position. She’d been neatly outmanoeuvred and had little choice but to acquiesce. She knew that but reacted instinctively and her next words slipped past her lips before she could do anything to prevent them.
“Dios mío, that’s a scandalous proposition!”
“Come, come, Florentina…I may address you as Florentina, may I not? It seems rather ridiculous to remain on formal terms, given what I know about your true character. And given, of course, that we’re destined to become much more intimately acquainted.”
“Well, really, I don’t―”
“Such reticence, madam?” He quirked a brow. “Surely you must be used to being propositioned in such a manner in your line of work.”
“Most of my gentlemen are better mannered.”
“Most of your gentlemen don’t know you to be a liar and a cheat.”
Florentina’s initial despair—and, yes, excitement—at being propositioned by him was replaced by a fiery anger she could no longer contain. She suspected it must be reflected in her eyes but it merely caused him to chuckle.
“I’m waiting for your response, Mrs. Smith. And I ought to warn you that I’m not renowned for my patience.”
Want to get to know Adam and Florentina better? Go to my website at http://www.wendysoliman.com where you can read the first chapter and enter a contest to win a copy of the book.
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