When what a lady hears isn’t always true, she must learn to see with her heart and trust the rest to…
They say love is blind, but Lady Fortuna Morley doesn’t believe it. Sightless since birth, she can think of only one reason a would wed her—for the dowry and three thousand a year her father will provide. gentlemanShe’s in London the spring of 1814 to help launch her younger cousin into society, but prefers living quietly in country. The last thing Fortuna wishes is to cross swords with the arrogant Marquess of Granville.
Charles Lowden, Lord Granville, has decided to take a wife. The bride he’s chosen is thirteen years his junior, but meets all criteria. What he won’t abide is interference from the girl’s impertinent cousin, the outspoken and opinionated Lady Fortuna Morley. The woman is determined to thwart the match. Charles is just as determined to charm Fortuna out of her disdain for him.
What neither expects in the ensuing battle of wills is to fall in love.
Golden light spilled across the terrace to highlight her freckled nose and rosy lips. It turned Fortuna’s captivating green eyes an eerie light brown. Disconcerted once again by the gold flecks in their depths, Charles stepped back and clasped fists together beneath the tails of his coat.
“Are you feeling more the thing, my lady?”
No reply. Just that dazed expression on her face. It took a moment for Charles to remember she couldn’t see the polite concern he’d pasted on his own. With a critical eye, he studied the gown Fortuna wore. What modiste had risked her reputation fashioning such a thing? Rows of small, green, leaf-shaped appliqués ran in vertical lines down the gauzy half-skirt. The scooped bodice sported off-the-shoulder sleeves in a style that seemed altogether too girlish for its wearer.
“Shall I fetch you a glass of punch?”
Fortuna shook her copper curls as if coming out of a dream. The flowered bandeaux in her hair shed a few petals and, without thinking, Charles reached out to lightly flick them off her shoulders.
Coloring under his touch, she shied away. “I’m quite all right, my lord.” Her voice was wary. “Just give me a moment to catch my breath.”
They’d both been left breathless by that waltz, Charles wryly observed. Fortuna’s acquiescence on the dance floor had startled, then aroused him. Now he rued the spectacle they’d made. Gossip would be rife upstairs, especially with the two of them out on the terrace, unchaperoned. Charles frowned as he pondered how to extricate himself politely from a situation that was becoming more ticklish by the second.
“Shall I fetch Miss Ashford?” he asked.
“I’d prefer to return to the ballroom.”
Then Charles remembered the reason he’d asked for this tête-à-tête in the first place. It was time to make that apology. Just a few words and all would be forgiven. They could part ways in charity.
“Before I do, Lady Fortuna, I’d like to beg your pardon for that callous remark I made the other day.” When she didn’t respond, he lamely added, “I had no idea you were blind.”
Inwardly, Charles cursed himself for admitting such stupidity.
“I accept your apology,” she replied in a tight voice but her words lacked conviction. “Now, take me back to my cousin.”
He frowned. That imperious attitude again. He’d never met such an overbearing woman. “Not until I’m certain you’ve recovered.”
Fortuna bristled. “I’m no invalid, my lord. Neither am I a helpless female.” She started for the French doors with hands groping before her. “I can find my own way, thank you.”
Charles grabbed her upper arm before she could take three steps. “Are you daft, woman? You’re like to trip over your own slippers and break your neck.”
With an indignant yank, Fortuna freed herself from his grasp, then batted at his hand as if fending off an attack. “I don’t need help from you!”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the couples disengage from the shadows and scurry toward the house. The lady’s head was bent low and her eyes were averted but the gentleman hesitated as if to speak. Charles leveled a challenging look on him and the fellow beat a hasty retreat, as did another pair of lovers a moment later.
This was pure insanity. If he wasn’t careful he’d be leg-shackled to the Morley chit, or forced to meet one of her male relatives at dawn on Wimbledon Common.
Drawing up with dignity, Fortuna stood in the middle of the terrace with light streaming around her. She looked like a religious icon, Charles wryly noted, Joan of Arc at the stake.
“I may be blind,” she said, “but my ears work perfectly. I hear what people say about you.”
“Indeed,” Charles drawled, much diverted by an image of her tied to a post with flames licking at her feet. “And what, pray tell, is being said?”
“That you’re arrogant and cold. Incapable of tender feelings.” She hesitated for a moment as if gathering courage, then lifted her chin. “And that you keep a mistress, a French émigré by the name of Mimi.”
That last statement surprised him. Charles blinked in astonishment. “Hardly a topic for the ears of gently bred young ladies, I should think,” he muttered.
“How ironic,” Fortuna continued in an acerbic tone. “So-called gentlemen can squire around the lowest form of female but a lady can’t even mention them in polite conversation.”
Annoyed, Charles raked the fingers of one hand through his hair. “Rather say it’s the way of the world.” He sighed.
“The word ‘hypocritical’ comes to mind, my lord.”
“And ‘impudent’ comes to mine,” he snapped back. “I find this conversation unseemly and offensive.” The warning tone he used was one that never failed to cower servants.
Yet the chit seemed oblivious to the threat. In a prim tone she said, “I’m very much concerned about your attitudes, my lord. Especially with regard to marriage.”
Charles was dumbstruck for a moment. Then, in a tight voice, he asked, “And why should my philosophy on the wedded state matter to you?”
“If you intend to marry my cousin, it matters a great deal. I’ll not see Juliana bound to a man who refuses to honor his marriage vows. She deserves the love and respect of a devoted husband.”
“What curious notions you have,” Charles drawled with deliberate sarcasm. Her air of moral superiority was starting to grate. “Respect is something one earns, Lady Fortuna. For women, it means remembering their place.” He allowed those words to hang on the air. Then, in a derisive voice, he asked, “But tell me, what has love to do with marriage?”
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