He crossed his arms. He was to be a debaucher. Hunh. And divorced! He had never thought of himself as that, either. What an extraordinary evening. A proposal of marriage. An indecent offer to wed and bed a woman whom he had never met. Plus the knowledge that, if he accepted this bizarre bargain, he would be married, divorced and well paid for it all within three months’ time.
He turned his face toward her. Lovely, she was, though she did not wear her success here with any hauteur. She had a humility to her demeanor that intrigued him for its novelty. That it also astonished him was unique. So much so that he admitted to himself he wanted to please her and pet her. That desire doubled as he discerned that her recent circumstances had worn her down to skin and bones, coupled with desperation that had brought her to him and to this pass. Marrying him could not only change her life immeasurably, but change her attitude, her health and her financial position.
But what would marrying her do to him?
Make him more of a rogue in the eyes of the ton?
He ran a finger over the seam of his lips. Did it matter if that were so?
He had no woman he wished to take to wife. He had, at the moment, no lover, either. No plans for the next three months. Not if one counted an invitation to Adam’s and Felice’s supper parties once a month. Or his annual business meeting with his father in late March in the family seat in the Cotswolds. Surely, White’s and gambling did not figure prominently in any intelligent man’s engagement book. However, the compassion, the sympathy he felt for her, coupled with his extreme dislike of her stepfather and Trayne, propelled him to accept this final stipulation from her. At his fine ripe age of thirty-five, he had no other pressing objections to such an insane proposition as marrying for three months. This indeed meant he was rather louche, didn’t it? Without purpose, plight or grand passion, he had no reason to deny her what she wished. Him. His name and his protection. For three months.
What harm could that cause, when the damage done to her was a thousand-fold more brutal than any divorce might bring her?
He would live. Once the ton heard the true tale as they would, years from now, he might even be redeemed. He scoffed at the very notion. Redemption had never been a need of his. It was not now, either. If he did this, it was to help her, not raise up his own reputation in the eyes of others.
She watched him like a bird of prey, sharp-eyed and wily as a starving child seeking succor.
Rawley pulled up to Jack’s front door. The coach rolled to a stop while the horses stamped and snorted. The rain drummed a fierce tattoo on the roof.
Jack took Emma’s hand. “Come. We must get you out of those clothes.”
She bristled. “We must not—not until we’re married.”
He shook his head. Yes, his reputation certainly was an outrage if the woman who had just proposed marriage to him might think him plotting to take her to him before the ceremony. “Miss Darling. I wish to have my housekeeper find you dry clothes, not remove yours from you.”
He felt the tension drain from her body. “Thank you. I am grateful.”
“Thank me in three months’ time.”