We've all seen the movie vamp who hides her tiny gun in her purse. Or the back of her jeans. Or slips her dagger into her fishnets. Yes?
But have you seen a lady with a gun in her muff?
Trust me. It will be the New Thing.
Because it was an Old Thing. This Old Thing is from 1805. In its own charming case, this .31 calibre Flint lock pistol was Just the Thing for a lady in need. If she were traveling alone, or about to accost a gentleman, or perhaps even defend herself from lecherous cads, she needed such a handy little item.
Many women carried them, concealed in their fur muffs. True.
My latest heroine, Miss Esme Harvey, has one. Her papa purchased it from a down and out French aristo who needed the money, you see. And Esme has always loved shooting...usually grouse, but she has no qualms about shooting a man if he gets too uppity.
And now, here is Esme with the man she is to marry...until she decides she shan't.
Why? Because Papa will suffer if she does. So will her husband. So she skips town the morning of the ceremony. Tsk tsk.
Miss Harvey's Horribly Lovable Fiancé, Four Weddings and a Frolic, Book 3
Theirs was to be The Wedding of the Season!
Until the bride ran away and...
The groom chased after her.
Then she pulled her pistol on him…
And thankfully aimed poorly.
How can this escapade end, if she's marrying him for his titles?
And he's marrying her for her money?
Yet their affair appears to be the Romance of the Year?
Excerpt, All Rights reserved. Copyright 2020, Cerise DeLand.
By their fourth meeting—another ball—Northington had been introduced to Esme by a mutual friend. As he took her hand to lead her in a quadrille, he revealed that he’d come only because he’d learned she would attend.
“I’m complimented,” she said, as a challenge to cover her admission of delight.
“Good. Shall I ask you to call me by my given name?”
“Giles. Will you use it?”
“When it’s suitable.”
“You are careful.” He grinned. “I like that about you.”
“Evidently not careful enough. When we met, you found me alone in a most unsuitable place.”
“As you found me.”
She could not help the appeal of his charming mouth. “Did she find you?”
She rolled her eyes at him.
“You should believe me.”
Time to admit the truth. “I want to.”
He inhaled, frustration ripe on his brow. “Let me talk to you in the hall.”
“Esme—I hope I may address you that way. The hall, behind the marble statue of our host, affords more privacy than here.”
Hope of being naughty with him made her tingle. “My lord, why would we need privacy?”
“Because Esme, I’d like to kiss you.”
She licked her lips.
“I see that idea appeals to you.”
“Are you always so bold with women?”
Caution was a practice she rarely employed. With him, she should apply it. “I think we’ll wait.”
“Not long, Esme. Not too damn long,” he whispered as he devoted himself to perfection in the rest of the dance.
That evening, she’d learned from her friends that in the past two years, he’d had two lovers, both wealthy widows. Now he was free of both.
So when he returned to sit beside her, he murmured, “Esme, darling, look at me.”
She’d given in. With such endearments, who could deny him?
His hazel eyes faceted into shades of desire. “I want to become friends.”
“More than friends, Esme.”
She shook her head. She mustn’t lose it. “You’re a marquess.”
“Not considered appropriate for me, a viscount’s daughter.” Furthermore, his father was an old roué. That man, it was said aloud and in gossip sheets, wanted a glorious match for his only son. Specifically, ‘glorious’ translated into rich as Midas. That criteria she fit.
“Will you count me out of your life because of my status?” He joked, appearing amused as well as seriously dismayed.
“You’re twenty-nine,” she said in accusation.
“I am. You are six years younger. Is there a problem?”
“You’ve waited rather a long time to—” Well, why not say the obvious? “A long time to look for a bride.”
“I’ve had other occupations.”
She harrumphed. Yes, she knew two of them, too. “Aren’t you getting long in the tooth?”
He chuckled, looked about and leaned closer. “Do you think me so doddering that I might be incapable of begetting—?”
“No!” She burned with the power of her blush. “No. I do not.”
He laughed whole-heartedly. “I am in want of a wife. And I have looked for one for many years.”
“With any results?”
“None. Until lately.”
So by their fifth meeting (at Lady Elsworth’s tea), they were jovial friends who appeared to one and all to sit and discuss the cartoonist Rowlandson’s ability to portray the ironies of the Royals.
“May I call on you, Miss Harvey?” he had asked her when those in the room finally left them alone in their cozy corner.
“Why?” she’d been bold enough to inquire.
“I find I need your company.”
She stared at him and dared not believe it. The way he made her breath hitch just by gazing at her told her that if he pressed his magnificent mouth to hers, if he touched her arm or (please, God) her breast or (yesss) her quivering thigh, she could dissolve into little puddles of goo. And that was no way to maintain one’s reputation, especially if one liked to ride out at dawn or drink three glasses of champagne without comment or censure.
“Have dull friends, do you, sir?” She challenged him. Had to.
“What of the lady you met in the small salon at Lady Wimple’s?” She had to know from his lips if he was engaged in a new affair with anyone. She wouldn’t stand for him having mistresses. She couldn’t bear the competition. She was no Diamond, no Incomparable. But she had her assets. Good hair. A straight nose. Abundant breasts. So she’d brook no competition. Never. If he wished to marry her, he had to be hers, all hers…or not at all.
“Esme, listen to me.” In that crowded drawing room with dozens of the ton chatting on and noting every eye that drifted to every heaving bosom, he put a hand to hers and held it tightly. “That was no lady.”
Oh, how she wished to believe him.
“May I call?” he asked once more, his face full of earnest hope.
“Yes.” She wanted him, as she’d wanted no other. “Tomorrow.”
And so he had.
For three days in succession.
By the fourth day, her Mama (reading the air, Esme supposed) left them alone on some flimsy excuse.
He moved to Esme’s side on the settee and took her hands. Into both palms, he’d placed hot little kisses. Her nipples had beaded. Her belly had swelled. And her head had swum as he threaded his fingers into her coiffure and placed his firm lips on her own. And oh, he felt like heaven.
“Darling, I want to marry you,” he whispered. His mouth traveled her cheek and he bit her earlobe.
She sank her fingers into his thick soft curls and kissed him back with an ardor that (afterward) frankly shocked her.
“That’s yes,” he stated with finality. “I know it is.” He stood up so fast she thought he’d been shot. He left her there, aching to have his hands on her everywhere. But to his credit, he went in search of a footman and asked for her father. Straight away, he asked Papa who gave his immediate approval.
And then, quick as you please, Northington had disappeared.
The man who had rushed her into courtship, who had teased and bantered and lured her to fantasies of lying abed with him naked, had simply vanished.
Then two weeks ago, he had reappeared at Courtland Hall with a special license in hand. He apologized for his absence, but gave no explanations. Then he had promptly taken her out into her mother’s parterre and had kissed her senseless.
“May second, I want us to wed, darling.”
Not a question. A statement.
And she—twenty-three and aglow from head to heart to breasts to quivering belly—was in lust with him. She marveled, for she was no twit. No foolish woman whose daydreams ruled her life. No. She’d entertained numerous swains over the years. After all, she was a wealthy catch. She’d refused six gentlemen in marriage. She hadn’t found any of those fellows—titled, well-healed and accomplished in their own rights— interesting or even vaguely exciting.
But this man, this Northington, mesmerized her.
Truth be bald and bold, she pulsed to feel him wholly devoted to her. And soon, all things to her, dear and vital, tender and lusty, sacred and nakedly profane.
That, she concluded, or she was going to run off with him without benefit of marriage and allow him all sorts of liberties.
But that was two weeks ago.
And this morning as she looked out upon the rolling meadow, rosy in the rays of a rising sun, she questioned if her unmaidenly ardor to have him was enough to bind him to her for the next thirty or forty years.
Or did she need much more?