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Publisher: Avon Impluse
Date Released: December 6, 2016
Series: The Bachelor Lords of London #3
Beauregard “Beau” Courtland has no use for the whims of society and even less for aristocratic titles. As a younger son, he travels the world in search of adventure with no plans to settle down. Even when the title of Viscount Rainsleigh is suddenly forced upon him, he will not bend to duty or decorum. Not until an alluring young woman appears on the deck of his houseboat, determined to teach him propriety in all things and tempting him with every forbidden touch…
Lady Emmaline Crumbley has had a wretched year. Her elderly husband dropped dead without naming her in his will and she’s been relegated to the life of a dowager duchess at the age of 23. She has no wish to instruct a renegade viscount in respectability, but desperate to escape her greedy stepson, Beau’s family makes her an offer she cannot refuse: teach the new lord to behave like a gentleman, and they’ll help her earn the new, self-sufficient life of her dreams. Emmaline agrees, only to discover that instructing the viscount is one thing, but resisting him is quite another. How can she teach manners to the rakish nobleman if he is determined to show her the thrill of scandal instead?
Paddington Lock, London
Emmaline Crumbley, the Dowager Duchess of Ticking, had agreed to a great many things in life that she later lived to regret.
She regretted leaving Liverpool to move to London.
She regretting marrying a decrepit duke, three times her age.
She regretted cutting her hair.
Most recently—that is, most immediately—she regretted striding down the wet shoreline of Paddington Lock at seven o’clock in the morning for the purpose of—
Well, she couldn’t precisely say what she had agreed to do.
Instruct a full-grown man on the finer points of eating with a fork and knife? On sitting upright? Teach him to smile and say, “How do you do?”
Teach him to dance?
“Good God,” she whispered, “I hope not.”
Her tacit agreement with Mr. Bryson Courtland, the new viscount’s brother, had not been a specific checklist so much as a vague wish to refine the new lord. A wistfulness. Mr. Courtland was wistful (really, there was no other word) about how perfectly suited Emmaline was to sort out his wayward brother. About how she might, in fact, be his only hope.
And there it was. The reason Emmaline had agreed to do it, despite her mounting regret. There was perhaps no stronger leverage than being anyone’s only hope.
And what Emmaline needed right now—more than she needed to stop agreeing to things or even to stop regretting them—was leverage. Leverage with the wealthy, shipbuilding Bryson Courtland, no less. If Mr. Courtland wished to see his brother trained in the finer arts of being a gentleman, well, she stood ready to serve.
The shifting gravel crunched loudly beneath her boots, and she walked faster, trying to outpace the sound. She spared another look over her shoulder. The canal was deserted at this hour, something she could not have guessed. Her plan had been to come early but not to find herself alone. In this, she was lucky for the fog. Visibility was no more than five feet. Just enough to make out the name on the last narrow boat in the row.
A ridiculous name, painted on the hull in ridiculously overwrought script. Everything about the boat was, in fact, ridiculous, from the peeling purple paint to the viscount who lived aboard it.
Certainly the fact that she was broaching its wobbly stern for the third time this month was ridiculous.
Ah, but you agreed to this, she reminded herself. It is a very small means to a much larger end.
Squaring her shoulders, Emmaline contemplated the swaying gangplank, a rickety ribbon of loosely wired boards. She’d learned to navigate the moldering plank on her two previous calls to the houseboat and could easily step aboard without snagging the silk of her skirts (even while she felt a small thrill each time the stiff black bombazine caught and tore).
Three more days, she reminded herself, and she could trade full mourning for half. In place of black, she would be permitted to wear . . . gray. Hardly an improvement, but at least she could get rid of the detestable, vision-blocking veil. And the black. Oh, how she detested the black.
Gulls squawked forebodingly in the distance, and she paused to scan the shoreline. The Duke of Ticking’s grooms had never trailed her this early in the morning, but their spying became more prevalent with each passing day. A quiet path was no guarantee of a safe one. At the moment, she saw only the misty shore, an empty bench, and the outline of the buildings lining New Road. Safe and clear. For the moment.
Drawing a resigned breath, she clasped the ropes on either side of the gangplank and teetered onboard.
The viscount’s houseboat was strewn with an indistinguishable jumble of provisions and rigging and dead chub. She knew to expect this from previous visits and now picked her way to the door. At one time, it had perhaps been painted red. Orange, maybe. Now it was a dusty, mud-smeared gray. Precisely the color, she hypothesized, of the viscount’s pickled liver. Thankful for her gloves, Emmaline took up her skirts to descend the steps that led to the door when—
The door swung open and banged against the cabin wall. Emmaline skittered back, silently flailing, until she collided with an overturned barrel. She sat, swallowing a gasp and whipping around to gauge her distance to the side of the boat. Less than a foot, but she was steady, thank God, on the splintered planks of the barrel. She closed her eyes. Means to an end. A great favor for a great favor.
Female laughter burst from the door, and she opened her eyes. Three women staggered onto the deck in a chain of wild hair and sagging silk and dragging petticoats. At their feet, a dog pranced and barked.
“Give my regard to Fannie,” a man’s voice called after them.
“Oh, we’ll tell ’er, lovey!” called one of the women. More laughter. The trio linked arms and tripped their way to the gangplank, working together to stay upright. The dog, meanwhile, had caught scent of Emmaline and padded over to sniff the hem of her dress. She watched the dog warily and gestured in a shooing motion to the bustle of women trailing onto the shore. The dog ignored them and plopped her shaggy front paws on Emmaline’s skirts.
“Next time, I’ll be expecting Fannie,” the man’s voice called cheerfully again from within.
The viscount, Emmaline guessed. On previous visits, she had not heard him speak. Well, perhaps she had heard him speak but not actual words. He had mumbled something unintelligible. He had snorted. There may have been the occasional gurgling sound. She had come early today in hopes of discovering him in full possession of his faculties, especially speech. In this, she seemed to have succeeded, but she would never have guessed he would not be alone.
Now she heard footsteps. Something fell over with a clatter. There was a muttered curse, more footsteps. Emmaline shoved off the barrel and stood, her eyes wide on the door. The dog dropped from her skirts but remained beside her, and she fought the impulse to sweep her up into her arms. Protection. Ransom. Courage with a wet nose and shaggy tail.
But the dog left her when the man who matched the voice emerged to fill the doorway. Tall, rumpled, untucked, he leaned against the outside wall of the cabin and stared into the mist.
She forgot the dog and took a step closer.
But he was far younger than she’d thought. Not a boy, of course, but not so much older than her own twenty-three years. Twenty-seven perhaps? Twenty-eight?
And he was so . . . fit. Well, fitter than she’d guessed he would be. Of course she’d never seen him standing upright. The doorway was small, and he was forced to angle his broad shoulders and stoop to see out. He hooked his large hands casually on the ledge above the door and rested his forehead on a thick bicep. Squinting lazily, he watched the women disappear into the fog.
One of them called back, an unintelligible jumble of hooting laughter and retort, and he huffed, a laugh that didn’t fully form.
Emmaline looked too, ever worried about the grooms, but the shoreline was a swirl of cottony mist.
When she swung her gaze back to viscount, he was no longer laughing or squinting. Now, he stared—but not at the shoreline.
The viscount was staring at her.
About the Author:
Charis Michaels is thrilled to be making her debut with Avon Impulse. Prior to writing romance, she studied Journalism at Texas A & M and managed PR for a trade association. She has also worked as a tour guide at Disney World, harvested peaches on her family’s farm, and entertained children as the “Story Godmother” at birthday parties. She has lived in Texas, Florida, and London, England. She now makes her home in the Washington, D.C.-metro area.
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