Lady Felicity Merryweather knows her middling looks and fortune mean she is unlikely ever to marry. But before she settles into a life of dull spinsterhood, she wants one night of passion to remember – no strings attached, no questions asked and no regrets. Her only condition – that the man never asks her to marry him.
Who better to help her than her old friend Quincey, the Earl of Edenburgh? He reluctantly agrees to the tryst, only to find he craves more and more of Felicity’s mix of fiery passion and shyness. Their single meeting turns into a passionate affair.
When Quincey breaks his promise and proposes, Felicity is quick to refuse him. But her parents, learning she has refused to marry an Earl, contract a marriage for her with one of her father’s business associates. While she accepts the arrangement, she decides to show London her true colors before she disappears from society.
Now, Felicity is the toast of the town – vivacious, talkative and colorful, sought after by the best of hostesses and pursued by the most interesting of men.
But when one of her rivals schemes to ruin her reputation, she can turn to only one man to help her – the one man she has been trying her hardest to avoid – the Earl of Edenburgh.
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“I should like it very much… that is, if you would be so kind…”
Lady Felicity Merryweather was making a mess of the most important question of her life. It was taking too long, and Lord Edenburgh was starting to glaze over. She needed to come to the point, and quickly, before she lost her nerve. Mentally shaking the cobwebs from her head and the stutter from her voice, she fixed her pale blue eyes on the earl. Drawing a deep breath, she lifted her chin defiantly.
“I wish you to deflower me.”
Lord Edenburgh choked on his brandy. He brought a fine linen handkerchief to his lips and for a few moments, was prisoner to a paroxysm of coughing. Felicity wondered if she should rush over and slap him on the back. Then his watering, shocked brown eyes lifted to meet with hers. “You wish me to what?”
“Deflower me. Take my virginity.” She felt her blush rising, and worked to keep it subdued. It would not do for the earl to think she was embarrassed or ashamed.
“What, right now?” The earl was regarding her with all sorts of horror. Had the situation not been so critical, Felicity may well have laughed out loud at the dismay on his face.
“No, of course not. I mean, at an agreed upon time and place, we would meet and you would… deflower me.”
Standing before the incredulous earl, Felicity started to wilt. Perhaps this had not been such a good idea after all. Her unbecoming flush rose again. Even the word – deflower – seemed to be foolish. Clipping roses from a bush was one thing. This was very much another.
And yet Felicity stood her ground, resolute in her decision. She knew she would never marry – her modest dowry, ridiculous red hair, freckles and gangly limbs made sure of that – and so as the season began, Felicity decided to gift herself one night of passion before settling down into dreary spinsterhood.
She peeked up at the earl, who was even now shakily reaching for another glass of brandy. Timidly, she asked, “Do you think you could accommodate me, my lord?”
His rough laugh startled her. “Good god, Felicity, if you’re going to come in here and stand in front of my desk and ask me to bed you, at least call me Quincey.”
She smiled. “Quincey, then. What do you think?”
She took a seat on a low sofa, placing her shaking hands in her lap and crossing her ankles demurely. She could no longer look Quincey in the eye, nor deny the riot of pink that flushed through her cheeks. She must look a sight. She was not one of those lovely females whose blushes looked like the kisses of angels. No, her flush was more like a slap in the face from the devil himself. It burned bright pink, in dreadful combination with her bright red hair. She sighed. Quincey’s silence spoke volumes. He was going to reject her.
In her peripheral vision, she saw Quincey heave himself out of his chair and come to sit beside her. Taking her hands, he asked kindly, “Is this really what you want?”
Her eyes flew up to meet his, warm and light brown in his boyish face. Familiar eyes, that she had looked at many times before. Why had she never noticed the tiny darts of copper running through them?
“Yes.” The one word was solid, with no traces of nerves in her voice.
“And you are certain it will not be something you will regret afterward?”
She gave a short laugh. “That I cannot answer. However, I do know that I will regret it my entire life if I do not do it.”
He nodded, then stilled, and his grip on her hands grew a little tighter. “Why me, Felicity?”
She moistened her dry lips, and gave him a wavering smile. “Because you are my friend,” she replied simply.
The earl breathed in deeply, then blew the breath out in a huff. Felicity smelled brandy and pipe smoke on his breath, comforting, familiar scents. He scratched his head, his brows drawn and his mouth a hard line.
To Felicity’s surprise, he jumped up and walked rapidly around the room. Then, he spun toward her accusingly. “This is an enormous responsibility you wish to place on me you know, Felicity?”
She nodded silently.
“You come in here, asking me this, when I’ve only ever thought of you as a neighbour and a friend – not ever as an actual woman.”
She nodded again. That was something of which she was acutely aware. “I know.”
“And now you want me to…” he waved his hand in her direction, “and then we would… it’s preposterous! Preposterous!” He glared at her, and she calmly looked back at him, waiting.
Quincey’s chest heaved in irritation, but Felicity merely allowed the question to hang in the air. If there was one thing she knew about Quincey, it was that he blustered and bellowed just before he came to a difficult decision.
He strode back around to his desk chair. “Have you no thought for your reputation? For your parents? For me?”
“Of course. Nobody’s reputation needs to suffer. Only you and I ever need ever know it even happened.”
He gaped at her, then seemed to deflate, falling into his chair.
“I cannot believe I’m considering this,” he groaned, putting his head into his hands. Felicity waited.
Then he looked up challengingly, directly into Felicity’s eyes.
“Very well. I’ll do it.”