I'm afraid I cannot tell you much about her, or it might give the story away. Suffice to say there are two Lady Floras. Maybe more. And all disgracefully behaved. So instead of a showcase today, here is an excerpt from The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora.
* * * *
Gesturing impatiently over her head, he followed her out into the hall, leaving the wide doors open so that the two of them remained within sight of the others, but not close enough to be overheard.
"It is not necessary to show your gratitude in person, Lady Flora. Surely our solicitor explained everything to you." He bowed his head an inch toward her, as if he spoke to a six year-old who must be told they couldn't have trifle and should be satisfied with gruel. "Is there some part of it that you did not understand, madam?"
He glanced over at the others inside the library and then back to her. "Very well. I suppose you wonder why I am so willing to take you on as a wife, but a man of my position has many burdens and responsibilities to shoulder. Marriage is simply another and the sooner it is done the better. Your family is most eager to have you settled and their haste suits my plans. Further, we...I do not ask for a great dowry, which I believe will please them." He cleared his throat. "I thought a July wedding, here in the chapel at Castle Malgrave, would be most convenient. After the London season is completed and before the grouse shooting. A very small number of guests—" He paused, frowning down at her. "I am sure this is all most astonishing and gratifying to a young person such as yourself, Lady Flora, but please moderate your expression. The folk within might think me in the throes of an obscene suggestion."
She meant to laugh, but it came out of her in an unladylike snort. "They wouldn't be far wrong, would they?"
His scowl hesitated and then deepened. "I do not have the pleasure of understanding."
"You cannot possibly imagine a marriage between us would be a good idea. Are you quite mad? You must be!" After all, she'd done everything possible to dissuade him, whenever Great Aunt Bridget looked the other way. She thought it was working wonderfully, until this happened. "Besides, I am far too young to think of marriage."
"Seventeen is perfectly adequate. Many women your age are already mothers. There is nothing—"
"But you're not in love with me, are you?"
"What the devil difference does that make?"
"Precisely. If you were an ordinary fellow, who earned his way in life, you would understand. You would learn that things do not simply happen because you click your fingers and command them to."
His eyes narrowed, nostrils flared. She'd seen stallions kept too long in the horse boxes that looked like that. "Explain yourself, madam."
"Plumm said you mean to manage me. You, your grace, feel adequate to that task, do you?"
His head tilted slightly, confusion slowly finding a tighter hold on his countenance. "Your faults are many, your behavior in need of correction, but it is not solely your fault. I know your parents died when you were young and of an impressionable age. Since then your family has neither guarded nor guided you well. I'm sure the uncertainty must have made life difficult for you. I can give you discipline, stability and order where they—what's the matter now? You look as if you might be sick."
She clutched her throat. "Please say nothing to my great aunt about this. She'd never forgive me for spurning such a romantic proposition. Promise me you will say nothing to her."
Now, for the first time within the short span of their acquaintance, she observed a slight crack in his polished armor. A face unaccustomed to self-doubt and rejection could not be prepared with any expression to hide that moment of panic when he felt the floor falling out from under his conceited boots. Possibly for the very first time in his self-assured life, no servant could prevent his discomfort.
"Am I to understand that you... you refuse me, madam?"
"I most certainly do, you poor, dear, misguided thing."
She looked into the library again and seeing that they were slyly observed by several pairs of eyes, gave a jaunty smile and waved. Immediately they all looked away again, prim and appalled by her casual, irreverent ways.
"I shall not stay for supper, your grace. I suppose it wouldn't be proper now, but may I take some cake for the journey and for my brother, Francis, who is home from school and has so very little enjoyment? Bessie Bentinck says your cook makes very good lemon cakes. I have been in the greatest anticipation of tasting the delight since we got here and yet there were none served last night at dinner with the syllabub. But I ...I think there might be some in the larder. I think. Perhaps. Somebody mentioned something about it..."
The young man before her seemed suddenly to grow an extra few inches in height and he had already towered over her. Swallowed up by his shadow she took an uneasy step sideways along the wall.
"Cakes?" he muttered.
"Yes, you know, the sweet, sugary—"
"I know what cake is, madam." He followed her along the passage.
"Surely you cannot deny a girl lemon cakes, especially not when you keep the best French cook in England."
"I begin to think that is the only reason you accepted my invitation to Castle Malgrave."
"Well, I..." She laughed uneasily, hands clasped before her.
"I see." He raised his chin to look down from an even greater height. "And in London last week at the Bentinck's party, when I spoke to you at some length on the subject of marriage and its benefits, surely you knew what I was about. I am highly unlikely to strike up a conversation with a young lady about marriage merely to pass the time of day."
"I assumed you spoke in jest on that occasion, your grace. That was before I realized all your stories are very dull. I waited for the good part."
"A jest?" His eyes darkened. "You stood next to me for seven and twenty minutes anticipating the conclusion of a joke?"
"I do love a good laugh."
He swayed backward and made an odd sound, like a bag of flour landing on a hard surface. Two fingers curled against his brow as if to wipe away an invisible mark. "It seems I have inadvertently given you one."
She felt sorry then, for although the Duke of Malgrave was a pompous arse it couldn't all be his fault. It seemed likely he had never learned to laugh at himself, whereas she'd had plenty of practice at that sport. At that moment she actually liked him a little— more than she had done before. Much more than she would have thought possible just a few weeks ago when they first met...
Find out what happens next (and the mischief that leads to this ill-advised proposal) on May 23rd! You can pre-order your copy now here -- Amazon
Image: Aphrodite by William-Adolphe Bouguereau