Gerald Dersingham, the new Earl of Carbrooke, is captivated by the woman who storms into his house demanding an explanation for a letter he had no idea he sent.
Gerald never wanted to be an earl. He was happier living in seclusion with his sisters. About to become betrothed to the icy daughter of a duke, he meets the vibrant, alluring Annie, who captivates his heart. But if he gives in to his desires, he risks a happy ending for his sisters, and they deserve their chances.
Annie Cathcart is a widow from the City of London. Finally, she has the chance to achieve her dream of creating silverware for the table. But she needs Gerald’s old Shoreditch home to do it. Expecting a stuffy, pompous aristocrat, she meets a man who sees right through her practical exterior to the passionate woman beneath. She wants him more than the house, her respectability, and her independence.
Annie and Gerald are faced with stark choices when her landlord tries to blackmail her into marriage.
Either they give in to the pressures forcing them into unhappy respectability apart… or they boldly defy convention in the name of love.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My ancestor, Hester Bateman was a silversmith in her own right in the City of London in the eighteenth century. My heroine is based on her. She owned the business in her own right and had her own maker's mark. I wanted to show how women could get ahead in a different time, that they weren't helpless.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Annie Cathcart is Hester Bateman, forthright, business-minded, but the real Hester remained a widow for most of her life. I wanted to give her the husband she deserved!
Gerald is a newly-minted earl, a man who never expected to inherit the title. He's anxious to see his three sisters settled but is deeply uncomfortable in high society. I love writing fish out of water characters, because you get to see their true mettle.
Voices raised in anger came from the hall. The Cathcart woman was obviously not leaving quietly. Gerald waited for Watson to clear the hall before he made his escape.
After a noisy three minutes, the door to the breakfast parlor burst open and a young woman strode in, Watson scurrying at her heels. She wore a straw hat and clothes Gerald would designate as modest. Her gown was a dark green wool, barely visible under a brown cloak, her hoop small. Her dark hair was free of powder and covered decently with a white linen cap. She reminded him of his sisters before he’d inherited the title, with her practical stance and her lack of deference. No man’s mistress dressed like that, despite the fact that the woman was undeniably beautiful. Her dark hair was drawn plainly back, but it gleamed with health, her blue eyes, currently narrowed in anger, were startlingly vivid and her mouth, despite being taut, was invitingly full. Gerald noticed all these features, not with the eye of a roué or the dispassionate gaze of a connoisseur of beauty, but with the mild surprise of a man who generally took people as he found them.
Mrs. Cathcart. The name meant nothing to him.
Intrigued, Gerald settled to observe Mrs. Cathcart. The air positively crackled with energy.
Watson seized her arm. “I will get rid of the female, my lord.”
Mrs. Cathcart boldly met Gerald’s eyes, her head flung back. A strand of dark hair broke loose from her severe hairstyle, grazing her cheek, adding a touch of disorder to her neat appearance.
Their gazes met, clashed and sparked.
Something important had just happened, but he couldn’t have said what it was if his life depended upon it. She reached into a part of him he didn’t know existed, and asked a silent question he couldn’t define. Gerald locked the stirring of desire firmly away. That was not happening today.
“I will not be dismissed like an inopportune maid.” The single feather in her straw hat quivered as she spoke in the clear tones of a gentlewoman. “If we meet only this once, I will have my say. My lord,” she added, as if belatedly recalling his title. She hadn’t even dropped a curtsey. She tossed a sheet of folded paper at him which he made no attempt to catch. “I am not to be spoken to in this way, brushed aside as if my request is of no notice. You will deal with this now, even if your answer is no. And you will do it to my face. I am owed an apology, my lord, and if the writer of this—thing—is the caliber of person you employ, I cannot regard you as a gentleman.”
Fascinating. Without taking his attention from her, he picked up the paper from where it had landed perilously close to his plate. He was far more interested in her than he was in whatever was written there, but he scanned the note.
Anger to match hers rose in him. He knew nothing about this. And Smith had offered her what for the lease of the house? How dare the man? He’d inherited Smith from his predecessor, and since the lawyer already knew his way around the estate and other businesses, he’d chosen to leave the minor matters to him until he could deal with them. Well that would end right now.
“You employ blackguards like that?” she demanded. “Is it usual to exchange intimate favors for business arrangements?”
He did not consider the house in Bunhill Row a minor matter because, until recently, it had been his home.
His sister, Damaris, snatched the letter from his hand before he could prevent her doing it. She scanned it. “Good grief.” Before Gerald could reclaim it, she passed the letter to Dorcas.
Mrs. Cathcart glared at him, her luscious lips primmed tight. “I would hate to disturb your breakfast, my lord, with such a trivial matter,” she said sweetly, her voice indicating the exact opposite of her words.
“Not at all.”
Damaris bestowed a sweet smile on the intruder. “Would you like some tea?” She lifted the teapot. “So you live near Bunhill Row. We lived there for years, you know.”
“I would love some tea.” Shooting him a poisonous glare, the lady moved further into the room.
Damaris poured tea into one of the delicate china dishes and pushed it over to the lady.
“Thank you.” Mrs. Cathcart, eyes narrowed, surveyed the room, with its elegant mahogany furniture, elaborately draped apple green curtains and the unlit chandelier overhead. Eventually she glanced at Watson who was still standing in the doorway, a sturdy footman behind him, ready to throw their impertinent visitor out. She lifted her hands to her chin, unfastening her hat. Then she removed the serviceable cloak, revealing an equally serviceable gown of good dark green cloth.
When she took off her gloves, she drew Gerald’s attention as if he couldn’t look away. Tugging each finger, she slowly drew the leather down her fingers and off, revealing long fingers, short but well cared-for nails, and soft bare skin. Capable hands.
She dropped the gloves in her hat and handed it to the butler, after he had draped her cloak over his arm. They exchanged a glance, and Watson turned and left the room, as if she were the mistress here and she’d just ordered him to go.
Gerald bided his time. He could not behave like a cad, and throw her out on her ear, but he’d let his sisters soften her up a little, give her a chance to calm down. After that letter, he understood her indignation perfectly.
Mrs. Cathcart pasted a polite smile on her face, but Gerald felt her simmering anger as if it were his own. She was humoring his sisters. “I would appreciate a dish of tea, my lady, thank you.” She drew back the chair Damaris indicated and sat, flicking her skirts into place.
Damaris swiftly introduced the sisters, and while she didn’t engage the rigmarole society insisted on when introductions were made, she nodded civilly to each of the women and met their eyes as she nodded. Gerald liked her lack of deference. She gave every impression of an equal, which she might be in all but social standing, considering the staggering wealth some City merchants controlled.
Reluctantly, Gerald returned to his place at the table. He kept his attention solely on this fascinating woman. He’d encountered many such in Smithfield, bold women who took their own paths in life. Unlike the demimonde, they did not cajole men, they made demands and often had them met. Merchants in the City valued their wives for their abilities to engage in their businesses, serving customers in the shops, working on the company accounts. In a way, the woman he would eventually make his countess would do much the same thing, but with one difference. Entails meant that a noblewoman would never own a title or property in their own right. A woman of the City could expect to do so, and often did.
Mrs. Cathcart appeared typical of her breed, forthright but polite, seemingly deferential but meeting his gaze boldly and making her demands directly.
Mrs. Cathcart lifted her tea dish by the rim, little finger extended in the correct manner. Her manners were en pointe, as good as any duchess. She sat upright, her spine not touching the back of her chair, and she wore that irritating half-smile that meant nothing.
She was the most intriguing woman he’d seen in an age. Not that society ladies did not have their charms, but they were different, not what he was used to. And he could not approach them or become their friend as he could women from the City. The single ones expected him to court them, the older ones expected him to marry their daughters. It was all he was good for.
Leaning back, he studied her as she made polite, but tight, conversation with his sisters.
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