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As an Earl Desires
"Honestly, Sachse, I don't know how you expect to find a suitable wife if you refuse to be fitted for new clothing."
Archibald Warner, the seventh Earl of Sachse, watched as Camilla Warner, his predecessor's widow, paced before him, clearly agitated, wringing her delicate hands, furrowing her youthful brow. While the previous earl had been older than any man Arch had ever known-not that he'd ever met the fellow, and based upon what he'd learned so far he was rather glad that he hadn't-his widow was two years Arch's junior. And the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
Today she wore a fashionable dress of the palest pink silk, which accentuated her trim figure and complemented her alabaster skin. She was quite at home in his residence-it had been part of her husband's holdings-and had removed her decorative hat upon entering his library. The sunlight pouring through the windows glinted off her upswept brown hair, touching upon it and causing it to glisten, making it appear that many of the strands had been spun from gold.
All Season, she'd been an exemplary hostess, accompanying him on most of his outings, introducing him to this duke and that earl, this marquess, that viscount. She knew the history of every aristocratic family and details about their lives that some might prefer she didn't know. Without looking in Debrett's, she could advise on the proper hierarchy and where one should be seated based on rank so as not to give offense to anyone else at the table.
He was truly amazed that she'd mastered all the etiquette and protocol, which he tended to bumble. He couldn'thave been more grateful for her assistance ... usually.
This afternoon being a rare exception.
She'd arrived at his residence only moments ago and before he could even offer a proper greet-ing, she promptly began to scold him because he had no desire to be fitted with new clothing. Rather he preferred to sit in his library-the only advantage he'd found so far to being the earl was the abundance of books at his disposal-and finish reading the novel he'd begun yesterday. He often wondered if he should advise Camilla when she went off on one of her tirades that he'd served for a time in Her Majesty's army and was quite skilled with a rifle.
"Sachse, have you listened to a single word I've spoken?"
He looked into her earnest brown eyes. She cared so much about things for which he cared nothing. And yet the intensity with which she cared intrigued him.
"Perhaps I should simply marry you; then I would not have to be concerned with a new wardrobe." Or a good many other things come to think of it. The notion did have some merit.
Although judging by the exaggerated rolling of her eyes, she disagreed. "You cannot marry me. I am barren. You must marry a woman who can provide you with an heir."
She spoke with practicality, but as always, he heard her hesitation and her slight quiver over the word barren. She tried so hard to appear unfeeling, but he'd long ago deduced that it was simply a well rehearsed act. Much of her behavior was a performance, which more often than not irritated him because she did not trust him enough to reveal her true self.
Whatever had the old earl done to make her think that she was naught but an actress upon his stage?
"Therefore," she continued, "you must see your tailor when he arrives this afternoon and not find yet another excuse to leave the house before he gets here."
"I have very little interest in securing a woman who places such high regard on the cut of my jacket."
"It is not your jacket that will impress her, but rather what it tells her about you."
"Which would be what exactly?"
"You care not only about the latest fashions, but you have the means to purchase them. You are modern. You take great pride in your appearance. You will make an excellent husband."
"A woman can determine all that from a bit of clothing?" he asked, incredulously.
"One should never underestimate how loudly one's attire speaks to the world. Of course, in addition I will be touting the strength of your character, and it will make my calculated whisperings more believable if you are well turned out."
He set his book aside and rose to his full height. She took a step back. She always did. Kept her distance when he would like nothing more than to close the space separating them-the physical as well as the emotional. She intrigued him because she appeared to live within a tower of her own building, much as Rapunzel, and he wondered if he removed the pins from her hair if the golden brown tresses would fall to the ground.
"Why do you care so much that I marry?" he asked.
"I care that you have an heir, that you do not lose all that you've gained from the old Sachse-may he rest in hell."
Arch chuckled at the answer, which he suspected only touched upon the truth. She gained nothing if he gained an heir, and he'd learned that she never took an interest in anything that offered her no gain. If she wished to pretend her motives were as she'd indicated, he'd allow it for now. In time, though, he would discern her true reasons.
"Camilla, I will not lose any of this until I die, at which point, I will not care what happens to any of it."
She turned away from him, and the temperature in the room seemed to drop, causing a shiver to race along his spine. He didn't know how she managed so effectively to show her irritation with him, yet she did.As an Earl Desires. Copyright (c) by Lorraine Heath . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.