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By Susan Sizemore
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Susan Sizemore
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Kent, England, 1882
"I am used to always having my own way."
Andrew looked over his metal-rimmed glasses at the woman seated so stiffly behind the library desk and replied, "So am I, Lady Miranda."
One of her eyebrows went up, but otherwise not a flicker of surprise or annoyance showed on her serenely composed face. "Really, Mr. MacGregor? And how is that possible?"
"I am a man," he answered. "That is the way of the world."
He waited calmly, to see how this arrogant reply from a man she was interviewing for a position in her household would affect this lady of power and privilege. There was a stillness in her bearing he admired, but the firmness of her jaw and the fire in her hazel eyes spoke of temper and endless amounts of trouble. A strong woman. He had nothing against strong women, but they were the bane of a man's existence if he let himself become involved with them. It was his fate to become involved with this one. It didn't mean he had to do it on her terms.
Lady Miranda DuVrai Hartwell had a strong spirit. She was famous for it. But Andrew saw hints of frailty about her, despite the stubborn will that kept her upright and calm in the face of his effrontery. She was thin, and not because of any artifice of a tight-laced boned corset. Her cheeks were hollow, and her high cheekbones more prominent than they should be. She was pale, and there was a thinness about her lips that spoke of pain being ruthlessly ignored. He knew her age was thirty. Still young, yet there was a streak of silver in her otherwise jet black hair, rising in an arc over her scarred left temple. She'd made no effort to hide the small, round scar. It might have been polite to not look at her temple, but Andrew was not polite. He briefly looked, but kept any feelings or comments to himself.
"The way of the world," she finally said. "You will find that I go my own way, Mr. MacGregor."
"Will I?" he asked. "So you find my qualifications suitable for the position."
Miranda distinctly did not like Mr. MacGregor. That alone should be enough for her to end the interview and continue searching for a more amenable male to fill the position. Unfortunately, liking the man she sought was not something she'd put on her list of requirements. She needed intelligence, competence, scholarship, and good character. What she did not need was a toady or a sycophant, and Mr. MacGregor had certainly shown no signs of any servile eagerness to please. He didn't even act as if he wanted the position. He seemed quite relaxed as he sat in the deep leather chair across from her desk. His long legs were stretched out on the Persian rug, his long-fingered hands resting on the chair arms. He sat with an almost unnatural stillness that was still somehow as graceful as an alert hunting cat. He regarded her with a somewhat predatory boldness, as well. It was as though she were the one being examined, as if he were deciding whether he would take her, rather than the other way around. This made him not only annoying, but intriguing. He also came with the highest of recommendations.
"Lady Phoebe Gale has told me -- "
A knock sounded on the library door, interrupting her. The door opened before Miranda could call out that she did not wish to be disturbed. She was not surprised when the two people who would have entered no matter what Miranda wanted opened the door and came in. Little, plump Aunt Sibelle entered in her usual brisk fashion. Aunt Olivia right behind her, tall, thin, gaze darting about in open curiosity. The pair of them were shameless, interfering biddies. They were twins, though they didn't look it a bit. Both wore black, as usual, for they seemed to be perpetually in mourning. It was usually for one of the family's numerous distant relatives, but now they wore black in respect for the passing of a local lad. Sibelle brightened her black bombazine with lots of lace on cap, collar, and cuffs. Olivia favored so much jet bead jewelry that she rattled when she moved.
Miranda rose as her aunts came into the room, and Mr. MacGregor laconically did the same. The women immediately concentrated on the tall man now standing before the fireplace. They studied him with the raptorlike eyes of confirmed spinsters.
"What do you think, Olivia?" Aunt Sibelle asked her twin sister.
Olivia pursed her mouth and shook her head. "Impossible. Won't do at all."
Sibelle nodded. "Even with the glasses, and that dreadful suit, it simply can't be disguised."
MacGregor glared at the women over the top of his glasses. "Madam -- "
"What magnificent eyes," Aunt Olivia declared. "Like hot blue ice."
"Hot ice? Olivia, really, that is impossible," Sibelle said.
"What are you two doing?" Miranda demanded of her aunts.
Aunt Olivia finally looked her way. "Totally unacceptable," she proclaimed. "There's already enough gossip about your wandering off to foreign lands. It's not proper."
"It certainly didn't help that you came home with a bullet hole in your head," Aunt Sibelle added. "It was scandalous."
"And no doubt painful," Mr. MacGregor spoke up.
Miranda wasn't sure if his dry tone warranted a grateful look or not. It did elicit a smile from her. She did not admit to anyone that it was indeed painful, or that it was still painful. Her head hurt most of the time, and she had learned to ignore it -- most of the time. The scar throbbed, but she resisted the impulse to touch it. That would put to the lie her insistence that she was completely recovered.
"What's unacceptable?" she asked her aunts. "What's scandalous?"
Aunt Sibelle pointed. "Hiring this man as your traveling companion, of course. He's young, handsome, fit."
"Virile," Aunt Olivia added.
Excerpted from Scandalous Miranda by Susan Sizemore Copyright © 2005 by Susan Sizemore. Excerpted by permission.
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