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"Miss Remy -- Delilah -- you are in my thoughts night and day! Like that Delilah of old, you are an enchantress, and you have enchanted my heart! I...."
"Pray say no more, Mr. Calvert," Lilah murmured, trying to repossess herself of her hand. The infatuated Mr. Calvert, impervious to her tugging, clung doggedly to her fingers as he sank to one knee before her. She looked down in dismay at the curly brown head bent over her hand.
Michael Calvert was hardly more than a boy, perhaps a year or so younger than her own age of twenty-one. She was no more in love with him than with Hercules, her great-aunt's pampered spaniel, who was curled blissfully beside her in the porch swing at that moment, his short red hairs shedding copiously all over the fragile white silk of her Empire-style gown. But so far it had been as impossible to convince Mr. Calvert of her disinterest as it had been to discourage Hercules. Neither of them seemed the least inclined to take a polite hint. Mr. Calvert had been courting her assiduously for most of the three months she had been visiting her great-aunt, Amanda Barton, at Boxhill. Nothing she had said or done to indicate her complete lack of interest in his suit had served to deter him in the least. Now he was clearly determined to have his say. If he heard her soft-spoken plea, he disregarded it.
Lilah sighed, making no effort to muffle the sound. Trapped in the night-dark comer of the verandah as she was, and unwilling to make a scene, she had little choice but to hear him out.
"I love you! I want you to be my wife!"
Much more had come in between, but she had missed a great deal of it. Now herecaptured her attention by pressing his face to her hand, kissing its back with moist enthusiasm. Lilah tugged at her hand again. He held it in a grip that would not be broken.
"You do me too much honor, Mr. Calvert," she said through gritted teeth.
Under the circumstances, it was difficult to force herself to adhere to the ladylike phrases that had been drummed into her by Katy Allen, her beloved former governess, whose thankless job it had been to supervise her growing-up years. The proprieties had not mattered so much on her home island of Barbados, where, for all the inhabitants' pride in being more British than Britain itself, manners were much freer than they were here in the best houses of colonial Virginia.
At Boxhill manners counted. Though the Colonies had officially freed themselves from British domination more than a decade before, and were by this time, the year 1792, enjoying an ardent love affair with all things French, that love affair did not extend so far as embracing French ideas of what was considered acceptable behavior for unmarried young ladies of good family. In this one area the Colonies remained as Britishly circumspect as ever, with every word and gesture rigidly prescribed.
Following her natural inclination to reward Mr. Calvert's devotion with a shove that would land him on the seat of his breeches was sure to be frowned upon by the old tabbies within, the undisputed leader of whom was her own formidable great-aunt. During the weeks of her visit, Lilah had developed a healthy respect for the vinegar of Amanda Barton's tongue. Unless forced to it by the direst of circumstances, she would just as soon forgo another scolding. It shouldn't be impossible to pass the three weeks remaining of her visit without treading on another of Amanda's sacrosanct tenets on the behavior expected of proper young ladies.
"To do you too much honor would be impossible," Mr. Calvert rhapsodized, pressing his lips daringly close to her wrist. "As my wife, you will be worthy of every honor!"
Lilah stared down at the boy kneeling before her, annoyance puckering her forehead. Really, this was getting absurd! The eligible gentlemen of Mathews County apparently found her particular combination of goldenhaired beauty and Barbados sugar plantation riches irresistible, which of course was just as it should be. Never in her life had she lacked for male attention, and she had not expected colonial males to be any different. Four years after her debut, she had nearly two dozen proposals of marriage to her credit, all of which she had unhesitatingly declined. Mr. Calvert's was the third proposal she had received during her stay at Boxhill, and two more gentlemen were paying assiduous court to her, but she had so far managed to keep them from coming to the point.
She sighed again. The truth of it was, she liked none of them any better than the next, and certainly none of them well enough to marry. But she was not getting any younger, she was her father's only child, and as he lost no opportunity to point out to her, it was time she was wed and producing heirs for Heart's Ease. It was beginning to look as though she could do no better than to accept her stepmother's nephew, Kevin Talbott, who had a standing offer for her, made when she was seventeen, that he renewed regularly and she just as regularly... Desire in the Sun
. Copyright © by Karen Robards. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.