Never Courted, Suddenly Wed
Christopher Ansley, Earl of Waxham, has constructed a perfect image for the ton–the ladies love him and his company is desired by all. Only two people know the truth about Waxham’s secret. Unfortunately, one of them is Miss Sophie Winters.
Sophie Winters has known Christopher since she was in leading strings. As children, they delighted in tormenting each other. Now at two and twenty, she still has a tendency to find herself in scrapes, and her marital prospects are slim.
When his father threatens to expose his shame to the ton, unless he weds Sophie for her dowry, Christopher concocts a plan to remain a bachelor. What he didn’t plan on was falling in love with the lively, impetuous Sophie. As secrets are exposed, will Christopher’s love be enough when she discovers his role in his father’s scheme?
The gentleman dropped to a knee alongside her. “Are you hurt?”
She swallowed. “No. I…” Sophie shoved herself up on her elbows and groaned. Of all the riders in Hyde Park, it would be her misfortune that Duke should stumble upon Christopher Ansley, Earl of Waxham—her childhood nemesis and paragon of Society.
She’d have rather accepted help from Lady Ackerly. “You.”
Christopher frowned. “I should have suspected when this unattended fiend,” he jerked his chin in Duke’s direction, “nearly unseated me, you were somehow behind it.”
Duke sat back on his haunches. His little pink tongue lolled out the side of his mouth and he yapped happily at the earl. Apparently the dog was a far worse judge of character than she’d credited.
“I’m certain your beast spooked him,” she said in defense of her precocious pug. After all, that fiend, as Christopher had referred to him, was a good deal more loyal than most people.
Christopher’s frown deepened. “I’ll have you know, Intrepid is not a beast. She is a refined and beautiful lady.” He patted Duke upon the top of his head. Then, he seemed to remember his annoyance, for he yanked his hand back and grasped the edge of her skirts.
“What are you doing, Christopher?” she hissed, stealing several glances at the nearby voyeurs. She could only imagine how the scandal sheets would report on this latest scrape she’d managed to land herself in.
Christopher followed the direction of her stare, and glowered at the people staring at Sophie’s prone form. “I’m inspecting you for injury,” he said after their observers scurried off.
Her skin tingled from where his long fingers still clasped her ankle. She slapped his hand away, her heart hammering in the oddest way. “You mustn’t touch me. Not in public.” Not with said touch causing all the strangest, unfamiliar little sensations in her stomach.
Christopher grinned, and his attention shifted from her leg to her eyes. “Is that an invitation to touch you in private?”
Sophie slammed a hand over her mouth. Her eyes widened. “You sir, are no gentleman.”
He gave a slow wink. “And running disheveled through Hyde Park, you hardly epitomize ladylike gentility.”
She wondered what the highly proper earl would say if he knew she was half seas over from alcohol she’d pilfered with a mystery gentleman the previous evening.
He cocked his head.
“What?” she blurted.
“I’m merely trying to interpret that mischievous glimmer in your eyes.” Christopher didn’t allow her an opportunity to respond, instead, leaned over her leg, and again reached for her ankle.
“I said, you mustn’t touch me,” she said, hurriedly. It wouldn’t do for her to be seen with Christopher handling her person in this very intimate manner.
He glanced up with such alacrity a black lock escaped the queue at the nape of his neck, and fell over his eye.
It was merely because he was trying to help her… and because it must be so very difficult for him to see…and the fact that he’d been surprisingly gentle with Duke, but Sophie gave in to the urge and brushed the lone strand back from his forehead.
Christopher’s whole body seemed to freeze.
A rush of heat flooded her cheeks. “I…uh…imagined it was difficult to see and thought if I moved the hair from your eyes that you’d be able to see a good deal better and…” Be silent, Sophie. Be silent. She promptly closed her mouth.
“You’ll touch my hair in public but won’t allow me to inspect your ankle?”
“It’s entirely different.”
Fortunate for Sophie, Christopher didn’t press the point because she really wasn’t altogether certain how it was dissimilar.
A beleaguered sigh escaped him. “Very well, then.” He stood and held a hand out to help her up.
And because she couldn’t sit there indefinitely in the midst of Hyde Park with an audience privy to her every action, Sophie placed her hand in his. Tears flooded her eyes when she made to rise and sank into a moist patch of soil. She fell back against the ground.
Duke jumped up and proceeded to dance in circles about Sophie, clearly believing she and the earl played some kind of game.
Christopher spared him a single glance, then shifted the whole of his attention to Sophie. “Don’t be silly, Phi. Let me ascertain whether there is a break.”
She shook her head with such vigor that her already loose chignon tumbled free, and sent curls tumbling down her back. “There is no break, Christopher.”
He lowered his voice. “Really, Phi? You’d rather make your way through Hyde Park with a broken ankle than accept my help?”
“You mustn’t call me Phi.” She stole a sideways glance at the voracious spectators who’d converged upon them yet again. “You are creating a scene.”
Christopher arched a single brow. “I think you moved well beyond a scene when your holy terror of a dog went racing through the park and nearly unseated me from my horse.” Either her dog was a good deal less intelligent than she’d given him credit for or in desperate need of attention, for the faithless pup nuzzled his head against Christopher’s lower legs and gazed up at him with wide, adoring chocolate brown eyes.
So much for being a loyal pup.
She tried to look at Christopher objectively. Odd, she’d never noted how his lean, muscular frame towered over her by more than a foot. The tan hue to his skin indicated he was a man comfortable with the sun on his person. Goodness. A startled squeak escaped her. She fanned herself. Why, Christopher was…Christopher was…
“What is that look?”
“What is what look?” she asked, a touch too quickly. She probed her head with the tips of her fingers. Surely she’d hit her head in her fall. There was no other suitable explanation for her sudden awareness of Christopher as a far too handsome gentleman.
Christi Caldwell, the bestselling author of “Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride,” and “A Season of Hope”, blames Judith McNaught’s “Whitney, My Love!” for luring her into the world of historical romance. While sitting in her graduate school apartment at the University of Connecticut, Christi decided to set aside her notes and pick up her laptop to try her hand at romance. She believes the most perfect heroes and heroines have imperfections, and she rather enjoys torturing them before crafting them a well-deserved happily ever after!
Christi makes her home in southern Connecticut where she spends her time writing her own enchanting historical romances and being a full-time wife and mother!
Visit www.christicaldwellauthor.com to learn more about what Christi is working on, or join her on Facebook at Christi Caldwell Author and Twitter @ChristiCaldwell !