excerpt from The Lady Knows Best by Susanna Craig,
for The Romance Dish:
Daphne Burke’s first act as “Miss Busy
B.,” the advice columnist for Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses, is to encourage
a young lady to call off her engagement to notorious rake Miles, Viscount
Deveraux. But when Miles—who has a great deal of money riding on a wager that
he will marry by the end of the Season—discovers Miss Busy B.’s true identity,
he blackmails Daphne into finding him a new bride. Daphne offers to marry him herself,
but only after a two-week courtship, during which time she intends to discover
enough about “that devil, Deveraux” to ruin him in the eyes of society and then
jilt him. But is Miles really the man she believed him to be?
In this scene, a few days into their
courtship, Miles meets Daphne for a private conversation at a garden party.
When a long silent moment passed, he
asked, “Are you afraid that if we converse, you might discover something
likeable about me? That you might find me amiable, amusing, attractive?”
twitched. “Not in the slightest.”
“Then I wonder why you insisted upon a
courtship at all. If it distresses you, we could just go ahead and get married
without it.” He slid closer and lightly covered her hand with his. “I can have
a special license in hand first thing tomorrow.”
She jerked free of his touch. If it
were not made of stone, the bench would have swayed with the force of her
movement. “You needn’t keep reminding me of your power over me, my lord.”
Miles disguised his own uncertainty by
gripping the edge of the bench.
“I suppose that’s why you sent me those
quills—to mock me, as you did with that song.”
“Mock you?” he echoed, genuinely
astonished. “Is it not a custom of proper courtship for a gentleman to send a
token of his esteem?”
“Gentlemen send flowers.” The governess-y tone was back, a
sort of exaggerated patience, as if she were delivering a lesson in etiquette
to an unruly boy. “Bellis gets them by the cartload. Daisies, usually.”
If he hadn’t been watching, he would
have missed the slight wobble of her chin as she spoke those words.
He didn’t think she begrudged her
sister those gifts. Not exactly, anyway. But with every bouquet of flowers, every
reminder of her talented and famous
elder siblings, she swallowed a pang of something like jealousy. Often enough
that it had become little more than a
reflexive tickle in her throat.
And he had unwittingly made that
“I’m quite aware gentlemen send flowers.” He forced a lightness
into his tone. “And setting aside any debate over whether that dubious
distinction applies to me, I did in fact speak with the clerk at the florist’s
shop, who explained to me the botanical meaning of your lovely name.” It was a
source of some amusement in certain circles that all the Burke siblings were
named after plants. “But a few branches from a shrub laden with poisonous
berries didn’t seem quite the thing.”
That made her snicker. Reluctantly, to
be sure. Just the tiniest hint of a laugh.
Nevertheless, his chest swelled with
pride; he always enjoyed pleasing women. “I thought quills would be at least as
apt as Bellis’s daisies. Something befitting the woman you really are. Sharp,
yes, but soft too. Strong, but delicate.”
Like most women, in one way or another,
But they’d seemed to him a particularly
perfect gift for Daphne.
“I pictured you writing your column
with them,” he finished simply.
She would start out with a straight
spine and a spotless page. But as she went on, warming toward her subject, her
quill would fly. Gradually, as if pouring a bit of herself into her words, she
would bend her head closer to the paper.
He’d imagined pressing his lips to the
soft skin that peeked between the collar of her dress and the few stray wisps
of hair that tickled the back of her neck.
After a moment, she asked in a whisper,
“Does that mean you intend to permit me to keep writing?”
The question was so unexpected, it took
him a moment to comprehend. “Once we’re married, you mean?”
Her chin dipped, almost imperceptibly.
“I will not permit it, my dear,” he said. At that,
her head spun and her gaze snapped to his. “I will insist upon it. I for one am
eager to read your retraction.”
“Oh, yes.” He lifted his brows
suggestively. “It should be easy enough to pen. Once you’ve discovered just how
enjoyable it can be, being married to a rake.”
Was it his imagination, or was the
spark in her eyes brighter now? Warmer?
Could it be that she enjoyed being
Oh, but that was promising indeed.
“I assume you refer to that old saw
rakes.” She tilted her head toward him
and favored him with a look he was fast coming to consider her “Miss Busy B.
expression”—part disapproving governess, part insufferable know-all, part
inquisitive young lady who couldn’t quite make herself look away, though she
knew she ought. “Tell me, my lord. Do you have any intention of reforming?”
He stretched out his legs and leaned
back as much as the bench would allow. In a more comfortable chair, his posture
would have been described as a sprawl—a blatant invitation for her gaze to
travel his body, head to toe. “Which of my vices would you have me give up? My
bootmaker? My tailor? Surely, you do not want a shabby bridegroom, ma’am.”
Again, the quirk of lips that were
determined not to betray a smile.
“Or perhaps you object to my French
“Your French brandy, rather,” she
retorted. “Your gambling. Your . . .” Her voice dropped to a whisper, barely audible
above the chatter rising from the garden below. “. . . flirtations.”
A little frippery of a hat sat perched
high upon her head. Beneath it, her hair was more simply arranged today, the
sort of coiffure that could be mussed by a man’s careless fingers without
anyone being the wiser. And her gown was pale, diaphanous muslin, embroidered
with a green vine and the occasional pink rosebud. Perfect for a garden party.
On this warm day, its skirts clung to her limbs most provocatively.
He raked his gaze over her, tipping his
head to the side.
“Must I stop flirting with you?