This marriage of convenience is anything but…
A Scottish earl, Éamon MacLeod is also a Highlander shifter pack alpha. He has no interest in love, marriage or true mates, but his stepfather’s will leaves him little choice. Marry and Englishwoman within the year or forfeit the fortune he needs to improve his estates and help his pack. The wolf shifter attends the Season with a list of requirements for his wife: she must be plain, moderately dowered and above all, practical. He finds the perfect candidate in Lady Catherine, and his wolf approves.
Labeled The Ordinary in her first season, Lady Catherine is a suffragette who abhors the loss of a woman’s few legal rights to marriage. Nevertheless, she finds Éamon intriguing. Irresistible even. Until he makes his insulting proposal.
He’s determined to have her for his wife and his mate. She’s determined to keep her freedom unless he loves her. It’s a contest of wills that even an alpha wolf shifter isn’t guaranteed to win.
Highlander’s Moon is book eight in the Children of the Moon historical paranormal romance series with shifters, intense passion and a guaranteed HEA.
Note from author: Highlander’s Moon was previously published as Annabelle’s Courtship, but has been rewritten for the Children of the Moon world, with a different ending and other significant changes. Long time readers of that series will be happy to hear that characters from previous COTM books will be making an appearance.
A Note from Lucy for Readers
I’ve always thought Annabelle’s Courtship was meant to be a shifter book, and this past year, I decided to do something about it. So, I’ve rewritten the story in the Children of the Moon universe. For those of you familiar with Annabelle’s Courtship, you will no doubt notice this. I’ve made no attempt to hide the original story, but I enhanced it by layering in the elements of my Children of the Moon world.
However, Highlander’s Moon has some major plot changes, and the last third of the book is almost completely fresh writing as the story diverged significantly from the original. There is a little Easter egg for readers of AC and if you notice it, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll give you a hint, it’s subtle, kind of a nod to the path not taken in this book.
I’ve had so much fun with this project and bringing back some of the characters from the original medieval Children of the Moon books. It’s my sincere hope readers will enjoy this retelling as much as me.
Hugs and happy reading,
For all the Children of the Moon readers whose love for this world and its characters have kept the stories alive for me, and most especially for Annmarie Anderson & Bethanne Hollister, who helped me come up with the title for this book. Thank you both, and warm hugs for all your support over the years for my writing. Catherine Bent, when I was looking for a new name for my heroine, I couldn’t think of a better one than yours. She’s compassionate and smart, just like her namesake. Also, with a nod to Ed Cowles, who shows such fun enthusiasm for each new release in the series. I hope you like your namesake, Éamon, which is the Old Scots Gaelic form of Edward and find him a hero worth reading.
He could not throttle a dead man.
Nevertheless, Laird Éamon MacLeod’s fingers itched to close around his deceased stepfather’s throat. No matter that he had loved and respected the man in life. “Ye’re telling me the earl left me a bloody fortune, but I canna get it unless I marry?”
Éamon’s fury called forth the beast in him and a warning growl issued from low in his chest. Thankfully, the elderly solicitor’s ears were too dull to hear it. Humans frightened much too easily, especially English ones.
Robinson removed his spectacles and carefully cleaned them with a cloth. Then, replacing the eyeglasses on his face, he shuffled the papers in front of him.
He cleared his throat. “Precisely speaking, milord, if you marry within six months.”
“Bloody hell.” Éamon clenched his hands and pivoted away from the other man.
The tenants on Clachavaddie’s farms needed seed and farming implements, had done so for years. Those who shared their spirit with the wolf had more stamina and strength than their fully human brethren, but even werewolves couldn’t work the land without tools and seed to plant.
Regardless, not all his tenants were members of his small pack. Many of their homes would not last another winter without new thatch on the roofs. According to legend, the pack had left living in caves behind centuries ago and he wasna going to see them return to it.
Not while he was laird.
His stepfather’s will offered a solution: money in plentiful supply if Éamon wed within six months. But he wasna ready to mate.
And marriage meant doing just that.
Impotent fury clawed at Éamon’s insides. His stepfather had been unaware of his dual nature. He had not known that once Éamon wed, he lost the chance to find his true mate among the females of his kind, that his honor would demand he remain with his wife even if he did meet his mate at some later date.
The urge to slam his fist into the gray stone wall of his study pounded through him while his chest tightened with an entirely unfamiliar sense of helplessness. His stepfather had been a stubborn man, stronger willed than any other human Éamon had ever met, but he’d never thought the man would put such a codicil in his will.
“Did my stepfather tell you why he placed this restriction in his will?”
Again the white head bent as the solicitor went through the ritual of cleaning his spectacles. Éamon wanted to tear the wire frame from Robinson’s hands. Werena the man’s eyeglasses clean enough?
“The late Earl believed that after the unfortunate incident with your broken betrothal you might hesitate to marry. He wanted you to secure your line, so to speak.”
Had he but known it, the Earl had not needed to take such measures. Éamon was pack leader and laird. He would mate one day, regardless of whether he found the one meant to be his. Hadn’t he been engaged once already?
He had no need to rush into marriage though, and after that failed engagement, he wanted to at least try to find his true mate. However, at present, he was too busy rebuilding the estate. An estate that had been in near ruin when he’d taken control of it on his twenty-fifth birthday.
His father had died young, and his mother had never wanted Éamon to return to the Highlands. She’d insisted her second husband leave the estate entirely in the hands of an English caretaker, someone her own father had recommended. An incompetent and corrupt man who had run the estate into the ground.
Damnation. Were the English never content to leave well enough alone?
“I am wondering why did he no just add another rider requiring I set up my nursery?” Éamon asked with disgust.
“He did in fact wish to do so. I convinced the earl that these matters are uncertain. It would be difficult to predict, ah hem…” Robinson coughed delicately. “When your wife might begin increasing.”
That was something at least. A werewolf could not always guarantee cubs would result from a mating. Though it was almost certain with the alpha male, he wouldn’t like to base his estate’s welfare on it, much less that of his pack. Éamon sat down.
A look of relief passed across the Robinson’s face, to be replaced almost as quickly by trepidation. “There is one final matter regarding the inheritance.”
What could be worse than marriage? “Aye?”
“Your wife must be English.”
Éamon shot from his chair again. “Ye canna be serious.”
Robinson looked offended. “I assure you, I would never make light of the last wishes of one of my clients.”
An English wife.
“How am I supposed to find such a thing?” His pack wasna on friendly terms with those in England.
Casualties of war were not so easily forgotten among wolf kind. The English packs had helped their human counterparts defeat their Scottish brethren in the name of a united Britain. Was no something either side would forget in a hurry.
“The London season opens in less than a month, milord.”
Of course, his stepfather’s English lawyer would think in terms of London, but mayhap the man had a point.
Éamon had always planned to mate pack. His own pack, but that was not an option if he wanted his stepfather’s money to take care of Clachavaddie. The chances that an English pack would let him have one of their femwolves for a mate was small indeed. Almost as small as his desire to form a marriage alliance with one of them.
He could kidnap a mate, he supposed, but what would have worked in his grandfather’s time would bring down wrath from the English government today. Twas a pity, but there it was. Times changed and a smart werewolf laird learned to change with them, or he destroyed the prosperity of his people. Or so his uncle and mentor, Angus MacLeod always said.
Éamon would not bring more hardship to his pack through his actions.
As treacherous as he knew human females could be, it appeared that for the good of his pack, he had no choice but to mate with one. He must then find a woman who was as different as possible from his first fiancée.
Such an endeavor required a plan.
He moved toward the desk, amused when the lawyer hastily retreated toward the fireplace. Grabbing paper and a quill, he dipped it in the ink well and started writing. Several minutes later he blotted the paper. Blowing on it, he read the words he had written.
Requirements for a wife:
After the solicitor had left, Éamon settled against the dark leather of his favorite chair and studied his surroundings with a critical eye. A stark room, his study fit his need for simplicity. Bookcases on either side of the massive fireplace were all that relieved the unending gray of the circular stone walls.
Multiple windows high in the walls of the turret’s chamber bathed the room in the fading light of evening. A scarred oak table served as his desk. Only two other items of furniture had made it into his sanctuary, another chair and small round table.
Soon a woman, an English woman, would be living in his home. A wife. He did not have time to cater to the needs of a woman, especially the romantic ideals so many ladies seemed plagued with. Taking a sip from his brandy, he thought of another requirement to add to his list for a wife.
It was a good list and would guarantee he would not make the same mistake he had when choosing his former fiancée. Unlike Felicity, his chosen mate would be faithful.
The solicitor’s suggestion of attending the season took root in Éamon’s thoughts. London was a fair distance away, but the season attracted many ladies. It was his best chance at finding a mate in the allotted time without having to rely on the help of his so-called family. As he was sure his step-father had intended him to.
He would rather show throat to a beta wolf.
Hyde Park – London, England
Perfection wore a simple gray gown and unadorned poke bonnet. Éamon sniffed the air subtly. Her scent was intriguing, almost like home, but definitely not pack. Good. She looked to have each of the requirement he had set for a mate.
He turned in his saddle toward his companion, Finchley. “Who is the lady in the curricle yonder?”
A longtime friend, the man was one of the few fellow students Éamon had been able to stand at the English school his stepfather had insisted he attend. Later, they had served together in Boney’s war and mustered out within a month of each other in 1816.
Despite his deep well of honor and undeniable courage, Finchley was an unrepentant gossip. He would no doubt know the identity of the vision of plain perfection sitting beside an elderly woman.
Finchley rotated his entire body so that he could look where Éamon indicated, the points on his collar too tall to allow him to turn his head. “That’s Lady Catherine. Known each other this age, don’t you know? Her father, the late Earl of Hamilton, had estates that bordered ours.”
Éamon felt his first surge of satisfaction since arriving in London. This lady was exactly what he needed. Her plain appearance spoke for itself and Éamon had to assume that if she were of more than moderate means her clothing would be more elaborate. Ladies liked that sort of thing.
Even from a distance, he could tell that she was past the blushing age of most debutantes. Not that she looked old, but her composed expression as she spoke to other members of the Ton clearly indicated a woman beyond her first come-out.
Dorcha tried to prance sideways. Éamon reigned in the huge black stallion, not without some regret. Neither he nor his spirited horse enjoyed the slow pace maintained during the social hour on Rotten Row in Hyde Park.
Finchley asked, “Shall I introduce you?”
Éamon’s eyes locked with those of his lady of perfection and he could not look away from their hazel depths. His insides tighten in an unexpected way. “Aye. Introduce us.”
Without pulling his gaze from hers, Éamon guided his mount toward the carriage. He enjoyed the way she gave no indication that she found his interest unusual other than her eyes growing wide. She did not blush, nor look away.
In fact, her shoulders stiffened and he had the sense that she was challenging him to do so first. It was unusual behavior for a gentle lady, particularly a human, but the wolf in him appreciated the spirit that emboldened her to meet him look for look. Primitive anticipation coursed through him at the prospect of meeting her challenge.
While he liked the idea of marrying a biddable English lady, the beast in him would not stand a mouse for a wife.
Was she married? Éamon’s mind rebelled at the possibility. Then he remembered that Finchley had called her Lady Catherine. If he remembered his lessons right from his years of exile in England, that indicated an unmarried daughter of the upper nobility, not a woman leg-shackled. If she were married it would be Lady So-and-so, a surname associated with the title.
He and Finchley drew abreast of the carriage.
Lady Catherine finally broke eye contact to acknowledge his friend. “Ollie, this is a pleasant surprise.” Her smile sparkled with mischief, charming Éamon. “I thought you would be staying in the country helping your family prepare for your sister’s wedding.”
The dandy visibly shuddered. “Not my cup of tea, eh what?”
She laughed and Éamon’s sex reacted with a surge of unexpected lust to the melodic sound. Her scent was calling to his wolf too, in ways that made little sense. The beast wanted to get to know this woman. Biblically.
That boded well for the chance at offspring.
Éamon shifted in the saddle, all at once uncomfortably aware of the snug fit of his riding breeches.
The older woman seated next to his lady spoke. “Oliver, I would expect you to show more family support than that, though I will admit a young gentleman underfoot is the last thing a mother needs when preparing for a wedding.” Sighing, she looked sideways at Catherine, her expression speaking volumes. “Not that I would be averse to any manner of annoyance were I given the opportunity to plan one myself in the near future.”
After a pointed look from the elderly woman, Finchley introduced Éamon to the ladies.
Lady Beauford smiled and Éamon found that he liked her frank regard. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”
Catherine said nothing, merely inclining her head. The coolness of the action amused, rather than irritated him. Was she embarrassed by her companion’s thinly veiled hint at her unmarried state? If so, she gave no indication. Still, her aunt’s words implied the courtship should be an easy one.
Finchley asked a question of Lady Beauford and soon the two were engrossed in Town gossip.
Catherine smiled at Éamon, her hazel eyes lit with warmth and genuine interest. “Are you new to Town, my lord?”
He once again had to rein in Dorcha. “Aye. ‘Tis no my intention of staying any longer than necessary either.” His irritation at having to control his mount in the park came out in his voice.
“You are not in Town to enjoy the Season, then?”
“I’m here to find a wife.”
“And you do not plan to stay in Town long? How efficient of you.” A small smile twitched the corner of her lips, making them look very kissable.
Bloody damn. To consider kissing a woman upon first meeting her was not the reaction of a well-controlled werewolf. Other images had popped into his head as well, images that would undoubtedly shock the plain spinster to her dainty toes.
Maybe he was more ready to mate than he had thought.
“I dinna like to waste time, if that is what you mean.”
“So, you are here to find a wife and nothing else?” she asked, still sounding somewhat amused.
“Well, I wouldna turn down the opportunity to discuss some of the new theories in sheep breeding and crop management with those who share my interest.”
He could have sworn she stifled a laugh, though what she found to amuse herself in his conversation, he could not guess. Mating and farming were both serious matters to him.
“You have a great deal in common with my brother, the Earl of Hamilton,” she said.
“Really? Which plan for land management does he follow?” Even as he asked the question, Éamon realized how foolish it was. A lady of the Ton would not interest herself in her brother’s estate management.
Many would have said a werewolf pack leader wouldn’t either, but his people wouldna live again in the hand-to-mouth existence they had known so well in the past.
“He has read several essays by the American, Edward Elliot, and the former President, George Washington.” She spoke with the confidence of first-hand knowledge. “My brother leans toward their view on land management rather than the popular thinking among English estate owners.”
Interesting. “I dinna ken if I have heard of this Edward Elliot you speak of.”
“You’ll have to discuss the matter with my brother. He is also experimenting with a fertilizer combining fish heads and marl to improve his crop yield.” She spoke in a tone that implied she knew he would find that bit of information worthy of his note.
She was right.
“Fascinating.” He had not heard of fish heads. Marl, on the other hand, was quite common. “Please go on.”
This time she did not stifle her laughter and once again his body reacted in a very physical manner. Twas a good thing, he was thinking.
He dinna want a mate who held no physical appeal for him.
Éamon reclined in a comfortable chair in Finchley’s library, a glass of brandy in one hand. Preferring his life in the country, Finchley’s viscount father had not been to London since before the war. As the man’s heir, Finchley handled all the viscount’s business dealings in Town and the townhouse was his main abode.
Though he spent part of each season on his father’s estates, learning how to tend them and those who lived upon them. ‘Twas one of many reasons Éamon regarded the man so highly.
“Thank you for inviting me to stay with you. My trip to London was no expected,” Éamon said to Finchley.
“Not at all. Glad to be of service.” Finchley cleared his throat. “The earl was a good man. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Éamon nodded his agreement. Despite his current anger at his stepfather, the earl’s absence would leave a permanent hole in his life. The Englishman had taken the role of father seriously and treated Éamon as his own son until his death. Right down to exiling him to living in England amidst the man’s kin.
Finchley took a sip of his brandy. “You may live like a Puritan, but you certainly know how to stock your cellars.”
Éamon grimaced at the other man’s implication regarding Clachavaddie Castle. The brandy had actually been a gift from his stepfather the year before. He’d brought it for Finchley, knowing the other man would enjoy the well-aged liquor.
The only drink they kept in their cellars at Chachavaddie was whiskey made on the estate. “Do you think a lady would find the surroundings too austere?”
Finchley gave him a startled look. “You’re planning on getting leg shackled?”
“Who’s the lucky gl?”
“I dinna ken.”
The other man’s eyes opened wider. “You don’t know?”
Éamon laughed mirthlessly. “No.” He told his friend the details of his stepfather’s will.
“You don’t say. That’s infamous.”
“Aye, ’tis infamous indeed, but true nonetheless.”
Finchley shook his head. “What are you going to do?”
“I dinna ken.”
“But you are going to marry?”
“Aye. My tenant’s needs are great.”
“And you say you must marry an Englishwoman?”
“Your mother or brother could recommend someone.”
Loyalty had prevented Éamon from even telling his closest friend about his brother’s betrayal and all he said now was, “I can find my own bride.”
“Do you have any possibilities?”
“Nay. ‘Tis why I have come to London for the Season.” A mere six months after his stepfather’s death.
Technically acceptable, but he would have preferred to honor the man with a full year of deep mourning as his mother and brother were doing. The will made that impossible however. He had only six more months to fulfill it. The earl had known what the one year time restraint to fulfill the codicil had meant. No doubt, he had expected mourning to force Éamon to do exactly as Finchley had suggested. Approach his mother and/or brother for suggestions in who to take for a bride.
Éamon’s pride rebelled at either option, and he had chosen his own path. One he controlled, even if he couldna control when he would marry, he alone would determine who the woman would be.
Finchley nodded. “Plenty of gels eager to marry, eh what?”
“Perhaps you wouldna mind giving me some advice.”
“Whatever you need.”
“I’ve made a list of requirements for a wife. You can help me determine if ladies are suitable. I dinna have time to waste with them if they are not.”
“Of course, of course. What are you looking for?”
Éamon retrieved the folded foolscap from his waistcoat pocket and handed it to the other man. “I have one more to add. The lass needs to be practical.”
Beginning to read, Finchley took a sip from his brandy. Suddenly he started coughing and choking.
Éamon jumped up to pat his friend’s back. “Are you all right, man?”
Eyes watering, Finchley gained control of his paroxysms. “Yes.” He coughed again lightly. “Quite all right. Brandy went down wrong. That’s all.”
Éamon nodded. “What do you think? Will it be difficult to find a lady with those attributes?”
“Attributes? Oh, eh, no, of course not. Matter of fact, I can think of one right off. Lady Catherine. You met her today. Good sort, but she’s got some funny ideas.”
He had been right. Catherine was all that she seemed. And his body reacted to her in an unexpected, but wholly pleasant way. “What kind of funny ideas?”
“She’s a blue-stocking.” Finchley said it as if he was confessing that Lady Catherine was not all that she should be.
To Éamon’s way of thinking, intelligence in a woman was not a shortcoming. Neither was the desire to learn. “I dinna think her mind is filled with a bunch of silly romantic nonsense.”
Finchley shook his head violently, or as violently as his high pointed collar would allow. “She’s not romantical at all, don’t you know.”
Éamon smiled. Perhaps this trip to Town would not be so bad after all. He could be mated and return to Clachavaddie before the spring lambing.
Catherine watched the glittering crowd at Almack’s and tried to ignore the leap of her heart every time a new arrival entered. She must stop acting like a silly schoolgirl. The Scottish laird most likely would not come.
For the past two weeks, he had singled her out for attention whenever they attended the same affair and on one such occasion, he had told her that he no more cared for this bastion of the Ton’s doings than she did. Since her first Season when she had been labeled the Ordinary, Catherine had detested the midweek soirees.
The unimposing building and less than stellar décor served as a backdrop to the Ton’s most initiated hunt – that for the advantageous marriage. Her aunt insisted they come each week. Although, at the age of seven and twenty, the rest of the Ton considered Catherine to be firmly on the shelf, Lady Beauford would not give up hope of seeing her niece wed.
Catherine could have refused to attend the season at all, but that would have curbed her own plans.
Stifling an unladylike urge to yawn, she tried to pay attention to her current companion’s meandering. A young buck enjoying his first season, Mr. Green still had the spotty complexion of youth. Experience had taught her that dancing with him required vigilance on her part to protect her tender toes. Safer to sit, sipping tepid lemonade and listening to his monologue. Unfortunately, it was not more enjoyable.
Catherine’s mind drifted. So did her eyes, back to the entrance. Her heart skipped a beat. Éamon stood in the doorway, his shoulders nearly touching jamb on both sides. His large size and dark, rugged beauty made the other gentlemen present pale into insignificance. His gaze raked across the room as if he was looking for someone. She could not tamp down hope that the person he sought was herself.
His gaze locked on her and their eyes met. His firm lips, lips that she had spent entirely too much time daydreaming about, tipped at the corners. It took all her self-discipline not to return his smile across the crowded room in a most unladylike manner. His powerful body began moving toward her with animalistic grace, ignoring bids for attention by lovely young debutants and their fond mammas.
As unbelievable as it seemed, Éamon found her company more fascinating than the loveliest creatures of the Ton.
It was extraordinary, but then so was Éamon. He towered above his peers and walked with an air of authority that would have done Wellington proud. Catherine no longer even made a pretense of listening to Mr. Green. She simply waited for Éamon to arrive and stop the boredom that threatened to overwhelm her.
Would he ask her to dance? She experienced the most extraordinary feeling whenever he touched her, as if her corsets were laced too tight. Although she lectured herself severely on being a modern woman of the nineteenth century who did not need a gentleman in her life, he invaded her dreams and the thoughts of her waking hours.
However, Éamon never called on her. He did not send her posies and notes. He did none of the things a gentleman falling in love was supposed to do. She chastised herself for being a ninny and wanting him to. She had given up on finding a love like her late parents had enjoyed. Hadn’t she?
Mr. Green’s monologue abruptly ceased. “I say. Do you know this gentlemen?”
Éamon had stopped directly in front of them. A sardonic smile on played on his lips, but the predatory air about him set him apart from other members of the Ton. There was something untamed about this Scottish lord and Catherine found that most appealing.
“Yes, indeed, Mr. Green. Lord MacLeod and I have been introduced. Do you know him?”
“We have not had the pleasure.”
Éamon’s voice filled her being and Catherine wanted nothing more than to find a secluded spot and continue their latest debate on Greek antiquities.
Mr. Green looked pained. Éamon had that effect on people. He could be quite overwhelming. Catherine smiled at the youth reassuringly and introduced the two gentlemen, explaining that Éamon preferred to be addressed as Lord MacLeod rather than Clachavaddie. It was apparently a family tradition he refused to part with despite society’s conventions.
She then offered her hand to Éamon and he bowed over it. “‘Tis a pleasure to see you again, Lady Catherine.”
Without releasing her hand, he turned to Mr. Green. “I believe the music for this set has ended.”
Under Éamon’s gimlet stare, her companion hastily made his excuses to depart. Éamon turned back to Catherine as she vainly attempted to remove her hand from his powerful grip.
“My lord, if you will permit me,” she said a trifle too breathlessly.
He looked down at their joined hands and let hers go. “Sorry, lass.”
Catherine opened her fan and waved it gently before her face. “You seem a bit preoccupied.”
He nodded absently. “Finchley was right. You are perfect. ‘Tis an advantage so early in my hunt, don’t you see?”
Her cheeks heated at the compliment and she fanned herself more vigorously. “Your hunt my lord?”
“And what are you hunting?”
“A wife. I do recall telling you so the first time we met.”
She did remember, but could not quite accept he meant she was perfect prey for that particular hunt. She had never hidden her rather unorthodox interests from him, though she had not been entirely forthcoming about the most important one.
Nevertheless, he knew her well enough after two weeks of discussing everything from sheep breeding to Greek antiquities to know that she was a far cry from society’s view of perfection when it came to lady like behavior and thoughts.
Feeling lightheaded, she watched the Ton as they waltzed in what had recently been considered a most scandalous dance. Ladies in high waisted silk gowns whirled in the arms of gentlemen in breeches and black coats, the lights reflecting garishly off the jewels adorning the beau monde.
But they could not hold her attention when Éamon was so close and saying things open to all manner of interpretation.
Dark brown eyes bore into hers and she could not form a thought in her head. She had an inexplicable urge to touch the silky blackness of his hair. Grateful that he could not read her mind, she dropped her gaze to his waistcoat.
Something about this man filled her with desires that had never plagued her before.
“May I have the pleasure?” Éamon asked, putting his hand out to her once again.
“Of course.” She had to swallow a sigh of sensual delight as he pulled her into his arms for the waltz.
She tilted her head to maintain eye contact and found him watching her.
She said the first thing that came into her head. “I don’t understand.”
Her knees went weak at his smile as the brown velvet depths of his eyes took on a deeper intensity. “‘Tis quite simple. I am in need of a wife and you are perfect.”
“You believe I would make a perfect wife?” Her voice squeaked on the word wife.
Air whooshed from her lungs as an unexpected sense of elation began to unfurl inside her. “Why please?”
He smiled. “Ye fit my requirements.”
“Requirements?” She must stop squeaking.
“Your looks are not too grand and you are well past the age for marrying. You do not wear expensive jewels or gowns, which bodes well for future demands on my purse.”
Her budding joy vanished and she stared at him, her cheeks growing hotter with each sentence he uttered. He listed her particulars as if he were buying a horse at Tattersall’s. Although the Marriage Mart was in many ways mercenary, she had never known any gentleman to be quite so blunt about it.
The humiliation she felt in that moment was beyond anything she had ever known.
She had finally met a man that stirred passion in her and he looked at her as nothing more than a dowdy spinster conveniently on hand when he decided to wed.
Thoughts whirled in a kaleidoscope in her brain like bits of glass crushed and tossed in the air, left to fall where they may. Just like the rest of the Ton, Éamon saw only her ordinary looks. He did not see the heart that beat beneath her breast, the mind that longed to share thoughts and ideas with a kindred spirit.
“I’m not looking for a long engagement. Would you be ready to take up residence in Scotland in a month or so?”
Could any man truly be this oblivious? While his arrogance might leave her breathless, Éamon would soon learn that not all bluestocking spinsters longed for wedlock. Especially those who had read Wollstonecraft.
Catherine straightened her spine, pulling as far away as his restraining arms would allow. “I have no intention of taking up residence anywhere but my own home. I am not interested in marriage, my lord, and must decline your offer.”
Not that an actual offer had been made.
“I will make you a proper husband.” He gave her an engaging smile. “We will deal well together as our time in one another’s company has shown.”
His words made her so angry, she could not speak. They had in truth, spent little enough time together. But then, he apparently believed a woman of her looks and advanced years should expect no more in the way of courtship.
“Surely you can see the benefits of marriage to me,” he cajoled her when she did not reply.
She had an unladylike but almost overwhelming urge to box his ears. Nevertheless, she managed to keep her voice even when she spoke. “On the contrary. I am a modern woman and I do not see the benefits of marriage at all, particularly to an arrogant Scotsman.”
Éamon’s grasp on her waist tightened and the sense of leashed, animal like power in him would have frightened her if she had not been so outraged. However, even her ire could not stop her from shivering when his eyes seemed to go gold around the edges, glowing like a wolf’s.
Surely it must be a trick of the candlelight.
“‘Tis no my purpose to upset you.” His voice was low, almost growling. “I dinna think my intentions would come as such shock.”
She did not doubt him. His sincerity was there for her to see in his expression and hear in the tense tone of his voice, but his intentions were not the issue. It was his assumptions that she found so difficult to countenance.
His body vibrated like a tuning fork with tension, sending unwelcome sensations skittering along her nerves to match it. Feelings that made her want to melt into his embrace. The betraying weakness of her own flesh infuriated her.
She struggled to be released from his hold, not caring at that moment if she caused a scene to feed the tittle-tattle for the rest of the season. “Let me go.”
“Nay, the music has not ended.” His reasonable tone did nothing to improve her temper.
She was desperate to break his hold on her before her body betrayed her completely. How unfair to experience her first taste of desire with a man who believed her too ordinary to court.
“Do you really believe I wish to dance with you after your insult?”
“‘Twas no an insult, lass. ‘Twas a proposal.”
“A litany of offensive assumptions is not a proposal. Furthermore, my name is not ‘lass.’ It is Lady Catherine, as Ollie told you these many days past. Are you hard of hearing? Perhaps you need an ear trumpet.”
“Nay, ’tis no an ear trumpet I need, but a wife. You’re neither too beautiful, too rich, nor too young to pass on the proposal I’m giving you.”
“Must I be subjected to your list of slurs again?” she demanded, her heart bruised in a way she would rather die than let him see. “You may need a wife, but I do not need a husband.”
Éamon danced toward an unoccupied corner and pulled her into it. “Do not be so foolish as to label virtues insults.”
Not deigning to answer, she tried to step around Éamon. He blocked her path like a marble column.
She glared at him, so frustrated by his bull-headed ignorance, she wanted to scream. “That, my lord, is not a list a virtues, but an insulting recipe concocted by you to gain a wife without the customary work or effort.”
Éamon’s look of consternation convinced her that she had guessed correctly. “You are obviously too indolent to properly court a woman and I can only assume some catastrophe has generated the need for you to take a wife.”
“‘Tis no indolence that causes me to avoid the playacting of courtship, but aversion to the games ladies play.” The genuine sentiment she heard in his voice confounded her.
He truly believed what he was saying, but that was no comfort to her shattered pride.
“I may not be a beauty, but I will only marry the man that convinces me I cannot live without him.” Her voice vibrated with emotion she wanted to suppress.
When she tried to sidestep him again, he placed his hand on her arm, his hold strangely hypnotic.
He looked into her eyes as if searching them for the answer to some question. Finally he sighed. “If it’s courting you want, lass, it’s courting you shall get. I’ll give you until the end of the season to reconcile yourself to the idea of our marriage.”
The man was mad.
“Courtship is wooing, not giving me a set time to reconcile myself to your arrogant plans.”
“If it ’tis wooing you need, then wooing you shall have. I will call on you tomorrow.”
She couldn’t believe his denseness. “You may call on me until I am old and gray, but I will never marry a man I do not love and respect.”
It would have been a wonderful last word had he still not blocked her path.
“Please, let me by. The set has ended.” Her voice trembled and she clamped her lips closed on further words that might expose her agitation to him.
She watched her partner approach for the next set with relief.
“We are no finished with our discussion.”
“Lady Catherine, I believe our set is forming.”
Éamon turned and gave the young nobleman an arrogant, narrow eyed glare. “‘Tis our dance, I believe.”
“You are mistaken,” she said firmly, but neither man paid her any mind.
Éamon simply stared at the younger gentleman until he mumbled an excuse and retreated. He had deserted her. The coward.
Yanking her arm from Éamon’s grasp she said, “I did not promise this dance to you.” In her haste to get away from him, she bumped into another gentleman. “Pray excuse me. I did not realize you were there.”
The gentleman placed a monocle in his eye and gave her a condescending stare. “It was nothing, I’m sure.”
Catherine’s skin grew unbearably warm, her embarrassment increasing if that were possible. Twisting her head, she hissed at Éamon, “Did you see what you made me do?”
“Dinna let that popinjay upset you, lass. ‘Tis of no account.” Once again, he took possession of her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm.
He sighed, releasing her hand. “Would it no be easier to finish our talk?”
“It is finished.”
“Nay, it is not.”
“You said you wanted to marry me. I said I did not wish to marry at all. Conversation over.”
“Why come to the season if you dinna wish to be married?”
She was tempted to tell him and see how quickly he would go looking elsewhere for a wife. She would not betray her secret in a fit of temper, however. “I would gladly marry if I knew I would share a union like that of my parents.”
“And what was so grand about your parents’ marriage?”
“They loved each other.”
“You canna expect a love match?” Éamon sounded horrified.
“Yes, that is exactly what I do expect.” For the first time, Catherine felt she had succeeded in piercing Éamon’s complacent assumption that she would marry him. Giving him a full-blown smile, she nodded her head for emphasis.
“Ye’ll get over that soon enough. Love is no basis for a marriage.” In his agitation, Éamon’s burr was more pronounced.
Her smile died on her lips. “I will not get over my desire for a love match. Marriage for me will have a great deal to do with love or I will not get married at all.”
“Finchley said your head was no filled with romantic drivel.”
“Love is not drivel.”
An animalistic growl rumbled in Éamon’s throat. “You will marry me.”
“I will call on you tomorrow.”
Her mouth was still open mid rant telling him not to bother when he walked away.