A Rogue of Her OwnBy: Grace Burrowes
When I completed the original Windham Family series, I did so wondering if I’d have a chance to write happily-ever-afters for Uncle Tony and Aunt Gladys’s four daughters. Being unmarried Windhams, they kept me up at night. Thanks to my editor Leah Hultenschmidt and the whole team at Grand Central Forever for being such a pleasure to work with on the Windham Brides series. (Though I do think we should have planned a project team meeting at a Welsh Castle…just sayin’.)
“Heed me, Miss Charlotte, for mine is the only offer you’re likely to receive, no matter that your uncle is a duke. I am a viscount, and you shall like being my viscountess very well.”
Charlotte Windham had no choice but to heed Viscount Neederby, for he’d taken her by the arm and was nearly dragging her along Lady Belchamp’s wilderness walk.
“My lord, while I am ever receptive to knowledgeable guidance, this is neither the time nor the place to make a declaration.” Never and nowhere suited Charlotte when it came to proposals from such as Neederby.
He marched onward, simultaneously walking and pontificating being one of his few accomplishments.
“I must beg to differ, my dear, for receptive to guidance you most assuredly are not. Married to me, your sadly headstrong propensities will be laid to rest. My duty and pleasure as your devoted spouse will be to instruct you in all matters.”
His lordship sent her a look, one intended to convey tender indulgence or a disturbance of the bowels, Charlotte wasn’t sure which.
“Might we circle back to the buffet, sir? All this hiking about has given me an appetite.”
Neederby finally halted, though he chose a spot overlooking the Thames River. What imbecile had decided that scenic views were a mandatory improvement on Nature as the Almighty had designed her?
“Were you being arch, Miss Charlotte? I believe you were. I have appetites too, dontcha know.”
Neederby fancied himself a Corinthian, as accomplished at all the manly sports as he was at tying a fancy knot in his cravat. Hostesses added him to guest lists because he had a title and had yet to lose either his hair or his teeth in any quantity.
In Charlotte’s estimation, his brains had gone missing entirely.
“I haven’t an arch bone in my body, my lord. I am, however, hungry.” The occasion was a Venetian breakfast, and Charlotte had intended to do justice to the lavish buffet. The roaring water more than ten yards below the iron railing had carried away her appetite.
“One hears things,” Neederby said, wiggling his eyebrows. “About certain people.”
Charlotte heard the river thundering past and edged back from the overlook. “I have no interest in gossip, but a plate of Lady Belchamp’s buffet offerings does appeal.”
His lordship clamped a gloved hand over Charlotte’s fingers. “What about my offerings? I’m tireless in the saddle, as they say, and you’re in want of a fellow to show you the bridle path, as it were.”
Equestrian analogies never led anywhere decent. Charlotte escaped Neederby’s grasp by twisting her arm, a move her cousins had shown her more than ten years ago.
“I’m famished, your lordship. We can return to the buffet, or I’ll leave you here to admire the view.”
Neither option could salvage Charlotte’s morning. The gossips would claim that she had taken too long on this ramble with his lordship, or that she’d returned to the party without his escort, both choices unacceptable for a lady.
As the only remaining unmarried Windham, Charlotte had earned the enmity of every wallflower, failed debutante, matchmaker, and fortune hunter in Mayfair. The little season brought the wilted and the wounded out in quantity, while Charlotte—who considered herself neither—longed to retire to the country.
Neederby moved more quickly than he reasoned, and thus Charlotte found herself trapped between him and the railing.
“When anybody’s looking,” he said, “you’re all haughty airs and tidy bonnet ribbons, but I know what you fast girls really want. Married to me, you’d be more than content.”
Married to him, Charlotte would be a candidate for Bedlam. “I need breakfast, you buffoon, and I haven’t been a girl for years. Get away from me.”