Miss Claire Ashford knows exactly what she wants out of life — to marry for love. When she finds herself alone in the woods with none other than notorious rake Ian Michael Caldwell, Viscount Knightly, her chances of a proper match are ruined. He is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of her reputation, but she is determined not to marry anyone out of obligation.
For years, Ian has wanted nothing more than to, one day, marry Miss Claire Ashford. When fate forces them into a compromising situation, he vows to do just that. In spite of every effort, she refuses his suit. Not one to easily give up, Ian drafts assistance from an unlikely source.
As her first season continues, Claire finds it increasingly difficult to keep her distance from Ian. His charm, and ability to stir feelings inside of her she didn’t know existed, makes it hard to remember why she refused him in the first place. With his relentless pursuit and her weakening resolve, she desperately wants to give in to him. However, after seeing he hasn’t changed his rakish ways, how can she trust him not to break her heart, again?
Claire stared at Ian’s backside and tried hard to keep her thoughts pure. For almost a full day now, she’d been awarded with the view, and combined with the man himself, her resolve wavered. Each hour it became increasingly difficult to remember why she disliked him.
Although their situation was miserable, Ian had kept the tone light. He made her remember all those good times they had shared as children. Back then, and most of the time, her brother had balked at having his younger sister tag along, but Ian had always been sweet. Then, he grew up.
“Ian, it’s hot. If we don’t stop soon, I will fall over.”
“As you wish. Here is as good a spot as any.”
Gratefully, she slid down, using a tree to balance her until making contact with the ground. She wanted to laugh at the change in herself. Not long ago, the idea of dirtying her skirts would have bothered her. Today, however, the cool dirt felt wonderful against her legs.
Ian followed suit across from her, bringing the bag he’d fashioned from her petticoat and laying it between them. After being deprived of food for so long, the idea of having another pear had her mouth watering.
“I don’t recall pears ever tasting so good.” She closed her eyes and sighed as she took a bite, savoring the juice on her tongue.
When she opened her eyes, she noticed Ian looking at her mouth strangely. He made no move to collect a pear for himself. Heat flooded her cheeks. Clearly, she had done something wrong.
“Don’t you agree?”
He grabbed a pear and turned to stare in the opposite direction. “Yes. They are delicious.”
Silence filled the space between them as they finished their fruit. She moved her aching legs, although making sure to keep them covered by her skirt. This trek was exhausting, and she wasn’t sure how much more she could take.
“How much longer do you suspect before we reach London?” She rubbed her aching neck thinking about how nice it would be to sleep in a bed.
“It’s hard to say. Anxious to get back to Lord Higgins?”
She snorted, uncaring how unladylike she sounded. “The only thing I could possibly miss about him is his dancing. That man sure knows the intricacies of the waltz.”
“The waltz? Surely he can’t be better than me.”
The cocky grin he shot her made her smile as she shook her head. Ian’s charm seemed to come as natural to him as breathing. Her lips tightened as the merriment wore away. She’d never seen a woman who wasn’t susceptible to him.
“Considering we’ve never danced, I’m not a good judge.”
He climbed to his feet and held out his hand, a sparkle in his eyes. “Dance with me.”
“Here? Don’t be ridiculous.”
The idea of dancing with Ian, here, in the middle of the forest did strange things to her stomach. It seemed too intimate. Considering their current circumstances, and their sleeping arrangements, they didn’t need any more intimacy between them.
Ian crossed his arms. “Afraid you can’t keep up without the music? Don’t worry. I can lead the most inept of partners.”
Refusing to be baited, she narrowed her eyes as she gently wrapped the pears back up.
“I have no desire to waste my energy on ridiculous pursuits.” She got to her feet, slinging the pears over her shoulder. “I suppose we should continue on.”
“Very well, but one day, you will dance with me.”
His long sigh betrayed his disappointment. He took the bag from her and began their trek. Narrowing her eyes on his back, she tried to figure him out. Considering what they were facing at the moment, she couldn’t understand his mood. Why did he work so hard to keep her entertained?
“You can stop,” she said. “After all, it isn’t necessary.”
Ian spun around to face her, confusion marring his brow. “What are you talking about?”
“Charming me,” she explained, unable to keep the exasperation out of her voice.
“Yes. It will get you nowhere, and there is no time for it.”
As if to emphasize her words, she took off, walking past him in the direction he’d been taking. The constant walking, the heat, and his positive attitude were weighing her down.
He hurried until he was beside her. “Does that mean it is working?”
“Yes. I mean no . . . it’s just irritating.”
His warm fingers on her arm stopped her, and allowed him to turn her to face him. Gone was the playfulness he usually sported. His eyes were dark, his expression serious. She sucked in her breath, unable to take his intensity.
“When did this happen? When did you start hating me?”
She swallowed repeatedly, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. Telling him the truth was impossible, for she never wanted him to know. The very thought of that day brought a flush to her cheeks. However, she couldn’t stand the pain in his eyes.
“I don’t hate you,” she replied, knowing it to be the truth. No matter how hard she had tried, she couldn’t bring her heart to truly dislike him.
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and her lips parted. Would he kiss her now? She always imagined her first kiss would be with Ian. Desperate to experience the feel of his lips on hers, she leaned forward.
The sound of a bird crowing in a nearby tree startled her enough to clear the fog from her thoughts. She snapped back from him. Taking a deep breath, she turned away, knowing he didn’t want to kiss her, specifically. She was simply the only available woman present.
“Claire.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
She felt his hands on her shoulders, but she shrugged him off. Right now, she couldn’t face him. If she did, she’d be too tempted to allow him to use her as he’d done to so many other women.
“I think we should keep moving.”
“Of course,” he agreed, regret echoing in his voice.
As he moved in front of her to lead the way, guilt swamped her. The feeling she’d made a huge mistake overwhelmed her. But, that couldn’t be true. No good would come from kissing Ian. So why couldn’t she shake the feeling? Why did depression have to settle on her shoulders?
She lives in the beloved state of Texas where she was born and raised. With her husband, three beautiful children, a dog, three cats, and a ball python. She has a full house. There is never a dull moment, but always time to read and write.