License to Kiss
Coming Sept. 25, 2017
A Lady’s Maid’s Rules When Revealing a Secret Pregnancy:
1.The maid must approach the father-to-be in safe, comfortable surroundings. Not his bedchamber.
2.If the maid does approach him in his bedchamber, she must not envision hot, sinful nights in his arms…
3.In the event such visions do overtake her, she is advised to retreat with haste.
4.If retreat is not possible, then there is only one solution. Prepare for breathless passion and the complete surrender of her heart…
One passionate night in Scotland leaves Emily Michaelson in the family way. Months later, she arrives in London with one goal in mind; secure a future for her unborn babe. She needs a loan, and there’s only one man who has the means and influence to help her. The one man who makes her heart flutter…
Stephen Crawford, heir to the Earl of Durham, is in the midst of a scandal that could destroy him. His solution is simple–marry a woman of influence. Well, it should be simple. Matters are complicated when a fiery young maid shows up on his doorstep—or rather, in his bed—claiming to be pregnant with his child. His memory of their night together is fractured, but one thing is certain, the attraction between them is powerful…and dangerous for them both.
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * iBooks
There was no preparing a woman for the task Emily Michelson had looming before her. Indeed, it was likely to be slightly traumatic for both her and Stephen. But alas, it could not be avoided. Though there were several times when she had convinced herself it could be avoided, if only a suitable solution had revealed itself.
It had not.
Now, there was only one clear path and she must take it.
So here she was, shoehorned into the smallest mail coach in existence, on her way to see Stephen. She had made the best of the long and tedious journey from Yorkshire, but the roads were muddied and potholed, causing the conveyance to thrash violently. She was tired, dirty and longed to chase away the chill with a dish of hot tea.
At length, the carriage halted and the driver announced they had arrived in Piccadilly Street. Emily dismounted, brushing off her frayed skirts. Piccadilly was only a ten-minute walk from Durham House in Grosvenor Street and she could use a good walk. She had not stretched her legs since leaving the posting inn at Ilford.
But as her scuffed boots ate up the cobbles, her legs began to ache. With every step, she felt weaker and the nausea caused by the jostling carriage had given way to a dull, gnawing hunger that felt as though it might consume her whole.
She struggled to remember when she’d last eaten. It was yesterday. At one of the taverns in route, she had spent her last sixpence on a bowl of stew and a small pitcher of ale. That had been the last morsel to touch her lips in what felt like days.
Clutching her worn cloth bag to her stomach, she wondered if Stephen had much altered in the months since she had last set eyes on him. He would be healthier, more robust, surely. The last time she had set eyes on him, he had nearly perished.
She remembered those terrifying few days in Scotland so vividly…
Four months ago, Stephen had absconded to Gretna Green with The Duke of Arlington’s sister, Lady Evelyn Alexander. Her friends had discovered the elopement and had quickly given chase with Emily, as Lady Evelyn’s maid, trailing along as chaperone. Once they had stopped the marriage, the party promptly drank themselves into oblivion—all except Emily.
That night, a ruffian had shot Stephen and that night, both Emily and Stephen’s lives had changed forever…
In her mind’s eye, she imagined every detail of her coming meeting with him—his manner, his expressions, the light playing off his Adonis-like features. He would smile at her with those perfectly white teeth, and say something charming, and she would melt.
No, she mustn’t melt. Anything but that.
That was precisely what had gotten her into this predicament in the first place.
No, she must remain firm and under no circumstances must she fall prey to his dazzling green eyes and dashing smile.
Just as she was rounding the corner to Grosvenor Street, rain began falling in earnest. It was all she could do to force each step, willing her legs to carry her, until she was finally standing on the sidewalk in front of Stephen’s townhouse.
The house looked precisely how she remembered it. White, polished brick and a stately door flanked by two Grecian pillars that stretched high up into the skyline—up some five stories. She had visited this house many times with her mistress, but it was just as grand and beautiful as when she had first laid eyes upon it.
As a lady’s maid for one of the most prominent families in London, it was an occupational necessity to know all the great houses. She also knew that Stephen’s father, the Earl of Durham, had been unwell since last summer—and had remained in London for the duration of his illness. It was the talk of the Ton.
Well, that was before the more salacious gossip began to circulate.
Immediately following Stephen and Lady Evelyn’s failed elopement, rumors had surfaced that Stephen might be illegitimate. The source of the rumors was unknown, but according to the reports, his father, the Earl, had a first wife secreted away in some far-flung hamlet—a wife who was still living.
If true, the implications for Stephen would be devastating. He would lose everything that was entailed—his fortune, his title, his estate. His life would be in tatters.
But could there possibly be any truth to it? She thought not. In her and Stephen’s (admittedly) short time together, he had spoken about his future as the Earl of Durham and never once with a sense of unease or uncertainty.
Not that any of it mattered to Emily. She wanted one thing and one thing only. Once she got it, she would be free and independent.
Swaying on her feet slightly, she took hold of the wrought-iron gate at the side of the house, lifted the latch, and carefully descended the steps that led down to the servant’s entrance.
In the small space below, there were potted herbs, all dried and withered due to the cold autumn air. She approached the black door and knocked, shivering against the slanting rain.
She knocked again, this time more forcefully.
At length, the door swung open to reveal a middle-aged woman. Her graying hair was pulled back into tight knot, a look of agitation on her face. Emily instantly recognized the woman as Mrs. Porter, the housekeeper. Emily had met her only once, when she’d accompanied Lady Evelyn to take tea with the Countess. Emily had waited in the kitchen as the women had visited.
But Mrs. Porter, for her part, didn’t seem to recognize Emily in the least.
“There you are, girl.” She looked over Emily’s shoulder. “Where is the other maid? The agency was meant to send two of you.”
Emily opened her mouth to speak, but she was cut off before she could even begin.
“Oh, never mind—” Mrs. Porter interrupted. She hurried Emily into the kitchen, which was a hive of activity, took her bag and began stripping off Emily’s wet shawl. “Dear, heavens, child. You are soaked through to the bone.” She handed Emily’s things to a maid, who scurried off with them before Emily could protest.
“Mrs…um…I believe you have the wrong idea—”
“Now, now, there will be time for all that later. My name is Mrs. Porter and I am the housekeeper here at Durham House . Your name, dear?”
“Emily…” she stuttered. “But—”
With swift movements that belied her aged appearance, Mrs. Porter reached into a cupboard and presented Emily with a dull gray gown and white apron. “You may go down the hall and put these on. When you are through, see me back here. Quickly. Her Ladyship ’s guests will be here any moment and you are thirty minutes late!”
If Emily had had her wits about her, perhaps she would have been more forceful. But the clothes were dry. Perhaps she could change into them briefly, until her own clothes dried.
Taking the servant’s clothes, she found an empty room down the hall and changed into the dress. The bodice was a little loose and did nothing for her figure, but it was suitable and more importantly, it was dry, which was a small victory against the bitter chill that had numbed her to her fingertips.
Stepping out of the room, she took her clothes and sodden bonnet back into the kitchen and hung them on the grate by the fire to dry. As she wasn’t actually a maid here, she didn’t bother with the cap or apron. She left them folded neatly on the table.
Peeking around the corner of the door, she saw Mrs. Porter speaking to the scullery maid in brusque tones. Was there any use in Emily pleading for an audience with Stephen? Mrs. Porter would likely turn her out so quickly her head would spin.
No, her methods must be more secretive.
With Mrs. Porter occupied, Emily took the opportunity to sneak up the service stairs in search of Stephen. She still felt dizzy and unwell, so she took care to grip the wooden bannister as she climbed the stairs two at a time.
Once upstairs, she tiptoed down the corridors, searching each room. Her stomach growled, but she struggled to ignore it as she ducked into the empty parlor and then the library. The dining room and morning room were also vacant.
There was one last room to check. The study. These large houses were nearly all the same and Emily had been inside enough of them to predict where each room might be located.
She found the study precisely where she suspected it would be—at the end of a long corridor on the ground floor. One of the double-doors was slightly ajar. She knocked lightly and then poked her head inside. No one was inside so she closed the door again quickly.
It was then that she heard Mrs. Porter’s voice in the distance. “She was there one moment, gone the next,” the woman hissed, speaking to someone Emily couldn’t see. “She must be somewhere about.”
“Perhaps she left,” a male voice replied.
Mrs. Porter had discovered her missing already. Drat.
On tiptoe, Emily snuck back down the corridor and up the main staircase, just as Mrs. Porter and a tall, thin man rounded the corner. Was he the butler, perhaps?
She sucked in a breath and bounded up the stairs, turning up the landing and out of sight, just in the knick of time.
With her breath suspended, she listened as Mrs. Porter’s voice grew more distant and Emily quickly made her way up to the second floor. She went room by room, until finally she found a bedchamber with books piled high, covering every flat surface. She crept into the room and glanced at the titles.
Elements of Agricultural Chemistry.
General view of the agriculture and domestic economy of Durham.
The Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture.
She nodded to herself. If this were not his room, then she would be very much surprised. On their long journey back from Scotland, he had spoken about his interest in agriculture at great length. He’d been required to teach himself, he’d said, because the Earl showed no inclination toward the subject at all.
The floorboards creaked beneath her feet as she stepped deeper into the room. The thick damask curtains were pulled tight against the sunlight, cloaking the room in darkness, so she opened them a small degree—enough to let in a sliver of light.
Her gaze skipped over the opulent room. It was large with heavy, elegant furnishings and a mural of some mythological tale playing out in glorious detail across the domed ceiling. But it was the bed that caught her notice. It was monstrous—offensively so—with a pile of soft, welcoming pillows that lured her like silk-covered beacons.
Perhaps it would be prudent for her to wait for Stephen here. He would arrive eventually and it would afford them a degree of privacy. Even more enticing was the thought of lying down—just for a moment—while she waited.
Her bones ached with exhaustion.
All she needed was one solitary moment…
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * iBooks