Authors: Adele Ashworth
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Historical Fiction, #Romantic Suspense Fiction, #Cornwall (England : County), #Cornwall (England: County) - Social life and customs - 19th century
When It’s Perfect
Your heart will always know…
WHEN IT’S PERFECT
When the mesmerizing Marcus Longfellow, the Earl of Renn, comes striding into Miss Mary Marsh’s life, her world is set spinning. The ladies of London’s
clamor for the lacy confections Mary creates, but the earl is seeking something more from her. And he is very persuasive in his pursuit. Gentle, quiet Mary has always avoided romance, but her strong attraction to the adventurous nobleman is immediate and irresistible. Dare she trust the dashing lord with her secrets?
She is hiding something—Marcus is certain of it—a clue, perhaps, to explain his sister’s untimely death. A sensuous seduction will surely loosen young Mary’s tongue, and the determined earl is eager to oblige—for in all his world travels, Marcus has found no treasure more exquisite than she. But is his growing passion for her interfering with his search for the truth?
Prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 Epilogue
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An Imprint of
10 East 53rd Street
New York, New York 10022-5299
Copyright © 2002 by Adele Ashworth
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Avon Books paperback printing: November 2002
Printed in the U.S.A.
I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the following people:
To the talented Avon Ladies, whose work and creativity always amaze
To Michele Albert, my wonderful friend and critique partner,
for her unfailing support and inspiration
To my marvelous agent, Denise Marcil,
for her expertise, continued support,
and hard work on my behalf
And finally to my gifted editor, Lyssa Keusch,
for letting me write the books
that are in my heart, then offering suggestions
that always seem to make them better
ou’re squeezing the breath out of me!”
Mary Marsh grinned. “If you didn’t eat so much chocolate…” she admonished good-naturedly, pulling even tighter at the waist of the corset she attempted to pin into place behind the somewhat trim figure of Miss Christine Longfellow. The Countess of Renn’s only daughter would be married in less than three months.
“Chocolate is a lady’s prerogative,” Christine retorted through a groan, lifting her arms a little higher.
“A delicacy one shouldn’t have to live without—ouch!”
“Sorry,” Mary said, standing back at last. “There. How does that feel?”
Christine eyed her through the mirror. “I can’t feel anything. I’m numbed from neck to legs.”
Mary smiled, ignoring the lady’s usual false pouting. “But it looks marvelous, doesn’t it?”
“Ha! You’re very vain,” Christine replied, turning her attention back to the satin creation, rubbing her fingers along the smooth fabric covering her ribs as she rocked her hips from side to side. “But it is divine. You do such lovely work, Mary. A pity nobody will see it but me.”
Her lips lifted into a crooked smile. “At least till my wedding night.”
Mary grinned again at that, but kept her critical attention on the corset, the seams and bits of lace that still needed trimming, noting with satisfaction that the stays were… staying. She refrained from mentioning that Christine had also better watch her consumption of cakes and gravies in the coming weeks if she intended to fit into her wedding gown. Christine’s mother would no doubt scold her about that well enough anyway.
“Lift your arms one more time,” she ordered. Christine did so without question.
Mary took scissors in hand and snipped at bits of thread and a portion of the satin that met unevenly at the top seam.
“You know, Mary,” Christine continued contemplatively, “I do wish you’d stay for a time after my wedding to Exeter. I have little doubt that Marcus will return for the occasion, in which case you can actually meet him.” She paused as Mary took pins to the material at the sides of her breasts, then added with conviction, “I know he’ll be here.”
Mary didn’t reply immediately, attempting to look busy with the satin at her fingertips. Christine carried on as if she didn’t expect a response.
“He’s very handsome, but of course you know that from his portrait in the hall. And wealthy, of course. And he hasn’t been with a lady since… oh, at least since he courted the Lady Stanley of Bodmin five years ago.” She attempted to draw a deep breath, having trouble, naturally, from the restriction. “Funny thing she didn’t want to marry him. I suppose it was his wild way that discouraged her.”
Mary had caught herself thinking her own wild thoughts about the mysterious Earl of Renn these recent weeks, but would never mention that to a soul. His magnificent portrait had indeed raised her curiosity, sometimes to the level of obsession, for which she always chided herself. She supposed it was because he wasn’t around to displace the rumor of him, the enigma surrounding him. He’d been gone for four years, and nobody expected his return, even for his sister’s long-planned wedding to the Viscount Exeter.
“Are you listening, Mary?”
She gazed up, expression flat, pins in her mouth. Through semi-closed lips, she replied, “Yes, of course.”
The lady placed her fists on her hips and looked back at her figure in the mirror. “You didn’t seem to be listening. I was talking about Marcus.”
Mary stood and pulled the pins from between her lips, sticking them into the black velvet cushion circling her left wrist. “Sorry. I was just wondering how you know he hasn’t courted a woman since Lady Stanley. What about Egyptian ladies?”
Christine frowned at the honest question, tilting her fair head to one side.
“I never thought of that.” She shrugged lightly. “But he’s never mentioned another lady in his letters to me.”
Mary raised her brows as she resumed her work at the waistline of the tight ridge where satin met lace. “Well, if he has been courting, I rather doubt he’d mention it to his young sister.”
The question was truly asked in innocence, but Mary didn’t much want to expound on something she couldn’t be certain of in the first place. Instead, she offered, “Gentlemen can be very secretive, and unassuming. Perhaps he didn’t think you’d care.”
After a slight pause, Christine said, “Oh. Maybe not. Marcus is rather unassuming, I suppose. But he’s also very… difficult to define. As a man.”
Fascinating, would be the word.
“It still needs a bit of a threading through the bustline,” Mary interjected to change the subject before giving away her thoughts.
Tapping her lips with her fingertips, she added, “and I’m thinking of embroidering two or three black hearts right in the center.”
Christine’s eyes sparkled wide. “Oh, yes. Black hearts. How marvelous!”
Mary smiled with her. “You’re too easily amused.”
“That’s what Exeter says.” Christine laughed, then grabbed her middle. “That hurts.”
“I’ll loosen the seam on the other side. Give me a minute.”
“I’m amazed at how fast you put this one together, Mary. It’s prettier than the other three you’ve made me. And maybe… daintier? Yes, daintier.” She studied the corset speculatively. “You make the most fantastic display of intimate lingerie. I’m sure all your clients in England thank you constantly.”
More likely their husbands do.
Mary pressed her lips together to keep from offering that comment to virginal ears.
“And of course, as always, I’m so pleased you think so, Lady Christine.”
“You’re too modest.”
“I’m supposed to be modest.”
Christine sighed. “I suppose if I made underclothing as risqué as this, I’d appear modest as well.”
Mary chuckled. “I’m just glad you appreciate my effort.” Finished with the trimming at last, she began to place thread and needles back into the side pouches of her sewing basket. “I’ll begin working on the
hearts as soon as you’re out of it. Turn around and I’ll unfasten you.”
Christine immediately did as she was told. “Do you wear such provocative underclothes yourself, Mary?”
She could feel the lady’s gaze scrutinizing her face through the mirror at their side. Trying not to show emotion of any kind, she focused her attention on the metal fasteners, working through each one quickly. “Isn’t that a rather personal question?”
Christine huffed. “From me? Certainly not.”
If nothing else, Christine Longfellow was honest about herself. She remained a charming young woman, not much more than a girl, really.
And so very innocent of the ways of the world.
“I wear my own creations from time to time, yes,” Mary answered vaguely, as she turned back to her sewing basket, hunting for a particular scrap of black satin that might work better for hearts than embroidery threading. She had placed it at the bottom of her basket last week.
Christine eyed her for a second longer, clutching her loosened corset to her breasts. “I should think Marcus would find you utterly and charmingly whimsical.”
Here we go again
. “Whimsical?” She couldn’t think of a word that described her less.
“And as a man, he’d surely enjoy a private showing of your work.”
Mary suddenly fumbled the sewing basket, and thread, bits of fabric, and pins toppled to the floor at her feet. She stared at it, face flushing, heart skipping a beat or two at the idea of modeling risqué underclothes for the Earl of Renn, the mysteriously dark, masculine man in the portrait.
“Perhaps you should change,” she managed to say as she knelt down, gathering the contents and tossing them back into the basket carelessly.
“You’ll not want to be late for your dinner engagement with the viscount, and it’s nearly four.”
Christine moved off the short stool without further urging. “And of course he’s never late,” she said, her brows crinkling in frown. She turned back and glanced at Mary through the mirror. “He’s taking me for a ride along the cliffs after dinner. The ocean is lovely by moonlight, and there should be a full one tonight.”
Mary angled her head; she stared into the younger woman’s large blue eyes that conveyed such hope and trust. And daring.
Take care, Christine
, she wanted to warn. But doing so was not her place. Instead, she said softly, “I’m sure you’ll enjoy that. It’ll be
Christine smiled, visibly relaxing. “I have known Exeter all my life,”