What if Cinderella Doesn’t Want the Prince?
Ellie Lytton keeps house for her step-brother and writes children’s books for a living. After all, what else has an ordinary young lady with a limp and without a fortune or good looks to do with herself? A past that has left her with a deep mistrust of men, doesn’t help. When her step-brother is killed in a ludicrous accident at his club there is only the man she holds responsible to help her.
William Blakestone Pencarrow, third Earl of Hainford, has no time for plain women, especially ones who treat him with disdain, but Blake’s inconvenient conscience compels him to offer help to Ellie. From there things can only get more complicated, more acrimonious and considerably more heated when feelings neither of them want to acknowledge refuse to be suppressed.
‘That is a bullet wound in your side.’ She had never seen one before, but what else could make a hole like that? He nodded, hissing between his teeth as he explored the raw track with his fingertips. ‘But there is no hole in your shirt. And the wound starts below the waistband of your equally undamaged breeches. You were shot when you were naked?’
Hainford looked at her, his eyebrows raised, presumably in shock at a lady saying breeches and naked without fainting. ‘Yes. Could you pass me some of that bandage and then perhaps leave the room so I can deal with this?’ He gestured downwards. The bullet must have grazed his hip bone and the chaffing of his evening breeches, even if they were knitted silk, must be exceedingly painful. He would certainly need to take them off to dress the wound. There was already far too much of the Earl of Hainford on display and she realised she was staring in appalled curiosity at the way that light furring of dark hair on his chest arrowed down and…
‘Here.’ Ellie pushed both basin and bandages towards him. ‘Call when you are decent – I mean, ready – and I will bring you a clean shirt.’ She was not afraid of the sight of blood, but she had absolutely no desire to get any closer to that bared body, let alone touch it, even though as a budding novelist she ought to know about such matters. Writing about them was one thing, fantasising was another but experiencing them in real life… No.
She closed the door behind her and leaned back against the panels while she got her breathing under some kind of control. The man she had glimpsed a few times with Francis, the one who had become the hero of her future novel and the disturber of her rest, was in her drawing room. Correction: was half-naked and injured in her drawing room. How had he been shot like that? By a cuckolded husband catching him in flagrante with his wife, presumably. She could think of no other reason for a man to be wounded while naked. If it had been an accident in his own home his servants would have come to his aid.
She could visualise the scene quite clearly. A screaming female on the bed, the rumpled sheets, Lord Hainford scrambling bare-limbed from the midst of the bedding – her imagination skittered around too much detail – the infuriated husband brandishing a pistol. How very disillusioning. One did not expect to have one’s fantasy arrive on the doorstep in reality, very much in the flesh, and proving to be so sordidly fallible. Her desert lord was, in reality, a hung-over adulterer.
And naturally, life being what it was, fantasies did not have the tact and good timing to arrive when one was looking one’s best. Not, she admitted, pulling a rueful face at her reflection in the hall mirror, that her best was much to write home about, or that she actually wanted to attract such a man. Not in real life.