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Second Excerpt from A Most Unsuitable Man

Fitz has persuaded Damaris to return to the house and face down those who witnessed her embarrassing behaviour.

    She stopped and looked up at the enormous house that now loomed over them. "Can Lord Henry forbid me entry?" she asked, a betraying waver in her voice.
    He'd not even considered that. He gently urged her toward a door. "No. It would be for Lord Rothgar to do, and I can't believe he would be so unjust."
    "They do call him the Dark Marquess."
    "Because of his position as power behind the throne, not because of his nature."
    She stopped again. "He killed a man in a duel not long ago. Lord Henry crowed about it."
    "You are in no danger from him, and besides, I'm your Galahad, remember, proof against all forces of darkness?"
    She looked at him, clearly assessing the honesty of his words. Then she inhaled, turned, and marched resolutely toward the door.
    His words had been light, but she'd accepted them as a vow, God help him.
    He joined her at the door and stated the obvious. "The easiest way to escape Lord Henry is to choose a suitable man and marry quickly." When she flashed him a suspicious look, he raised a hand and added, "Not me. I'm the most unsuitable."
    It made her smile a little. "True. But I won't be hurried, especially after this debacle." She put her hand on the latch but paused again. "I don't know whether you've lured me back to hell or heaven, Mr. Fitzroger, but I do thank you for good intentions."
    "The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. But let us advance to paradise, which at the moment is the warmth of the kitchens."
    He put his hand over hers and opened the door, then impelled her across the threshold and closed the door on the frigid air. He felt her shudder. It might be relief at being inside, or fear of what lay ahead, or simply reaction to the warmth. His hands had started to prickle as warmth hit ice.
    They were in a plain corridor lined with storage cupboards and pungent with the bundles of herbs and garlic hanging from the ceiling. From the kitchens to the right, sounds, smells, and heat told of preparations for breakfast.
    Ahead, Damarisís maid was slumped weeping against a wall being comforted by another maid. She looked up, dabbing her streaming face with a sodden handkerchief. "Oh, Miss Damaris! He's ever so angry. He boxed my ears and has cast me off without a penny!"
    Damaris ran to take her into her arms. "I'm so sorry! But he can't dismiss you. You're my servant." The other maid slipped back to her duties and Damaris glared at Fitz. "If you hadn't torn her from the coach, she wouldn't have had to face Lord Henry alone."
    "True. Does he beat you?"
    The maid said, "But..."
    "Once. And I'd been very foolish."
    "He slapped you that time, miss."
    It clearly embarrassed her, but it enraged him, no matter what she'd done.
    "Hush, Maisie," she said. "Come along. We must return to my bedroom so I can prepare for... for whatever."
    "So we're not leaving, miss? I thought it foolish to run away, but that were before. Now Lord Henry knows you tried to leave, there'll be the devil to pay."
    "No there won't. He's washed his hands of me."
    The maid's eyes went round. "Lawks a mercy!"
    Damaris turned to Fitz and he saw the struggle before she asked for help. "What do I do?"
    "I have a solution in mind, but we need to talk about it. I'll come with you to your bedchamber."
    "In the presence of your maid, there's no scandal." When she hesitated, he added, "I'm not trying to compromise you, but this is not the place to talk of delicate matters."
    As if to make his point, a manservant hurried out of the kitchen and down the corridor carrying a large covered bowl.
    Her dazed eyes followed the servant for a moment, then returned to look at Fitz. "Very well."
    Her maid looked as if she'd object, but with a sniff which might simply have been because of a runny nose, she turned and led them to the service stairs. After one shadowed look at him, Damaris followed. She was wise to be suspicious, but illogically, he wished she'd trust him.
    They climbed the plain stairs and went through the door that was covered with green baize on one side and polished oak on the other, marking the transition from servants' domain to master's. They entered an opulent corridor lined with doors, and Fitz followed Damaris and her maid into a bedchamber.
    Damaris turned to him, stripping off her gloves. "Your solution, sir?" She was trying to hide her desperation, but failing.
    Fitz went to the fire to warm his icy hands, making himself not go too close. He didn't need to add chilblains to his other problems. "What if you were to ask Lord Rothgar to replace Lord Henry as your guardian?"
    She gaped at him. "What? Is it possible? Would he do it? Why? I'm nothing to him. Wouldn't it be an imposition? A burden?" She clapped a hand over her mouth. "I'm babbling."
    He couldn't stop a smile. She sounded as if she'd never babbled before.
    "I suspect that becoming your guardian would be as much of a burden to Rothgar as an extra button on his coat. As head of the Malloren family, however, he's the logical choice to take over from his uncle."
    "But wouldn't it seem like an insult to Lord Henry? And it's not necessary. Heís given up the responsibility himself."
    "No he hasn't. If he had, he would have no power to keep you in poverty. Does he receive a handsome sum for the job?"
    She caught his point immediately. "That he'd not want to give up? It's five hundred guineas a year on top of any actual costs, such as tutors, clothing, and travel. A substantial amount, but not to him." She stopped. "Why are you smiling like that?"
    "Too many women think matters of money, even their own money, either beyond or beneath them."
    "Lord Henry thought my interest unnatural."
    "We will forget Lord Henry."
    "Gladly, but he is my guardian...."
    "Unless you change that." He walked to her portable writing desk and opened the lid. "Request an appointment with Rothgar and put your petition."
    She was rubbing her hands together now, but he didn't think it was from cold. She glanced at the ticking clock on the mantelpiece. "It's not yet nine..."
    "The Dark Marquess, they say, never sleeps." He deliberately put command in his voice as he added, "Send the note."
    She responded, coming over, sitting, then taking out a sheet of paper. He uncapped her inkwell and mended her quill. When he handed it to her she still seemed hesitant, but she shook herself, dipped the pen and wrote a short message in a flowing but very even hand.
    A week ago, Damaris Myddleton had been nothing more to him than a name -- the rich heiress Ash intended to marry. On arrival at Rothgar Abbey he'd found a persistent problem for his friend. Though he'd privately thought Ash should marry Miss Myddleton's money, he'd done his best to draw her from the hunt. It had soon been as much for her sake as Ash's. She deserved better than marriage to a man who loved another.
    She sanded the ink then folded the paper, perfectly aligning the edges. Neat and efficient, but wild and wilful.
    A fascinating young woman.
    Fitz pulled back from perilous thoughts and tugged the bell pull, reminding himself that Damaris Myddleton could never be for him.
    He'd served over ten years in the army and served well, achieving the rank of major. But Damaris Myddleton would have no interest in a mere major, even if his reputation were glorious and his name clear of scandal.
    Neither was true.
     A Most Unsuitable Man's publication date is February 1st, 2005, but it will appear in some places earlier. Please share the URL for this excerpt with interested friends.

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