Compelled by his family to marry, Viscount Radford Evers makes a list of his requirements for a wife. Humble tenant May Sheffers meets none of these, so why does his heart beat madly at the sight of her?
Dorothy gives an overview of the book:
"Did Miss Sheffers just wish you to the devil?"
Wynter's wide gaze and gaping mouth went beyond shocked. The man appeared utterly flabbergasted, a look Radford had never associated with his even-keeled friend.
"I believe she did." A smile creased the corners of Radford's lips. He eased down onto the sofa the women had vacated. Three half filled round teacups stared up at him from the side table next to him. The fourth little cup in the set, missing. "I believe she also pilfered from my fine china."
Miss Margaret Sheffers.
Before an hour ago, he hadn't the slightest clue that the lady existed, let alone that she resided on one of his properties. She was the kind of woman he generally overlooked. Gently shabby, small, with not one extraordinary feature to attract a man save for a pair of unusually vivid violet eyes--before today he'd guess such a woman would make a fine lady's companion or governess, fading into the draperies. She was of so little import her initial burst into the room had his gaze shifting to the alluring Lady Iona, not her. So just how did such a woman manage to leave him with his heart throbbing in his chest?
"The marriage list we've just completed," Radford said and thrust out his hand. "I believe you stuffed it in your pocket."
Wynter eyed Radford for several moments before pulling the crumpled piece of foolscap from his pants pocket and dropping it into Radford's palm. "What in blazes was that all about, Evers?" The note of anger was unmistakable...and completely a surprise.
"What was, what?" Radford asked somewhat absently. He struggled to his feet so he could pace like a normal man while he reviewed the list of qualities he'd demand in a wife.
"Your damned behavior, is what. I've never witnessed a ruder display. Is this how you plan to woo a wife? If you do, you had better start preparing for a long bachelorhood."
"I just wished to ascertain their qualifications." No vagaries on his list, nothing left to chance.
"Qualifications, Evers? This isn't Tattersal's where you can pry open their mouths and peek inside. You have to use your charm. Before you bought that bloody commission, all you had to do was wink and every damned woman in sight would swoon."
"That man no longer exists. For one thing, I am no longer a prime pick. Look at me! I'm a cripple, naught but half a man."
Wynter sighed, long and loud. "It's your acid tongue, not your injury that scares women."
Radford continued to pace, feeling his limp grow more pronounced. The pain in his foot returned with a vengeance.
How was it that for the past half-hour he'd been free of the searing pain? Something about pricking the anger of a plain, utterly forgettable faded bloom had completely erased the state of his injured body from his mind.
"Perhaps a wife is exactly what I need."
"Bloody funny way of going about finding one." Wynter helped himself to a second serving of claret. He held up the decanter, offering to pour a glass for Radford.
Still pacing with his jerky movement of half dragging his lame leg, Radford waved Wynter away. "Not now," he grumbled. He needed to think. To plan.
Just like on the Peninsula, everything lived and died by the force of strategy. No matter what Wynter said about the necessity of charming a woman, Radford knew there was more to this chase for a wife than that. He'd seen the fleeting glances the society ladies sent his way, their sidelong looks literally twitching with a blend of fear and pity.
Miss Sheffers' mystically deep violet eyes had sparked with anger, not pity.
Long gone were the days where every lady he met would stare up at his healthy physique with moon-eyed affection.
She hadn't been moon-eyed, but she'd appeared indifferent to his condition.
"Never mind my offending the woman, Wynter. She didn't meet even one marriageable criteria." Radford shook out the foolscap.
Radford began to read from the list. "Number one, age. She needs to be young enough to be pliable, readily molded into my image of the perfect wife and viscountess for my estate. No younger than eighteen--I have absolutely no wish to bed a child--no older than one-and-twenty. Need I go on?"
"I see no problem as of yet," Wynter said with a shrug.
"Number two, appearance. She should be fair of complexion, like an angel smiling down from the heavens--I believe the poet in you added that last part. Her body should be sturdy, full enough to fill a man's hands, and possess wide hips--"
"Within reason," Wynter interjected.
"--To safely produce a brood of sons." Miss Sheffers' compact body, like a coiled spring, no doubt fit the second part of the description. The muslin gown hinted at the curves hidden underneath. But, alas, her unusual olive skin tone, angular features, and bright violet eyes gave her the look of part elf, part gypsy. A combination well suited for fairy tales and fantasies, but not the refined position of viscountess. "Again, need I continue?"
"I don't see why not." Wynter made himself comfortable in that overstuffed chair by the fire, enjoying the claret as well as the dissection of this woman's shortcomings a little too much. Radford ground his jaw.
"Number three, disposition." His voice rose along with his aggravation. "Above all things, she should possess a gentle disposition. Behave properly. Be agreeable in all things."
"To be fair, Evers, circumstances had forced her to act as she had. I'd say she handled herself very well, considering..." The reproach deepening the blue of Wynter's eyes didn't go unnoticed.
"Very well, we'll skip that one for now. Not that it matters." Radford drew a steadying breath. "Number four, family. Born to a respectable family of suitable rank and possessing a sizable dowry." He cast a pointed look across the room, daring Wynter to argue in support of Miss Sheffers' family, convinced her family name passed his friend's ears as meaninglessly as it had his own.
Wynter shrugged. "As for the dowry, I don't dare speculate. One can never assume the financial stability of another when so many live high on credit. But her family name stands on its own merit."
"Exactly." Radford stopped his pacing, uncertain. What did his friend mean, stands on its own merit? No matter. The last qualification was perhaps the most crucial, the one point he would never bend. "Number five, horses. She must"--the word underlined, twice--"possess a full knowledge and genuine affection of horses. I am planning to continue my breeding program whether or not I am able to ride again."
His doctors all agreed. They'd been blunt. He'd never be able to properly seat a horse or ride for prolonged periods. The heartless men might as well have taken up a knife and carved out his heart. Never ride again, his love, his life torn away as easily as that?
"My wife will share my love of horses. I will not give up my stables. I simply will not." He looked at the second piece of foolscap in his hand. He'd completely forgotten he still possessed it--Miss Sheffers' writ of eviction. Feeling nearly unhinged, Radford shouted his next words. "So you must agree. Miss Sheffers admitted it herself, if not in words in tone. She's deathly afraid of the beasts!"
Wynter started with a sudden jolt of confusion. "Miss Sheffers? I thought we were discussing the very eligible Lady Iona."
Dorothy McFalls (Dorothy St. James) lives on a quaint island in South Carolina with her wonderfully supportive husband and two kooky dogs. When not swimming in the ocean, she's hard at work on her next novel. She's published several Regency romances and has dipped her toes...