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Lord Robert Cresthaven took one look at the stunning Miss Clarissa Townsend and knew that she was destined to be his wife. The fact she doesn’t see her own self-worth makes him want to show her exactly how desirable she is. When they’re caught in a compromising position, things don’t go according to plan and his beautiful Clarissa is locked away.
Clarissa may not have fought for anything in her life, but she refuses to be sold to Madame Giselle or the disgusting Mr. Peterson. Just because she’s crippled, and now ruined, doesn’t mean that she can’t have the husband and family she’s always dreamt of. Escaping her family was easy enough, but convincing Lord Cresthaven that she loves him might be the hardest thing she’ll ever have to do. Because kissing Lord Cresthaven was the most wonderful thing she’d ever experienced, and Clarissa wants so much more from the handsome lord.
**NOTE: This novella has been recovered, expanded, and re-edited. It was originally released in 2014 under the same title but has been adapted for inclusion in the Ladies of the Night series and has new scenes.
COPYRIGHT 2019, JESSICA COULTER SMITH
New Orleans, 1895
Clarissa backed into the corner, her leg throbbing in agony, the limb barely holding her weight. She’d seen that look in men’s eyes before, just never directed her way. Lust. Want. Need. Desire. They pulsed in the handsome lord’s eyes. Why he was paying her any attention she didn’t understand. He was part of a large group of visiting lords from England, none of them set to inherit, but they’d been on everyone’s invitation list it seemed. This wasn’t the first time she’d seen Lord Cresthaven, but she was fairly certain it was the first time he’d noticed her.
No one ever noticed her, unless it was to show pity. Clarissa might not be able to dance, and had dismal prospects for a decent marriage, but she wasn’t pathetic. Regardless of what the other marriageable women her age thought, she wanted the same thing they did – a husband and family of her own. It just wasn’t likely she’d ever have one, not unless one was purchased for her.
“Please, my lord. I don’t want any trouble.” Her voice trembled and she wasn’t certain if it was from the fear of being caught alone with him in the library, or the warmth spreading through her at his nearness. She’d been around attractive men before, but none had ever affected her this way.
“Who said anything about trouble? I merely wish to get to know you better, Miss Townsend.”
She swallowed hard, knowing exactly how he wanted to get to know her. It wouldn’t be the first time a man had propositioned her, saying he would be doing her a favor, since it was clearly obvious no one would want a lame wife. Men seemed to think she would be good enough to dally with, but not marry. It hurt, their rejection, and embarrassed her that the men in her world thought so little of her. Was that really her only option for the future? Being someone’s mistress, or even worse, a… No, she couldn’t even think of that word, much less associate it with herself.
At the age of twenty-three, her parents were becoming discouraged. There had been talk just the other morning, at breakfast, about finding her a shopkeeper for a husband. It was a perfectly respectable position, even if it would put him beneath her socially. Not that she cared one bit. As long as the man was kind to her, could she really argue the matter? Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if he was to be handsome as well as kind.
Not that Clarissa had ever seen anyone as handsome as Lord Cresthaven, an earl’s fifth son, if she’d heard correctly. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he was a stark contrast to her black locks and gray eyes. When her friend, Vanessa, had seen the direction of Clarissa’s gaze earlier, she’d tittered and claimed that Clarissa and Lord Cresthaven would make a striking pair. Not that Clarissa held out any hope that he thought of her as anything other than something to play with. There was heat in his gaze, but if he were marriage minded, surely, he wouldn’t dishonor her by undressing her with his eyes the way he currently was.
Nor would he have cornered her in a room. Alone. If they were caught, she would be ruined. Maybe that was his intention. He didn’t seem to be cruel, but then she didn’t really know anything about him. Rumors couldn’t be trusted.
“My mother is probably looking for me,” she stammered. “We’ll be missed.”
“What’s the worst that could happen should we get caught?”
“I’d be ruined,” she said softly. “Please, my lord. Don’t do this.”
It seemed to give him pause for a moment, but just for a moment. He prowled closer, his legs brushing the hem of her dress. He was close enough now that she could smell him, whatever divine scent he’d splashed on and the scent of cigars. Clarissa’s heart hammered against her ribs and she clenched her hands at her sides to keep from reaching for him. She’d never before wanted to feel a man’s arms around her, not like she did right that moment.
He didn’t disappoint her. Cresthaven drew nearer, bracing one hand on the wall beside her head and placing his other at her waist. He leaned closer still, his breath fanning her lips. Clarissa felt her breath catch in her throat as she wondered whether or not he would kiss her.