Authors: Baring It All
Baring It All
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2013 by Megan Frampton
Hero of My Heart
by Megan Frampton copyright © 2013 Megan Frampton.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
“Would you like some lemonade?”
No, I’d rather that you kissed me
. “Lemonade would be lovely, thank you.”
Violet watched him stride off in pursuit of her beverage, and she heaved a sigh she hoped wouldn’t shake the chandeliers hanging overhead. She and Christian had been betrothed for a month now, and besides ensuring he danced with her at least twice when they were at the same social events, nothing was different than before he’d proposed.
Even at the moment he’d proposed, he’d had a distant look in his eye. A distant look that in any other man would have meant he was thinking about someone else, but Violet knew he wasn’t. Unless the someone else was some dead philosopher, and she hardly thought Christian would rather marry, much less kiss, one of them.
She’d have thought they would at least have kissed on the occasion of their betrothal. But despite standing at what she presumed was in the correct attitude, all he’d done was mutter, “Well, that’s settled, then,” and strode off to somewhere. Somewhere she—not to mention her lips—was not.
Did he just not want to kiss anyone? No, since his sister—her best friend—had shared some of Christian’s exploits with the female gender over the years, she knew he had an interest in women. He just seemed not to have realized yet that
was a woman.
Despite having proposed.
Why did she have to fall in love with someone so clueless? Someone who didn’t realize that when one asked a female to marry him, that implied some sort of … activity on one’s part?
That had to be it. Their families had known each other for so long, and Christian wasn’t used to seeing Violet as anything more than the girl who was always with his sister. Whom he took for granted as much as he did his sister. That Violet had developed an abiding passion for Christian at the age of ten was something she had been determined just to live with. Until he asked her to marry him.
And all of her hopes had been realized. All of her hopes, that is, except that he would kiss her. Which was when she figured out almost nothing had changed between them after all, despite his having asked her to spend the rest of her life with him. Other than that, nothing.
His family had prodded him into it. Probably by promising they would leave him alone once his marital future was settled.
She could almost hear the conversation: his father pronouncing at the breakfast table, “Son, you have to be married sometime, and it might as well be someone you know. Lady Violet is an excellent choice.”
To which Christian probably mumbled through his toast, “Fine, excellent. Can you pass me that notebook? I think I’ve discovered a shortcut for Pythagoras’s
. Oh, and I’ll take care of that other thing next week.” That “other thing” being asking Violet to marry him.
She was going to have to do
about the situation. She just had no clue what that something was; she did know, however, that she would not marry Christian, no matter how much she loved him, if she hadn’t at least been assured he knew who she was, and how her relative femininity would work with his masculinity.
“Here you are,” Christian said, handing her a glass of lemonade. Already he was squinting off into the distance, as though calculating the circumference of the room, the number of people, and how many more could reasonably fit, allowing for trays of lobster patties.
As always, her breath caught when she looked at him. He was tall, remarkably tall, so tall that when they did kiss, they would probably have to be lying down—a thought that made Violet’s heart flutter—with thick brown hair she longed to run her fingers through. His body was lean, and though he’d gone through a gawky period as he was growing into his limbs, he now possessed an unconscious feline grace. He was an excellent dancer, which was surprising given how little he’d cared to practice when he was learning. Violet knew that firsthand, since she was often at the Jepstows’ house when he’d had his lessons, and she’d been called upon to be his partner.
He’d spent more time explaining Plato’s theory of forms than he had on the steps.
His intelligence was just one of the reasons she loved him—she never had to
worry that they would run out of things to talk about—but it was also proving to be an impediment to the whole romantic aspect of marriage that she longed for.
If only there was some way to show him just who she was.
Dear ladies, please know that your columnist has your best interests at heart. It is with great discretion, therefore, that we discuss the sensitive topic of undergarments. Some ladies, it seems, do not pay as strict attention to what to wear under their gowns as they do to their gowns themselves.
A crucial error, my ladies.
A lady’s gown dictates what should be worn underneath, and will look to best advantage when bolstered with the proper wear. Choose what looks best, even if it can’t be seen. If you are unsure, ask a trusted advisor—a sister, a mother, perhaps even a husband—for their opinion.
If it is the latter, however, be aware that perhaps you will not end up going out for the evening after all, but staying in.
“And if I don’t find a woman soon—tonight—I might as well ship off to the Colonies. My sister will have my head otherwise.” Lord Christian Jepstow ran his fingers through his already-ruffled hair. “Who’d think women’s undergarments were so compelling?” He glanced around his study, normally a place of refuge for him, but that was when he was doing translations.
things, not like this task of writing at all.
“Me, for one,” his friend Gilbert replied. “It’s like opening a present you hope is worth the wait, and all the unwrapping. A pristine, warm, soft present that—”
“Enough,” Christian said. He glared at Gilbert, who was lounging on the divan as though he hadn’t a care. Which he didn’t, actually. Few nabob’s heirs did. “Your poetic musings on women are not solving my problem. What would solve my problem is if a female—a well-born female—were to present herself to be undressed in the next ten minutes. And since that is unlikely to—”
“I’ll do it.” A voice, distinctly female, emerged from the high-backed chair that was facing towards the window. A second later, a head popped into Christian’s view.
It took a moment for him to recognize her—he wasn’t used to seeing her anywhere but at parties. He’d seen her recently, hadn’t he? Danced with her, too, if he remembered correctly.
“Violet!” he said, wondering if he had said anything he shouldn’t have. But his betrothed looked as calm and agreeable as ever, not at all as if she’d heard anything that shocked her. Not that he knew what might shock her. The thought struck him that he knew little about her, other than that their fathers were best friends. Plenty of time for getting to know her after the wedding. A lifetime, in fact.
She rose, frowning down at her gown, whose wrinkles she was attempting to control. To no avail, at least to Christian’s admittedly unschooled eyes. And she was going to help him with a fashion column?
“You need a woman, isn’t that right, Christian?” She spread her hands out. “And I am here. And, luckily enough, female.” Was she …
him? He knew she was
female—he wouldn’t have proposed to her otherwise.
“You’ll excuse me, Jep,” Gilbert said, his blue eyes dancing with laughter as he popped up from his reclining position. “I am expected at my club.” He quickly stepped to the door and slammed it shut behind him, leaving them alone. Coward.
Christian turned to meet Violet’s eyes, which were not violet at all, but a sherry-colored brown. Like a Guernsey cow. He’d studied the beasts when he was considering what an animal’s philosophy might be. Matter of fact, her eyes were large like a cow’s also, with thick lashes surrounding them.
He didn’t know what her philosophy was.
“I apologize for whatever impropriety you might have overheard, Violet. It’s just that—”
She stepped towards him, those big brown eyes focused on his face. “It’s just that your sister is unexpectedly called away, and you need to write her column for her, correct?”
“How did you—”
She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, do you think I am an idiot?” She shook her head. “No, you haven’t thought of me at all.”
Why did her words sound so rueful? And why did he suddenly feel guilty?
She continued. “ ‘What Not to Bare’ has Charlotte’s way of speaking all over it. And she honestly can’t help giving out advice, even if she knows nothing of the topic. I’ve seen her wardrobe, and—” She shuddered. Christian didn’t blame her; he’d seen his sister’s wardrobe also.
“Anyway, she couldn’t have planned to have to leave London, and she hasn’t trusted anyone—not even me—with her secret identity. So,” she said, shrugging her shoulders, “I imagine she asked you. And of course, since you’re a man, you shared this dark knowledge with your friend there.”
He bristled at the accusation, but then realized it was true. He had told Gilbert, even though Charlotte had made him swear on his Aristotle that he wouldn’t.
“You are the only one she would have been able to go to so suddenly. Did you know before, when you were still abroad?” She tapped her finger against her cheek. “I would imagine she told you. She couldn’t have kept the secret from everyone. She is
terrible at keeping secrets. Do you remember when we stole all those fruit pies, and then she told everyone in the middle of dinner?”
Christian’s eyes narrowed. Would she be this observant when they were married? Would she insist on looking over his shoulder as he did his work?
He would not allow any interference. He’d agreed to this betrothal because he assumed Violet would want to pursue her own interests while he pursued his.
Not that he knew what her interests were. Apparently they included undergarments. And fruit pies.
“Why does she need a column on undergarments, of all things, anyway?” She frowned, and then her expression cleared, almost as though she had discovered a great secret. “Oh! Well, clever Charlotte.” At his inquiring look, she shook her head. “Never mind. You need my help, my lor—Christian.” Again, that unfamiliar twinge as she stumbled on his name. Had they not addressed each other by their Christian—ha!—names before this?
Or had he never addressed her at all?
“I will not ask you to do anything as untoward as—as untoward as that, Violet,” Christian said, wishing her eyes were less beautifully bovine. He hadn’t noticed before. Nor had he noticed how creamily pale her skin was, and how she arched her eyebrows up when she was asking a question.
Violet’s mouth curled up into a wry smirk. “And here I thought you were the cleverest man in England, Christian. You do realize you’ve just uttered the most tautological phrase ever, don’t you? ‘Untoward as as untoward as that, Violet,’ ” she said, deepening her voice into a credible imitation of his. He felt his lips quirk in an answering smile.
Which dissipated when he thought about what she was suggesting. Absolutely not. Her? Disrobing? In his study? “I mean what I say. No.” He walked to his desk and picked up his well-worn copy of Aristotle’s
. Which probably did not contain an answer to dealing with the improper ways of his betrothed.