The Virtuous Ward
Sweet Deception Regency Romance Series #5
by Karla Darcy
Genre: Mainstream Regency Romance (MF)
Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009XLK3VS/
Lord Maxwell Kampford has kept his ward in seclusion but now must sponsor her in society in order to marry her off. Unsophisticated and trusting, Amity is set up by Max’s jealous fiancée to fail. Max is confounded by the loyalties of the girl who seems to champion every orphaned and abused animal and turns his bachelor household upside down. Will he discover love or let this charmer get away?
(Might contain adult language)
“Come on, Muffin,” Amity said. As if annoyed, the dog pushed himself upright, his tail wagging in triumph at his accomplishment. He pressed his head against her knee, and Amity reached down to rub his neck. “Well, old friend, we don’t want to make a bad impression by being late.”
Thanking Emily for all her help, Amity opened the door and started out into the hall. Although Muffin swung his head to follow her movements, the rest of his body remained rooted to the floor. Returning, Amity grasped a handful of hair at his neck and kneed him toward the hall. Soulful brown eyes lifted to her face and then, accepting the inevitable, the dog padded beside her toward the stairs. Peter, the helpful footman, was on duty in the foyer and he indicated the double doors to the yellow salon. Two other footmen threw open the doors and Amity braced herself, her hand tight in Muffin’s fur for support.
When the doors opened, Max thought for a moment that he had been transported back in time. Framed by the carved lintel, Amity looked like an ancient warrior queen, her hand resting on some noble beast. Crystal blue eyes, flashing with courage and intelligence, shone out of her white face. Burnished curls crowned her raised head and fell in a cascade down her back. Max blinked and the magical vision was gone.
The girl hesitated in the doorway, her sparkling eyes flashing around the room in curiosity. Max was amazed that this was the same girl he had seen eleven years ago. His ward was not the pink and white debutante so much in fashion; she was a far more exotic creature. Her skin was too pale, her hair too red. Her mouth was too generous and her eyes too large. Each feature was discordant but together they blended in a harmony of perfection. He wondered what had happened to the scrawny, clumsy child.
Max coughed to remind the girl of her duty. She lowered her eyes and came to stand in front of him. He was surprised at her height; somehow he had expected she would be tiny. The top of her head came above his shoulder and he was six foot tall. He coughed once more and she extended her hand, dropping into a curtsy. As Max bowed over her hand, she bobbed back up, her head crashing into his chin with a jolt that rattled every tooth in his head.
“Blast!” Amity said, blinking through the tears of pain as she held the sides of her head. Looking up through her blurred vision she saw the pained look on the face of her guardian. And she had so wanted to make a good impression. Suddenly she was overcome by the humor of the situation.
As the pain of the blow began to wear off, Max glared at the clumsy girl. She had changed little since last he saw her. Visions of endless broken vases and knocked over tables flashed before his eyes. Her come out would be a debacle. He was much too old for such humiliation. He glowered down at the girl and watched the expressions flit across the too-open countenance: horror, embarrassment and then, of all things, amusement. When she started to laugh he was surprised at the soft lilting quality of her laughter.
“Only a harum-scarum girl would find amusement in such a social disaster.” Max tried to keep his lips from twitching but could not control the twinkle in his eyes.
“I am most sorry, your lordship.” Despite the sincerity of her words, Max noted the laughter in the crystal blue eyes. “Perhaps we might start over. Although I fear I must warn you I am not very expert.” To her credit, she controlled her expression and dipped into a slightly more graceful curtsy, peeking up at him through a fringe of lashes.
In the woman grown, Maxwell remembered the steady blue eyes of the child. Now there was a sheen of laugh-tears that gave them an uncanny brilliance and he found himself disappointed when she lowered her lids, hiding them from him. He shook his head, narrowing his eyes at the taking child.
“Welcome to Edgeworth, Endurance.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Amity replied. She liked his deep voice that was rich and melodious for all that his words were stilted. She willed herself to say something else but no words appeared in her mind so for once she remained silent. A snore interrupted her and she fought down another bout of giggles as she looked down at Muffin.
When Amity dipped into her curtsy, the traitorous dog took it as a sign that he could relax. He had flopped down in front of Max who was now trapped against the fireplace. Amity nudged the dog with the toe of her slipper knowing from experience that it was a useless gesture but hopeful nonetheless. As expected, Muffin merely snuffled in his sleep.
“I’m sorry about Muffin, my lord. He’s getting old and the journey tired him out. He’s not much used to travel,” Amity defended.
“Where did you get such a mangy beast?” Max asked, curious despite himself.
“He was abandoned on the roadside and near to death. He needed a home,” she finished as if it were the most natural of occurrences.
“It is of no consequence,” Max said waving his hand. With caution, he stepped over the recumbent figure and grasped Amity’s elbow. He turned her toward the other occupant in the room and his ward made another shaky curtsy. “Cousin Hester, this irrepressible child is my ward, Endurance Fraser. Lady Grassmere will be your chaperone during your stay here and during your come out. With any luck the three of us will survive the enterprise,” he amended drily.