No Conventional Miss
by Eleanor Webster
Publisher: Harlequin Historical
Publication Date: October 1, 2015
She’s always been different…
Amaryllis Gibson is an unlikely debutante. She favors fact over fashion, cares not for “proper” conversation and is haunted by ghostly visions which could land her in the madhouse! Marriage is definitely the last thing on Rilla’s mind…
But when she’s caught in a compromising position with Viscount Wyburn, suddenly she finds herself betrothed! And worse, his powerful presence only increases her visions. By shedding light on the viscount’s past, can Rilla gain his trust and win him round to her more…unconventional traits?
She smelled of soap and lemons, he thought, as he led her to the dance floor. He liked the smell, tangy and fresh, so different from the perfumed scents of other women.
‘I beg your pardon?’ He jerked his attention back to the conversation.
‘Do other women look spellbound as if you’ve said something witty?’
He took her gloved hand and felt it tremble within his palm. The dance started and they broke apart in time to the music.
‘Even when you haven’t said anything either inspiring or witty?’ she asked as they came together again.
‘How tiresome for you.’
‘Well, it must make you feel as though you’re not a real person, but just a viscount.’
He laughed. ‘That’s the first time I’ve been called “just a viscount”.’
‘I meant no offence.’
‘I know.’ And it was true, he thought, surprised by her perception. Few people saw him as a person and women never did. He was a good catch, with a title, estate and ample income.
‘Now you’re much too serious,’ she said. ‘Aren’t you supposed to look as though I’ve also said something remarkably entertaining?’ She stepped under his raised arm. ‘Or does it not work both ways?’
‘It does and can be tedious, I assure you.’
‘Indeed, I find discussions about the weather highly overrated.’
‘Try looking fascinated by a spaniel’s earwax,’ he said, remembering a conversation with a certain Miss Twinning.
Miss Gibson laughed, a rich spontaneous sound. No, she was no statue. She was too vibrant—more like a flame caught in human form.
‘I take it you do not discuss earwax?’ he asked.
‘I steer clear of that subject. In fact, I say remarkably little and endeavour to stick to Imogene’s list of suitable topics.’ She spoke with mock solemnity, the amusement in her eyes belying her tone. She had remarkable eyes.
‘Fashion and the weather.’
‘Really.’ They were dancing side by side. He caught another whiff of lemon. ‘And what,’ he murmured, bending so close that her hair tickled his cheek, ‘would you discuss if left to your own devices?’
‘My waterwheel and butter churn.’
‘Your what?’ His fashionable ennui deserted him and he almost missed a step, narrowly avoiding the Earl of Pembroke’s solid form.
‘My butter churn,’ she said more slowly.
‘And what makes this churn so worthy of conversation?’
‘Nothing really. I should not have mentioned it.’ She looked regretful, glancing downward so that her lashes cast lacy shadows against her cheeks.
‘Oh, but you should. I’m fascinated.’ This was, surprisingly, true. He wanted to lean into her and catch again that delightful whiff of lemon. He wanted to see the intelligence sparkle in her eyes and feel her hand tremble belying her external calm.
‘The churn is automated by a waterwheel, you see, and I believe it would save our dairy maid so much hard labour.’ She spoke quickly, her cheeks delightfully flushed with either enthusiasm or embarrassment.
‘And have you had the opportunity to test its efficiency?’
‘Once,’ she said.
‘Successfully, I trust.’
Her lips twitched and she looked up, merriment twinkling. ‘The water succeeded in flooding the dairy. After that my device was banished.’
‘However, I have constructed a small model so that I can perfect the design during my baths.’
‘Your baths?’ He choked on the word.
His mind conjured a vision of long, wet hair, full breasts and alabaster limbs. He caught his breath.
Her cheeks reddened. ‘One of those forbidden subjects like undergarments. I mean—I only mentioned baths because my churn is run by a waterwheel. Hence I need a source of water to move the wheel.’
He laughed. He could not help himself. Her conversational style might be unusual, but it was certainly more edifying than the weather.
Or earwax, for that matter
She was, Paul realised, a good dancer. This surprised him. He’d always thought of her as moving with unladylike speed, charging full tilt into the museum or galloping on Rotten Row.
Now she kept perfect time, her body graceful and her movements fluid and rhythmic.
‘You love music,’ he said.
‘I do. And you?’
For a second he could not recall her question.
‘Like music?’ she prompted. ‘My lord, if I recall, you are supposed to at least pretend to pay attention.’
‘I must take you to the opera.’
She missed a step.
Blast. And curse his operatic suggestion. In fact, he should not spend another second in the girl’s company. Already, he was behaving out of character. He’d chortled at her impudence, enjoyed an entirely inappropriate conversation about churns, baths and undergarments and was inordinately interested in eyes of an indeterminate grey-green and a pair of quite ordinary lips. No, not really ordinary. Their shape was too fine… And she licked them delightfully when discussing a scientific principle.
‘You are under no duress to entertain me—or take us to the opera,’ she said with sudden stiffness, her jaw lifting and her movements turning mechanical. ‘I understand from Lady Wyburn that our evenings are extremely full.’
‘If I choose to invite you to the opera, you will go,’ he retorted, unreasonably irritated.
‘If you choose to invite me in a civil manner, I will consider your invitation.’
‘I…’ He paused.
‘You must learn to school your features, my lord. I’m sure scowling at your partner is scarcely appropriate.’
‘And you must learn the art of polite conversation.’ He glowered with greater ferocity.
‘You suggested I discuss my churn.’
‘Before I knew there were baths involved.’
She arched an eyebrow. ‘Only as a source of water. Much like a puddle. There can be nothing inappropriate about a puddle.’
And now he wanted to laugh. ‘I believe you might be advised to heed your sister,’ he said instead.
‘And I believe that the music has stopped, my lord.’
‘The music has ended,’ she repeated.
This was true and the gentlemen were already making their bows and leaving the floor with their partners.
‘Moreover, standing stock still in the middle of the dance floor might cause comment which would not, I know, be appropriate.’
About the Author:
Eleanor Webster loves high-heels and sun, which is ironic as she lives in northern Canada, the land of snowhills and unflattering footwear. Various crafting experiences, including a nasty glue-gun episode, have proven that her creative soul is best expressed through the written word.
Eleanor lives with her husband and has two daughters. She is a lifelong learner and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology. Eleanor has a masters degree in educational psychology and an undergraduate degree in history and creative writing. She loves to use her writing to explore her fascination with the past.