Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Anna Bennett | Exclusive Excerpt: First Earl I See Tonight

October 31, 2018

Rain pounded the roof of the carriage, lending a cozy, intimate feel to the interior. The earl’s long legs were sprawled in front of him, and Fiona endeavored not to gawk at the wet buckskin trousers clinging to his thighs.

She was not, however, entirely successful.

To be fair, a certain amount of study was necessary if she were to draw him at some point—and she intended to. Her artist’s eye noted the proportions of his hips and thighs, the pronounced contours of his leg muscles, and the slight hollows on the insides of his knees. But as a woman, she noticed him, too—on a whole different level. The heat from his body. The scents of leather and soap. The light stubble on his chin.

Swallowing, she considered moving to the seat oppo­ site him, but they had already soaked the velvet squabs of one bench and she saw no reason to sully the other.

Instead, she resolved to make use of this time to ad­vance her cause. Mustering as much dignity as she could, given her soggy gown and dripping hair, she squared her shoulders and faced the earl. “Now then,” she began. “I believe we were discussing the—”

“Stop,” he ordered.

Fiona attempted a haughty look. “I beg your pardon?”

“I can’t take you seriously in that bonnet. Not while there’s a wet feather dangling in front of your face.”

Of course, Fiona could see the rogue ostrich plume— she’d been doing her best to ignore it. “How gallant of you to mention it,” she said dryly. She pinched the limp feather between her thumb and forefinger and tossed it onto the top of her hat. “There. Satisfied?”

He wrinkled his nose. “Now it looks as though a small, wet rat is napping on the brim.” He flashed a grin so gen­uine that it momentarily disarmed her.

“Yes, well, I’m certain neither one of us represents the pinnacle of fashion at the moment.” But despite his rum­ pled cravat and the wet hair slicked back from his face, he did, blast it all. It was hard to imagine him looking more masculine . . . or more attractive.

“I’ll help you remove it.” He reached for the ties at her chin, then froze. “With your permission?”

Fiona’s cheeks heated, but she nodded and loosened the ribbons herself before allowing him to lift the bonnet off her head. A few pins went with the hat, and several long locks of hair fell around her shoulders.

“Much better,” he said, his voice a notch deeper and gruffer than before. He tossed the bonnet onto the seat op­posite them and crossed his boots at the ankles. “Now I shall be able to listen properly.”

Suddenly nervous, she swallowed. “I realize that my let­ter must have caught you off guard, but now that you’ve had some time to adjust to the idea of . . . marrying me, I hope you will at least take a few days to think about my proposal—and give it the same consideration that you’d give any other business proposition.”

“Business proposition,” he repeated, skeptical.

“Yes, my lord,” she choked out. “One that shall be mu­tually advantageous.”

He leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees. “There’s more to marriage than a signed contract and a handshake, Miss Hartley.”

“I’m well aware of that.” She strove to keep her voice cool. “But it needn’t be overly complicated.”

“I’d argue it’s the most complicated thing on earth.” Ignoring the heat in his eyes, she said, “How so?”

He lifted her hand from the seat between them and slid closer, till his knee was touching hers. “Will you allow me to demonstrate?”

She swallowed. “Yes. Of course.”

Good heavens. The words were barely out of her mouth before he’d peeled the wet silk gloves off her hands—and stripped off his gloves as well.

First her bonnet, now her gloves . . . she shuddered to think what articles of clothing might go by the wayside next. Shoes? Stockings? Oddly, her belly fluttered at the thought. “What are you doing?”

“I’m proving a point.” He cupped her hand in his and used the rough pad of his thumb to trace slow, languorous circles on her palm. Delicious shivers stole over her skin, curling her toes.

“Do you feel that?” he asked—as if he knew.

“Hmm?” She blinked up at him. “Feel what?”

His heavy­lidded gaze searched her face, lingered a bit too long on her mouth. “Nothing about this is simple.”

“I disagree.” Fiona pretended they were discussing the weather. Or needlework. Anything but the feel of his skin on hers. “It’s only as complicated as we allow it to be.”

“Then let me kiss you.”

“Are you mad?” She snatched her hand away—mostly because it was hard to think clearly while he touched her. “Very well.” He sighed, feigning defeat. “You may kiss me.

“What?” She knew what he was about. And she was not some naïve maiden he could trick into doing his bidding. She opened her mouth to protest, then stopped. The earl was attempting to scare her off.

But she didn’t frighten easily. And her sister’s happiness—indeed, her entire future—depended on Fio­na’s ability to access her dowry money. Quickly.

“If I kiss you, will you agree to consider marrying me?” She ignored the pounding of her heart as she awaited his reply.

Outside, the rain continued to fall, and rivulets of water streamed down the carriage windows. Thunder boomed in the distance.

“I will,” he said disbelievingly—as though he’d sur­ prised himself with his answer.

Gads. He’d surprised her, too.

“Very well,” Fiona said with significantly more confi­dence than she felt. But if a kiss was needed to seal their deal, then kiss him she must. She would demonstrate that their relationship did not have to be complicated at all.

She only prayed that she didn’t botch it terribly.

Lord help her, she was about to kiss the earl. And she didn’t dread the prospect nearly as much as she should have.


Debutante Diaries #1

First Earl I See Tonight

An heiress with a daring proposal. An earl who’s
determined to resist her. And a love that just might be
written in the stars, in FIRST EARL I SEE TONIGHT by Anna

Recently jilted by his fiancée, David Gray, Earl of
Ravenport is not in the market for a wife. Even if Gray
didn’t have his hands full renovating his crumbling country
house, it would take more than a bold marriage proposal from
a headstrong young beauty to thaw his frozen heart. Gray is
confident that spending a week at his ramshackle estate will
change her mind about marriage, but every passionate moment
he spends with her tempts him to change his…

A talented artist, Miss Fiona Hartley desperately needs her
dowry money to pay off a blackmailer set on ruining her
sister. The handsome earl seems a sensible choice for a
husband…if only she can convince him that romance will play
no part. But marrying in name only may prove difficult for
Fiona. Gray can’t help but be dazzled by her genuine warmth.
Yet as their feelings deepen, Fiona’s deadline looms. Will
her secrets destroy them, or is true love their final destiny?

Romance Historical [St. Martin’s Paperbacks, On Sale: October 30, 2018, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250199461 / eISBN: 9781250199478]

About Anna Bennett

Anna Bennett

Anna Bennett started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided that books with balls, dukes, and gowns were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.

Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anna found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart®. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Other weaknesses include reality TV, cute shoes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Wayward Wallflowers | Debutante Diaries


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