His Unsuitable Viscountess Online - Michelle Styles

Chapter One

May 1811, Durham County

What were the precise words you used when proposing marriage to a rake? Not necessarily the polite ones, but the words guaranteed to get results?

Miss Eleanor Blackwell paced Sir Vivian Clarence’s library, banging the newly forged rapier against her palm.

Proposing to Sir Vivian had seemed straightforward back at the foundry. In fact the ideal solution to her current dilemma. She needed a husband and Sir Vivian had debts to clear. But as she waited for Sir Vivian to appear doubts warred with desperation and she fought against a rising sense of panic.

Even if she did succeed in her proposal, was Sir Vivian the sort of man she wanted to be married to?

Eleanor glanced up at a particularly lewd painting of a woman reclining on a bower of flowers while two men fought over her with swords. She rolled her eyes and made a disgusted noise. The painter had made a mistake with the swords. No one would ever be able to fight with their bodies contorted in that fashion. Physically impossible.

Staring at the painting did nothing for her already jangled nerves. She needed to sort her speech out. Once she’d heard the words out loud she’d know if they were right or if they needed to be altered.

‘Sir Vivian,’ she began, turning her back on the painting. ‘Our previous acquaintance has been confined to business matters, but unfortunately my stepfather has died.’

Eleanor paused. There was nothing unfortunate about the manner of his death, brought on by eating far too many eels in direct defiance of the doctor’s orders. The world was a better place without his selfish ranting and fits of extreme temper.

The unfortunate part was the wording of the will—a will she could not challenge as being unenforceable without causing hardship to people she loved and rewarding her stepfather’s odious nephew, Algernon Forecastle. What was worse, she’d discovered that her stepfather had left instructions for Algernon on how to challenge Eleanor’s marriage should the unthinkable occur.

Even thinking about the clause and what failure would mean to so many hard-working people made a hard knot grow in her throat, and she found it impossible to continue with her speech.

Eleanor clenched her teeth. This was far from good. In order to propose marriage she had to be able to speak.

She tightened her grip on the sword. A new start with far less potential for emotional outbursts from her was needed. With the specifics about what she wanted and why. Facts and not feelings. This marriage was to be a business transaction without pretence to sentiment.

‘My great-great-grandfather founded Moles Swords. Sword-making is in my blood. I have made Moles Swords into what is today. However, my mother remarried in haste, without a proper settlement, and under English law all her possessions belonged to her new husband. At my mother’s deathbed my stepfather promised I would eventually inherit Moles. But my stepfather’s will declares that unless I marry within four weeks I will lose everything. Being a man of honour...’

Her eyes were drawn back to the painting. This time she noticed where the woman’s hands were. A profound sense of shock shot through her and her cheeks flamed.

What sort of man gave that sort of painting prominence?

Even the porcelain vases seemed more appropriate for a brothel than a gentleman’s residence. Did men of honour display such things in public rooms?

A severe pain pounded behind Eleanor’s eyes. She was doing the right thing, coming here and demanding he honour his word. The note she’d found yesterday stated: Name your price for your latest rapier and I will happily pay it, dear lady. She would hold him to it. Her price was marriage.

The marriage made sense. He had debts. She had money. She would ensure a proper settlement which would allow her to control the business. It could be done in time. Just.

All she needed was the courage to put the proposal in a way that Sir Vivian would accept.

Eleanor thrust forward with the sword. Death to all doubts!

‘Sir Vivian, it is imperative that I see you today. There is a matter which cannot wait.’

‘Alas, Sir Vivian is unavailable, Mrs Blackwell,’ a deep voice said. ‘I’m his cousin, Lord Whittonstall. Please accept my regrets for any inconvenience.’

She gaped at the man who strode into the library. With his curly black hair, olive-toned skin and hooded eyes, he was one of the most beautiful men she had ever seen. More a Greek statue come to life than an actual human being. The only