Lady Hathaway’s Indecent Proposal
Tagline: She will do anything for a few nights in his arms.
Twelve years have passed since Miranda Hathaway ended her courtship with Andrew Osborne and married the older, but much wealthier, Viscount Hathaway. It is only one week after her husband’s death and Miranda cannot ignore the temptation to have a taste of what she threw away all those years ago when she followed her parents’ wishes. But to entice the man she never stopped loving, she will have to act quickly.
Now the Earl of Sanderson, Andrew is no longer the same man who once believed in love. When Miranda asks him to help her conceive a child—one whom she means to pass off as the next Hathaway heir—he sees her deceit as proof that she is not the same woman he once knew. However, he cannot ignore the temptation to finally have her in his bed.
Miranda knows she is infertile, but her deception gives her three weeks with Andrew. He plans to use that time to finally consign Miranda Hathaway to the past, while she hopes to build memories that will last her a lifetime.
Lady Hathaway’s Indecent Proposal is book 1 in the Hathaway Heirs series. (Approximately 20,000 words.)
Until that morning the Earl of Sanderson would have said he was long past making a fool of himself for Miranda Hathaway, yet here he was, following her butler into the drawing room of her London town house. He told himself it was only curiosity that led him to accept her request for a meeting. After all, they hadn’t seen one another in twelve years, so why on earth would she want to see him now?
He took in the room’s ornate furnishings as the butler bowed and left to fetch his mistress. Viscount Hathaway had always made a point of displaying his vast wealth at every opportunity, as was evidenced by the amount of gilt in the room. He wondered if Miranda approved of the decor, or if she, too, found it lacking in taste. The old Miranda would have believed the latter. Or so he’d thought at the time, but that was before she’d broken it off with him to marry the much wealthier older man.
Unease settled in the pit of his stomach, and annoyed at the sign of weakness, he moved to the window and looked out onto the fashionable Mayfair neighborhood. It was early for a social call and the road was quiet. No doubt most of Miranda’s neighbors were still abed, recovering from whatever entertainments had kept them up the evening before. He would have been sleeping as well if Miranda’s message hadn’t arrived last night before he’d left for his club.
He resisted the urge to turn around and leave, just as she had done that last time they’d seen one another. Once again, he was at a disadvantage with her. In her house, at her summons, no knowledge of what this meeting was about. He was not, however, the same untried youth he’d been back then. If Miranda assumed so, she would be more than a little surprised.
He sensed her approach and turned in time to see her enter the room. He couldn’t help but notice she still moved with the same grace she’d possessed as a young woman, setting the ton ablaze during her first season with her beauty and unaffected charm. It had been inevitable that she’d captured his interest as well. But the new widow standing across the room from him now, clad in stark black, was far different from the girl of eighteen who’d worn only pale colors.
That was a lifetime ago.
“My lord,” she said, executing a fluid curtsey. Her expression gave no hint as to why she had sent for him.
He inclined his head in acknowledgement and watched in silence as she sat on one end of the ornate settee. A chair was positioned at an angle from her and it was clear she expected him to use it.
A need to ruffle her impassive bearing had him remaining silent and ignoring the chair. He moved past her and sat, instead, beside her on the settee. He left a respectable distance between them, but the way she stiffened told him she hadn’t expected him to sit so close. It was self-indulgent, but he felt a small measure of triumph at her discomfort.
He watched, more than a little surprised, as she collected herself, smoothing away all signs of discomfort. Her body relaxed, her expression becoming one of polite cordiality as she held herself with an almost unnatural stillness. It appeared Miranda Hathaway had learned to control the youthful exuberance she’d once possessed. He wasn’t sure whether to applaud her for her newfound reserve or mourn the loss of that once vibrant, impetuous young woman.
Silence stretched between them for several seconds before she turned to face him. He was struck once again, as he had been all those years ago, by her beauty. Her dark brown hair and the unrelieved black of her dress called attention to her pale coloring, making it seem as though she were carved from ivory. Her gray eyes were larger than he remembered, but she was also much thinner than when he’d known her. Almost painfully so. He almost asked if she was well but resisted the impulse. He had no desire to hear about how much she mourned the loss of the husband whose funeral had been only the week before.
The curve of her breasts and her unfashionably plump mouth were the only things about her that were still full. His eyes flickered downward and he remembered with unexpected vividness just how those full lips had felt under his. He’d been with many other women since they’d parted ways, but he’d never enjoyed kissing anyone as much as he had Miranda. Thoughts of how she could put that mouth to another use sent a wave of unwelcome heat through him.
He’d miscalculated. He’d wanted to set Miranda off balance, but being this close to her was having an unwanted effect on him.
“Thank you for accepting my invitation,” she said, cutting through the uncomfortable silence. “I know it is early, but I can ring for tea if you haven’t eaten yet this morning.”
His wayward thoughts under control, he met her emotionless gaze with one of his own. “I think we can dispense with the niceties. We both know this isn’t a social call.”
Those luscious lips tilted ever so slightly at the corners. “I see you are still as direct as always.”
“And I can see you’ve taken to hiding behind social conventions. You were never one to dance around a subject. You asked me to visit and, despite my reservations, I came. You clearly have something you wish to discuss with me.”
He was surprised when she stood.
“This was a mistake.” She took a step toward the doorway. “Forgive me for inconveniencing you.”
After a brief moment of hesitation, he rose from the settee and moved to block her path. She stopped but kept her eyes averted.
She didn’t move. Against his better judgment, he placed a hand under her chin and tilted her face up to his. They stood that way for several long moments, during which he was painfully aware of the small woman before him. The woman who, he now knew, still had the power to make him want her. She, on the other hand, had the appearance of a cornered, frightened animal.
He dropped his hand and kept his voice even, sensing she was a hairsbreadth away from bolting. “Why did you wish to see me?”
She hesitated and then he saw the resolve form in her eyes.
“Very well,” she said before taking a step back.
She moved around him to the door, and this time he didn’t stop her—he knew she wouldn’t attempt to escape again. He expected her to ring for the tea she’d offered him and was taken aback when she closed the door and turned to face him again.
He raised an eyebrow in question but said nothing. She leaned back against the door for a moment before straightening and looking at him directly. Just as she used to do.
“You are aware my husband passed away last week.”
“Yes,” he said simply. “Please accept my condolences.”
He should have offered them when she’d first come into the room, but after a nod of acknowledgment, she continued as though she hadn’t noticed his breach in manners.
“The reason I asked you here has to do with his passing.”
“Oh? I’ll admit I have no idea why you’d want to see me.”
Her smile was fleeting. “No, of course not.”
She moved back to the settee and lowered herself onto it. This time when he followed, he didn’t repeat his mistake of sitting next to her. But if she guessed at his reason for choosing the chair, she showed no sign of it.
“There is no delicate way to say this, so I must be blunt.”
Her words, as well as her resolute manner, sent every one of his senses into high alert. He wasn’t sure if she was aware she’d used those same words all those years ago when she’d told him she was marrying someone else. He was starting to regret preventing her from leaving the room.
“With my husband’s nephew due to inherit the entirety of his estate, I will have to rely on his generosity in future.”
Andrew had stayed as far away as possible from Hathaway—had tried not to think about him outside of those times he’d had to see him in the House of Lords—so he had no way of knowing if he’d ever met the man’s heir.
“Given how important Hathaway’s wealth was to you and your parents, surely you don’t expect me to believe provisions for your future weren’t made before your marriage.”
She didn’t react to the sarcasm in his tone. “I won’t need to resort to begging in the street. But no one imagined I wouldn’t provide my husband with an heir, so the settlement outlined for that eventuality is a small one.” She hesitated and her eyes slid away from his before she continued. “I have spoken to our solicitor and he informs me that in cases where the widow is still of childbearing years, it is customary to wait a few months to ensure there is no heir on the way.”
He couldn’t stop his gaze from moving to her abdomen, but given the loose fit of her gown, it was impossible to see if it concealed a small bump. The wave of bitterness that rose at her words caught him off guard.
“I fail to see what this has to do with me.”
He started to stand, but she reached across the small space that separated them and laid a hand on his knee. Her touch froze him to the spot and his awareness of the intimacy of their current situation intensified.
She moved back and clasped her hands sedately in her lap, but she hadn’t been quick enough to keep him from seeing the telltale tremble in her fingers. “I am not with child,” she said as though nothing of import had just happened, “but I am hoping that will not be the case for long.”
His mind was still on the unwanted rush of desire her touch had elicited, and so it took him several seconds before he realized what she was suggesting. Air rushed out of his lungs as the full implication of her words hit him. Why she’d summoned him here so early when no one would be about in the street to see his arrival. Why she’d closed the door to make sure the servants wouldn’t overhear their conversation.
He welcomed the anger that rose swiftly within him, but he refused to let her see it. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of knowing she could command more than polite curiosity from him.
“I am afraid I still do not know what any of this has to do with me. I am sure your solicitor would be able to advise you much better than I.”
A hint of frustration crossed her face before she masked it. Despite her attempt to appear detached and businesslike, the revealing expression told him she was more emotionally invested in their conversation than she wanted him to know.
“You were never one to be so obtuse, Andrew.”
“You will excuse me, Lady Hathaway, if I ask for some of that bluntness you promised me.”
Her control was slipping, for this time he clearly saw her wince when he’d used her title. The narrowing of her eyes was minute, but she hadn’t been able to hide it. She didn’t speak for several long moments, long enough for him to think he had won. He was surprised, therefore, when she straightened, drew back her shoulders and met his gaze squarely.
“I want to have a child and I would like you to be the father of that child.”
Disbelief almost robbed him of words. When he opened his mouth to tell her exactly what he thought of her proposal, she continued, forestalling him.
“I am under no illusion that we can continue our former relationship. I will make no demands of you and no one will know the child is yours.”
Disappointment tinged the anger burning within him as she spoke. The deceitful, conniving woman sitting before him now, the one who would blithely make plans to defraud the heir to her husband’s estate of his rightful inheritance, bore no resemblance whatsoever to the woman he’d once known and loved.
And with that realization came the certainty that he was well and truly free of the hold she had once held over him.
He started to refuse, but something held him back. He might no longer love Miranda, but he couldn’t deny that he was still very attracted to her. And despite everything, this new woman sitting before him was a mystery he found himself longing to unravel.
“Can you have children? In twelve years you should have already had more than one.”
She didn’t hesitate before replying. “Robert was older. Our marriage was not a physical one.”
He scoffed at that. “I hope you’re not about to tell me you’re a virgin.”
She closed her eyes for a moment and it seemed as though his question had embarrassed her. Given her former bravado and what she had just asked of him, her reluctance to discuss the details surrounding her outrageous plan was more than a little out of place.
“No. In the beginning he visited me, but it was not long before he stopped.”
Annoyance flashed across her face.
“How would I know why? I assumed he had a mistress, but I was not about to ask him.”
He couldn’t keep himself from asking the obvious question. “How long has it been?”
She looked back at him. “Long enough that I am certain I am not carrying his child.”
Her answer was far from satisfactory, but since he didn’t want to hear the intimate details of her marriage, he didn’t press her further.
They sat there for some time, holding each other’s gaze, but neither one willing to make the next move. As the silence lengthened, his awareness of Miranda grew. Images of the two of them in bed, his hands sliding over every inch of her body, her face contorted in ecstasy as she found release, crowded his mind.
He didn’t love Miranda, but he still wanted her. Perhaps he wanted to punish her as well. Give her a taste of all she had cast aside when she’d casually dismissed him for a larger fortune.
His lust for her wrestled with his conscience, but in the end it was his desire that won out, and he knew he would give her the affair she wanted. It would, of necessity, be of brief duration if she wanted to pass off his bastard as Hathaway’s heir. And God help his black soul, but the thought gave him a sense of grim satisfaction. He’d have his revenge on Miranda, ruin her for any other man, and even the score with Hathaway for stealing the woman he’d so desperately wanted all those years ago.
If she wanted him to do this, however, she would have to work for it. She might have had everything she’d ever wanted fall neatly into her lap, but he was no longer willing to exert himself just because she crooked a finger in his direction.
“Satisfy my curiosity about something,” he said, breaking the now oppressive silence. “Why me? I’m sure there are any number of men who would be willing to lie between your legs.”
Her face heated at his deliberate crudeness, but he had to admire the fact that she didn’t lose her composure.
“I know most men have no problem bedding whichever woman happens to be near at hand at the moment. I was young when I married, however, and have spent most of the last few years at our estate in Northampton. I never learned to be as casual as some women are about their bed partners. And…”
For a moment Andrew would have sworn she looked uncertain. Vulnerable. But clearly that could never be said about a woman who planned to pass off another man’s child as the heir to a well-established title.
“And what?” he prompted when she showed no signs of continuing.
“You were once kind to me.”
That was a vast understatement if ever he’d heard one. “Yes, well, kindness is the very last thing I feel for you now.”
She said nothing to that. What was there to say?
“Did you want to start here or should we go up to your bedroom?”
That got a reaction. Her hand fluttered to her chest. “I’m not sure. Do you think it would be wise?”
She licked her lips, a gesture, he remembered, that always indicated she was nervous. His groin tightened. He’d been trying to shock her, but it appeared she was quite willing to carry through with her proposition, and his body responded eagerly.
Irritated she could still so easily rouse his desire, he lashed out at her. “Tell me, Miranda, did Hathaway kiss you and caress you before fucking you? Or did he simply raise your nightgown and grunt away on top of you while you congratulated yourself on the excellent match you’d made?”
She didn’t try to hide the anger his words had roused. Good, he thought. This was the Miranda he wanted. The calculating, aggressive Miranda. He wanted no reminders of how young and innocent she’d once been.
In reply, she stood. His innate manners had him beginning to stand, but she placed her hands on his shoulders to stop him. He leaned back in the chair and waited to see what she would do next. He wasn’t disappointed.
She lowered herself onto his lap, leaned into him, and raised her hands to frame his face. He could feel the rapid rise and fall of her breasts against his chest and, in anticipation, his own breath quickened to match hers. She placed her mouth against his, and in that moment he wanted nothing more than to crush her against him and take what she so freely offered. Instead, he willed himself to remain still, letting her take the lead. She moved her mouth against his, but it soon became clear she’d acted out of bravado and not experience.
When she drew back again, frustration had etched little lines above her nose. Despite the fact she had given him little more than a chaste kiss, she was not unaffected. Her gray eyes had darkened and her breathing was ragged. Aside from confirming the type of marital relations she’d shared with her husband, her kiss had given him another piece of vital information. He needed more, and he needed it now.
When he stood, taking her with him, she gave a surprised gasp and wrapped her arms around his neck. He moved the two steps to the settee and lowered the two of them onto it. She remained on his lap, but now his arms were around her. Her eyes widened when she felt his erection pressing against her hip.
“Right, no kissing,” he said, surprised to find his voice hoarse with his effort at controlling himself. “Let me show you how it’s done.”
He claimed her mouth slowly at first. Touching his lips to hers and brushing them against hers in slow, tantalizing movements aimed at gaining her trust. It was not too dissimilar from the way she had kissed him, but she obviously took comfort from the fact he was now participating. She relaxed against him and the heat of her body, pressed against his, fueled his desire.
He’d been all too innocent and eager to prove himself worthy of her when he’d courted her as a youth and so hadn’t kissed her the way he’d longed to. But now, with the confidence that came from experience, he intended to make up for his former restraint. When she sighed, he took advantage of the opportunity to deepen the kiss, tracing his tongue first against her lips and then entering her mouth. She stiffened, but only for a moment before matching his movement.
The notion entered his mind that perhaps she’d been acting the innocent earlier, but he dismissed the notion as inconsequential. Did it really matter? He leaned back against the cushions and she followed, draping her body over his. He groaned as the kiss became more urgent, their tongues and mouths dueling for dominance. Blind to everything but the lust sweeping through him, he placed one hand on her backside and ground his erection against her hip. He lifted his other hand to cup her breast. She moaned low, arching into his touch as he covered her full breast and teased the hardened nipple with his thumb. She moved now, writhing against him. Without conscious thought, he shifted, reversing their positions so that she lay under him on the settee.
When he had her exactly where he wanted, he started to raise her skirts so he could settle between her legs. It took him a few moments to realize that her hands had moved from clinging to his shoulders to trying to push him away.
He lifted his head and looked down at her. Her lips were swollen from their heated kiss and a flush stained her cheeks and upper chest a rosy pink. She was clearly aroused. Behind the heat in her eyes, however, he detected a hint of uncertainty. Damn. How had he lost control so quickly? He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath before pushing himself away from her. He watched in silence as she struggled with her skirts before rising to sit on the other end of the settee. One hand moved to touch her bottom lip and he knew with certainty that neither her husband, nor any other man, had ever kissed her that way.
“Are you…” Flustered, she stopped before starting again. “Does this mean you agree to my request?”
Mere agreement was laughable when compared to the feelings warring within him. Desire. Lust. An almost desperate need to throw her back down and finish what they’d started. Oh yes, he would most definitely give her what she wanted. And at the same time he’d finally get Miranda Hathaway out of his system and be done with her. And if a child resulted… Well, he wouldn’t be the first man with a bastard. And in his case he knew his son would be well provided for as the next Viscount Hathaway. And a daughter would also ensure Miranda had claims to the next Viscount’s generosity.
Schooling his features to mask his anticipation, he rose and moved to the door. With one hand on the knob he turned back to face her.
“I’ll send word of where and when.”
At her nod he opened the door and, anxious to be away from Miranda and his newly aroused need for her, showed himself out.
©2013 Suzanna Medeiros