Welcome Gabrielle Bisset to Pimpin' Reads. Gabrielle is the author of Masquerade
(Victorian Erotic Romance Trilogy)
Annelisa Fielding has had the blessings of wealth her entire life, thanks to her industrialist father. However, there is one thing even he can't give her: a title. So he arranges a marriage between his daughter and the Earl of Swindon, Thornton Sutcliffe. As long as his future bride is a virgin, the Earl will tolerate the marrying down because in return for taking Annelisa as his wife, her father will pay off his debts. Everyone wins, as far as the men are concerned, but Annelisa wants more out of marriage than a title and is willing to wait.
But she won't be able to wait if she doesn't find some way out of the marriage and fast because the deal is in one month she'll become Lady Annelisa Sutcliffe. The solution to her problem? Count Nikolai Shetkolov, a diplomat in the service of the Tsar and stationed in England. An honorable man, he's the perfect person to help a young lady lose the one thing her odious future husband prizes most. But Annelisa must watch out or she may get more than she bargained for with Nikolai.
He spied her near the gazebo at the far end of the garden. She appeared to be upset—or was it sadness her face conveyed? No matter. He would make things right and from this day forward strive to ensure all her days were happy ones.
Annelisa turned slowly toward him and smiled. “Yes, Count Shetkolov?”
Nikolai approached her cautiously as to not frighten her. When he reached her, he whispered, “I think it may be permissible for us to use our first names considering our recent history.”
The smile disappeared from her face, replaced by a look of surprise. Her voice, however, betrayed nothing more than its usual politeness.
“Recent history, sir?”
“There’s no need for any more lies, Annelisa. I know it was you at the ball. And I intend on doing the honorable thing, I assure you.”
“The honorable thing?”
“Why, of course. I’ll confess to your father my part in our rendezvous and properly ask for your hand in marriage. While what we feel may not be love now, I believe it will grow in time and we can be quite happy.”
Bending down on one knee, Nikolai took her hand in his and gazed up into her eyes. “I pledge to make you happy and take care of you, as I know you will me.”
While he’d never proposed marriage before, he was sure her stunned reaction wasn’t common. But perhaps she’d underestimated his honor.
“Did you think I’d abandon you when you need me most?”
“Count Shetkolov, please get up.”
Nikolai rose and stared down at her, liking what he saw.
“Sir, please forgive me, but I no more want to marry you than the Earl of Swindon. While I’m positive you are an honorable man, I simply don’t want to marry anyone at all.”
Nikolai stood stunned. “Pardon?”
“I see by your expression that I’ve offended you. I am sorry. But I’m not in need of a husband.”
“But what we did in the Stewarts’ garden...”
“Was what I had to do to be free of the earl. Nothing more, Count.”
“Please call me Nikolai. And it was far more than what you say. I took your virginity, and for that we must marry. I would be a scoundrel if I allowed you to face this alone.”
Annelisa smiled and touched his hand. “Nikolai, for that I must thank you for you helped me retain my freedom. I am sorry I had to resort to tricking you, but if I remember correctly, you enjoyed yourself. Let’s leave it at that—an enjoyable experience each of us will remember.”
Nikolai glared down into the face of this obstinate woman.
“What does that mean?”
“Perhaps French would be better, mademoiselle. Fille tetue.”
Annelisa dropped his hand and stepped back. “Stubborn girl?”
“Yes, and if you won’t agree to marriage, I’m sure your father will when I confess to him that I’m the man he seeks.”
“You wouldn’t! He’d be furious. He’d never forgive you.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’d be angry, but he likes me. In time, he’d forgive me.”
Nikolai held out his hand and waited for Annelisa to take it. “Shall we?”
All confidence drained from her face. “Don’t do this, please! You don’t love me, and I don’t love you. Why would you want to marry me?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
“Why is everyone always telling me what they want to do is the right thing?”
Ignoring her question, he repeated his question and added, “Or perhaps you’d prefer I approach him myself?”
Nikolai began to walk back toward the house. In truth, his stomach was in knots over telling her father what he’d done, but he had to show her he meant business. If she even thought he might be anything less than strong now, she’d never respect him as a husband.
Annelisa ran in front of him and stopped him with her hands on his chest. “Please, Nikolai! Don’t do this. I’ll do anything you require. Just not marriage.”
Every word from her mouth insulted. Did she believe him to be unworthy of her hand?
“Anything I require?”
So now she was willing to submit to anything he required as long as it wasn’t marriage to him? What about everything? That would be better yet.
“Then anything it shall be, Annelisa. The cost of your freedom will be the continuation of what we began at the Stewarts’ ball. Unless you’re willing to do this, I will leave to speak to your father now.”
“The continuation of...” she stammered.
Nikolai watched as her face grew red. “There’s no reason to be bashful now, Miss Fielding.”
“So I am to be your sex slave?”
Finally, something had left her mouth that didn’t offend him. “Sex slave? No, not exactly. I’m looking forward to your efforts showing the eagerness of our first time together.”
“I thought you were an honorable man, Count Shetkolov.”
Nikolai chuckled at her attempt to sway him through his honor. “I’m not the one who began this, my dear, but I see nothing dishonorable in what we are to do.”
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