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The Debutante's Daring Proposal

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«The Debutante's Daring Proposal» - Энни Берроуз

‘I want you to marry me.’Miss Georgiana Wickford has a plan to avoid the marriage mart—she’ll propose a marriage of convenience! She hasn’t spoken to the Earl of Ashenden since their childhood friendship was torn apart, but now Edmund is her only hope.Edmund refuses to take any bride, especially the unsuitable country miss who abandoned him years ago. But when he sees beautiful Georgie at the mercy of society’s rakes it arouses his protective instincts. And soon the Earl is tempted to claim the daring debutante for himself!
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“I want you to marry me.”

Miss Georgiana Wickford has a plan to avoid the marriage mart—she’ll propose a marriage of convenience! She hasn’t spoken to the Earl of Ashenden since their childhood friendship was torn apart, but now Edmund is her only hope.

Edmund refuses to take any bride, especially the unsuitable country miss who abandoned him years ago. But when he sees beautiful Georgie at the mercy of society’s rakes, it arouses his protective instincts. And soon the earl is tempted to claim the daring debutante for himself!

“If you have no interest in becoming a countess, why have you asked me to consider marrying you?”

He was standing closer to her now than he’d done since they’d both been children. Close enough for her to see those blue flecks in his eyes which prevented them from looking as though they were chiselled from ice. This close, she’d swear she could see a spark of interest, rather than cold indifference. This close, she could even almost imagine she could feel warmth emanating from his body

Some of you will already have met the Earl of Ashenden in my earlier books—in the library of his club, where he was having a delightful conversation with Mr Morgan about the insect life found in India. And you might recall how that conversation was so rudely interrupted by Lord Havelock, bursting in and demanding help with finding a bride in a hurry.

The Earl of Ashenden, being a man of science, suggested they draw up a list of what qualities said bride needed to have, and was very firm about his own intention one day to select a wife primarily for her intelligence.

‘I would hate to think,’ he said, giving Havelock a particularly penetrating look, ‘that I had curtailed my own freedom only to produce a brood of idiots.’

Naturally I could not allow him to settle for such a wife. Instead I decided to give him a heroine who would turn his ordered existence upside down!

If, after reading his story as told within these pages, you would like to know why Lord Chepstow was trying to brush off an imaginary stain when recounting his proposal to Honeysuckle, you can read about it in ‘Governess to Christmas Bride’, which appears in the anthology Gift-Wrapped Governesses.

And if you want to discover what measures Lord Havelock took to ensure Mary married him you can read about their courtship and the early days of their marriage in Lord Havelock’s List.

The Debutante’s Daring Proposal

Annie Burrows

ANNIE BURROWS has been writing Regency romances for Mills & Boon since 2007. Her books have charmed readers worldwide, having been translated into nineteen different languages, and some have gone on to win the coveted Reviewers’ Choice award from CataRomance. For more information, or to contact the author, please visit, or you can find her on Facebook at

Books by Annie Burrows

Mills & Boon Historical Romance

Regency Bachelors

Gift-Wrapped Governess

‘Governess to Christmas Bride’

Lord Havelock’s List

The Debutante’s Daring Proposal

Brides of Waterloo

A Mistress for Major Bartlett

Stand-Alone Novels

Regency Candlelit Christmas

‘The Rake’s Secret Son’

Devilish Lord, Mysterious Miss

A Countess by Christmas

Captain Corcoran’s Hoyden Bride

An Escapade and an Engagement

Never Trust a Rake

Reforming the Viscount

Portrait of a Scandal

The Captain’s Christmas Bride

In Bed with the Duke

Once Upon a Regency Christmas

‘Cinderella’s Perfect Christmas’

Mills & Boon Historical Undone! eBooks

Notorious Lord, Compromised Miss

His Wicked Christmas Wager

Visit the Author Profile page

at for more titles.

‘ the one I love...’



Back Cover Text


Author Note

Title Page

About the Author


html#u50fba318-d9c6-5d01-9a01-7b854f47554f" id="back_u50fba318-d9c6-5d01-9a01-7b854f47554f"> Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty



Chapter One

Meet me at our place.


The Earl of Ashenden crumpled the note in his long slender fingers, his nostrils flaring with distaste.

Meet me at our place, indeed.

No signature. No polite salutation. After all these years of silence, just five words and her initial.

She hadn’t even bothered to state a time. Not that there was any need. If they were to meet, it would be when they’d always met, at first light, before anyone else was about.

If they were to meet? Good God, the woman had only to crook her finger and he was actually contemplating trotting along to see what it was she wanted.

He flung the note into the fire, braced his arm on the mantel and watched with satisfaction as the flames devoured her summons.

Did she really think he’d respond to a missive like that? After she’d turned her back on him when he’d needed her the most? Tossed aside their friendship without a second thought? And then greeted his return to England with an indifference that hadn’t wavered in all the years since?

And yet...

He braced one booted foot on the fender stool. If he didn’t go, he’d always wonder what could have made her break through that wall of silence and reach out to him.

Which was probably why her note had been so brief. He ground his teeth. She knew him too well. Knew that its cryptic nature would rouse his curiosity to such a pitch that he’d find it hard to rest until he’d discovered exactly what lay behind it.

He wouldn’t put it past her to presume that he’d feel guilty, too, if he ignored her note. Because she’d remember the promise he’d made: if ever she needed help, he would give it. Not that she’d actually stated she was in need of help. No, she’d been too cunning for that. She’d merely teased him with five words that could imply anything.

Edmund bent to take the poker from the stand and slashed it through the charred sheet of paper, scattering its ashes across the hot coals until there were no visible remnants.

But it didn’t make him feel any better.

On the contrary, it only reminded him that ash was all that was left of a friendship that had burned so brightly for him, he’d believed he’d be able to warm himself at it his whole life.

He stared into the flames, remembering. How she used to pull faces at him over the top of the pew, from her side of church, once the dullness of the sermon had put most of the adults in the congregation to sleep. How she’d walked three paces behind his mother, mimicking the way she stalked down the aisle with her nose in the air.

How she’d rubbed her ear the day Blundell had clouted her for trespassing on to the Ashenden estate, but refused to leave until she’d found her dog, which had wriggled through a boundary hedge in pursuit of a rabbit. How she’d then charmed the gruff gamekeeper into letting her join in his fishing lesson. And subsequently returned the next day. And the one after. How she’d dared him to climb every tree on the estate. Demanded he teach her to fence and box and—

A reluctant smile tugged at his lips as he recalled her fury at the way his gangly arms always kept him out of reach of her fists. The wild way she’d swing at him after every time he got in a blow—until she’d learned to keep up her guard. After that, though she’d still never been able to land a punch on him, he’d not been able to break through her defence.

His smile faded. He turned his back on the fire. The uncomfortable truth was that the only good memories he had, from his childhood, centred on Georgiana. She hadn’t just been his best friend. She’d been his only friend. His mother hadn’t wanted him mixing with children from the village. Nor had she thought him strong enough to send away to school. And his father hadn’t cared enough to intervene. He very rarely visited Fontenay Court and when he did, he’d seldom done more than cast a jaded eye over his only surviving child, and perhaps taken a pinch of snuff, before ‘toddling off’ back to London, or the races, or whatever house party would provide him with the most ‘sport’.

Edmund went to the desk, sat down and laced his fingers together on the blotter as his memories carried him back to the winter he’d almost died. Or so his mother had always maintained. She’d kept him not only indoors, but in bed for what had felt like months on end. Even when spring sunshine had started to lengthen the days, he hadn’t been permitted out of that room. She’d come to inspect him every morning, wrung her hands and then, like as not, launched into one of her diatribes against his father.

‘You’d think he’d care that his heir is wasting away—but, no! Too lazy even to bother to reply to any of my letters, let alone actually tear himself away from his latest lover.’

A shuddering breath escaped him. His father hadn’t cared enough to visit him, even when his mother had written to inform him his only son and heir was at death’s door. But he couldn’t say that his mother’s obsession with keeping him alive at all costs stemmed from maternal love. She just couldn’t bear the thought of having to do her duty by a man she’d come to heartily detest. She’d blurted out that little gem whilst in the throes of yet another rant about his father’s failings, apparently forgetting that her audience was a product of doing that very distasteful duty.

Nobody had cared about him, not really him, rather what he represented.

Except Georgiana.

She’d been the only one to care enough to flout his mother’s embargo on visitors. And she’d done it by climbing up the drainpipe at the corner of the house and inching along the crumbling brickwork to his window.

The very last time she’d managed to get in to see him, she’d done it with half-a-dozen jam jars strung round her neck. Jars that had been full of the butterflies she’d spent all day collecting. For him.

‘I wanted to bring you something to cheer you up,’ she’d said with that impish grin of hers as he’d hauled her in over the windowsill. ‘It’s such a lovely day and it must be rotten being stuck indoors when all the world’s bursting into life out there.’

She had certainly been bursting with life. There had been bits of twigs and moss caught in the cap of black curls that crowned her head. Her nose had been sunburnt, her arms and legs scratched from briars and mottled where nettles had stung her.

‘I know how interested you are in all sorts of bugs,’ she said, her dark eyes turning serious. ‘So I thought of bringing you some beetles to add to your collection. Only then I thought I’d be bound to bring the wrong ones. Ones you’d already got, like as not. But then I thought these would be better. And anyway, they’re more cheerful, aren’t they?’ And then she’d grabbed his hand and drawn him over to his bed.

That was probably the moment he’d fallen in love with her, he reflected gloomily. Because he’d been convinced she was the only person in the world who not only cared about him, but really understood him, too.

‘Close the bed hangings,’ she’d said as she clambered up and unhooked the jam-jar strings from her neck. And he’d obeyed her command, meek as a lamb. He’d have done anything she asked of him, back then. Anything.

‘I’m going to perform an experiment,’ she’d said. And then tilted her head to one side, the way she did that put him in mind of a cheeky little robin. ‘No, actually, it isn’t an experiment. You’re the one who does experiments. And anyway, I’m not trying to prove anything. It’s...more of a sort of show for you.’ And then she’d shaken out the jars. And the gloom of his closed-up bed was transformed into something utterly magical as dozens and dozens of butterflies had fluttered up into the air, their wings flashing copper, and blue and white and orange.

He sighed and bowed his head against the memories. He owed it to that girl to see what she wanted of him. Even though she no longer existed except in his memory. Even though he heartily disliked the woman she’d become, that didn’t detract from the fact that he’d made her a promise. That very day. While she’d still held his heart in her rather grubby little fist.

‘If you ever need anything, Georgie,’ he’d vowed from the depths of his sixteen-year-old heart, ‘you know you have only to ask, don’t you? Oh, I know there isn’t much I can do for you now, but one day I’ll be the Earl of Ashenden and then I’ll be powerful. And whatever you need, I’ll be able to get it for you.’

She’d laughed. Making his cheeks heat, though at least it had been too gloomy within the tent of his bed for her to notice.

‘Just be my friend, Edmund, that’s all I need.’

‘I will, I will...’ he’d breathed. ‘Always.’

He stood up abruptly and, grim-faced, strode to the door.

He was the Earl of Ashenden now, he reminded himself. Going to their meeting place, in response to her request, did not mean he’d become a weak and green youth again, an idiot who’d do anything in return for one of her sunny smiles. He’d long since grown immune to women’s wiles. So he had nothing to fear from going to meet her. On the contrary. She was the one who needed to beware. If she wanted him to help her, she was going to have to answer a few questions first.

He paused, his hand on the doorknob. Frowned. Actually, interrogating her over something that had taken place ten years earlier would be an admission that he cared. That he still hurt.

And he didn’t.

He was over her.


He was only going to meet her because of the sweet memories he cherished of the girl she’d once been. And because of the vow he’d made.

It was a matter of honour. She was finally calling in the debt he owed her and, once he’d done whatever it was she was about to ask of him, they’d be quits.

And he’d be free of her.

* * *

Where was he? Georgiana paced along the bank of the trout stream, the train of her salmon-pink velvet riding habit looped over one arm, swishing at the dried-up reeds with her riding crop in frustration. Four days since she’d smuggled her note into the pile of his letters waiting for collection from the receiving office in Bartlesham. And every day since, she’d been here, at their stream, at first light.

He must have read it by now.

Which meant she had her answer. He wasn’t coming.

She didn’t know why she’d ever thought he might. She was such an idiot. When was she ever going to accept that Stepmama was right? Men like the Earl of Ashenden didn’t make friends with people of her class. Let alone women of her class. He’d tolerated her when he’d been a boy, that was all, because he hadn’t had any other playmates.

She sank down on to the log, their log, where they’d spent so many hours fishing and talking. At least, he’d fished, she reflected glumly, and she’d talked. She’d chattered, actually, like a little magpie while he’d listened, or pretended to listen, with his eyes fixed firmly on the fishing line. She leaned her chin on her fist, gazing unseeingly at the gravel bed beneath the rippling water that made this part of the stream such a good spot for trout. Had he been bored by her mindless chatter? Irritated? She hadn’t thought so, but then it was so hard to know what he’d been thinking. Because he’d never said.

Except that last day they’d had together, when he’d promised her that when they grew up, and he became the Earl, he’d still be her friend.

She lifted her head to look at the pollarded willows on the opposite bank, to fix them in her memory, since it was becoming clear that memories were all she was going to have to sustain her in future. Later in the year those trees would form a thick screen that would hide this spot from the path that wound round the lake into which this stream fed. There would be a thick carpet of bluebells beneath them and wild irises cheekily pushing up their heads amidst the reeds which were, today, dry and dead, and flattened in places by recent spates of floodwater.

Like her last hope.

She sighed. It wasn’t worth waiting for the stable clock to chime the hour, as she’d done every other morning. Or hang on until the last note had faded to nothing, the way she’d clung to a desperate shred of hope that she could trust him, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. He wasn’t coming. She was going to have to accept defeat. After all, he’d only been a boy when he’d promised he’d always be her friend. And in the years since he’d clearly thought better of it.

And why shouldn’t he have done so? When her own family found her such a disappointment? If they didn’t think she was good enough as she was, and were constantly urging her to change, why should he?

So that was that. She’d have to stop clinging to ridiculous dreams that there might still be one person in the world who’d keep faith with her. Hadn’t she learned by now that the only thing she could count on was that she couldn’t count on anyone?

She was just getting to her feet when she heard the sound of a dog barking. And in spite of telling herself it still didn’t mean Edmund was on his way, she spun round to face the path along which he’d come, if it was him, so swiftly that she almost lost her balance.

She flailed her arms to try to avoid slipping into the water, as her left foot sank deep into the mud on the bank. She muttered a string of extremely unladylike words as she struggled to extricate her foot from the sucking grip without losing her boot in the process. How typical that having taken such pains with her appearance, whoever it was approaching was about to discover her either standing on one leg with her other, bare foot in the air and her boot in the mud, or more likely flat on her back in the reed bed.

And if it was Edmund, who never had a hair out of place, she’d...she’d...probably throw the muddy boot at him. At least he wouldn’t forget her again as easily as he’d done the last time.

But then the boot came free from the mud, with a slow sucking plop, just as the dog burst over the embankment. It came pelting down the slope and circled her ankles, the whole rear end of its body wriggling in greeting.

‘Lion?’ She bent to stroke the elderly spaniel’s ears. If it truly was Lion, then Edmund couldn’t be far behind. She straightened up just as a vision of sartorial elegance came sauntering leisurely along the path from the lakeside. His boots shone in the pale spring sunshine, his coat fluttered out behind him as he walked, giving tantalising glimpses of a beautifully cut jacket and snowy white neckcloth. His light brown hair was cropped so severely that not a single lock could venture out from beneath the brim of his hat.

But his eyes were hidden by the way light reflected off the lenses of his spectacles. He’d probably worn them to create a physical barrier between them. As if she needed to be reminded of the immense gulf that separated them nowadays. Because he couldn’t possibly need to wear them for any other reason, not when he was walking about his own estate.

Not unless his eyesight had deteriorated an awful lot since they’d last been on speaking terms.

The Earl of Ashenden came to a standstill and swept her with one of those cold, imperious looks designed to put the lower orders in their place. A look designed to impel her to drop a curtsy and beg his pardon, and go back to where she belonged. A look that made her acutely aware of her windswept hair, her mud-caked boot and the fact that her gloves had worn so thin in parts they were almost in holes.

A look that made her wish she really was holding a muddy boot in one of her hands, so that she could throw it at him and knock that horrid, supercilious, unfeeling, inhuman look off his face. She was just picturing a boot-shaped stain splattering the front of his expensively tailored coat when Lion wheezed and flopped down at her feet.

‘I cannot believe you made poor old Lion walk all the way up here,’ she said, since she didn’t have any other missile to hand.

‘I did not,’ he replied. ‘We came in the carriage as far as the alder copse.’

‘You came in a carriage?’ Now it was her turn to look at him with scorn. What kind of man took a carriage out to drive a mere mile, especially when he had a stable full of perfectly splendid hunters?

As though she’d spoken those thoughts aloud, his head reared back. ‘I thought Lion would be pleased to see you,’ he said, with just a touch of emphasis on the spaniel’s name, which conveyed the implication that the dog was the only one who regarded this meeting as a treat. ‘It is too far for him to walk, at his age. Also, he enjoys riding beside me in an open carriage.’

As if to prove his master right, Lion chose that moment to roll on to his back to invite her to rub his tummy. She bent and did so, using the moment to hide her face, which she could feel heating after his rebuke. She couldn’t really believe that his attitude could still hurt so much. Not after all the times he’d pretended he couldn’t even see her, when she’d been standing practically under his nose. She really ought to be immune to his disdain by now.

‘Did you have something in particular to ask me,’ he asked in a bored tone, ‘or should I take my dog and return to Fontenay Court?’

‘You know very well I have something of great importance to ask you,’ she retorted, finally reaching the end of her tether as she straightened up, ‘or I wouldn’t have sent you that note.’

‘And are you going to tell me what it is any time soon?’ He pulled his watch from his waistcoat pocket and looked down at it. ‘Only, I have a great many pressing matters to attend to.’

She sucked in a deep breath. ‘I do beg your pardon, my lord,’ she said, dipping into the best curtsy she could manage with a dog squirming round her ankles and her riding habit still looped over one arm. ‘Thank you so much for sparing me a few minutes of your valuable time,’ she added, through gritted teeth.

‘Not at all.’ He made one of those graceful, languid gestures with his hand that indicated noblesse oblige. ‘Though I should, of course, appreciate it if you would make it quick.’

Make it quick? Make it quick! Four days she’d been waiting for him to show up, four days he’d kept her in an agony of suspense, and now he was here, he was making it clear he wanted the meeting to be as brief as possible so he could get back to where he belonged. In his stuffy house, with his stuffy servants and his stuffy lifestyle.

Just once, she’d like to shake him out of that horrid, contemptuous, self-satisfied attitude of his towards the rest of the world. And make him experience a genuine, human emotion. No matter what.

‘Very well.’ She’d say what she’d come to say, without preamble. Which would at least give her the pleasure of shocking him almost as much as if she really were to throw her boot at him.

‘If you must know, I want you to marry me.’


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