Robert Stanton, the ninth Duke of Riverton, swept his gaze over the beautiful woman standing in his drawing room and searched his mind for a memory that could have involved meeting such an intriguing creature. "Have we met?" he asked with a grin.
The woman's full lips parted into a smile that caused his heart to skip a beat. Soft brown eyes fringed with long black lashes stared back at him in a face of the creamiest skin he'd ever laid eyes on. He resisted the urge to sweep his fingers through the chestnut curls that framed her face like spun silk. She was enchanting.
"I am Miss Hope Edwards."
He frowned and shook his head. He did not know this woman.
She rolled her eyes. "I've traveled from Boston to accept your proposal of marriage. You sent for me."
Robert tensed. The muscles in his body tightened until he thought they would snap with the slightest movement. He'd been called a lot of things in his lifetime but "husband" would never be one of them.
He considered hurrying the woman on her way, but knew he would only succeed in offending her by doing so. Why he should care was beyond him, but he did. "I am afraid you have the wrong man, Miss Edwards."
The light in the woman's eyes turned to stone. She squared her shoulders. "If my clothing isn't what you expected, I apologize, my lord. I understand it isn't what you are accustomed to in London, but I had nothing else to wear."
Robert offered her a smile. Her gown certainly suited the country far more than London, but it wasn't horrid. "Your gown is quite stunning, but I'm not the gentleman you're looking for."
Miss Edwards stamped the heel of her boot into the carpet. "I do not find this amusing. Am I not what you envisioned? Is my hair too dark, my eyes too large? What?"
Astonished by Miss Edwards' spirit, Robert could do nothing but stare at her. She was far more than intriguing. She exuded both seduction and innocence in the tilt of her head, the fire in her gaze. If he'd met her in any other situation, he would have pursued her relentlessly until she agreed to be his mistress. As far as he was concerned, such a prospect was still not out of the question.
He eyed her appreciatively. "I think you are stunning, Miss Edwards. If I have offended you, you must accept my apology."
She shook her head as though she were speaking to a disobedient three-year-old. "Never in all my life did I expect this reaction to my arrival. A peck on the cheek, a warm welcome..." Her eyes widened. She snapped her head in his direction. "What did you say?"
"I think you're striking. Your hair is the shade of walnuts roasting over the fire, your skin like cream, your feet so small they could fit in the palm of my hand." He narrowed his eyes as he slid his gaze down the curve of her breasts, the line of her hips. "I doubt there is a man in all of London who could resist your womanly charms."
"Then you are--"
"But I'm not the gentleman you're looking for. I am the Duke of Riverton ... not Lord Ripley."
And truthfully, he was thankful for it because he pitied the man. If the many merchants that visited the house each week were any indication, Ripley had been riddled with debt, which made the man's betrothal to an American heiress all the more clever. No father in London would give his daughter to a poor man, no matter his title. The only other option would be to marry someone who would not suspect that the fine clothing and immaculately decorated houses masked an overwhelming debt. An unsuspecting American family would think a viscount was a fine catch.
Robert smiled. He'd never met Ripley but at that moment, he'd wished he had merely to congratulate him on such a splendid scheme. Obviously, it had succeeded.
With a frustrated sigh, Miss Edwards glanced at her surroundings. "This is his house."
He nodded. "It was."
Her gaze snapped back to his. "Was?"