A Warriner to Tempt Her

By: Virginia Heath

CHAPTER ONE

July 1818

Dr Joseph Warriner sat down behind his desk with an air of resignation. Despite today’s genuine attempt at resolve, he realised such efforts were ultimately futile. His situation was pathetic. Worse—he was pathetic. He flicked out the dented gold pocket watch he always wore secured to his sensible dark waistcoat and knew, before even looking at the dial, it was almost eight o’clock. The fact he had checked the stupid thing every two minutes for the last half an hour irritated him, as did the sorry realisation he had also been drawn to participate in this ridiculous ritual for almost a month now. Drawn like a sailor to the sirens.

And for what? One transient dance exactly twenty-eight days ago. A few exchanged, meaningless pleasantries whilst he had stood with her other eager admirers, tossed randomly like discarded breadcrumbs to a yard full of chickens. Or like today, for a surreptitious glimpse of the cause of his torment, guiltily stolen through the heavy lace that covered the windows, when he knew, deep down, his foolish heart was once again chasing a shadow.

The whole sorry situation was pathetic.

Angrily, he snapped the watch closed and turned his chair towards the window and waited. Just like he had every Tuesday or Friday morning in the last few weeks, at precisely eight o’clock, the glossy black carriage turned into the square exactly on time. It was market day in Retford and she always came to shop on market day. And the fact she was always so punctual also irritated him. Just for once he wished she would be late and he would be forced to attend to his first patient of the day, whose appointment was now timed for five past the hour on market days instead of on the dot of eight as usual. Another sign of how lamentable this folly was. It would be much better to do something worthwhile rather than waste his time engaging in this pointless ritual, especially as he already had a mountain of tasks to complete today. But, no—this carriage was a creature of habit, much like its vexing occupant, and it slowed to a stop just past the window of Joe’s surgery as it always did. To torture him.

Carefully, he moved the very edge of the curtain so that he could get a better view and watched as the footman opened the carriage door. After a few seconds, one surprisingly sensibly shod foot, with an intriguingly shapely ankle, appeared. His breath hitched.

He had never seen her ankles before and was staggered a common formation of bones would affect him so. How many ankles had he seen in his career? Hundreds? Thousands, probably, yet the sight of hers made his heart beat faster.

The glorious ankles was closely followed by a bonnet-covered head. Without even seeing it, he knew her golden hair would be arranged in a becoming and fashionable style, but that already several of the silky strands, the colour of which he had often considered to be the exact shade of wheat freshly harvested and kissed by the sun, would have resent being tamed and begun escaping its pins. True to form, these would frame her bewitching face in tiny spiral curls he yearned to wind around his fingers.

Of course, he could never do that. If he did—well, then he would probably have to remove every single pin so he could enjoy watching that mass of curls tumble over her shoulders and down her back. Especially now he had seen those ankles. He closed his eyes and savoured the fantasy for a moment.

Lady Clarissa Beaumont.

Joe exhaled slowly and watched her gather herself together. For a fleeting moment she turned and he saw just her cheek—perfect peaches and cream skin—but was cruelly denied the sight of her wide, almond-shaped blue eyes in a shade so glorious that it would have made even the Caribbean Sea jealous. He caught a fleeting glimpse of her plump pink lips as she smiled at the footman and a bolt of ridiculous jealousy surged through him at the innocent exchange.

Because the delectable Clarissa, fêted society beauty, was largely ignorant of the fact he even existed. Thank heavens the ethereal Clarissa was also blissfully unaware the man currently hidden behind the curtain of his office was suffering from a terminal case of unrequited love. More painful this morning, for some reason, than it had ever been before. Probably because of those ankles, he realised. A few inches of silk-covered leg and he was already burning with lust. The lust was a new sensation. Up until today his love had been pure, the courtly kind of old and not sullied with that base, human emotion. But up until today he had been denied the sight of those magnificent ankles, so he supposed his sudden physical reaction was to be expected. What was love without passion anyway?

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