For all the latest news about Madeline's books, join her newsletter mailing list.
Heiress in Red Silk
In this sparkling series from New York Times bestselling author Madeline Hunter, a mysterious bequest brings a whole new life—and brand-new love—to three unsuspecting women . . .
In one life-changing windfall, Rosamund Jameson goes from struggling shopkeeper to heiress—and co-owner of a new business. Not only will her sudden fortune allow her to move her millinery shop to fashionable London, but Rosamund will be able to provide her younger sister with a proper entry into society. The only hitch for resourceful Rosamund is her arrogant, infuriatingly handsome business partner . . .
Kevin Radnor is shocked that his late uncle, the Duke of Hollinburgh, bequeathed half his company to a total stranger—worse, a beguiling beauty who can only hinder his enterprise. But Rosamund insists on an active, equal partnership, so Kevin embarks on a plan: a seduction that will lead to a marriage of convenience, giving Rosamund the social status she needs, and guaranteeing him the silent partner he desires. Yet as this charismatic gentleman sets his flirtation in motion, he begins to wonder who is seducing whom—and if he can learn to share himself body and mind, without losing his heart . . ..
Kevin paced the library for half an hour, then chose a book from a shelf and threw himself onto the divan. He read a while, then realized he did not remember one word his eyes had scanned. He threw the book aside, rested his head against the cushion, and closed his eyes.
This was hell. He had learned how to talk business with men. He had even adopted the bonhomie that industrialists used with one another, even though it did not come naturally to him. But a woman? Not for the first time since his uncle the duke had died, he wondered if the man had gone a little mad at the end.
The old sense of betrayal began to well up inside him, but he swallowed it. It was Uncle Frederick’s personal fortune to do with as he chose. If, in a gesture of bizarre largess and insurmountable eccentricity, he decided to give half a promising enterprise to a little milliner of dubious background and no knowledge of machinery and engineering, that was his right.
He had also considered this often enough, and long enough, to accept that the decision perhaps spoke of a lack of faith in Kevin himself. Much as he preferred to disregard that notion, it was difficult to reject completely. It entered his mind now. Only this time he could reject it. If Uncle Frederick had not trusted Kevin with the enterprise on his own, he could have left the other half to a successful man of industry. Not Rosamund Jameson. Just finding her had cost him a year of progress at a time when matters of industry moved faster each day.
The library door opened. He immediately rose, as Minerva advanced on him with a determined look in her eyes. She got that look a lot. It was a wonder that Chase didn’t find her a bit shrewish. Kevin certainly did.
“She will be down soon. Mere minutes. Before she comes, I want to make something very clear to you.” She strode until she was so close she had to tilt back her head to look him in the eye. “She is my guest, and I expect she will become my friend. I like her. You are to treat her with the same respect you would give a lady. You are not to browbeat her, or lose your patience, or let her know you find her a trial even if you do. If you in any way insult her, either by word or action or brooding sighs or dismissive tone, I will make your life miserable.”
“I never insult women.”
“Oh, for the love of grace, your mere presence insults women at times. But I’ve had my say. Behave.”
With that she turned and marched out of the library.
Kevin shook his head in exasperation. Insult women? What a ridiculous thing to say. He never insulted women. He barely spoke to them.
A faint rustle penetrated his awareness. He turned to the sound. A woman stood just inside the library door. He stared at her, and she stared back.
Rosamund Jameson was no little milliner. She wasn’t a little anything. She stood taller than most women, and the simple, gray pelisse dress she wore revealed a body that held the promise of being extremely well formed and voluptuous. Lithe was not a word anyone would use to describe her.
The rest of her appearance struck him like so many smacks to his shocked consciousness. Blue eyes. Blond curls. Porcelain skin. Full lips.
‘The woman was beautiful. Deliciously so.
* * * *
He was looking at her as if he examined her for flaws. No doubt he would find plenty if he wanted to see them.
She conducted her own examination while he delayed greeting her. Like his cousin, Kevin Radnor was tall. His full, dark hair hung to his jaw and cravat. She didn’t know if this was a new fashion or if he had neglected to have it dressed recently.
Unlike his cousin, he had dark eyes. Very dark and deep set. They and the hair made him appear somewhat dramatic. She could not deny that he was handsome and had a fine nose and mouth. A somewhat hard jaw kept him from looking too fine. His features had none of his cousin’s ruggedness, so that jaw saved him from being . . . beautiful. Minerva had warned her that he was given to brooding, and Rosamund could imagine him doing that, and then appearing very poetic indeed.
He did not begin to measure up to Charles, of course. There was none of Charles’s bright smiles and sparkling eyes. Kevin Radnor had more in common with the strict, distracted tutors that passed through the Copley house, men who were still young but had forgotten how to have fun. Rosamund had not been able to imagine a woman of spirit wanting any of them, and she now had the same opinion of the man facing her.
Finally, growing uncomfortable at how he just looked at her, she walked farther into the chamber. “I am Rosamund Jameson. You be wanting to speak with me.”
He came to life. “Yes. I thought we should meet, considering you now own half of my enterprise.”
“If I own half, isn’t it our enterprise?”
Whatever had occupied him, it now disappeared. He smiled the smile of a proud, confident man showing forbearance . “Why don’t we sit and talk about that?”
She perched on edge of the divan. He took an upholstered chair nearby and angled it so they could speak directly.
“I expect that inheriting half a business surprised you,” he said.
“Inheriting anything at all surprised me. But, yes, that part was especially astonishing.”
“Did the solicitor explain the enterprise?”
She kept her face impassive, resisting intimidation. “It has to do with an invention to improve machines,” she said confidently.
“His explanation was brief. I confess I did not understand the details.”
“That is not surprising. Even men have difficulty understanding it.”
He sounded very superior saying that. “Perhaps if it is hard for even men to understand, you should show them how it works. I would think that would clarify everything.”
He smiled indulgently. She did not care for that smile either. “I can’t. If I do, anyone might steal the design and duplicate it.”
“Mr. Radnor, forgive me if my next question is too womanish, but if you can’t show it to anyone, how does this enterprise make money from this invention?”
“I intend to manufacture it myself.”
Me. My. I. “You mean we intend to manufacture it. Do we have a factory?”
“Not yet. I am waiting on an enhancement. Once that is procured, it can be manufactured.”
So this enterprise was based on an invention that had never been built and had no factory and still lacked its final enhancement. “I should tell you that I be thinking of selling my share.”
His eyes turned stormy. He leaned toward her. “You can’t do that.”
“The solicitor said I could.”
“It would destroy everything. If you sell, whoever buys it can then sell part shares to others. Each one would demand to see the invention, which means any of them could steal it. This is an enterprise that must be closely held for it to amount to anything.”
“You are concerned someone will steal this idea?”
“Of course I am. It is so valuable that I dare not even patent it, lest others see the drawings.”
“Are you concerned I will somehow steal it?”
He subtly resettled in his chair. “Not steal, as such. You can’t steal what you already own.”
“I’m glad you admit that I in fact be half owner of it.”
“But . . .” He seemed to think twice about what he was going to say. She saw the exact moment when impulse conquered whatever better sense had made him hesitate. “You are an heiress. There will be many men pursuing you. You might be unduly influenced by one of them.”
“Lose my head, you mean.”
“Become so drunk with love that I do something not in me own interests.”
No response, but a vague nod.
“You are a man who thinks women are half-witted and ruled by emotion, me thinks.”
He frowned peevishly. “Men lose their heads too. It has nothing to do with your being a beautiful woman.”
She startled at the word “beautiful.” He did too, once it was out of his mouth. “And you might marry,” he quickly added. “Your husband might demand to know all that you know. He might even browbeat you in order to learn the enterprise’s secrets.”
Charles would not do that. She immediately scolded herself at that thought. It was one thing to allow a dream a bit of room to grow and another to become as befuddled as this Mr. Radnor assumed love would make her.
“Mr. Radnor, I could worry about you in the same way. You might become enthralled with some woman and be influenced by her to share the secrets. Or maybe you would use company money to keep her happy, or to pay off her gambling debts.”
He found that amusing. “I never become enthralled, so you have nothing to worry about.”
“Never? Not once?”
He shook his head. “Not even once. This invention has the potential to make you a very rich woman, Miss Jameson. Rich beyond your imagination. Every steam engine built will need this invention. Already they are putting them into vehicles that ride on rails. In twenty years those will be everywhere. Then there are machines in factories and other applications. Steam engines will be used by the thousands soon. You would be foolish to sell out now.”
It sounded like she would be better off putting her money in one of those rail vehicles than this invention. For one thing, she would not have to see this man on a regular basis. He unnerved her when his gaze became intense like it be now. She had to struggle to hold her own ground, let alone give as good as she got.
He smiled. A nice smile. A bit seductive, if truth be told . “I will take care of everything. You can tend to your other affairs until the money starts pouring in. Then you can worry about how to spend it all.” He reached into his frock coat and extracted a folded paper. “Because we are equal partners, we both need to agree to decisions regarding funds and developments. However, I can relieve you of that obligation after you sign this.”
She took the paper and read it. While she did, he rose, went to the writing desk, and returned with a pen and the inkwell. He set them on the table next to the divan.
“Do you understand it?” he asked.
Partly. Mostly. There were some big words that interfered, but she thought she had the main points. “This document would give you full control of the enterprise, and the right to make contracts, spend money, and decide on this invention’s future use and cost without my signature.” She looked up at him. “Do I look like a stupid woman to you, Mr. Radnor? If I do not sell my share—and nothing that has happened here today has convinced me to keep it—I will be involved in the decisions going forward. I have no intention of signing this.”
She let the paper slip from her fingers and onto the floor.
He stood abruptly, turned, and muttered. She thought she heard the words “impossible female” between a few colorful curses. She let him regain control, which took several long moments. Finally, he turned back to her, his face still reflecting his anger.
“It will take anything three times as long to accomplish if you insist on being involved. I’ll spend hours explaining the details of every decision and tutoring you in mechanics and mathematics,” he bit out. “Even finding you took too long and left this in limbo to the whole plan’s detriment.”
She stood. “And yet I be here now. Let me ask you something, Mr. Radnor. Have you ever run a profitable business?”
He did not respond fast enough, so she knew the answer.
“Well, I have. Now, I have things to do this afternoon. Good day to you.” She sailed out of the library, head high, and waited until she was back in her bedchamber before she vented her frustration by screaming into her pillow.
Heiress in Red Silk, copyright © 2021 Madeline Hunter