A Wedding By Dawn

A Wedding By Dawn

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by Alison DeLaine
     
 

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A hellion on the run. 

Lady India Sinclair will stop at nothing to live life on her own terms—even stealing a ship and fleeing to the Mediterranean. At last on her own, free to do as she pleases, she is determined to chart her own course. There's only one problem…. 

A gentleman determined to possess her. 

Nicholas Warre

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Overview

A hellion on the run. 

Lady India Sinclair will stop at nothing to live life on her own terms—even stealing a ship and fleeing to the Mediterranean. At last on her own, free to do as she pleases, she is determined to chart her own course. There's only one problem…. 

A gentleman determined to possess her. 

Nicholas Warre has made a deal. To save his endangered estate, he will find Lady India, marry her and bring her back to England at the behest of her father. And with thousands at stake, he doesn't much care what the lady thinks of the idea. But as the two engage in a contest of wills, the heat between them becomes undeniable…and the wedding they each dread may lead to a love they can't live without.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
04/20/2015
DeLaine (A Gentleman 'Til Midnight) returns to Georgian England in this fast-paced historical. Lady India Sinclair was born with adventure in her soul, but her uptight father is determined to marry her off to someone who will change her "hoydenish" ways. Nicholas Warre will stop at nothing to save his beloved family estate, so after Lady India's father offers him £50,000 to track down and marry his wayward daughter, Nicholas jumps at the chance. India leads her intended on a merry chase to the altar, but in the end, does she want to get caught? Both Nicholas and India are shouldering secrets they believe will make them unlovable, and DeLaine's heartfelt characterizations make the reader ache right along with the characters. Despite an all-too-convenient plot twist, this engaging tale satisfies and ends with the promise of sequels. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"An unusual and engaging debut...DeLaine keeps the pages turning."-Publishers Weekly

"A fearless debut! Alison DeLaine pens a stand-out romance."-New York Times bestselling author Julia London

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781460331217
Publisher:
Harlequin
Publication date:
04/29/2014
Sold by:
HARLEQUIN
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
137,301
File size:
0 MB

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Read an Excerpt

For fifty thousand pounds, Nicholas Warre didn't give a damn what his bride looked like.

He curled his hand around the jamb of the tavern's side door, with Malta's night breeze at his back and a host of raucous Mediterranean drunks shoving their way past him, and glanced at William Jaxbury. "You're absolutely certain?"

Jaxbury's gaze leveled on their prize, Lady India Sinclair. His gold earrings glittered in the muted candlelight that spilled through the doorway, and his dark red Barbary turban made him look like a corsair devil. "Recognize that tricorne anywhere," he said, and ducked quickly out of view on the other side of the doorway. Amusement danced in his eyes, damn him. Always laughing when there wasn't one bloody thing to laugh at.

Inside the tavern, Nick's betrothed perched on a stool, deep in conversation with a companion who could only be Miss Millicent Germain. Lady India's full attention was fixed on something-someone?-across the room. That tricorne blocked her face, and a black waistcoat obscured her figure, but he had a clear view of a shapely leg clad in breeches and a white stocking. Her black buckled shoe tap-tap-tapped the stool's leg.

"Second thoughts?" Jaxbury asked, eyes gleaming.

"No." A man didn't have second thoughts about a bank draft that would finally put an end to his misery. "I shall go in through the main door, while you stay here and wait for my signal." And then-

Good God.

She'd turned her head, and he found himself staring across the tavern at her profile. Even as he watched, she glanced at something over her shoulder and gave him a quick but full view of her face. His hand constricted around the doorjamb. "Jaxbury, you bloody bastard. You could have warned me she's got a mouth that'll have every man in London reaching for his breeches."

The words scarcely left his tongue before Jaxbury had his fist clenched in Nick's shirt. "Besmirch Lady India again, and you'll answer to me." There was no laughter in those eyes now.

"Did I besmirch her? I could have sworn I merely commented on her beauty." And beauty was the dead last thing he needed in a wife. He thought of Clarissa- so lovely yet so deceptive-and checked a sudden urge to lay his fist into something. Jaxbury's jaw, for example.

Even from this distance and dressed like a man, Lady India screamed sensuality. The men in that tavern were either sodomites or blind.

"Let me make one thing clear, Warre." Jaxbury's blue eyes glittered like cold sapphires. "Lady India's a virgin, and whatever else happens, you'll go easy on her even if I have to stand by the marital bed and watch."

Nick curled his lip. "Enjoy that, would you?"

Jaxbury's fist tightened in Nick's shirt. "Careful, or you may find I've changed my mind about this folly."

"This 'folly' does not require your approval." Enough was enough. Nick pushed Jaxbury away and started forward.

Lady India's days of wanton adventure were about to come to an abrupt end.

"Fool's errand is an insulting way to speak of something as profound as my deflowering, Millie." India took a swig of ale and studied a square-jawed, dark-haired sailor through the crowd. Finally setting foot on Malta was a blessed relief for so many reasons.

"Nothing profound originates in a waterfront tavern," Millie said.

India felt her foot resume its tapping. The tavern roared with conversations in every language, teemed with whores, barmaids and men who were too drunk to see past her waistcoat and breeches.

But she would make sure one of them saw the truth. Tonight.

Millie gripped her tankard as though she were the one about to invite the carnal knowledge of a Mediterranean stranger. "If you're smart," she continued to warn above the din, "you'll keep your flower intact."

"Smart is merely another word for prudent, dull and biddable'" And accomplished, well-versed and literate, but this sailor was one person who wouldn't care that India was none of those things. He laughed at something his hollow-cheeked companion said, revealing an intriguing gold tooth. India leaned across the table toward Millie. "Do you think he's Egyptian? I think I might like to be deflowered by an Egyptian."

"I think I'm going to be sick."

India snorted and pulled her tricorne hat lower across her eyes to better conceal her surveillance. If anyone was going to be sick, it would likely be her. Her lady's maid Frannie had warned her that women of quality sometimes vomited after their virtues were taken.

Already the ale soured a little in her stomach, but she couldn't help smiling. There was little of quality left of her, so she'd likely come through the event without disgracing herself.

Ha. Disgracing herself was the beginning and end of the entire endeavor.

The Egyptian sailor lifted his glass with a large hand that was no stranger to rope and canvas. Gold gleamed from the fingers that would unlock the last door to her freedom.

For freedom, she could endure a bit of vomiting.

She drew in an unsteady breath heavy with salt air and tobacco smoke, sailors and alcohol, and slipped a crust of bread to a brown-spotted mongrel who sat begging beneath the table. A loud trio of men jostled her from behind, sloshing a bit of ale onto her hand.

She licked it away and shifted on her stool but couldn't quite make herself stand. "You'll send the longboat back to shore for me?" she asked Millie.

"By the devil, India-" Millie huffed. From beneath her giant misshapen peasant's hat, she frowned at India through a carefully applied layer of grime that almost completely hid her gender. "You cannot do this."

She could, and she would. Now, before she lost her nerve completely. "I shall meet you back at the ship."

"I'll not return to the ship without you!"

"You can't stay here by yourself!"

"India…." In Millie's eyes India saw all the arguments Millie had already made against this plan: pain, pox, pregnancy.

The sailor didn't look like a brute, and Millie swore all men were poxed, anyway. As for the third… "I've got my vinegar sponge in my pocket."

"For God's sake, India-"

"Must you be so bloody contrary about everything? Always?" India's palms began to sweat. She forced herself to her feet. Even now, Father's lackeys could be afloat in the Med looking for her. He would have dispatched them the moment he'd learned she and Millie had borrowed Katherine's ship. They would very likely find her, but she would not allow them to drag her back to England to marry whatever disgusting, fleshy fish-belly Father had paid to wed her.

If her father's men succeeded, she could well find herself with Millie's three P's in spades regardless.

"If you catch his eye dressed like this," Millie warned, "it won't be deflowering that's on his mind- at least, not the kind you're thinking of."

"I have a plan." Pardon me, sir, she would say, there's a gentleman outside asking to see you. Once outside, she would whisk off her hat, let her blond hair tumble free and tell him what she wanted.

On hearing this, Millie grabbed her arm. "We're leaving. I absolutely will not allow you to commit such a folly. An utter stranger, who could have any manner of disgusting ideas-"

"Don't be such a pill." India wrenched her arm free. "Auntie Phil beds whomever she pleases. It can't be so terrible and disgusting." It probably could, but she'd already told herself to stop remembering the more shocking details Frannie had described.

"Your aunt's deflowering took place in a marriage bed," Millie hissed.

"Which can hardly happen to me as I have no intention of marrying."

"I'll never know how you've survived being such a dullard."

The accusation stung more than Millie had intended. "Perhaps I shall marry the Egyptian." India laughed. She might be a dullard, but she would soon be a dullard whom her father could marry off to absolutely nobody.

An especially rowdy bunch at a table in the far corner exploded in guffaws. The dark sailor punctuated his conversation with the kind of dramatic gestures that always accompanied an exotic tongue.

India reached for her tankard to take one last swig and hoped a deflowering didn't take much time.

Millie grabbed her arm. "I'm serious, India. Ruining yourself won't solve anything."

"But it will most certainly solve one thing." She set the tankard on the table and fixed her gaze on the sailor. "I have nothing to lose and everything to gain." Every nerve came alive in an alarming swarm of anticipation.

"Nothing to lose! You'll throw yourself away-"

"Oh, fie." Virginity was the last virtue she had left to throw away. Everything else-her friends, her reputation, her popularity-was already gone. "I'm a woman of the high seas now, Millie. What does it matter if I give my virtue to a handsome sailor?"

But suddenly Millie wasn't looking at her anymore. She was looking past India's shoulder, and her eyes had grown as big as silver crowns.

"It matters, Lady India," came a cold voice from behind her, "because you are betrothed to me."

* * *

Betrothed.

India whipped around and looked up into heartless green eyes set like flints above an arrogant nose and grim mouth. They were eyes so cold they could have belonged to an executioner, in the kind of face that could command the attention of an entire ballroom. And he wasn't alone. Next to him stood- "William!" Freedom collapsed like a sail in a dead breeze.

William grinned and crossed his arms. "Such a disappointing welcome, Indy. Not happy to see us?" India thought she might end up vomiting with her virtue still intact. William shifted his laughing blue eyes to Millie. "Why, Millicent, you've gone pale. At least, I think you have. Difficult to tell beneath all that-what is that on your face?" He reached a finger toward her cheek, but Millie swatted it away.

India glanced away from them at the Egyptian sailor. At Millie, whose eyes had grown sharp with alarm- and that bloody pessimism that was the bane of India's existence. There was no question what Millie was thinking: They would never escape William, the man who had taught their own mentor to survive on the high seas.

But India wasn't above trying. "We're overjoyed to see you, aren't we, Millie?" she said brightly. "We absolutely are. What a stroke of good fortune- Millie, was I not just saying how much I wished we had friends in town? And now here you are. Join us, and let's toast your return to the Mediterranean." It took all her willpower not to look at William's companion.

William laughed. "Very well. We'll play that game if you wish."

Game? Millie and India had sailed with William on the Possession. He knew how important their freedom was to them. Yet he thought this was a game?

"For God's sake, Jaxbury," the betrothal-announcer muttered irritably.

From the corner of her eye she could see he was dressed impeccably, conservatively, as though he'd just emerged from Westminster. Except no respectable man would be desperate enough to enter into an agreement to marry her, which meant he was what-a slave to the gaming tables? The holder of an empty title? A merchant with a mountain of debt?

Even now she could hear her father's voice. You will choose one of these men, India, or I will choose for you.

The tavern seemed to close in on her. It would take seconds to dart across the room to the Egyptian, seconds more to reveal that she was a woman, a moment or two to convey what she needed. They would need to leave the tavern and go-where? Where would they go?

"Forgive me." William laughed. His gold earrings glittered terrifyingly in the light from candles sputtering in an iron chandelier. "I see my new shipmate is growing impatient. Introductions and all that-terrible manners on my part. Lady India, may I present Nicholas Warre, Lord Taggart."

Millie's eyes snapped up from the table.

Nicholas Warre! In an instant India surveyed everything from the top of his greedy head to the toes of his debtor's shoes. Father had betrothed her to a man so desperate to save his own estate he'd tried to steal someone else's?

"Pillock!" she spat.

That grim mouth did not so much as twitch. "Be that as it may, Lady India-" he calmly reached inside his waistcoat, let her catch a glimpse of a small sheaf of papers and tucked them safely away "-it is incumbent upon me to inform you that we are contracted to wed, pursuant to an agreement I've made with your father." Now the corner of that mouth curved slightly, and those heartless green eyes wandered briefly over the front of her coat. "Which means the only recipient of your virtue will be me."

India looked him straight in the eye. "Dead men take no one's virtue, Mister Warre." He did not deserve the respect of his title. All her senses homed in on the Egyptian, but she didn't dare glance his way. Didn't dare look at Millie, who would surely be able to escape amid the commotion India was about to cause.

Before anyone could stop her, she dashed away from the table, barreling blindly through the crowd toward the Egyptian.

"India!"

The tavern noise swallowed William's shout. She whipped off her hat and felt her braid tumble down her back. Her pulse thundered and she lunged for the sailor, gripping his arm. "Sir, you must help me. I beg you. I need you. I need you to-" devil take it, words! words! "-compromise me. Carnally." The mix of interest and confusion in his eyes told her he didn't speak English. Desperately she switched to Italian. "Come with me. I need you. My body-" now there were even fewer words "-my body needs you." Her frantic fingers fumbled with the buttons on her waistcoat, her vest. But now it was clear he understood. That gold tooth flashed with his grin. His arm snaked around her, and his hand took possession of her left breast. There was a light in his eye-no, she didn't like that light, but it was better than-

"India!" William's voice bellowed above the crowd.

"We must go!" She tried to pull him off his stool, but he wouldn't budge. He laughed and said something to the men around them-where had all these men come from? Moorish. He was speaking Moorish. "Now!" She couldn't speak much, but Rafik the boatswain had bellowed that word constantly aboard Katherine's ship.

Apparently thinking he was obeying her order, he pulled her closer and buried his face against the side of her neck.

"No, not here!" She only knew the Italian. Moorish, Moorish-what was Moorish for-

But then it was too late, because Nicholas Warre was on them. He grabbed the sailor by the arm. The sailor pushed her aside and launched himself at Mr. Warre. A dozen men reached to take the sailor's place, pulling and yanking on her, groping her breasts and her buttocks. Her own scream pushed bile into her throat.

The sailor's hollow-cheeked companion threw himself at William, as the sailor landed a solid fist across Nicholas Warre's murderous face.

William and the other man fell together against a chair. Above the chaos she heard Millie scream. Desperately India fought the men who grabbed her, but there was no escape. Her pistol-she couldn't let them find her pistol! She used her elbow to jab, defend, keep groping hands from closing around her prize. Its weight dug into the waistband of her breeches. She tried to wedge herself against the table, but the hands and bodies and shouting and stench were everywhere.

The hollow-cheeked sailor struck William on the side of the head. He stumbled into a fallen stool, and she heard herself scream again. They couldn't hurt William! Oh, God-this had to stop! Her pistol-it would be useless against this mob even if she could manage to draw it out.

Nicholas Warre sent the gold-toothed sailor flying. A hand sneaked between her legs and she tried to shove it away but couldn't.

William lurched off the fallen stool and threw a right, left, right. Blood spurted from the hollow-cheeked sailor's nose. The commotion inside the tavern was deafening. Another man took a swing at Nicholas Warre, but he ducked and someone else took the hit. A new fight erupted, and the chaos grew. Hands closed sickeningly around her waist, an inch from the pistol's grip.

And then, suddenly, Nicholas Warre had her by the arm and wrenched her free.

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