The Accidental Countess (Harlequin Historical #981) [NOOK Book]

Overview


Scandal, passion and secrets—a most Victorian Affair in Book 2 of the Accidental series by Michelle Willingham!

When Stephen Chesterfield, the Earl of Whitmore, awakes to find a beautiful woman berating him, he knows he is in trouble! He cannot recall the past three months of his life, never mind having a wife! What's more, someone is trying to silence him before his memory returns….

Emily Chesterfield is trapped in a marriage of convenience ...

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The Accidental Countess (Harlequin Historical #981)

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Overview


Scandal, passion and secrets—a most Victorian Affair in Book 2 of the Accidental series by Michelle Willingham!

When Stephen Chesterfield, the Earl of Whitmore, awakes to find a beautiful woman berating him, he knows he is in trouble! He cannot recall the past three months of his life, never mind having a wife! What's more, someone is trying to silence him before his memory returns….

Emily Chesterfield is trapped in a marriage of convenience with a man who doesn't remember her. Stephen clearly thinks she is the most unsuitable countess, but she is falling for her enigmatic husband…. Can they find trust and love before it is too late?

Now available from Michelle Willingham: The Accidental Seduction, The Accidental Princess, and The Accidental Prince.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426848285
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 2/1/2010
  • Series: Harlequin Historical Series , #981
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 205,993
  • File size: 474 KB

Meet the Author


Michelle Willingham graduated summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in English. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her husband and children and is working on more historical romance novels. When she's not writing, Michelle enjoys baking, playing piano, and avoiding exercise at all costs. Visit her website at: www.michellewillingham.com
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Read an Excerpt

When selecting poultry for cooking, choose a chicken with soft yellow feet, short thick legs, and a plump breast. First, kill the chicken by wringing its neck…

—Emily Barrow's Cook Book Falkirk House, England—1850

Cool hands sponged his forehead. Stephen Chesterfield fought against the darkness that threatened to pull him into oblivion once more. Pain lashed his skull, ripping through him in violent waves. His mouth felt lined with cotton wool, and his body ached with vicious pain.

'Drink,' a woman said, lifting a cup of warm tea to his mouth. It tasted bitter, but he swallowed. 'You're very lucky, you know.'

Lucky? He felt as though someone had cracked his skull in two. He hadn't even the strength to open his eyes to see who was tending him.

'How am I lucky?' he managed to whisper. Lucky to be alive, she'd probably say.

'You're lucky I haven't got any arsenic for this tea,' she remarked. 'Or another poison, for that matter. Otherwise, you'd be dead by now.' A warm poultice dropped across his forehead, scented with herbs.

'I beg your pardon?' His knuckles clenched around the bedcovers, and he forced his eyes open. The room blurred, and he tried to grasp his surroundings. Where was he? And who was this woman?

The creature intending to murder him had the face of an angel. Her hair, the color of warm honey, was pulled back into a loose chignon. Long strands framed a face with tired amber eyes. Despite the hideous serge mourning gown, she was rather pretty, though her cheeks were thin.

She was familiar, but her name hovered on the outskirts of memory. Like a childhood acquaintance, or someone he'd known long ago.

'You broke your promise. If it weren't for you, my brother would still be alive.' Anguish lined her voice, eroding the waspish anger. Her eyes glistened, but she kept her chin up.

She blamed him for her brother's death? There had to be a mistake. He didn't even know who she was, much less her brother.

He pulled off the poultice, and glared at her. 'Who are you?'

She blanched. 'You don't remember me?' The question held sardonic disbelief. And here I thought this day could not get any worse.' With a clatter, she set the saucer down.

He had little patience for her frustration. Damn it all, he was the one who'd been wounded. And each time he tried to reach back and seize the memories, it was as if they faded into smoke. What had happened to him?

'You didn't answer my question,' he responded. 'What is your name?'

'My name is Emily.' She leaned in, her gaze penetrating. Almost as if she were waiting for him to say something.

Hazy bits of the past shifted together. Emily Barrow. The Baron of Hollingford's daughter. My God. He hadn't seen her in nearly ten years. He stared hard at her, unable to believe it was true. Though her rigid posture proclaimed her as a modest woman of virtue, he remembered her throwing rocks at his carriage. And climbing trees to spy on him.

And kissing him when he'd been an awkward, adolescent boy.

He shook the thought away, thankful that at least some of his memories remained. 'What are you doing here?'

'I live here.' With an overbright smile, she added, 'Don't you remember your wife?'

Her revelation stunned him into silence. His wife? What was she talking about? He wasn't married.

'You must be joking.' He wasn't an impulsive man. He planned every moment of every day. Getting married to a woman he hadn't seen in years wasn't at all something he would do. Unless he'd gotten extremely deep in his cups one night, she had to be lying. And by God, if Emily Barrow thought to take advantage of him, she would be sorry for it.

'I would never joke about something like this.' She held out the cup of tea, but he dismissed it. He had no intention of drinking anything she gave him. His vision swam, and a rushing sound filled his ears.

Closing his eyes, he waited for the dizziness to pass. When the world righted itself, he studied the room. Heavy blue curtains hung across the canopied bed, while bookcases overflowing with books filled another wall. The pieces of remembrance snapped together as he recognised his bedchamber within Falkirk House, one of the country estates. For the life of him he didn't know how he'd arrived here.

'How long have I been at Falkirk?'

'Two days.'

'And before that?'

She shrugged. 'You left for London a week after our wedding. I haven't seen you since February. Why don't you tell me where you've been?'

He tried to reach for the memory, but nothing remained, not even the smallest fragment of a vision. Like a gaping hole, he'd lost a part of himself. It frustrated the hell out of him, having pieces of his life gone. He could remember most of his childhood and adolescence. He even recalled working upon a list of accounts for one of the estates in January. But after that… nothing.

'What day is it?' he asked, trying to pinpoint the last memory he had.

'The twentieth of May.'

He clenched the bedcovers. February, March, April, almost all of May… three and a half months of his life were entirely gone. He closed his eyes, trying to force himself to remember. But the harder he struggled, the worse his head ached.

'Where were you?' she asked. There was worry inside her tone, though he found it hard to believe she cared. Not after she'd threatened to poison him.

'I don't know,' he answered honestly. 'But I certainly don't remember getting married.'

'You might not remember it, but it's true.'

Something was wrong, something she wasn't telling him. There was a desperate air about her, as though she had nowhere else to go. Likely he'd caught her in the lie.

'You are welcome to leave,' he suggested. 'Obviously my return offended you.'

Tears glimmered in her eyes, and softly, she replied, 'You have no idea what I've been through. I thought I'd never see you again.'

She dipped the cool cloth back into the basin, wringing out the water. Then she set it upon his forehead, her hand grazing his cheek. The gesture was completely at odds with her sharp words.

'You're not my wife.'

She crossed her arms over her chest, drawing his gaze towards her silhouette. A bit on the thin side, but the soft curve of her breasts caught his eye. The top button of her gown had come loose, revealing a forbidden glimpse of skin.

'Yes, I am.' She lowered her arms, gathering her courage as she stared at him. But her full lips parted, her shoulders rising and falling with a quickening breath. The fallen strand of golden hair rested against the black serge.

She'd never been able to tame her hair, even as a girl. He'd helped her with hairpins on more than one occasion, to help her avoid a scolding.

Now the task took on an intimacy, one more suited to a husband. Had he truly married her? Had he unbuttoned her gowns, tasting the silk of her skin? From the way she drew back, he didn't think so.

'I want to see a doctor,' he said, changing the subject.

'Doctor Parsons examined you last night. I'm to change your bandages and keep the wound clean. He'll return tomorrow.' She lifted the lip of the tea cup to his mouth again, but he didn't drink.

The china clattered, revealing her shaking hands. Despite her bitterness, there was a look on her face that didn't quite match her words. He caught a glimpse of something more… something lost and lonely.

He forced himself not to pity her. For God's sakes, the woman had threatened to kill him.

At last, she gave up and set the cup down. 'I didn't poison this cup,' she said with reluctance. 'There wasn't any arsenic to be had.'

'Laudanum would work,' he advised. 'In large doses.' Though why he was offering suggestions, he didn't know.

'I'll remember that for next time.' Colour stained her cheeks, but she didn't smile.

'Why did I marry you?' he asked softly.

She picked up the tray containing the teapot and cup. 'You should rest for a while. I'll be happy to answer your questions. Later, that is.'

'I want to know now. Sit down.'

She ignored him and moved towards the door. He might as well have been ordering a brick wall to sit. If the unthinkable had happened, if he really and truly had gone off and married her, one thing was certain. He had lost more than his memory.

He'd lost his mind.

Emily fled to a nearby bedchamber and set the tea tray down with shaking fingers. The Earl of Whitmore was back. And he didn't remember a single moment of their marriage.

Damn him. Hot, choking tears slid down her cheeks, despite her best efforts to keep herself together. It was like having him back from the dead. He'd been away for so long, she'd almost started to believe that he was dead, even though there was no body.

She'd tried so hard to forget about him. Every single day of the past few months, she'd reminded herself that she'd meant nothing to her husband.

Her hand clenched, and she wept into her palm. Only a week after their wedding, he'd returned to London. He'd gone into the arms of his mistress. While she, the naive little wife, tucked away at the country estate where she wasn't supposed to learn about her husband's indiscretions. It made her sick, just thinking about it.

Marriages were like that, she'd heard. But she hadn't wanted to believe it. Such a fool she had been. She'd been swept away by his charm. Her fairy tale had come true, with the handsome Earl offering to marry the impoverished maiden.

But it had been a dream, hadn't it? He'd used her, wedding her for reasons she didn't understand, and had all but disappeared from her life.

Now that he'd returned, her humiliation tripled. She knuckled the tears away, a chastising laugh gathering in her throat. He wasn't worth the tears. The sooner he left Falkirk, the better.

Emily forced herself to rise from the chair, suppressing the desire to smash every piece of china on the tea tray. Self-pity wouldn't get her anywhere. She was married to a stranger, to a man who hadn't kept his promises.

And if he annulled the marriage, she had nowhere to go.

The sound of a shouting child broke through her reverie. Emily gathered her skirts and rushed towards the bedchamber she'd converted into a temporary nursery. Inside, her nephew Royce sprawled upon the floor, playing with tin soldiers.

'Attack!' he yelled, dashing a row of soldiers to the floor. The tin soldiers and a book of fairy tales were the only things he had brought with him after Daniel had died. She smiled at Royce's boyish enthusiasm.

When he let out another battle cry, the shrill fussing of an infant interrupted. Royce's face turned worried. 'I didn't mean to wake her up.'

'It's all right.' Emily lifted the baby to her cheek. Her niece Victoria was barely nine months old. A soft fuzz of auburn hair covered the baby's head. Two emerging teeth poked up from Victoria's lower gums. The baby reached out to grab Emily's hair.

As she extricated Victoria's fist, Emily strengthened her resolve. Though her marriage was in shambles, she had her family. She would keep her brother's children safe, for she had sworn it upon Daniel's grave. Now she had to gather up the shreds of her marriage and decide what to do next.

'Aunt Emily?' Royce stopped playing and drew his knees up to his chest. 'Has Papa come for us yet?'

'No, sweeting. Not yet.' Like the worst sort of coward, she hadn't yet told Royce that his father was never coming back. How could she destroy her nephew's safe world of hope? Royce would learn the truth soon enough.

She pulled Royce into an embrace with her free arm, holding both children fiercely. 'I love you both. You know that.'

Royce squirmed. 'I know. Can I play?'

Emily released him. The seven-year-old waged imaginary wars against the helpless tin soldiers, shouting in triumph when one soldier defeated an enemy.

She sat down in a rocking chair, holding the baby. Victoria wailed, her eyelids drooping with exhaustion. Emily patted the baby's back, wishing she could join the child in a fit of howling. She almost didn't see the shadow of the Earl hovering at the doorway.

'What are you doing here?' She stood, clutching the baby as though Victoria were a shield. 'You're bleeding. You shouldn't be out of bed.'

His frigid gaze stared back at her. 'This is my house, I believe.' Tight lines edged his mouth, revealing unspoken pain. His dark brown hair was rumpled beneath the bandage wrapped across his temple. He leaned against the door frame, thinner than she'd last seen him, but he did not betray even a fraction of weakness. A rough stubble upon his cheeks gave him a feral appearance, not at all the polished Earl she'd expected him to be.

And suddenly, she wondered if she knew him at all. Not a trace remained of the boy she'd idolised as a girl. Gone was his lazy smile and the way he had once teased her. His eyes were a cold-hearted grey, unfeeling and callous. Even in his wounded state he threatened her.

Emily took a step back, almost knocking over the rocking chair. 'Your head took quite a blow. You're not ready to be up and about.'

'That would be convenient for you, wouldn't it? If I were to stumble and bleed to death.'

She kept her composure at his harsh words. 'Quite. But your blood would stain the carpet. There's no reason to trouble the servants.'

'I pay the servants.'

'And your fortune would continue to do so after you are dead.'

Why, oh, why did spiteful words keep slipping from her mouth? She wasn't usually such a harpy, but arguing made it easier to conceal her fear. He could make them leave.

'I am glad to see I married such a docile model of womanhood.' His sarcasm sharpened her already bad temper. Then his gaze narrowed on the children. 'Who are they?'

Emily's defences rose up. 'Our children.'

'I believe I would have remembered, had I fathered any children.'

'They belong to my brother. You are their guardian.'

'Their guardian?'

Emily cast him a sharp look, praying she could stop him from saying more in front of the children. It would break Royce's heart to learn of his father's death. 'We will speak of Daniel later.'

'Where is their nursemaid?'

'I don't want a nurse,' Royce interrupted. 'I want Aunt Emily.'

'Royce, now, you see—' Emily tried to placate him, but he refused.

'I don't want one!' he shrieked, throwing a tin soldier on the floor.

Emily knew what was about to happen. 'Here.' She stood and thrust her niece into the Earl's arms. He took the baby, holding Victoria at arm's length as though she had a dreaded disease.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 99 )
Rating Distribution

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(36)

4 Star

(26)

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(26)

2 Star

(9)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 99 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    A real page turner!

    I couldn't put this book down! The story was really captivating from the first chapter to the last. The fact that they loved each other as children, then met again as adults was touching, not to mention the murder mystery that went along with the plot. This book was an easy read and I never found myself board with the dialogue. This is the first book I've read from this author, and I will be searching for more of her work!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    1 Star

    I was struggling through this one. I didn't find Emily to be very likeable and I just didn't feel her relationship with Stephen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Res

    It is awesome!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Mask (Snoweh)

    Very interesting, talented writing. Well described scenes. I can't wait for more of your works!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Honor

    Very interesting, i find it utmost intreeging!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Betrayal~Prologue~

    Coldspark looked up from staring at the battlefield of Oprak, one of the many Cybertronian wastelands, trying to remember what had happened and why he was here. "Optimus Prime" is the name embedded in his databanks, though he doesnt know what the name meant. Coldspark looked up at the black skies ruined by vorns of war explosions, and tried to blink away his tears. "Why am i here? Who is this Prime stuck in my head?" He thought, looking at the bodies of dead or fatally wounded Cybertronians. How Coldspark survived the battle that had ensued, he doesnt remember. Just that moment, a shuttle ejected from a hangar not far from where Coldspark stood. "No....no they cant leave without me!" Coldspark tried to shout, only for a searing pain to go through his throat, where his voice proccessor was. "No....no...." that word went through his mind continueously as he watched the shuttle leave the planet completely, going into hyperspace as soon as it cleared the atmosphere. It was then Coldspark remembered: Optimus Prime was supposed to take him and some other Autobots to another planet in the hunt for energon, and he had just been left behind to die. "I trusted a Prime," Coldspark thought, collapsing to his knees in defeat. "Only to be betrayed by one." He tried to cycle a cough, his face wrought in pain when he did, and failed. He clenched his fists when he heard Vehicons on the field, coming for any survivors; Coldspark is one of them. "Someone get that one over there!" One of the Vehicons shouted to the others. Coldspark was grabbed from behind and held painfully tight as they 'Cons put energon servo cuffs beneath his hand units, but he didnt resist, seeing no reason to fight back. "This one isnt fighting; u sure Lord Megatron wants those who wont fight?" The Vehicon that grabbed Coldspark asked the leading Vehicon. "He wants any and ALL survivors, end of disscussion. Lord Megatron will make this one fight, and it wont be pleasant; i promise u that, Autobot." The lead 'Con said. Coldspark only stared straight ahead, silent as they dragged him away. *********************************************************
    Coldspark sat in his cell, silent and distant, not even greeting fellow Autobots in the same cell. One of the other Autobots, Rockslide, had been watching Coldspark all the last several orns, curious. Rockslide was a former Wrecker, former bc he had been captured and held here in Kaon for over five vorns; as his lines on the wall by his berth said. "Yo, that Bawt over there hasnt said a word to any of us." One of the others whispered to another. "Agreed; hes too quiet for comfort." The other said. Those two were Silentstretch, the slang user, and Blackshot, the 'official' one; Blackshot had been a lieutenat under Xenos Prime over three dozen orns ago. Coldspark only glanced at those two, then at the guards outside the cell door. "Autobots, we're gettin outta here." He shouted, quickly hotwiring his left disabled arm-cannon and firing at the guards and cell-lock. Rockslide chuckled. "Not that easy youngster." He murmured, staying where he was on his berth. Coldspark rolled his eyes and ran down the corridor with Silentstretch and Blackshot, killing worker, guard and any Devepticons in their path. "I am not one to be captured for long." He murmured, bursting through Megatron's 'throne room' doors. Megatron looked up from the assembled Cons with a wicked smile. "Ello there, Coldspark."

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not bad...

    ...but not fantastic, either. I would have given it another star or two, except for two things. One, the whole conflict between the two main characters, Emily and Stephen, just seemed a bit silly and drawn out. They could have resolved their differences much sooner if they'd just have actually sat down and talked things over instead of Stephen getting angry and giving orders and Emily getting her feelings hurt and dwelling endlessly on how hurt and betrayed she felt. The author kept telling us she was getting stronger and more confident--she had to, because otherwise it was pretty hard to tell. The other bothersome element is that the whole nefarious plot just seemed a bit convoluted. Certain elements of the story also didn't really match what had happened in the prequel, An Accidental Seduction. All in all, it was an okay read, but nothing special.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2010

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    Posted May 25, 2010

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    Posted March 26, 2010

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    Posted March 2, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2011

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    Posted July 6, 2011

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    Posted December 9, 2011

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