Bedding the Heiress
By Cathy Maxwell
Avon Copyright © 2007 Cathy Maxwell
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-06-112180-7
Chapter One The London residence of Mr. and Mrs. Maximus Dunroy
October 1, 1807
Francesca Dunroy waited for Lord Penthorpe, the most disreputable rake in London, in the darkness of the terrace outside her father's library, the only relatively private place in a house bursting with guests, laughter, and music. She'd sent him a note, imploring His Lordship to meet her. He was late. He was making her cool her heels, knowing, as she did, that with one word he could ruin her.
For the hundredth time she wondered why she had been foolish enough to trust him, and knew the answer because her father would never have approved of him.
Her life until now had been very sheltered. She'd truly been unprepared for the onslaught of feelings Penthorpe's secret, dashing, whirlwind courtship had inspired. He was the very opposite of the prosaic young men who wanted her hand for no other reason than her inheritance. He made her feel beautiful. He had all the right words ... and she'd even imagined herself in love with him. His attentions had been a ray of shining hope in a world too long confused and saddened by her mother Grace's long sickness and eventual death.
Caring for her mother, honoring her, had delayed Francesca's presentation to society. At four and twenty, an age whenmost unmarried women are ready for the shelf, she'd found herself being presented with girls some five years younger than she. Francesca had felt awkward and alone. The marriage mart was a competitive experience. The other girls, no matter what their age, had not liked the competition of an heiress.
Of course, her father had made it easy for them to shut her out.
Max Dunroy was considered personally unacceptable among the hostesses of the ton. Grace had been one of their most respected and admired members. They had been scandalized that Max hadn't waited even a month to marry Regina, who was a year younger than Francesca.
To demonstrate their displeasure, those powerful hostesses, led by Lady Bastone, had closed their doors against Max and Regina, who so dearly wanted to be one of their number. This ostracism also included Francesca.
Was it any wonder then that she had fallen into Penthorpe's trap?
After all, he knew how to charm a woman. He spoke to her as if she had the freedom and intelligence to make her own choices. It was heady stuff. And so, when he'd suggested she visit his private apartments where they could speak freely and without prying ears and eyes, Francesca had recklessly agreed.
Two days ago, thinking herself safe because it was the middle of the afternoon, she had disguised herself in boy's clothes and, with the help of her maid and a footman, snuck out of her house without alarm. She'd anticipated a lark, an adventure.
Instead she'd met disaster.
Penthorpe had not wanted some innocent meeting. He'd wanted to elope, a step she hadn't been ready to take. Perhaps she would have run away with him if he'd been willing to wait a week or a month or even a year or two.
He hadn't been willing to delay two seconds.
He'd wanted her fortune.
And when she'd refused to leave with him, he'd attempted rape to force her.
Only her quick wits and a well-aimed kick had protected her virtue.
Excerpted from Bedding the Heiress by Cathy Maxwell Copyright © 2007 by Cathy Maxwell. Excerpted by permission.
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