If He's Tempted (Wherlocke Series #5)by Hannah Howell
New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell returns to her beloved Wherlocke family and the story of a love destined to heal old wounds. . .
Lady Olympia Wherlocke has the gift of foresight. When Lady Agatha Mallam asks Olympia to locate her brother so he can rescue her from an arranged marriage, she knows exactly where to find Lord Brant Mallam, Earl/i>… See more details below
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New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell returns to her beloved Wherlocke family and the story of a love destined to heal old wounds. . .
Lady Olympia Wherlocke has the gift of foresight. When Lady Agatha Mallam asks Olympia to locate her brother so he can rescue her from an arranged marriage, she knows exactly where to find Lord Brant Mallam, Earl of Fieldgate. What happens next is something she never envisioned. . .
Since his betrothed died, Lord Brant Mallam has drowned his sorrow with wine and women. His dissolute ways have only emboldened his calculating mother. But with the help of the enchanting Olympia, he concocts a daring plan to end his mother's devious designs for his sister. While each step in their bold scheme works to perfection, the sins of the past could unravel a growing desire that neither Olympia or Brant can control. . .
Praise for Hannah Howell and The Wherlockes!
"Gentle but passionate love scenes and endearing descriptions of close-knit, quirky families will have readers beaming from the first page to the last." --Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) on If He's Dangerous
"We can only hope that Howell will return to this series later with more wondrous stories." --RT Book Reviews on If He's Wild
Read an Excerpt
If He's Tempted
By HANNAH HOWELL
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Hannah Howell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLondon Fall, 1790
Lady Olympia Wherlocke hated crying women. The younger the woman crying the more she hated it. All her mothering instincts leapt to the fore at the sight and she did not wish to feel motherly. She was too young herself to feel that way toward a young woman who looked almost ready to begin the hunt for a husband, at least in a year or two. The huge gray-blue eyes of the young woman standing on her doorstep were so full of tears, however, that Olympia expected the flood to begin at any moment.
When she noticed the girl stood alone on the doorstep, Olympia had to bite back a curse. The expensive gown the girl wore and her gently refined looks spoke of quality. The cape she wore in a vain attempt to disguise herself would fetch enough in the secondhand market to feed a poor family for a year, perhaps even longer. There should be a maid accompanying the girl, even a burly, armed footman or two.
"I need to speak to Ashton, to Lord Radmoor," said the girl.
"He is not here," replied Olympia, glancing up and down the dusk-shadowed street and seeing that this small confrontation was beginning to attract far too much attention. Her family might be slowly buying up all the houses on the street but there were still a good number of strangers living near at hand. People who had no blood loyalty to her or her family would not hesitate to gossip about them.
"Come inside," Olympia demanded even as she grabbed the girl by one slim arm and yanked her into the house. "You do not truly wish to discuss whatever troubles you have out here on the street," she said as she led her uninvited guest into the drawing room.
"Oh, no, of course not," the girl whispered as she hastily sat down in the chair Olympia waved her toward. "Word of our conversation might somehow make its way to Mother's ears."
That the girl was concerned about such a thing did not bode well, Olympia thought. It implied that this young lady might be seeking to drag someone into the midst of a battle between her and her mother. Olympia busied herself serving her guest tea, briefly regretting the fact that the tea and cakes she had planned to quietly enjoy would now have to be shared. As would the sweetness of some time all alone with her own thoughts and no sign of trouble on the horizon.
"Might you tell me exactly who you are?" she asked the girl and watched her pale cheeks redden with obvious embarrassment.
"I am Lady Agatha Mallam, sister to Brant Mallam, Earl of Fieldgate," she replied.
It was not easy, but Olympia fought down the urge to snatch back the cup of tea she had served the girl and throw her back out onto the street. It was not because Lord Fieldgate had made himself increasingly notorious over the last few years, either, for her own family had its share of rogues and debauchees. It was because this young lady's mother was a woman Olympia would prefer to avoid at all costs. Brant might well be notorious for his drinking, gambling, and wenching, but his mother was known throughout society for the cold power she wielded without mercy. The shine of perfect manners, style, grace, and excellent bloodlines could never again hide the rotted heart of Lady Letitia Mallam from Olympia, or from the others in her family who knew how the woman had sold an innocent young woman to a brothel to keep her son from marrying the girl. That cruel act had led to the girl's death and, Olympia strongly suspected, Brant Mallam's slow sinking into the murky waters of debauchery.
Olympia nodded in response to the girl's introduction of herself and responded in kind. "I am Lady Olympia Wherlocke, the Baroness of Myrtle-downs."
"I know. We have never met, but I have had you pointed out to me. Do you know when Ashton will return?"
"I believe he intends to bring everyone back to the city in the fall, once my niece recovers from delivering their child. The city is not a good place for small children at this time of year."
And now the girl's bottom lip was trembling, Olympia noticed with alarm. She hastily pushed the plate of cakes and biscuits closer to the girl. She was not certain that tea was the wondrous panacea so many claimed it to be, but she hoped crying would prove to be impossible while drinking it, or while eating some cake.
"That will be too late to save me."
The girl looked as if all her hopes had just been thoroughly ground into the mud. Olympia fought down the urge to hug young Agatha, pat her on the back, and tell her that all would be well. Such assurances were not hers to give, especially since she had no idea exactly what was troubling Brant's sister.
And just why did she constantly think of the man as Brant, Olympia wondered. She doubted she had spent more than a few hours in the man's company over the past few years. He should be referred to as my lord, or Fieldgate, or even Lord Fieldgate to her, not just Brant as if they were lifelong friends or close kin. It was odd that she could also see him so clearly in her mind. Even odder, she grew a little warm at the mere thought of his dark, gray eyes and fine physique. That truly puzzled her for, although she did enjoy looking at handsome gentlemen, she had never experienced one tiny flicker of warmth when doing so.
"Too late for what?" she asked, and silently cursed herself for her inability to ignore the girl's distress and send her right home.
"To stop my marriage."
"Marriage? You do not look as if you are old enough to even step out into society yet."
"I am newly turned sixteen, but Mama has decided that it is time I wed. At this very moment, she is in negotiations with a man who very much wishes to marry me." Agatha took a deep, unsteady breath in an obvious, yet not fully successful, attempt to calm herself. "She is negotiating with Lord Sir Horace Minden, the Baron of Minden Grange."
Olympia nearly dropped the cup of tea she had been raising to her lips. She had little to do with society, finding it all tedious and often cruel and mingling with it only if she needed to find out something, but even she recognized that name. The man was notorious and not simply because he was an aging libertine. There were too many titled gentlemen who could be counted amongst the ranks of the dissolute, the Earl of Fieldgate included. What made Minden stand head and shoulders above all the other rogues and lecherous dogs in the aristocracy was that the man was rumored to indulge in sins even the most hardened rake stepped away from. It was also rumored that his other three wives had not died from illness or accident as had been claimed, but nothing could be proven. No one had ever met his children from what little she had heard though it was recorded that he had eight living offspring.
"Are you quite certain of that?" she asked the girl.
"I heard them talking," replied Agatha. "Mama wants a lot of money for me. The baron has not yet stepped away from the table for, as I heard Mama say, he is very eager to have a young, virginal wife." Agatha blinked furiously in a vain attempt to keep back her tears. "I know it is my place to marry as my family wishes me to but I had thought I would have at least one season in which to meet a few worthy gentlemen. I did not even worry overmuch that the man chosen for me might be older than me. That is a common enough situation. But, I cannot bear the thought of being married to Minden. Even I have heard whispers of what sort of man he is, what he does in the stews, and the tales turn my stomach."
"As they should," Olympia murmured and sipped at her tea, idly wondering who was cruel enough or coarse enough to tell a young innocent such tales. "What did you think Ashton could do to help? He is not of your family."
"He would be able to find Brant and tell him of my concerns. I have tried to reach my brother as he is the head of the household but he has proven to be impossible to reach. None of the letters I have sent him have been answered. I cannot even be certain they were actually taken to him although I did my best to try to keep my letters to him from being intercepted. 'Tis just so difficult to know who I can trust at home. The servants are all terrified of Mama."
"Is there no one else in your family whom you can turn to?"
"My two elder sisters are wed and I do not believe they would heed my pleas for help. They are much older than I and have been married for quite a while now. Papa arranged their marriages and I believe both men were chosen more for what Papa could gain from them than any thought of what might suit Mary or Alice, or what might make them happy. I recall a fierce argument between Papa and Brant for the whole business was settled and done whilst Brant was away from home. My brother was not even sent an invite to the weddings. I think Papa knew Brant would not like it.
"My other siblings are younger than I and Brant saw to it that they were sent away to school." Agatha frowned. "I am not certain what happened, but Mama had no more children after Brant for almost seventeen years, and then she had me, Jasper, and Emery."
Olympia could all too easily guess what had occurred. A man too short of funds to afford the mistresses and courtesans he had enjoyed the company of for years suddenly decides to make use of his long-neglected wife. For a moment, Olympia could almost feel sorry for Lady Letitia, thinking how the behavior of her husband could have caused all her bitterness, but then shook the sympathy aside. Lady Letitia's actions concerning Brant, the ones that had caused him to turn his back on the woman, were too dark and evil to be explained away by the neglect of a husband. There had to have been a darkness already seeded deep in the woman's soul.
"Do you know how to reach Ashton or Brant, m'lady?" Agatha asked, cutting into Olympia's thoughts.
"As I said, Ashton awaits the birth of another child so I do not believe you will find much help there, no matter how sincerely he may wish to offer it. He will not wish to leave his wife. Nor does he truly have the power to help you since he is not a member of your family, not even a distant cousin."
"He could shoot Minden," muttered Agatha.
"There is that but I believe Penelope would prefer it if her husband was not hanged or exiled." Olympia bit back a smile when Agatha grimaced. "I could attempt to reach your brother."
Even as she said the words, Olympia wished she could take them back. She had but recently been caught up in her brother Argus's troubles and, before that, those of her niece Penelope, and their cousins Chloe and Alethea. This trouble was not one that affected her family at all. Yet, she knew she would march right into the midst of it. What woman would not wish to help a young innocent girl avoid a forced marriage to a man with as black a reputation as Minden had?
"Would you do that for me?" Agatha asked, clasping her hands together and pressing them against her breasts.
"I will try. That is all I will promise. Now, finish your tea and I will see that you are safely returned home."
"And discreetly, if you please." Agatha blushed. "Mama cannot know that I sought out someone to help me for she will do all she can to stop it. I do not think she will allow anything to stop her plans. I have to move about with the utmost secrecy."
"Trust me in this, m'lady. One thing my family excels in is secrecy." Olympia frowned as it began to sound as if more than an unwanted marriage was entailed here. "Since your brother is the head of the household, however, I do not see how your mother could believe that she could marry you off without him knowing all about it. She would, at the very least, need your brother to sign a few papers before she hands you off to Minden."
"She intends to forge his signature. She has done so many a time. I think she has also convinced some men in power that she must be the one who rules over me because of what my brother has become."
For the next half hour, Olympia gently drew out all the information Agatha had concerning her mother's tricks and schemes. Agatha had learned the art of eavesdropping well and had a lot to tell, even if the girl did not appear to fully understand all she had heard. Brant's sister held no firm proof of anything, was even uncertain about her suspicions at times, but everything she told Olympia was more than enough to reaffirm Olympia's personal opinion that Lady Letitia Mallam was long overdue for a hanging. It would not surprise Olympia in the least to discover that Lady Letitia was joining up with Minden for far more than marrying off the last of her daughters.
The moment she was certain that young Agatha had no more to tell, Olympia called in her footman Pawl. She gave the girl strict instructions on how to secretly get in touch with her if she needed to and then made sure her footman understood the need for discretion in getting the girl back to her home unseen. When the door shut behind Agatha and Pawl, Olympia slumped in her seat and closed her eyes.
She needed to harden her heart, Olympia mused. She truly could not help everyone who asked. If nothing else, the difficulties her family constantly stumbled into all on their own took up enough of her time and strength. While helping Argus she had actually faced physical danger and the fear that had caused still shadowed her mind, stirring up old and ugly memories. Each incident she had involved herself in over the last three years had held many dangers but none of them had actually touched her personally. Now that one had, she realized she was reluctant to charge to the rescue yet again.
"I have become a coward," she muttered, utterly disgusted with herself.
"Nay, m'lady. Cautious, I hope, but ne'er a coward."
Olympia opened her eyes and smiled faintly at her maid Enid Jones. More of a companion than a maid for Enid had been with her since they had both been small children. She knew Enid spoke the truth as she saw it, could see that in the woman's brown eyes, but Olympia was not sure she believed in that truth herself.
"That young lady needs help and I have just offered myself up as her champion." Olympia said.
"I suspected ye would and that is hardly the act of a coward."
"I am too old for this."
"If that were true, then I must have one foot in the grave, for I am two years older." Enid smiled as she sat down next to Olympia. "Now, what must be done to help that lass?"
"It appears that Lady Agatha's mother, a wretched specimen of humanity and a black stain upon womanhood itself, wishes to sell the girl off to Sir Horace Minden, Baron of Minden Grange." Olympia was not surprised to see Enid pale.
"The man has to be old enough to be that child's grandfather and he is notorious for the depths and variety of his depravities."
"He most certainly is and I fear it is those depths the girl's mother wishes to dip her claws into."
"Why? Why would any woman wish to stain her hands with the sort of filthy business that man deals in?"
"Money. If dear Mama unites Horace to the family through marriage to Agatha, the woman can then seek to gain new ways to nicely fatten her purse."
"How could any woman give her own flesh and blood to such a man?"
"Did you not catch the name of my visitor, Enid?"
"Nay for it was you who greeted her and let her in."
"Ah, aye, so it was. That young girl your adorable husband Pawl is escorting home is the sister of Brant Mallam, Earl of Fieldgate." She nodded as, after frowning in thought for a moment, Enid's eyes began to widen with horror. "Exactly. The very woman who sold off to a brothel the woman her son loved and wished to marry is the one who now threatens that girl. Although 'tis true we cannot prove the woman ordered poor sweet Faith to be killed, her actions were what put the girl into that hell and thus into a grave. That sweet-faced child who just left is Lady Letitia Mallam's daughter, the poor dear."
"Why did she not go to her brother the earl for help?"
"I do not know if she actually tried to visit the man, but she claims she has been sending him word about this for a fortnight or so. No reply. Not even a little note thanking her for writing to him. She is certain her brother has not seen any of her messages, that despite how careful she has been, someone is stopping her messages before they reach Lord Fieldgate. I suspect she is right. She has probably been writing to him on a regular schedule and gotten some response over the years. There have been rumors that Fieldgate is skipping down the same path Minden did. Well, years ago. When he was still nimble enough to skip. Minden, that is. Last I saw of Fieldgate, he looked very nimble." Olympia grunted when Enid elbowed her in the side.
Excerpted from If He's Tempted by HANNAH HOWELL Copyright © 2013 by Hannah Howell. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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