Read an Excerpt
The Duke's Shotgun Wedding
A Scandalous House of Calydon Novella
By Stacy Reid, Nina Bruhns
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Stacy Reid
All rights reserved.
Lady Jocelyn Rathbourne's hand did not waver as she pointed the derringer at the Duke of Calydon. Eyes that were the color of winter blue, colder than the wind that whistled through the open windows, stared at her penetratingly. Jocelyn gritted her teeth and desperately hoped that he did not hear the pounding of her heart, or sensed her fear. He was reputed to be ruthless, and have one of the shrewdest minds in all London. But then, Jocelyn's papa had always called her his little Napoleon.
Long elegant fingers coolly caressed the card that she had presented to his butler to gain entrance, and those ice-blue eyes flicked to the note she had written. "I must assume that the house and name on this card are as fabricated as this dire situation your note hinted at?"
Jocelyn flushed as the husky rasp of his voice stirred deep within her. She was taken aback by how sinfully attractive he was.
She squinted at him as rage flared through her, scorching in its intensity. She was not about to be taken in by the man. Not ever again by a pretty face and prettier lies. Not that she could call the duke pretty. He was more raw and masculine, possibly handsome — if not for the rapier scar that had flayed his left cheek. But he was certainly compelling with his midnight black hair and mesmerizing eyes. His appearance was everything a powerful duke's should be as he sat behind his massive oak desk intricately carved with designs of dragons — dark, sensual, handsome, with just a hint of danger.
She gave an involuntary shiver, then scowled as his lips turned up as he noted her body's reaction. Thank goodness he could not see past her veil.
"My name is most certainly not fabricated, Your Grace," she said, and straightened her stance. "I am Lady Jocelyn, the daughter of the Earl of Waverham, and your brother has perpetrated the most heinous crimes upon my person and must be brought to justice!"
He relaxed in his chair as if she were not a serious threat. She gritted her teeth and ignored the cold flint that entered his eyes as she raised the gun a little higher, in line with his chest.
"Well, in that case, please take a seat." He gestured at the high-backed chair she was standing next to. His expression didn't waver.
She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of following his orders. But her knees were shaking so badly she thought it might be best. She sat gingerly on the edge of the chair.
"Now. What heinous crime has Anthony perpetrated that has you invading my country home and committing a crime that will certainly see you to the gallows?" His voice had gone flat and hard.
She leaned forward and slapped a copy of the London Gazette on his oak desk, sending it skidding across the polished surface, tumbling the inkwell. "The society page reports his engagement to Miss Phillipa Peppiwell of the Boston Peppiwells." Jocelyn's lips curled in derision as she spat the woman's name at him like it was one of her bullets.
"And this distresses you ... how?"
Her hands wavered slightly as the duke leaned forward, resting his chin in his hands, studying her as if she were a fascinating bug.
She drew herself up. "He seduced me!"
The crackling of the fireplace hushed as if waiting for an explosion, but her hand did not waver. Not even when the elegant royal blue drapes billowed under a sharp gust of the winter wind.
"I beg your pardon?" His voice was so low she was not sure if he'd really spoken, or if she'd simply imagined a response. He gazed steadily at her, his expression betraying not the slightest flicker of reaction.
She swallowed. "He seduced me, promised me marriage, and even gave me this as a token of his affection. An engagement token."
She sent the locket skidding across the desk to be halted by a finger. The chain of the necklace slid through his hands slowly. A muscle ticked in his forehead as he glanced at the golden locket.
"Anthony gifted this to you?" His voice was chillingly polite, but his eyes had gone from wintery to glacial as he tracked her movements, missing nothing.
"Yes, as a promise of his commitment to me," she assured him. "Yet now I read that he is engaged to be married in fewer than three weeks." She shifted in the high-backed chair, straining to keep her hand from trembling as she aimed the derringer.
He cocked his head as he considered her, and she desperately wished to have just an inkling of his thoughts.
"Could this, by chance, be a desperate ploy by the impoverished Earl of Waverham?"
Jocelyn flinched at the soft question and forced herself to hold steady under the ruthless intelligence that shone in his eyes as he studied her carefully. Again she was grateful her eyes were covered by the veil. Her hair was also hidden, completely stuffed under her top hat, giving her partial anonymity, albeit useless since she'd told him her name. She fought not to squirm under his stare. "My father might be impoverished, Your Grace, but he does not plot, nor is he desperate," she said, lifting the gun for a better aim. "Is this your desperate ploy — to lay the abominable behavior of your brother at my father's door step?" His brows flickered.
"Despite my weapon's fragile appearance, Your Grace, it is not easy to aim a derringer at a man this long. My hand tires ... I may accidentally pull the trigger."
"Ah, so it is not your intention to shoot me, Miss Rathbourne?"
She ignored the eyes that roved over her. "It's Lady Rathbourne. And most assuredly, my intention to shoot you is genuine, if I do not receive justice. I would hate for my shot to be accidental. It will be done very deliberately when I choose to fire."
The duke unlocked his hands from under his chin and leaned back in his chair. He drummed his fingers on his desk with a click clack sound, possibly hoping to unnerve her as he studied her. She had to admit she was slightly intimidated by the glare from his eyes.
Despite being an Earl's daughter, due to their dire financial straits she had not received the chance to have her season, her foray into society. Today was the first she'd laid eyes on the formidable duke, knowing him only by reputation and Anthony's recounts.
"Are you with child?" he asked evenly.
She spluttered, a wave of heat blossoming on her entire body at his unexpected question. Mortified, she gazed at his expressionless face, uncertain how to answer.
"A seduction does not necessarily result in a child, Your Grace." At the slow raise of his eyebrows, she hazarded a guess that what Anthony had told her was correct. "As you are a man of the world, I am sure you are aware that the outcome of a child can be prevented?" She posed the question, and her lips tightened in a moue as she awaited his answer with heart pounding.
"You may lower your weapon, Miss Rathbourne. And do not presume to correct me of your title, as a lady would not barge into my home under false pretense and threaten me at the point of a gun." His fingers halted their drumming. "Indeed, I am uncertain as to what you require of me."
Her eyes narrowed at the insult of him referring to her as Miss. A scathing reply formed on her lips, but she had to remind herself of what her aim was. After a brief hesitation, she lowered her arms, but she did it slowly, and rested the derringer in her lap, continuing to point it directly at him. For some unfathomable reason, she liked the amused twitch of his mouth as his wintry gaze thawed. He shifted, his jacket stretching over his very broad shoulders. His blue waistcoat was the finest she had ever seen.
"I have no pretenses, Your Grace, and everything I said in my note is the absolute truth."
He looked skeptical. "Your note claimed a dire situation of grave misfortune that threatens scandal and death for my family — namely my wicked brother Anthony Williamson Thornton."
"Despite what polite society would have many believe, a seduction does not have only one perpetrator, Miss Rathbourne. Now, let's get down to business. What is it you want? Money? A house?"
Affront flared through Jocelyn and she raised her weapon with such speed he froze in the act of opening his top drawer.
"How dare you!" She breathed deeply to contain the rage that burned through her. "Do you not have a sister enjoying her first season? If a cad had used her, enticing her with promises of love and marriage, then abandoned her, what recompense would you demand? Money? A house? A duel? Or a marriage?"
"Only death would suffice."
She flinched at his unwavering response, the derringer jerking in her clasp. "I do not desire Anthony's death." Her stomach churned at the mere thought of it. "It discredits you to speak so easily of your brother's demise."
Once more, amusement twisted his sensual mouth, infuriating her.
"I spoke to the demise of a hypothetical cad who had seduced and abandoned my sister. Not of my brother, Miss Rathbourne."
"But it was your brother who seduced and abandoned me. I demand marriage!" she said, trying to keep her voice from trembling.
She felt her back go ramrod straight and she vibrated with rage. "I beg your pardon?" He held up a hand. "I do not deliberately stoke your scorned woman's wrath, but I am afraid Anthony is already married."
She darted a gaze to the Gazette with a frown. "You lie!"
The smile that twisted his lips at her slander was not one of amusement.
She flushed and swallowed. No. It couldn't be true. "I —"
"Let me be clear. Money is all that will be offered. Do I believe my brother seduced you? Frankly, yes. Only a madwoman would storm my estate with such an elaborate story that can be so easily verified. And make no mistake, it will be verified." The muscle in his forehead ticked again. "However, Anthony and Miss Peppiwell had the brilliant notion to abscond to Gretna Green with a special license two weeks past. Ergo, they are now married and she may be enceinte. Thus the reaffirmation of vows in three weeks that will appear to polite society as their actual marriage."
Jocelyn blanched, lowering the gun as her mind sifted through her options with dizzying speed. Despair made her voice hoarse when she responded. "I will need proof."
It was the Duke of Calydon's turn to throw a paper onto his desk, one he pulled from the top drawer. She reached for it, and gasped as she read the document. Dear God, it was true. Anthony was married. Pain squeezed her chest tight and her hands trembled as she lowered the paper. She slid it back across the desk with infinite slowness.
"One hundred thousand pounds is my first and final offer." He rose from his chair and stalked around the desk toward her. She scrambled up from her seat and her reticule fell from her lap, spilling its contents on the lavender Aubusson carpet.
"Come no farther!" she cried, the words echoing off the library walls. She pressed her back against the bookshelves that lined them and stared at him with wide eyes. She did not like the duke's smile as he detoured to the sideboard and poured ruby liquor from a decanter into two glasses.
The crumbled ruin that was her father's estate flashed in her head. A hundred thousand pounds would put him on the path of removing the unrelenting burden of debt that was entailed with his property, and possibly give him a fighting chance.
She almost took it.
But then the voices of her sisters rushed in, crowding her mind.
Do you think I will ever have a season, Jocelyn? Her beautiful younger sister Victoria.
I wish not to be so cold all the time, but I think I would prefer to have pretty dresses like Lady Elizabeth. Don't you wish for pretty things, Jocelyn? Her twelve year old sister Emily, more bookish and enraptured by Latin, Plutarch, and Socrates — as was Jocelyn — but sometimes wholly feminine in her desire for dresses and pretty trinkets.
Jocelyn's throat tightened as the voices that affected her most blared in her head. I wish for warm milk on Christmas morning. Loevnia says every Christmas her mama and papa give her presents under a Christmas tree. They eat roast duckling! Pudding! And Christmas punch! Yum! If we could only have such things ... The eight year old twins Emma and William had danced together as they fantasized, yet Emma's voice had rung hollow for someone so young. But it was William's sad smile as he said, I would be so happy if you were warm, Emma, which had decided everything for Jocelyn.
The raise of the derringer to Calydon's chest was slow and deliberate, as was the cool smoothness of her voice as she said, "If Anthony is unavailable for marriage, Your Grace, an offer from you will do. That is the only thing that can atone for your brother's reprehensible conduct."CHAPTER 2
Ah, yes. She would do.
Sebastian Jackson Thornton, the twelfth Duke of Calydon, Marquess of Hastings, and Earl of Blaydon had decided on Lady Jocelyn Rathbourne the instant she drew the derringer from her reticule and pointed it at him so determinedly. Or it could have been when his butler Thomas announced her entry. Her walk had been militant yet provocative and graceful, stirring something that had withered to a cold nothing over the years. He doubted those qualities were natural, as chits like her were trained from the schoolroom how to walk, talk, and entice a man to marriage.
Even though, Sebastian had to admit, she did not appear like many of the simpering misses and ladies of the ton who thought they had only to bat an eyelash and wield their fan to be captivating.
"Marriage?" he asked blandly, as his eyes tracked the pulse that beat so frantically at her throat.
He held out the glass of sherry. "Drink," he commanded, expecting her to obey without question. He suppressed an impulse to smile as her lips flattened, and from the slight spasm of her jaw he surmised she was gritting her teeth. She would make a poor gambler.
He wondered at her eyes — their color and shape. The dark veil that covered them was a source of irritation he meant to remedy. Her hand trembled as she pressed her back closer into the shelves that lined his library walls, filled with thousands of books and tomes. He hoped her bravado was not failing her. It would not do for him to turn around and offer marriage so easily.
"Yes, marriage." Her voice was a hiss as she straightened her spine and took a tentative step forward. "And I do not desire refreshment."
Ah, there it was. The spirit that had stoked his intrigue, the sheer boldness that had rushed from her as she confronted him with Anthony's folly, so different from the simpering flowers the mamas of the ton had been throwing in his path over the years. She vibrated with passion and fire.
Her gaze slashed from his to the glass of sherry he placed on the desk. His chuckle when it rumbled from his throat surprised even him. The unthinkable deed that he had been contemplating with part rage and sometimes icy detachment suddenly seemed intriguing as he studied her. Slowly, he closed the distance between them.
"Come no farther!"
He halted inches from her, the barrel tip of the derringer brushing against his waistcoat. He ignored her gasp as he reached out deliberately and drew the hat from her head.
"What are you doing?" she demanded, grabbing for it. He held it behind his back.
He liked that her voice did not lose its husky timber even though she appeared rattled, so unlike the high-pitched nasal tone of the many debutantes of the summer season.
He was even more relieved that her voice was not pure throaty seductiveness, or else his disgust would have been instant. Stripped of its veil, her delicate face had blushed crimson, and her gray eyes were like saucers. He feared she may be in danger of fainting.
"It is normal, Miss Rathbourne, for a man to fully gaze upon his intended before committing to marriage, especially under such unorthodox circumstances."
Excerpted from The Duke's Shotgun Wedding by Stacy Reid, Nina Bruhns. Copyright © 2014 Stacy Reid. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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