The Unknown Wife [NOOK Book]

Overview


A DISGRACED WOMAN…

A single passionate night's encounter, long ago, has come back to haunt Colonel Etienne Hauke. He has a son—by a disgraced Society beauty who demands that Etienne should make an honest woman of her!

Isabel must marry her charming seducer—for the sake of her child. Although, still resenting her years of shame, she determines it will be a marriage in name ...

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The Unknown Wife

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Overview


A DISGRACED WOMAN…

A single passionate night's encounter, long ago, has come back to haunt Colonel Etienne Hauke. He has a son—by a disgraced Society beauty who demands that Etienne should make an honest woman of her!

Isabel must marry her charming seducer—for the sake of her child. Although, still resenting her years of shame, she determines it will be a marriage in name only….


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781459225190
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 12/15/2011
  • Series: Regency , #205
  • Sold by: HARLEQUIN
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 656,246
  • File size: 341 KB

Meet the Author


Mary Brendan was always a keen reader of historical romance, and she decided to try her hand at writing a Regency novel during her youngest son's afternoon naps. What started as a lazy lunchtime indulgence, sandwich in one hand, notepad in the other, soon developed into a highly enjoyable part-time occupation. When time permits, she relaxes by browsing junk shops for curios and antiques, or by visiting the local Tandoori for a prawn dansak and a glass or two of red wine.


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Read an Excerpt


Had he been anywhere but Ireland those limpid doe eyes attached to his quite solemnly, quite boldly, might have unsettled him. He had coupled with many women, in many countries, but Ireland? Curse it for a dank and dismal hell! He'd never before set foot on a squelching sod of it. And yet—and yet—squinting through lashes rimed with ice, through eyes filmed with cold, he could detect something familiar in the child's face.

The child was still, looking back with quiet instinct, uncaring of the drizzling sleet sleeking his fair hair against his head. The stallion snickered, blew steam at the side of his pink-cheeked face. A hoof batting against the boy's cap, catching ice on the ground, finally took the rider's attention. Moments before the lad had hurtled into the road chasing thehat and laughing, for an icy blast had exposed his tender head. The gangly, tumbling figure had made horse and rider rear back and slew to the right, almost overturning them both.

A dark visage creased fiercely beneath the bite of the elements and its owner's thoughts. But the man was glad now he hadn't bellowed abuse, although the lad deserved scolding. He might have run him down and broken his own neck in the bargain. Brusquely the man flicked, then snapped, leathered fingers at the hat. Obediently it was retrieved with a childish peek at the softening snow. He wasn't afraid. He smiled instead; a faltering curving of lips that arched blond eyebrows into a sleet-spangled fringe.

A broad, brown hand shot out and the cap was knocked clean of its freezing granules.

"You should be careful. I could have knocked you flying. This stallion might have pulped a little chap like you."

The boy was unabashed, just darting eyes enlivening a complexion drawn with cold. Dark features suddenly swooped close to his as the rider plopped the hat on the child's soaking skull.

"What's his name?"the boy asked, stroking the stallion's flank.

"Storm." "What's your name?'

The man seemed as though he might ignore thetrembling wistful enquiry, and the small, bone-white fingers still on the flank of his sleek black mount. "It's polite to say, what is your name, sir,' he corrected tersely, but he began to introduce himself anyway. "Etienne—' The rest was lost to a woman's guttural Irish tone.

"Mother Mary, did I turn me back for one minute to speak with Mrs O'Flaherty and find you gone. Now, what will your ma be sayin' if she finds out all today's mischief—an'— Faith! Look, you're drenched through, so y'are—'A woman clutching at her bonnet and dragging her cloak hard about her stamped over the unyielding street towards them. Grabbing at the lad's hand, she tugged him gently backwards towards the shelter of shop doorways, roaring and making a fist for a cart that drove too snugly by him. There was no more than a sharp stare angled from beneath an awning of bonnet brim to acknowledge the stranger astride his powerful stallion.

Etienne watched as the boy trudged away stabbing the toes of his boots into frozen earth mounds formed by cartwheels. Clods were successfully loosened, tossed off the tip of his boots into the air. Far back in Etienne's mind a childish reminiscence stirred, twitching his thin lips. He reined back, cursing for the hundredth time that he'd not taken the coach for hire at the Fiddle and Flute. But for the blacksmith failing to shoe the lead quick enough for him he would havebeen travelling in relative comfort towards Waterford. Now he felt unsettled, irritable, and he knew it wasn't just to do with being wet, hungry and cold. An odd feeling that something portentous had occurred wouldn't be shrugged off along with the ice burdening his caped shoulders. Settling his beaver low on his brow, he cursed and kneed the horse forward. It was just a child; an Irish peasant's brat. The boy was nothing to do with him. He'd never before set foot in Ireland, he reminded himself as he sent his mount into a furious gallop.

"Have you invited me here simply to watch me die of influenza?'

Connor Flinte, Earl of Devane, turned from the slurry obscuring the view through his mullioned window and grinned at the man entering his vast and cosy library. He watched his guest's busy fingers despatching a shower of melting ice from his long dark hair.

Connor's rapid step showed genuine welcome and affection as he closed the space between them to shake hands. "Is that any way to greet your host? Your long-lost comrade? Some carping gratitude for me fine hospitality, I'm thinking!" Connor chided with liberal Irish charm and intonation.

"Well, you have to admit, Con, this weather is appalling, even for February. Is Ireland always so—so damned wet?'

The Earl of Devane quirked an ebony eyebrow at him. "Wet? Get away with you. This is nothing. You should see it when the rains get here. Seriously, it's good to see you, Etienne. Why did Gallagher not announce you?'Connor frowned at the door. His conscientious butler was nowhere to be seen.

"Oh, I told him not to bother. He seemed a bit flustered. Your porch roof is leaking; as I arrived he was organising the positioning of the buckets with a couple of footmen. It reminded me that the roof of Redgrave Park needs attention."

"Are you away from here and straight to Redgrave Park? Or have you a mind to stop off in Mayfair?"Connor asked his former comrade-in-arms. "If you are going to London, I have an errand to beg of you. Would you deliver an urgent letter to my man of business in Cheapside?'

Etienne's expression became decidedly wolfish. "Oh, I think I might detour through Mayfair en route to Suffolk. And of course I'll be your post boy."

"How is Lady Avery? Still besotted with you?"Connor asked with a mix of admiration and humour in his voice as he contemplated the beautiful widow who had been this man's mistress for at least half a decade. Plenty of men as wealthy and influential as this one had tried to win her affections and lure her away. Nevertheless she remained steadfastly loyal to her Colonel even, so rumour had it, duringthose long months that he spent abroad on army duties.

"I believe she's very well," Etienne replied with a grin. "Judging from her last billet-doux, she'll be delighted to see me. It would be churlish to disappoint her after six months' absence." His smile sobered. "I should make it my business to see Miss Caroline Greenwood, too, before I set out to check on Redgrave Park."

At Connor's enquiring look he elaborated. "It's time to think about a wife and heirs. Last time I was in town, I paid Miss Greenwood some attention. She seems amenable and is pretty enough. She doesn't blush, stammer or giggle too often. I'll want a decent hostess who is able to conduct herself properly. She's young—about nineteen, I would guess. That apart, she fits the bill." He chuckled. "And her parents are more than willing to foot the bill. They've been hinting at a hundred thousand deposited in my bank account as the chit's dowry. Her father has kept regularly in touch. Now I'm home for good I imagine they think I'll take up where I left off. I expect I will."

"How very romantic," Connor murmured. Etienne shot him a look from beneath thick dark brows. "What's romance got to do with any of it?"he countered in an equally sarcastic vein. "We've established that Lady Avery is just as fine as ever she was. My marriage won't worry her."

As though remembering his role as host, Connor indicated his guest should take a seat in a comfy fireside chair, positioned close to glowing coals. He drew his own armchair up to the lofty stone chimneypiece—so enormous was it, he could have put the chair down within the soot-stained cavern. With a weary sigh, Etienne dropped his tall frame into the cushions. One long muscular leg stretched out in negligent ease as his head lolled back to dent soft hide. A dark hand was thrust into a trouser pocket; the other accepted the crystal brandy balloon extended his way. A generous amount of amber liquid rocked alluringly within.

After the two men had sipped appreciatively, taken discreet stock of each other's appearance, and found nothing spectacular to warrant a comment, Etienne turned his thoughts to the thing, or rather person, who did greatly intrigue him. With his dark eyes levelled on Connor, he drew his booted feet across the Aubusson and sat forward, forearms on knees. "If you want to talk of romance—well, you know I'm not here, risking pneumonia, on your account. Where's that beautiful, tricky wife of yours? It's about time I met her."

At the mention of Rachel, Connor's hard handsome features softened into a smile. "She's visiting friends in the village with her sister. And your mother is due any moment." 'My mother?""Claudine's recently been a house guest of the Ormondes. Did you not know?'

Etienne shrugged. "No. Ormonde is my father's cousin on the paternal side. I've long known my mother has a soft spot for him."

"Do I detect an element of animosity?'

Etienne's brandy balloon was virtually emptied in one gulp before he replied. "It makes no difference to me with whom she spends her time. We're not close; you know that. It's only ever been my grandparents cementing us together. And that's another place I must go before I return to Suffolk: to Cambridge to see how they fare. They're both in their eighty-second year, you know."

Etienne avoided Connor's sympathetic gaze. Eyes the colour of bitter chocolate focused on leaping flames to one side of him as he drained his glass.

"How long can you stay, Etienne?'

Etienne speared him a look. What he read in his friend's face made him chuckle. "I sense a man desperate for a little masculine company, even if he does have an urgent letter to be taken across the water to his attorney. Are you outnumbered by the ladies, Con?'

Connor looked a little abashed. "Actually, the letter's not that important, but your company is. I thought, with apologies to Lady Avery, I mightimpose on you to stay at least a week and act as escort and charming man about town to your mother and my sister-in-law."

Etienne collapsed into his chair and choked a laugh. "For God's sake! How long have you been married? Too long for this! Three months—six at the most—is honeymoon time, you know. By my reckoning you've been leg-shackled more than a year and a half."

"I like my sister-in-law very much, but sometimes a man has a desire to spend time alone with his wife during the day."

"I do understand,"Etienne soothed him with a grin. "And true friend that I am, I will be happy to oblige for a week. After that I have a desire to spend some time in London with Lady Avery—you understand?'

Connor grimaced a laughing response. "Lady Devane must be enchanting," Etienne said, admiration husky in his voice. "I can't wait to meet her."

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