The Marquess of Wesley is out for blood. For a year, Lord Wesley has tried to undo the devastation his father left to Penndrake, their ancestral home, only to discover the man gambled it away right before his death. Now Wesley is being blackmailed by the new owner into marrying a woman he's never met in order to get it back. But his intentions are less than honorable...
At one and twenty, Miss Kate Holden intends to become a governess, having sworn off all men years ago. However, her plans are halted when she receives a daunting letter from her cousin about a Lord Wesley. Ignorant of the name, and the devilish marquess that wears it all too well, she nearly ends up compromised. Refusing to fall prey to Wesley's skillful seduction, Kate decides to turn things around on the rake. But the high-stakes game between them soon leads to her losing the last thing she expected...her heart.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Chelmsford, England, 1814
My dearest Kate,
I have made a grave mistake. Please forgive me. In my absence, promise me you will not engage in any way with a man by the name of Lord Wesley. If he befriends you, walk, and if you are able, run away.
Yours, Edward Garrett
Miss Kate Holden frowned at her cousin's letter, wondering if he'd been bitten by a terrifying insect in India and since developed a delusional fever. For one, Kate didn't know anyone by the name of Lord Wesley, and even if she did, she doubted he'd ever take the time to introduce himself. After all, what would a titled gentleman want with a tradesman's daughter?
Deciding that Edward had sent the letter in error, Kate smiled and snapped the white sheet into the crisp air, watching it float like a feather onto the high green grass at her feet. Although brisk, the early autumn air was a welcome change from Camden Hall, her home for the last six months.
It had been her dear mother's idea for Kate to visit her wealthier relations so that she may find a gentleman relatively single enough to marry. It was also anticipated Kate was to help propel her cousin, and Edward's eldest sister, Miss Claire Garrett, into the marriage market.
"Marriage," Kate scoffed, having avoided the entire ceremony since her fifteenth year, when a young man stole her besotted heart, and then right in front of her, trampled on it with his foppish slippers. Since then, Kate was glad she had seen the ways of cowardly and despicable men. It helped her prepare for the rest of her life without one. First, however, she needed to help her aunt find companions for her daughters, an endeavor that had proven much more difficult than anyone anticipated.
It wasn't as if Claire lacked beauty or accomplishments. The eldest Garrett sister was much like her younger sisters, Deidra and Lilly, whose skills were developed and perfected for the sole purpose of luring in dutiful husbands. Deidra played the harp like an angel. Lilly spoke fluent French, and Claire, well, Claire could flirt her way out of Traitor's Gate.
To everyone's disappointment, however, the season had turned into an enormous failure. It not only left Kate's aunt and uncle dumbfounded but the whole town a den of gossip and speculation. Therefore, Kate stayed on, consoling the Garretts, all the while shaking her head at the way women paraded themselves before rows of lying and dishonorable young men for false security.
With her own eyes, she'd witnessed the consequences of at least two young women who'd lost favor with society for their trust and naivety. Shunned by their friends and family, they lived outside of London, destined to die alone and impoverished. Oh, what a suffocating death.
If only they had learned more than Latin or how to play an instrument, they might have stood a chance of making a decent living.
Kate chewed on her bottom lip, struck by her own lack of skill in anything but language and piano, an instrument she played quite poorly. She wondered if it might do her well to explore an occupation that did not cater to the upper class. But what? With her stay at Camden, she'd only learned to mend, to fetch, and to tighten. Why, she'd even developed the useless skill of repairing a table leg after Claire's temper got the best of her one evening.
Her long sigh carried with the breeze. Above all, she supposed her most invaluable lesson came from Mr. Arthur Rourke, who had taught her about a man's affection early. She harrumphed. Was it a habit of handsome gentlemen to shower their beloved with devoted affection one minute, then introduce their most unfortunate beloved to their young bride the next?
To say love had devastated her at such a young age was an understatement. It was as if she'd rushed toward it, tripped, and fallen into a narrow abyss of heartache and tears. She'd landed hard, almost suffocating from the impact, never wanting to experience such an unendurable pain again.
"Good riddance," she mumbled, as bound and determined as ever to remain faithful to her independent and unrestricted spinsterhood. She'd even written to a few families in the south of England to see about a governess position.
She hadn't chosen this path easily, but she needed to make a living to support herself somehow. There, of course, was an obstacle to Kate's attempt at remaining devotionally single for the rest of her life, and that was her parents' campaign to marry her off to her father's apprentice, Mr. David Leisure.
She scoffed, swiping at the loose tendrils falling into her eyes. Not that she was vain, but Mr. Leisure did not suit her in the least. Tall and distracting with a crooked nose, black eyes, and a sniveling laugh, Kate loathed the idea of even spending an afternoon of tea with him. She believed the only thing worse than getting one's heart broken into a million jagged pieces was entering a loveless marriage where the heart lay untouched and cold.
The circle of thought brought Kate right back to Edward's letter. Still befuddled over what it meant, she brought up the letter to read again as she untied the ribbons of her navy blue bonnet.
Lost in her cousin's warning, she neglected her cap until a whispering wind whipped at the sides and threatened to steal it away. She grasped at the tiny strings, but it was too late. Across the green meadow, it tumbled and skipped without a care.
She glared at it for several moments until it blew against a dogwood tree and rested fifty or so feet away. Resigned to go after it, she stood and lifted the hem of her worn gray dress and strode to the mound of roots, planted her feet, and bent down. She wrapped her fingers around the flapping cords, only to have a powerful gust take it from her once again.
"Come back here," she warned, acutely aware she was barking orders to a silly hat. She didn't care. She'd already wasted too much time reminiscing over her brooding heart and Edward's ridiculous warning.
"I mean it!" she yelled across the mocking field as her hat continued its journey away from her.
"Who are you talking to?"
Kate snapped her head up to find a man on a glistening black horse, his stocky figure blocking most of the sun. She lifted her hand to shield the glare and squinted at him. "My hat, sir."
He bobbed his head. "Well, it doesn't appear to be listening."
His voice caressed her for a moment before she dropped her arm and turned to see her bonnet even farther away, tangled in a briar patch and struggling with all its might to get free.
"Oh bother," she grumbled, picking up her hem to tramp across the high grass in order to wrestle the darn thing from the razor-sharp thorns before evening. She'd only wanted some peace and quiet from her aunt's constant prattling and Claire's endless requests of "Kate, fetch me some tea. Kate, read me a story. Kate, tell Deidra to stop snorting."
In a way, Kate felt sorry for Claire. As young children, they played well together. Claire was sincere and thoughtful. As they grew older, Kate believed Lady Sophia had put so much pressure on her eldest to marry, and marry well, that Claire had turned into a cornered lioness. Kate feared, one day, Claire would seize the first opportunity to free herself and shock everyone, especially her poor mother.
As Kate walked and muttered to herself, beads of sweat gathered around her temples and slid down between her breasts. The hefty breeze was cool, so she didn't know why her face or other intimate parts of her body felt a bit overheated. Nevertheless, she puffed out frustrated breaths, stretching over the knee-length grass until she reached the expanse of snarled brown vines. She drove her hand deep inside where two long spikes punctured her little and middle fingers. Surprised and angry, she wrenched her arm back to her side.
"You should be more careful."
The familiar, penetrating voice caused Kate to whirl around and find the mysterious rider from earlier. He stood with booted feet upon the soft earth, not a few feet away. Her breath caught as her searching gaze drank in his serious features and confident form. Handsome didn't even begin to describe him. Then again, she didn't know what word did — dashing? Dangerous?
He was tall with black hair, the same color as his horse. The shade of his eyes reminded her of the earth — green mingled with brown and blue in a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of colors. His nose was straight, his lips sensual ... and twisted into a humored grin. Did he think her predicament amusing?
Adorned in unpretentious clothing — gray breeches, white shirt, white cravat, and a dark-blue tailcoat — she believed him to be no more than a local gentleman out for a ride.
He stepped forward, halted, and then nodded toward her hands. "You do realize you're bleeding?"
She shook out of her trance and glanced down to find splotches of crimson dotting her drab day dress. To her mother's chagrin and her aunt's delight, Kate adorned herself in the most unflattering colors to discourage men like the Mr. Rourkes or the Mr. Leisures of her small world from giving her a second glance.
Uncertain of who this man was or where he'd come from, she took a step back. At some point, he should introduce himself. As well, at some point, their meeting had become strange and untoward. Whether or not he thought the same thing, the man smiled and inched closer. When Kate inhaled, she smelled the soap and woodsy scent of him lifting on the now mellow breeze. She stole a glance at his eyes again. They locked her in place. Slow and meticulous, his large hand reached out and enfolded hers. She held back a ripple of excitement at his warm and calloused touch.
"Do you live near here?" he asked, pulling a handkerchief from inside his waistcoat.
Unsure if she should even engage in conversation with him like this, she said nothing, nodding at first, pausing, and then shaking her head. They had conversed unchaperoned for much too long.
He graced her with a crooked smile. "Yes, you don't live near here?"
His enthralling form and the jesting in his baritone voice left her flustered, curious, and entranced. Never had she met anyone so certain of his words or his actions. Not once did he hesitate to touch her or talk to her as if they were engaged or had known each other their entire lives.
She cleared her throat and tried to smile. "No, I've just come from Camden Hall," she said in a whisper and glanced around to make sure there wasn't someone lurking in the wood line. The last thing she wanted was to bind herself to a man, and even worse, a stranger who had not one clue on the rules of proper engagement with a female. Of course, she seemed to have forgotten the etiquette while in the presence of the opposite sex as well. Either she was under some sort of spell or this was a dream.
Undaunted by her thoughts, his palm cradled her knuckles as his other hand encircled her tiny finger. She thought it excessive for a small cut. However, she remained silent and curious about his presence and his care.
"I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with the place or its residents." His gaze shifted toward the ground, and he paused before adding, "I suppose if I traveled less, I might know more of who they were."
"Yes, sir," she said, giving him a cautious smile. Perhaps this was some sort of dream where the formalities between an unmarried man and woman were not so strict or tedious.
"I am the Marquess of Wesley, Earl of Chelmsford."
A whimper tore from her throat at the mention of his title and name. A gust of wind stole her mumbled words of disbelief, and she staggered a step away from him. He tried to clasp her hand, but she withdrew from his touch.
"You are Lord ... Lord Wesley," she repeated, stunned. This was the very man her cousin had warned her about in the letter. The dream she thought she was having had suddenly turned into a nightmare.
He nodded. "Yes." His eyebrows furrowed above his darkening eyes.
Walk, no, run! Only she couldn't do anything but stand and stare at him. He stepped closer, his intimidating form blocking the sun and turning the air crisper. She stumbled farther back, her hands outstretched to stop him.
"Are you ... unwell?" he asked.
"I'm ... I'm not sure if us being alone like this is at all ... appropriate."
He chuckled before sobering. "And you've just now thought of this, Miss —"
Oh, now he is all about formality.
Braver than she felt, Kate managed to put three feet between them, wanting to keep her name a secret in the formidable man's presence. She had to escape. But since she'd never been blessed with any amount of gracefulness, her heel found the slippery slope of a moss-covered rock. She tried to catch her balance. Only instinct and years of practice caused her to reach out for whatever stood closest, that being the Marquess of Wesley, Earl of Chelmsford.
In desperation, she caught his memorable and capable hand as it wrapped around her petite fingers. She realized her blunder and strove to unravel herself from his grasp, but his hold tightened. Her inability to right the wrong accentuated her talent for clumsiness, and also managed to drag him down, right along with her.
She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for her bottom to hit the soggy ground. Somewhere between that moment and the next, his muscular arms wrapped around her, their bodies twisting so she landed on him, instead of the other way around.
She smacked hard against his chest, knocking the air right out of her lungs. She tried to catch her breath, her mind jumbled and dizzy and her heart rapping furious against her rib cage.
"A simple no would have sufficed," he said in a lazy, sarcastic tone. She lay gasping, too overwrought to project a coherent word of any kind. He then chuckled, his whole body shaking underneath her.
She struggled to separate herself from him until she realized his powerful arms held her captive. She was trapped like her bonnet in the thickets of the jumbled brambles. Panic sank into her bones as his powerful fingers dug into the thin fabric of her sleeves and pressed her closer to him. The hardness of his muscles and the spicy warmth of his skin entranced her for a second. She lay still, with her heart pounding like the hooves of a hundred thundering horses. She needed to move, to get away. But the strength of his hands around her upper arms gave her little reason to believe she was going anywhere.
Wake up. Wake up.
She screamed the words in her mind, desperate to not know the extent of her cousin's warning. She didn't wake up, and the havoc this man's contoured body was having on her indulgent and curious female senses was much more treacherous than any warning she read from her cousin.
With her limbs shaking, she managed a steady exhale. "You will release me at once, my lord."
He laughed this time, so easy and sure of himself. If Lord Wesley had a trivial amount of honor, she didn't see it anywhere reflected in his kaleidoscope eyes.
"I will release you when you give me your name."
"This, my lord, is bribery and most unbecoming of someone of your rank."
His lips turned down into a straight line. Her hair, once secured into a pair of gold combs, tumbled out and cascaded down onto his wide shoulders. The brilliance of his face in the sunlight became dark and menacing in the shade of her locks.
An uncertain fear should have made her struggle. It didn't. Instead, she lay on him, the heat of his body seeping through her threadbare dress, producing enough heat to ignite a tinder into a flame.
At last, she tried to squirm, her midsection stroking the pulsing rise between his hips. She continued, unaware of what was happening until he growled deep and pulled her so close to his face, she felt the hot tinge of his breath against her cheek.
She held the air in her lungs and closed her eyes, his curved lips a splinter away from touching hers.
"My intent is not to ravish you, but if you move another inch, I swear I cannot promise it won't happen."
Upon his command, she froze. After a long moment of grave uncertainty, she whispered, "Then, what am I supposed to do?"
A wild heartbeat later, his arms fell away. Yanked to her senses, she clambered onto her side before rising to stand in a position she'd often seen her brothers, Francis and Joseph, use when imitating the infamous boxer "Gentleman" John Jackson.
She supposed she didn't appear near as intimidating, as she elicited an enthralling laugh from her titled opponent. Insulted, she crossed her arms and waited for him to push himself up. He took his time, stopping to place his large, tanned hands upon his bent knees.
He closed his eyes, his thick lashes pulling together in a quick grimace. After a grunting moment, he straightened and turned his full attention to her. In silence, they stared at each other, his irises shimmering more gold than green in the sunlight.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Mistress for Penndrake"
Copyright © 2018 Tammy L. Bailey.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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