Ella Quinn's intriguing and irresistible bachelors are masters in the game of seduction. But nothing has the power to change a single man's mind like a captivating woman...
William, Viscount Wivenly, plans to remain the most eligible of bachelors. He refuses to surrender to the schemes of husband-hunting ladies and matchmaking mamas. Fleeing the pressure of the ton, he's bent on finding refuge in the West Indies. What he finds instead is a fascinating stranger, a woman so unlike those of his society that he can't resist such a beguiling distraction...
Determined to let nothing complicate her mission to protect her family's livelihood while covertly rescuing orphaned slave children, Miss Eugénie Villaret does her best to evade suitors. But when dashing William lures her down a path of forbidden adventure and delicious danger, she may be convinced that business can indeed be mixed with pleasure-and persuaded to add passion to her priorities...
Praise for The Temptation of Lady Serena
"This charming, sweet love story is the perfect addition to the Marriage Game series." --RT Book Reviews
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Enticing Miss Eugénie Villaret
By Ella Quinn
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Ella Quinn
All rights reserved.
July 1816, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies
Miss Eugénie Villaret de Joyeuse followed Gunna, an old black slave, down a narrow backstreet lined with long houses in Crown Prince's Quarter. Her maid, Marisole, stood watch as Eugénie and the woman entered the building.
"He be here, miss."
A baby, not older than one year, sat in the corner of the room playing with a rag doll. His only clothing was a clout, which, by the strong scent of urine, needed to be changed.
She and Gunna and the boy were the only occupants of the cramped, dark room. She crouched down next to the child. "What happened to his mother?" "Sold."
Naturally; why did she even bother to ask? It was cruel to separate a mother and child, but there was no law against it here.
"A few days ago." Gunna glanced at the child. "He be gone to a plantation soon."
Even worse. He'd likely die before he was grown. Eugénie placed the small bag she carried on the floor. "Help me change him. He can't go outside like this."
A few minutes later the baby's face and hands were clean, his linen was changed, and he wore a fresh gown.
She handed the woman two gold coins. "Thank you for calling me." Gunna tried to give the money back, but Eugénie shook her head. "Use it to help someone else. Our fight is not finished until everyone is free."
One tear made its way down the woman's withered cheek. "You go now, before the wrong person sees you."
Eugénie pulled a thin blanket around the babe's head, thankful her wide-brimmed hat would help hide his face as well as hers, and stepped out into the bright sunshine.
"That's her!" a male voice shouted.
She shoved the babe at Marisole. "Take him and run! I'll catch up."
Eugénie quickly drew out her dagger, concealing it in the gray of her skirts, and turned, crouching. A large man stood hidden in the shadow of a building, while a wiry boy, she guessed to be in his late teens, came at her. She waited until he reached out to grab her arm, then sliced the blade across his hands. Before he started to scream, she dashed down an alley between the long houses. Doors swung open, and several women stepped into the street behind her. That wouldn't help for long, but it would delay the pursuit.
Perspiration poured down her face as Eugénie pounded up the hill, using the step streets to cross over to Queen's Quarter. Ducking behind a large Flamboyant tree, she waited for several moments, listening for sounds of men running, but there was nothing and no one other than a few going about their business.
She took out a scrap of cloth and cleaned the blade before returning it to her leg sheath. Then Eugénie removed her bonnet and turned toward the breeze, drawing in great gulps of air as she fanned herself with the hat.
A several minutes later she caught up to her maid as Marisole descended another step street on the way to the house. "How is the babe?"
Marisole smiled. "Look for yourself. He is fine."
Wide green eyes stared up at Eugénie, and the child blew a bubble and smiled. "Come, mon petit. Not long now and you will have a family."
The front door of a well-kept house in Queen's Quarter opened as they approached.
Once in the short hall, she smiled. "Mrs. Rordan, thank you for agreeing to care for him. It will only be for a few days."
"As if I wouldn't." Mrs. Rordan grinned as she took the babe. "Captain Henriksen's already been in touch. There is a good family on Tortola who will adopt him." She handed Eugénie a bouquet of flowers. "For your mother, perhaps they'll help cheer her. You'd better get home, now."
"Merci beaucoup. She will love them." She kissed the little boy on the cheek. "Safe passage and a good life."
As Eugénie and her maid walked back to Wivenly House, Marisole said, "You were almost captured."
That was the closest she had ever been to getting caught. She drew her brows together. If they were after the child, why didn't the men follow? Did they know who she was? Yet, even with Papa gone, she had to continue. "Yes, but it is better not to question fate."
July 1816, England
William, Viscount Wivenly, caught a glimpse of sprigged muslin through a thinly leafed part of the tall hedge, behind which he'd taken refuge.
"Are you sure he came this way?" an excited female voice whispered.
Damn. He didn't like the sound of that. Will found himself in sympathy with the fox at a hunt.
"Quite sure," came the hushed response. "You must be careful, Cressida. If I reveal to you what Miss Stavely told me in the strictest confidence, you must vow never to repeat what I'm about to say. I swore I'd never breathe a word."
"Yes, yes," Miss Cressida Hawthorne replied urgently, "I promise."
He'd been dodging the Hawthorne chit for two days now, and unfortunately she wasn't the only one. The other woman sounded like the newly betrothed Miss Blakely.
"Well then"— Miss Blakely paused —"I really shouldn't. If it got out, she'd be ruined!"
"I already promised," Miss Hawthorne wheedled.
After a few moments, the other girl continued. "Miss Stavely said she followed Lord Wivenly to the library so that they'd be alone, and he'd have to marry her."
"What an excellent plan." Miss Hawthorne's tone fell somewhere between admiring and wishful.
"Well, it wasn't."
Even thinking about the incident with Miss Stavely made Will shudder. There were few worse fates than being married to her in particular. Fortunately, the lady was not as intelligent as she was crafty. The minute she'd turned the lock, she had announced he would have to marry her. However, she'd failed to take into account the French windows through which Will had made his escape.
"What do you mean it wasn't a good idea?" Miss Hawthorne asked.
"Have you heard a betrothal announcement?"
Their footsteps stopped. Drat it all, there must be another way out of here. He surveyed the privet hedge, which bordered three sides of this part of the garden. Across from him was a wooden rail fence about five feet high. Large rambling roses in pale pink and yellow sprawled along it, completing the enclosure. Whoever designed this spot had wanted privacy. Will's attention was once again captured by the voices.
"No," Miss Hawthorne said slowly, as if working out a puzzle. "So it didn't work."
"Do you know what Miss Stavely failed to take into account?"
When Miss Hawthorne didn't reply, Miss Blakely continued. "She didn't bother to ensure she had a witness at hand. Miss Stavely said Lord Wivenly looked her up and down like she was a beefsteak and told her he'd ruin her if she wished, but not to think he'd take her to wife."
Perhaps not his finest moment, though Will had wanted to scare the chit. Not that it had worked. She had practically launched herself at him.
"Oooh, how wicked." Miss Hawthorne giggled. "He's so handsome, and has such nice brown hair. I'd love to be compromised by him." She paused. "But only if he had to marry me, so you must make sure to bear witness."
Will had no intention of marrying Miss Hawthorne or any other fair English maiden. Harpies in disguise, all of them. More interested in being Viscountess Wivenly and the future Countess of Watford than in their duties as a wife. From what he knew of her, Miss Hawthorne would probably only allow him in her bed for the purpose of getting her with child. Surely he could do better. At least he hoped so.
When it came time for him to be leg-shackled, he'd be the one choosing. Yet even that would not be for at least another year or two. In the meantime, Will would be damned if he'd allow himself to be trapped into marriage. Thank God he'd already made plans to leave England for a while.
The sounds of the ladies' shod feet came closer.
Damnation. Will glanced around. The only escape was a large mulberry tree in full fruit. His valet, Tidwell, would have a fit about the stains, but needs must. As quickly and quietly as possible, he ascended the tree, careful not to let the slick leather soles of his boots slide off the branches.
"I am sure I saw him go this way," Miss Blakely said.
From his perch in the tree, Will had a view of the tops of their ridiculous bonnets. Why women had to use all those ribbons and furbelows on their hats defied logic.
"As did I," Miss Hawthorne replied. "I wonder where he could have got to."
"Do not worry. I shall be vigilant. We will find a way to ensure you are Lady Wivenly."
The hell she will. Will scowled. Did a lady exist who would not be impressed with his title, and would allow him to do the hunting? Probably not.
"Oh, look," Miss Hawthorne exclaimed. "A mulberry tree. We must pick some. Perhaps the cook will make tarts, or I can have them with cream."
Will stifled a groan. Featherheaded females. Why had he ever allowed his mother to talk him into this house party on the eve of his departure for the West Indies?
Miss Blakely linked an arm in Miss Hawthorne's. "Perhaps it might be better to send a servant. You wouldn't want to ruin your gown."
"You are correct." As the two headed back to the formal garden, she added, "But let us find someone straight away. Lord Wivenly must be around somewhere."
Will tipped his hat. Sorry, ladies, this fox is going Halloo and Away.
He waited until they were half-way to the lake before climbing out of the tree. After regaining the house, he sneaked up a back staircase and strode to his bedchamber. "Tidwell!"
"I'm right here, my lord." The valet poked his head out from the dressing room. "No reason to shout. I'm getting your evening kit ready." He held up two waistcoats. "Would you prefer the green on cream or the gold?"
"I'd prefer to leave. Get everything packed. You've got an hour."
Tidwell bowed. "As you wish, my lord." His eyes narrowed as he took a sharper look at Will. "If I do not treat those stains, they'll never come out."
He glanced down. Not only mulberry juice, but leaf stains as well. "You'll just have to make do. It's not safe for me here."
"Another ruined suit." His valet sighed. "More problems with the ladies, I presume."
Taking pity on Tidwell, Will said, "Pack me a bag. You remain here until the toggery is cleaned. I'll take my curricle and meet you back at Watford Hall. Send the coachman a message as to when you'll be ready."
Tidwell immediately brightened. "Yes, my lord."
Changed into fresh clothing, Will donned his caped coat and hat, then found his host and made his excuses. By the time he stepped out into the stable yard, his carriage was ready and his groom, Griff, was holding the horses' heads.
Will climbed into his curricle. "Good job."
"Thought it might be gettin' a bit hot for you hereabouts, my lord."
"Right as usual. Let their heads go."
Griff jumped onto the back as Will maneuvered the carriage out of the yard and onto the gravel drive. He caught a glimpse of Miss Hawthorne. She smiled at him, but when he smiled then inclined his head and sprung the horses, her jaw dropped.
Another close escape.
Five days later, Dover, England
The docks bustled with activity as ships prepared to sail with the tide. Will had met his friend Gervais, Earl of Huntley, in London, and traveled down to the port city with him.
The early morning sky was about to lighten when they reached the packet setting sail for France, on which Huntley was booked.
"Godspeed in your travels," Will said.
Huntley clasped Will's hand. "Good luck to you sorting out the problem in St. Thomas. I'll see you in the spring."
"Only if I can't think of a good excuse to remain abroad." Will grimaced. "Before I left, my father made me promise I'd marry next year."
"My father said the same to me. We'll lend each other support." Huntley's grim countenance reminded Will of a man going to trial. "Perhaps you'll be lucky enough to fall in love."
Will almost choked. "You think that's lucky? I'd have to completely rearrange my life. No, thank you. I'll probably end up picking one of the ladies my mother parades before me. At least then I'll know what to expect."
And he wouldn't risk living under the cat's paw because of a woman.
"My lord, the ship's about to depart," Huntley's groom called from the packet.
"You'll do as you think best." Huntley slapped Will's back.
"You, as well." Will strode down the street to a Dutch fly-boat, one of the smaller sailing ships plying their trade ferrying passengers and goods to the many ports scattered up and down England's far western coast.
Griff sat on a piling at the head of the pier. " 'Bout time you got here. Tidwell's got the cabins all arranged, and the captain's just waitin' on you."
"Let's get on board then. I can't miss the tide, or we'll be late for our rendezvous with Mr. Grayson." Will drew in a deep breath, savoring the air's briny scent. At one and thirty, Will hadn't had his blood rush with the excitement of a new challenge for years. "Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?"
A large smile cracked Griff's weathered face. "Mr. Tidwell turned a nice shade of green when he got on the ship." He scratched his head as if he was giving the occurrence some thought. "Don't suppose he'll like the trip overmuch."
"Unless you" — Will paused, letting the word sink in — "wish to learn how to take care of my kit, you'd better hope Tidwell doesn't become too ill."
Griff, who'd been with Will since he'd sat his first pony, had carried on a good-natured feud with Tidwell since the valet had joined their household over eleven years ago. Will softened his voice. "Come now, I can't go about looking like a shag-bag, and I daren't go without you. Who'd have my back when I get into trouble?"
"Well, ye're in the right of it there." Griff nodded. "That peacock sure ain't goin' to haul you out o' some of the fixes you get yerself into. Why I recollect when —"
"Ho, Lord Wivenly, is that you?" A short, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair strode toward him. "I'm Captain Jones."
"Yes, sir. Are we ready to cast off?"
The captain directed an eye toward the water. "Just waiting for you, my lord."
Shortly after noon the following day, the boat docked at Plymouth's bustling port. Will descended to the pier wondering how, in all the hubbub, he'd find Andrew Grayson, an old friend of his who'd agreed to accompany Will, only to spy Andrew leaning up against a piling near the midsection of the ship.
"Handsomely done, Captain." Andrew straightened and inclined his head to Jones. "You've arrived in good time. We've a change in our travel plans. Lord Wivenly will need his baggage transferred to the Sarah Anne as soon as may be."
"Aha," the captain called out in a satisfied tone, "so Captain Black's going back again." Jones grinned. "I win my wager. I'll have it done straight away, Mr. Grayson."
Will furrowed his brow. "How do you know Jones?"
Andrew cast a glance at the sky as if searching for patience. "My maternal grandfather's in shipping, remember? I've spent time learning the business, as it will be mine."
That was one of the main reasons Will had asked Andrew to accompany him to St. Thomas. As they walked in the direction of the main dock area, he said, "I didn't know you planned on actually running the business. I thought you only wanted to be knowledgeable. Didn't some aunt leave you a snug little property with an independence?"
"Yes" — Andrew nodded — "but my grandfather's bound by the settlement agreements to leave the shipping line to me as the second son, and I like knowing how to control what I'm going to own." He glanced back at Will with a raised brow. "Don't tell me you're worried I'll smell of the shop? Shipping is as respectable as banking, and look at Lady Jersey. She spends a good amount of time at the bank her father left her."
They reached another pier, where Andrew hailed a tall man with broad shoulders who'd clearly been at sea for a while. "That's Captain Black. His ship is one of the fastest you'll find, even with cargo."
"Mr. Grayson." The captain grinned. "I see you've found his lordship, and in good time."
"His gear will be here directly," Andrew said. "Captain Jones is seeing to it."
Captain Black turned his attention to Will. "Welcome aboard the Sarah Anne, my lord. I'll have you in St. Thomas in no time at all."
An hour later, Will stood near the bow of the ship, looking out over the water and trying to decide how to approach the problem his father had asked him to look into in St. Thomas. Though it would delay his exploration of the other islands, he knew that the Earl of Watford's protective arms encircled all of their family, no matter where they were located, and Will felt the same way. Anyone in the Wivenly family was his to care for.
Excerpted from Enticing Miss Eugénie Villaret by Ella Quinn. Copyright © 2014 Ella Quinn. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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