He Is Not What She Had In Mind.
Jude Bertrand is not an excellent dancer. Nor does he wear the most fashionable coats. But when Marissa York's brother approaches him, desperate to preserve Marissa's tenuous reputation, Jude does prove heroic enough to offer to marry the girl. In fact, the union should more than make up for his lack of social graces--and his own scandalous past. . .
But Minds Change. . .
Marissa knows that betrothal to the son of a duke--even one as raw and masculine as Jude--will save her from ruin, but that doesn't mean she's happy about it. Soon, though, she finds that Jude has a surprisingly gentle touch--and plans to use it to persuade Marissa that their wedding day cannot come soon enough. . .
Praise For Victoria Dahl's One Week As Lovers
"Dahl heats up the pages. . ."
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The man above Marissa York groaned loudly, his breath shuddering over her cheek.
She turned her head and frowned at the wall as the room spun slowly around her. Goodness. This wasn't going well at all. Thankfully, it seemed it was nearly over.
After an endless summer of pretending to look for a husband in London, Marissa had thought to treat herself to a night of forbidden pleasure. It was her family's first house party of the hunting season, after all. Everyone else was having a rollicking good time, and Marissa had thought to find some fun too. But instead she'd found clumsy fumbling, not to mention a bit of discomfort and lots of grunting. Perhaps this was why girls were ordered to keep themselves pure for marriage. No matter how unfortunate the consummation, there was no turning back afterward.
"My love," Peter White sighed into her ear. "My sweet, sweet Marissa. That was beautiful. Perfect."
She stretched her neck, trying to ease the strain on her back. "Um, could you please ... arise?"
"Of course, I'm sorry." He pushed up to his elbows. Unfortunately, though this eased the weight on her chest, it pushed his bottom half more thoroughly against her. Everything down there felt rather ... squishy.
"Mr. White, please? Get up?"
He gave her a sly grin. "Don't you feel silly calling me Mr. White right now?"
"When we are married, I hope you will call me by my Christian name, at least in —"
He leaned down to press a kiss to her nose. Marissa wiped it away.
"I'll speak to your brother tomorrow," he purred.
"You will do no such thing! Now get off. It's taking you more time to dismount than you spent riding."
Finally, the stubborn fool seemed to sense that she wasn't limp with gratitude at his rutting. He drew back, squishing even more firmly into her.
"Oh, just get off me, you great dolt!" she cried.
He gasped, "Marissa!" as shocked horror took over his face.
And that was when she heard the footsteps in the hall. Her eyes went wide. She pushed at his chest. And the door opened.
Marissa held her breath. It was dark. The light from the hallway might not have reached them. If they just kept quiet ...
Peter White cleared his throat. "If you would close the door, please. We require privacy."
Before her shock could twist into anger, the shadowed figure shifted. "Pardon me?" Her brother's voice.
Oh, no. Not her brother.
The door flew fully open, and Marissa had to squint against the light from the hall, so she could only assume they were now visible. Her heart sunk down to rest on her spine. "No," she breathed.
"Marissa Anne York!" her brother bellowed just before he lunged for the man atop her.
Mr. White was finally off her, but she could hardly summon a feeling of thankfulness. The shadows of the two men merged into one large beast that lurched into the darkest corner of the room. Vases shattered. A table crashed into the wall.
"Stop!" Marissa screamed, hoping her shout would put an end to the fight and stop time as well. If she could only go back to a half hour earlier when she'd finished that last glass of wine and let Mr. White coax her into this room ...
Tempted to jump up from the couch and sprint to her chambers, Marissa instead chose the more daunting path. She tugged her skirts down and pushed unsteadily to her feet to face her brother. "Edward! Stop. Please."
"You foul bastard," her brother's voice huffed.
A loud thump of flesh on flesh made Marissa flinch. The chaos ceased, and suddenly only the sound of the two men panting emerged from the dark. She could do nothing but stand there and shake.
"Edward?" she breathed.
Broken glass slid against the wood floor. One of the shadows rose up and started toward her. Marissa backed away, afraid of her brother, only because she couldn't see him. He would never hurt her, no matter what she did. But he looked like a goblin coming at her from the dark.
Or perhaps it was Mr. White, and her brother lay unconscious on the floor.
The shadow shifted at the last moment, her brother's snarling face finally coming into the light, and he moved past her. Glass rattled. A match struck.
Light swelled slowly over the room. When it reached the farthest corner, she saw that Mr. White wasn't unconscious at all, but sitting up with a hand pressed to his eye. At the sight of him, Marissa had to tamp down an urge to fly at his face and do further damage. Easier to be furious with him than with herself.
A shadow cast itself from the hallway, and Marissa glanced up to see her cousin Harry standing there.
"What in the world is all the ruckus?" Harry asked. Oh, this was only getting worse. How many others had heard?
"Marissa," her brother said, that one word full of worry and hurt and confusion and fury.
She wrapped her arms around herself and turned slowly toward him. "I apologize." Her voice was steady, just as she meant for it to be. "I did not mean for you to see that."
"See it?" he barked.
A maid appeared at Harry's side, her apron clutched in her hands.
"Harry," Edward said carefully. "Please wait for me in the study. And close the door."
This situation would have to be handled very carefully. Her family was not known for coolness or rationality. Impetuousness flowed in their veins like blood, and she'd clearly gotten her own share of it. But now she'd need to choose her words carefully. "Edward. I'm sorry. Obviously, I acted as ... I was not —" She was interrupted by the worst possible statement.
"We shall marry immediately," Mr. White said from the floor.
Her brother was already nodding.
Marissa shook her head to counter him. "We most certainly will not."
Glass shifted and clinked as Mr. White moved. "If you'll give me a few moments to ... arrange myself, Baron York, I will meet you privately in —"
"No!" she protested. "There will be no meeting! I have no intention of marrying Mr. White. None at all."
Her brother turned toward her, his green eyes bruised with hurt and disappointment. "You can't mean you dallied with this man without even a hope of marriage?"
"That's exactly what I mean. And if I'd have considered the idea before, I certainly wouldn't now. Do you see any evidence of gratification on my face? I wouldn't marry that eager hound for anything."
Edward's eyes snapped back toward Mr. White. "Did he force himself on you?"
"No, no. He only failed to meet even the lowest expectations of performance."
"Performance?" her brother sputtered. "What could you know of —"
"Here now!" Mr. White said. "I won't tolerate this. We shall be married as soon as we can possibly manage. Baron York, do you have any means of arranging a special license?"
"Oh, for God's sake," Marissa interrupted. "I won't marry him! I can't possibly make it any more clear." Whispers floated in from the hallway on the tail end of her words.
Mr. White, having apparently rearranged himself, strode forward to put a hand on her shoulder. "With all due respect, Miss York, you have no choice but to marry me."
"I've taken your virtue. The maids are already talking. You're mine now, darling."
"Yours?" She jerked her shoulder from his grasp and stepped away to glare at him. "I most certainly am not."
Edward cleared his throat. "Let us worry about our own servants, Mr. White."
"Of course. And the talk will be meaningless once the vows are exchanged. Miss York is understandably beset by emotion. Let's discuss this man to man, Baron. She isn't thinking logically."
Marissa drew herself up in outrage. "On the contrary, I am thinking quite logically. It's very clear to me that I'd rather enter a nunnery than spend the rest of my nights suffering your grunting efforts between my legs, Mr. White. Now I'd like to have a private conversation with my brother, if you don't mind."
Her brother choked on horror, but Mr. White's face went red with a different emotion. "I have had you, and you will marry me, young lady."
Too late, she realized what he'd meant earlier when he'd first snuck his hand beneath her skirt. "Finally," he'd breathed. "You'll be mine." She'd thought he meant a more temporary ownership. She should have known better. He'd already proposed twice.
Her brother took a step forward. "White, I need to speak with my sister. Please await me in my study."
Anger creased his flushed forehead. "You can't mean to indulge her. She made her choice when she laid herself down on that couch, sir. I won't let her call off now."
Her vision narrowed until all she could see was Peter White's face. One eye was already swelling. She focused on the undamaged one, wondering how much strength it would take to create a matching set. "You won't let me? I've told you twice now that I won't be your wife."
He had the nerve to smile at her. "If you meant that, you should have stopped me. We will be married. You've no choice."
"White," her brother growled, "Marissa is twenty-two and can't be forced to anything."
Mr. White scoffed. "She might already have a belly full of me. And as the head of the household, it's your job to protect her from her own foolishness. When word gets out that —"
Edward took another step, drawing menacingly close to the other man. "How would word get out?"
"There are forty guests in your house right now, Baron. Surely one of them will hear the tale. Your cousin saw it firsthand. You would not want it put about that your sister is a trollop, would you?" Triumph gleamed in his eyes.
"You awful cur," she whispered. "You planned this."
Edward's hand shot out and wrapped around Peter White's cravat. "You did plan this, didn't you?"
"I mean to give her my name. My devotion. There is no harm done here. She should be honored. My grandfather is —" She'd heard his speech about the glory of his bloodlines before, so she was relieved when Edward cut it off with a blow to Mr. White's jaw. The man stumbled back, clutching his chin with both hands before he fell to his rump.
"Get out of my house," Edward growled.
"You can't be serious!"
White shook his head. "I'm in love with her."
Marissa gasped in offense, but Edward just pointed at the door. "Get out of my home, and if you breathe a word of this to anyone, I will hunt you down and kill you."
Mr. White watched him carefully, clearly considering whether Edward could or would commit murder. He looked doubtful. Marissa was sure she did too. Edward had a wicked temper, but it cooled quickly. He was known as the mature one in the family. Once Mr. White was away, he was probably in little mortal danger. Unless ...
Edward smiled. "And if I can't find you, I'm quite sure my brother Aidan can. He'll enjoy the hunt, vicious ruffian that he is."
Well, Aidan was another matter entirely. Even Marissa cringed at the thought of him finding out about this. And he would.
Peter White rolled his shoulders and pressed his fingers gingerly to his jaw. "This is absurd. You're both upset. I'll take my leave for now, but I shall return in a few days' time. I love you, Marissa."
"Oh, I'd wager you love the idea of my five-hundred pounds a year," she snapped. Mr. White ignored her and stalked from the room.
She'd wanted him to go, but now she was alone with her brother. Shame welled to her skin like blood. Her throat tightened. "I'm sorry," she managed to whisper.
"Marissa, what ...?" His shoulders slumped. "How could you have done this?"
"I'm sorry! I shouldn't have! I was bored, and I've had too much wine, and I ... there's no man I've even come close to falling in love with, and I suppose I was ... curious." That was mostly the truth, anyway, with only a few details left out.
"Ah, 'Rissa," her brother sighed. "You've gone and done it this time."
"I was stupid. I know that. But I swear he wasn't nearly so awful beforehand. I rather liked him until this."
Her brother watched her closely, sadness etched on his face in deep lines.
"What is it?"
"I won't try to make you marry him. He's a cad. But —" He reached for her hand and held it between both of his. "You'll have to marry someone now."
"What?" she yanked her hand away. "Why?"
The door suddenly burst open, and her mother stretched her arms wide, filling the room completely, despite her short stature. "What has happened?" she wailed.
Marissa shook her head. "Nothing. Everything's wonderful."
Her brother waved their mother inside and slammed the door. "Everything is not wonderful. Everything is a mess."
In a highly predictable gesture, the dowager baroness pressed her palm over her heart. "What's happened? Is it Aidan? What has happened to my sweet, sweet boy?"
"It's not Aidan. It's Marissa. She is compromised."
The baroness gasped so loudly that the sound echoed through the room.
"Oh, why did you tell her?" Marissa sighed.
Edward was busy leading their mother toward a chair, where she folded into a graceful faint. Another highly predictable gesture.
He stood straight and dusted off his hands as if he'd just completed a task. "She might have grown suspicious when we arranged your hurried wedding completely out of the blue."
"There's no reason for me to marry!"
"Marissa, don't act even more a fool than you already have. It's clear from what I witnessed that you could very well be pregnant. We must find you a husband immediately."
"That's absurd!" But before she'd finished speaking the words, fear rushed over her on a dark wave. She hadn't really thought of that. The mechanics of pregnancy were a vague cloud of rumor and overheard tidbits she'd collected for years. "I thought ... the first time ... isn't it impossible?"
"No, it's not. And I rather wish you'd approached me with any questions about marriage and breeding before this happened."
"Oh, no," she groaned.
The line of Edward's mouth turned down. "You will either marry that scoundrel or you'll marry someone else. A wedding will help dispel any rumors, and it will go a long way toward distracting from an early birth. And apparently you need some way to occupy your time. Being a wife should take care of your boredom."
"But ..." Her jaw began to tremble, so she clenched it shut for a count of ten. "But I do not wish to leave here. This is my home."
The anger left his face as if it had been swept away by a hand. "I know. I don't wish you to go either. We shall find someone who will bring you home whenever you wish. Someone biddable."
"Well, who else would marry a ruined woman and accept a bastard?" she whispered. "Someone biddable and ... henpecked."
Her mother groaned dramatically, eyelids fluttering. The swoon was about to come to a gasping end.
Panic swarmed through Marissa's chest. She couldn't argue her brother's point. She hadn't meant to bring her family shame. She hadn't meant anything at all by it. But if Peter White spread the tale it would be awkward. And if she was pregnant, there could be no choice. But if he didn't and she wasn't ...
"Edward, it will take time to find a willing and acceptable match, won't it? Decent men do not hang about at crossroads just waiting for a ruined woman to take them home."
"Ah ..." he started.
"Harry will never tell a soul. And if there are to be permanent consequences, we should know within two weeks. Two weeks would be quick enough! If you must orchestrate a betrothal, let us prepare for it and then forget it entirely when I'm proved, er ... unripened."
A blush flared up his neck. "I ... is there no one you are fond of? No one who would make an offer?"
"I was rather fond of the gentleman in question before this evening. He's an excellent dancer, and his coat always fits perfectly. But now ... no. No one."
Her brother muttered something that sounded like, "His coat," just as her mother's eyes fluttered open.
"Marissa," she sighed. "How could you? Why would you do something so awful?"
Awful. Yes, her mother had that right. "I don't know," she replied honestly. There had been wine and secret kisses, and it had seemed rather exciting when they'd stumbled into this room together. Then it had deteriorated into something more easily described in scientific terms than poetry. "Idiot," she bit out.
"Yes, you are an idiot!" her mother cried.
"I meant Mr. White."
"Mr. White," her mother said. "Hm. He is an excellent dancer. And a handsome fellow. He does bring in a fair income. Yes, he'll make a perfectly good husband."
Edward waved her off. "We'll discuss this later, Mother. Right now I have to think. Where is Aidan when I need him? He's supposed to be here, and he probably knows some likely fellows."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Little Bit Wild"
Copyright © 2010 Victoria Dahl.
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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