From New York Times bestselling author and "grand mistress of storytelling" (Romantic Times) Sabrina Jeffries comes the second seductive story in her School for Heiresses Series.
"You can't avoid him forever, Louisa. Just tell him you're not interested, and put an end to it."
-- Mrs. Charlotte Harris, headmistress
Marry? Never! It would end Louisa North's work with her ladies reform group -- and truth be told, she likes her independence very much, despite her royal father's protests. So when Simon Tremaine, the dashing Duke of Foxmoor whom she once loved -- and had exiled from England -- returns bent on marrying her, she's skeptical. Does he truly care for her, or does he simply want revenge? It's difficult to resist Simon's dangerous charms, because the fire between them still burns as hot as ever. But when his ulterior motive for marriage is exposed, along with the deeply buried secrets of his past, Louisa vows to make him pay . . . and the price will be his heart.
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Dear Cousin Michael,
Do you know the Duke of Foxmoor who recently returned to England? I've heard such differing accounts of the scandal surrounding his departure that I hardly know what to believe. The two ladies most affected, Lady Draker and Lord Draker's sister Louisa, say nothing of it. Does the duke mention it around other gentlemen?
Nothing had changed in seven years.
And everything was different.
Simon Tremaine, the Duke of Foxmoor, stood on the granite gallery above his sister Regina's gardens and warily surveyed her guests. Perhaps he was merely different. Before his term as Governor-General of India, he would have known precisely how to handle this assembly of the brightest and best of English society.
Now he felt like a stranger in his own country.
A screeching sounded in his left ear, reminding him he was not the only stranger. He reached up to scratch his pet monkey's belly. "Yes, Raji, parties here are very different from those at Government House in Calcutta, are they not?"
No native orchestras playing with more enthusiasm than skill, no rich curries and peppered soups, no tropical palms dripping with coconuts. Here it was all practiced harpists, French sauces, and yew hedges dotted by beds of primrose.
And a host of new faces to attach to names, a host of new Members of Parliament to assess at this fete celebrating the birthday of the king's bastard son.
"Regina could have warned me she meant to invite every bloody MP in the kingdom to her husband's celebration," he told Raji. "I am surprised that Draker allowed it. There was a time when he would have barred his estate to this lot."
Simon started for the steps leading into the lamplit gardens, then froze as his gaze fell on the dark-haired woman who stood near the bottom.
Draker's sister, Louisa North. Who was also the king's bastard. And the very female who'd had him banished to India.
Regina had made it clear that her sister-in-law would be at the fete, yet expecting Louisa to attend and seeing her in the flesh were two entirely different things.
Especially when she looked like that.
Responding to the sudden tension in his master, Raji chattered madly. Simon nodded. "Yes, she was pretty before. But now . . ."
Sometime during his years abroad, the socially awkward innocent who had haunted his dreams had blossomed into a refined beauty.
Simon groaned. Why hadn't her fruitless years on the marriage mart dulled her jeweled eyes or her sparkling laugh? Why hadn't her rich meals at court transformed her lush figure into a stout one?
She wasn't the least bit stout, damn her.
But different, yes. Her appealing country-fresh features were now schooled into reserve. Even her China blue gown was restrained, a quietly elegant bit of female trickery that only hinted teasingly at the full glory of her curves. And gone were her girlish curls, replaced by a sophisticated swirl of black locks that begged to be taken down and kissed --
Bloody hell. How dared she still have this effect on him? His grandfather would turn over in his grave. After Simon's reckless behavior with her, the aging Earl of Monteith had been livid. Simon would never forget what he'd said on Simon's last visit to him before leaving for India.
I knew you would prove as worthless as your father, pursuing pleasure before duty. Did you learn nothing from my training? You're too much a slave to your passions to ever govern a country successfully.
Damn him and damn his "training." Simon had proved his maternal grandfather wrong in India, where, except for his blunder at Poona, he had governed with skill. And now he would prove the man wrong in England, too, Louisa or no Louisa. He only wished Grandfather Monteith had not died before witnessing Simon's triumph.
Raji danced restlessly on his shoulder and Simon rubbed the monkey's shoulder to soothe him. "Yes, scamp. It's best we join the crowd before anyone, especially Miss North, sees me eyeing her like some starving Hindu contemplating a bowl of rice." He strode toward the steps.
Simon turned to see a Castlemaine servant hurrying along the gallery. "My lady told me to watch for you," the man said as he reached Simon. "His Majesty asked that you join him in the rose garden at once."
Deuce take it, someone else he didn't want to see. Simon's correspondence with his ex-friend had been limited to Indian government affairs. "What does His Majesty want?"
The servant blinked. "I-I don't know. I was just sent to fetch you." He eyed Raji warily. "Shall I put your creature in his cage first?"
"Raji attended over thirty balls in India. He will be fine." Simon dismissed the servant with a nod. "Tell His Majesty I will be along presently."
"Very good, sir," the servant said, looking distinctly uneasy as he rushed off.
Simon didn't care. Let the king wait, the way he had made Simon wait all these years to continue his political career.
He started down the steps, only to realize that his way was blocked by Louisa and the elderly lady with whom she conversed. Good God, it was Lady Trusbut. He would know the bird-loving baroness anywhere. No one else would carry a feathered fan and a feathered reticule, not to mention the usual feathers in her gown and coiffure that made her look more like a poulterer than the wife of an influential member of the House of Lords.
When the harpists began a new piece and Lady Trusbut turned her head to listen, he noticed that she even wore a brilliantly plumed artificial peacock nestled in --
Even as Simon thought it, he grabbed for his pet, but Raji was already scampering down the steps after the one thing that could tempt him to misbehave. Fake birds.
With great glee, Raji climbed Lady Trusbut's back and dove into her coiffure after what he saw as a toy.
Simon dashed after him with a curse, wincing when Lady Trusbut screamed . . . and kept screaming as Raji leaped about her head, tugging on the ornament firmly attached to Lady Trusbut's hair.
"Raji, no!" he ordered, but his voice was drowned out by the panicked ones of guests who ran to her aid.
Meanwhile, Louisa was trying to coax the monkey onto her arm as Lady Trusbut lapsed into a sobbing chant, "Get-it-off -- get-it-off -- get-it-off -- "
"Raji, come here!" Simon barked as he neared them.
This time both his pet and Louisa heard him.
Although Raji ignored him, Louisa did not. Her head whipped around, her eyes briefly filling with shock. Then her features smoothed into a composed mask. "I take it that this creature is yours."
"Afraid so." He scowled at his pet. "Come down this minute, you scamp!"
Simon reached for him, but Raji shrank back, taking the peacock with him and eliciting another screech from Lady Trusbut. For a monkey, Raji possessed a remarkably well-developed sense of self-preservation.
"You're making it worse, Your Grace," Louisa said. "He's afraid of you."
"The only thing he's afraid of is losing that bloody bird," Simon snapped, irritated that she could call him "Your Grace" as if they were strangers.
"Oh dear, oh dear." Lady Trusbut grabbed at her head, then squealed when Raji dug in harder. "You mustn't let that creature destroy my favorite peacock!"
"It's all right," Louisa said, "I'm sure we can find something else for him to demolish."
She glanced about, then grabbed a cup from a passing footman. After dipping her finger in punch, she held it up to the monkey. "Ooh, smell that, Raji. Doesn't that smell delicious?" She drank from the cup and smiled broadly, easing her finger closer to the monkey. "Yum, very sweet."
Raji leaned near enough to lap her finger, first warily, then eagerly. She held the cup higher, and Raji reached for it with one hand, his other clasping the bird.
Louisa drew the cup back. "Oh no, dear boy, you must come here for it."
As soon as Raji leaned toward the cup, Simon reached up to pry the monkey's fingers from the peacock. Raji looked torn, but in the end the punch won and he leaped onto Louisa's shoulder.
Lady Trusbut gasped, but Louisa didn't so much as flinch. With admirable calm, she coaxed the monkey into her arms and handed Raji the cup.
As Lady Trusbut frantically repaired her hair, Simon told Louisa, "Let me have him." The rascal was sure to head straight for Lady Trusbut's peacock once he had downed the punch.
But when Louisa held Raji out, the monkey grabbed her bodice and wailed.
"Apparently, he doesn't want to go to you," she said, arching one raven eyebrow as she cradled Raji against her breasts.
"Of course not," Simon muttered. His lucky devil of a pet drained the cup, then shot Simon a smug look. Little traitor. "Half the men in this garden would give their eyeteeth to be where that imp is right now."
A blush spread from Louisa's cheeks down her neck to the very breasts that pillowed Raji's head, making Simon's pulse thunder like an elephant run amok. But the calm gaze that met his was as remote as if they'd never met. "If you don't like where your pet is at present, perhaps you shouldn't take him to parties."
"Dear Lord!" Lady Trusbut, who was repairing her coiffure, held up a hand smeared with blood. "That beast has wounded me!" Then she promptly fainted.
As Simon cursed, Louisa ordered, "Get my smelling salts."
"Where are they?" Simon asked.
"In my reticule." Louisa tried to juggle Raji and the empty punch cup. "Oh, never mind. Here, take your monkey." She thrust Raji into Simon's arms.
Raji dropped the cup, but when he eyed the prone Lady Trusbut and her peacock longingly, Simon manacled his wrist. "No, you don't, you rascal."
Louisa was already wafting smelling salts under Lady Trusbut's nose as other females crowded 'round on the graveled path to help. Simon felt like an intruder. Again. "Excuse me, ladies, but I had best remove Raji to his cage."
No one paid him any mind, except Louisa, who glanced up at him. "Yes, Your Grace, you may run along now. We have this under control."
Run along now? A hot retort leapt to his lips, but Raji struggled to get free, and Simon could not stay to argue. "Please make my apologies to Lady Trusbut." He strode off through the crowd.
Ignoring the whispers around him, he hurried up the steps, then back inside, his temper swelling. "You would think the chit and I were complete strangers," he growled as he stalked toward Draker's enormous library, where he had left Raji's cage. "You may run along now, Your Grace -- how dare she dismiss me as if I were some bloody servant?"
Simon glared at Raji. "And you had to make it worse, didn't you? Had to make me look like a fool in front of her. Countless Indian balls without an incident, and you choose my first English fete to make a spectacle of us both."
With Raji loudly protesting his master's firm hold, Simon entered the library. "Next time I whittle anything for you, scamp, it will be a pair of shackles." It was an idle threat; Simon rarely even caged Raji. Which was probably why the rascal shrieked in outrage as Simon carried him toward his prison.
"I had forgotten that you whittled," said a painfully familiar voice behind Simon. "Used to make such a mess in my drawing room."
Simon groaned. Bloody hell. First Louisa, now this.
Slowly he faced the king, who had just entered the library. "Your Majesty." As Simon bowed, Raji in hand, he steeled himself for an awkward confrontation.
"Sprightly chap, isn't he?" The king nodded to where Raji still protested his impending retreat from good society.
"He is generally better behaved." Simon thrust Raji into the cage, but only when he handed his pet the gaily painted bird that was his favorite toy did Raji settle down, stroking the carved creature with paternal affection.
George sidled nearer to peer into the cage. "Did you whittle that toy of his?"
"Whittling helps me think."
"Scheme and plot, you mean."
Simon eyed him warily. "A skill you made good use of, as I recall."
"True enough." The king swept his gaze down Simon. "You look well."
"So do you." Actually, George looked like a bloated whale. A lifetime of debauchery showed in his puffy features and pallid skin.
"You never used to lie to me, you insolent scoundrel, so don't start now."
Simon choked back a laugh. He used to lie to the king with painful regularity -- it was how he had advanced his career. But no more. "Fine. You look like hell. Is that what you wanted to hear?"
George winced. "No, but it's the truth, isn't it?"
"Truth depends on your perspective." Simon closed Raji's cage, wondering what the king was up to. "As my aide-de-camp used to say, 'It is better to be blind than to see things from only one point of view.'"
"Don't give me any nonsense you got from that half-caste Indian," George snapped. "You're not a nabob eager to hold lectures about his travels and entertain the frivolous with his pet. You and I both know you have a greater destiny."
As Simon's fingers stilled on the lock of Raji's cage, he kept his tone carefully even. "You sound rather sure of that."
"This is no time for games. I know you went to Parliament yesterday. You're taking stock, aren't you?"
Simon did not deny it. Or reveal that a mere hour with his old cronies had illuminated how much his time in India had altered his ideas about politics. Ruling with paternalistic indulgence had worked fine for men of his grandfather's day, but the French Revolution and American defection had changed people's expectations.
Unfortunately, the old guard had responded by digging in their heels and instituting draconian policies that only stirred up more trouble. They needed to listen to the discontented voices. And that meant overhauling the House of Commons so that it represented more than just the wealthiest landowners.
Not that Simon intended to let his old allies know of his new ideas. He must tread lightly at first. The old guard did not respond well to suggestions of reform -- he would have to reassure them that his measures would not mean an overthrow of the government. Slow, moderate change was the only thing they could embrace.
Simon turned to find the king eyeing him uncertainly. "You do still mean to pursue your lifelong ambition, don't you?" His Majesty searched his face. "Everyone expects you to follow Monteith's fine example."
Then everyone could go to hell. Because although Simon's ambition was as healthy as ever, he did not mean to pursue it by following his grandfather's fine example, living a life of hypocrisy and secret moral corruption.
Or by falling right back in with the king and his machinations. His Majesty was unpredictable at best and dangerous at worst. "I haven't yet decided -- "
"Of course you have." He cast Simon a sly glance. "Or you wouldn't have served your full term as Governor-General. You'd have returned to England once you tired of the heat and snakes and troubles with the natives. But you stuck it out when a lesser man would've said, 'I have wealth and rank. Who needs politics?'"
Simon bristled. "I stuck it out because I pledged to do so."
"And because I said you would have no political future unless you did."
Clearly His Majesty meant to press the issue. "Yes. But I served my term faithfully, and now you owe me your unqualified support in my bid for prime minister. Just as we agreed."
With a cunning smile, the king circled Simon. "Ah, but that isn't exactly what we agreed to, is it? I said if you went to India, I would not oppose your reentry into politics upon your return. There was no mention of support."
A sharp burst of anger seared Simon's gut. Though he was not surprised that His Bloody Majesty was splitting hairs, it hampered his plans for England. Much as he hated it, permanent change would require the king's complicity.
But he'd be damned before he'd beg. "Then I am on my own. Thank you for clarifying that detail." He turned for the door. "Now if you will excuse me . . ."
"Wait, damn you. I only meant that if you do want my unqualified support -- "
"I will have to do as you say." Simon paused as he reached the door. "The last time you dangled your 'unqualified support' in front of me, I ended up banished." Thanks to one reckless kiss and a handful of false promises. "Forgive me if I have lost my taste for currying your favor."
"Don't be impertinent, Foxmoor. You know damned well that what happened with Louisa was your fault. I told you not to make her believe you would marry her. Was I supposed to look the other way when you defied me?"
Apparently they were going to have this discussion, regardless of Simon's wishes. Shutting the library door, he faced the king. "You gave me an impossible task. Court her, but not court her. Coax her to go off alone with me so you could meet with her, but not tell her why." He took a steadying breath. "I could not accomplish your aims by remaining aloof."
"I thought you would behave like an honorable gentleman."
With Louisa, whose voluptuous mouth had haunted his dreams even then? "Even I have limits."
George eyed Simon assessingly. "She's much altered from the young woman you knew then, don't you think?"
The abrupt change of subject put him further on his guard. This way lay quicksand. "I could not say. We barely had time to speak."
"She's more comfortable in society, more confident." He scowled. "Too confident, if you ask me."
"Trouble in paradise, Your Majesty?" Simon said dryly.
George glowered at him. "Your sister has told you about it, I suppose."
"Regina and I do not discuss Louisa."
The king began to pace. "The willful chit is driving me insane. She refuses every suitor, says she's never going to marry. At first I didn't believe her, but she's twenty-six and still hasn't let a man near her."
He shot Simon a dour glance. "Then there's her activities. I didn't squawk when she was over at that blasted Widow Harris's school, giving the girls advice on how to behave at court. I figured it would keep her busy, since Louisa took my daughter Charlotte's death very hard, as did we all. But now she's got herself mixed up with reformers, and she's hieing herself off to Newgate -- "
"The prison?" he said, curious in spite of himself.
"Exactly. She and her London Ladies Society go with those Quakers from the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners in Newgate to bring aid."
That surprised him. Louisa had never struck him as the sort to pursue reform, much less the unsavory kind of reform. "And her brother allows it?"
"Draker approves, damn him. Even lets Regina go off with her. The fool thinks it's good for them to do something 'useful' and 'worthy' with their time."
Simon shrugged. "Charity work is a time-honored pastime for ladies."
"Unmarried ones? Who should not have their tender minds besmirched by the debaucheries they might witness there?"
Remembering his one visit to Newgate years ago, Simon shuddered. The man did have a point. The inmates he had seen had acted little better than animals. And to think of Louisa there . . .
But it was none of his affair.
"And when Louisa isn't trotting off to Newgate, she and her London Ladies Society raise funds for the Association."
"That's why she was speaking to Lady Trusbut."
"Oh, she wants more from Lady Trusbut than money. She wants the silly featherhead to join the London Ladies Society so that -- " George stopped abruptly.
Simon's eyes narrowed. "So that what? What is wrong with Lady Trusbut joining Louisa's charitable group?"
The king glanced away. "Nothing. Except that they're trotting about the prisons, of course."
That clearly was not what worried the king. Not that it mattered. "Why would your daughter's new pastime possibly concern me?"
His Majesty's gaze swung back to him. "Do you still fancy Louisa?" When Simon tensed, George added hastily, "What if I were to say you could have her?"
A thrill coursed down Simon's spine that he ruthlessly squelched. This was a trap. "I am sure Louisa would have a strong opinion about that."
"Perhaps if she knew. But I intend this arrangement to stay between us."
Simon dragged in a sharp breath. "If you think I will once more play -- "
"I'm not suggesting anything underhanded; this time I mean marriage. She needs a husband to keep her safe. And you're the logical choice."
"Me!" The suggestion staggered Simon. "You cannot possibly be serious. What happened to your assertion years ago that she should marry for love? That I was incapable of it?" Which just happened to be true, unfortunately.
"I thought she'd find someone. But she hasn't, and I fear she never will."
"Unless I marry her?"
"Exactly. Wed her and bed her and get her with child. Do whatever's necessary to keep her safely at home."
Simon burst into laughter. This was not the conversation he had expected to have with His Majesty. "Surely you see the irony. Me and Louisa . . . married . . ."
"You found her attractive enough once." His face clouded over. "Or did her request that you be sent off turn your tender feelings to hatred?"
His amusement vanished. "I have no feelings for her one way or the other."
Liar. He had tried to hate her. His anger, twisted with a healthy dose of frustrated lust, had consumed him during those early days in Calcutta. He had spent his nights in lurid fantasies, imagining her at his mercy, reduced to begging his forgiveness and offering all manner of erotic favors. But hard work and the challenge of being Governor-General had eventually burned off his anger.
He'd thought he had subdued his lust, as well -- until today. Not that it mattered. He would not allow Louisa, with her seductive mouth and refreshing boldness, to distract him from his ambition this time. He had learned his lesson.
Besides, George was clearly hiding his real reasons for wanting Simon to marry her, and that made involvement with her dangerous indeed.
"I do not hate Louisa," Simon said, "but under the circumstances, marrying her would be unwise. Even if I wanted to, she would balk. She has clearly lost any interest she once had in me." Galling but true, judging from her reaction upon first seeing him.
"Yet she's still unmarried. And blushes whenever your name is mentioned."
He ignored the sudden leap in his pulse. "Does she?"
"Why do you think I'm approaching you with this proposition? Because I think she secretly still has feelings for you."
"Then they are very secret indeed." The damned female had acted as if he were any bloody gentleman she might meet at a party, instead of the first man to ever kiss her. "I certainly saw no sign of them earlier."
"You will. Put that charm of yours to work. God knows you're more eligible now than ever, after your heroic actions at the Battle of Kirkee."
He sucked in a harsh breath. "Yes, wasn't it heroic of me to close the stable door after the horses had escaped?"
The king eyed him with a curious gaze. "You acted on good intelligence. No one blames you for what happened at Poona."
No one but himself. Because no one but him recognized the enormity of his misjudgment. He might have prevented the razing of Poona if only --
But going over and over it did no good. He had learned from it, and now he meant to make good use of what he'd learned. And to make amends for his error. That was only right.
"The point is," the king went on, "Louisa still cares for you -- I'm sure of it. And if you got her to fall in love with you once, you can do it again."
The tantalizing appeal of that alarmed him. He did not need the likes of Louisa North in his life right now. "Ah, but I don't want to do it again."
"Even if I make sure you're the next prime minister? Liverpool needs to resign after the mess at St. Peter's Field. Even the other ministers acknowledge that it would soothe the populace to see him step down."
And the other ministers were even worse than Liverpool, but they could be dismissed if Liverpool was gone. Judging from the MPs Simon had spoken to, the general feeling was that the entire current government needed dismantling.
Perhaps change was finally in the wind. Perhaps the time had finally come to sever the dead wood before it brought the English oak crashing down.
But that didn't mean Simon could trust George with the axe.
"And what will you do if Louisa refuses to marry me or claims I broke her heart a second time?" Simon asked. "No. I will not risk my career yet again." He stalked toward the door.
"At least take time to think about it," the king said. "If you do this for me, I swear you won't regret it. And if you don't . . ." George trailed off meaningfully.
Bloody hell, the king still had the power to make a great deal of trouble. But why would he resort to threats over Louisa marrying? It made no sense.
Perhaps Simon should learn more about the situation before he burned any bridges. "I will consider it." At least until he learned the king's motives.
Since he clearly would not get the truth from George, that left only one other source -- Louisa. Perhaps she knew what prompted the king's concern.
Whether she would tell him was another matter. He would have to be careful in his questions, but he would get answers. Because he dared not proceed with his own plans until he knew exactly what the king was up to.
And how the tempting and dangerous Louisa North played into the equation.
Copyright © 2006 by Deborah Gonzales
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was by far my favorite Sabrina Jeffries book yet. I admit I'm a little biased because I love redemption stories, and Simon needed some redeeming. Both characters, Simon and Louisa, were so well-developed I can't imagine knowing them any better in the span of a novel. Simon was one of the best heroes I've read in a while and Louisa was very lovable. If you're a fan of Sabrina Jeffries, don't miss this one!
In 1814 Duke Simon Tremaine courted Louisa North, the illegitimate daughter of King George IV in what the Ton thought was a love match heading to the altar. Instead the Duke of Foxmoor unceremoniously dumped her to ensure his future. Simon went to India to make a fortune.------------------ In 1821 Simon returns home with plans to use his wealth and position to achieve the top rung of political power in England, Prime Minister. He even cuts a deal with King George IV to marry his wrong side of the bed offspring in exchange for royal support of his aspirations. As Simon tries to hold up his end of the bargain by courting the intelligent, witty and sensual Louisa, she debates him on social issues especially since he detests her performing good deeds and charity towards the females incarcerated at Newgate. As Simon realizes he loves Louisa, he must overcome his aversion to that emotion as taught to him by his cold grandfather during his icy childhood. Simon learned that no woman must interfere with hisfuture albeit India or Prime Minister.---------------- The second School of Heiresses tale (see NEVER SEDUCE A SCOUNDREL) is a fabulous Regency romance starring a likable, bright and caring heroine and her emotionally scarred beloved. The story line focuses on their relationship, but also provides a deep look at how the child becomes the man. A superb subplot involving political scandal augments a great historical that proves with authors like Sabrina Jeffries the sub-genre is alive and not just kicking, it¿s dancing.----------------- Harriet Klausner
Reviewed by Colantha Book provided by NetGalley for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book Louisa North is a daughter of the King, and Simon left after things got complicated so when she has to marry him, the sparks fly. Louisa is working hard to save the ladies reform group and it involves going into prison, which is dangerous and Simon has political ambitions. How can Louisa trust that Simon really has feelings for her after they have had to marry for convenience? Sabrina Jeffries’s story kept me on the seat of my pants after she has so many obstacles that keep Louisa and Simon from acknowledging that they are meant to be together. And it is even more hard when Simon has grandfather baggage Big Time. I like it when the hero has baggage because it allows me to fall in love with him as Louisa does, especially at the end of the book. I still have to read the first book of the series but the anthology based on this series was very addicting like this book. Sabrina Jeffries’s book Only a Duke Will Do is one book you should check out if you enjoy reading about strong women who fall in love with men who are softies.