Mirabella can hardly remember the man she married as a girl. And it's just as well. She feels nothing but contempt for the man who wed her for her fortune and promptly forgot she existed. The ton may call him "The Saint" but Bella knows better.
Forced to marry as a teen to rescue his family from certain ruin, Sebastian has been apart from his child bride since their wedding day. When he encounters an enchanting impish beauty at the opera, he's is thrilled to find she is none other than his long-ago bride and he is more than ready to make her his wife in truth.
Too bad the beguiling beauty has no intention of coming meekly to the marriage bed.
Each book in the Accidental Peers series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
#1 Seducing Charlotte
#2 Tempting Bella
#3 Compromising Willa
#4 Engaging the Earl
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About the Author
Diana Quincy is an award-winning television journalist who decided she'd rather make up stories where a happy ending is always guaranteed.
Growing up as a foreign service brat, Diana lived in many countries and is now settled in Virginia with her husband and two sons. When not bent over her laptop or trying to keep up with laundry, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family and dreams of traveling much more than her current schedule (and budget) allows.
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By Diana Quincy, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Rima Jean
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Dora Mekouar
All rights reserved.
Six years later
"It is time for you to take your wife."
Sebastian cocked a dark eyebrow. "Where would you like me to take her?"
The Duke of Traherne pushed to his feet, the red in his ruddy face deepening. Planting his hands wide on the enormous wooden desk in his study, he leaned over to peer into his son-in- law's face. "Damn your insolence, boy!" The shadows from the afternoon sun danced across his flapping jowls. "You take my meaning and do not pretend you don't."
Sebastian walked over to the sideboard to pour a glass of water. He forced a deep inhale, taking in the rich aroma of books and leather intermingled with stale cigar smoke. Glancing out the window, he watched a coach-and-four amble along the tidy Mayfair street and suppressed a mad impulse to run after it and jump aboard. It didn't matter where its unknown inhabitants were headed, as long as it provided a reprieve from Traherne's dark-paneled study. His gaze followed the conveyance, watching the tenuous chance of escape slip out of sight.
He turned toward his wife's father, ready to face the man's palpable sense of growing outrage. "I am not here to discuss Mirabella." He gestured toward the documents on the duke's desk. "I have personally invested in a number of properties, including two factories near Manchester and one in Stockport. They are sound investments. I propose we attach Traherne funds to the same interests. The papers have been prepared. All they require is your signature."
"To hell with estate matters." The older man's scarlet face emphasized the broken blood vessels in his bulbous nose. "Married six years and you've yet to get your hands on her apple dumplin' shop. What's wrong with you, boy?"
He swallowed down the disgust at Traherne's vulgar reference to his own daughter's anatomy. Leveling a direct gaze at the duke, he said, "Please refrain from referring to my wife in such a coarse manner."
Plopping back in his chair, he rested his elbows on the armrests. "What is it about you? Bella is already nine-and-ten. You were to consummate the marriage two years ago."
Sebastian took the seat across from Traherne's desk. "What my wife and I do, and when we do it, is none of your concern."
"Or if you do it at all. You have not even laid eyes on her since your wedding day."
"Upon her seventeenth birthday, my wife wrote to me from her finishing school and requested to go abroad. I acquiesced."
"I should never have allowed it."
"It was not yours to allow or disallow," he said quietly. "She is my wife. I alone command her now." And he would give her as much freedom as was in his power. It was the least he could do after what they'd all done to her.
Traherne's eyes widened at Sebastian's impudence. "She's been abroad for two years! This is preposterous."
A burning sensation unfurled in his chest. "On that we agree. Preposterous is a word that could be rightly applied to this marriage you and my late father arranged."
Traherne shook his head with obvious incredulity. "Most youngbloods would be grateful to be consort to a duchess and to wield real power." He slammed the rosewood desk with his hand, unsettling the tangle of papers upon it. One broke free and sailed to the ground. "Any man of sound mind would be thrilled to know his son would one day be a duke."
Sebastian resisted the urge to tidy the disordered documents strewn about duke's enormous wooden desk. "I have done my part in this devil's bargain. When the time comes, I will do my duty. I already oversee Traherne's vast holdings. Pray sign the papers so I may go about my business."
His Grace's hands fisted under his chin, his elbows resting on the armrests. "I have no argument with your oversight of the duchy. It pleases me to know I didn't misjudge your character and abilities. You've proven yourself adept." His voice rose in exasperation. "Except for one. Will you bed your wife? That is your duty above all else. Or is it that you do not like women? All these years and I have never heard of you keeping a ladybird or visiting the bawd houses." He waved a dismissive hand. "Indulge whatever tastes you have. It is of no matter to me, but you must consummate the marriage. It is imperative you beget an heir."
"My tastes are none of your concern, but I assure you they are quite mundane."
"Then get your nose out of the estate books and your person out of the boxing and fencing clubs. Get on with the business of claiming what is yours."
"My attention to estate matters is precisely why the Traherne accounts are robust once again." Eager to be out of the duke's presence, he rose, impatient to unleash the growing pent-up energy inside of him. "Speaking of Gentleman Jack's, I do have an appointment. Please excuse me."
"I am warning you. Go to your wife and make her yours. She is headstrong, more so than you, if that is possible. You must bring her to heel."
He bowed, cheered now that freedom was close at hand. "I shall take your comments under advisement. About the investments?"
"God's teeth, but you are stubborn." Traherne glanced at the papers. "If you think it is sound, then it is." He scratched his signature across the agreements and threw sand on them to set the ink. The duke handed the papers over. "Bella needs a strong hand to cope with her rebellious and obstinate nature."
Taking the documents, Sebastian headed for the door, welcoming the cool burst of relief at having brought today's business with the duke to a rapid conclusion. "I bid you good day."
He was surprised to hear Traherne chuckle behind him. "One thing is certain. Once the two of you come together, even the devil himself will be running for cover."
The duke's words echoed in Sebastian's head as he set off in the direction of Gentleman Jack's. There was no putting off the inevitable. For six long years, he'd born the guilt of what they'd done to Mirabella. He was a grown man who'd never truly been free to do as he pleased, the same as when he was a boy. Yet Traherne had the right of it. He must summon Mirabella home.
His friend, Lucius Penrose, fourth son of the Earl of Allston, was standing by the entrance when he arrived at the boxing club.
"How was your audience with His Grace?" he asked as they made their way inside for their boxing lesson. The two friends came three times a week and Sebastian never missed a workout. He reveled in the physical challenge and exertion.
They entered the changing room, where humidity and the pungent scent of male exertion hung in the air. "His usual pleasantness, I am afraid."
"What did he want?"
He pulled off his shirt and folded it with care. "He wants what he always wants."
Shaking his head, Pen chuckled. "When will he realize you do no one's bidding but your own?"
They headed out to the boxing floor. Gentleman John Jackson himself was on the crowded floor instructing a young buck. As always, the champion wore the vibrant colors he favored, which today included an orange-striped tailcoat.
A familiar surge of anticipation shot through Sebastian's veins, his muscles poised and anxious for the fight ahead. "I suppose Traherne still sees me as the young pup who married his daughter. Unfortunately, he is right in this. I cannot put off the inevitable any longer."
"So the mystery bride finally appears?" Taking a seat on the hanging scale, Pen regarded the measurement with evident satisfaction. "I haven't gained an ounce." He studied Sebastian's face. "She's just your wife, Stan. Get a babe on her and then get on with your life. The world is full of highfliers for the taking."
He wrapped a protective muffler around his fist. "It's not my way, Pen, as you well know."
"How could I forget?" Pen held out a fist for Sebastian to wrap. "It's unnatural to go without a woman for as long as you have. I hold out hope the saint will one day allow the true Sebastian to emerge."
He exhaled through his nostrils. "What utter nonsense you speak. Do favor me with a change of topic?"
"Very well. Are we attending the opera this evening? Adelaide says you promised her. After all, you do have the best box in the house, next to Prinny."
"You mean to say Traherne has the best box in the house. But yes, I've made arrangements for its use this evening." He slammed his wrapped fists together, testing his mufflers. "If Adelaide wants it, she shall have it. You know I cannot deny your sister anything."CHAPTER 2
"Discover anything that'll send Sebastian to Newgate?" Popping his head through her sitting room door, Cary Orford eyed the papers and account books littering Mirabella's escritoire.
"Not as of yet." Sitting back in her chair, she released a frustrated breath, stirring a renegade spiral of auburn hair that had escaped the bun atop her head. "Traherne's accounts are quite complicated. Finding irregularities is no easy task."
"I did a bit of investigation on my own, as you requested." He shut the door, wandering into the powder-blue sitting room originally designed for the mistress of the house. But years ago, during finishing school breaks, Bella had taken the comfortable space as her own. There was no one to object; her mother, the duchess, was long dead and, although the property wasn't far from Town, the duke never ventured to Strawberry Hill.
She gave Orford her full attention. "What have you learned?"
"I haven't actually laid eyes on the man yet, but from what I can gather, Sebastian runs everything." Ambling over to the blue, felt-covered card table with a chess set perched atop it, he ran his fingers over the carved wooden pieces. "Your husband oversees all of the estate business."
"Please don't call him that," she said.
"Very well." He shot her a bemused look. "Even though that is exactly what he is."
"In name only."
"Yes, wedded but not bedded." He ran an appreciative gaze over her petite, curvy frame. "Which I cannot begin to understand."
"I comprehend perfectly," she said tartly. "There's no gold hidden on my person."
"The man's a fool not to see you for the treasure you are." He regarded her with startling blue eyes that left women all over the continent breathless and swooning. But not Bella. They'd been friends far too long for that. "Tell me what you've learned."
Walking over to the unlit marble hearth, he folded his lithe frame into a chair covered with a blue-and-bronze paisley fabric. "He controls the duchy, including all of the assets, and is quite wealthy as a result."
"Our marriage has certainly served him well."
"He didn't have a farthing to his name before your marriage. The family was on the verge of destitution."
"Dare I ask how flush in the pockets he is?"
"Stanhope's personal fortune rivals that of the duke himself."
She sucked in a sharp breath. "Good Lord."
"Surely you're not surprised he helps himself to a bit of extra fruit from the tree."
"It sounds as if he's made off with entire orchards. Where is His Grace in all of this?"
"Your father, the duke, retains official control. However, he doesn't appear to trouble himself with business concerns." Orford adjusted the cuffs of his snowy-white shirt. "He leaves that to Sebastian."
"And while my father empties bottle after bottle of his beloved Russian vodka, Sebastian makes off with chunks of the family fortune."
"Perhaps there's another way he came by the blunt."
"Not likely." She stacked the ledgers to keep her hands busy. "From what I can discern, he receives a fixed allowance from the duchy. It's a healthy portion, but nowhere near enough to account for that kind of wealth."
He gestured toward the account books and documents cluttering the desk. "What do you hope to accomplish with this?"
"I am my father's heir. It's time I began acting as such."
"I can't allow Sebastian to bankrupt the duchy. Everyone will expect a duchess in her own right to make a hash of things, but I vow Traherne will never fall to ruin under my watch."
"I know that look. It means nothing will deter you." He smiled as if enjoying a marvelous joke. "For the first time, I don't envy Stanhope his place as your husband."
"I cannot leave my children a debt-laden inheritance."
"Ah yes, les enfants, who will also be the fruit of Sebastian's loins."
"I have no choice in that regard." Although she preferred to avoid thinking about the intimacy required to breed, she was fully prepared to do her duty when the time came. It would be worth the sacrifice. Her chest constricted at the thought of having a baby to love. The lively laughter of children would be most welcome after the solemn quietude of her childhood.
"Saving Traherne from Sebastian is a laudable goal. However, once the duke passes, your husband will control everything, even more so than he does at present."
"Stop calling him that."
"What do you plan to call him?" he said. "He is the man you married. It's only a matter of time now before you submit to him."
"I submit to no one." But Orford was right, of course. She would see Sebastian soon. Not that she'd recognize the man she'd been forced to marry. All she recalled from that long-ago afternoon was a dark, masculine presence with a grim countenance. Yet his eyes had been kind. She remembered that much about him.
Clearly, she'd been wrong. The scapegrace abandoned her the minute he got his hands on her fortune. He'd had even less use for her than her father. The sharp edge of sorrow comingled with fury razored through her. It was a familiar sensation, one thoughts of him always evoked. So she stored it away and harnessed it for the day they would meet again. Only this time she wouldn't be a helpless child. Sebastian Stanhope would learn how unwise he'd been to treat his wife with complete disregard.
The future Duchess of Traherne had plans for her husband.
* * *
"Oh, look! There is Baron Beresford's daughter. They say she is this season's incomparable," exclaimed Adelaide Penrose, looking around from her excellent vantage point in the Duke of Traherne's box.
Sebastian gave her a slight smile. "I myself think you are the season's incomparable, Lady Adelaide. What do you think, Pen?"
Pen took his seat, already looking bored. "Hmm? Yes, of course Adelaide is the loveliest girl in the room."
Adelaide's bright blue eyes sparkled. "Thank you for bringing us, Sebastian."
He took his seat, hardly in the mood for the opera, but he resigned himself to it this evening due to his fondness for Adelaide. He'd known her since girlhood from the many times he'd visited on school breaks with her older brother. Anything to avoid going home to his own family. Now eighteen, Adelaide relished all of the firsts that came with her come-out Season. She had taken well so far, thanks to her sweet, sunny nature and petite, blond good looks.
He looked around absentmindedly while Adelaide continued chattering with her brother. His eyes moved over the tiered boxes. People in evening dress milled about waiting for the performance to begin. A movement in one of the boxes across the way caught his attention.
A woman in white muslin stood with her back to him, her gown cascaded down over soft curves in expensive simplicity, its short sleeves trimmed in lace. She wore long, white evening gloves and a snowy fur tippet sloped neatly over her shoulders. The woman's auburn curls were pulled up, but ringlets cascaded down the back of her smooth, pale bare neck. The hair on the back of his neck tingled. Intrigued in a distant way, he kept his gaze on the woman, waiting for her to turn around for a glimpse of her face.
When the woman turned to take her seat, his heart spasmed as though it parsed something of critical importance. She had a wide, elegant face punctuated by prominent, but gently sloping, cheek bones, and a straight aristocratic nose. He brought his opera glasses to his eyes for a clearer view. At the same time, her large, almond-shaped eyes turned in his direction and locked with his. Darkness swallowed her. Startled by a profound feeling of loss, he pulled the opera glasses away from his face only to realize the lights had dimmed because the performance was beginning.
Excerpted from Tempting Bella by Diana Quincy, Alethea Spiridon Hopson, Rima Jean. Copyright © 2013 Dora Mekouar. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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