Frederica Burghley wants to be married by Yuletide. Or else her father will set her up with one of his friends. The bonbon-loving illegitimate daughter of the duke wants to choose her own husband. Advertising in the newspaper seems like the way to go. But a sinister response, with threats against her life, leads her to enlist the help of her very handsome, dear friend Jasper Fitzwilliam, Lord Hartwell.
A father and widower, Jasper is not only tasked with keeping Frederica safe but also with helping his vibrant friend choose a suitable husband. The more he tries to keep the ever-surprising woman alive and find her a good match, the more Jasper realizes he cares for her. The two friends risk their lives for each other, so they should be able to risk their feelings for a chance at a deep and true love together. But he's not looking for marriage and she's not looking for convenience.
Each book in the Advertisements for Love series is STANDALONE:
* The Bittersweet Bride
* The Bashful Bride
* The Butterfly Bride
* The Bewildered Bride
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November 6, 1820, London, England
Ting, ting, plunk — the noise of shattering glass forced Frederica Burghley to peek through her heavy lids. She saw nothing but her darkened bedchamber. The moon danced on her blurry wall tapestry, as it had when she went to bed.
She closed her eyes and let the comfort of her wool blankets soothe her nerves.
More breaking glass.
"Who's there?" Her voice sounded funny. She felt funny. Why?
Was it barking? The duke's bloodhounds, Romulus and Remus? No. They'd keep making noise until she or the duke quieted them. No, that wasn't it.
"I asked, who's there?" Her voice. Such a hoarse whisper.
Nothing answered her question. Nothing. No yelping. No dogs.
Her eyelids drooped.
But the quiet eroded again with more chipping noises.
Then a screech, like nails on a schoolroom chalkboard, sent tremors down her spine.
Her mouth went dry.
Even if she could talk louder, she doubted any of Papa's party guests downstairs would pay attention. The refreshments and violin music were too plentiful. Even Lord Hartwell, the frustrating viscount, wouldn't help. The man had sent her to bed like she was one of his mischievous daughters.
Then a boom.
Then something that sounded like a curse.
She squinted in the direction of the noise. The moonlight highlighted the posts of her bed and a hole in her windowpane.
That was wrong.
All Papa's windows should be perfect. But this one wasn't. Who dared to break a window belonging to the Duke of Simone?
Frederica tried to sit up but moving a few inches made the world spin hard and heavy. Her dinner and every dessert she'd ever eaten threatened to return and make a grand entrance.
Something was wrong. She felt wrong. Very wrong. So much for being good and retiring early. Ha-ha-Lord Hartwell, Lord Hartsmell.
More shards fell.
She heard the glass breaking more clearly. Her heart thumped fast, faster than the pianoforte played at Papa's wedding today, faster than the claps he'd received for his young bride. A bride one third his age — one closer to Frederica's twenty-two years.
Her gaze locked on fingers stretching through the fist-sized hole in the window. Fingers in a black leather glove, a man's glove.
Her skin pimpled with a chill her blanket couldn't warm.
Frederica needed to do something. But what?
Ohhhh. Why is it so hard to think?
And why is my arm numb and tingly?
And my legs ... Why don't my legs shift or lift like they should?
"Coming for you." The voice was low, deep, rude.
No one should come for Frederica Burghley, not without an invitation. It was not to be done, not to the daughter of a duke.
Now an arm stretched inside. Panic, perspiration, and rapid blinks seemed to get her eyes working. She focused on the waggling, maybe- hunting-for-the-lock-hand. Dark coat.
She tried again to sit, to stand, to not lose hope. Maybe she could roll? Roll out of the bedsheets, to the hall — any place safer.
One. She rocked her body toward the edge of the bed.
Two. She rolled back.
Two and a half. She thrust again, harder, really hard. She'd made it.
Four. She held her breath, then tipped over, flopping to the floor. Air pushed from her stomach, up her throat, and out lips that barely worked.
Her face landed on the frilly slipper she'd worn that day to the wedding. Getting caught with some man on the duke's day, no matter how she hated her father being married, wasn't to be done.
"I hear you. I'm coming for you, my sweetest. Just need the latch to obey."
Her heart slammed into her chest. Her palms turned clammy, dead cold.
Sweetest? Wasn't that the same word the man who had responded to her advertisement had used?
The man who wanted to marry her? The man who'd sent threatening notes? The man who had promised her death?
This wasn't a foolhardy compromise or thief — it was a killer.
She started to crawl or shuffle, but her knees kept tangling in her long nightgown. Slipping, scooting, wanting to run to the door, she tumbled and looked back. The curtains rustled and revealed a man's leg. Ohhhhh, no no no no.
Hiking her nightgown, balling up the ruffles to free her knees, she pushed into the hall.
The noise of the remaining wedding guests — the sweet violins, an amateur's off-key pianoforte reached her ear.
She needed to get their attention. She opened her mouth but couldn't manage a scream above a sigh.
No one would hear her.
No one was coming to save her.
No. That wouldn't be her story. Nearing a half-open threshold, she pushed and flopped inside. Kicking at the door, she closed it. Her eyes adjusted to the pitch-black bedchamber but her pulse still raced. She was a doorknob's twist away from a killer.
Knees stinging, one rubbed raw from the stiff nape of the duke's Indian silk rugs, she crawled deeper into the room.
She hit something. Her forehead stung. She traced the fretwork and knurling of a bedpost. Pulling up on it until she half-stood, wobbling like a drunk she'd once seen beating on her mother's door when they'd lived at a brothel.
Frederica swayed but gripped the bedpost tighter. She hadn't had too much drink. She didn't drink anything but weak raffia or tea.
If someone brought her the wrong glass, the well-meaning Lord Hartwell, the one who thought-he-knew-everything had finished it.
Then he'd sent her to retire. Hmmm.
Going to bed early but chased by a killer — did that mean she would win the argument with the viscount? She'd collect a sweet Gunter's ice from Hartwell if she lived. In her heart, she'd give up a month of bonbons for one of his lectures right now.
Then she wouldn't be alone or scared.
Loud voices sounded in the hall outside the door.
She dove headlong into the bed, sinking into the mattress. The down stuffing cradled her as she burrowed into bedclothes — a soft blanket, smooth, crisp sheets.
The door creaked open.
She gripped the wool over her head, closed her eyes, prayed for salvation, then played dead.
Footsteps came near. Her heart thundered.
Feigning death wouldn't be an option. The man would kill her like the last note had said.
The bed swayed.
She tensed her stomach awaiting the jab of a knife — a gutting, that's how he'd put it.
The bed swayed again.
Then nothing, blessed, quiet, nothing.
A scent. It smelled familiar and luscious like licorice, but not. Maybe sweet-and-sour barberry ice. Maybe a rich brandy sauce.
Her chest loosened. Sleepiness took hold. Her fingers relaxed, and she eased her death grip on the blanket.
If dying smelled like dessert, maybe it shouldn't be feared.
* * *
For Jasper Fitzwilliam, the Viscount Hartwell, holding his late wife was never a problem. He simply closed his eyes and dreamed of her. Sleep returned his wife to when she knew no sickness and was not ravaged by the stomach cancer which had taken her. Maria was whole.
He reached for his dream love and snuggled her close. His pulse raced. His ears filled with the thud of her drumming heartbeat, then he felt her hot breath along his throat.
Maria's arms had no bloodletting scars. They were smooth again, so soft to his touch, so warm, not freezing cold. He put his nose to her neck and let her perfume, her wonderful rosewater scent, have its way with him. It seduced him to a time when she was his and their love was strong, stronger than anything — stronger than four dangerous childbirths, stronger than his father's endless vendettas, and almost strong enough to keep fighting her illness after a two-year decline.
That time seemed so long ago. His memories hadn't faded, nor this feeling of being loved.
On a deeper inhale he turned her to him and offered a kiss. Nose aside nose. Lips against lips.
That perfume. Didn't Maria like lilacs, not roses?
It didn't matter, because tonight, she kissed him back. Oh, each kiss tasted of peppermint and chocolate and bitters.
Then Maria screamed.
She beat upon his chest and kept on screaming.
Jasper opened his eyes and tugged his dream woman, the one still punching him in the chest upright. The minx Miss Burghley was in his bed, in his arms.
His heart stopped, then beat like crazy. Then he remembered kissing her. His thirty-three-year-old heart might well explode.
"Let me go. Please don't kill me."
"Kill you?" He ran a hand through his hair, massaging a sudden headache, one worse than a foolish brandy hangover, one heavy like a laudanum-to-set-a-broken-bone headache. "I beg your pardon?"
He released her.
She rolled out of bed, taking the covers with her.
Miss Burghley stood near the window. Morning sun streamed through the parted curtains and reflected hints of gold in her dark brown locks.
"What.... What are you doing here, my lord?" Her voice sounded squeaky at first then settled into her typical lighter tone, the one he'd grown to know this past year, the one he knew well enough to realize that this wasn't pretend. "Hartwell, what is this?"
"Sleep, my dear. At least it was."
"In my bedchamber? I never thought you a bounder. You're honorable. I trusted you."
Being caught in bed with a duke's daughter would be a death sentence for his bachelorhood. So Jasper purposed to remain calm. "You're in my room, Miss Burghley. Why are you here? What new scheme is this?"
Mobcap askew, she frowned and rubbed at her crown. More curly hair spilled, long and free, down her shoulders. The woman's sun-kissed face had fevered to bronze. "I didn't. I'm not scheming. This is ..." Her head turned side to side. "Not my room. How did this happen?" She clutched at the bedsheets tighter. "What happened?"
Though he remembered every touch and taste of his dream, he was very unsure of how she had ended up in his bed. Everything inside his head was foggy, but he couldn't say that. "Nothing — of consequence — happened. Nothing."
The bold sprite he'd befriended this past year looked faint as she shifted her hands to her temples and then back to catch the falling covers. Despite her efforts, the blankets dropped to her knees offering another view of her shapely limbs and hips that did her nightgown proud.
"Lord Hartwell, I've come to know you ... not biblically ... I mean, I respect you as a person, but I don't believe you. You're not looking at my face. We must be compromised."
What man would stop at her pretty face, when there was a waist and curves to view? "Compromise denotes henpecked stupidity. Neither of us is that."
Wrapping the blanket about her like a butterfly's cocoon, she hopped and paced, hopped and paced. "What are we going to do?"
The noise of footfalls was outside his door. The duke's housekeeping staff must rise early.
Miss Burghley stilled, her eyes wide as tea saucers. "Papa will say this is my fault. He'll say you should marry me." She started hopping again. "What am I going to tell him?"
"Don't mention that M word or the compromise one, either. I'm not ready to duel your father. He's reportedly still a good shot. Perhaps he'd rather fence. I'd win at that."
"Must you tease, Hartwell?"
He put his back to the bed frame. "Teasing is your specialty, Miss Burghley. Or it had been." She'd been different these past few months.
"I can't tell my father. I've been careful."
"To not get caught?"
The look she cast him — hurt, appalled, almost disgusted — made his mouth dry. What was left of his soul hurt for her. "I'm sorry."
She hopped again, muttering to herself. He wasn't sure if she'd requested the devil to take him but Jasper sort of agreed. He'd taken her flirting as worldliness, and her sudden disinterest as a new lover preoccupying her, but this hopping butterfly seemed more innocent and insecure than he'd ever seen. He was more interested in her, but still cautious. "We haven't been compromised, Miss Burghley. I'm not ready to miss the decorations and plum pudding at Yuletide because of an early demise. So no talk of duels, compromise, or marriage."
"Marry you? No. No. No." She took a quick peek beneath the bedclothes. She sighed. "You haven't seen me, have you? Tell me you haven't."
There was that naive tone again, and for all the teasing he'd endured from the minx and had missed receiving these past three months, he wanted to point out that he was in a worse state of undress.
Shirt and waistcoat hanging on the post.
Dancing slippers and formal pantaloons on the floor.
One knock on the door, and she paled. "I can't be caught with you. Lord Hartwell, you have to help me."
The last time she'd uttered those words it was for him to retrieve her gloves and a Gunter ice. His heart saddened for her. There was no hint of flirtation in her voice — just fear.
"Miss Burghley, at least I am confident that you did not intend to compromise me."
"Certainly not. Never you."
Another knock. This one rattled the door.
After checking beneath the blanket again, she moved as if she'd answer. "Just a moment."
"Yes, ma'am. I won't come in."
Miss Burghley turned to Jasper. "That's Martica. She's my maid. She can help. She's loyal."
Still gritting his teeth at the never you comment, he put up his hand. "Stop."
She froze like she'd become a snowball, as if her feet had become ice blocks.
"I need to be dressed before that door opens. What do you mean, never me?"
"Not you or anyone. You're too — No ... no marriage created by scandal. Can you hurry?"
"This is my room, Miss Burghley. I should've answered." He pulled on his wrinkled shirt and pantaloons at a pace just shy of a horse's last stroll before being put to pasture.
"Will you. Lord Hartwell ... Naked chest." The girl's face fevered bright and shiny like a torch, then she spun in the other direction. Her worldly facade crumbled, exposing a fragile innocence. That was very unexpected from a courtesan's daughter.
Now he hurried, if only to keep her from bursting into flames from another refreshing blush. Scooping up his shoes, he came up behind her. Though she was tall, very tall for a woman, his six-foot-four height towered over her. "Butterfly, I'm dressed."
She covered her eyes and spun to him. "You sure?"
He pulled her hand down and hooked his coat on her finger. "You could've hidden in the closet. And ... you've set us up to be caught."
"I sleepwalk sometimes, especially after a fright." She went to the window. Her blanket dropped, giving another eyeful of the lithe woman — one more demure than he'd assumed.
"Hartwell. You. Out the window."
The knocking picked up.
The minx Burghley pointed outside. "Hurry."
"Ma'am," the maid said. "Miss Burghley, the duke is coming." The voice, scared, respectful, desperate, surely came from a sympathetic servant on the other side of a pleased-be-locked-door. "He's seen the broken window in your room, ma'am."
Broken window? Miss Burghley was in danger? Jasper turned, heading to the door. "Where's your room?"
Miss Burghley caught his arm. "Down the hall, the opposite side. But you can't go. You and I can't be seen leaving this room together."
She was right. He let her tow him to the window.
He put a hand to her shoulder and felt her trembling. The unflappable Miss Burghley seemed fragile — fragile and frightened. "Woman, who's threatening you?"
She wiggled away and threw open the locks of the window. Then she tossed his coat outside. "Leave."
Arguing with her when her mind was set was a losing battle. Another lesson he'd learned this past year as her erstwhile errand man. Sighing, he put one leg out the window. The cold November wind chilled his bare feet, and looking down, he saw frost. "Butterfly. Just tell me."
A frown, deeper than the one she'd worn at her father's wedding, marked her lips. "A man came through my window last night, Lord Hartwell. He's determined to kill me."
"Out out out."
He climbed through the window and balanced on the ledge. This woman was going to make him climb down the trellis. Lord, he hoped it would hold. "Miss Burghley, we have to discuss — "
She shoved him until he almost fell off the ledge. "Later, sir. Much later, perhaps when time freezes."
The window slammed shut, and the curtains closed before he could offer another complaint, but he'd not stop asking questions, not until he found out who'd tried to hurt her.
He dropped his shoes, and they landed with a thunk onto the frosted grass. If he caught a cold ...
Beautiful Burghley. The Duke of Simone's Burghley.
The Butterfly. Only she could land him in such trouble. Well, she, and his daughters.
Jasper shook his head, sounding too much like his brother, grousing over the antics of females.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Butterfly Bride"
Copyright © 2018 Vanessa Riley.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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