Lord Garson’s dilemma.
Hugh Rutherford, Lord Garson, loved and lost when his fiancée returned to the husband she’d believed drowned. In the three years since, Garson has come to loathe his notoriety as London’s most famous rejected suitor. It’s high time to find a bride, a level-headed, well-bred lady who will accept a loveless marriage and cause no trouble. Luckily he has just the candidate in mind.
A marriage of convenience…
When Lady Jane Norris receives an unexpected proposal from her childhood friend Lord Garson, marriage to the handsome baron rescues her from a grim future. At twenty-eight, Jane is on the shelf and under no illusions about her attractions. With her father’s death, she’s lost her home and faces life as an impecunious spinster. While she’s aware Garson will never love again, they have friendship and goodwill to build upon. What can possibly go wrong?
…becomes very inconvenient indeed.
From the first, things don’t go to plan, not least because Garson soon finds himself in thrall to his surprisingly intriguing bride. A union grounded in duty veers toward obsession. And when the Dashing Widows take Jane in hand and transform her into the toast of London, Garson isn’t the only man to notice his wife’s beauty and charm. He’s known Jane all her life, but suddenly she’s a dazzling stranger. This isn’t the uncomplicated, pragmatic match he signed up for. When Jane defies the final taboo and asks for his love, her impossible demand threatens to blast this convenient marriage to oblivion.
Once the dust settles, will Lord Garson still be the man who can only love once?
An international e-book release ~ 28th February, 2018
Lord Garson’s wedding night doesn’t go quite as planned so he offers his bride a seductive bargain where he promises her the courtship they never had.
The Red Lion, Salisbury, March 1833
In their rooms at the inn, Garson and his wife sat up late, revisiting childhood memories over an excellent meal. He congratulated himself on his choice of bride. Jane was interesting, funny, intelligent. He could hardly believe that he only now recognized her manifold physical attractions. In short, she promised to be the perfect wife.
If only she’d take him to her bed.
After those incendiary moments in the cathedral, he hadn’t tried to coax her any further down the path of surrender. But he’d touched her lightly, fleetingly, often. A meeting of fingers when he passed her a dish. A caress across the warm curve of her nape when he wandered over to stoke the fire.
Now Garson rose from the dinner table and extended his hand. “Shall I escort you to your chamber, my lady?”
She regarded him doubtfully. “It’s all of three steps.”
For dinner, she’d changed into a dark green dress that wasn’t quite as nun-like as the one she’d worn this afternoon. His gaze drifted across her scooped décolletage. Ridiculous to be so titillated by that modest display of white skin. “I’d hate a bear or a wolf to snatch you up.”
She smiled at his absurdities. All evening, she’d been more relaxed. Perhaps she became accustomed to his company. Perhaps she’d had an extra glass of claret.
“I have a feeling the only wolf here is the one talking to me.”
Smart girl. “Unfair. I’ve been the perfect gentleman.”
She stood and accepted his hand with an ease that underlined the progress he’d made. “Yes, you have.” She paused and cast him a shy glance. “Thank you, Hugh. It’s been a lovely day. One of the loveliest I’ve had in a long time.”
His fingers tightened as he drew her toward the bedroom door. “Shall I call for a maid, or will you bear with your husband unlacing your gown?”
“You don’t need to play my servant.”
He shrugged. “I’m happy to help.”
And by God, the chance to get her out of those depressing clothes was an incentive to any man with blood in his veins, even if helping her undress was the only concession he was going to win from her tonight.
He waited for her to say no. She was no fool, and she must guess his offer was part of his strategy. But after a moment, she nodded. “Then, thank you. I don’t feel like dealing with a stranger.”
Satisfaction filled him. He’d been promoted. Several times yesterday, she’d called him a stranger. Yet tonight he wasn’t.
He opened the door for her to precede him into the bedroom. To a man facing exile to the dressing room, it seemed packed with forbidden luxuries. A blazing fire. A large, comfortable bed. A lovely woman he’d dearly love to swive into next Tuesday.
Garson reminded himself that this was a seduction, not a siege. An avalanche of pleasure to come would repay an ounce of patience now.
At least he bloody well hoped so.
Jane stopped in front of the cheval mirror and glanced over her shoulder. A come-hither look? Or was that wishful thinking?
He stepped up behind her and laid his hands on her straight shoulders. She didn’t jump when he touched her. More progress.
For a long moment, he stared at their reflection. A large man towered over an auburn-haired woman, whose eyes betrayed a longing he suspected she didn’t recognize. “We look like a couple.”
Something about the way they stood said they belonged together. He puzzled over how their wedding vows could establish this visible bond.
“I almost feel married,” she said softly.
Smiling, he kissed her nape. He both felt her shiver and saw it in the mirror.
He ran his hands down her arms and up again, fighting the urge to rip the dress away and uncover the glories beneath. But as the day with his wife played out, he’d noted more than just a growing acceptance of his presence. He’d seen a nascent trust. If he broke the truce now and took what he wanted—by the devil, how he wanted—he’d be back where he was last night.
Learning to be a husband was a long, hard road.
“Hard” being the word.
The sound of his name wrenched him back to the present. Waiting for Jane’s capitulation was torture worthy of the Spanish Inquisition.
With inept fingers, he plucked at the laces down the back of her gown. She remained silent under his attentions, although he could hear her erratic breathing. This was the closest he’d yet come to his wife’s nakedness. Last night’s flannel nightgown had been thick enough to repulse a cavalry charge.
Under the dark green wool, he discovered pure white skin and a graceful back. What he’d give to slide the pins from her rich red hair, until it cascaded around his hands.
Eventually, even his fumbling fingers completed their task. “Shall I undo your corset, too?”
He winced to hear the crack in his voice. It must be something about marriage. He’d never been this mad for a mistress, even as a randy boy let loose on society—and society’s women—for the first time.
“N-no.” Her answer echoed his unsteadiness. “I can manage.”
The girl in the glass was flushed, and her eyes shone with a beguiling mixture of reticence and curiosity. She clasped her bodice to her bosom to save her modesty. The urge to send her modesty to the devil rose, but he conquered it.
“Pity,” he bit out, setting his hands on her hips.
In the mirror, she stared at him, as if afraid he meant to jump on her.
And as if afraid he might not.
“I’ll…I’ll see you in the morning.”
He tilted an eyebrow in her direction. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”
Apprehension tightened her features, a sign that trust remained frail. “You said the decision about…about what happened was mine.”
“It is.” He studied her face, wishing he could banish her doubts with a snap of his fingers. Because he’d never been more certain of anything as he was that when they came together, they would shake the heavens. “But you promised me a kiss.”
“You already kissed me.” Dark red brows contracted in confusion. “In the cathedral, and just now.”
This time, the wolf definitely owned his smile. He looked like he wanted to devour her. “Oh, my dear, those don’t count.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” she protested, although when her attention fell to his lips, a spark of interest lit her eyes.
No wonder she’d been so relaxed over dinner. She thought she’d fulfilled the day’s obligations.
“Are you really so unwilling?”
“N-no,” she said shakily, turning to face him. “I’m not unwilling.”
It was hardly a ringing endorsement. But not a denial either. Garson decided to take what he could get. He caught the hands clutching her sagging bodice. The dress slipped lower. Jane still wore corset and petticoats, so she wasn’t near to naked. Not near enough, in his opinion. But the sight of the pale slope of her breasts rising above the plain white linen of her undergarments slammed through him like a punch.
He kept a grip on tactics—just. Tonight he’d kiss her then leave, to prove she could trust him. Then tomorrow? Well, tomorrow, who knew what might happen? Jane had already set aside so many of her defenses.
She noticed the direction of his gaze, and her hands tugged against his hold as she tried to cover herself. “You’re looking…”
“Like you want to do something wicked.”
His lips curved in appreciation. “I do.”
When consternation widened her eyes, he relented. “But tonight, I’ll just kiss you.”
“Your kisses are wicked.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Garson raised her hands and brushed his lips across them. She exhaled with an audible sigh, and her eyes fluttered shut. One hand flattened across her back, and the other angled her chin up. The touch of his mouth drew a soft gasp from her. She reached blindly for his shoulder.
When he didn’t pursue his advantage, she opened dazed eyes, smoky with confusion and dawning desire. “Is that it?”
“The arrangement was one kiss.”
She stepped back. “I imagined…”
More of those ravenous kisses from last night, he’d wager. But right now, his purpose was to gain her trust. Even if tasting her made him want to return again and again, until she forgot the very meaning of the word no. “You’re safe.”
When she looked disgruntled, he almost smiled.
“That’s very…good of you.” She didn’t sound particularly grateful either.
“Unless you’d like me to stay?”
“By stay, you mean…”
Garson nodded. “Oh, yes. I’ve chosen this path for your benefit. For myself, I’d be overjoyed to share your bed sooner rather than later.” Then a confession that had been unthinkable last week. Two days ago, even. “This delay is pure agony.”
Astonishment widened her eyes further, although surely she must know by now that she put him in a fever. “Surely not.”
“Surely so,” he said with grim amusement. “Are you asking me to come to your bed?”
Her gaze dropped, and those slender hands began to fiddle with her skirt.
The silence was answer enough.
He was sleeping alone tonight. Not that he was surprised. She’d ventured a long way toward him, but it was only a day since he’d made a mess of their wedding night. This wasn’t the outcome he preferred, but he was wise enough to accept it as the outcome that was inevitable. “I’ll see you in the morning, Jane. If it’s fine, we might take the carriage out to Stonehenge.”
“Very well,” she said half-heartedly. He was delighted—amidst his frustration—to notice her dismay that there was only one kiss.
His plan to lure her into his arms was succeeding, although God knew how he’d sleep. Even that one quick kiss made him as hot as a bloody furnace. “Sleep well.”
Garson bowed and left the room before he changed his mind. Once he was on the other side of the door, he slumped against the wall. A groan escaped as he bent his head. Keeping his hands off his lovely bride was excruciating. He hoped to hell that Jane didn’t intend to test his good intentions for long, or he feared for his sanity.