Authors: Diana Quincy
A License to Wed
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept Ebook Original
Copyright © 2016 by Dora Mekouar
From London with Love
by Diana Quincy copyright © 2016 by Dora Mekouar
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
From London with Love
by Diana Quincy. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
ebook ISBN 9780399177880
Cover design: Carrie Divine/Seductive designs
Cover photographs: OleSemenova (Olga Semenova)/Depositphotos (woman), heckmannoleg (Oleg Gekman)/Depositphotos (face), perseomedusa (Paolo Gallo Modena)/Depositphotos (room), Mustang_79 (Patryk Kosmider)/Depositphotos (landscape), nejron (Andrejs Pidjass)/Depositphotos (window)
Temptation, in the form of his best friend’s little sister, was a bitch that went for the jugular.
Lady Elinor Dunsmore giggled as she stumbled ahead of him, gripping a champagne bottle in one hand. Not a good sign, that. They both had already had too much to drink.
The snowy layers of her ball gown floated around her endless legs, her lithe ballerina’s form drifting ghostlike in the light breeze. Gulping air into his lungs, Will Naismith went after her, ever alert to the underlying scent of danger hovering in the summer air.
Neither of them was steady on their feet thanks to the copious amounts of champagne they’d consumed to mark the occasion of her eighteenth birthday. He’d learned long ago to never let his guard down in her company, but this evening he felt looser and less contained; being around her was somehow less painful.
Eighteen. A woman full grown. It was hard to believe little Elle was no longer a girl. He’d first noted her ripening appeal two summers ago…when, to his shock and surprise, the benign affection he felt for her began to sharpen into something far more urgent and heated, and far less wholesome and innocent.
Suddenly, the glimmer in her silvery eyes and the way she worried the rosy upper lip of her lush mouth, prompted strange stirrings deep in his gut. And he wasn’t so innocent that he hadn’t known what those sensations meant, and that they’d portended disaster for them both.
She halted abruptly ahead of him and turned to beckon with a wave of her slim, elegant hand. “Come on, then, before anyone notices that we are missing.”
“This is unwise.” Will paused, glancing back to see if they’d been noticed, but the couples strolling on the lawn seemed more intent on each other than anything else. Behind them, Langtry House glittered as if a thousand stars twinkled from within, and the lively tune played by local musicians streamed from the open windows, adding cheer to the dark summer evening.
Ever indulgent, the Marquess of Aldridge had spared no expense for his only daughter’s eighteenth birthday. The tables were laid out with all manner of food—geese, quail and wild rabbits, plum puddings and raspberry tarts—and the champagne flowed freely. Perhaps too freely, considering the pleasant humming in Will’s head.
“Come back,” he tried again. Going off alone together when they were both feeling warm and boozy had catastrophe written all over it. “It isn’t polite to leave the party when you are the guest of honor.”
“It is my birthday,” she said, not bothering to turn around or slow her gait, “and if I want a few moments of fresh air then I shall have it.”
He had no choice but to follow. He couldn’t very well leave her alone in the dark, especially considering the uncertain state she was in.
They stumbled down the grassy slope toward the edge of the pond, where the humid air caused the lenses of his spectacles to fog. He drew them off, placing them in the pocket of his tailcoat. She dropped the champagne bottle into the grass and sank down beside it, her gown forming a frothy puddle around her, and kicked off her silk slippers, one after the other.
His pulse jumped at the sight of her slender ankles. “Whatever are you doing?”
“I’m hot. I’m going for a swim.” She pulled up her skirt, baring long, shapely limbs, and began to roll down her stockings.
Desire, quick and potent as lightning, jolted through him. “Are you mad? Stop that at once.”
She rose to her feet, giving him her back. “Undo my buttons.”
He stepped away. “Why not?” The words were soaked in sarcasm. “And immediately afterward I’ll run myself through with a saber to spare your brother the trouble of having to do so himself.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, very well.” She giggled and plunged into the water, dress and all.
“Elinor!” Disbelief and alarm spun through him. She was liable to drown under the weight of all that fabric. He tore off his tailcoat and waistcoat and struggled out of his boots. Since he couldn’t afford a valet, and therefore regularly dressed and undressed himself, he made quick work of it before scrambling into the water after her.
Her husky laughter pealed into the night as she splashed ahead of him. “Oh my, this gown is heavier than I thought.”
He kicked hard, reaching her in a few strong strokes, and pulled her into his arms. The water was cool, but she was warm and pliant in his embrace. “Hold on,” he grumbled. “I’ll get you back before one of us catches our death or that gown drags you under for good.”
“My hero,” she declared, wrapping both arms around his neck. The damp summery smell of the water mingled with the scent of violets. “You should be properly rewarded.” She pressed a kiss against his lips.
Caught by surprise, he wasn’t able to steel himself. Once that sweet mouth touched his, the most primal part of him instinctively captured and held it. She murmured a wondering sound as his lips gently explored hers with subtle presses and tiny nips. Fire blasted through his veins. Her lips were supple and giving, and he easily could have lost himself in them.
He broke the kiss with an abrupt jerk of his head. “I beg your pardon,” he rasped, chagrined at his inexcusable loss of control. “That was an unforgivable lapse on my part.”
“I think I could manage to forgive you.” The moonlight sprinkled a blue-gray light across her refined features, where he could see the mischief glinting in her eyes. She feathered her fingertips down his exposed throat. “If you are willing to pay the proper penance.”
Pleasure shuddered through him. He reared back, away from her provocative touch. “We’ve been through this before,” he said sharply. “You are no longer a little girl with a tendre for her older brother’s friend. This is no game.”
“I agree. Games are entertaining. Your continued resistance is not,” she said easily. “My feelings are no childish whim. I dreamed of marrying you as a girl, and I want to be your wife now.”
Frustration broiled in his belly. She spoke of impossibilities. Dreams of connubial bliss were a lark to a cosseted young girl who’d never experienced life’s harsher realities. As if the bastard son of an earl could wed the pampered and beloved daughter of a marquess. Will’s resources and income were sorely limited—his own father barely acknowledged him—while Elle was the coddled scion of one of England’s wealthiest, most well-respected families. With her natural charm, impeccable bloodlines, and significant dowry, she was destined to be the diamond of her Season and would undoubtedly make a brilliant marriage.
“And, as it’s my birthday,” she continued, unperturbed by his obvious vexation, “I think you should accede to my wishes.” With that declaration, she snuggled closer to him. The sweet, piercing sensation of her delicate breasts pressing into his chest made him inhale sharply. Then, to make matters worse, she leaned in and rubbed her lips against his, the insistent movement demanding a response.
His self-control shattered. She tasted sweet and supple, everything a woman should be. He should stop, but a febrile madness overtook all rational thought. Just this once, before she went to London and had her Season and was forever lost to him, he allowed himself the momentary indulgence of savoring her as he’d always wanted.
He wordlessly encouraged her to part her lips, and when she did, he tasted her fully, the intimacy indulging all his senses. The nectar of her lips and soft press of her body against his scorched his heart. The pond might as well have been a steaming cauldron of water.
They dragged each other out of the pond without breaking their physical connection, which suddenly seemed as necessary to life as breathing. He fell onto the damp grass and pulled her down atop of him, his body hard and aching for her. All reason deserted him, and he could think of nothing but her honeyed lips and pliant feminine form. Elle was the only girl he’d ever wanted, and for this one stolen moment, she belonged to him. He rolled on top, tucking her lissome form snuggly beneath his.
She kissed him hungrily, her hands urgently seeking the bare skin under his shirt. Desperate for her touch, he reared back and tugged the damp linen over his head, tossing it away. She urged him to her, running her fingers over his back, and their tongues tangled again. “You are so warm,” she whispered against his plundering lips. “So perfect.”
As he ravaged her mouth, one last remnant of sense clawed at him, imploring him to stop before it was too late. The warning blasted somewhere deep in his brain and somehow managed to drop anchor in his fevered mind.
He stole a few more hot desperate kisses before reluctantly dragging himself away. Breathing hard, he scooted far back from her, as if he could ever put enough distance between them to keep her safe. Elle uttered a sound of protest at his abandonment and made to follow him.
“No. Do not.” He held out a staying hand to keep her at bay. “We have to stop.” His heart drummed so hard he could hardly breathe. “This is wrong.” He glanced wildly around for his shirt, which he spotted in a tangled damp heap where he’d tossed it too close to the water. He left it there, not relishing the prospect of cold, wet linen against his bare flesh.
She stilled and eyed him speculatively, her appreciative gaze traversing his bared chest, looking like a crouching feline preparing to pounce. He immediately regretted not making himself decent. But after a tense moment, she just shrugged and reached for the champagne bottle she’d carelessly dropped into the grass. She popped the top with more skill and efficiency than a girl of her age and class should, and upended the bottle against her lips. She took a long swig, the pale chords of her throat working as she swallowed.
“Where did you learn to drink like that?” he asked, alarmed, when she finally came up for air.
She grinned and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “There are many things you don’t know about me anymore, Will Naismith.”
“Perhaps you should visit more often.” It was an admonishment. She’d no doubt noticed how he’d absented himself. He’d once spent every university holiday and long summers with her brother, Cosmo, here at Langtry, the family’s Dorset estate by the coast. But, not too long ago, he’d begun to invent plausible reasons to decline the invitations, anything to avoid spending weeks at Langtry in her company. The pattern had continued after graduation because he no longer trusted himself with Elle. She was highborn and fated for great things while he, a bastard born and bred, was not for the likes of her and never could be.
She held the champagne. “Join me.”
He shook his head. “I think we’ve both had enough.” He tried to grab the bottle from her, but she snatched it back before he could.
“It’s my birthday and I’ve a right to indulge.” She sipped more delicately from the bottle.
Suddenly, remembering her gift, he reached for his jacket. “I have something to give you.”
“Finally.” Her answering smile was both teasing and wicked as she leered at his bare torso again. “Are you finally giving me what I truly want?”
He pulled a cool metal coin from his pocket and dropped it into her open palm. “Happy birthday, Elle.”
She eyed the disk’s uneven edges and greenish film. “What is it?”
“An ancient coin.” The aquiline profile on the metal piece was of a woman holding an infant. “The likeness you see engraved upon it is of Cleopatra, the great Egyptian queen.”
“Is that a baby she’s holding?”
“Yes, her son Caesarion. Named after Julius Caesar and possibly his son, but Caesar never officially acknowledged him.”
“How sad.” Her brows furrowed as she scrutinized the coin. “What is it made of?”
“Bronze.” He had no idea if the offering appealed to her; he’d presented her with a prized piece from his growing numismatic collection, but for all he knew, it might just be a moldering piece of metal to her.
“How extraordinary. It’s as if I’m holding a piece of history in my hands.” She looked up, her exquisite face radiant. “Thank you. I shall treasure it always.”
Something constricted in his chest at her innate understanding of the appeal of ancient coins. She tucked his gift into the V of her bodice, and for a moment he envied the coin’s position against the warmth of her skin, settled between her breasts.
“We should raise a glass to your gift.” She hoisted the champagne to her lips. “Or raise a bottle rather. Don’t say no again. It would be badly done for a gentleman to allow a lady to drink alone.”
He didn’t feel particularly gentlemanly, not with his molten lust for her simmering inside of him, threatening to overflow. And she looked like anything but a lady with her soaked white gown plastered to her gently curved breasts. He could just make out the dark shadow of her pointed nipples straining against the flimsy fabric. Swallowing hard, he averted his gaze and held out his hand for the bottle.
“Very well. I’ll join you.” If he couldn’t lose himself in her, he might as well find oblivion in drink. He took a long draw, relishing the fizzing burn down his throat.
“Why are you afraid of me?”
He coughed on the liquid. “I don’t fear you.”
“Balderdash,” she declared. “I know you fear the feelings you have for me.”
He cleared his throat. If only her face didn’t look so damn luminous in the moonlight. “You must relinquish this foolish fantasy. You are about to experience your first Season. There is an entire world out there for you to discover.”
“You think my feelings for you are a girlish whim.” She appeared amused rather than upset. “You believe once I’m out in society I’ll suddenly realize that it’s all been a silly infatuation.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Elle was too vitally alive and effervescent to be content with a stolid fellow like him. It was only a matter of time before she reached the same conclusion for herself and turned to someone like Tristan Fitzroy, Viscount Darling, her childhood friend and neighbor, whose blood was as blue as hers and who’d never made a secret of his fervent desire to marry her. “You are a diamond of the first. Gentlemen from the finest families with the highest titles will vie for your attentions. Darling clearly wishes to make you his wife.”
“Bah.” Her incomparable features wrinkled with distaste. “Tristan is like a brother to me. Besides, my affections are already engaged and well you know it.” She tilted her head, saucy and flirtatious. “Must I allow viscounts and dukes and earls to dance attendance upon me before soundly rejecting them to prove myself worthy?”