Authors: Jenna Petersen
Almost A Spinster
A You Tell Me the Story Collection
Check out these other books by Jenna Petersen:
From London With Love (Lady Spies Book 1)
Desire Never Dies (Lady Spies Book 2)
Seduction is Forever (Lady Spies Book 3)
Lessons From a Courtesan
Her Notorious Viscount
Rogue for a Night
What the Duke Desires (Billingham Bastards Book 1)
The Unclaimed Duchess (Billingham Bastards Book 2)
And Coming in August 2011…
A Scoundrel’s Surrender (Billingham Bastards Book 3)
Copyright Jesse Petersen, 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission. For information address Jenna Petersen, PO Box 6205, Bloomington, IL 61702
Back in 2005-2006, I wrote these three stories as interactive novellas. At the end of each chapter, I would offer readers three choices of what would happen next. After voting closed, I wrote what the readers picked. The following novellas are the result. Thank you to everyone who participated during this time. And enjoy the stories!
Her Every Desire
“I want you to seduce Madeline Reynolds.”
Wesley Hughes nearly spit his brandy across the room as he watched Lady Jane Davenport place her hands on her hips and stare at him as she waited for a reply. When he was unable to give an answer, irritation flashed in her sparkling brown eyes.
“Did you not hear me?” she asked, folding her arms. Her slippered toe tapped beneath the hem of her gown.
Slowly, he straightened up from the mantle where he had been leaning upon her entry. “I heard you perfectly, Lady Jane,” he said, watching her with caution. “But I don’t think I understood you.”
She came across the room with pinched lips, but as she moved closer, he could see she had been crying. Her brown eyes were rimmed red with emotion and pale tracks of tears shimmered on her cheeks when the firelight hit her just so. His heart clenched at the sight. He had known Jane for over a year, but he had never seen her so upset. A desire to comfort her filled him.
He pushed aside the sudden reaction to her tears.
“How can you not understand?” she asked as she drew in a shuddering breath that seemed to calm her a bit. “We have known each other long enough that I think I can speak plainly with you.”
He arched an eyebrow. “More plainly than you just did?”
The corner of her mouth turned up slightly and his heart clenched again. But this time for a far different reason. Desire… the kind he always had to tame when he was near Jane, rushed through his bloodstream.
“The rumors of your amorous affairs.” Jane blushed as she tangled a loose strand of chestnut hair around her gloved fingertip before she continued, “Everyone, even the unmarried debutantes, has heard rumors of your rakish ways. So certainly you must understand the words, ‘I want you to seduce Madeline Reynolds’.”
He frowned. “Yes, I understand the words perfectly well. What I don’t understand is why you think I would do such a thing. Better still, why would
want such a thing done?”
Actually, he knew exactly why Jane wanted what she demanded. But he wanted her to say it out loud. He needed to hear the words.
Jane’s forward bravado went out of her in a rush as she sat, no collapsed on the nearest settee. She let out a long sigh before she lifted her face toward his and whispered, “You should have remained in the ballroom, my lord. David and Madeline just announced their engagement.”
Wesley closed his eyes and forced himself not to wince. He had known his best friend would be announcing his engagement tonight. He had even begged David to be honest with Jane and tell her before she was humiliated and hurt. But trust David to be too cowardly.
With a start, Wes realized
was the reason he had slipped away just before the big moment. He’d told himself he wanted a moment’s peace and a stronger drink, but in reality he hadn’t wanted to look at Jane’s face when David made the announcement. To see her shock and heartbreak. Or the tears that he couldn’t ignore shimmering in her eyes now.
“You do not look surprised.”
Wesley opened his eyes and found Jane watching him closely. He couldn’t lie to her.
She drew away slightly and the betrayal that already darkened her face grew even more pronounced. “You knew and you didn’t warn me?”
Guilt assaulted him, but he shrugged. “It wasn’t my place, Jane.”
She shook her head. “Not your place? You have watched me with David for over a year. You’ve heard me speak of my feelings for him. Watched him show me those same emotions in return. You and I have become…” She hesitated. “I thought we had become friends.”
Stepping toward her, he held up a hand. “We are friends.”
“If we were friends, why didn’t you spare me this humiliation?”
He dipped his head with a quiet sigh. Why hadn’t he? Because he didn’t want to cause Jane that pain. Because he didn’t want to have to convince her that David, like so many other men in their circles, held rank and money above the calling of his heart. Jane’s family had lost its fortune two years ago after a disastrous card game which society still whispered about. Even though David had allowed her pursuit, even encouraged her feelings to develop into something deeper, Wes had known his friend never would have truly entertained a union with Jane. David wanted money. An advantageous match to plump his own waning purse.
Madeline Reynolds was the daughter of a very rich, very powerful Duke. Marrying her would give David access to his new bride’s enormous dowry, as well as a solid connection to one of the most powerful men in the
“I’m sorry, Jane,” he said softly, longing to reach out and touch her face, to swipe away her tears. Perhaps even kiss them away.
But he wouldn’t. Wesley had never touched her and he never would. Not while she believed she loved his best friend.
“Sorry?” She struggled to her feet and paced away to the window. When she turned back, her face had hardened. The tears were gone. “I don’t want your pity, I want your help.”
He rolled his eyes. Jane was implacable, as always. Once the stubborn chit got it in her head that she wanted something, it was nearly impossible to convince her otherwise. Sometimes he wondered if her ‘love’ for David was a product of that stubborn streak and habit rather than true feeling.
But that was probably wishful thinking.
“Forgive me, but why the hell do you care anyway?” he snapped. “If David isn’t sensible enough to choose love over money or station, why would you want him? You could easily find someone else.”
Her face paled a shade and her fingers fisted at her sides. For a brief moment, he thought he saw a flash of fear and regret darken her eyes.
“Could I, Wes?” she whispered as she broke eye contact. Her shoulders rolled forward in defeat. “I think you’re being too kind. My lack of a decent dowry thanks to my father’s poor choices have already limited my chances in the marriage mart. Even if they hadn’t, publicly aligning myself and my affections with just one man has chased away anyone willing to take pity on me and make an offer for reasons beyond money.”
Wesley opened his mouth to speak, wanting to comfort her, but could find no words. She was correct. Saying otherwise would only be placating her. Jane would see through that in a moment and resent it.
Her gaze lifted again and her brown eyes snared his. He found himself lost, longing for things he already knew he couldn’t have. Then she shook her head.
“And now David has taken my position even further over the edge of no return by throwing me over for a boring, plain, humorless twit like Madeline Reynolds!”
Wesley arched an eyebrow. “Ah, I can see now why I would jump at the chance to seduce her.”
Jane stared at him for a moment in stunned silence, then her frown twitched upward and she laughed. He could have lost himself in that sound forever.
“You idiot,” she teased, but her smile fell far too soon. “I know it’s asking so much of you.”
He took an unbidden step toward her as shock coursed through him. “So you still wish me to do this?”
Jane lifted one shoulder up in a halfhearted shrug, but didn’t reply.
In three steps, he crossed the room and caught her arms. A spark flashed as he felt her silky, warm skin beneath his own and he let her go just as quickly. The intensity was too powerful.
“I-” he stammered, nearly forgetting what he meant to say. With a shake of his head, he collected himself. “Madeline is the woman my best friend intends to marry. Not only would seducing her destroy our friendship, but if I succeeded at wooing her away from David and getting her into my bed, I would likely end up married to her myself. Or worse, in a duel with her father over her honor. And I assure you, the Duke is an excellent shot.”
Jane was silent for a moment, her breath coming short. “I-I hadn’t considered that.”
“I’m so glad you thought this plan through before you demanded I take part in it,” he said with an exasperated groan. He moved to turn away, but she caught his arm. Again, a shock of awareness rocketed through him. It was clear he’d been right to avoid touching Jane if this overwhelming, knee shaking lust was to be his reaction every time they did.
“There must be a way.” Her desperation was plain as she shifted her weight and pondered her situation. With every passing moment, her expression grew wilder. “I understand why you cannot seduce her. But her reputation could still be damaged by you, couldn’t it? You’re a well-documented rake-”
He pulled his arm away. “They keep documents on such things, do they? I would love to see the repository.”
With a roll of her eyes, she continued, “Just being alone with you could make her an undesirable candidate for marriage.”
He leaned closer and breathed in the warm fragrance of her hair. Sweet like ripe berries. “
are alone with me this very moment.”
A weary sigh escaped her lips, as if she were only just bearing his protests. “With the door wide open. And everyone knows we have been friends for an age. No one would suspect there was anything more between us if they found us together. But with her, it would be different.”
His brow arched up. He had allowed her this ridiculousness long enough.
“You would destroy another woman’s reputation, her chances at making any kind of a good match, just to gain David’s affections? A man who has allowed you to believe you had a chance at his heart and his hand because he was too thoughtless to be honest with you from the very beginning?” He shook his head. “I thought I knew you better, Jane.”
For a moment, her face tensed, a perfectly still mask. Then it twisted in horror and he saw his tone and words had sunk beneath her skin, into her currently illogical mind where it cleared some of the emotional haze. Her hand came up to cover her lips and the tears that had been gathered in the corner of her eyes trickled down her cheeks.
“You’re right. Of course, you’re right.” She drew in a shallow breath. “It would be unfair of me to destroy Madeline. After all, it isn’t her fault that David chose her over me.”
Wes watched as she rubbed her hands over her exposed arms, smoothing over gooseflesh that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room.
“What can I do? David seemed to care for me once. How can I convince him that a match with her will never bring him the happiness he would find in a union with me? There must be a way!”
Wesley scrubbed a hand over his face. Her plaintiff tone had an effect on him, even if her words grated across his senses. He wanted to help her. Not to return David’s affections to her. That wasn’t going to happen, no matter what she believed.
But there were other ways to make her see that what she thought she desired wasn’t what she truly required. That there was more to her life than chasing some empty dream and the empty life that would accompany it if she won what she sought.
He looked at her. Jane was so beautiful. And he knew from the fragile friendship they had formed that her beauty went deeper than outward appearances. She was intelligent and had a wit that matched even his. Despite her uncharacteristic order to him this evening, she was kind, with a protective streak that flashed forth when she perceived an injustice. She would make some man a very good wife if she could regain her status in the ranks of the debutantes. If only the men of their station who didn’t require funds could be made to see just how desirable she was as a mate.
“Men are very simple, Jane,” he said softly.
She glanced up at him in question. “Not very. I cannot seem to solve the riddles your sex presents.”