Three Proposals and a Scandal: A Sons of Sin Novella

BOOK: Three Proposals and a Scandal: A Sons of Sin Novella
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Three Proposals and a Scandal

A Sons of Sin Novella

by Anna Campbell

Published by Anna Campbell

Copyright 2015 Anna Campbell

Cover Design: © Hang Le

 

ISBN: 978-0-9863160-3-6

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems - except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews - without permission in writing from the author, Anna Campbell. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

License Notes

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Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

 

Chetwell House, London, April 1829

 

Once a duke has jilted a lady, she should be grateful to have any suitors at all.

Lady Marianne Seaton was blessed to have three men vying for her hand.

Marianne didn’t feel blessed. She felt
hunted
.

As she waltzed with Lord Tranter, she made herself smile into his blue eyes. It was an effort, although surely being sought out was better than ostracism. But her shoulder blades prickled with uncomfortable awareness that she was under constant scrutiny.

Of course, society had always watched her, the Marquess of Baildon’s only child. Watched with a critical eye, waiting for the paragon of behavior to make a mistake so they could revel in her downfall.

This last year, the observation had become particular and oppressive. After Camden Rothermere, Duke of Sedgemoor, had so publicly rejected her, she’d endured spiteful gossip. Even worse, with Sedgemoor out of the running, London’s bachelors had rushed to express their interest in the Seaton heiress.

Most of those men had no chance with her and they knew it. But not all of them admitted defeat.

Now it seemed that wherever she went, her most persistent swains followed. Tonight she might dance with Tranter, but two other men watched her from the edges of the crowded ballroom. And their eyes were covetous.

A headache throbbed in her temples and she wished herself anywhere but at this glittering event. The music was too shrill. The chatter was too loud. The room was too stuffy. After all these years in society, she still shrank from playing the center of attention. She’d been born shy and to her father’s disappointment, she’d never conquered the affliction.

With each turn around the overheated room, she glimpsed Lord Desborough standing with her father. Desborough was a force in the land, a major political powerbroker, and her father’s choice for her. A pity he was forty-five and as dull as a rainy month in the Outer Hebrides.

“Lady Marianne, you seem distracted,” Tranter said. “Would you rather we took a stroll on the terrace?”

She battled to keep her smile. His hold on her waist was just as decorum decreed. It shouldn’t feel encroaching. “I’m sorry, my lord. I was thinking about this week’s travel.”

It wasn’t altogether a lie. She and her father joined a house party at Viscount Hillbrook’s extravagant home in Wiltshire. She’d long been curious about Ferney’s vaunted luxuries, but her father’s ultimatum that she use the visit to settle on a husband blighted anticipation.

Desborough or Tranter?

Or the third suitor. The impossible option. The man no woman in her right mind would choose.

Tranter guided her through a smooth turn—he was all that society admired in a gentleman and he danced like a dream—while Marianne’s gaze focused reluctantly on her least eligible admirer. Dark and carelessly elegant, he leaned against the doorway to the card room. His gaze homed in on her like a falcon on a field mouse.

Elias Thorne, Baron Wilmott.

Son of a scandalous family. Inheritor of a bankrupt title. No political influence to speak of.

“Are you cold?”

Tranter’s concern for her welfare should please her. Instead it made her strangely wary. William Frayne, Earl Tranter, always said and did what was correct. She’d often wondered if his perfect manners were as artificial as her self-assurance. “A little.”

As if anyone could be cold on such an unseasonally sweltering night. The shiver that had attracted Tranter’s notice was nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with Elias’s unfaltering stare. She was too far away to see his eyes, but she knew that they gleamed with predatory interest.

“So the terrace isn’t the answer. Would you like me to take you back to your father?”

“No, thank you.” How she wished that Tranter wasn’t so careful with her. How she wished that for once he’d say something intriguing or unexpected. How she wished that the one genuinely interesting man in this melee didn’t count her value purely in pounds, shillings and pence.

Briefly last Christmas, she’d believed that Elias liked her for herself. But then she’d recalled his urgent need to marry an heiress—and that she wasn’t the kind of woman with whom a man fell madly in love. After a year’s courtship, the Duke of Sedgemoor had forgotten her lukewarm charms with insulting swiftness. She didn’t imagine he was any exception to the masculine tribe.

The bleak reality was that Elias targeted her with a plan to fill the empty family coffers. She’d hoped the sting of that knowledge would fade over time.

It hadn’t.

She let her gaze skate across Elias as if she didn’t see him, although the image of his long, lean form attired in stark black and white burned into her brain. Instead she forced herself to concentrate on her partner. Rich, polite, obliging Lord Tranter. Society ladies went into raptures about his fairytale blond handsomeness. Marianne too admired his appearance. But to her regret, these days only dark, dangerous and saturnine set her heart racing.

Her heart raced in earnest when Tranter returned her to her father’s side and she glanced up to see Elias prowling toward her with that purposeful stride. She felt more hunted than ever, but there was nowhere to run. She experienced a sudden hankering for the peaceful isolation of the Seaton estates in Dorset.

Or perhaps an enclosed convent high in the Alps.

“Lady Marianne.” Elias bowed over her hand and even through their gloves, his touch shook her. Since coming to her senses about his mercenary motives, she’d struggled to crush that automatic, animal reaction to him, but so far she hadn’t succeeded. “Baildon, Desborough.”

“Wilmott,” her father said stiffly, making no attempt to hide his dislike. Elias’s sister had become Sedgemoor’s duchess instead of Marianne. Since then, her father had developed a rabid hatred for anyone by the name of Thorne.

“Good evening, my lord,” Marianne said as if Elias was simply another acquaintance.

She’d spent a lifetime practicing impeccable manners. Exemplary behavior had been the only way a motherless seven-year-old girl had found to gain her father’s approval. Last year those manners had preserved her pride when Sedgemoor had jilted her. They came to her rescue now. She’d cut her throat before she betrayed her unwelcome weakness for this fortune hunter to the world.

“I wondered if you might favor me with this dance.” Elias’s brilliant black eyes told her she was the most fascinating creature in London. Her mind knew that he didn’t mean it. Everything female in her wanted to smile back and beg him to sweep her up in his arms and carry her off.

People called Marianne Seaton a cold fish. How shocked they’d be to peer into her deepest desires. For months, she’d suffered feverish, disturbing dreams about Elias’s hands on her body. Cold was the last word to describe her response to Lord Wilmott.

“Thank you,” she said with her characteristic calmness. Nobody would guess how difficult it was to maintain. She withdrew her hand, recognizing the game Elias played by holding it too long. The contact left her fingers tingling. “I already have a partner.”

To her relief, she saw Sir Richard Harmsworth heading through the crowd in her direction. She liked Richard and right now, she felt in dire need of the deep well of kindness that lurked below his immaculate exterior.

“Perhaps the supper dance?” Elias persisted.

“That’s mine, old chap,” Desborough said.

“My daughter has no dances free, Wilmott,” her father snapped.

“Good evening, my lords, Marianne.” Richard cast his dazzling smile across the group. With his burnished golden looks, he was accounted the handsomest man in England. And the most charming. And the most elegant. Marianne wondered why this beau ideal stirred her affection but no attraction. Perhaps because Richard Harmsworth was utterly devoted to his wife. Or perhaps because only one man in London set her pulses jumping, and it wasn’t Sir Richard, however spectacular his appearance.

“Good evening, Richard,” Marianne responded, and for the first time tonight, she didn’t have to feign a smile.

“My dance, I believe.” He bowed over her hand. “Glad I requested it last week. You haven’t sat out a set all night.”

“To my regret,” Elias said.

Richard shot him a quick glance as he released Marianne. “In that case, I’d be greedy to claim my two dances. Feel free to take my place, old man.”

“Sir Richard, there’s no need—” her father began, but Elias had already seized Marianne’s hand. If she pulled away, people might notice, although she stiffened in his hold. This audacity was new. Usually she managed to fend him off.

“My thanks, Harmsworth.” Elias turned to Marianne. “Unless the lady objects, of course.”

“No objection at all,” she muttered through tight lips. What else could she say? But her heart beat with forbidden excitement, along with justifiable annoyance at how he manipulated her.

“Delighted.” Provoking amusement lit his eyes, although his long mouth remained unsmiling. He knew she was fuming. This odd, persistent affinity made it fiendishly difficult to ignore her yen for him. “Shall we take our places?”

Luckily it was a contredanse. She couldn’t bear for him to hold her in his arms for the waltz. Not when he lied about wanting her. Not when however she tried, she couldn’t stop wanting him. The other dancers weaving around them didn’t register. Instead as she mindlessly followed the steps, she saw Elias. It was like being trapped alone in a cave with an enemy.

Only when they stood at the end of the line, waiting their turn to rejoin the set, was she sufficiently in command of herself to speak without revealing her turmoil. Tonight her famously unruffled air was a complete sham. She could hardly hear the scratch of the violins over her pounding emotion. Anger. Unwelcome physical attraction. Reluctantly acknowledged apprehension: not that he’d do anything shocking, but that she might.

“Kidnapping is illegal,” she said flatly, staring anywhere except at Elias.

“Pardon?”

“You heard me.”

“What a relief. You can speak after all. I was worried that you’d ceased to breathe. Or that I was dancing with a marble column. All elegant stony silence.”

The jibes captured her notice. “I’m happy to return to my father and sit this dance out. Never imagine your attentions do me any favors.”

His lips twitched. “I liked you better when you sulked.”

“I do not sulk,” she said, stung.

Her sparking temper made his black eyes glint with satisfaction. “You do indeed sulk. Most magnificently. You’ve been sulking since we spent Christmas at Fentonwyck.”

She went rigid at the unfair accusation. “You mistake me, Lord Wilmott.” Her voice should sheathe him in ice.

“No, I don’t. Although the rest of the world does.”

“I won’t listen to you.”

He caught her arm before she turned away. “If you march off this dance floor in a huff, tongues will wag. Is that what you want?”

BOOK: Three Proposals and a Scandal: A Sons of Sin Novella
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