A marriage that starts out in name only soon becomes something more in this historical romance of opposites attracting. Keep reading to get a tempting taste of A Rake’s Rebellion by Cynthia Breeding, then add it to your bookshelf. In honor of this third installment in The Rake Trilogy make sure to fill out the form below for the chance to win a print copy of the first book in this series too!
After a night of debauchery, Lord Barclay wakes up to find a woman in his bed. That’s not unusual, but this one is fully clothed. When she tells him they are married, he is instantly cold sober and looking for a way out.
Miss Sarah Vincent, an orphan raised in an American convent, didn’t ask for this marriage. She’ll be damned if it’s in name only. But seducing a man? How ever will she do that?! Good thing her friend lent her a copy of The Kama Sutra...
Brice starts to wonder what has come over his young wife. She’s suddenly taking charge of him, and their house, and no longer the timid woman he assumed her to be.
Despite his aversion to this marriage he’s starting to want his wife…in every way possible.
Lord Barclay—Brice to his friends—groaned and pulled the pillow over his head to alleviate the bright light from the window of his guest room in Brighton Pavilion. Some damn fool had opened the curtains. He didn’t need rays of sunshine piercing his already hammering head. What kind of rot-gut whiskey had the prince-regent been passing off at last night’s ball?
Brice stirred, squeezing his eyes shut when his pillow slipped off his face, and gingerly moved his legs and feet, which seemed heavy as lead. He slowly stretched his arms, flexing his fingers to make sure everything was intact, and he felt something soft. Soft and feminine. Umm. At least last night hadn’t been a complete loss if he had a woman in his bed. He smiled as he rolled over. He just wished he could remember...
“I would rather you not touch me, your lordship.”
Not touch her? Hell. What have I done? Brice forced his eyes open, squinting against the offending sunlight streaming in, then quickly closed them again. His mind was obviously still in hazy oblivion. How foxed had he gotten last night?
Sarah Vincent, the poor American cousin of the Earl of Lockwood, was sitting on his bed. Of all the women his alcohol-infused brain could have conjured, why did it have to pick someone who’d been raised in a convent, prim and proper, and even dressed the part?
Brice opened one eye halfway. She was still there, propped against his headboard, fully clothed in the drab brown dress, with its high collar and long sleeves, that she’d worn last night. A faint scent of lavender lingered in the air, but he could not detect the musky scent of lovemaking. Hopefully, his memory was not that far gone.
“Why are you in my bed, Miss Vincent?”
A blush stole over her cheeks and she lowered her gaze. “We were married last night.”
All remnants of a hangover left him faster than being doused with a bucket of ice water. He bolted upright in bed, then realized he was totally naked and grabbed the sheet. It seemed fitting given that she was clothed from neck to toe. He glanced at her feet. She hadn’t even taken her shoes off.
Sarah cast a quick glance his way, her blush increasing as the sheet slipped down Brice’s hips. She quickly looked away and nodded.
“Ah.” As his mind cleared, Brice figured out what had happened. His friend, Stephan Stoddard, the Marquis of Kendrick, had married their mutual friend Caroline Nash in the prince regent’s private chapel last evening. Caroline knew how averse Brice was to the idea of the parson’s noose and had no doubt convinced Miss Vincent to play a joke on him by sitting on his bed when he woke up. He smiled.
“Very funny, Miss Vincent. Clever, even. You will have to tell Caroline she accomplished her goal. I was properly terrified.” He swung his legs over the side of the bed, which caused her face to turn red again. Great Lucifer. The woman was modest. How had she ever agreed to participate in Caroline’s stunt? Then a mischievous thought nudged him and Brice grinned. If the two women had colluded to take nearly ten years off his life by unnerving him with the prospect of marriage, payback would be appropriate. “You are welcome to help me bathe and dress, of course.”
A strange sound, something akin to a squeak, emanated from her throat. Her face drained of color, her eyes big and dark behind her spectacles. She looked like she might swoon. Brice paused in throwing back the sheet and instead hitched it up a bit. He didn’t need a woman fainting in his room. “Never mind. You may leave.”
When she didn’t budge, he repeated himself. “It is quite all right to leave. You have accomplished what you and Caroline set out to do. She will be quite pleased that I was suitably shocked and probably acquired a grey hair or two in the process.”
Sarah’s soft brown eyes widened. “This was not Caroline’s idea, my lord.”
“No?” Brice frowned. He didn’t think Kendrick would’ve pulled such a prank, having felt about marriage the same way until he’d become besotted with Caroline. “Who put you up to this then?”
She moved her hands, which had been folded primly in her lap, and slid them up her arms as though to defend herself. “The Earl of Lockwood, my lord.”
“Lockwood?” Brice rubbed his brow. The earl was not one of his close friends, nor was Lady Lockwood, although she had tried to entice Brice into her bed more than once. Perhaps she’d thought this little trick would be funny. “Do you mean the countess put you up to this?”
Sarah started to shake her head, then shrugged. “Both of them, I suppose.”
“Well, they should have given a thought to your reputation before they asked you to do this,” Brice said. “I will speak to them, but I have to get dressed first.”
Her eyes grew round as he reached for the sheet again, and he reminded himself that quite likely, Miss Vincent had never seen a naked man. “You can turn your head while I dress.”
She vaulted off the bed to take a chair by the window and stared out of it before he even finished the sentence. He might have been amused at her shyness if he weren’t getting angry. Miss Vincent was an orphan, newly arrived from America, and apparently the Lockwoods were her sole relatives. It was poorly done of them to set her up like this. He made quick work of throwing on his clothes and then checked the hall and breathed a sigh of relief. “All is clear. You may leave. I will speak to Lockwood about his little joke. It will not happen again.”
When she didn’t move from the chair, he tilted his head. “I would escort you downstairs, but I think it better that no one suspects anything happened.”
“But something…did happen.”
Brice waved his hand. “Don’t worry about this. I will not speak a word of it to anyone, on my honor.”
Sarah’s face paled again and she bit her lip. Her hand shook as she reached for a piece of paper lying on the bedside table that Brice hadn’t noticed. She hesitated a moment and then held it out.
“What is this?” Brice asked, walking over to her. If that fool Lockwood thought to blackmail him into a marriage proposal, the man had another think coming. He took the vellum sheet, turned it over, and felt his blood chill. For a moment, he felt lightheaded and unbalanced. He could not be seeing what he was seeing. He could not.
“It is a marriage certificate, my lord,” Sarah said in a small voice. “We were truly married last night.”
Sarah prayed that a huge crack would develop in the floor and swallow her up. Of course, she’d spent most of the night praying for just that but it hadn’t happened. Brighton Pavilion was too soundly constructed. Or maybe God had abandoned her.
The holy sisters at the Ursuline convent in New Orleans would be shocked at such a blasphemous thought. Mother Superior, in particular, had no tolerance for anyone questioning the will of God. She’d had little tolerance for Sarah because she’d asked too many questions and had given her unsolicited opinion on too many subjects. No doubt, Sarah would have been doing penance in the form of menial labor for days, if not weeks. She grimaced. She might have escaped the rigid rules of the convent, but now she would be doing penance for life. Sarah reached into her pocket and fingered the small pewter cross she kept there. It had been a gift from her mother and usually brought comfort, but this morning it felt strangely cold. She was married to a man who didn’t want her. The comments about being terrified and properly shocked over the idea of marriage left no room for consideration. Worse, though, was Lord Barclay’s expression as he read the marriage certificate. Lot’s wife may have turned into a pillar of salt, but Sarah didn’t think it possible for a human being to turn to stone. Until now. The baron stood as still as a marble statue.
“I am sorry, my lord.”
Her words seemed to bring him back to life, for he finally raised his gaze to look at her. His unusual golden eyes studied her, much like a wolf assessing how to attack its prey. She shifted slightly in her chair.
She had anticipated he would ask “how,” not “why.” The “how” would have been easier to explain. The “why” was only humiliating.
“My guardians wanted to get me married off as quickly as possible.”
“Why?” Brice asked again.
She swallowed and looked at the floor. She might as well tell the truth, embarrassing as it was. “It is rather obvious that I do not fit into English Society, is it not?”
He uttered an oath that would have had him doing penance for weeks, if Mother Superior had heard it. It was humorous, if the object of his cursing hadn’t been her. Or rather, marriage to her. “I am sorry.”
“Stop saying that.” When she gave him a startled look, he must have realized he sounded like a general barking orders, for he gentled his voice. “Apologizing will not help. This whole thing must be some kind of mistake. I have no recollection of reciting marriage vows.”
She could add that to her list of humiliations over the last twenty-four hours. He didn’t remember. “I believe you were somewhat inebriated at the time, my lord.”
Brice narrowed his eyes. “I have never been so drunk I would agree to marriage. Believe me.”
She lifted her chin. “You have made your abhorrence to me quite clear, my lord.”
He looked momentarily chastised. “It is not you, Miss Vincent. I have an abhorrence to marriage in general. And Lockwood damn well knows it.”
Sarah flinched, in spite of trying not to. She was going to have to get used to strong language, it seemed. Along with a host of other things. Lord Barclay may not want to be married to her, but he had a legal right to use her body. The nuns had lectured numerous times that men were always ready to satisfy their lust with any woman. Sarah stole a covert glance at Brice. She’d already seen his bulging biceps and bare chest with the hard, rippled belly when he’d sat up in bed, but now she noted how tall and broad of shoulder he was. Even his thighs, encased in tight breeches, were muscular. What would coupling with him be like? The girls at the convent school had been taught it was a wife’s duty to submit to whatever a man wished to do under the covers. Somehow, the thought didn’t scare Sarah as it should have.
“I suspect the earl does not care, my lord. You were an easy target.”
“Easy target? How so?”
Sarah hesitated. She’d spent the night trying to patch things together herself. It was not a pretty story. “Do you remember walking out on the terrace with me at the ball last night?”
“Vaguely. I will admit that I had imbibed a bit more brandy than usual, but I’d just lost my second friend to the parson’s noose in a matter of weeks and I was feeling bereft at the loss.” Brice frowned. “Did you lure me out there?”
“I did not, my lord.”
“Then how did I end up married?”
“There are two of us in this marriage. You and I.” Sarah raised her chin again. “I had no desire to get married last night, either.”
He looked somewhat mollified. “Then how in Hades did this happen?”
She worried her lower lip a moment before answering. “My cousin and his wife came out on the terrace while we were taking the night air—“
“Good heavens! Lockwood did not think I would take liberties with you, did he?”
Sarah wasn’t quite sure if she should be insulted because the idea seemed so remote to him or if he was simply being a gentleman. “He said you—we—were needed as witnesses to sign the Marquis of Kendrick’s marriage certificate.”
Brice frowned again. “I had already done that.”
“Well, the earl said the bishop needed two copies. My guardians escorted us to the chapel. The young clergyman that the bishop had brought with him was there. He asked us if we were willing to sign the certificate. I nodded and you said yes.” She paused. “Then we signed it.”
His frown deepened. “But it had Stoddard and Caroline’s names on it!”
“That is what I thought,” Sarah replied, “but the countess held the paper flat with her hands, covering the actual names.”
“So we were tricked,” Brice said. “That makes this marriage invalid.”
“You wish to annul it then?” Sarah asked.
“Of course I wish to annul it. Neither of us wanted it, did we?”
Sarah shook her head, then turned her gaze toward the bed. “How are we going to explain that?”
Brice’s gaze followed hers and he issued a string of words that would have had him doing penance for months.
“How in hell did blood get on those sheets?” He cast a quick look back at her. “We did not…?“
“No.” Sarah’s face felt like it was on fire. “No. You did not touch me.”
“Thank God for that.”
“You do not have to remind me that you do not want me, my lord.”
“Great Lucifer’s horns! I did not mean it like that.”
The nuns would expect her to say something about the amount of sacrilegious vocabulary he was using, but now was not the time. “Then what did you mean?”
Brice ran a hand through his hair. “I am trying like bloody he— I mean, I am trying very hard to understand what happened.”
Sarah worried her lip again. “After the certificate was signed, the countess took it and she and my cousin escorted us to this room. She was…flirting…with you, drawing your attention away from the bed while the earl took a small knife from his pocket and lifted the sheets. I heard him say a foul word, so he must have cut himself enough to bloody the sheets.”
Brice muttered something, probably another oath, but he did it under his breath.
“How did I get naked? Did Vanessa undress me?”
“No.” Sarah’s face heated once more as she remembered the countess’s hands all over Brice, in places Sarah didn’t think women should touch. “No. You did that yourself. I turned away. When I finally looked back, you were already asleep.”
“Passed out, you mean.”
“Perhaps, my lord.”
“Why did you stay? Why did you not return to your own room?” Brice gestured toward the sheets. “I could have explained this somehow.”
“I tried to, but the door to the room I had been using was locked. I did not know where else to go, so I returned here.” She straightened her shoulders. “If you think you can nullify this marriage, I will be glad to sneak out of here now.”
“I—” Brice was interrupted by a knock on the door and he scowled. “It may be too late for that.”
The door burst open before Brice had a chance to get to it. Lady Lockwood, along with her friends Ladies Lindford and Compton, bustled in. While Vanessa, Jeanette, and Melanie were chattering and laughing as they entered, Brice didn’t miss three sets of eyes going to the bed where, unfortunately, he had left the top sheet pushed back, revealing the bloody stain. He bit back a groan. The countess’s two friends were the biggest gossips attending the prince regent’s house party. The news of the “consummation” would spread faster than the infamous London fire.
Brice narrowed his eyes at the trio. No doubt, this early morning visit had been planned to ensure there were “witnesses” to make the marriage valid. Lockwood didn’t have enough guts to show up himself, knowing full well he’d be sporting a broken nose and a few missing teeth if he did.
“Would you like to hang the bloody sheet from the window?” Brice asked sarcastically.
Lady Compton sniffed. “Really, Lord Barclay! We are hardly barbarians.”
“That is such a medieval custom,” Lady Lindford added.
“And hardly needed,” the countess said, “since there are three of us who can bear witness to a successful marriage night.”
“And I am sure you will,” Brice replied.
Vanessa ignored him and turned toward Sarah. “Did his lordship make it enjoyable?”
Brice didn’t think he’d ever seen a person’s face flame as quickly as Miss Vincent’s, nor drain of color equally fast. He felt rather sorry for the girl. She had been played as haplessly as he had.
“I do not believe what transpires in anyone’s marriage bed, other than your own, is of your concern,” Brice said coolly.
“Really, you do not have to be rude,” Vanessa snapped. “I am only trying to ensure my husband’s dear cousin, distantly removed as she is, had a pleasurable introduction to the marital bed.“
“Again, that is not your concern,” Brice said.
“Well, I never!” Jeannette exclaimed.
Melanie nodded. “You really are behaving like quite the cad, Lord Barclay.”
Behaving like a cad? Brice would have liked to tell them they were lucky they were women so he would not physically harm them. He was having difficulty reining in his temper. “I suggest the three of you leave.”
“How rude!” Lady Compton said.
He walked over to the door and swung it open. “Now.”
Lady Lindford tossed her head. “Well, I—“
“Never mind.” Vanessa swept past her friends. “We have seen what we needed to see. Let us retire to the breakfast room.”
At the apparent prospect of telling people their latest gossip, Melanie and Jeannette nearly collided in the doorway in their rush to follow Vanessa.
Brice was tempted to slam the door behind them but instead closed it quietly and turned the lock. He didn’t need anyone else barging in.
Sarah was still sitting in her chair, looking at him with owl eyes. “I am—“
“Do not say it.” Brice began pacing in the small space between the bed and the door.
“Do you think we can still have the marriage annulled?” Sarah asked.
“I do not know,” Brice answered. “I need to think.”
To her credit, Sarah Vincent stayed silent, a trait most women didn’t have. As he paced, Brice went over last night’s events in his head. He remembered witnessing the quick, small wedding of Stephan and Caroline. He remembered wanting to get really drunk since he was now the only remaining bachelor in his group. He remembered Lockwood plying him with brandy. He hadn’t questioned it at the time, since a number of men had been in the Pavilion saloon discussing the sailing regatta earlier that day that had ended in scandal. Lord Tisdale had been arrested for possible government conspiracy when he’d brought his boat in. It had been quite an unusual set of bizarre circumstances for what was supposed to have been the grand finale to the prince regent’s house party.
Brice even remembered Miss Vincent coaxing him onto the terrace to get some fresh air much later, but he didn’t recall much after that.
Brice glanced at Sarah. She sat rigidly in her chair, her hands folded primly in her lap, her feet properly together, the skirt of the frumpy brown dress not showing even a half inch of ankle. Nothing else showed except her face, which was nearly a perfect oval framed by an abundance of thick brown hair that had come loose from its plait. Her eyes, behind the rimmed spectacles, appeared luminous and almost doe-like, but maybe that was because his impression of her was that she would bolt like a startled deer if given the chance. He had no idea of her body shape, since the ugly gown seemed too large for whatever bosom she had and hung loosely to the floor. It was probably some sort of convent uniform, but Lucifer’s horns, he would have thought the countess would’ve provided something a bit more flattering, if Lockwood had wanted to marry the girl off.
He recalled now that Tisdale had tried making Caroline the prize of the regatta because he wanted to marry her and Lockwood had offered to procure a special license so the event could happen immediately.
The earl said the bishop needed two copies of the marriage certificate.
Brice stopped in mid-step. Earls they might be, but Tisdale and Lockwood were not friends. Why had he offered to get the license? The answer hit Brice like a colt’s kick to his gut. Lockwood’s intention had never been to present the special license to Tisdale. Instead, he had wanted to have it in hand so he could manipulate some totally foxed idiot into signing a second certificate. One that did not have Stephan’s and Caroline’s names on it.
And Brice had been that doomed fool.
Miss Vincent had been right. He had made an easy target—in his cups, wallowing in self-pity because his friends had abandoned him for wives. Lockwood had probably added a touch of laudanum or something to the brandy to make it even easier to coerce him into thinking he was signing simply as a witness to the first wedding.
Miss Vincent said he had answered “yes” when the clergyman had asked him if he were willing to sign the certificate. Brice just hadn’t realized, in his drugged state, what the man was really asking.
Saying “yes” was the same as saying “I do.” Even if Brice could talk his way out of that, there was Miss Vincent’s reputation to consider. Spending the night in a man’s room meant ruination. Brice would even be willing to admit that he had been too foxed to be capable of the act, much as that would be an insult to his manhood, but there was the damn bloody sheet that Lady Lockwood had made sure two of the best gossips in London had seen.
If Brice put Miss Vincent aside, she would be more of an outcast than she already was. An American girl, raised in a convent, who dressed like she’d taken holy orders, was not what any member of the aristocracy was looking for. And Lockwood had made it clear he didn’t want to support her.
Brice glanced at Sarah again. She still sat quietly, staring at the wall behind him, but she worried her lower lip. A lip that looked rather luscious as she sucked it softly between her teeth. It was a strangely erotic move and one he was sure she was unaware of. Brice turned his gaze away. He did not need to be thinking of luscious lips.
He resumed pacing, then finally ran a hand through his hair and turned back to Sarah. “I cannot think of a way to annul this marriage.”
Her face did that quick change from scarlet to white again, then she looked away. “But you do not want me, my lord.”
He reached her in three strides and hooked his thumb under her chin, turning her head so he could hold her gaze.
“I do not want marriage, Miss Vincent. Do not take it personally.”
Her doe-like eyes studied him. “How can I not?”
“I do not wish to insult you. I simply prefer to continue my life as I like. I will provide for your creature comforts and I will not molest you. That is all I can offer.” Brice sighed. “I cannot be what I am not.”
But what he was…was married.
Hellfire and damnation.
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CYNTHIA BREEDING is an award-winning author of eighteen novels and twenty-four novellas. She currently lives on the bay in Corpus Christi, Texas, with her absolutely-not-spoiled Bichon Frise and enjoys sailing and horseback riding on the beach.
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