Charles anticipates a carefree bride who can focus time and attention on him. Abigail is drawn into a dutiful marriage while preoccupied with her family. Can this couple find a way forward that suits them both?
Charles Wessex, the Earl of Meriden, has never before cared whether he was invited to the best entertainments or even the political dinners of his peers. He is determined, however, to have the woman of his fantasies under the thrall of his hands, mouth and body.
Lady Abigail de Rothesay is too busy coping with her sisters' difficulties and the practical problems of her engagement to look any deeper than her father's eminently sensible financial reasons. She reluctantly prepares for an arranged marriage to the widely disliked Earl of Meriden, expecting to live out the traditional future of a peer's wife—managing his households.
Abigail is not prepared for the intimate and demanding relationship Charles engineers, so Meriden must tread carefully and restrain his dominant instincts, both privately and in public, so as not to overwhelm and terrify his bride. Even as they grow closer physically and emotionally, his family's past and her family's secrets threaten to drive emotional and physical wedges between them. Together, they must face the consequences of their families' decisions for the past three decades as they come to terms with each other and their unexpected passion.
Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of male masturbation, erotic spanking, sexually charged disciplinary spanking, steamy oral sex, light bondage and offensive stubborn male possessiveness. There are also references to anal play and famous French paintings containing partially clothed women.
General Release Date: 10th December 2012
Suppressing another futile bout of anger, Abigail stared out of the window of the carriage, contemplating the dreary landscape. It was tedious progress, particularly given the crosswind blowing against the horses and the heavy old coach. Above her, Abigail knew, the coachman and her maid had been sitting on the box for hours under a light, cold rain. By now, they must be miserably chilled, but no one had spoken of stopping. Indeed, the outriders from Meriden Park, riding both in front and behind them, urged them on with what seemed relentless patience. Through the mud-splattered windows of the carriage, Abigail could see their horses were caked with mud, while the riders pulled their hats low over their heads and covered their faces.
The company would, Abigail decided, make a perfect portrait of her mood when she finally arrived.
On the bench seat opposite, Aunt Betsy stirred from her nap and sat up, blinking. Aunt Betsy—Lady Arlington—was a dear soul once one accepted her perspicacity, but often she was too flamboyant and outspoken for good taste. Today, her travelling gown was a florid pink edged with large scallops of red lace. The matching cloak was woollen—though the same tawdry hue—with red trim. Even her red bonnet, with its pink ribbons, feathers and ruffles, matched the appalling display. Abigail couldn’t help but smile every time she looked in Aunt Betsy’s direction.
Aunt Betsy struggled to resettle her spectacles on her nose before adjusting her bonnet over her old-fashioned wig of grey curls. A frown that wrinkled the corners of her eyes and her lower chin pursed the lady’s lips.
"I am simply appalled at your father’s behaviour!" she fussed, glaring out of the window at the dim landscape of grey pasture that seemed desolate in the late twilight. "One would have thought he would have found a way to be here—and better sense than to contract you to an arranged marriage at all. The entire affair is a travesty."
One of the few remaining luxuries of the ancient trap they were in was that it did not leak. Abigail gave a silent word of thanks for the mercy and smoothed the blanket that covered her layers of stockings, petticoats, gown and pelisse.
She couldn’t envision any profit from pursuing the discussion yet again. It would only infuriate both of them, as it had every day—every hour—since her father had called Abigail to his study a week earlier, a drawn but determined look on his face. "We should be close to Meriden Park," she said evenly, determined not to rise to her aunt’s bait. From the comments Aunt Betsy had littered along their two-day route, it was obvious that Abigail’s father had not shared the same reasons for the match with his sister as he had with his daughter.
The elder woman snorted. "I thought you had more gumption than this, girl," she scolded again, retrieving her cane from the bench seat and rapping it against the upholstered cushions. "You might not be the prettiest of the four girls, or even the smartest, but I always liked you the best. I must say, I’m disappointed in you this time."
Abigail considered a repressive glare in the manner of her mother, but refrained. Visibly, she tightened her lips and calmly removed her gloves to examine her fingers. Long years of familiarity with Aunt Betsy, and constant reminders from her mother, were enough to prevent any vocal response to her aunt’s jousting.
Abigail’s nails were prettily cut and her fingers well-formed and soft, with only a hint of use along the edges of her two middle fingers on each hand. She mercilessly scrubbed and treated them each and every day to maintain the illusion of fashionable uselessness that her mother deemed compulsory.
Still, Abigail was unable to ignore her aunt’s words. "Of course, Fiona is the brightest of the four of us," she finally ventured, "and Genevieve is the prettiest." She paused for a moment, and continued gently, "And I do think Gloria is the most..." She paused, refrained from uttering the word ‘ambitious’, and finished, "Capable in society."
"One generally would have considered her marital prospects to be excellent, were she not so set on that poor example of a man," her aunt replied pertly, then grimaced.
"Most would consider marriage to the heir apparent of a duke to be something to celebrate," Abigail acknowledged a bit pointedly. "Your standards aren’t exactly the ones embraced by most of society." Privately, Abigail agreed with her aunt. Despite the title and all its inherent benefits, the man in question was no more than a drunk, prone to violence and public foolishness.
"I don’t understand," Aunt Betsy sighed, less indignantly but with more resignation. "And at this point it seems apparent neither you nor Gloria will confide in me."
Abigail considered, but shook her head. "It is Papa’s prerogative, if he so wishes, to explain this fiasco in which I find myself."
Her aunt frowned again. "I offered him money, you know," she grumped, then rapped her cane again, her voice rising in indignation as she went on. "Fool man wouldn’t take it. Said the engagement was already announced. Said he wouldn’t take a pound from me anyway. Your father is nothing if not a proud—"
Aunt Betsy didn’t have the opportunity to issue her last, damning injunction. The word was ripped into a screech as the carriage lurched dangerously and began to list sideways. Abigail, seeing the woman collapse forward, lunged across the carriage and blocked the door even as the coach landed with a vicious jolt on its side. A terrible vision of the catch breaking and the door opening to spill them both into the road and ditch gave her the extra determination to hold desperately onto the seat when Aunt Betsy fell senseless onto her.
The men above were shouting at one another as the horses screamed into the late evening air. As if on cue, Abigail heard the light patter turn into heavier rain and the natural light in the coach dimmed to near darkness. On top of her, Betsy lay still, but with some relief Abigail heard her breathing in shallow gasps.
"Aunt Betsy?" she whispered softly, aware now of the scramble outside the coach. A pistol shot—unexpected—made her heart leap but, with it, the screaming horse was relieved of its pain, and Abigail breathed again cautiously. "Are you all right?" She reached around the older lady and found what she guessed to be the cause of the woman’s unconsciousness—a sticky, swelling wound on the back of Aunt Betsy’s scalp.
Abigail knew immediately that her hand was covered in blood.
There was no question of moving Betsy off her. Aunt Betsy was a healthy, robust woman old enough to no longer be concerned about her figure. Abigail simply wasn’t strong enough, and there was nowhere in the cramped, upside-down cavern of the carriage to move her. Above them, past the long, black, leather-covered benches, a window framed in black wood looked out to the darkening sky. Betsy’s cane lay off to the side, obviously cracked, and Abigail wondered if the falling stick was at fault for Betsy’s injured head.
Elle is an author of erotic romance, or romance that contains erotic content. The romance – the falling in love – is the beautiful part of the story. The erotic content is the interesting part. In Elle's mind, the best books are erotic and romantic at the same time, and these are the sorts of stories she wants to tell. Elle lives in the great state of California with a devoted Mr. Sabine, a golden-haired pup, and a golden-haired daughter. If she had spare time, she'd like to sleep at night, visit museums, and spend more time with the Pacific Ocean.
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