Box Set #59: Karen Lingefelt: The Historical Romance Collection, Volume 1 (All 4 books for $3.99)
In Bride in Hiding, Susannah Kirk hopes to escape an unwanted marriage by posing as a lady’s companion in the bridegroom’s ancestral home. Trevor Dalton, one of her reclusive lady’s grandsons, makes a surprise visit and Susannah worries he may be the very man she is trying to avoid. Trevor’s attempts at averting a family scandal are hampered by Susannah at every turn. This ignites his curiosity and he becomes determined to uncover Susannah’s secrets—even if he has to seduce them out of her.
In Confessions of a Lady Ruined, Julia Bassett can’t bear living in the home of the handsome lord who charmed her and then ruined her—especially while he searches for a wife! Julia will do anything to lose her position as his sister’s chaperone, even if it means repeating the same scandalous behavior that separated them long ago. Colin Danforth enjoys seeing how far Julia will go, but he regrets breaking her heart and would like to win her back. But when attempts are made on his life, he must find out if this bold vixen is seeking love…or vengeance.
In The Truth About Georgiana, Georgiana Hayward is betrothed by her family to a marquess many years her senior. Worse, his dashing nephew and outraged heir, Anthony Baxter, is the man she secretly desires. Anthony opposes the union due to decorum, panicked relatives, and especially Georgiana’s kiss that has put a chink in his armor. When his attempts to dissuade this notorious hellion leave him frustrated, amused, and falling in love, he must decide whether to risk a scandal of his own and claim the heart of this wild vixen.
In Pride and Promises, widow Elizabeth Townsend requests a favor from Malcolm Hayward, Earl of Whitbourne, and it’s not what Malcolm expects. Instead of the affair and possible marriage he hopes for, she asks him to pretend to court her daughter to make a reluctant beau jealous. Elisabeth’s madcap scheme is her chance to get close to Malcolm and rekindle the flame started years before. But when she worries Malcolm is playing his part too well, she risks scandal to ensure she and her daughter both get the men they love.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
Click on each cover for detailed blurbs, awards, ratings, excerpts, and reviews for each book in Karen Lingefelt: The Historical Romance Collection, Volume 1.
BRIDE IN HIDING
“Hiding from someone?” he queried. “Or could you be eavesdropping?”
Susannah’s first instinct was to flee, and not out the window. But the damask draperies were suddenly as heavy as boulders, and no matter which way she clawed at them, she couldn’t find the opening she sought.
To her increasing horror, he threw one long leg tightly encased half in buckskin and half in black leather over the sill. “I say again—hiding or eavesdropping?”
“Neither,” she blurted.
Over the sill came his other, equally magnificent leg. “Then what, pray tell, are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m trying to untangle myself from these wretched drapes!” As Susannah glared up into his face, her racing heart nearly stumbled to a halt.
In her panic, she hadn’t really taken a good look at him till now. The moment she’d turned back to the window, her first thought had been that he was Sir Niles. But that had lasted for only a heartbeat, as she realized he appeared to be only half Sir Niles’s age, much taller and infinitely more handsome. Yet she couldn’t shake off the ominous feeling that this man, though she’d never seen him before, could only spell trouble for her.
What sort of trouble that was, she couldn’t say. She couldn’t even think. How could any woman think while standing so close to a man like this? A man with thick hair of light tawny brown, and an exquisitely chiseled face with a square, dimpled chin. His mouth barely curved in the merest ghost of a smile as he pressed his lips firmly together, and stared back at her with eyes the blue of gleaming turquoise.
“What is going on out here?” demanded Mrs. Mainwaring from the other side of the draperies.
With one swift jerk of his arm, the man did what Susannah had been struggling to do for the past minute. Just like that, he parted the draperies with the ease of Moses raising his staff over the Red Sea, and he and Susannah stood face-to-face with the glowering Mrs. Mainwaring.
“My lord,” Mrs. Mainwaring whispered, as her gaze fell on the man. Was she addressing him or the Almighty? Susannah had good reason to hope it was the latter. “It’s been years, but—my lord, do you not remember me?”
Oh dash it, so she wasn’t invoking the Almighty. Susannah silently called up to Him instead, not that she expected a great deal from Him at this point.
“Cousin Portia?” the man said.
So they were cousins. And Mrs. Mainwaring addressed him as my lord.
That could only mean one thing. No, two things.
This man was Viscount Ellington.
Which made him Susannah’s prospective—and dreaded—bridegroom.
CONFESSIONS OF A LADY RUINED
“Are you all right, miss?” He turned to face her as he buttoned the bottle-green coat. It was the perfect color for the eyes she remembered. His buff breeches, tucked into tall black boots, fit smoothly and snugly over long, muscled legs.
“Yes, thank you.” She glanced up into those green eyes she’d never forgotten. They still danced with that captivating sparkle of mischievous charm, but she had no doubt those eyes danced for all the ladies. The angles of his face were sharper now, his jaw more square, the dimple in his chin deeper, and his cheekbones more prominent, as if he’d been eroded by the tumultuous passage of time. Yet every last thread of his thick, wavy hair was still a dark chestnut. If there was any gray, Julia would have to thrust her fingers into it and look. Alas, she was here to keep an eye on his sister while all the other ladies got to comb their fingers through his silky locks.
At that thought, she hastened to the rear of the carriage, lifting her skirts and cringing as she sank nearly ankle-deep into the mud. “Pardon, but I must get my reticule.”
With his long booted legs he swiftly stepped ahead of her. “Do allow me. You don’t want to get mud on your gloves.”
“My lord, I wish you would let me—”
“Nonsense. What sort of gentleman would I be if I didn’t retrieve your reticule for you?”
She lunged forward as he swooped down on her reticule and scooped up the fallen items. “No—please—”
“Calm down, I’m not going to steal anything. I will pick up every coin that has dropped out of the reticule and place it in your hand, that you might count it and see that I’m also an honest gentleman.”
While Julia had her reasons for doubting that, she wasn’t afraid he would steal her coins. She wasn’t even worried about her small looking glass that surely reflected nothing now but brownish-black splatters, or her tortoiseshell hairbrush that would cleverly blend in with the mud. No, all she cared about was grabbing that crumpled handkerchief before he glimpsed his family crest, of bright gold and deep maroon, embroidered in the corner. He’d loaned it to her the last time she’d seen him, and she’d treasured it ever since, thinking it was all she could ever hope to have of him.
“Let me get my handkerchief,” she said. “I feel a sneeze coming on.”
“You can’t use this handkerchief after it’s been in the mud.”
She clawed at him as he clutched her meager, worldly goods all in one large hand. “But I can’t possibly sneeze without it.”
He thrust the other hand into his pocket. “Let me offer you mine.”
She reached for his upraised fist and with both hands pried it open. Her belongings, save the handkerchief, rained to the damp ground. The handkerchief, by virtue of being so lightweight, fluttered down the length of his black boots before she hastily snatched it and held it to her face. Feeling the cold mud against the tip of her nose, she quickly drew it away.
“Wait a minute—what is that?” He seized the handkerchief and pulled.
Panic grabbed her. “What are you doing? Let go of it—I need it.”
“Your urge to sneeze seems to have passed. What is that on your handkerchief?”
She pulled her fist, still clutching the handkerchief, as was he, back toward her chest. “My lord, I will ask you only once more to let go of me at once and leave me with my handkerchief!”
He released his grip. “Would you mind opening the handkerchief and letting me see it?”
“After I’ve blown into it? Are you mad? Just what do you intend to inspect it for?”
Again he thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out his own handkerchief, unfurling it with one flick of his wrist. “I have reason to believe it matches this one.”
There in the lower corner of his proffered handkerchief was the maroon-and-gold crest of the earldom of Danforth.
Julia struggled to steady her voice. “How does it match mine?”
“Show it to me, and I think we’ll both see.”
She stuffed the handkerchief he’d given her years ago into the bodice of her pelisse. “Never. How do you know I’m not infectious?”
He arched a single brow. “Point taken. I daresay you’re as dangerous as any fever.” He took a step toward her and lowered his voice. “But I’ll have you know I’m immune.”
Julia wasn’t sure what he meant by that, except she didn’t care for his tone, almost menacing and too knowing, as if he knew precisely what she was hiding.
She gasped as he whisked his handkerchief across the tip of her nose. “Just removing the dab of mud left there when you pressed your own handkerchief there. Or is it really your own handkerchief?”
It seemed he did remember her, or at least he thought he’d recognized her muddy handkerchief as his own. Yet he still didn’t care about what he’d done to her so long ago! Did he remember that?
Her only defense was to continue acting as if she didn’t remember at all. To never give this rogue the pleasure of knowing he’d broken her heart.
THE TRUTH ABOUT GEORGIANA
He pinned her with a hard, unwavering gaze. “Rest assured he does mean for you to provide him with an heir. That goes without saying.”
“But he confided to me that he cannot—cannot—”
“Well, you know…”
He put the poker aside. “Didn’t he tell you? I can’t imagine your sensibilities are too delicate to repeat what he said?”
“I’m telling you exactly what he said!” she exclaimed. “He never finished the sentence because—well, maybe his sensibilities are too delicate.”
Mr. Baxter turned away to cough, and Georgiana couldn’t help wondering if he was hiding a laugh. She didn’t believe for a minute creaky old Carswell had delicate sensibilities, and she didn’t know him a fraction as well as his nephew surely did.
“Or maybe he really does think my sensibilities are too delicate. He does want to marry me, after all.”
Mr. Baxter coughed again, still keeping his back to her.
“Are you all right, sir? I vow, you cough as much as your uncle.”
He turned to her with a florid face, struggling for composure. “Perhaps it’s the fire. Your chimney might need a good sweep.”
“It was cleaned just before we came up here a month ago,” she said. “I do believe you’re laughing at me, Mr. Baxter.”
“I’m merely scoffing at what you said, Miss Hayward. Surely you’ll agree the idea of either you or my uncle having delicate sensibilities is utterly absurd, which is not to say the two of you suit. Now what did he say?”
“He stated that because of his age and frailty, he cannot—cannot—at which point I told him I understood.”
Mr. Baxter put his fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. “You understood he cannot do what?”
“I think you know what,” Georgiana said with thinly veiled impatience. Surely he wasn’t going to make her spell out what he’d spelled out the night they met, just for petty revenge.
He folded his hands behind his back. “Because of his age and frailty, he cannot—cannot—mount a horse and ride to hounds anymore. He cannot dance ‘Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot’ because of his gout. He cannot play Mozart’s ‘Turkish March’ on the pianoforte because of the rheumatism in his fingers. He cannot read Shakespeare’s sonnets to you because of his fading eyesight. And because of his ill-fitting false teeth, he cannot eat freshly picked apples anymore. Now they must be chopped up and cooked into mush. For all you know, those were the things he was trying to tell you he cannot do anymore, while you presumed he was speaking of something else entirely.”
With each “He cannot,” Georgiana’s heart dropped a notch till it was now somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach, which might have explained her sudden nausea.
Mr. Baxter cocked a tawny brow. “You did not give him ample opportunity to complete his sentence.”
“But why would he have stammered if he wasn’t referring to—to that? The way I’m stammering about it?”
“Because at his age, he tends to ramble and forget what he’s talking about in the middle of a sentence. On the other hand, he might very well be embarrassed that his apples have to be mashed up and stewed for him as if he were a babe.”
Skeptical, Georgiana said, “What if he should have a heart attack trying to do—that?”
“Eat stewed mashed apples?”
“No, that! What I foolishly assumed he was stammering about.”
Was that the hint of a smile quivering at the corner of that mouth she’d so boldly kissed in London? “A man of any age can have a heart attack, even while eating apples,” he replied. “Regardless, the man will always risk his life for carnal pleasure. And, if he’s hungry enough, apples.”
“Would you risk your life for carnal pleasure?” Georgiana dared to ask.
Now his expression was unmistakably quite solemn again. “It would depend on the woman.”
“Indeed? Then maybe your uncle feels the same way.”
He cocked his head to one side. “Oh, I can assure you he does. And the woman he’s depending on is you.”
Speaking of heart attacks, Georgiana could have sworn hers had just stopped cold in her chest. Even if her would-be husband had no fear of dying in the marriage bed, she didn’t want to risk being responsible for the death of another person, especially when the deaths of her parents already sat on her conscience, crushing it. She had to get out of this betrothal, and she could, simply by slipping the emerald ring off her finger and handing it to Mr. Baxter.
Alas, if she did that, then she’d probably never see him again. She had to stay betrothed to Lord Carswell, if only to keep his nephew around.
Only his nephew was making it terribly difficult. What to do?
She’d do the only thing she could think of, though she hated herself for doing it. Every woman she knew, even her grandmother, swore by this trick for getting out of the most difficult of situations. Unfortunately, that did not include being betrothed to old Carswell.
She collapsed across the sofa and threw an arm over her head.
As far as she could tell, Mr. Baxter didn’t move. Nor did he call for the maid to bring smelling salts. She couldn’t very well open her eyes to see how he was reacting. Then he’d know she was only pretending.
So what was he doing?
PRIDE AND PROMISES
She gasped and thrashed in his embrace. “My lord, what are you doing?”
He loosened his hold on her. “Isn’t this why you summoned me out here?”
“Certainly not! Now let go of me before I—” Something sharp struck him in the middle of his forehead.
Malcolm yelped and leaped back from her. “Bloody hell, woman! You coshed me again with that blasted fan of yours, didn’t you?”
“So I did. Why, you’re just a rake!”
“Well, I’m glad to hear I’ve made a bit of progress over the years. Better to be a rake than just a boy. But you, madam, have made no progress whatsoever. You’re still just a tease.” No wonder her husband had died so young. She’d likely teased him all the way into his grave. “Why did you lure me out here if not for that?”
Indignation rang in her voice. “Is that why you think I was waiting out here?”
He rubbed his sore temple. “What was I supposed to think when you said you’d be out here, and then you—well, you say you startled me, which you most certainly did, but that refers only to my reaction. There’s still the little matter of the action that caused it.”
She dropped her hands to her sides. “I was hoping you’d meet me out here so we could discuss in greater detail our plans for you to help my stepdaughter.”
Oh, that! Damned if Malcolm hadn’t just made an imbecile of himself. He glanced around the shadowy garden. “All right. Where’s the nearest tree?”
“Why do you need a tree? Are you planning to hang yourself? Really, what I’m proposing isn’t that bad.”
“No, I need a tree so I can bang my fool head against the trunk. You must think I’m an absolute bounder for assuming you meant what I thought you meant.”
“No, I think you’re just another man. Still, did you actually think I was going to seduce you out here, where anyone could—”
He frantically shushed her. “Do you want everyone to hear?”
“There’s no one else out here.”
“No one you can see. They’re all lurking in the shadows and the shrubbery, doing what I foolishly assumed you had in mind.”
“Then what does it matter? Do you think they’re going to stop whatever they’re doing to throw stones at us when we’re not even doing what they are?”
“Maybe they will, just to silence us or make us go away,” he growled. “If you weren’t inviting me out here for that, then why did you squeeze me the way you did in the ballroom?”
She met his gaze in the flickering torchlight. Was it the reflection of that nearby flame again, or did her eyes sparkle with mischief? “I wanted to make certain you’d follow me.”
“I must say, it was most effective. Only, tell me, do you do that to every man with whom you conduct business of one sort or another? When it comes time to plan your stepdaughter’s wedding, you won’t do that to the vicar, will you?”
She didn’t even blink. “Only if that’s what it takes to get him out of the vicarage and into the church so he can perform the ceremony.”
“I’m glad to hear that. But suppose I hadn’t followed you for what I assumed was a tryst? Maybe I already have a mistress who’s more than satisfactory.”
Now she smiled. “I think you’ve just proved, albeit unwittingly, that you don’t.”
She had him there, but instead of being annoyed, he was amused. “Very well. What if I’d decided it was more diverting to flirt with Lady Norton’s daughter?”
“Not likely. You see, I’m acquainted with your grandmother.”
“That’s right, you widows tend to stick together, don’t you?”
“Yes, and she says you’re bored with vapid young chits like Lady Norton’s daughter, but alas, they’re all that’s left for a stubborn old bachelor like you.”
He bristled. “Stubborn old bachelor? Dare I ask if those are her words or yours?”
“Oh, they’re mine,” she said sweetly.
“Then I’ve come quite a long way in the twelve years since you accused me of being just a boy. I suppose my grandmother also boasted to you of the promise I made to her.”
“That you would marry before the end of this season, or she would choose your bride for you? Who doesn’t know about that?”
Malcolm grumbled. “Unfortunately, no one. You didn’t have to squeeze me to get me out here, Mrs. Townsend. Or may I still call you Elizabeth? I mean, given the circumstances aren’t quite what I thought they were—”
“They’re the same as I thought before, so of course you can still call me that.”
“Capital. And I’m still Malcolm, unless you prefer ‘rake’ or ‘stubborn old bachelor.’”
“Malcolm will be fine. For now.”
“Then I’ll endeavor to behave myself. Never again will I assume a lady wants to seduce me. She’ll have to be infinitely more obvious about her intentions than you were just now. As I was saying, you didn’t have to do what you did to get me out here, not that I object to it.”
“I know you don’t,” she said in an I-felt-every-inch-of-you-against-me tone.
“But I’ll welcome any opportunity to escape a ballroom nowadays. Now tell me your plan. You want me to flirt with your stepdaughter?”
“I’d like you to do whatever it takes, without compromising her, to make my brother jealous.”
Skepticism brushed over him. “But how am I to avoid compromising her, and perhaps having to marry her myself?” He quirked a brow. “Or is that what you’re really scheming, you matchmaking stepmama, you?”