THE BARON’S BETROTHAL
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Book One in the exciting Dangerous Lords series.
Guy Fortescue comes to England to claim his inheritance, Rosecroft Hall, abandoned over thirty years ago when his father fled to France after killing a man in a duel. But England proves to be a dangerous place – someone wants Guy dead. As Guy seeks to discover who lies behind the attacks on his life, he arranges a faux betrothal with Miss Horatia Cavendish.
Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan. An aspiring poet, Hetty proves to have a mind of her own but in spite of that, Guy finds her far too alluring.
Headstrong and lovely, Hetty agrees to the betrothal because it allows her to go to London where she can attend literary societies with her aunt. While her affection for Guy grows deeper, she must not forget the betrothal isn’t real. Guy will choose a bride from the beau monde – it will not be a colonel’s daughter from Digswell.
But Hetty is soon drawn in to Guy’s life, more and more, and not entirely against her will. He is handsome and brave, and the attraction between them is undeniable. Soon, she can no longer resist her desire for him and the fact that someone is out to kill him only feeds her innate protectiveness of the man she is betrothed to. As attempts are made on Guy’s life, Hetty and his sister ,Genevieve, work together to keep him alive, and a love that has been denied finally comes to fruition in the exciting conclusion.
Publisher’s Note: This book was previous released in the UK under the title A Dangerous Deception, but new content has been added and the story edited to produce a quality, new tale. Enjoy!
“I didn’t want to put the book down until I was completely finished. In my opinion, Guy and Hetty will provide you with a very well researched, fast moving, romance novel. I can easily recommend this lovely story to all my friends who enjoy mysteries and romance.”
“A very exciting story that takes our characters, and us into a world they know nothing about. Lots of action and very romantic
“Then this story goes into many twists and turns that will keep you reading all night. Don’t miss it.”
“It’s so nice to read writing of this quality , and a story of this caliber .
If your a fan of this author, your in for a real treat “
“The love & promises in their eyes was all one needed to know theirs was a true love match. A sweet love story with adventures & happiness ever after.”
Very well written with a little of everything. Mystery, adventure, chemistry, and romance. A great page turner.
Guy and Hetty are a perfect pair. They aren’t perfect but are perfect for each other. She’s compulsive, he straight laced. They compliment each other and balance each other out”.
When Monday came, Hetty Cavendish picked at her breakfast and ate even less at luncheon, drawing concerned comments from her father. Just to please him, she forced down several mouthfuls of cold beef.
At half past one, she excused herself from the library where her father smoked his pipe and read a periodical. She hurried upstairs and donned the groom’s clothing, her fingers stumbling over the hidden button on the fall-front breeches.
As she passed the kitchen, she heard Jim, the stable boy, chatting to Cook. He had needed no urging when Hetty suggested he sample the biscuits and cakes fresh from the oven.
It was blustery and cold, but snow had not fallen for days. The ground was mushy with melted snow, and heavy gray clouds hung menacingly overhead. Horatia hesitated as the wind whipped around the corner of the house, a gelid touch on the bare skin at her nape. She’d forgotten her scarf. She shook her head and hurried towards the cozy warmth of the stables. It would be flying in the face of fortune to return to the house for it, and it wouldn’t be needed if she kept to the shadows.
The stables were empty and satisfactorily gloomy. The General whickered a greeting. Simon had gone off to the village apothecary to fetch her father’s medicine. That was the only reason she could come up with, but as her father would soon be in need of it, the order caused no comment.
She patted The General’s nose and fed him an apple. By the time the last of it had disappeared, she heard the clip of a horse’s hooves on the gravel drive. She peeped out of the barn door and saw the baron, tall in the saddle, riding towards the house.
Hetty stepped out and beckoned him. He caught sight of her and rode towards the stables then dismounted and led the horse inside.
“Sorry, my lord,” Hetty said, adopting Simon’s gruff voice. “We have no footman here. No under-groom neither. I’ll stable your horse.”
“Simon, good fellow,” he said warmly. “I came to thank you again.”
“No need for that, my lord,” she said. “Everything’s right and tight here as it happens.” She led his horse into one of the stalls, then bent and swept the brush over the horse’s flanks.
He came to rest an arm on the stall door. “I am relieved. If you had lost your job, I was going to ask you to work for me.”
She straightened to brush the horse’s back, confident of the poor light. “Mighty good of you, my lord. But not at all necessary.”
“Merci encore.” He turned toward the door.
Relieved it had gone so well, Hetty stepped out from behind the horse. She looked up to see if he had gone and walked purposefully toward the stable door.
“You make a very good groom, Miss Cavendish.”
Hetty froze where she stood and slowly turned to see Guy emerge from the shadows. The elation left her, and she took a deep, shaky breath. “How long have you known?”
He strode over to her. “The red hair was a definite hint, even partly disguised beneath that bit of net. I wondered how far you would carry this ruse.”
She backed into an empty stall. “My hair’s not red,” she said incensed. “It’s chestnut.”
He followed her into the stall. Reaching over, he whipped off her hat. Her hair came loose and tumbled around her face. “Even in this light it looks red to me. Why deny it? Your tresses are beautiful. I’m interested to hear what you have to say in your defense.”
“I was a victim of circumstances, my lord.” Hetty lifted her chin, her heart pounding loud in her ears. She would have to brazen this out.
“Oh? In what way?” Annoyed blue eyes stared into hers. “I do not like to be toyed with. I worried that the knock on the head had scrambled my brain.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Watching you bend over in those breeches. From the first I felt a strong attraction as a man to a woman. And then, when I saw you dressed as one, I understood.”
She scowled. “You deliberately teased me.”
“You deserved it don’t you think?” He seized her shoulders and gave them a little shake. “You tricked me. Why?”
She shrugged off his hands. “No trickery, my lord. I was dressed this way when I found you if you recall. When we were forced to spend the night in the hut, I needed to keep up the pretense.”
He widened his eyes. “But why dress like that?”
She couldn’t explain her restlessness to him, how hard it was to be a woman and want the freedom of a man. She tossed her head. “I prefer to ride astride.”
He cocked a brow. “You like a strong beast moving beneath you?”
“I prefer to ride alone and it’s safer.” He made it sound as if she’d gained some sort of indecent enjoyment from the exercise. Her face heated. She had known that riding astride was unfeminine, but it had never bothered her before this.
“Even so, riding about like that places you in danger.”
Hetty drew herself up. “I can handle myself as well as a man.”
“You can, can you?” His gaze flicked over her. What was he thinking? She quivered under his scrutiny.
“We spent the night in the same bed,” he said bluntly.
The indecency of it made her want to block her ears. “I remember it quite well, my lord,” she murmured. “It sounds a good deal worse than it was.”
“Stop calling me my lord,” he barked. “While I was half-conscious, I told you all my secrets, confound it!”
So, that was what worried him. Hetty’s agitated breath eased a little. “You have nothing to fear from me, my… Guy. You can trust me to keep close counsel.”
“I spoke to you as one man to another. Zut!” He shook his head. “Now you’ve got me cursing!”
“I’ve heard far worse from your lips,” she said with a wry smile.
“You deserved to,” he said coolly. He appeared to rein in his temper and leaned against a post to shred a piece of straw.
“Really, your confessions were hardly scandalous,” Hetty fibbed. She began to enjoy her new sense of power. “You French are so excitable. You place such importance on something of little consequence.”
“You have a poor opinion of us it seems.” His voice sounded dangerously honeyed as he shoved away from the post and stepped closer.
She stifled a nervous giggle. She feared she had gone too far. She had provoked him from a preparedness to listen to a state of anger. What he might do made her tremble from head to foot. She failed to come up with something to stop him in his tracks and backed away until the wall of the stall jutted against her spine.
“We should go to the house,” she said, her voice annoying shaky. “Father will be wondering where I’ve got to.”
He towered over her. “And how he will enjoy your mode of dress.” He offered her his arm. “Allow me to escort you.”
He believed he had the upper hand, curse him. Horatia gulped down her alarm and tried to appeal to his better nature; she was reasonably confident he had one. It was just she, most probably, who brought out the worst in him. “Please… Lord Fortescue, allow me to go and change my clothes. Will you keep my secret?” She edged around him, but his hand on her arm stopped her.
“What will you give me in exchange?”
She pulled her arm free. “There is nothing I can give you.”
His gaze went to her mouth. “Oh yes, there is much you can give me. But I’m not greedy.”
Hetty drew in a long anxious breath. What was he suggesting? Surely not… A nervous thrill passed through her, coupled with a sense of shame. Did he consider her immoral? “I assure you, my lord, there is nothing.”
He placed a finger under her chin and raised it, forcing her to meet his fiery blue gaze. She felt singed as warmth spiraled down to heat regions of her body she’d hardly been aware of. Her knees threatened to give way.
“You owe me a kiss, I think.” He sounded entirely reasonable despite his outrageous request.
Hetty was quite sure she couldn’t handle a kiss from this man with any degree of savoir-faire. He had the wrong idea about her entirely. “I owe you nothing of the sort.” She decided to bluff it out and pushed past him.
She found herself on her back in the straw, with his lordship leaning over her. She struggled, but he held her down by her arms.
“Roué! Rake!” she spat at him. She moved her head from side to side to evade his mouth as he lowered his head to hers. It was useless; he was too strong. He claimed her mouth, his lips cool and hard, and she stilled, shocked by the lick of excitement passing through her like a hot flame. He withdrew to look at her with surprise. “Horatia!”
She sucked in a breath. “I did not give you permission to call me by my name. How dare…”
His mouth claimed hers again. Hetty had never been kissed like this. It was not an embarrassing collision of lips, quickly over. His tongue caressed hers and teased her and made her hungry for more. Such raw intimacy stunned her, and she fought to breathe. He stroked up her arms and clasped her hands, holding them above her head, a further shock of skin on skin, while crushed against his warm, hard body.
The fight went out of her. Had her hands been free, she would have pulled him closer still, driven by an insatiable curiosity.
She was dimly aware that he taught her a lesson. Women could not live in a man’s world. They would never get the better of a man physically. They should keep their place. Impotent fury rose along with the unwelcome passion.
Their heavy breathing filled the stable. The horses shuffled and whickered as he hovered over her, still holding her captive. She glared up at him, struggling against the desire he stirred in her. She fought to keep her anger close and nurture it to build a wall between them. “You have made your point,” she hurled at him. “You are stronger than I am.”
“You are such an innocent, Horatia,” he said mildly. “I hope you now realize you can’t go about teasing poor men in this manner.” His gaze locked with hers. “Has anyone told you your eyes aren’t brown? They are closer to amber with touches of green and gold. Like some rare stone.”
She turned her head away. “Let me go.”
When he obeyed her, she shoved him back as hard as she could. She jumped up and left him lying in the hay, an infuriatingly smug expression on his face. “You are no gentleman, sir. It seems they teach very poor manners in France!”
“Ah, but we French know how to enjoy what life has to offer.” He climbed to his feet and dusted the straw from his trousers. He straightened, laughter in his eyes. “I’ve wanted to do that since I first saw you. The shape of your body in those breeches cast me into a terrible state, I can tell you!”
She put a finger to her swollen lips as another wave of helpless rage swept over her. “How ungrateful you are. I saved your life!”
“And I am eternally grateful for it. Now go quickly and change before I decide to kiss you again. As fetching as you look right now…” His gaze roamed over her from head to toe, which made her suck in another frustrated breath. “I wish to see you dressed as a pretty woman should be. Your secret is safe with me.”
“How dare you patronize me!” What arrogance! Glaring at him, she searched for the right words to wound him. Fury tied her tongue into knots. He toyed with her because he was a man and could do whatever he pleased. Her restricted circumstances became so unbearable she was afraid she might explode.
She planted a smile on her face and swayed as she came closer.
“Mon dieu!” He eyed her hips in the form-fitting breeches and shook his head with an approving grin.
She raised her arm and slapped him hard across the cheek, so hard her fingers tingled. She welcomed the smarting; it made her feel considerably better.
“Coquine!” Eyes open wide, he fell backwards with a hand to his cheek.
“We Englishwomen are not to be toyed with, my lord!” She turned to make a grand exit but stumbled over a rake cast down in the hay. Extricating herself without injury, she hurried for the door. “I shall expect you for tea in fifteen minutes.”
“Will you, indeed?” came the amused reply.
Sick with mortification, Hetty changed into her best morning gown of rose-pink-patterned cotton. She knew one must look one’s best to feel any degree of confidence. And confidence was required to put the baron in his place. She discarded the lace cap and parted her hair to sweep it back in a smooth bun, secured with pearl-handled combs. If Guy had sought to show how weak she was when a man wished to take advantage, he had succeeded. But to her shame he had made her feel passionately alive. While she wasn’t happy about it, it did make sense of the restlessness she’d been suffering. She could not deny she wanted passion in her life. But not stuck in Digswell for the rest of her days.
After a quick glance in the glass, she hurried downstairs, the memory of his kisses still warming her. She struggled to regain her composure, she entered the drawing room, where Guy and her father were enjoying a slice of Cook’s plum bread. Guy threw down his napkin and stood as she entered the room. “Good to see you, Miss Cavendish.”
Her father’s brow puckered. “Where have you been, Horatia? I sent Molly to find you ten minutes ago.
“I was out in the garden, Father, and had to tidy myself.”
“I see you’ve changed your gown,” her father said with a nod of approval.
Heat flooded her cheeks as Henrietta curtseyed. “So nice to see you again, Lord Fortescue.” Unable to risk meeting his eyes, she stared at his left ear. “I expect you find the English weather deplorable.”
He angled his head so that his gaze met hers. What she found there surprised her. Sympathy and compassion. Or was it pity? Her throat closed in horror. “Nothing about England is deplorable, Miss Cavendish,” he said. “The beauty one finds in the countryside fair takes one’s breath away.”
“Well expressed, Lord Fortescue,” her father said. “Horatia, that’s more persuasive than that poet Lord Byron you’re always quoting.”
“Oh, not so very often, surely, Father.”
“Lord Byron is a favorite, Miss Cavendish?” Guy seized on the information, and a delighted gleam entered his eyes. He was not about to let such a moment pass. “Surprising that a roué and a rake can produce such finely penned and passionate verse, don’t you agree?”
Hetty scowled. “I agree that his poetry is very fine.”
Knife poised, her father raised his head before buttering another slice of cake. “Roué? Rake? These are not words bandied about in English drawing rooms, my lord.” He looked at her with a worried frown. “But if Byron is one, I forbid you to read any more of his work.”
Guy’s eyes twinkled.
She glowered back at him. “I’m surprised you’ve heard of Byron in France, my lord.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Do you mean that French poets are so sublime we tend not to read beyond our shores? We are a nation of romantics.” He put down his cup. “I recently discovered a new poem of Byron’s. Written this year, I believe.” He began to recite it, his voice lending it just the right tone of regret.
“Fare thee well! and if for ever,
Still for ever, fare thee well:
Even though unforgiving, never
‘Gains thee shall my heart rebel.”
Hetty released the breath she’d been holding. She’d hung on every word. He quoted Lord Byron as if he truly understood the meaning behind Byron’s words. With the memory of his kiss, she feared she was gaping like a foolish smitten girl and desperately tried to distance herself from the emotion it stirred in her.
“Written to his wife, when his marriage ended after one year, I believe,” Guy added, helpfully bringing her back to earth.
Her father replaced his cup in its saucer with a rattle. “Modern verse!” He shook his head and climbed to his feet. “I declare; I can’t follow what young people talk about nowadays.” He bowed. “If you’ll excuse me, Lord Fortescue, I’ll just pop across to the library and catch up on some reading. But please don’t rush off. It was a pleasure to have your company. I had no idea you were so interested in fly fishing. You must call on us again.”
Guy stood and bowed. “Merci, Colonel Cavendish. I should be delighted to learn more from you before I embark on the sport.”
With both doors left ajar for propriety’s sake, her father settled by the library fireside.
After a glance at her father rustling his newspaper, Guy turned to her. “Horatia,” he said in a quiet voice, edging closer to her on the sofa. “Might we be friends?”
She needed time to build some sort of resistance to his charm. “Friends don’t treat each other the way you did,” she said in a small voice.
“I know. I am sorry.” He gave a Gallic shrug and grinned. “I could not resist.”
She shook her head. “You’re not sorry at all.”
“You did trick me, Horatia.”
“I explained why.” She watched her father who was intent on lighting his pipe. “I didn’t know if I could trust you.”
“I have not behaved well. But you can, I promise you,” he said with a gentle smile on his lips. “No one has been badly wounded by this escapade, have they?”
His words sounded so convincing, and she had to admit that the last few days had been quite extraordinary and certainly not dull. She would consent to a friendship; it put the relationship on a safer plane. “You’ll tell no one about what happened…?”
“Kiss and tell? That is not my code.”
She allowed him to take her hand. He was quite convincing, despite his behavior in the stables.
He turned her hand over and pressed a kiss on her palm, which sent endless quivers of sensation along her nerve endings. She snatched it back. “That is not within the bounds of friendship, my lord!”
He held a finger to his lips, his dark lashes hiding his expression. She was sure his eyes were dancing. He was so outrageous she tamped down an urge to laugh. She must not give him an inch, he was likely to take a lot more.
“Forgive me,” he said a smile in his voice. “It won’t happen again. Unless you wish it.”
“I shall never wish it. Let us talk of something else.”