CHERYL HOLT is a New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon “Top 100” bestselling author who spent the past summer celebrating the release of her fortieth novel.
She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age forty, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance where she was stunned to discover that she has a knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.
Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is considered to be one of the masters of the romance genre. For many years, she was hailed as “The Queen of Erotic Romance”, and she’s also revered as “The International Queen of Villains.” She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year” by the trade magazine Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.
She lives and writes in Hollywood, California, and she loves to hear from fans.
Caught in a Compromising Position on Christmas Eve with Cheryl Holt
Hello everyone and Merry Christmas! I am so honored to have been asked once again to participate in this great holiday event. This year, I was given the theme, “Caught in a Compromising Position on Christmas Eve.” According to the rules, I have to write on my assigned topic, but I’m free to decide which characters to include. I can create new ones I’ve never used before or I can use some from prior novels.
After pondering for a bit, and trying to figure out what sort of story to tell, I decided to use an old character and a brand new one. In light of my topic, I absolutely had to pick Charles Sinclair, Lord Trent. If a female character is about to get herself compromised, (in this case, it’s the very unsuspecting Lady Theodosia Postlewaite) then Lord Trent is the perfect choice to cause her all kinds of trouble.
Charles Sinclair is an earl and the main recurring character in my “Lord Trent” trilogy. The three novels, LOVE’S PROMISE, LOVE’S PRICE, and LOVE’S PERIL are my biggest selling books and—judging from letters I’ve received from readers—they are my fans’ favorite novels out of all the ones I’ve released so far.
In the books, Charles is England’s most profligate roué. He’s a dashing, charming, and enigmatic man who’s spent his life engaging in scandalous affairs. He’s sired many bastard children, but he’s lacking the sliver of conscience that would make him feel guilty, so he’s never been sorry about any of the maidens he’s ruined. And the women he’s seduced are willing partners. They fall madly in love, assuming his affection to be genuine and that it will ultimately lead to marriage. But Charles is already married, and even if he could have wed one of his conquests, he wouldn’t have wanted to. He’s so appealing and charismatic though that the women never fall out of love—even when it becomes painfully obvious that he had only intended a brief fling, that he’s gone and never coming back.
I’ve always been fascinated by Charles, and my readers have been too. I constantly receive letters asking for more information about him, so I thought he might be a fun—and shocking!—addition to this year’s Christmas stories. Happy reading!
“It’s all about the money.”
“Isn’t it always?”
Theodosia Postlewaite—known simply as Theo to her friends and family—heard two women talking behind her. She hadn’t intended to eavesdrop, but they were standing so close she couldn’t help it. A row of potted plants separated them though, shielding Theodosia from view, so they weren’t aware of her presence.
“Her father is beggared.”
“That’s the rumor.”
Theodosia frowned, wondering if she should move away and stop listening. It was Christmas Eve, and she hated to learn that people were experiencing difficulties at such a special time. She hoped it wasn’t an acquaintance, but in the small world of London society, it probably was.
Curiosity kept her feet firmly in place.
“It’s why her father arranged the match—to get his hands on Hedley’s fortune.”
“I’m told he’s delivering cartloads of it.”
Theo bit down a gasp. Hedley Harrington was her fiancé. Surreptitiously she glanced around the grand ballroom. Surely they couldn’t mean her Hedley. They had to be referring to someone else, But how many Hedleys could there be? It wasn’t a common name.
“With his being such a lowborn cad and his mother a ladder-climbing shrew, the union will propel them into the highest circles of the ton.”
“It’s precisely where his mother always planned for him to be.”
“His country mouse must think his affection is real.”
“The poor girl. How can she be so naïve?”
The women cruelly snickered, and Theo was dying to peek through the foliage and see who was speaking, but she didn’t dare let them observe her.
Instead she gazed at the dancers twirling by and tried to focus on the glorious sight. Hedley’s mother, Beatrice, had outdone herself in decorating for the party, and the holiday ambiance was warm and inviting. Every inch of space was covered with pine-scented garlands, with holly and ivy. There was a huge Christmas tree in the corner, and a thousand candles burned in the chandeliers overhead.
When the clock struck midnight, her father would climb onto the dais with Beatrice and announce Theo’s engagement to Hedley. Gossip about them had swirled for weeks, with neither family confirming or denying the stories that were circulating. But the betrothal was about to finally become official.
The footmen were wearing red livery with gold buttons, the bright color adding to the festive mood. One of the smartly-dressed fellows walked by with a tray of champagne, and she grabbed two glasses. No one was paying any attention to her, so she rapidly downed the contents of one, then hid the empty glass in a plant behind her.
She sipped the other more slowly, struggling to calm her rattled nerves. She wasn’t usually a drinker, but who could blame her for any increased imbibing?
She was twenty, and she’d spent her life in the country. She should have had a debut when she was seventeen, but numerous problems had delayed it. An uncle had perished, then an aunt, then a favorite cousin. Theo felt as if she’d been in mourning forever, and with her mother having been deceased since she was a tiny child, there had been no mentor to rectify the situation and get her back on track.
She played the part of hostess at their rural estate, but her father rarely visited. He was busy with his gaming and friends in town. After he’d apprised her she could travel to London to stay with him, she’d been ecstatic. After he’d introduced her to Hedley, then later whispered that Hedley would like to propose, she’d been even more elated.
Hedley was rich and bombastic, pompous and pretentious, and he dressed in the premier state of fashion so he cut a dashing figure. In a world filled with such sophisticated, urbane females, she couldn’t believe he’d chosen her. Yet she barely knew him. They’d spoken on just a few occasions, and he was fifteen years older than she was.
For some idiotic reason, she kept running those numbers in her mind. She was twenty and he was thirty-five. When she was thirty, he’d be forty-five. When she was forty, he’d be…
Well, she shouldn’t obsess. What was the point? How could their age difference matter? On one futile evening, she’d broached the subject with her father, and he’d glared at her as if she was a ninny, so she hadn’t raised it again.
About the only pertinent information she’d managed to obtain about Hedley was that he liked horses. He liked racing them and betting on them and buying and selling them. She wasn’t interested in horses at all. What would they talk about at the breakfast table? Had they anything in common?
She didn’t think so, and since she was a romantic person who’d always dreamed of being passionately in love with her husband, the prospect that they were strangers and would likely remain strangers was terrifying.
She downed her champagne again—even though she shouldn’t have. She’d passed the day getting ready for the ball, so she’d been too nervous to eat. The first glass had worked swiftly to relax her, and she was certain the second one would provide even more relief.
The two women started in again.
“Deidre DuBois is having a fit about his engagement.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“She actually thought he’d marry her.”
“She’s an actress! How could she suppose his mother would ever agree?”
“Hedley considered eloping with her.”
“He wouldn’t have. He’d never disobey his dear mama.”
“Oh, really? Deidre is here as his special guest.”
“Yes! He put his foot down and insisted she be invited. His mother couldn’t prevent it. He’s with her now. Look.”
Theo peered to the far corner where Hedley was chatting with a group of people. She didn’t know any of them, but one in particular stood out. She was a buxom beauty with gorgeous auburn hair and big blue eyes. With her attired in a red velvet dress, she was even more noticeable, and she was clutching his arm in a proprietary way.
As to Hedley, he appeared very comfortable with her. He kept leaning down and whispering in her ear, then they’d laugh together.
Another footman went by, and Theo grabbed a third glass of champagne. Clearly two glasses weren’t going to be enough.
“How long has he been with Deidre? Three years?”
“It’s more like five.”
“He’s been bragging that he’ll continue the affair even after he’s married. He’s positive Little Miss Theodosia Postlewaite is so gullible she’ll never realize it.”
Theo wondered if she might swoon, right there on the edge of the ballroom. She’d embarrass her father, shame herself, and humiliate Hedley’s mother. Hedley would probably emerge unscathed though. From how he was focused on the woman by his side, Theo could likely drop dead from mortification, and he wouldn’t bother to glance over.
Suddenly she felt as if she was suffocating. She wanted to rush to her father and demand answers to questions she had no idea how to ask. She wanted to shake him until some truths rattled out.
He was a baron and one of the largest landowners in the kingdom. The Prince Regent was his great chum, so he hobnobbed with the loftiest peers of the realm. Any man—Hedley, for instance—who wed his only daughter would be immediately thrust into the social circles where her father thrived.
Was that why Hedley had picked her? Had she been…been…sold like a cow at a fair? Was her father penniless? Hedley’s father had been a sugar planter in Jamaica. He’d parlayed the riches from that plantation into a shipping company that delivered goods back and forth across the Atlantic. Hedley was obscenely wealthy because of it.
Would he give her father money so he could marry into an aristocratic family?
Of course, you idiot! He could have wed anyone. Why else would he have selected her?
In the suave, chic crowd, she might have been invisible, so it was simple to tiptoe out. Her gown was pretty enough, and her maid had curled and braided her blond hair in a fetching style, but she didn’t have the cold, calculating temperament that was required in order to fit in.
Her father claimed she’d eventually develop a thicker skin, that she’d learn to comport herself with the cool disdain others exuded so easily. But just then, she was tremendously aggrieved, and she couldn’t imagine concealing her fury. It didn’t seem possible.
She stopped a maid and asked for the lady’s retiring room. She was directed down a quiet hall, and she hurried toward it, but when she reached the door, she kept on.
Quickly, the sounds of the party faded away. The hall grew darker as only an occasional wall sconce was lit. There were doors on either side of her. She turned the knob on one, then another, but they were all locked. Finally at the end, she was able to open one of them.
She peeked in, saw no one, then snuck into a small parlor. A fire burned in the grate, the logs piled on to warm the cozy space. A sofa was positioned in front of it, and deeper in the shadows, there were a few other chairs, a sideboard, and a writing desk.
It was the perfect spot to calm her raging emotions, to have some privacy while she figured out what to do.
Her entire life, she’d been a meek, obedient daughter who worked to be pleasant and obliging, but she’d always been an afterthought to her father. When he’d brought her to town, when he’d informed her of her marriage offer, she’d been so flattered she hadn’t wasted a single second pondering whether the engagement was in her best interest.
She’d trusted her father, but why would she have? She scarcely knew him, just as she scarcely knew her fiancé. Why would she blindly follow her father’s advice on any topic?
If the gossipmongers were to be believed, her betrothed had a mistress to whom he’d been ardently attached for years. That very moment, she was out in the ballroom with him. Where did that leave Theo?
Her anger sparked to such a high level she was surprised the top of her head didn’t simply blow off.
She was still clutching her glass of champagne. Feeling reckless and brazen, she hurled it at the mantle, and it shattered effectively.
“I’ll show him,” she muttered. “I’ll show both of them. I won’t go through with it.”
“Do you hate champagne that much?” a man asked from behind her. “Or is it the crystal Beatrice Harrington uses? I find it quite cheap myself. The champagne too.”
She whipped around, but the rapid motion left her very dizzy, and she had to grab the sofa to maintain her balance. Apparently she’d had too much to drink on an empty stomach.
“I beg your pardon,” she mumbled. “I didn’t realize this room was occupied.”
He was sitting in a dark corner, and having witnessed her paltry temper tantrum, he was vastly amused. He held a tumbler in his hand, and he toasted her with it. “Would you like to throw this one too? It’s a bit heavier, so it might be harder to break. You might have to toss it more than once.”
“No, no, that’s all right. I shouldn’t have smashed the first one.” She put her palms on her hot cheeks. “I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life. Would you excuse me?”
“There’s no need to rush out. It’s evident you crept in, seeking some privacy. Just pretend I’m not here.”
There was a table next to him, a liquor decanter on it. As if she wasn’t present, he drew the cork and poured some into his glass. She watched him, and though she told herself to march out, she couldn’t move.
She didn’t want to return to the ball where she’d be forced to observe as her fiancé cooed with his mistress. She didn’t want to see her father because she’d feel duty-bound to ask him about Hedley, but he would merely scoff and scold and mock her.
She could have wept with dismay, but she’d just behaved like a child in front of this stranger, and she couldn’t bear to make matters worse.
He was enjoying his libation, and after a bit, he glanced up. “You’re still here.”
There was a second glass on the table—as if he’d been expecting someone—and he filled it to the rim and extended it to her. “Since you’re staying, you might as well join me.”
“I don’t know if I ought. I’ve already had too much.”
“It obviously hasn’t helped, so in my opinion, you haven’t had nearly enough.”
He gestured in invitation, and she staggered over and plopped down. Their chairs were side by side, so they were seated very close, their thighs and arms touching. She shifted to put some space between them, but she didn’t have much room to maneuver.
He gave her the glass, and she took a deep gulp, but it was much stronger than the champagne she’d been drinking. She coughed and sputtered and pounded a fist on her chest.
“Perhaps you’re correct,” he said, and he took the glass from her. “Perhaps you’ve had enough after all.”
“I should go.”
“Yes, you probably should.”
“People will be missing me in the ballroom.”
“The world will keep spinning if you hide for a few minutes.”
“If I was caught with you, I’d be in trouble.”
“Yes, you would be,” he blithely concurred. “But only if you’re caught. I can’t imagine anyone stumbling down that deserted hall.”
“I did it with no difficulty.”
“You’re the sole person who’s passed by so far. I doubt you’ll be followed.”
“I’m certain I won’t,” she groused, and she morosely admitted, “No one will notice my absence.”
“Then I’m lucky to have your company, for I was growing quite lonely myself.”
She looked at him then, and she was blatantly staring—and rudely too.
He was older than she was, as old as Hedley or even older than that, but he was handsome and debonair in a way that Hedley could never be. With golden blond hair and the most magnificent green eyes, his mannerisms were very cultured, very urbane, and there was a flair about him that made her wonder if he might have French antecedents.
He had a slight accent she couldn’t define, and he seemed very exotic, but in a fascinating fashion.
“I’m Charles,” he said.
His familiarity flummoxed her so it didn’t occur to her to pull away before he could reach out and kissed her hand. She was wearing gloves, so she couldn’t feel his lips on her skin, but still, it was the most intimately shocking thing that had ever happened to her.
“What’s your name, darling?”
“That’s a bundle of name for a female as small and slender as you are.”
“You can call me Theo if you want.”
“Theo Postlewaite.” He studied her meticulously, then nodded. “You’re here with your father.”
“And you’re rumored to be betrothed to Hedley Harrington.”
“Our parents will officially announce it at midnight.”
“My, my, an engagement announcement on Christmas Eve. It’s very romantic.”
“You don’t think so? Aren’t you a romantic sort?”
“Maybe, I am. I’m not sure.”
He chuckled and mused, “Theodosia Harrington. It has a nice ring to it.”
“Does it? I hadn’t really considered.”
“For a woman who’s about to become engaged, you don’t look very happy.”
“I’m happy,” she claimed, but her expression was so grim she might have been sucking on sour pickles.
“Well, good.” He stood and went to the sideboard, bringing back a different decanter and two more glasses. “This calls for a toast.”
“Must we?” she grumbled.
“Yes, we must. There are so few reasons to celebrate in life, don’t you agree?”
“I hadn’t ever thought about it.”
“Besides, it’s Hedley’s best brandy. Let’s frivolously indulge and waste it.” He poured two servings, then handed one to her, saying, “To the new Mrs. Harrington.”
They clinked their glasses, then he seated himself again, even nearer this time. It was very strange, but there was an energy emanating from him, almost as if their proximity was generating sparks.
Suddenly she was aware of him in a remarkable way. She could detect the heat radiating from his body, could smell the soap that had been used to launder his clothes. There was another aroma too, one she couldn’t identify, but it reminded her of manly things like tobacco, whiskey, horses, and fresh air.
He was staring at her as if she was the most captivating woman in the world. No one had ever assessed her like that, and she was completely overwhelmed. A warning bell was clanging in her head, shouting at her to rise and run out of the room, but she simply couldn’t heed it.
She was being pelted with peculiar sensations, so giddy she yearned to jump up and dance in circles. His focused attention was mesmerizing, and she wished he’d never stop looking at her. What would it be like to have a man constantly gaze at her like that? What would it be like to feel so special, so cherished?
She couldn’t imagine.
“Can I ask you a question?” she said.
“Are you acquainted with Hedley or my father?”
“I was just wondering about some gossip I heard in the ballroom.”
“Is that why you snuck in here?”
“Yes. It upset me very much.”
“And you’d like me to tell you if it’s true.”
“Maybe. I can’t decide if I want you to answer or not.”
He chuckled again, then sobered. “I typically find that horrid stories are partially true. There’s usually a grain in there somewhere that’s based on fact.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” She scowled and dithered. Should she blurt it out? After all, with whom could she discuss the issue? Not Hedley. Not his mother, Beatrice. Not her father. “Do you know an actress named Deirdre DuBois?”
“What does she look like?”
“She’s shapely and striking.”
“Auburn hair and big blue eyes?”
“Yes. She’s here tonight. You could have the butler point her out to you.”
“Is she wearing a red velvet gown?”
“I believe she is.”
He sat very still, evidently trying to impart a silent message he was desperate for her to receive, and she could hardly fail to receive it.
The woman clutching Hedley’s arm was his mistress. He’d embarrassed Theo by inviting her to Theo’s engagement party. On Christmas Eve, no less! With all of London society watching them.
Was everyone laughing about it? What about her father? Why would he allow her to be publically humiliated? And what about Hedley? What sort of man treated his fiancée so reprehensibly?
She imagined years—nay, decades!—of misery ahead, and she felt sick to the marrow of her bones. She pushed back her chair and went to the window to stare outside.
For a long while, she peered out at the dark garden, but she couldn’t see much. There was no moon, and it was cloudy with a storm predicated for the next day. People were actually saying there might be snow on the ground on Christmas morning.
Once in her life, the prospect might have charmed her, but at the moment, she couldn’t force herself to be glad about anything.
Ultimately she glanced over her shoulder and brazenly inquired, “Should I marry Hedley? If I was your sister or your daughter, how would you reply?”
“I wouldn’t presume to advise you.”
“No, I don’t suppose you should.”
Yet from how he was observing her, she thought he probably was advising her. He exuded the most intimate aura, as if she was extraordinarily dear to him, as if she’d always known him, as if they’d always been friends. She could practically read his mind, and he was definitely communicating a dire command that she cry off.
She tried to envision herself marching into the ballroom, scolding Hedley, then her father. She tried to picture herself telling Beatrice that she’d raised a cruel, awful son and Theo wouldn’t have him for a husband if he was the last man on Earth.
But she doubted she could pull it off with any aplomb. Plus she’d already accepted Hedley’s proposal, and their parents had signed the wedding contracts. After reaching that legal stage, she likely couldn’t back out even if she begged.
Her shoulders slumped with resignation. What a quandary! How was she to maneuver her way through it? She had no idea. Her father should have protected her, but clearly she shouldn’t trust him. It was obvious he didn’t have her best interests at heart.
“What is your surname, Charles?” she asked.
“Didn’t I say?”
“It’s Sinclair. Charles Sinclair.”
“Why are you sitting here in the dark all alone? I snuck in because I was despondent over the gossip I heard. What’s your excuse?”
“I was meeting someone.”
“Ooh…” She grinned. “Have I interrupted an assignation?”
“Apparently not. I don’t believe she’s coming.”
“Was she worth the wait?”
“Not really,” he said. “I brought her a goodbye gift.”
“Why? Was she leaving?”
“No. I had decided not to dally with her again.”
“Was she aware that you were planning to break it off?”
He lifted a shoulder in a very French sort of shrug. “Perhaps.”
“Is that why she failed to arrive?”
“I’m guessing it is.”
“Why are you parting with her?” she asked.
“Can your tender ears take the truth?”
“I don’t know. Tell me the truth, and we’ll see what happens.”
“We enjoyed a very illicit relationship, but she was growing clingy, and I can’t abide a clingy woman.”
“Well, then,” she sarcastically retorted, “I certainly won’t ever try to grab hold of you.”
She turned to stare outside again, wondering what type of man he was, what type of life he led. Men were so lucky. They could travel and waste money and engage in salacious liaisons, and no one cared how they acted.
Behind her, she heard him rise and approach. He stepped in so his body was touching hers all the way down. She’d never had a man stand so close before, and it was such a heady experience she was amazed her knees didn’t buckle.
“You’re very beautiful, Theo.” His warm breath brushed her neck, sending goose bumps cascading down her arms.
“You’re kind to say so.”
“I mean it. If Hedley ends up with you as his bride, you’ll be much more than he deserves.”
She glanced back at him, and he was so near that her tummy swarmed with butterflies.
“You make me wish I was someone else,” she said.
“I’d take you away from here if I could.”
“What a lovely thought. Where would we go? If you could take me anywhere, where would it be?”
“Probably Paris. It’s my favorite city.”
“Would we live scandalously, in a glorious flat that looked out on the Seine?”
“And would we spend our days drinking fine wine and eating delicious food?”
“Yes, and I’d dress you in gorgeous Parisian gowns and parade you about in the most public places so all the other men would be green with jealousy.”
“Have you ever done such a thing with a woman before? Have you flitted off to Paris to engage in a decadent affair?”
“Many times,” he bluntly admitted.
“Charles! You’re not serious.”
“Chérie, you shouldn’t ask a question if you might be uncomfortable with the answer.”
She scoffed at that. “You’re a libertine.”
“I might be.”
To her stunned surprise, he held out a small box. It was wrapped in pretty silver paper with a bow on the top.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Merry Christmas, Theo.”
“But what is it?”
“It’s a trifle. I intended it for my friend who never arrived, but I’d like you to have it instead.”
“It was her parting gift?”
“Yes. I’m always generous when I’m leaving.”
“I can’t possibly accept it.”
“It’s not appropriate,” she primly stated.
“Who is there to know what we do?”
“I will know.”
“Then we’ll merely pretend I’m giving it to you. I want to see how it looks.”
She should have refused. She should have pushed him away and marched out, as she should have from the start. But she’d never had such a wicked encounter, and she couldn’t bear to have it end, particularly when—once it did—she’d have to return to her problems in the ballroom.
“Fine,” she huffed, “but we’re simply pretending.”
“Or course we are.”
She ripped at the paper and opened the box to find an elegant necklace. She’d never been taught about precious gems, but she thought it was a ruby set in a circle of diamonds.
“It’s exquisite, Charles,” she murmured. “Your friend will die of envy when she learns what she missed.”
“Let me put it on you.” When she might have declined, he said, “We’re pretending, remember?”
She spun and dipped her head as he fixed the clasp in the back. The stone fell onto her bosom, the weight feeling just right.
She whirled to face him, and he smiled with what she could only describe as extreme affection, as if he really, really liked her. Could it be? Was she mad to suppose it was?
She touched the stone, wishing she had the temerity to keep it. She’d like to always have it—even if she never dared to wear it. She’d hide it in a drawer, and she’d take it out when she was lonely or unhappy. She’d stroke her fingers across it and recall the magical night when he’d given it to her.
“It’s perfect on you,” he said.
“Yes, it is,” she agreed.
“Merry Christmas, Theo,” he said again.
“Merry Christmas, Charles.”
He leaned in and brushed his lips to hers, and she was so astonished she could have fainted from shock. It was her very first kiss, bestowed on Christmas Eve!
She should have been ashamed of herself, of her wanton behavior. She’d conveniently forgotten that she was about to publicize her betrothal, yet she was dallying with a stranger in a dark parlor. But it seemed as if she was dreaming and the real world didn’t exist.
She turned to the window again, and he snuggled himself to her, so she could feel every inch of his torso pressed to her backside. He slid his arms around her waist, and he held her, the two of them gazing out at nothing.
“Oh, look,” she said after a bit, “it’s snowing. We’ll have snow on the ground on Christmas morning. Isn’t that wonderful?”
She glanced over her shoulder, and he might have kissed her again—she was desperately hoping he would—but suddenly the door was flung open.
“Theodosia! Where are you? It’s time for the announcement.”
Theo gasped with alarm and stumbled away from him.
Beatrice was in the threshold, and she shrieked, “Theodosia!”
“I can explain,” Theo hurriedly insisted.
“I don’t think you can!” Beatrice snapped, and she hissed at Charles, “Lord Trent! You devil! You swine! What have you done to Theodosia?”
“Hello, Beatrice. Fancy meeting you here.”
At hearing him addressed as Lord Trent, Theo blanched, but he was thoroughly composed and even a tad amused.
“You’re Lord Trent?” Theo asked.
Even in her small corner of England, there had been stories about him. He was the most notorious rogue in the kingdom. Over the years, he was rumored to have seduced a thousand girls. Every young lady was warned about cads, and in any such discussion, his name was always raised as an example of precisely the sort of roué to avoid.
He took her hand, dipped down, and kissed it.
“Adieu, chérie,” he murmured, his French accent unmistakable.
Theo yanked away as if she’d been burned.
“Lord Trent!” Beatrice bellowed. “Leave this room at once.”
“I will, Beatrice. There’s no need to shout. It appears my efforts on Theo’s behalf are completed—and quite successfully too.”
Beatrice’s angry glower whipped to Theo. “Don’t you move a muscle. I’m going to fetch Hedley and your father. Don’t move!”
She hustled out, and Lord Trent spun to Theo. He was grinning, and he winked. Winked!
“Goodbye,” he casually said.
“Goodbye! What will happen to me now?”
“If you play your cards right, you won’t have to marry Hedley.”
“Don’t you know? You’ve been caught in a compromising position—with the world’s most depraved libertine. In light of your pending nuptials with Hedley, consider it my Christmas gift to you.”
“Oh, oh, this can’t be! My father will kill me.”
“Yes, he might, but he won’t be able to force Hedley on you, and I daresay Hedley won’t want you. In fact, you won’t have to wed in the future ever—unless you choose to. A word of advice, chérie? Don’t trust your father on this topic. Make your own decision.”
“Goodbye,” he said again, and with that, he went to the door and strolled out.
She sank down into her chair, grabbed her glass, and filled it to the rim with brandy. She swallowed a hefty gulp, then hunkered down to wait for whatever catastrophe was coming.
With the death of his older brother, Michael Wainwright, Viscount Henley, has become heir to his father, Duke of Clarendon. The Wainwright men are renowned cads, and as his brother's will is read, it's discovered that he sired an illegitimate son and has left the eight-year-old boy his entire fortune. Michael decides to bring the boy to London so he can be showered with all the wealth and status guaranteed by his inheritance. But first, he has to gain custody from the boy's aunt, who is determined to keep her nephew away from Michael's dissolute family.Frances “Fanny” Carrington has always lived in a small village in the country. As a newborn, she was left in a basket on the church steps and raised by the vicar and his wife. But they've died, and Fanny is in dire straits, struggling to raise her nephew, to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. When she begins to receive correspondence from Michael, asking for custody, she can't help but be suspicious. For years, the Wainwrights have refused to claim her nephew or provide financial assistance to him. She's alarmed by their sudden interest. What can it mean?As Michael finally meets Fanny, their attraction is swift, blatant, and dangerous. He can't fight the need to have her at any cost, and gradually, he lures her into his decadent life of affluence and privilege. But she's never possessed the callous nature required to thrive in the cut-throat world of the aristocracy, so she can never understand the peril she faces from those who would do anything to keep them apart…
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