Society shunned the base-born rogue. Matrons whispered behind their fans about his sensual exploits. Young ladies secretly dreamed of his intimate touch. No one expected Drake Wilder to force his way into the closed ranks of the nobility-by coercing a very proper lady to the altar.
To save her family from ruin, Lady Alicia Pemberton agrees to wed the scandalous owner of a gambling club. She insists upon a marriage in name only. But Drake has other plans for his lovely, high-born wife. First, he will use Alicia to exact revenge on the father he never knew. Then he will work his scoundrel's charm to seduce her into his bed. But Alicia isn't the meek, submissive wife. And Drake soon finds himself in peril of losing his heart...
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||4.24(w) x 6.74(h) x 0.95(d)|
About the Author
Barbara Dawson Smith: Call me a chronic dreamer, but I love a good book. Like everyone else, I get caught up in carpooling for my two daughters, taking out the garbage, and paying the bills. Reading is my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the reward for a long day's work. Even after writing fourteen romance novels of my own, I still love to escape into the magical world of another writer's imagination.
Read an Excerpt
Lady Alicia Pemberton braced herself to commit an act ofdesperation.
Holding tightly to the wrought-iron balustrade, she subduedher inner agitation and followed the butler up thegrand staircase in Wilder's Club, St. James's Street. Theirfootsteps echoed through the soaring entrance hall with itstall white columns and dark green walls, decorated withpaintings and statuary. The place might have been a mansionin Mayfair.
But she knew it to be a glorified gaming hell.
To her left loomed a spacious salon, the groupings ofleather chairs empty save for a portly man engrossed in theTimes of London. In the vast room to the right, a pair ofgentlemen played billiards. A crack resounded as a yellowball shot across the green baize and disappeared with amuffled thump into a hole in the corner of the table. Theplayers were so intent on their game, they never even noticeda lady had invaded their exclusive club.
It must be too early yet for drunken revelry.
The elegant decor made Alicia aware of her own drabappearance, the outmoded spencer with its sadly frayedcuffs, the blue muslin gown gone pale from many washings,the bonnet with its girlish cluster of white ribbonsmore suited to the frivolous debutante she had once been.
She entombed her regrets. Those carefree days weregone. Dreams were for starry-eyed girls, not a maturewoman with a family to protect. A family in dire trouble.
The butler stopped before a gilt-trimmed door. "Ye don'tlook the usual sort," he said in agravelly Scottish burr.
His voice jolted Alicia out of her dark thoughts. "I begyour pardon?"
"Wilder's sort." A giant of a man with a leather patchover one eye, he stuck his grizzled face down to her leveland subjected her to an unservile scrutiny. "If ye want a bitof advice, miss, ye should run along home and back to yerneedlework."
Alicia thought he was the one who needed adviceinmanners. "I have business with Mr. Wilder."
"Business, ye call it? He doesna pay for his pleasure, ifthat's what ye're thinking. Never has, not with the femalesswarming 'round him like ants to honey."
Her stomach clenched despite, her resolve to numb heremotions. Was her purpose so obvious?
She schooled her features into an expression of aristocraticdignity. "Mr. Wilder is expecting me. You may showme in now."
The butler shrugged. "Have it yer way, then." He swungopen the door with his ham-fisted paw and motioned herinside.
Determined to get this loathsome interview over withand done, Alicia marched past him. The impertinent servantwent out. The door clicked shut.
She was on her own.
The dim antechamber smelled faintly of expensiveleather and musky cologne. Above a half-moon table hunga painting of some wild, rocky landscape. A patterned carpetin crimson and blue muffled her footsteps. She kept hergloved hands at her sides, her posture erect. It seemed perverselyimportant that she maintain a ladylike demeanor.
Going through an arched doorway, she entered a largeroom lit by a silver branch of beeswax candles. The draperieswere closed to the late afternoon sunlight, and a mahoganydesk dominated the chamber. On the polishedsurface, a ledger lay open, and beside it a gray-featheredquill stood in a silver inkpot,
She scanned the marine-blue walls and wine-dark leatherchairs, the bookcases filled with volumes. It might havebeen a wealthy banker's officeexcept for the pair of ivorydice scattered on me desk. Shuddering, she turned quicklyfrom the sight.
The coal fire hissed into the silent air, a counterpoint tothe tension inside her. She had sent up her calling card withthe nosy butler. So where was Drake Wilder?
She had taken a chance on finding him here. Leading aheathen life, he'd probably been gambling until dawn. Hewould sleep during daylight hours while decent, hardworkingfolk went about their duties. And if he deliberatelymeant to make her wait, let him. She was well acquaintedwith games of power. She had, after all, once been the toastof society.
Too restless to sit, she perused the titles on the shelves.The books must be for decoration only. A man who ownedthe premier gaming club in London could have no interestin the philosophy of Plato, the plays of Shakespeare, theintricacies of Euclidian geometry. Drake Wilder exploitedthe hopes of gullible gentlemen, nurturing their dreams ofglory, then fleecing them of their wealth. He spared not aqualm for the disaster he caused to their families. Or thelives he shattered.
Anger stabbed Alicia, but she blunted it with the armorof reason. She must keep a calm, clear head. She muststrike a hard bargain.
And if she failed? No. She would not allow herself toconsider the possibility. The consequences were toodreadful.
As she paced the office, an alabaster statue on the marblemantelpiece caught her gaze. Slightly larger than her hand,the carving depicted a man and a woman locked in carnalembrace.
They were naked.
Alicia averted her eyes. But only for a moment. Curiosityproving stronger than prudery, she took the heavypiece into her hands. In the light of the fire, the sculptureseemed to glow with life. The man sat on a rock with thewoman straddling him. The juncture of her opened legspressed against his lower region. Her head was arched backas he nuzzled her breasts, and happiness lit her fine features:
The celebration of lust appalled Alicia. She told herselfto put the statue back in its niche. Instead, she clung to itin morbid fascination, her wayward mind projecting herinto the arms of a lover. Drake Wilder's arms.
How could she do this with a stranger?
Sometimes, late at night and alone in bed, she wouldpicture herself lying with an imaginary husband, his handsmoving gently over her nightdress. She could almost feelthe warmth of his body pressed to hers....
How innocent was fantasy compared to stark reality.Never had she dreamed the act was accomplished withouta stitch of clothing. That she would be expected to do morethan lie on her back and allow him liberties. That she wouldhave to behave like this with the scoundrel who had pushedher family to the brink of ruin
"Shocking, isn't it?"
The deep male voice sliced through her trance. She spunaround, her gaze scouring the shadows. A door in the farcorner stood ajar, and a man loomed there, his hand bracedon the gilded panel. He had entered silently, stealthily. Hisblack hair and swarthy coloring caused him to blend intothe gloom. He wore the dark tailored coat and white cravatof a gentleman, yet there was something uncivilized abouthis tall, muscular form. Something that raised the fine hairson her skin.
How long had he been watching her?
"That piece is rather old and priceless," he went on. "It'sattributed to an apprentice of Michelangelo's. But feel freeto fondle it."
Alicia realized she still clutched the indecent statue toher bosom. With unhurried hauteur, she set it back on themantelpiece. "Do you always spy on your guests?"
"Only the female variety."
"How very reassuring."
His low chuckle disturbed the air. He watched her frombeneath level black brows, taking his time studying her, hisappraisal blatantly masculine. "You must be Lady AliciaPemberton."
"And you must be Mr. Drake Wilder."
He inclined his head with the arrogance of a king, andshe clenched her teeth to keep from raging at him. It wasn'tlike her to speak sharply to a stranger. Especially onewhose good favor she so desperately required.
Drake Wilder was bastard born, a cardsharp who hadrisen from the seething darkness of London's underworldto become the richest, most notorious rogue in all of England.He had an aura of aggressive confidence, a face thatshowed hard lines of experience. He made her nervous, andshe had never before been nervous around any man.
Strolling closer, he settled himself on the edge of thedesk. He scooped up the dice and idly shook them, theivory cubes rattling in his palm. All the while he kept hisgaze on her. His eyes were a deep midnight-blue, rivetingin their intensity. His scrutiny made Alicia uncomfortablyaware of how vulnerable she was, alone with him in hisdominion.
"Please sit down," he said, waving his hand with lazygrace. "I'm surprised a lady would venture here without achaperone."
Unwilling to concede any advantage, Alicia remainedstanding. "You shouldn't be surprised. I've come to discussmy brother's debt."
"So. The Earl of Brockway would send a woman toplead on his behalf."
"Gerald doesn't know I'm here." In truth, her hotheadedbrother would be livid. But she was acting for his benefit.And first, she must pursue the faint hope of finding anhonorable solution.
Please, God, help me to convince this man.
She laced her gloved fingers together. "Mr. Wilder, perhapsyou don't realize my brother is only eighteen. As hehas not yet reached his majority, he should never have beenpermitted to gamble at this establishment."
"He is no longer a boy. Whether you admit so or not."
"He is prone to youthful impulse," she countered. "Ishould know. As his elder sister, I have been responsiblefor him all his life."
Drake Wilder's amused gaze flowed up and down herslender form. "Just how elderly are you?"
His heavy-lidded survey made her skin prickle again,and in a flash she saw herself unclothed, straddling him,his mouth on her breasts....
"My age has nothing to do with this matter," she said primly.
"It is indeed relevant. So answer me."
Was it false pride that kept her from admitting she hadbeen long on the shelf? Better to grant him this one concession."If you must know, I am three and twenty."
"Teetering on the brink of antiquity."
His smile broadened, crinkling the corners of his eyesand creating attractive dimples on either side of that masculinemouth. A light-headed sensation nearly made Aliciasway on her feet. Humor relaxed the harshness of his expressionso that he looked almost approachable.
As handsome as sin.
Realizing she was holding her breath, she released itslowly. "The point is, my brother cannot be held liable fora gaming debt. It isn't legal."
Wilder's humor vanished into a calculating look. "Quiteso. Yet he is bound by his honor as a gentleman. And hewill have nothing left to pay his other creditors. Those debtswill land him in prison."
The weight of that fear threatened to crush Alicia. Onlyyesterday, the arrival of the bill collectors had alerted her.Bootmakers, tailors, jewelers, and wine merchants had congregatedlike wolves in the front hall, demanding paymentbefore his lordship settled the gaming notes he had incurredthe previous night.
In horror, she had rousted Gerald out of bed and badgeredthe truth from him. Hanging his head, he admitted toa night of drunken revel. He had wagered their meagersavings and gambled funds they did not have. They weredestitute.
"Twenty thousand guineas," she had whispered. "DearGod in heaven, what foolishness possessed you?"
He had regarded her in hollow-eyed despair. "I'll winback the money, Ali. Just grant me a little time."
"Not Stay out of the gaming hells. Lest you end up likePapa."
Gerald had flinched at her harsh words and, taking swiftadvantage, she had wrested a promise from him to remainat home. Then she had swallowed her pride and gone beggingto their acquaintances, but to no avail. The banks, too,had refused to authorize a loan to a woman. She had evenvisited a moneylender on Threadneedle Street, a wily manwith beady eyes who threw her out when she could offerno collateral.
Giving her no choice but to bargain with Drake Wilder.
He lounged against the desk, his long legs stretched outand crossed at the ankles. The idle clacking of the dice drewher gaze to his large hands. She wondered how manywomen had known the touch of those blunt-tipped, masculinefingers. The thought made her quiver with aversionand ... something else. Something she didn't care toexamine.
"Have you other family?" he asked.
"My father is dead. My mother is ..."Alicia paused,her throat aching"unwell."
"Uncles? Grandparents? A guardian?"
"Then at the ripe old age of twenty-three, you are liablefor your brother's debts."
She had walked straight into his trap. With her eyes openand her resolve set. "Yes, I am. I trust we can work out aplan for repayment."
"I trust so."
He didn't look as though he trusted her; his eyes wereimpenetrable. For the hundredth time, she did a mental inventoryof the town house, already shorn of all but the mostshabby of contents. She could sell the furniture in the sparebedchamber and in the drawing room. She could pawn thesilver tea service that she'd hidden for just such an emergency.She could take in laundry and sewing.
"I can manage twenty guineas per month," she said.
Wilder laughed. "At that rate, the debt would takeslightly over eighty-three years to repay. Adding in threepercent annual interest, you'd be paying forever. You see,twenty guineas per month wouldn't even touch the principal.You'd go deeper into debt each year. At the end ofeighty-three years, you'd still owe the original twentythousand plus over one hundred thirty four thousand ininterest."
The magnitude of the liability staggered Alicia. She sankonto a leather chair and clenched her fists it her lap. "Youmust be wrong. You can't have calculated those figureswithout pen and paper."
"When it comes to numbers, I am never wrong."
Seduced by a Scoundrel
Through the flickering firelight, his eyes glinted at her.Predator eyes.
Dear God, help me.
She rose from the chair and took a step toward Wilder.They faced each other like combatants in a boxing ring. Afaint smile tilted one corner of his mouth. He seemed torelish her dilemma, but that only fired her resolve.
She could bend him to her will. He was only a man,after all. And men could be manipulated.
Deliberately she relaxed her tense muscles and curvedher lips into a cool smile. Then she untied the ribbons beneathher chin and removed her bonnet, letting it drop tothe chair behind her. "Perhaps I could interest you in anotherform of repayment."
Wilder cocked an eyebrow. "Do tell."
"I am offering to be ... your mistress."
A scowl darkened his face. His fingers closed around thedice until his knuckles showed white. She could have swornhe looked angry, but that made no sense. Bitterly she wonderedhow else he'd thought she would repay him.
"Do you know the odds of rolling a seven?" he saidunexpectedly.
"Sir, I am not a gamester. I truly don't care"
"The odds are one in six." With a lightning-quick motionof his wrist, he tossed the dice into a shallow box on thedesk. "Come, see how I fared."
Wondering at his purpose, she slowly approached him.A lock of black hair dipped onto his brow, enhancing hisrakish look. His subtle male scent wrapped around her likea silken noose. Up close, he had an arresting face, a clean-shavenjaw and strong cheekbones, a mouth with a slightsensual curl that made her think of stolen kisses in thedarkness.
Alicia blinked down at the black velvet-lined box, wherethe ivory cubes displayed a two and a five. "A luckythrow," she murmured, fighting to keep the venom fromher voice. If rumor were truth, Drake Wilder had the luckof Lucifer.
He shook his head. "This pair of dice is weighted," hesaid, turning one in his long fingers. "A tiny quantity oflead is secreted beneath certain numbers, which causes thedie to overbalance and fall to the opposite side. If the diceare thrown just so, the odds of winning greatly increase.Quite handy for the unscrupulous gambler."
Gripped by angry suspicion, Alicia frowned. "Are yousaying ... you cheated my brother?"
Something hot and frightening flashed in his eyes. Itvanished in an instant, leaving a flinty chill. "Hardly. LordBrockway played the faro table."
"You could have rigged the game in favor of the house,'"she said, unwilling to let go of the notion.
"There is no cheating permitted in my club. These"hedropped the ivory cubes back into the box"were takenfrom a gentleman who disobeyed that rule."
"Then what is your point?"
"That things are not always as they appear to be." Hiseyes sharp and piercing, he lowered his voice to a silkengrowl. "And I am no fool."
Again, she had the discomfiting urge to step backward,to put a safe distance between them. But that would betantamount to admitting he held the upper hand. "I neversaid you were."
"Yet you expect me to forgive a marker of twenty thousandguineas in exchange for a romp in bed. Either youthink me a fool-or you vastly overrate yourself."
His scorn struck a blow at her confidence. Did he notfind her attractive?
Drawing on the charm that had once made her a sought-afterbeauty, Alicia managed a throaty laugh. "Why, youmistake me, Mr. Wilder. I certainly don't expect to dischargethe debt in one night. I'd hoped we could agree upona mutually satisfactory length of time."
Encouraged that he hadn't refused outright, she flutteredher lashes like a coquette. "I should think you'd appreciatea woman who would never beg you for trinkets or favors.A lady who knows how to behave discreetly."
"I might get you with child."
Alicia controlled a shudder. There was shame in bearinga bastard, yet long ago she had set aside the dream of marriageand family, the tender yearning for children of herown. She had resigned herself to spinsterhood for a reasonhe couldn't know....
Having no other choice, she pushed away that dread."Then I would care for the child. You need fear noobligation."
"How considerate of you."
His face was inscrutable. Her palms damp, she slowlyunbuttoned her spencer, slid the short jacket off her shoulders,and let it drop to the chair. "You'll find me pleasantcompany," she murmured. "I'm able to visit you each eveningat nineor later, if you prefer. You have only to agreeto the arrangement."
He glanced coolly at her low-cut bodice. "I can haveany woman I want," he stated. "And there might be valuein making a lesson of Lord Brockway. To show others whatcan happen when their markers are not repaid."
Alicia bit back a horrified gasp. "No, please. It wouldbe a mistake to condemn my brother to prison. He's proneto lung complaints, and you'll never get your money if hedies. Besides, I can offer what few women of your acquaintancepossess. You see, I" Aware of a burning inher cheeks, she swallowed past the dryness in her throat."I am untouched."
He scanned her shoulders and breasts in a way that madethe color rise in her cheeks. "The virgin sacrifice," he saidsardonically. "You would ruin yourself for the sake of yourwastrel brother."
And Mama. Dear sweet Mama. "Yes," she whispered.
He sat silent on the edge of the desk, unmoving, andshe sensed a moody darkness in him, likely because he feltcheated of his ill-gotten gains. Then his arms lashed out:and pulled her closer, trapping her within the prison of hislegs. He tunneled his fingers into her blond hair and dislodgeda few tortoiseshell pins.
His touch was an invasion that sent chills down herspine. Only by force of will did she manage to stand quietly,aware of the fear and revulsion inside herself, alongwith an undeniable, shameful attraction.
Though her heart thumped madly, she lifted her chin and met his gaze. "Have we a bargain, then?"
"On how well you please me." His fingers commenceda slow assault on her senses, rubbing her scalp ever solightly. "Show me you're worth twenty thousand."
Dear God, he expected her to seduce him.
Aware of a little catch in her throat, Alicia took a steadyingbreath. The challenge in his eyes mocked her limitedexperience. How many women had known his caresses?How many had straddled him, naked, in the throes ofwantonness?
No. She didn't want to think about that. Instead, shewould entice him with a kiss. At one time, men had foughtfor the chance to claim that rare token of her affections.
She placed her trembling hands on his shoulders, awareof the solid muscles beneath his coat. Ever so slowly, sheleaned toward him. Never before had she seen eyes thatdistinctive shade of dark blue. He was so close she coulddiscern each spiky black lash. In the moment before herlips touched his, she felt the tickling warmth of his breath.Then the taste and scent of him enveloped her, and thefirmness of his mouth sent a melting quiver through herlimbs.
But he made no move to return the kiss. His hands restedheavily on her shoulders, his thighs exerting a subtle pressureagainst her legs. She was aware of the impression ofstrength in him ... and jaded indifference.
Determined to make him want her, she slid her handsover his starched cravat and into his hair. The strands siftedthrough her gloved fingers like thickly spun silken threads.She touched him in light strokes as he had done to her, allthe while brushing her closed lips over his. Men liked teasingcaresses and quick stolen kisses that made them wildwith longing. In her youth, she had lured more than onegentleman into a darkened corner for a few moments offlirtatious kissing. She would torment him until he groveledbefore her in adoration.
That sense of power flooded her now, though the excitementof it was somehow different, hotter, more intensethan with her former suitors. Of course, they had been gentlemen.Drake Wilder was a rogue.
His lips moved slightly and her pulse leapt. He was notso impassive; he must be fighting his need to respond. Nowwas the time to charm him. To make him commit to a briefaffair in exchange for canceling the debt.
Lifting her head, Alicia opened her eyes. And blinked.
A grin deepened the dimples on either side of his mouth.Sardonic humor danced in his eyes. "If that's your besteffort," he said, "my money would be ill spent."
He was laughing at her! She stiffened. But fear overshadowedall else. "Teach me, then," she forced out. "I'mwilling to learn."
"No. I prefer an experienced woman in my bed."
So that was that. He would let her brother be sent toprison. He would condemn her mother to an even morehideous fate. Alicia felt ill from the terror of failure. Shecould plead with him, but his contemptuous expression toldher it would be useless. She could appeal to his humanitybut he was a cold, cruel man who knew nothing of kindness.She could rage at him, but all she had left was herdignity.
Excerpted from Seduced by a Scoundrel by Barbara Dawson Smith. Copyright © 1999 by Barbara Dawson Smith. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.