The future is before them.
And one by one, the widows of Lyttlefield Park are getting restless . . .
Lady Charlotte Cavendish is still the spirited girl who tried to elope in the name of love. That dream was thwarted by her father who trapped her into a loveless, passionless marriage. But now widowed, Charlotte is free to reenter the giddy world of the ton—and pursue her desires. For hardly your typical widow, she remains innocent to the pleasures of the flesh. Yet her life is finally her own, and she intends to keep it that way . . .
Nash, the twelfth Earl of Wrotham, is beguiled by Charlotte at first sight—and the feeling is mutual. When he receives her intriguing invitation to a house party, the marriage-minded lord plans to further their acquaintance. But even he cannot sway her aversion to matrimony, and only with great restraint does he resist her most tempting offer. For unbeknownst to Charlotte, the misadventures of the past are revisiting them both, and bedding her could cost him everything—or give him everything he ever wanted . . .
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London, May 1810
Moonlight streamed into the mews, brightening the night and making Lady Charlotte Fownhope draw back into the shadows of thestable. She strained to hear sounds from her father, the Earl of Grafton's, town house, but only the clink of bridles came to her ears as Edward, her groom, led her chestnut mare and his horse into the light.
"You should have taught me to saddle her. Then I could have helped you." She came forward to take the reins.
"I'll always be here to do that for you, my lady." He smiled, his white teeth a flash in the swarthy, handsome face, then leaned down to kiss her.
His warm lips caressed her, calmed her even as the comforting scent of horses and leather that hung about him enveloped her. This was where she belonged, in Edward's arms. Not with Lord Ramsay, her father's choice for a husband.
A horse snorted and Charlotte jumped back. "We must be off. Dinner will last only so long. With luck, no one will look in on me but my cousin Jane, so we will have until the morning before they know I am gone."
Edward nodded and cupped his hands to give her a leg up.
Once in the saddle, she gathered the reins and waited for him to mount, her stomach tightening with excitement. "You know the way?"
"Yes, we take the Great North Road as far as York, then over to Manchester and up to Gretna Green." He slid into the saddle. "We'll be on horseback the first two days. They won't expect that. They'll be looking for a carriage." He reached over and grasped her hands. "You'll be all right on horseback for so long?"
She nodded, prompted to sit up straighter. If she had to spend a week in the saddle to be with Edward, she would do it. "Let's go."
They walked the horses out of the light, into the darkness of the underpass, keeping quiet until they were at the end of the row of stables. Charlotte resisted the urge to look over her shoulder to see if they had been pursued. They had been careful. They would succeed. She drew her black cloak around her shoulders against the now-chill wind.
At a nod from Edward, she tapped her horse and Bella started into a quick trot. The clop, clop of the hooves on the cobbled streets soothed her. After months of planning, they were on their way at last.
* * *
Several hours later, Charlotte and Edward slowed for another tollgate. They had passed through four already, and after the first, Charlotte had turned the bag of coins over to him to take care of the fees. A twinge in her hip, an ache in her thigh muscle told her that her body had begun to feel the strain of constant motion in the saddle. When they finally stopped for the night, she doubted she would want to climb back on Bella tomorrow.
Slowed to a walk, her mare nickered, and from somewhere behind the toll gate another one answered. Charlotte patted her withers and glanced at Edward.
"Tollkeeper!" he called, rending the silent night. After a moment he called again, still with no result.
"He must be dead asleep." The wind had risen, causing Charlotte to tug her cloak closer.
"Dead drunk's more like." Edward dismounted, strode to the tollhouse door, and knocked.
The door jerked open. A huge hand grasped his shoulder, dragging him inside.
"Edward!" Charlotte dropped the reins, peeled her aching leg from around the horn of the sidesaddle, and slid to the ground. She must get to Edward. As her boots hit the dirt, two men appeared from nowhere.
"Ha, got ya!" They grabbed her arms, their rough fingers digging painfully into her flesh.
Terror shot through her veins, stopping her breath in her throat. Still, she managed to pull back and forth, trying to break free. No use. Their big hands clamped down on her like a vise as they hustled her toward the toll booth.
"Edward! Help! Someone, help!" Charlotte shrieked as they dragged her toward the building. Dear Lord, they must be highwaymen. She had heard sickening stories about the dangerous criminals who roamed the roads, preying on unlucky travelers. Her stomach twisted.
At the threshold they loosened their grip to get her through the door. Charlotte swung around and raked her fingernails down one man's face.
He bellowed and pushed her away, into the house.
She wheeled toward the other man, bent on a similar attack, but stopped, shocked at the tableau before her.
The flickering light of the hearth revealed a large man holding Edward's head down on a crude plank table, a pistol pressed against his temple. The tollkeeper in his nightshirt and cap, eyes wide, face pale, stood in front of the fire, staring at the scene. To the left of the table stood her father.
All the strength ran out of Charlotte's legs and she began to sink toward the floor.
The man she had wounded grabbed her arm and hauled her up. "No, you don't. That's all, your lordship. Just the two of 'em."
Leaning on his silver-knobbed walking stick, her father fixed his dark eyes on her, his mouth a black line between thin lips.
Charlotte's heart thudded painfully in her chest. The light flickered, dimming to a dull gray as she began to slump again. Oblivion would certainly be preferable to what her father surely had in store for her.
Cold water hit her face and chest, forcing her back into consciousness.
"You will be awake to see this, Charlotte." Her father thrust a stoneware mug at the tollkeeper, who clutched it to his chest as if it were a shield. Then her father nodded to the man with the pistol.
"No! You cannot kill him." Charlotte wrenched her arms out of the man's grasp and lunged for the gun.
The side of the pistol slammed into her face, knocking her to the floor. He cocked the piece and returned it to Edward's head.
"Thrush, here, had the audacity to try to take what is mine." Her father's voice shook, his fury rising with each curt word.
Through her wavering vision, her father's face appeared impassive in the uncertain light, his voice now emotionless as he peered down at her. "If you assisted him in this, then his blood is on your hands much more so than mine."
"If you kill him, you will have to kill me as well." Narrowing her eyes at him, Charlotte carefully picked herself up off the floor, hatred of him so intense it must be oozing through her skin. "I will tell everyone exactly what you have done to Edward. As a peer you may be above the law, but you are not above the censure of the ton. I will make sure that they have every detail of his death and our elopement until the scandal-broth scalds you to death. If you want scandal, Father, I will choke you with it."
He chuckled, adjusting his grip on his walking stick. "Sometimes I wish you were my heir, Charlotte. You have a better mind than Caldwell, and much more of me in you." He sighed and rubbed the knob of his cane. "Pity you've begun to rave like a lunatic. I doubt you will like Bedlam, my dear. I would dislike having to put you there, but if you tell such grievous lies, what else am I to do?"
A wave of horror washed over her. Tales of the appalling conditions of the infamous hospital had sickened her. Her arms broke out in gooseflesh. Bitter bile crawled up the back of her throat. Tears trickling down her cheeks, she looked at Edward, who hadn't moved the whole time.
He mouthed silently, I love you.
Staring at him, she raised her voice until it rang to the rafters. "I love you, Edward."
"Sickening pap." Her father pursed his lips as though a bad taste filled his mouth. "I should kill you, too." He nodded to the man with the pistol. "Cates."
The shout from outside froze everyone.
Dear God, a savior. Charlotte opened her mouth, only to have the dirty hand of her captor slam over it before she could shout.
"Attend to your business, tollkeeper." Her father's words were clipped as he stared down at the little man. "Leave me to mine and you will be rewarded."
Eyes wide, the tollkeeper nodded and headed for the door with shaky steps.
Charlotte elbowed her captor, wrenching her body this way and that, trying to break free. She bit down on the hand that muzzled her and stomped in an effort to mash his foot.
The howl the blackguard sent up was music to her ears. He jerked his hand away, swearing.
"Help! Oh God, help me. Someone!" She screamed so loudly something in her throat tore.
"Charlotte!" Her father slammed his cane down on the table an inch from Edward's face, making her jump back. "Andrews, for God's sake, stifle her."
Andrews grabbed her again, putting his arm around her neck. She almost gagged at the sour smell of his coat.
The door burst open and a tall man holding a large pistol strode in, the tollkeeper scuttling behind him.
Cates whipped his gun around, training it on the stranger.
The man, who seemed to tower over everyone in the room, obliged him by leveling his weapon on Andrews. Glancing from one figure to another, his gaze finally rested on Charlotte. "What the devil is going on here?"
His deep, commanding voice sent a thrill of hope through her.
"None of your affair, sir." Her father once again leaned on his cane, his mouth pinched. "You may pay your toll and be on your way. This is a private matter."
The stranger, bundled against the cold in a blue peacoat and black felt hat with the brim pulled down shading his eyes, shook his head. "I think not." He nodded toward Charlotte. "I heard the lady scream. I'll hear what she has to say."
Andrews tightened his hold and Charlotte's vision started to gray again. A loud thwack sounded near her ear and the arm smothering her loosened and fell. She coughed, then drew a deep, clean breath. Her father's henchman lay at her feet. The stranger now stood next to her, his gun pointing at Cates. Hope stole through her breast once more.
"Tell me what's going on, miss."
"I apprehended this horse thief," her father spoke up before she could say a word, "and was about to administer justice when you came along. As I said, it is a private affair."
"That's not true." Charlotte turned to their rescuer, her heart thundering. She must convince him to help them or Edward would die. "My betrothed and I were eloping. My father found out and waylaid us here. They are going to kill Edward." Her heart lurched at the sound of the words spoken aloud. She searched the man's face, praying with every fiber of her soul that he believed her. That whoever he was, he was a match for her father and his men. "Please, I beg of you, you must stop them."
"He was stealing my horses, taking my daughter as a hostage for ransom." Her father cut his eyes toward Cates.
Charlotte tensed. What would the wretched man try next?
"The lady seems rather enamored of her kidnapper, which I find odd if what you say is true." The stranger gestured to Edward. "What do you have to say, sir?"
Edward tried to rise, but Cates slammed the butt of the pistol into the back of his head. He fell forward onto the table.
"No!" Charlotte shrieked, her stomach twisting anew. She darted toward the still figure.
Her father grabbed her arm and jerked her behind the table next to him. His fingers dug into flesh, biting even through her clothing.
The stranger swung his pistol around, pointing it at her father's face. "Because you didn't want me to hear his reply, I'll assume it would have confirmed the lady's tale."
"And if it did, you have no authority to aid and abet their illegal flight to Scotland," her father countered. "My daughter has not reached her majority; therefore, I am fully within my rights to keep her from making such a mésalliance."
"Quite correct, sir. If she is your daughter, she does fall under your dominion. This man, however, does not. And you certainly have no authority to kill him."
"That was never my intention."
"Oh yes, it was." Charlotte tried to pull away from her father, but his strong grip on her upper arm pinned her next to him.
"I think I will take the lady's word over yours, all the same." The stranger smiled, and a chill ran down Charlotte's spine. "Get him on his feet." He gestured with the gun to Edward.
Cates glanced at her father, who nodded. The henchman grabbed Edward by the back of his coat and hauled him up.
Groaning and groggy but able to stand, Edward stared at her, the anguish in his eyes matching the ache that tore at her heart.
The stranger clasped him about the waist and they backed toward the door.
"Make sure you do not take any of my horses." Her father finally released his grip on her aching arm. Shaking it loose, she ran toward the door, shouting, "Take the chestnut mare. She's mine."
Cates blocked her way, but moments later the muffled sound of hoofbeats told her they were away, Edward safe at last. Her shoulders slumped and the tears began to flow once more, relief at his escape warring with the hollow ache of her heart. She would never see him again. If she could die right now, she would count herself blessed.
"Wake up Andrews and bring my carriage around." Her father barked out the order to Cates. Glaring at the tollkeeper, who was now cowering in the corner, he tossed a gold sovereign on the table. "For your trouble and your silence." At last he turned his attention to Charlotte, his lips twisted in a snarl. "You will fill an ocean with those tears before I'm through with you."
He grabbed her arm again and pushed her out the door into the chill air and pale moonlight that would be the rest of her life. Oh, yes. Death would have been a blessing.
* * *
"My lady, wake up." The insistent voice of her maid scarcely penetrated the fog of exhausted sleep Charlotte had fallen into early that morning. She grunted and turned over. If she never woke up she'd be perfectly happy.
"My lady." Rose shook her shoulder. "Your father wants you downstairs immediately."
Oh, God. Charlotte groaned and burrowed deeper under the covers. The reckoning she'd known was coming had arrived. Too heartsore to be afraid, she crawled out from beneath the covers. Best to get this over with, take her punishment as she always had at her father's hands, so she could come back here to mourn Edward's loss in private.
She peered at herself in the mirror and wished she had not. Her face was badly bruised where Cates had hit her. Rose would be hard pressed to cover the purple marks on her cheek even with cosmetics. And her arm throbbed from her father's brutal grip. Still, her heart ached more than her body. She wanted to be happy that Edward had escaped, but she couldn't ignore the empty pit in her heart.
An hour later, she entered her father's study, fighting not to wince as she straightened her shoulders and raised her chin. Unless she met the man with strength, he would trample her and never look back. She stood before the huge, worn mahogany desk, exactly as she had every time she'd displeased him in her eighteen years.
He continued writing, not even looking up to acknowledge her presence. Another of his ploys.
Remaining still, she stared at his hand as he made the small, neat letters. The trick was not to say a word. Allow him to make the first move.
At last he signed his name with a flourish, set the pen down, and capped the ink. Then he raised his head and looked at her. And smiled.
Charlotte's stomach sank. The smile meant triumph. It meant whatever the punishment he had set for her, he had gotten his way with it. She firmed her lips. She'd not give him the satisfaction of seeing her fear.
"Well, your little indiscretion of last night has cost us the Ramsay alliance." He leaned back, his hands clasped.
"It has?" She couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. The settlements for her marriage to Lord Ramsay had already been signed. How had the betrothal been broken?
"Ramsay caught wind of your little escapade. I'm not sure how, but I'll find out which servant talked. They will never set foot in a decent household again." He tapped his forefingers together. "Nevertheless, he knows that my daughter tried to elope with her groom and now refuses to have you."
Well, good for Lord Ramsay. She had nothing against the man except that she didn't know him and certainly didn't love him.
"I could have forced the issue, but he has agreed to be discreet about the reason he now finds you objectionable. I have broken the betrothal on your behalf. Perhaps next year I will give him your sister Agnes." His intense stare made Charlotte's skin crawl. There would be worse news to come. "She's much more biddable than you ever were."
"Thank you, Father." Not that this situation pleased her much more than marrying Ramsay. Of course, now he'd have to send her down into the country to wait for him to choose the next-most-advantageous match for her. A plan with merit, for being out of his presence was a boon. Even had she found a man this Season at least palatable to her, her father would never allow her to marry him unless the alliance served his purposes.
"But do not despair, Charlotte. You shall have your wedding, and on schedule." His eyes twinkled and her stomach sank even further. "I have called in a favor from an old friend. He has agreed to marry you and take you off my hands."
Excerpted from "To Woo A Wicked Widow"
Copyright © 2018 Jenna Jaxon.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. A splendid romp of scandal, rascals, rakehells, and second chances. Ladies, young and beautiful, are left widowed and lonely by the war that claimed their husbands. Widows open to another chance at love. Lady Charlotte Cavendish takes the lead, and though her husband didn't die in the war nor did she have a marriage in the true sense (she's still a virgin), she'd like to help her widowed friends find love again. After a marriage like hers, she's not interested in finding a husband for herself, but she's willing to host a number of house parties to bring her friends together with eligible men of the ton. A smattering of misadventures ensue, and add a band of thieves to the mix. What you have is a delightful and unexpected lovestory with superb writing and loveable characters. Five stars and a big hoorah to Jenna Jaxon for a story worth reading twice.
After being forced to marry an old man after a failed elopement with the groom, Lady Charlotte Cavendish is now reentering society as a widow six years later. In To Woo A Wicked Widow, we see a woman he does not want to husband, because she is determined to retain her independence. But not want to go husband, doesn’t mean she doesn’t want a man. But after a gentleman uses her naïveté against her to grab a kiss at a party some witness Charlotte’s disheveled look afterwards and think she has become a wanton. Nash, Lord Wrotham, is determined to do his duty and marry to produce in the heir. Having inherited his title without warning upon the death of the previous heir, Nash is in prepared for his duties like attending functions looking for a wife. Taken with his first glance of Lady Charlotte, he wishes to dance. He is unfortunately interrupted by the rake, Mr. Alan Garrett. But Lady Charlotte it’s not to be deterred. She has put together a small club of her intimate friends who are also widows. Each of them looking for a husband or a male companion. Planning a house party at her country estate, she invites Lord Wrotham and several other eligible gentleman to attend. Each of the ladies of her club has chosen a man to invite, in hopes of securing his attention. Things Aren’t Always What They Seem I enjoyed how the author manipulated situations in such a way that several things seen one way and are actually another. The wicked widow it isn’t as with wicked as some think, and several other characters aren’t what they seem. The two main characters were well matched for each other, and the rest of the house party will make for some excellent ratings and coming books in the series. I look forward to more from Gemma Laxon and the Widows’ Club series. Reviewed for LnkToMi iRead in response to a complimentary copy of the book provided by the publisher in hopes of an honest review.
To Woo a Wicked Widow by Jenna Jaxon is the First book in The Widow's Club. This is the story of Charlotte and Nash. Charlotte had didn't have an easy life. When she was caught trying to elope with a man below her station her father forced her to marry an older man. Now her husband is dead and the year of morning is over and Charlotte wishes to find the fun in life. Nash just came into his title and wants to move forward with settling down and thinks that Charlotte would be the perfect one. But Charlotte isn't looking for marriage and Nash begins to hear things that might not make her the perfect wife. Can these two find that they are both what each need?
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley to read in exchange for a fair review. To Woo a Wicked Widow is I believe the first book in Jenna Jaxon’s The Widows Club Series. Lady Charlotte Cavendish was caught by her extremely nasty father attempting to elope with a groom and was given the choice of being sold in marriage to an elderly friend of her fathers or be sent to Bedlam. Five horrible years later Charlotte is finally free and has vowed never to give up her freedom again. She and her cousin Jane establish a widows club with friends of theirs who are also widows to support and assist each other. Charlotte meets Nash the Earl of Wrotham at Almack’s and sparks fly making her wonder if perhaps she is being hasty in her vow never to marry. These two will have to overcome many obstacles to find their HEA including a conniving rake, Charlotte’s nasty father attempting a little blackmail and a gang of robbers terrorizing the county near Charlotte’s home. I did enjoy reading this story and look forward to the rest of the series. Steam Level Medium High, Publishing Date March 27, 2018 #ToWooAWickedWidow #NetGalley
To Woo A Wicked Widow is my first book by Jenna Jaxon. It won't be my last. Ms. Jaxon has delivered a well-written book. The characters are phenomenal and just plain lovable. Charlotte's father married her off to a man his age that mistreated her for years before finally giving her freedom by dying. Nash unexpectedly inherits and becomes Earl of Wrothham. Their story is packed with drama, misunderstandings, humor, action, sizzle and suspense. I enjoyed reading To Woo A Wicked Widow and would happily read more from Jenna Jaxon. To Woo A Wicked Widow is book 1 of The Widow's Club Series but can be read as a standalone. This is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book that I received from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I love the start of a new series and this one really caught my attention. Widow's forming a club? Well yes and a great idea during this time period! Lady Charlotte Cavendish has paid her price of a forced marriage by her father and is determined to enjoy herself now that she is widowed. Forming a club with other widows has enabled them all to meet with men of their interest and purse marriage or anything else they might desire. Charlotte is not looking to be wed, but the man she meets, Nash, the Earl of Wrotham wants to settle down. Sparks fly between the two but Charlotte is very stubborn. I really could have shaken her because Nash was really very likable. Misunderstandings, suspense and some outside forces drive this story forward. Jenna Jaxon pulls you into the story with her wonderful descriptions and characters that seem real. Will Charlotte give in and marry Nash or stay determined to just enjoy herself without marriage? I cannot wait to read the next story in this series. With the descriptions of the other widows it has to be a lot of fun! Lori Dykes
After war women become widows. When young women marry old men they, too, become widows and are back on the marriage market. In this book we meet most of the women that will form the Widows Club and perhaps meet some of the men they will end up with. The first book tells the story of Charlotte and Nash and how they eventually achieve their HEA. Charlotte had a horrible childhood and it seems that when she came of age her father decided to marry her to someone she did not want – she wanted her groom – she tried to elope – but was caught. As punishment she was married off to an old man, a widow, a man with grown children. She had a miserable unconsummated marriage that finally ended when her husband died. She did her mourning and finally headed out in glorious color to attend a ball. She met two men at the ball that both pursued her. One would win her and the other, a rogue, was definitely up to no good. Nash is an honorable man who sailed the seas until he was forced to return to take the title. He needs a wife and thinks Charlotte might be the one until…he finds out she might be besmirched. There is a house party and then another one. There is a fete in the village. There are thieves causing trouble – they finally are caught. A couple of baddies do finally get their comeuppance and there is a HEA for Nash and Charlotte. I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of this series. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC – This is my honest review. 4 Stars