Who is the greatest matchmaker of the ton? Lady O. has laid claim to the title, and her cousin Lady S. has challenged her to prove it. Which of them first spoke of this private wager–and the prized family possession that will belong to the winner? We cannot know, but we do know that, since the beginning of the year, all of Society has been abuzz with news from houseparties where Lady O. has been bringing together the the notoriously unmarriageable.
So far, the results have been astounding. People who have sworn off marriage have tied the knot, those who don’t believe in love have fallen to Cupid’s arrow, rogues have reformed, parlour games and contests of skill have turned into games of love.
With seven months to go, the betting is running hot in clubs, salons, drawing rooms, and coffee shops; in high and low places. Can Lady O.’s run of luck continue? Or will even her matchmaking eye fail her, giving the game–and the prize–to her cousin?
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Ophelia Breckensole linked her elbow with her twin’s as they sauntered into the parlor. “Gabriella, did you see the way the Duke of Sheffield looked at Everleigh last evening?”
“Indeed. Like a man completely awestruck.I didn’t think he was capable of any expression except a scowl.” Chuckling, Gabriella sat on the brocade settee. One finger on her chin, she cocked her head. “And for once, our dear cousin didn’t turn her frigid glance on another befuddled swain.” Brow arched, she gave a sage nod. “That’s very telling, dearest.”
“It was the child, you know.” Ophelia settled on the cushion beside her sister, pushing a ridiculously frilly pillow aside as she made herself comfortable. “The moment Everleigh picked the little imp up and the child stopped wailing, I could tell she was smitten.”
“Sheffield could too. I had no idea he’d adopted an orphan—one from India, no less,” Gabriella said as she poured their tea.
Setting the silver teapot down, she considered Everleigh beyond the diamond-paned windows. She strolled the lawns with the duke’s ward toddling along beside her, their hands clasped. A moment later, his grace ambled into view.
“I wonder…” Gabriella pulled her brows together in thoughtful contemplation.
Ophelia followed the direction of her sister’s focus. “We could help them along. They’ll both be here for the house party’s duration.”
Gabriella sighed and shook her head. “Everleigh would never permit it. I believe she’s truly sworn off men.” She pressed her mouth into a tense line. “’Tis no wonder, considering the vile creature she was forced to marry. I doubt anyone shed a tear when he met his violent end. I know Everleigh didn’t.”
“True, but she’s still young, and just look how magnificent she is with the little darling.” Ophelia dropped two lumps of sugar into her cup. Slowly stirring her tea, she murmured, “She so wanted children of her own.” She stopped stirring and pulled her spine straight.
Everleigh was laughing at something the duke said. Actually laughing.
And the duke?
Well, he looked about to gobble up their beautiful cousin.
“Yes?” Her twin pulled her attention back inside the cozy parlor.
Angling her head toward the frost outlined windows, Ophelia permitted a self-satisfied smile. “What if we drop a hint or two or three in the duke’s ear on the best way to woo our cousin?”
A December with a Duke
Seductive Scoundrels Book 3
He’s entirely the wrong sort of man. That’s what makes him so utterly right.
After a horrific marriage, widow Everleigh Chatterton is cynical and leery of men. She rarely ventures into society, and when she must, she barely speaks to them. Her one regret for refusing to marry again is that she’ll never bear children. As a favor to a friend, she reluctantly agrees to attend a Christmas house-party. Unfortunately, Griffin, Duke of Sheffield is also in attendance. Even though Everleigh has previously snubbed him, she can’t deny her attraction to the confident, darkly handsome duke.
For almost a year, Griffin has searched for the perfect duchess to help care for the orphan he’s taken on. He sets his sights on the exquisite, but unapproachable widow after her sweet interactions with the child impress him. Everleigh vows she’s not interested in him or any other man. But Griffin is convinced he can thaw her icy exterior and free the warm, passionate woman lurking behind the arctic facade. Only, as he pursues her, it’s his heart that’s transformed.
Can Everleigh learn to trust and love again? Will Griffin get his Christmas wish and make her his bride? Or, has he underestimated her wounds and fears and be forced to let her go?
For the second time that night, Everleigh stopped on the last riser.
He truly didn’t know?
“Yes, my daughter, Meredith.”
She touched the locket again. A lock of wispy, thistle-down soft white hair lay tucked inside. Struggling to wrestle her grief into submission, she focused on the long case clock’s pendulum swinging back and forth.
She paced her breathing with the slow tick-tock for a handful of rhythmic beats.
Did a parent ever recover from the loss of a child?
No. Life just took on a new reality.
“Tomorrow is the three-year anniversary of her death.”
Why had she shared that?
The Duke of Sheffield did the most startling, the most perfect thing in all the world.
He drew her into his arms and held her. He didn’t offer condolences or advice. He didn’t try to change the subject or pretend he hadn’t heard her at all.
He simply offered her comfort, and it felt so utterly splendid, just allowing someone to hold her. Someone who permitted her to show her grief for a child conceived in the worst sort of violation and violence, but who had been adored nevertheless.
For this brief interlude, Everleigh didn’t have to be strong. Didn’t have to maintain her frigid façade, and it was wonderful to be herself. That almost brought her to tears as well.
What was more astonishing was she wasn’t afraid of his touch.
How long had it been since she didn’t flinch when a man touched her?
They stood chest to chest and thigh to thigh in intimate silence for several moments until the clocked chimed the quarter hour, interrupting the tranquility. They really must join the others for dinner, or God only knew what sort of unsavory tattle might arise.
“Thank you for your kindness, Your Grace.”
She disengaged herself, more aware of him as a man than she’d any business being.
He simply nodded, though the amber starburst in his eyes glowed with a warmth she couldn’t identify.