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Tricked and trapped into marriage, there is no escape for this Duke but there is revenge…
When her home situation becomes unlivable, Lydia hopes to escape through a marriage and her qualifications for her new husband are not long. Unfortunately she’s a too-old bluestocking with nothing to tempt a man into wedding her, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
The Duke of Manchester has been tricked and trapped into marriage with the quietly stunning Miss Lydia Stafford – he just doesn’t know why. She’s not a fortune hunter, she’s not a social-climber, and she’s still a virgin.
While she appeals to him on many levels, how can he trust a woman who trapped him into wedlock and won’t explain herself? Isaac tells himself he could never love a woman who trapped him, but what if she had good reasons for doing so? What if, despite her secrets, he fell in love with her?
As an avid historical romance reader myself, I’ve come across many a heroine who saves a Duke from being trapped into marriage with a scheming villainess and I started to think – what if she succeeded? Of course, I still want to write a romance, so it needs to have a happily-ever-after, but talk about giving the hero a reason to spank the heroine!
So, of course, I had to write it.
Out of this came Isaac and Lydia whom I absolutely adored together. I loved watching them fall in love, going from mistrusting strangers to mistrusting husband and wife, and then continuing to move forward. It was a challenge but also a joy.
The pounding in Isaac’s head felt like an entire army of drums had taken up residence between his ears. His mouth was full of cotton and his thoughts were moving at the speed of a turtle slogging through mud. It didn’t help that he didn’t remember how or why the woman had gotten in his bed. He did remember the younger Miss Stafford from last night, although he was quite sure that he had never actually been introduced to the elder, despite her presence beside him this morning.
It had taken him more than a moment to catch up to what was happening. The cacophony of noise, the distraction of warm, soft, feminine curves pressed against him, and the slowness of his mind had hindered him. After a few minutes it had quickly become clear that the chit behind him had neatly caught him in the parson’s trap. There were only two choices before him – marry her or repudiate her and ruin her reputation irrevocably, which was really no choice at all. Not for a man such as himself. The only honorable choice was to marry her and save her reputation, regardless of how it came to be ruined.
At the moment, he had his suspicions of exactly how she’d ended up in his bed without his knowledge, but with all the witnesses, including his own brother and sister… well if they hadn’t been there, he might have tried to find a way to hush it up. Honorably. But they were here, so the point was moot. Isaac was the Duke and he would always set the first example, especially in matters of honor, for his younger siblings. Which meant there was only one thing he could do, because Isaac was not the kind of man who would allow a young woman’s reputation to be ruined over him.
“As you can see, Miss Stafford has accepted my proposal of marriage.” He swallowed thickly. “I’d like the wedding to be as soon as possible under the circumstances.” Catching the eye of – Mr. Stafford? Or did the man have a title? – he gave him a brief nod. Isaac would make whatever arrangements would keep the man satisfied, as he looked quite unhappy with the entire situation. Hopefully the chit didn’t have another fiancé tucked away somewhere. Although, if her father was trying to force her into a marriage that she was unwilling to go into, he might have more sympathy for her methods.
“Benedict can get the special license and be back by tomorrow,” Arabella suggested, almost gleefully. Isaac held back a growl. His sister was enjoying this far too much. And he didn’t understand why she was pushing this now, after spending the entire house party trying to keep him out of leg shackles. “We need it as soon as possible. You should hear what people were already saying before I came up here, and all the noise will have only made it worse. There’s no covering this up.”
Nodding, Isaac waved at them. “If you would all give my bride-to-be and me some privacy now, please.”
“But -” The younger Miss Stafford started to protest, looking scandalized. After all, despite now being engaged, being alone together in his bedroom, naked, was not within the bounds of propriety.
“Just for a minute,” Isaac said. “So that we may dress without an audience.”
“Yes… oh yes, of course!” Lady Chesterfield shook herself, very much like a dog coming out of water, and immediately went into hostess mode. “We’ll have a celebration dinner this evening of course, and – ” her voice trailed off as Arabella took her arm and helped to lead her from the room. Benedict made sure the younger Miss Stafford and her father left as well before he closed the door behind him, giving Isaac one last amused look.
With a groan, Isaac pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, hoping to stop the pounding in his head, to no avail.
“Here, this will help.”
His bride-to-be had a soft voice. A soothing voice, despite being filled with anxiety. Isaac opened his eyes and turned slightly to see her holding out a cup with what looked like some herbs floating in it. She was on her knees, holding the covers up around her breasts with one hand, while the other held out her offering.
“Why, madam, so that you can drug me again?” he asked, watching her reaction closely. There was no need, really, as she didn’t attempt to dissemble. A pink flush filled her cheeks and went down her neck. Since this was his first good look at her, Isaac looked his fill. He vaguely remembered her from last night, but that memory was cloudy; mostly he remembered her big, grey eyes. Today he could see her quite clearly, and it wasn’t a bad sight.
She had very pale, creamy skin without a freckle in sight, honey-blonde hair that was plaited into a thick braid, grey eyes reminiscent of a cloudy day at sea, and a pleasing countenance. From what he could see of her body, she was pleasingly proportioned as well. At least he wasn’t going to marry an antidote. Although he’d already been attracted to the feel of her body against his earlier, so he would have made do even if she’d been horsefaced. Lights weren’t needed to beget an heir after all.
Not that he was pleased about having to marry her. After all, she’d drugged him and snuck into his bed, creating the scandal so he would have to marry her. Isaac had wanted to choose his own bride, and she’d taken that choice away from him.
“I’m sorry,” she practically whispered, wilting a bit under his stentorian gaze, her arm drooping. Then it straightened again, along with her shoulders, and she pressed it towards him. “This really will help though. I’m quite good with herbs and remedies.”
The throbbing pain in his head was making him desperate, and so he took the cup from her and drank. The concoction was bitterly unpleasant, but he forced it down anyway. It had always been his experience that the most effective medicines rarely tasted pleasant. Almost as soon as he’d finished it she was handing him another glass, this one of regular water, ostensibly to wash away the taste of her remedy.
Sipping it more slowly, he let his eyes roam over her again, not bothering to hide that he was studying her. She was looking at him as well, as though she’d never seen a naked man before. Well that was a relief, as it occurred to him that one reason a woman might drug a man to gain a husband would be to gain a father for her child. Still, better not to assume.
“Are you pregnant?” he asked bluntly.
“What? No!” The aghast expression on her face reassured him. Her answer had been swift and sure, not to mention shocked at the very idea.
“Was your father trying to make you marry someone you didn’t want to?”
She shook her head, bringing the sheets farther up on her body.
A knocking on the door made him pause.
“Lydia! Come out, it’s been several minutes.”
“My sister,” his bride-to-be said, scrambling up. He got a very quick glimpse of her pale, creamy curves as she picked up her robe off of the floor and put it on, dropping the sheet as she tightened the sash. Now that the pain in his head was receding, his cock stirred at the brief glimpse of her body, which didn’t help his temper.
Isaac didn’t say a word as she quickly left the room without looking at him, her actions jerky and hurried. He didn’t trust himself to speak right now. Despite the easing of his headache, it still hurt, which made him cross, and since he couldn’t think of another reason he would find excusable for drugging him and forcing him into marriage with her… His anger at being forced into marriage with a woman who was obviously either a fortune-hunter or a social-climber was rising. There wasn’t time right now for the words they were going to have.
But there would be time later. Plenty. The rest of their lives in fact.
He cursed under his breath as he got to his feet and went to ring for his valet.
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