She’d spend every last penny to marry again for security, comfort—or even friendship.
He’d win her wager, possess her, keep her for himself—even if he’d never win her love.
Adriana, Lady Benton, has many regrets—and one hope. To wed a good man to gain a life to which she is entitled. One free of sorrow, penury and ridicule. Appealing to Mrs. Dove-Lyon, Adriana hopes to attract one man who may appreciate her assets. But never need her love.
Colonel Sidney Wolf, once hailed as the ruthless ‘Hound of the Horse Guards’, vows to end Adriana’s hardships. He’s home from the wars and faces the daunting task of filling his father’s role as the Earl of Middlethorpe. Believing only Adriana will do as his helpmate, he strikes a deal with Dove-Lyon that brings him the one woman he admires. The one woman he tells himself he can live with—and never touch.
But the nearness of his funny, charming, beautiful bride drives him mad. Knowing she will never love other than her first husband, can he keep his hands—and his heart to himself?
And if he doesn’t, can she ever forgive him?
(Their wedding night in London.)
Excerpt, All rights reserved. Copyright Cerise DeLand 2022.
That night in the upstairs hall, she squeezed his hand and thanked him once more for the peace and comfort of their wedding day. With a tender smile borne of hours in companionship walking the appointments of the house, meeting the remaining staff and sharing the light supper, Sidney told her to sleep well. “I have two surprises for you tomorrow. You’ll need your rest.”
Tumbling though her ran a wild impulse to kiss his cheek. “Marvelous! I do love surprises. What are they?”
He shook his head. “They are not for the telling!”
She chuckled. “Shall I arise early? Dawn? Noon? Are we here at home? And what do I wear?”
“Take your leisure at it all. I will adjust to you, my dear.”
She liked how he slipped into the small endearments that made them seem like a normal couple who were meant for more than the mere illusion of intimacy.
“Wonderful. I will be up at dawn!”
He stood before her, his brown-black eyes flashing in the light of candles in the sconces—but he stepped back. “Good night then.”
She smiled and quickly turned away to thrust open her door. She closed it swiftly and fell back against it. Before her was her sitting room and bedroom. Beyond was her dressing room and boudoir. All hers, more than she’d ever expected to acquire or enjoy. All were so well appointed, but even at that, as Sidney had told her, they were furnished in fashions decades old.
“Change them all,” he’d encouraged her hours earlier on his tour. “Whatever you like. The rooms were last done when my mother was alive and much is frayed and dusty. Cost is not a matter of concern. You need not rush as we shall not entertain here for months.”
“I will begin by choosing fabrics. Planning other elements. When do you think we will return?”
“I have so much to do at the estate that I doubt we will come back until spring. Does that suit you?”
A question of whether her little house would be sold soon flashed through her. She would have to come to town to pay Dove-Lyon. “It does.”
“Good. I want you to be comfortable and happy.” He had caught her sudden reticence. “Something concerns you. What is it?”
“The house in West Drayton. I hope it will be sold by spring.” The sooner I pay Mrs. Dove-Lyon the remainder of her fee, the better.
“It’s charming. I’m sure it will sell soon.”
His assurance soothed her worry and so, for a countless time, she thanked him for his largesse. Scrimping was what she did well. Practice had made perfect. With little, she had kept her tiny house clean and bright. With copper pots she scrubbed and numerous shawls and coverlets she knit, she’d dressed up the kitchen and the small parlor. She’d changed Paul’s lap blanket every day. A new color to keep him appraised of the day of the week. A little reminder that today was a new day, another day that he lived. Little had he cared, but she had. She had. Because to give in to his brown study was to follow him into the hole he preferred and she dare not give up on herself, lest they both die of despair.
She inhaled. That was yesterday. Gone, now. And in the place of that, my girl, you have this. This time. This redemption. This man.
And his generosity.
In studied deliberation, she gazed upon the heavy sky blue damask draperies, the Alençon lace curtains beneath, the fine mahogany deal tables, the plush settees and Axminster carpet. They were all accommodations that he had so sweetly given her, and even agreed to all her stipulations, too. She clutched her arms as, like an avalanche, she felt the freefall of all the deprivations she had not given him. She was happy, very much so—and he, virile man that he was, had so many reasons not to be.
She was selfish, unable to be a proper wife.
He went to his bedchamber alone. A bridegroom. Gallant, determined, daring. A leader of men. A legend in his own time. A man robust, hearty and…alive.
In that moment of self-criticism when she knew what she owed him, what he should have and what she had forbidden him to have of her, she ached to be his good and willing wife.
She went to bed alone. It was what she had planned.