After five years of stubborn loneliness, jilted bride Lady Josephine Montgomery has had enough! Though she may be the most scandalous woman in London Society, none of the rumors about her shocking behavior are true. Until now.
Josephine has decided to take a lover, despite her feelings for her brooding husband Lucius who has lived in the north for five long years. But can she go through with it?
When the Lucius Montgomery discovers that his prideful wife is to take a lover, he is furious. And curious. Can he win back the only woman he's ever loved?
Lady Josephine Montgomery sat at her writing desk, rereading the letter her husband had sent her. As the midmorning sun broke through the clouds, bathing the green drawing room in its warmth, Josephine sighed. It was her favorite time of day, and it was ruined. All because of her husband’s note.
To Her Grace, Duchess of Blackwood,
You are ordered to return to Sunderhill Estate.
The Duke of Blackwood
Josephine snorted. Sincerely her foot. Lucius had written the same letter five times over the past five years, and each time she had responded with the same answer.
Taking up her pen, she wrote her usual response, knowing full well that her proud husband would refuse. Lucius was anything if not predictable.
To His Grace, Duke of Blackwood,
Come gather me.
The Duchess of Blackwood
Smiling to herself, she folded the note and stood up. She called for her maid, Beth, to send the only correspondence she had with her husband all year.
“Give this to Bradley,” she ordered, as her maid curtsied. Once Beth disappeared, Josephine returned to her guest, Lady Emma Rowley.
“I simply cannot believe it,” Lady Emma said, sipping her tea. “He still writes you?”
“Once a year, every year,” Josephine answered, returning to the settee across from her guest. “Always the same demand.”
“But it’s been five years!”
“To the day.” Josephine poured herself a cup of tea. Her memories of the time she had seen her husband haunted her more than she would have liked to admit. Although his annual letter was a reminder of how arrogant her husband was, it also gave her pause. He still thought about her. “I suppose I should feel grateful that he hasn’t forgotten about me altogether.”
“Grateful? Posh. He should be grateful that you still respond. I don’t know why you do so. If you didn’t, perhaps he’d come looking for you.”
“I doubt it. Lucius would never sacrifice his pride like that.” She added a lump of sugar to her tea. “Plus I wouldn’t want him to come looking for me at the moment. Not when my masquerade party is only a few days away. He might spoil all my fun.”
Lady Emma eyed her friend, smiling mischievously.
“I suppose he would since the Marquis de Withers is set to come to your party.”
Josephine matched her friend’s smile.
“Yes, he is.”
“Oh Jo! You’re terrible! I cannot believe you’re truly considering having an affair with the marquis. It’s the most scandalous thing you’ve ever dreamt of.”
Josephine grinned. She lived to be scandalous and enjoyed every minute of it. The way society would gasp every time she entered a room or rode through Hyde Park. The way the gossip rags were littered with her name, connecting her with supposed lovers from all over Europe. They’d once even suggested her having an affair with a foreign prince, though of course it had been untrue. In fact, most of the rumors that surrounded the Duchess of Blackwood were just that. Rumors. Yet the most recent gossip, connecting her with the Marquis de Withers, was true. She was planning to have a very public affair with the gentleman.
“I don’t see how,” she replied. “Most of London already believes me to be a trollop.”
“That’s just it, though. You’ve let these rumors run rampant, never once dismissing them. Yet you haven’t been involved in a fraction of what has been written about you. The fact that you’re actually considering a real affair with the Marquis is...is...”
The ladies laughed. Emma was Josephine’s closest friend and had been ever since their first meeting five years earlier, when the Duke of Blackwood had abandoned Josephine to fend for herself in London. Even though Josephine had never left Yorkshire until she met and married Lucius, he had deserted her, left her to live in a city she was completely unfamiliar with all by herself.
It had been a frightening few weeks. Josephine had only been married a month and had hardly known a soul when Emma Rowley came knocking on her door. News had travelled swiftly that the reclusive duke had abandoned his newly wedded wife. It had been Emma Rowley who told the papers, making the duke look like a monster and gaining Josephine the sympathy of London society.
“As much as I hate to go”—Emma sighed, catching her breath from all the laughter—”I have an appointment with Madame Ninon. She’s doing my dress for the masquerade.”
“Wonderful! She’s absolutely fantastic. I hope you decided on the yellow gown. It does compliment your dark hair in the loveliest way.”
“You’re such a dear,” Emma said as she stood up. “I’ll see you the day after tomorrow. I cannot wait until the party next week! It’s always the grandest affair of the entire Season.”
“I try my best,” Josephine said, standing up as well. “Goodbye.”
Once Emma exited the room, the smile Josephine had managed all morning began to slip away as her thoughts returned to her husband. Walking toward the window, she gazed out over the garden and leaned against the sill.
Lucius, she thought. You fool.
She didn’t wish to have an affair. In truth, the only reason she had responded to the marquis’ advances was because she was sure Lucius couldn’t stand such a blow to his pride. He was such a proud, stubborn man. And yet she was a woman. A woman with needs.
She sighed. If only they hadn’t had that fight.
It was silly, really, but he had been so unreasonable. She had lived in Yorkshire her entire life. The daughter of a poor vicar, all she’d ever wanted was to see the world and experience a grander life than the one she led. She would have done anything to escape the country, and then, as if her prayers had been answered, dark, dangerous and devilishly handsome Lucius had come into her life.
He was beautiful, she thought, remembering the first time they had met. He had nearly run her over with his horse, unaware that the old trail he’d once used for riding had become Josephine’s daily walking path. Lucius was a captain from the Burmese War and had just returned home to find his father dead and himself the new Duke of Blackwood.
Josephine had fallen in love instantly. His midnight black hair was tussled atop his head, due to him constantly running his hand through it. His tanned face was square, with a jaw line to match, and he had the most beautiful eyes Josephine had ever seen. They were the color of silver, with what looked like tiny shards of cobalt blue set in them. A chill still went through her, simply thinking of those stormy eyes.
Lucius had walked with a limp, a war wound, the product of a bullet lodged deep in his thigh. Though he had only been nine and twenty at the beginning of their marriage, he had to walk with a cane. Still, he carried himself with such determination and confidence that she had hardly noticed the cane until after they were married.
Josephine frowned. They had only been married a month before that terrible fight. She often wished she could take back the harsh words she had spoken the last time they were together. She had mocked his savage, unkempt hair, even though she loved it. She had ridiculed his hermitlike lifestyle, even blaming it on his limp, which she knew was the truth. She hated remembering the look in his beautiful eyes as she flung insult after stinging insult at him. It had broken her heart when he’d just stood up and walked out.
But he had been so unreasonable, a weak voice countered as the familiar argument played in her mind. Without so much as a blink at her feelings, Lucius wanted to take her back to Yorkshire, indefinitely! How could she return after seeing London for the first time, and wishing to travel to France, Italy, Germany, even Sweden! She had dreamt about those places as a girl, fully aware that she would never have the chance to go. Yet her marriage to Lucius had changed everything. They had been in love, and despite Lucius’ demanding attitude, they had worked well together.
Josephine’s eyes closed as she remembered just how compatible they had been. A smile crawled across her face as she remembered his muscular, naked body vibrating with power and lust as he hovered over her. His large, bronzed hands had run over her body possessively, making sure he memorized every inch of her. She shook slightly, recalling his full lips, kissing her absolutely everywhere he wished. He had been gentle on their wedding night and had displayed a passion the likes of which she’d never known existed, and hadn’t seen again in five years. She breathed a little quicker as the memory washed over her. Josephine could still taste his kisses and how they set her skin on fire. She could almost feel his palms on her hips, holding her in a way that demanded the world know she was his.
Her eyes fluttered open, her arms wrapped tightly around her chest. A sudden chill came over her, though she was standing in the sunlight. Memories of Lucius usually left her shaken. All she had left of her husband were five letters with the exact same message. All demanding she return.
He didn’t even think of asking...
She wanted to forget him. Wanted to forget the short time they had spent together as husband and wife. Five long years of hurt was enough. Her affair with the marquis would set her right. No longer would she desire her husband or think about him every evening. The memories of his hands on her body would disappear, and the fever she felt every time she thought about him would subside. The marquis would help her forget. He would help her quiet the memory of the duke’s voice, his promise of forever.
Lifting her chin, Josephine left the room, taking her letter to put with the others. She wouldn’t be ordered around as if she were one of his soldiers. She was his wife, after all. If he wanted her so badly, he could simply come for her, and she would simply ignore the ache she felt in her heart.