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Pride and Promises (MF)

Siren-BookStrand, Inc.

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 92,902
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[BookStrand Regency Romance, HEA]

When Malcolm Hayward, Earl of Whitbourne, promised widow Elizabeth Townsend he’d do her any favor she asked, he hoped it would lead to an affair—and maybe marriage. Instead she wants him to pretend to court her beloved stepdaughter to make a reluctant beau jealous, while Elizabeth acts as chaperone. Soon he’s caught in a dangerous balancing act between falsely flirting with a young debutante while plotting to seduce her wonderfully wicked stepmother.

Years earlier, when Malcolm and Elizabeth shared a first kiss, he lit a fire that sputtered when she learned he was three years her junior. Despite her subsequent brief marriage of convenience, that flame has never died, and she sees her madcap scheme as a chance to get close to him again and rekindle the blaze. But when Elizabeth worries that Malcolm is playing his part too well, she risks scandal and her own heart to ensure she and her stepdaughter both get the men they love.

A BookStrand Mainstream Romance

User Reviews
What a delightful and charming story! From the first line to the last this wonderfully written historical is filled with fun and compelling characters. I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it. G...

- KCReader

Excerpt

STORY EXCERPT

 

She gasped and thrashed in his embrace. “My lord, what are you doing?”

He loosened his hold on her. “Isn’t this why you summoned me out here?”

“Certainly not! Now let go of me before I—” Something sharp struck him in the middle of his forehead.

Malcolm yelped and leaped back from her. “Bloody hell, woman! You coshed me again with that blasted fan of yours, didn’t you?”

“So I did. Why, you’re just a rake!”

“Well, I’m glad to hear I’ve made a bit of progress over the years. Better to be a rake than just a boy. But you, madam, have made no progress whatsoever. You’re still just a tease.” No wonder her husband had died so young. She’d likely teased him all the way into his grave. “Why did you lure me out here if not for that?”

Indignation rang in her voice. “Is that why you think I was waiting out here?”

He rubbed his sore temple. “What was I supposed to think when you said you’d be out here, and then you—well, you say you startled me, which you most certainly did, but that refers only to my reaction. There’s still the little matter of the action that caused it.”

She dropped her hands to her sides. “I was hoping you’d meet me out here so we could discuss in greater detail our plans for you to help my stepdaughter.”

Oh, that! Damned if Malcolm hadn’t just made an imbecile of himself. He glanced around the shadowy garden. “All right. Where’s the nearest tree?”

“Why do you need a tree? Are you planning to hang yourself? Really, what I’m proposing isn’t that bad.”

“No, I need a tree so I can bang my fool head against the trunk. You must think I’m an absolute bounder for assuming you meant what I thought you meant.”

“No, I think you’re just another man. Still, did you actually think I was going to seduce you out here, where anyone could—”

He frantically shushed her. “Do you want everyone to hear?”

“There’s no one else out here.”

“No one you can see. They’re all lurking in the shadows and the shrubbery, doing what I foolishly assumed you had in mind.”

“Then what does it matter? Do you think they’re going to stop whatever they’re doing to throw stones at us when we’re not even doing what they are?”

“Maybe they will, just to silence us or make us go away,” he growled. “If you weren’t inviting me out here for that, then why did you squeeze me the way you did in the ballroom?”

She met his gaze in the flickering torchlight. Was it the reflection of that nearby flame again, or did her eyes sparkle with mischief? “I wanted to make certain you’d follow me.”

“I must say, it was most effective. Only, tell me, do you do that to every man with whom you conduct business of one sort or another? When it comes time to plan your stepdaughter’s wedding, you won’t do that to the vicar, will you?”

She didn’t even blink. “Only if that’s what it takes to get him out of the vicarage and into the church so he can perform the ceremony.”

“I’m glad to hear that. But suppose I hadn’t followed you for what I assumed was a tryst? Maybe I already have a mistress who’s more than satisfactory.”

Now she smiled. “I think you’ve just proved, albeit unwittingly, that you don’t.”

She had him there, but instead of being annoyed, he was amused. “Very well. What if I’d decided it was more diverting to flirt with Lady Norton’s daughter?”

“Not likely. You see, I’m acquainted with your grandmother.”

“That’s right, you widows tend to stick together, don’t you?”

“Yes, and she says you’re bored with vapid young chits like Lady Norton’s daughter, but alas, they’re all that’s left for a stubborn old bachelor like you.”

He bristled. “Stubborn old bachelor? Dare I ask if those are her words or yours?”

“Oh, they’re mine,” she said sweetly.

“Then I’ve come quite a long way in the twelve years since you accused me of being just a boy. I suppose my grandmother also boasted to you of the promise I made to her.”

“That you would marry before the end of this season, or she would choose your bride for you? Who doesn’t know about that?”

Malcolm grumbled. “Unfortunately, no one. You didn’t have to squeeze me to get me out here, Mrs. Townsend. Or may I still call you Elizabeth? I mean, given the circumstances aren’t quite what I thought they were—”

“They’re the same as I thought before, so of course you can still call me that.”

“Capital. And I’m still Malcolm, unless you prefer ‘rake’ or ‘stubborn old bachelor.’”

“Malcolm will be fine. For now.”

“Then I’ll endeavor to behave myself. Never again will I assume a lady wants to seduce me. She’ll have to be infinitely more obvious about her intentions than you were just now. As I was saying, you didn’t have to do what you did to get me out here, not that I object to it.”

“I know you don’t,” she said in an I-felt-every-inch-of-you-against-me tone.

“But I’ll welcome any opportunity to escape a ballroom nowadays. Now tell me your plan. You want me to flirt with your stepdaughter?”

“I’d like you to do whatever it takes, without compromising her, to make my brother jealous.”

Skepticism brushed over him. “But how am I to avoid compromising her, and perhaps having to marry her myself?” He quirked a brow. “Or is that what you’re really scheming, you matchmaking stepmama, you?”

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