Published by Entangled Publishing on July 23, 2018
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
When Elsinore Cosgrove escapes a ballroom in search of adventure, she has no idea it will lead to a hasty marriage. The youngest daughter of a duke, all she wants is to make her own choices. Now she's engaged to an infuriating, handsome Scottish baron who doesn't even know her name! Using all her feminine wiles, along with advice gleaned from a training guide for hunting hounds, Elsinore is determined to mold her baron into the husband she wants.
Quin Graham is a man with many secrets. If another scandal can be avoided with a sham marriage, so be it. Only his fiancée isn't at all what he's expecting, and the clumsy, curious, and clever Elsinore refuses to be set aside. For reasons he's unwilling to explain, the last thing Quin needs is to fall for his wife.
“What shall you tell them?” Elsinore called out the question from behind the brocade-paneled screen.
“Tell who about what?”
“The servants to begin with, and then your friends and neighbors, of course.” She stepped out from behind the screen, a vision of sleepy virtue in a white sleeping gown trimmed with ruffles and lace.
“And upon what subject am I to enlighten them?” She walked to the bed, standing for a moment in front of the fire, the bright flames revealing the sheerness of the fabric. Wicked thoughts curled his lips into a smile.
“About us. I mean, how we met and came to be married so quickly.” She ran her hands through her hair, found a stray pin, plucked it out, and frowned at it.
“It’s nobody’s business but ours. I don’t see why I should need to say anything at all.” She rolled her eyes at his response. He grabbed a brush and comb out of his open valise and motioned her over.
“Surely they will wonder.” She pushed a chair over so that she could sit while he tended her hair. “You didn’t come to London just for a wife, did you?”
She was fishing again. It was clever of her to always choose an innocent moment of distraction. The sheer gown was no more an accident than this line of questioning. Both her curiosity and her cleverness, however, hardened his resolve to keep her safe from his secrets. His resolve wasn’t likely the only thing to grow hard this evening.
“I employ good and loyal staff. Our bargain is safe with me.” Avoiding the question was the best he could do at the moment. Even he wasn’t foolish enough to think it would appease her forever.
“I made no bargain.” Elsinore turned and snatched the brush from his hand. “People talk. Servants deal in gossip the way rich men deal in ancient coins or rare books.”
“My servants mind their duties and keep their mouths shut.” With all the family
deaths, every member of the household was on edge, looking at each other with side-glances, whispering behind hats and closed doors. A new wife was not as easily hidden as a bottle of poison and a secret. “You have an idea of what should be said I suppose?”
“Having a story we both agree upon will cause less of a fuss.” She handed back the brush so he could resume his attention to her hair. “Perhaps we could agree that we met in the ballroom and were properly introduced by an acquaintance.”
“Lord Byron?” he teased, curious as to her reply.
“Don’t be daft; no one would believe you know Lord Byron.”
“Actually—no, never mind. Lord Guillotine, then?” Her dismissal chafed. As a lowly Scottish baron, was he assumed to be devoid of culture?
“All good lies are simple in construct and contain a kernel of truth. It was the Winchcombes’ ball, we need only say it was Lady Winchcombe.”
“I never realized lying was such an art form.” She lied easily, but not well. A true expert of fabrication, like a gambler, would never admit their system.
“I’m the youngest of six children, I learned deception as a matter of survival.”
“That admission makes me nervous.” He smiled. It was a rare woman who told the truth about her own falsehoods.
“Stop trying to change the subject. What happened after we met?”
“We were at a ball. One might suppose we danced.”
“It’s your lie; it can be any sort of dance you want.”
She frowned at him. “It’s our lie and our stories better match unless you want people to gossip.”
“Fine. We waltzed. I’m a wonderful dancer, and you were quite taken with me.”
“You’re an adequate dancer, and I found you mildly interesting.”
One eyebrow rose. “And I found you passably good looking.”
“And I found your accent only slightly annoying.” She rose and paced about the small room while plaiting her hair. “I allowed you to escort me into the dining room for
“Then I captured your heart with my clever and insightful dinner conversation.”
“Balderdash,” he protested. “We should attempt some believability.”
“It’s our story. They’ll believe whatever we tell them as long as we’re consistent.” There was logic in her argument. Perhaps it was best to have a ready-made tale.
“Did I petition your father for your hand right then, or did I at least wait until a more reasonable hour?”
“You came calling the very next afternoon, and I invited you to take tea.”
“How very civil of you. Considering my accent and all.”
“You decided then and there that you couldn’t return to Scotland without me as your bride.”
“That must have been some tea.”
“There were biscuits as well.”
“Make them lavender-honey biscuits and suddenly the tale will be much more believable to those that know me.”
“Fine. You proclaimed your love over a tray of lavender honey biscuits and begged my permission to petition my father for his consent.”
“Begged. On bended knee.”
“Och. This tale grows as thick as the honey on those biscuits. So, your father consented and here we are.”
“No, my father refused you.”
“Whatever for?” Real anger bubbled up over her made up courtship, and his face pinched into a scowl.
“He thought you rash. And Scottish.” She smiled sweetly. “But I threw myself at his feet, weeping and proclaiming my affection for you, and he at last relented.”
“And we were married by the end of the week because…?”
“Your business in town was finished, and we could not bear to wait to begin our life together.”
“Do you honestly expect me to repeat that tale without bursting into flames?”
“You were finished with your business in London, weren’t you?”
“I was lucky enough to find a suitable man…” He let his words fade into nothing as he realized he was about to reveal too much to her. She’d done it again. It was dangerous to underestimate her. “Yes. My work there was done.”
“Then our story stands.” She crawled into the bed and pulled the blanket up to her chin. “Do you agree to promote it and keep our true circumstances a secret?”
“Aye. I agree.”
“Good. I should not like to be the laughingstock of all of Scotland, too.”
“You’ll not be the one they’re laughing at.”
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