A Taste of Seduction (An Unlikely Husband)

BOOK: A Taste of Seduction (An Unlikely Husband)
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Love and Betrayal…Regency style

A Taste of Seduction
is Book Two of Mary Campisi’s Regency historical series,
An Unlikely Husband
. Readers fell in love with Francie and Alexander Bishop from
The Seduction of Sophie Seacrest
, and wanted to know how they came to be Mr. and Mrs. Bishop.
A Taste of Seduction
is their story.

 

(Author note:
A Taste of Seduction
has been re-released, and edits have been made to ensure continuity between the books, including character names.)

 

A young woman of noble blood, raised as a peasant girl…

An orphaned stable boy, now grown and the surrogate son of a powerful earl—the same earl who just so happens to be the young woman’s father…

Francie Jordan and Alexander Bishop have nothing in common—she runs barefoot and talks to animals. He won’t loosen his cravat unless the bedroom door is firmly closed. She believes in love, second chances, and happily ever after. He believes in keeping a safe distance from anything that resembles an emotion. Indeed, they have nothing in common but an undeniable desire for one another they can’t ignore, and an ailing “father” who will employ any means to bring them together.

Unfortunately, not everyone wishes to see a union between Francie and Alexander, and they will stop at nothing to keep this couple apart.

 

An Unlikely Husband Series
:

Book One:
The Seduction of Sophie Seacrest

Book Two:
A Taste of Seduction

Book Three:
A Touch of Seduction
: a novella (February 2014)

Book Four:
A Scent of Seduction
(2014)

 

 

A Taste of Seduction

An Unlikely Husband Series – Book Two

by

Mary Campisi

Table of Contents

Dedication
:

The Story Behind the Story

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Epilogue

The End

About the Author

Dedication
:

To
my mother—because you believed.

 

 
 
The Story Behind the Story

 

Alexander Bishop came to me as I lay on the hospital bed waiting for outpatient surgery. There I was, tucked into an oversized blue-and-white print hospital issue with an IV in one arm, beeps, buzzes, and scuffing footsteps pushing me toward a migraine. Without glasses or contacts, I could see about three inches in front of me, and that’s a generous estimation. I didn’t even have the calming voice of my husband next to me as he’d been shuttled to the waiting room.

I did the only thing a writer can do at a moment like this
—I closed my eyes and thought of my next book, or more to the point, my next hero. I love creating heroes, the wounded kind that “bleeds hurt and been done wrong”—the kind every woman wants to heal. My mind wandered, the noises quieted, and there he was, Mr. Alexander Bishop, in his proper attire and perfectly tied cravat. When he popped into my head, I didn’t know the details of his painful history, the lowly beginning as a stable boy with an empty belly and grimy hands, the father who beat him, the mother who didn’t love him enough to save herself. I knew none of Alexander’s story, but then I began to think about what would make a man like this avoid anything that smacks of emotion and what kind of woman could change his mind and heal his heart. Enter Francie Jordan, a carefree spirit who runs barefoot, dons men’s breeches, and loves animals and people with innocent abandon and boundless energy.

 

Prologue

 

“Promise me.”

The words fell from the woman’s parched, bloodless lips. “Promise...me.”

Her green eyes misted, filled with pain at the sudden tightening in her belly. She would endure. She had to.

“Let me send for the doctor, Catherine. Let him help you.” The urgency in her sister’s usually calm demeanor filled the room.

“No!” Another pain gripped her. Fierce. Powerful. It stabbed at the thin layer of control separating her from sanity and madness. She must hold fast until she knew.

Catherine tried to squeeze her sister’s hand. Eleanor’s fingers were so warm compared to her own, which felt as though she’d just plunged them in a mountain of snow. Cold. Numb. Like the hands of death. She shivered. “Promise me, Eleanor.”

She saw the tears in her sister’s eyes and tried to offer a smile of reassurance.
Strong, capable Eleanor. Just like an older sister. Oh, how Catherine needed her strength now.

Eleanor leaned over and smoothed a damp lock from Catherine’s forehead. “I promise,” she whispered. “But it won’t be necessary. You’ll see. The child will be a healthy, black-haired babe. And he’ll look just like you and Edgar.”

Catherine’s fingers tightened on the small gold locket in her right hand. She clutched it to her chest and pressed it against her damp nightclothes. The mere idea of the child resembling the man she loathed made her gasp for air. No matter the unbearable consequences, she did not want the child to possess even a trace of the Earl of Belmont. Rather, when she gazed at her babe, she hoped to lose herself in blue eyes the color of an early morning sky. She wanted to bury her fingers in curly, fire-red locks, shimmering with hints of gold, soft and smooth as the finest silk.

She wanted her child to look like him.

Her fingers tightened around the locket that held her lover’s picture. Actually, only half a locket—he held the other half.

Pain ripped through her again, forcing a muffled cry from her lungs. Was God punishing her for one night of passion in her lover’s arms? Catherine panted, blowing out short, quick breaths. How could it be wrong when she loved him
so very much? Had always loved him. Her belly tightened, pulled like a board, bulging and ready to explode.

A low, keening sound escaped her lips as something warm and sticky pooled between her legs. Soon she would know.

“Eleanor,” she murmured between pants, clutching her sister’s fingers in one hand and the locket in the other. “Be prepared. If necessary, leave...right away.” The muscles in her lower belly crested and fell like waves. “I think...it’s time.”

She tried not to scream, tried to keep her pain confined to the four walls, lest her husband insist on the doctor’s presence. Blackness threatened to plunge her into its abyss where nothing existed save the darkness. She fought its inky manacles, sat up and bore down, pushing through the agony.

“Now,” she ground out. “Now, Eleanor.” Her body grew slick with sweat, every nerve alive and throbbing with anxiety and anticipation.

Her sister hurried to the end of the bed, pushed aside the bedclothes, and lifted Catherine’s nightgown to her hips. Catherine bit down on her lower lip, trying to control the horrible sensations coursing through her lower body.
So much pressure. She forced another push.

“Yes,” Eleanor coaxed, “just a little more.” Catherine squeezed the locket, thought of him, thought of their love, and pushed. Hard. Seven more times, until the child passed through the birth chamber. Her head fell back against the pillows, perspiration dripping down her forehead, into her eyes, blurring her vision. At last, it was done.

She tried to lift her head, tried to see, but the effort proved too much. “Eleanor?” The unspoken question hung between them, as thick and heavy as a drenched Aubusson rug. Now she’d have the answer to nine months of waiting. Now she would know if the child she bore was her husband’s. Or her lover’s.

“All’s well, Catherine,” Eleanor whispered. She moved toward the head of the bed carrying a tiny bundle, swathed in white. “All’s well.” A whimper escaped from underneath the layers of cotton. “She’s beautiful.” Her voice dropped even lower. “With a full head of black hair.”

A single tear trickled down Catherine’s cheek. Belmont’s child. Born out of duty and subservience, not passion and love. Her gaze moved to the bundle of white squirming in Eleanor’s arms. “Claire,” she murmured. She could still love the child, even though she hated the man. Catherine reached up to stroke the babe’s cheek, her fingers white against the infant’s flushed skin.

A stab of pain tore through her, stronger than any before, searing her insides, burning a path through her lower belly. She jerked her hand back in agony and clutched her stomach.

“Catherine?” Eleanor’s voice drifted to her. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Catherine opened her mouth to let the torture out, but no sound came. She shook her head from side to side and fought the nightmare claiming her body. Hot, sticky wetness slipped between her legs, pooling around her thighs. Blood.
Too much blood.

“Oh my God.”

Something was wrong. She heard it in her sister’s voice, but she was too weak to speak. Her eyes drifted shut. Too weak...

“We’ve got to stop the bleeding.” Eleanor shoved something between Catherine’s legs and repeated in a shaky voice, “Got to stop it.” And then it grabbed her.
A pain tearing the life from her.

“You’ve got to pass the afterbirth. Push, Catherine. Push.”

Catherine bore down, pressed herself into the bed, and pushed. A scream surged through the room, bounding off the walls, filling her brain with its agony.

“There’s another baby,” Eleanor babbled. “Another baby.”

“Twins,” Catherine breathed, sucking air into her lungs. She was so cold. And so tired.

“A girl,” Eleanor said, on a near
-hysterical note.

“A red-haired little girl.”

Catherine forced her eyes open and tried to focus on the bundle in her sister’s arms. If she squinted, she could just make out the baby. A cap of ringlets covered the infant’s head like a little bonnet. What beautiful red hair.

“Francine,” she breathed. Gathering her wavering strength, she forced out the next words. “Take her, Eleanor.
Far away. Before Belmont sees her.” She gasped for air. “Tell no one. When the time is right, give her this.” She pressed the half-locket into her sister’s hand and fell back against the pillows again, closing her eyes for the third and final time.

A short while later, the Earl of Belmont received news of the birth of his beautiful, black-haired daughter—and the death of his beautiful
, black-haired wife.

Chapter 1

England—1815

 

“Frannnncie. Oh, Francie.”

He was gaining on her. She heard him rustling about in the woods, pushing through the brush, his voice closing the distance between them, taunting her with his nearness. She should never have taken the shortcut. What a foolish idea. Danger lurked in the woods. So did
he
.

Francie ran faster, her nimble body darting around trees and branches long familiar to her. She’d climbed many in her eighteen years in Amberden, knew the
texture of the dense foliage surrounding her and the hidden lairs of her four-legged friends.

But she was not prepared for the two-legged monster chasing her.

“Oh, sweet Francie.” His honeyed voice rippled with laughter, seeping through the hot summer air. “Come out and play.”

She ducked behind a huge oak tree, crouching low, her breath slipping out in uneven gasps as she repeated the litany in her head
.
I am safe.
He only took willing victims, didn’t he? Why, then, did she feel like a trapped rabbit running for her life? She peeked from behind the green leaves of a bayberry bush. The woods lay quiet, save for a few swallows chirping and a gentle breeze whispering through the trees. Where was he? She pulled her worn shawl closer and waited.

“Looking for someone?”

Francie whirled around, nearly hitting her head on the rough bark of the oak as she came face to face with her pursuer. Lord Jared Crayton, second son of the Duke of Worthington, stood not three paces from her. She sucked in a deep breath and straightened, determined not to let him see her fear.

“I am not in the habit of having men chase me through the woods,” she replied, trying to keep the quiver from her voice.

He laughed, tapping his tan gloves against his breeches. “I wasn’t chasing you, Francie.” He cocked a golden brow. “I thought we were playing a game.” His voice dropped an octave. “Just the two of us. All alone.”

“You were mistaken, Lord Jared. I do not play games with strange men in the woods.”

“Ah,” he teased, “but that is just the problem, don’t you see? If you stopped long enough, you would no longer consider me a stranger.” He lifted a finger to her cheek. She flinched, took a step back. Right into the rough bark of the oak tree.

He moved closer, ignoring her rebuff. “Be my friend, Francie,” he murmured.

She shook her head, looking away. “I do not think so.”

“No?” His warm breath stroked her cheek. “I should very much like to be
your
friend.”

Francie met his gaze and said, “Friends? Just like you were ‘friends’ with Sally, Gertrude, and Fanny?” The words fell out before she considered the repercussions of her boldness.

Jared’s Crayton’s face darkened. “What do you know of them?”

Perhaps boldness might rid her of him. “I know they’re sweet girls, all of them,” she said. “Barely sixteen and pregnant. With your child.”

He laughed and folded his arms across his chest. “Ah, yes. Sally, Gertrude, and Fanny.” He tapped his chin with long, tanned fingers. “My brother may inherit the dukedom, but I will leave behind my own legacy.” The corners of his lips tilted up in a smile as he continued. “A whole village of children, if I am fortunate. All with my blood running through their veins. Even my noble brother will not be able to make that claim.”

He spoke as though the women of Amberden were no better than brood mares. The fact that their families were disgraced and their lives ruined made no difference to him.

How could the son of a duke, with the mouth of a poet and the body of a Greek god, harbor such calculating coldness, such cruel intentions? It proved difficult to discern at first, because the man’s golden looks outshone his true character. But scrap by scrap, truth emerged in the shape of a self -centered, cruel beast. Innocents were drawn to him by the golden hair falling just below the collar, the moss-green eyes, the quick, ready smile, and deep dimples.

But Francie guessed above all what drew them were the lies, like sonnets, whispered promises of love and protection, and of course, marriage. The young girls, dreamers and believers of fairy tales, thought their
prince rode in from his grand estate on his big white horse, to marry them and whisk them away to a life of wealth and luxury.

Three girls. Three lies. Three ruined lives. When would it stop?

Francie swallowed her disgust and tried reason. “We’re but simple villagers here. Why would you bother with any of us? Why not stay with your own kind?”

His heated gaze roamed her body, settled on the worn, blue fabric covering her breasts. “Do you really need to ask?”

He looked at her as though he were about to pounce, like a cat after a mouse. “I think you want to sample our wares with no obligation to make a purchase.”

His full lips curved into the faintest of smiles. “You wound me with such unkind words.” He stepped closer. “The young ladies I’ve made acquaintance with in this village did not reject my attentions.”

“And so you’ve decided to get half the village with child?”

“Half? A bit more than that, I’d say.” He grabbed her hand and searched her face. “But all I really want is you, Francie.”

She tried to pull away but his fingers tightened, twisting just enough to render her immobile.

“Try to understand my duty to the others, a legacy that needs fulfillment. But even as I lay with them, you’re the one I want. Just you,” he whispered. “Only you.”

Francie pulled at the hand holding hers. “Let me go.”

He released her but did not step away. The rough bark of the oak tree dug into her shoulder blades as she tried to put distance between herself and this man whose arrogant nonchalance toward others sickened her.

Jared Crayton laughed, a deep, menacing sound that swirled around her. “Seems you can’t quite get away from me.” He tilted his blond head to one side. “Or perhaps you don’t wish to.”

Francie bit the inside of her cheek to keep her tongue still. She’d like to tell him the truth. She found his kind revolting. Loathsome. He belonged on the ground, slithering about like the viper he was. Her nails dug into the palms of her hands. She would say nothing because he was, after all, the son of a duke.

And the man knew full well how to take advantage of his position and his title.

“You haven’t answered.” He reached out to grasp a reddish-gold curl. “Might I be hopeful you will turn a kind smile my way? It would surely gladden my heart and lift my spirits.”

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