Craving the Rake's Touch (Rakes of the Caribbean)

London
,
1836

Lady Sarah Dryden once dreamed of marrying for love. But with the threat of scandal looming over her whole family, she must secure a wealthy husband—and quickly! If only her heart didn’t already belong to the irresistibly tempting, and entirely unsuitable, Benedict DeBreed...

Despite his well-deserved reputation as one of London’s most notorious rakes, Benedict wants nothing more than to claim Sarah as his bride. And before he loses her to another in a loveless marriage, he’ll use his legendary powers of seduction to show her
exactly
what she could expect with
him
as a husband!

Craving the Rake’s Touch

Bronwyn Scott

If you enjoy this story, look for the two full-length
novels by Bronywn Scott in her latest series:

Rakes of the Caribbean

Sun, sand and sizzling seduction

Notorious rogues Ren Dryden and Kitt Sherard used to cut a swath through the
ton
, but they were too wild to be satisfied with London seasons and prim debutantes.

Now they’ve ventured to the sultry Caribbean to seek their fortunes...and women strong enough to tame them!

Ren meets his match in spirited Emma Ward.
Relish their seductive battle of wits in

PLAYING THE RAKE’S GAME
Available January 2015

Kitt has never met a woman as unconventional as Bryn Rutherford. Enjoy their scorching chemistry in

BREAKING THE RAKE’S RULES
Available February 2015

Author
Note

Benedict and Sarah’s short story takes place concurrently
with Ren’s full-length novel. If you’ve read Ren’s tale,
Playing the Rake’s Game
, book 1 in my Rakes of the Caribbean series,
you know he’s received word via letter that Sarah is marrying one of his best
friends—Benedict DeBreed. If not, we’re just catching you up here. There’s a
great scene where Kitt Sherard and Ren discuss the impending nuptials. Now you
can find out how their marriage came to be—and you can find out who was right,
Ren or Kitt. Ren feared Sarah was sacrificing herself in marriage but Kitt was a
little more optimistic. Who will you side with after you read the tale? This was
a fun, high-speed story to write. I hope you enjoy it with the same
enthusiasm!

Take time to enjoy all three stories in the Rakes of the
Caribbean trilogy. Be on the watch for Kitt Sherard’s own story that ends the
series!

Come visit me for more updates at
www.bronwynswriting.blogspot.com
or Bronwyn Scott on Facebook, or at
my webpage,
www.bronwynnscott.com

Dedication

For Leslie Witwer, who is amazingly supportive! She’s got my back even when I don’t.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bronwyn Scott is a communications instructor at Pierce
College in the United States, and is the proud mother of three wonderful
children (one boy and two girls). When she’s not teaching or writing she enjoys
playing the piano, traveling—especially to Florence, Italy—and studying history
and foreign languages.

Readers can stay in touch on Bronwyn’s website,
www.bronwynnscott.com
,
or at her blog,
www.bronwynswriting.blogspot.com
—she loves to
hear from readers.

Chapter One

Lady Sarah Dryden sat ramrod-straight in the elegant Louis XV drawing room of the family’s country seat, dressed in the highest of fashion London had to offer and surrounded by the scions of some of England’s best families, many of whom had traveled from London to bask exclusively in her charms as the selected few. She laughed, she smiled, she complimented, until there wasn’t a single man among them who didn’t feel the full force of her blue-eyed charm.

She had never felt more like a fraud. Perhaps the gentlemen assembled did, too. She knew very well they weren’t here to simply bask. There was a job to be done over the course of this short diversion of a house party before rejoining the Season already underway in London. These men had invested in the journey from London, in the hopes of trying their luck at winning her hand, or if that failed, at winning the hand of one of the other lovely young debutantes present, just as those pretty girls were trying their luck at winning that exact proposition from one of the highly eligible men present. Everyone was engaged in an enormous play, only Sarah Dryden wasn’t playing fair.

She was not what they thought. She wasn’t rich and she was not free to choose. In fact, she did not
want
to choose any of them. They were not funny, although she laughed. Many of them were not attractive, although she told them they were.

If it had been up to her, she would have cleared the room a half hour ago, told them all to save their fathers’ money and invest in a woman who would or could choose them, a woman who might love them for themselves and not their fortunes. But that woman would not be her. She wasn’t free to choose them even if their attributes recommended them to her. She could only choose a wealthy man. That wasn’t even the biggest secret.

The biggest secret was that the Drydens hadn’t a feather to fly with. In short, they were broke. There was nothing left to sell but herself. Her brother Ren, the earl, might have put a stop to it but he was two thousand miles away in the Caribbean salvaging a sugar plantation left to him by a distant cousin. The plantation was to be the saving of the family and it probably would be in the future. Little good it did her in the present, with creditors hounding them and her mother locked in her room refusing to see anyone.

There was only Sarah to deal with the here and now. And, the family solicitors assured her, only marriage to stop the financial hemorrhaging. She would marry as quickly, and as much to her benefit, as possible, although such a practical, cold arrangement went against her nature. She had once hoped for more. But such sentiment had no place here.

Sarah scanned the gathering, wondering whom it might be, which one would she choose? Did it really matter? These men were here because they were the best London had to offer; all of them heirs to titles, all of them rich, all of them looking for the same qualities in a wife. They were essentially the same. By the end of the house party, she’d have the husband picked out. There was relief in that knowledge and there was sadness, too.

In forty-eight hours it would all be over. Not just the frenzy of the hunt, but the possibility of something more...of finding a man who was more than his pedigree, more than a set of boxes ticked off her list of standards. But current circumstances made such a dream a luxury she could no longer afford, a hope she could no longer harbor as she once had. Perhaps that was for the best. Those hopes had brought her great hurt.

“You might as well go ahead and take your dress off.”

A low voice at her ear made her jump, wrecking her perfect posture and nearly causing her to spill her tea as her mind registered the sound. She’d know that voice anywhere, with its laughing, gravelly tones, even if the man wasn’t on the guest list. An unlooked-for frisson of excitement, mixed with trepidation, traveled down her spine.
Benedict DeBreed was here.

“I beg your pardon?” Sarah gathered her composure and turned to face this audacious newcomer. Good lord, what was he doing here? He’d not been invited. Even so, he wasn’t the type who came to these high-brow, exclusive affairs. Benedict was one of her brother’s friends from London, the sort of friend sisters knew about but not the sort brothers brought home, at least not often. And for good reason, as it had turned out. Benedict had proven to be an irresistible temptation.

Now it seemed he had slipped past her defenses once again. She’d been so intent on Badgley’s heir she hadn’t kept an eye on the door. “I knew it could only be you with a remark like that,” Sarah said coolly, giving away no sign of the heat his presence raised in her. But it hadn’t been the remark alone that had given him away. She could have been blindfolded in a room with a hundred men and known it was him. She knew the subtle orange spice of his cologne, the sandalwood scent of his soap. Long-suppressed memories began to flicker to life.

“Why not show them the goods, it’s the only thing you haven’t shown them in this travesty of a circus.” Benedict’s voice held a hint of laughter beneath his outrageous words, making it clear he had no use for such ceremony. Benedict DeBreed played games, but not the decent games that could be carried out in drawing rooms. Bedrooms were more his style. Or settees in libraries. That particular memory was alive and well, although she would have preferred to keep it buried.

“What are you doing here? You know Ren is in Barbados.” Sarah hissed her displeasure, keeping one eye on the room, gauging the response to Benedict’s arrival. These men wouldn’t welcome any newcomer who might be another contender for her hand. Marriage was serious competition and Benedict’s reputation wouldn’t enhance hers in any of the right ways. Of course, the women wouldn’t mind, not that they’d admit to it.

Already, people were starting to notice, starting to whisper. Badgley’s shy young heir, whom she’d been coaxing, had retreated in Benedict’s wake. Did Benedict have any idea how long she’d been working on getting the boy to relax? Now it was all for naught. She’d have to start over. She wanted Benedict DeBreed out of her very proper afternoon tea very fast!

“I know where your brother is and that’s exactly why I’m here.” He gave her a meaningful look with those interesting green eyes that were flecked with hints of silver and sin. Wicked eyes. Nearly as wicked as his smile. She knew firsthand how easily they could lead a girl astray.

“I need a word with you, Sarah, privately and right away.”
Sarah
. He presumed upon the past and his connection to the family to use her first name in public, but the undertones of urgency drew her attention. She gave him an assessing stare, noticing for the first time the windblown state of his dark hair, the dried mud on his boots and the hem of his riding coat, the high ruddy color in his face. Wherever he’d come from, he’d come straight away. Fear clenched her stomach. “It’s not Ren, is it? There’s not been word of bad news?”

He gave a nearly imperceptible shake of his head. “No, it’s not Ren. Please, is there somewhere we can talk?”

The last thing she wanted was to be alone with him, but people were beginning to notice the absence of her attention on them now that the novelty of Benedict’s arrival had been absorbed. He was ruining everything.

Sarah made an instant decision, curiosity getting the better of her. “Five minutes, in Ren’s office. You know where it is? I’ll meet you there. But we won’t have much time.” She smiled at the earl of Badgley’s son to reassure the quiet, timid young man. He was nice, if not exciting, after a life lived under the thumb of his puritanical father. She nearly had the poor boy up to scratch along with an earl and a viscount. The last thing she needed was to be caught alone with Benedict DeBreed, a man known for his long line of mistresses and longer line of indiscretions.

Chapter Two

“I risk everything by being alone with you. Whatever you have to say, make it fast,” Sarah snapped, the door to the estate office barely closing behind her in time to choke off the hot words from public display. “I have two earls’ heirs and a viscount on the string out there, none of whom have fathers who will want to hear of this little interlude.”

Benedict rested a hip on the polished mahogany desk and chuckled. “I’d forgotten how magnificent you are in full temper, Sarah. Those lovesick swains in your drawing room have no idea, do they?” It was a lie, though. He’d not forgotten, no matter how much he’d tried. She was lovely, with her Dryden-blue eyes, her honey-colored hair, so rich and thick it begged a man’s hand to sink into it, to pull it loose from its pins, to let it fall through his fingers as the color in her cheeks reddened from temper or passion aroused.

“They’re not lovesick swains.” Sarah scoffed at his belittling reference. He merely grinned. He liked needling her, liked getting a rise out of the oh-so-perfect Sarah Dryden. Once, he’d had more than anger from her, but those days were in the past, relegated to a time when he’d dared to dream a man like him could have a woman like her. Earls’ daughters weren’t for the faint of heart.

“No, they’re not, are they?” He’d not come here to fight but he couldn’t seem to help himself. The line between passion and anger had never been so thinly delineated. “They’re heirs to titles and fortunes whose only job in life is to make themselves agreeable enough to catch a well-born virgin with wealth to match theirs. How would they feel if they knew you have neither virginity or wealth to give them?” Benedict paused, studying the defiant line of her jaw, the tilt of her chin. She would not like what he’d come to say. “You might be able to hide the lack of the one, but not the other.” He left it ambiguous as to which one he referred. The truth was she might not be able to hide either much longer.

Her face colored as she took in his remark. “I do not have to answer to the likes of you. You led me to believe you had something of merit to say.”

“I do, Sarah. Disaster is on its way, maybe three days behind me, maybe less. London knows you’re broke.” He’d ridden hell-bent for leather to tell her the news, to get to her first. He could tell himself he’d done it out of loyalty to Ren, but his conscience knew better.

Sarah went pale beneath the heat of her blush. He hated being the one to put such fear there. He could see her mind calculating behind her blue eyes. Three days until disaster but the house party would be over in two. “How? Who?” She stammered her disbelief in incomplete questions. “Ren was so careful to give no sign.” He could see her weighing the risk. Maybe she could get away with it, maybe time would be on her side. His Sarah had become a shrewd analyst of the odds over the years, a very practical woman.

Benedict shook his head, dispelling her calculations. “Rhys Camry was spreading it around the clubs. He said it was why you had left London during the Season.” He’d learned of it over a game of cards and he hadn’t been the first to hear it.

“Plenty of people host small parties. This is no different,” Sarah argued defensively.

“Well, true as that may be, Rhys’s rumor spiraled after that. Someone speculated it was the real reason Ren left for Barbados. Someone else recalled how the artwork in the town house had been rearranged, perhaps to cover up for a piece of artwork that had been sold. You know how it is.”

“Rhys Camry didn’t like being refused,” Sarah said, fuming. “He can’t abide the fact that Ren rejected his suit on my recommendation, so he has to prove to everyone he didn’t want me in the first place.”

Benedict spread his hands in a placating gesture. He’d suspected as much. Camry was a spoiled, petulant excuse for a man once one got beyond his good looks. Camry had made no secret of his intent to wed Sarah and his prideful boasting had made her rejection of him public. “Be that as it may, the damage is done and when the news reaches Sussex, your drawing room will be sparsely populated. We need a plan for dealing with this.”


We
don’t need anything,” Sarah corrected. “I have a plan. I just have to get one of them to declare themselves.”

“In two days? That’s fast work,” Benedict cautioned.

“It’s plenty of time. I’ve been out for five years and these gentlemen have been about Town for nearly ten. I daresay we all know our business and we’ve all known each other, at least
of
each other, for years.”

“Oh,” Benedict said with exaggerated nonchalance. “This is all merely a formality then? Good to know.”

Sarah fixed him with a hard stare, then pitched her voice low in case anyone walked in. “
Plenty
of matches are made this way. So don’t stand there and pretend shock as if I’ve thrown away the rule book. If anyone has thrown away a rule book, it’s you.” She could tolerate censure but not from him, not from the one person who knew how desperate she was and the one person who knew she’d hoped for better once upon a time.

His gaze hardened, his eyes losing some of their heat. “Who then? Badgley’s son, Caron’s heir? Devonshire? He’s already inherited. That would be convenient.” Benedict rattled off the extensive list. “Perhaps you’ll just work your way through the alphabet.”

“You don’t have to be nasty. It hardly matters who.” Sarah’s retort was sharp. Was it all bravado or had Sarah actually persuaded herself such a statement was true? The Sarah he knew would not settle for just anyone. The Sarah he knew deserved more in a husband.

Benedict recognized that stubborn look. She would not be dissuaded but he could try. She was putting herself in a reckless, dangerous position with that attitude. “I disagree. I think it does matter, a great deal. You don’t know them like I do. All you see are their clothes, their manners and their tokens of affection. I’d stay away from Caron’s boy. He’s the unluckiest lad I know at cards. So is his brother. The brother gambled away a lucrative property just recently. Marry into that family, and you’ll be homeless within the year.” He had that particular deed in his pocket as a matter of fact, a second reason he’d ridden pell-mell for Sarah’s husband hunt of a house party, but that news could wait until later.

“Devonshire then,” Sarah challenged, undeterred.

Benedict gave a casual shrug and fingered the paperweight sitting on the desk’s corner to hide his loathing. “I suppose he’ll do if you don’t mind sharing. There’s not a faithful bone in his body, nor a moral one.” Of all the men in the room, he wanted to see her with Devonshire the least.

“How do you know such a thing?” Sarah asked, then she put her hands up as if to ward off the answer. “No, wait. I don’t want to know. What about Badgley? Surely there’s nothing wrong with him.”


Nothing
is the operative phrase there, my dear,” Benedict continued, relentlessly slashing through her offerings. “He’ll never be much of anything in bed or out.” He let his eyes rest on her, roaming her body in a hot glance so that there was no mistaking his intent. “Could you live with such a man, Sarah, a man who could not rouse you? Forever is a long time when it involves a cold bed.” Even when the bed was warmed by some of London’s most, ah,
talented
beauties, forever was a hellish eternity, he was discovering.

“Your crass assessment is unnecessary and unwelcome.” Sarah met his gaze evenly but the gaze was not without a hint of heat, not without a trace of memory of a time when she had roused to him, to his touch, proof that she knew what was possible and that she hadn’t forgotten, either.

“You have to admit, Sarah, it
does
matter who you choose. You don’t know the first thing about those men out there. What if your plan fails?”

Sarah began to move, circling him, her expression thoughtful and considering. Benedict shifted on the desk, keeping her in his line of sight. He’d been hunting her with his words but now he felt like the prey.

“You’re right. I must choose carefully even if it must be quickly. I don’t know them, not like a man would know them. But you do.” She stopped her stalking and fixed him with a hard stare, like a schoolmaster who had come up with the divine punishment for an errant student. She tapped thoughtfully against her chin in contemplation and Benedict knew before she spoke he wasn’t going to like this.

“You’re going to help me. You’re going to tell me everything about each one of them and I’ll weigh the pros and cons. Dinner is at seven. I’ll see you then for round one.”

Benedict groaned as she swept past him in a froth of tulle and rosewater. This wasn’t punishment, this was purgatory.

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