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Authors: How to Seduce a Bride

Edith Layton

BOOK: Edith Layton
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Edith Layton
How to Seduce a Bride

To my long lost and newfound
Diamond of a cousin,
Deedee Wolan,
with much love.

Farewell to old England the beautiful!

Farewell to my old pals as well!

Farewell to the famous Old Baily

Where I used to cut such a swell.

 

My Too-ral li Roo-lal li Laity

Too-ral li Roo-lal li Lay

Too-ral li Roo-lal li Laity

Too-ral li Roo-lal li Lay!

 

…Now all you young viscounts and duchesses

Take warning by what I do say,

And mind it’s all yours what you touches-es

Or you’ll land down in Botany Bay.

 

English folk song

Contents

Prologue

“Be damned to all men,” the young woman said angrily.

Chapter 1

“I’m flattered, my dear, and no mistake,” the gentleman said…

Chapter 2

She was too nervous to eat, but Daisy knew how…

Chapter 3

She wouldn’t go back, but didn’t know how to go…

Chapter 4

“You haven’t come to see me in too long, my…

Chapter 5

“I want a gold gown,” Daisy told the dressmaker. “Not…

Chapter 6

Damn the wench for being so pretty, Leland thought sourly,…

Chapter 7

Leland and Daffyd had their eyes fixed on Daisy, as…

Chapter 8

“Ready to go see the fireworks?” Geoff asked Daisy when…

Chapter 9

“You should lie down,” Daisy told the viscount.

Chapter 10

Daisy took one last look in the mirror. She was…

Chapter 11

The earl paced his study. “So far as you know,…

Chapter 12

It was not a party. Leland smiled, the earl groaned,…

Chapter 13

Leland frowned at his naked knees. Folded up as he…

Chapter 14

Daisy didn’t sleep well. Or rather, she thought bitterly when…

Chapter 15

“No one can touch you if you’re my wife,” the…

Chapter 16

He was quite mad, barking mad; that was all there…

Chapter 17

“I’ve got the special license,” the earl said, patting his…

Chapter 18

All the while the vicar was talking, reciting text and…

Chapter 19

“This is it?” Daisy asked, astonished. “This is your little…

Chapter 20

Daisy had brushed out her hair and braided it, when…

Chapter 21

They raced back home, gave their horses to a stable…

Chapter 22

The honeymoon couple spent a week discovering each other’s bodies,…

Port Jackson, New South Wales
1817

“B
e damned to all men,” the young woman said angrily. “I’ll marry and be done with them!” She stood on the dock, her back rigid and her hands closed to fists.

“Oh, Daisy, you don’t mean it,” her friend exclaimed.

“Well, maybe I don’t,” Daisy said with the winsome smile that drove half the men in Botany Bay mad with desire and set the other half to lustful daydreams. “But I’m going to leave this place on the next fair tide, see if I don’t. I’m bound and determined to marry again. That’s
the only way to be safe from unwanted attentions.”

“There are plenty of single men right here,” her friend protested.

“Yes,” Daisy said. “But not a gentleman among them. I’ve friends here I’ll miss, true. It’s a good enough place to live if you’re free. But I’m not free, even though I’m single again.
Especially
since I’m single again.” She watched the horizon and the departing ship, and as it became smaller her voice became firmer. “I know what I mean to do and how I’m going to do it. And if a randy captain thinks he can keep me off his ship unless I share his bed, let him. There are other ships and other captains, and not all of them such horn-mad, lusty-guts neither.”

“Daisy!” Her friend gasped. “You’ll never catch a nob with a mouth on you like that.”

Daisy laughed. “Oh, really? I’ve never heard any complaints from you before.” Then her expression grew sober. “But you’re right, that’s not me; it’s the me I became in order to survive. A gentleman wants his wife to be mealymouthed as a parson, no matter what he likes his light-o’-love to whisper in his ear. And the man I’m going to marry is a gent, through and through.

“So, not to worry,” she said with resolve. “By the time I get to England, I’ll speak so well I’ll put duchesses to shame. That’s how I spoke before I set sail from England, before I met you. I’d quite forgotten the way of it. It’s easy enough to
remember and feels more natural, too. Soon it will be habit again, just as will my living like a lady. I won’t be traveling in chains in the hold at the bottom of the ship this time, either. And I won’t have to marry to get out of the hold. No, this time I’ll be up on the top deck, sipping champagne with the Quality. When I get to England, I’ll live with them, too. When I thought I’d spend the rest of my life here, I made the best of it. But Tanner was taken so suddenly, by accident, it set me thinking. Life’s short.

“So why not dare while we’re still above ground? I know what I want and am lucky enough to be able to go after it at last. I’m a widow now, not the frightened girl I was when I got here. So why shouldn’t I try? I’ve been a prisoner and a wife—which is like a prisoner only you eat better—and now I’m free, rich, and still young. It’s time to dare.”

“But after all that traveling to get to him,” her friend protested, “you don’t know if he’ll marry you!”

Daisy laughed at the disapproval she saw in her friend’s expression. “I’m not being vain. I know he liked me well enough. You saw his face whenever he looked at me. He called me ‘charming,’ didn’t he?”

“But you were married then. And he was always a gent.”

“You think he didn’t mean it?”

“Why not write to him first?”

“Writing’s cold,” Daisy said, shaking her head. “My father wasn’t a lucky man but he knew how to gamble. He always said, ‘Play your strongest hand.’ I’m not a monster of conceit, but only a fool doesn’t know her assets. I know what I’ve got and it’s all face cards, and I mean that exactly. My brain’s first rate, but forget that, because men do. All they care about is my face and what’s below it. I can’t remind him of that in a letter.”

“Daisy,” her friend said sadly. “You’re the belle of Botany Bay and a beauty, no mistake. But there are thirty men to every female here. London’s full of beauties, many wellborn and rich as they can stare.”

Daisy said nothing, but the morning sunlight spoke for her. It shone through the windows, highlighting the rosy gold hair that tumbled to her slender shoulders, turning her simple muslin frock transparent, outlining her graceful, lithe, lush form. Daisy’s tilted, almond-shaped, brown-gold eyes were sober, the feathery brows over them arched in sad surprise.

“I can measure up to any woman in London and go her one better,” Daisy finally said, lifting her chin. “I’m rich now, wellborn enough,
and
I have a full pardon, too.”

“But he’s twice your age,” her friend lamented.

“Yes!” Daisy said. “Exactly! He’s past the age of all that cuddling and knocking nonsense. Even so, he’s not dead, and so I might be able to get a child from him one day. That would be beyond
wonderful. But I likely won’t, what with his age and my history. I didn’t have one when I was married. Still, Tanner never blamed me for it, and he would have if he could have, so I think it might have been his fault.”

She shrugged. “Whatever happens, it won’t matter much to a man my gentleman’s age. He’s got his son and heir already, and two more fellows that he calls sons. They’re all married now, so he’s on his own at last. He’s perfect for me. He liked me; I respect him. I can make him happy; he won’t ask for much but I won’t begrudge him much, either. Don’t you see? I could live free with him,” she said fervently. “I know I could live safe and in peace with him.”

“You could marry anyone here.”

“No one here would give me the freedom he would. Wealthy noblemen in England let their wives have their own bedchambers as well as their own social lives. Their own beds! Can you imagine a man here allowing that?”

She gave a theatrical shudder. “Besides, soon I won’t have a choice anymore, what with the way Thompson and Edwards are acting and the way that horrible Hughes is talking. I don’t dare go out after dark and have to keep my doors locked at all hours. I’ve no influential male to protect me. No, no matter how much money she has, a woman alone has no power or freedom here. The same’s true in England, but at least there I’ll have my choice of husband. And I choose Geoffrey
Sauvage: once a convict, now the Earl of Egremont. Who would understand what I’ve been through better? Who would suit me better? He’s old, wise, and kind.”

“I wish I were half as brave as you are!” her friend blurted. “But I’m not. Though I suppose I could make a life again in England, I’m not willing to chance it.”

Daisy turned, her eyes grave. “I’m not brave. The truth, after all my bluster, is that I don’t have the courage to stay here any longer.” Her smile was sudden, radiant, warming, like the sun coming out from the clouds. “But I can pretend to be brave, and I will. I mean to take my chances, because at least this time, they’ll be
my
chances to take.”

“I wish you luck,” her friend said. “Though I don’t think you’ll need it.”

“Thank you, but I mean to make my own luck, so please send me off with prayers instead of wishes. I have wishes enough. Now I have to go and make them come true.”

“I
’m flattered, my dear, and no mistake,” the gentleman said as he gently unlocked the lovely young woman’s dimpled arms from around his neck. “But believe me, I’m not worth your time.”

She let her arms drop, but didn’t move away. She pressed her body to his, put a dainty hand on his chest, looked up at him, and pouted.

“No, in all honesty,” he said with a rueful smile, stepping back a pace. “You’re such a tempting little delicacy, but I am simply not in the market. Now, Carlton, over there, is,” he said, tilting a shoulder toward a short gentleman across the green room. “He’s a baron, to boot! Plus he’s wealthy, amiable, and very generous when he’s
pleased. And,” he added, raising one long finger to make his point, “I have heard women call him ‘cuddly.’ Mind, I find that appellation nauseating, but I would.
I’ve
no desire to cuddle him. But I’ll bet he’d want to do just that with you. So,” he added, giving her rounded little rump an encouraging pat, “why don’t you just go ask him if he’s interested in acquiring your so delectable person?”

She looked at the plump gentleman he’d indicated, looked back at the tall, thin, exquisitely dressed gentleman before her, and sighed. Then she winked at him, and turned. She strolled off toward the baron Carlton with an exaggerated wriggle of her scantily clad bottom.

“Good evening, Haye,” an older gentleman standing nearby said in an amused voice. “Giving up sweets for Lent, are we?”

“Give you good evening too, Egremont,” Leland Grant, Viscount Haye, said in an amused drawl. “Well met. I saw you earlier but didn’t have a chance to speak with you. How have you been?”

“I’ve been fine, thank you, although I hear the latest gossip has me at death’s door or up to no good.”

“That’s what you get for wanting privacy,” Leland said. “I’ve been up to worse and they’ve said less because my life is an open book.”

“A spicy one,” the earl commented. “And about as open as a miser’s purse. You show only surface; the rest is hidden deep.”

“Indeed?” the viscount drawled. “Well, if you say so. However, I agree I’ve found that tossing gossips warm red meat keeps them full and happy, and not likely to ask for more.”

The earl smiled. He was more than a decade older than the viscount, but they’d been friends since they’d met the year before at the earl’s adopted son’s wedding. The Viscount Haye had turned out to be the long-lost half brother of the illegitimate Daffyd, whose wedding it had been. The earl and the viscount had found much in common and become friends. This puzzled the earl’s friends and amused the viscount’s cronies, because two more dissimilar men were hard to find.

Leland, Viscount Haye, was a wildly successful womanizer. He loved women and they loved him, but he was resolutely single and lived in high style, entertaining females of all classes and conditions. The earl was still in love with his late wife, and only occasionally formed brief relationships with discreet women.

Geoffrey Sauvage, Earl of Egremont, was bookish, reclusive, a man with a gentle nature. The viscount Haye was said to be amazingly trivial, but also enormously fashionable and in demand, even though he possessed a cutting sense of humor.

They couldn’t have looked more different. The earl was a solidly built, muscular, middle-aged gentleman of medium height, who still had his thick brown hair, strong white teeth, and a face
that was deemed handsome even though it was unfashionably tanned.

The viscount had just passed his thirtieth birthday. He was tall and very thin, with a long, bony, elegant face, and was languid and affected in speech and movement. But his lean body was deceptively strong. Most people he knew didn’t know that, or that he could move with killing force if needed, because most of the time he used only his killing wit.

They were different in age, face, and manner. But the two men got along splendidly.

The earl had discovered that the viscount’s care-for-nothing manner concealed a sympathetic heart and a strong sense of justice. He appreciated the viscount’s sense of humor, agreed with his politics, and was aware that the younger man hid his true nature except when with friends. The earl’s own son and adopted sons were among those few, and since he missed his newly wed sons, the earl was glad for the viscount’s company. He found it stimulating.

The viscount thought of the earl as the father he’d not only never had, but never expected to find. He appreciated the older man’s experience of the world, compassion, and quiet wisdom.

And so the viscount was surprised to find the earl in the green room at the theater, because that was where men went after the play to make assignations with the actresses and dancers, most of whom were for sale, or at least for rent.

He raised a thin eyebrow in inquiry.

The earl knew what he was asking. “Miss Fanny La Fey, the star of the play, is an old friend of mine,” the earl said. “I came to congratulate her. Nothing more.”

Leland glanced over at a startlingly bright-haired woman in a gown so flimsy that her modesty was preserved only because of the crush of admirers surrounding her. He raised the eyebrow higher.

“We’re friends from the bad old days,” the earl explained, “She and I met on a distant shore. She’s a rarely determined young woman. I’m happy she also found her way safely back home.”

“Ah!” Leland said. Both eyebrows went up. He hadn’t known that the actress had been in prison.

The Earl of Egremont had been wrongly accused of a crime before he’d come into the title he’d never expected to inherit. He and his son had been sent to Botany Bay. They, and two young men the earl befriended in prison and took as wards, had served their sentences and returned with him when he claimed his title and the vast fortune that went with it. The earl had already made a fortune for himself through investments, and now was one of the richest men in England. He’d been the talk of the town, and considered slightly scandalous because of his past. But London gossip faded like cut flowers, and now, a year later, he was accepted everywhere.

But he seldom chose to go anywhere that Society did.

“I’ve congratulated her,” the earl said. “I was just on my way out. I won’t keep you if you’ve business here.”

“Oh, but that business can’t be done here, my lord,” Leland said easily. “It can be
arranged,
but not completed. Credit me with some sense of propriety. So if you’re going anywhere interesting, I’d be pleased to accompany you.”

“I was thinking of a warm fireside, a glass of port, and an early bedtime,” the earl said with a sigh. “But I’m promised to Major Reese tonight, for a late dinner at his club. Care to join us?”

“And fight those battles in the colonies all over again with him? Lovely fellow, but I think not. I respect his zeal and regret his lost limb, but there is a limit to how many times I can enjoy vicarious warfare.”

“Yes, but he’s an old friend and I’m bound to oblige him. How about luncheon at my house, tomorrow? We haven’t spoken for a while.”

“Not for at least a week! Yes, I’d like that.”

“I’ll see you then,” the earl said, bowed, and asked a footman for his coat.

“My lord!” a sultry, thrilling, voice called. “Not leaving so soon, are you?”

“My dear,” the earl said to the star of the evening’s play, who had left the group of gentlemen she’d been with. “But you were surrounded by admirers. I just wanted to be one of them and
then leave you to your well-deserved applause.”

“Old friends mean more than casual observers,” she said, but her kohl-rimmed eyes glanced over to the viscount.

“This is my dear friend, Viscount Haye,” the earl said. “Leland, may I present Miss La Fey?”

“You not only may,” Leland breathed, looking down at the actress intently. “You
must.
Please believe that I am more than a casual observer,” he told her, taking her hand in his and raising it to his lips. “I am an enraptured one. As who would not be? Your performance was miraculous. Your presence here, next to me, is even more so.”

She smiled. “Are you leaving, too?” she asked.

“Not if you don’t wish me to.”

She stared up into his amused eyes, and shivered slightly. “I don’t wish you to. But I am occupied with well-wishers and can’t snub them. Can you wait until I do the pretty with all those I must?”

“I can,” he said, one hand on his heart. “If you will be half so kind to me.”

“We shall see. I’ll be back soon,” she promised, and gave him a long, smoldering look before she went back to the crowd of men waiting for her.

The earl shook his head. “How do you do it?”

“I don’t know that I did. I think it’s this new cologne, actually…. My lord?” the viscount asked with an exaggeratedly casual air. “Care to tell me just why she was incarcerated?”

The earl grinned. “No. That should make your
evening more interesting. Just—I wouldn’t suggest getting her annoyed. Or if you do, then I suggest you not drink anything that she doesn’t. Good night then,” he said cheerfully. “See you tomorrow. I hope.”

The viscount bowed. “So do I. Good to know you look after me so well,” he said with an ironic smile. But it was a wide one.

 

“Good, you’re just in time,” the earl said after Leland gave his beaver hat and greatcoat to a footman, and came into his host’s study, rubbing his hands together.

“Oh, ‘good,’ indeed,” Leland murmured as he went to the fireside and held his hands up to it. “I’ve seen cold days in springtime, but this one is ridiculous. I shouldn’t be surprised if the Thames froze over again.”

“In April?”

“I said I shouldn’t be surprised, which is not the same as saying I expected it. It’s freezing out there. Still, nothing would keep me from a meal prepared by your chef. The fellow could name his price at Carlton House.”

“Yes, but they’d have to take him there in chains,” the earl said.

“The way they took him away from London the first time?” Leland asked with a tilted smile.

“Now, now. You know his history is not mine to divulge. He did his time in Botany Bay, and now is free as you or I: past forgotten, future being
made. Speaking of émigrés…how did you and my old friend get on last evening?”

“‘Now, now,’ indeed!” his younger friend said. “I
am
a gentleman. I never discuss my dealings with a lady,
or
a female who aspires to be one. Suffice it to say it was a pleasant interlude for both of us. She’d no reason to be angry with me. And so,” he added too casually, “since I never infuriated her, I couldn’t tell: Why exactly
was
she sent to the Antipodes?”

“She was there because she was a fair hand with a lethal flying object, or so I was told.”

Leland laughed. “Score one for you! I took your bait and ran with it. Though we parted on amicable terms, she must have thought me a strange fellow, because brave I may be, but I didn’t dare take wine with her.”

The earl sketched a bow, though his eyes twinkled. “Forgive me. Will you accept my apology in the form of a seat at my table? We’re having your favorite soup, lobster, squab, beef, and fresh green peas! They’ve come from a hothouse, but I’m promised they taste as if they came from heaven.”

“For half that menu,” Leland said fervently, “you could stab me through the heart and I wouldn’t complain. So long as you let me sop up the gravy as I fell.”

They were laughing when the butler came in, clearing his throat.

“Luncheon ready, is it?” the earl asked.

“Not quite, my lord. But you have a visitor.”

“I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

“The young woman vowed you’d receive her.” The butler looked down instead of at his employer. “She said I’d be out on my ear if I didn’t let her in.” A fraction of a smile appeared on his usually stolid face. “You know her, m’lord,” he said, his accents slipping. “As do I. She’s from…the old country, y’see.”

The earl began to laugh. “I think I know who it is.” He glanced over at his guest. “You must have impressed her more than you realized.”

Leland’s eyebrow went up. “I
am
surprised. But maybe she has a complaint?”

“Show her in,” the earl told his butler. “I don’t know how you do it, Lee,” he commented as the butler went to show his guest in. “But you have a profound effect on females.”

Leland wore a rueful expression. He shrugged. “Actually I don’t know why, either. I see no reason why a lovely creature like that should fling herself at ridiculous, long-nosed, affected creature like me. It can’t have been for money. She isn’t a courtesan; she has talent and fame and earns a comfortable living. Mind, I do have my ways, and if I set a trap I expect to catch something. If I don’t, I start worrying why anyone would want to catch
me.
It’s what made me effective in France when I went there on His Majesty’s behalf. I suppose it’s also why I’m still single.”

“I doubt she was angling for matrimony.” The
earl looked pensive. “Well, who knows? Maybe she was. Whatever it is, let’s settle it. She’s a good sort even if she did once make a mistake. After all, it’s a long climb from being a penniless orange seller in Spitalfields to becoming toast of the London stage. Maybe she’s after another title.”

“Then why not you?”

“I’m a lost cause, and she knows it.”

“No one knows that but you. Are you so sure?”

“Positive! Ah, here she comes. Courage!”

Both men stood straight as the butler brought the new arrival in. Then the earl blinked, before he smiled in delight.

Leland blinked, too, and for once, with no affectation, he simply stared.

The young woman was something to stare at.

She was more theatrically beautiful than any actress they’d seen on the stage last night, but her face hadn’t a hint of paint. The cold and her own excitement had been her cosmetics. Her plump lips were dark pink, the frigid air had turned her fair cheeks coral, and her small nose was pink at the tip. Her long-lashed eyes were golden brown, and bright with emotion. It was cold as ice outside, and she looked like a sunrise in a rose garden. Her rose-colored gown fitted her perfectly: a column of rose silk that showed her high breasts and rounded hips to perfection. Thick, shining gold and red hair was pulled back from her lovely face to fall in a tumble of curls on one shoulder.

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