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Authors: Heather Boyd

In the Widow’s Bed

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IN THE WIDOW’S BED

by

Heather Boyd

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

IN THE WIDOW’S BED

Copyright © 2011 by Heather Boyd

Published MARCH 2013

LLD Press

ISBN: 978-0-9870979-1-0

Cover Design by Heather Boyd

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.

For more information visit:

www.heather-boyd.com

Phoebe Torrington, Lady Warminster, is bored, lonely, and downright frustrated by her life. Perhaps that's why she's turned to her stepson's friend, Lord Selwood, to help her find the perfect lover. Clean, experienced, and discreet, her delicious Frenchman is as exciting as she had hoped. But she never expected Selwood-a man ten years her junior-to disguise his voice and send himself to share her bed.

Jonathan Oliver, Lord Selwood, came to his friend's house party to stake a claim on his future bride. However, he delays his pursuit of the eager debutant when he discovers Phoebe's intriguing need. Jonathan cannot resist the temptation to secretly spend a night in the widow's bed. Yet once he's tasted Phoebe's desire, will one night ever be enough?

For my darling beloved for having faith that this wasn’t simply a passing fancy.
 

And for my critique group, generous and talented ladies who love historical romance as much as I. I’d still be floundering without your guidance.
 

CHAPTER ONE

Berkshire, England

1814

If ever a gentleman stood in need of forbearance then this confounded house party surely fit the bill. Jonathan Oliver, Earl of Selwood, stood amid the giddy throng and wished himself elsewhere. The perfumed stench of his best friends’ circle of acquaintances—each resplendent in more silk, satin, and sparkling jewels than necessary—choked the very breath from his lungs.

Jonathan eased out of the mind-numbingly boring conversation he’d become trapped in and moved away in search of more appealing quarry. Unfortunately, a hand clamped over his upper arm before he’d gone very far.

“I tell you she’s up to no good, Selwood.”
 

Jonathan groaned but turned to face his friend, Lord Warminster. “To whom do you refer to
this
time?”

Warminster’s fingers tightened. “Lady Warminster, of course.”

Jonathan glanced down at the hand that held him in place. “How so?”

Warminster released his arm. “Her whole face lights up whenever any gentleman comes into view, has done so all evening too. Can you not see what I mean?”

Jonathan saw nothing in Lady Warminster’s manner to precipitate such a high level of distrust. But then again, he was conversing with the most suspicious man in England, and should hardly be surprised by the direction of his friend’s thoughts.
 

Warminster’s stepmother, widowed these last four years, glided past with a group of twittering acquaintances. Her deeper, earthy chuckle reached Jonathan’s ears as she clung to his sister’s arm, sharing a confidence. The lady appeared to him as she always had. Utterly breathtaking.

“If anything, your mother appears happy,” Jonathan conceded. “About time.” He muttered the last under his breath, knowing his older friend would not agree.

Beside him, Warminster’s scowl deepened. “Step-mamma.” A servant passed them with a tray of champagne and Jonathan’s friend scooped up a glass with an extravagant movement, downed the contents whole, and then returned the empty glass to the tray. “I have a job for you, Selwood.”

“No!” Jonathan groaned. Whenever Warminster needed something done, no matter how innocuous the matter sounded at first hearing, Jonathan would certainly face a moral dilemma. He didn’t like to spy on acquaintances, but Lord Warminster often called on him to do so whenever he had state business elsewhere. And his request couldn’t possibly come at a more inconvenient time.

“I need you to keep an eye on her,” Warminster muttered. “With the house so full of guests, I cannot watch over her closely enough.”

Damn Warminster to hell and back. Jonathan had plans for this house party. Watching over an unattainable woman wasn’t high on his list. His mind was set—fixed—on what he
could
get his hands on. “She’s a grown woman. Let her have a bit of fun if she wants it. Good God, why must you meddle constantly?”

“Because—” Warminster groaned dramatically—“it appears to me that my dear step- mamma is intent on flinging away her mourning for my father only to throw herself into some scoundrel’s arms tonight. It is imperative that she not form inappropriate—and potentially inquisitive—romantic attachments.”

Jonathan’s gaze turned to Lady Warminster and he stared. Conducting an affair with the lovely widow would be fraught with considerable danger. “She’d hardly do what you fear,” Jonathan whispered, breath lost as his pulse beat a sudden gallop.

Warminster shook him. “Look at her. The clothes, the jewels, the elaborate hair fashion—” Warminster’s glance darted left and right—“damn it, Selwood, she even commissioned a new scent. I can see a mad scheme as well as anyone.”

Mad scheme or not Phoebe Torrington, Lady Warminster, could tempt any man to consider a dalliance. She might be ten years Jonathan’s senior, but she moved as sensuously as a much younger woman. Lady Warminster’s head lifted and then turned in their direction. Pale green eyes held his gaze across the ballroom floor, and her lips lifted in a polite smile. To his way of thinking, she had done nothing new to encourage a pleasure-hungry bachelor. She didn’t seem a lady in search of a willing bedfellow at all. He couldn’t imagine her throwing propriety aside tonight.
 

But Lord Warminster had to be dissuaded from including him in this bit of folly. “I’m not staying for the house party. How exactly do you expect me to accomplish this feat?”

Warminster grasped Jonathan’s arm firmly, and moved them further into the room. “Actually, you are. I had your things brought over earlier tonight. Just look at the image she presents. She’s smiling too damn much. She cannot take Plimms for a lover. He’s riddled with the bloody pox.”

Jonathan let his eyes linger on Lady Warminster again—sleek, supple, and widowed far too young—the golden beauty deserved better than to suffer for her first choice of lover, if that’s what she intended at all. “I’m sure you’re mistaken.”

“I’m not. I never am.” Warminster flashed his rings before him and made a show of admiring the pieces. “I don’t have that luxury.”

Jonathan examined his friend closely. Pale, elaborately curled hair and foppish attire hid a man capable of committing unspeakable acts in the defense of his country. The carefree demeanor he had adopted concealed his real profession from acquaintances remarkably well. Jonathan was one of the few to be told the truth, and he had never found Warminster’s intelligence wrong. Not yet at any rate. And if that was so then Lady Warminster was ripe for an affair—with the right man of course. Jonathan let out a harsh breath, groaning at his inevitable compliance. “Fine, fine.” He tugged on his dark spotted waistcoat, a dull affair when compared with his friend’s gold stitched finery. “Where have you put me?”

Warminster’s face creased into a beatific smile. “Why, in the last room available, of course. Next to hers in the family wing.”

Jonathan coughed to cover his shock. “It’s not like you to be so obvious. She will discover that you’ve set me to watch her.”

“Lady Warminster isn’t a fool by any means. All you have to do is get between her and her would-be swains.” Warminster’s jaw clenched stubbornly for a moment, but then he seemed to remember the role he had to play and replaced it with a carefree grin.

No matter how much he wished it, Lord Warminster wouldn’t change his mind. But if Jonathan disagreed then his friend would conscript half the servants to watch the lady for the remainder of the evening, and the remaining days of the house party. That situation didn’t sound particularly enjoyable.

Perhaps he could prevent the lady from meeting with a lover of
her
choice. Since they got along well, she might even listen to his warnings and let
him
do the choosing. The thought brought a wicked image to mind. Jonathan quashed it. Had he forgotten what he was really here for so quickly?

Jonathan scanned the room again, but his quarry was nowhere to be seen. Again. His future wife must have retired already so he had ample time to investigate Warminster’s ridiculous idea before he
had
to act the charming suitor.
 

Warminster stirred beside him. “Now you’ve agreed—and I can see you have—I’ll leave you to your duties. Make sure she remains above reproach. I don’t care how many scoundrels you have to kick away from her door just keep her respectable.”

With a slap to Jonathan’s shoulder, Lord Warminster moved away, but stopped at a cluster of merry guests to join in their discussion with great enthusiasm. That false charm he employed so vigorously got under Jonathan’s skin, but at least the opinions Lord Warminster sprouted so often to others were nowhere near what the man himself believed.
 

Wondering at the strange turn of events, Jonathan prowled the stifling ballroom, nodding to acquaintances while keeping Lady Warminster in view. She stood in a cluster of giggling females and, as long as she remained there, he didn’t have to be concerned. It was only if she left them on her own that he would need to keep watch. Sure that all was in order for the time being, he turned for the refreshment table and a much needed brandy.

“Why are you skulking about, Selwood?”

Jonathan turned to find his sister hovering at his elbow. “I do not skulk.”

Lizzy uttered an inelegant snort as she brushed an escaping lock of dark hair behind her ear. “Then this is the finest display of not skulking that you have ever done. Are you vexed because Warminster has cornered Lady Jocelyn before you?”

Jonathan scowled. Wonderful. He and his friend had chosen the same chit to woo. Had Warminster sent him off on a fool’s errand so he might have a clear field? Possibly. He couldn’t see them yet, but he wouldn’t be outwitted by an overdressed popinjay. The night was still young.
 

Jonathan tucked Lizzy’s arm through his and started a slow circuit of the room, hoping to find Lady Jocelyn. “And what is to account for your prickly demeanor this evening? Has someone had the gall to suggest that you might stand up with them for a set?”

Lizzy looked about them with such obvious disdain that he laughed.
 

“A greater bunch of numbskulls couldn’t exist in one place again. Is Warminster acquainted with anyone in possession of more than a feather of intellect in his brain?” Lizzy raised her free hand before he could respond. “No, don’t answer that. You’ll only protest his supposed intelligence. I’d rather not argue with you about your choice of friends again. By the way, you should congratulate me. My plan for a singular future is well underway. I’ve barely had to refuse a dance all evening.”

Jonathan skirted a trio of fluttering debutants, keeping Lizzy between him and their attempts at flirtation. Lizzy was correct in her assessment of Warminster’s guests, a gaggle of numbskulls indeed. Except for Lady Jocelyn of course. She seemed very promising. “I cannot imagine why the notion of marriage so disgusts you,” he said.

Lizzy dug her heels in. “Well, you’re a fine one to talk. The day you consent to undertake matrimony is the day I might do the same. Lucky for me that day will come when my hair has altered to the brightest silver for I cannot imagine the fastidious Lord Selwood married.”

The same argument. Another venue. He wasn’t as fastidious as his sister claimed. He just required a certain level of intelligence in a woman. Associating with Lord Warminster’s set had not thrown such women into his path until the pretty Lady Jocelyn had come out this spring and seemed a likely candidate for a wife. Like him, Lizzy required intelligence in a potential spouse. Yet as Jonathan looked about them he wondered if there was anyone here he could encourage.

Not Peters. Or Ridgeway. Perkins seemed an amiable chap. He’d have to have a word later and see if he couldn’t be encouraged. Then he could work on softening Lizzy to the idea. How did one disembark one’s sister from the family home when she was dead set against the happy union of marriage? The way things were going, she’d still be joining him for breakfast on the day he died.

BOOK: In the Widow’s Bed
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