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Authors: Victoria Alexander

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The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride

BOOK: The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride
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WITH SEDUCTION IN MIND

“When I said I had been thinking about you a lot, that wasn’t quite true.”

“No?”

“A lot was not entirely accurate. I never forgot so much as a moment with you.” He
raised her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. “I thought about you nearly every
day and dreamed of you almost every night.”

“That does sound like a lot. . . .” she said weakly.

“It seemed pointless, though.” His lips moved to her wrist and her breath caught.
“You said you never wanted to see me again.”

“I said it would be best. . . .” She could barely choke out the words. What was he
doing to her?

“That’s right, it would be best, I remember.” His lips whispered across her wrist.
His free arm encircled her waist. “And so I did nothing but dream.”

“Did you?”

“I did.” His gaze bored into hers. “Did you?”

“I might have. Possibly. Once. Or twice.”
Or every night.

“And in your dreams, were my lips on yours?” He leaned in and brushed his lips across
hers and she wondered that she didn’t melt at his feet. “Was your body pressed against
mine?”

“It might have been. . . .” As if of their own accord, her arms slipped around his
neck and she gazed up at him. “You’re seducing me again, aren’t you?”

Books by Victoria Alexander

THE PERFECT MISTRESS

 

HIS MISTRESS BY CHRISTMAS

 

MY WICKED LITTLE LIES

 

WHAT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING WICKED

 

THE SCANDALOUS ADVENTURES OF THE SISTER OF THE BRIDE

 

 

 

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

The Scandalous Adventures of The Sister of the Bride
V
ICTORIA
A
LEXANDER

ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

The Scandalous Adventures of the Sister of the Bride
is my thirtieth novel.

 

So this book is for my family, and
for my old friends who were
there at the beginning and
the new ones I’ve made along
the way, and for my readers.

 

I couldn’t have done it without you.

 

This is dedicated to all of you
who gave me love and support.
Who held my hand and
shared my stories.
Who believed.
Thank you.

Prologue

New York, June 1887

 

“Do hurry with that.” Delilah, Lady Hargate, cringed at the sharp note in her voice.

She did so hate to be rude especially after, well, after
everything
but she wasn’t used to being in this position. She’d certainly never been in this
position before, never imagined she would, and really had no idea how she now found
herself here. Nor did she have any idea how to gracefully extricate herself, although
she suspected graceful was no longer possible.

“If you would be so good,” she added as politely as she could, even while knowing
that minor attempt to atone for her impatience made no difference.

Behind her, he chuckled but thankfully continued to lace her corset. “Eager to be
away, are you?”

Courtesy battled with honesty, although perhaps this was not the time to be polite.

“Well, yes, I am. It is almost dawn and . . . well . . .” Slipping out of his room
in the fashionable Murray Hill Hotel and back to her own rooms without notice would
be even more difficult once the sun was up. Not that it wasn’t going to be awkward
now. Still, the sooner she left, the better her chances of avoiding detection. “I
do need to get back before my absence is noted.”

“Of course,” he murmured. “We wouldn’t want that.”

“No, we would not.” Her jaw tightened. Discovery was the last thing she wanted.

Delilah shared a suite of rooms with her sister, Camille, Lady Lydingham. Camille’s
fiancé, Grayson Elliott, occupied the suite of rooms next to theirs. Fortunately,
no doubt for both sisters, each bedroom had its own separate entry to the hotel corridor.
Delilah didn’t doubt for a moment that Camille took advantage of that door to join
Grayson in his rooms on more than one occasion, if not nightly. But even though Delilah
officially accompanied them in the role of chaperone, she did not feel it necessary
to intrude on her sister and her fiancé. After all, Camille was a widow, older than
Delilah, and was set to marry Grayson in just a few months. Besides, Grayson was the
love of her sister’s life even if it had taken years for the couple to realize they
were meant to be together. But regardless of Delilah’s feigned ignorance with respect
to the goings-on between the engaged couple, she had no desire for Camille to discover
Delilah’s own indiscretions. Besides, Camille and Camille’s twin, Beryl, Lady Dunwell,
had a certain image of their younger sister that Delilah preferred not to destroy.
Whether that image was entirely accurate or not.

“If you could possibly be a little quicker. . . .”

“I’m doing the best I can. I am not a lady’s maid, you know. And as surprising as
it may sound given the circumstances, I have very little experience at this kind of
thing.”

“That is good to know,” she said under her breath.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why is that good to know?”

“I would hate to think I was merely another conquest.”

“I would debate the term
conquest
and I would never call you mere.” He chuckled again. “I don’t do this sort of thing
very often.”

Why did he think this was so amusing?

“Yes, well, I don’t do this sort of thing at all.”

“And yet you did it remarkably well.” His tone was mild but she could hear the smile
in his voice.

She wasn’t entirely sure if she should thank him for that or slap him. She decided
to accept his comment as a compliment and not allow her own sense of impropriety,
or possibly guilt, to make it something else. Not that she had anything to feel guilty
about. It was not as if she was an innocent virgin who had escaped the notice of an
unsuspecting chaperone to run amok amid the men of New York. She was an adult, a widow,
and financially independent as well. If she wished to have a scandalous interlude
in a hotel room in a city she fully planned never to visit again with a man she had
barely met and planned as well never to see again it was her decision. Still, it wasn’t
at all like her and she wasn’t certain what had come over her.

“There.” A note of satisfaction sounded in his voice.

“Excellent.” She glanced around and found the gown she had discarded last night.

When she had first decided to wear the costume of a Dresden shepherdess to last night’s
masked ball she had thought it charming, if perhaps a touch risqué. But then why not
be a little risqué? It wasn’t as if anyone knew her here. And it was a masked ball
after all. Besides, it was time, past time really, to try something a little different
in her life.

The costume was as much an effort to be someone other than Delilah, Lady Hargate,
as was throwing caution to the winds and indulging in this intimate encounter with
a man she scarcely knew. Now she realized it was a mistake. Not the costume, although
that probably was a mistake as well, but this . . . this . . . this night of, well,
sin
for lack of a better word. She was who she was and one certainly couldn’t change
that sort of thing about a person even if one wished to. She was not the type of woman
to wear risqué costumes and she was not the type of woman to join a virtual stranger
in his bed. Not that it hadn’t been most enjoyable and a great deal of fun. She pushed
the thought aside. Now was not the time. Regardless of the mutual enjoyment of the
last few hours, this wasn’t something she would do again. Ever.

She’d had her moment of adventure. It was over and done with and best put behind her.
Which she intended to do as soon as she could escape from his room. She turned away
and stepped into the flounced and beribboned gown, pulled it up, slipped her arms
into the puffed sleeves, and then tightened the laces on the bodice. As complicated
as the gown appeared, it had been leased from an agency that provided costumes for
theatrical productions and was constructed to be easily put on and taken off. Which
had served her well last night. She groaned to herself. Too well, really.

“That’s that then.” She turned toward him and forced a smile. “Thank you for a lovely
evening, Mr.—”

“Russell.” A slight smile curved the corners of his lips. “Samuel Russell.”

“Of course,” she said with more than a little indignation. “I do know your name.”

His brow quirked upward. “Forgive me, I thought perhaps you’d forgotten.”

“I would not forget the name of the man I had just . . .” She glanced at the rumpled
bed. “Well, I would not forget your name, that’s all.”

“Delilah.” He stepped toward her. “I will never forget anything about last night.”
He smiled in an altogether too smug manner, his overall air of satisfaction heightened
by the deep blue silk dressing gown he wore. If one had an image in one’s mind of
what a man would wear after a night of wild abandon, a dark blue silk dressing gown
would certainly be included. As would a smug smile. “Or this morning for that matter.”

This morning? Good Lord! “I must be going.” She drew a deep breath. “I should thank
you for a lovely evening.”

“No.” He took her hand and raised it to his lips. “It is I who should thank you.”

She snatched her hand away. “Yes, well, be that as it may . . .”

She paused to marshal her senses. It was not at all easy. Mr. Russell—Samuel—was dashing
in a rugged American sort of way and in many ways the kind of man she’d secretly found
fascinating in her youth. Not now, of course. Still, there was an air of excitement
about him, an air of adventure, although she might’ve been the only one who noticed.
No doubt other women were too busy noticing how handsome the man was with his blond
hair, somewhat unruly in spite of what she suspected were his best efforts, and dark
brown eyes, that seemed at once intense and amused. His shoulders were broad, his
body hard and muscled, he stood nearly a foot taller than she, and he looked every
bit as delicious costumed tonight as a pirate as he had in his everyday clothes when
they had first met. And looked even better without any clothing at all. Yet another
thought she dashed from her mind. He was, in addition, charming and funny and she
probably laughed more with him than she ever had with any man. There was something
about this man and his laugh, free and unreserved, that caught at something deep within
her. Silly of course—she’d heard men laugh before and she’d never found herself in
their beds. Why she hadn’t resisted this man had nothing to do with his laugh or his
dark eyes or the shiver that ran down her spine when he so much as brushed her hand.
No, this indiscretion was obviously due to the circumstances of her trip to America
and an odd desire within herself to taste adventure the like of which she’d never
known before. Unfortunately, Lady Hargate was ripe for adventure.

She wasn’t entirely sure why that long-simmering desire had at last surfaced but she
was fairly certain she knew when. It was the moment she realized that aside from Camille
and Grayson, she knew no one in New York. No one would have any expectations of her.
No one would judge her, no one would condemn her. She didn’t have to be proper and
perfect. She could be anyone she wanted to be here. She’d spent her entire life being
who she was supposed to be and doing what she was supposed to do. Not that she didn’t
like being proper and perfect, and she was, for the most part, quite content with
her well-ordered and well-planned life, but just once (and really, could anyone ask
for more than just once?), just once she wanted to be anything but the eminently respectable
Lady Hargate. It was wicked, she knew that from the start, but somehow now, in a place
where she could be whomever she wished to be, if only for a few days, it did seem
like a wickedness one could be forgiven for. It was just once after all.

It wasn’t as if it had been her intention to fall into the bed of the first attractive
man she’d met. No indeed. Such an idea hadn’t even crossed her mind. Unfortunately,
this was the sort of thing that happened when one didn’t have a solid plan. She had
simply decided to seize whatever opportunity for adventure presented itself, fully
expecting that would be no more significant than an unescorted visit to a museum or
a solitary walk in a park. Perhaps it would be nothing more than the purchase of a
daring new hat or a gown that was more revealing than was approved of in London society.
Or possibly her adventure might take the form of a dance with a gentleman she had
not been properly introduced to or even a mild flirtation. Thoughts that had inevitably
led directly to the Dresden shepherdess costume.

She would probably have come to her senses about this absurd desire for adventure
if Samuel Russell hadn’t walked into her life and snatched all possibility of rational
thought from her head. But apparently, when one has never had an adventure and is
ripe for one, and one meets the handsome employee of a business associate of one’s
future brother-in-law, and one then willingly dons a revealing gown in the guise of
a Dresden shepherdess for a masked ball, when one doesn’t have a
plan . . .
well? Isn’t a night of rather extraordinary passion with a stranger almost to be
expected?

Now, however, with the clear-mindedness of the approaching dawn, she could see what
a mistake she had made. What a horrifying mistake. Unlike her sisters, Beryl in particular,
she was not, nor had she ever been, a woman prone to adventure. This was not the type
of thing she did. Ever. She would return to England tomorrow and put this incident
in the past where it belonged. And Mr. Samuel Russell along with it.

“Mr. Russell—”

Once again his brow rose.

“Mr. Russell,” she repeated. In spite of their night together, use of his given name
was entirely too, well, personal. “I don’t wish to be rude. And I have no desire to
offend you. Indeed, that is the furthest thing from my mind.”

“Ah, yes, the only thing on your mind is leaving as quickly as possible.” His eyes
narrowed. “Why would I be offended by that?”

“You shouldn’t be,” she said quickly. “It really has nothing to do with you at all.”

“Imagine my relief.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“That is interesting though, as I thought it had a great deal to do with me.” His
voice was a bit harder than was necessary.

Surely he wasn’t annoyed with her? The man had no right to be annoyed but then the
workings of the minds of men had never really made much sense to her.

“No, not at all. Believe me, I would be just as eager to leave if I were with someone
else.” She glanced past him, spotted her shepherdess bonnet on the other side of the
room, and stepped around him to retrieve it. It was silly to put the hat on, but it
would shield her face and perhaps prevent recognition. After all there had been no
fewer than a dozen Dresden shepherdesses at the ball last night and who knew how many
might still be wandering the corridors of the hotel. Even so, she had no idea how
she would respond should she encounter her sister or Grayson. She slipped the bonnet
on her head and then turned back to him. “I know that sounded dreadful and I do apologize
but—”

“But the simple fact of the matter is you cannot wait to be on your way,” he said
in a wry manner. “Understandable, of course, as you do not do this sort of thing.”

“And we scarcely know each other,” she blurted without thinking although it had occurred
to her already. Precisely what made him as much an adventure as a mistake.

“I suspect we know each other better now than we did, oh, say, last night.”

“Nonetheless, we—”

“Let me see.” He paused for a moment. “I met you on Tuesday. Ran into you in the park
on Wednesday—quite unexpectedly I might add. And again on Thursday our paths crossed.
I was beginning to think it was fate.”

“It wasn’t fate,” she said sharply. “The very idea is absurd.”

“And then there you were last night.” He stepped closer and gazed down into her eyes.
“And I have always been fond of porcelain shepherdesses.”

“Nonsense.” She shrugged off his comment but couldn’t tear her gaze from his. “No
man is truly fond of frivolous knickknacks.”

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