Authors: Stefanie Sloane
“I do not want to fight with you anymore.”
Nicholas closed his eyes. “But you’ve given me no choice.”
Sophia stared at him, noting the angular cheekbones so much like Langdon’s, and yet
his sun-kissed skin was so very different from his brother’s.
The undeniable sense that she was seeing him for the very first time returned. When
she’d informed Lettie that he was no longer the Nicholas she’d known she’d felt confused.
Now she was curious. And dangerously so.
He opened his eyes, his gaze unreadable.
“There never was a choice,” Sophia finally whispered, captivated by the minute gold
flecks within the sea of umber of his irises. His thick black lashes half lowered
and she felt the force of his gaze as he stared at her mouth for one long, torturous
moment. When his glance lifted to meet hers again, the heat in his eyes seared her
But then he blinked and it was gone.
The Scoundrel Takes a Bride
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events,
locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Ballantine Books eBook Edition
Copyright © 2012 by Stefanie Sloane
The Devil in Disguise
© 2011 by Stefanie Sloane
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Cover design : Lynn Andreozzi
Cover illustration : Alan Ayers
STATE OF THE
“Will this snow
Nicholas Bourne, the second son of the Earl of Stonecliffe, turned to look at Sophia
Afton and rolled his eyes at her question. “Of course it will. This is Sussex, not
Siberia, you ninny.” His words held a depth of exasperation only a nine-year-old boy
“You needn’t be so mean, Nicholas,” Sophia scolded as she tucked a wool throw over
his chilled bare feet. “I am, after all, only eight years old.”
Nicholas returned his gaze to the scene just beyond the frosty glass panes before
him. The butler had reluctantly agreed to move a small sofa nearer to the French doors
so that he might watch his brother, Langdon, and their friend Dash frolic in the downy
cloak of snow that had covered Afton Manor for more than a fortnight.
A stuffiness in his head continued to plague Nicholas despite his fervent prayers
that the Almighty might intervene on his behalf. And this morning Sophia had announced
she would selflessly forgo all outdoor merriment in favor of playing nursemaid to
Clearly, God was punishing him.
“Well, I am older than you,” Nicholas replied in a superior tone, wiping at his nose
with the sleeve of his cotton nightshirt. “And can take care of myself, thank you
very much. Which begs the question, Sophia, why are you here? Shouldn’t you be out-of-doors?
I’m sure Dash and Langdon are missing you.”
A snowball collided with the window, the audible
eliciting a threatening shake of Sophia’s small but determined fist. “That would
have been my face!” she exclaimed, sticking her tongue out as the two boys raced by
outside, their mad grins accompanied by fits of laughter.
“Besides, you should be pleased I decided to stay in today,” Sophia continued. “You’d
never get the rest you need on your own. Mama said so.”
Nicholas adored Sophia’s mother, Lady Beatrice Afton. And he suspected she’d not meant
for Sophia to take her words so closely to heart.
stopped talking. And she’d brought her costumes. There was, in all likelihood, a
play in his future. God
punishing Nicholas. There was no other explanation for his torturous predicament.
He stared at the irksome girl, frustration creasing his forehead. There were so many
like Sophia. But he did like her. Very much so.
“Why are you looking at me like that, Nicholas?”
He focused his stare in earnest. Her neat braids shone in the mid-day aura of wintry
light like his pony’s mane after a good brushing. Her skin reminded him of the cream
the kitchen maids skimmed off the top of the milk each morning.
“Are you going to be sick?”
Sophia’s presence made Nicholas feel odd; uncomfortable and cross, but strangely excited
and buoyant, too.
“Mama just had this dress made for me. She’d be quite upset if you lost your breakfast
all over it.”
His head ached mournfully from the stuffiness and the thinking.
And the talking.
“Shouldn’t you be looking after Langdon? He’s the one you’re going to marry, after
all,” he finally replied.
“Ewwwwww,” Sophia uttered contemptibly, her face twisting with dismay. She sat up
to fuss once again with the thick throw. “Don’t say such things.”
Technically, Nicholas had a point. Shortly after Sophia’s birth, she’d been promised
to Langdon. Oh, not officially. According to Lady Afton, only royalty put such promises
down on paper anymore. Either way, it didn’t make any sense to Nicholas. And it angered
him. Which didn’t make any sense, either.
“But it’s true,” he continued to needle. “One day you and Langdon will be married.
With ten babies—no, twelve babies. I’m sure I heard Langdon say he wanted twelve.”
Sophia’s green eyes grew round with revulsion. “You’re lying, Nicholas Bourne. Tell
me you’re lying!”
“I will do no such thing,” Nicholas countered with indignation, knowing full well
Sophia would take the bait.
She shot up from the damask sofa and bolted toward the drawing room door, stopping
mid-stride and returning to stand in front of Nicholas, arms akimbo and eyes lit with
fury. “I hate you, Nicholas Bourne.” Sophia curled her fingers into a fist and punched
him, landing a stinging blow to Nicholas’s left arm. “And I always will!”
“Promise?” Nicholas fired back, feeling even more quarrelsome and out of sorts.
Sophia stamped her foot in response, letting out a feral growl before turning on her
heels and marching from the room.
“I hate you too, Sophia Afton,” he said under his breath, rubbing his arm’s tender
muscle and wincing. “And I always will.”