The Night she Met the Marquess Preview

A Steamy Regency Romance

About the book

“I want you to pretend to be the woman I am courting.”

Grace would do anything for her best friend. Even pose as an American heiress to meet a man she wishes to avoid. Only, she never expected that her provocative manner would entice him. Or worse, that he would wish to court her.

Devlin Agernon, the Marquess of Anglesey, lives on a knife’s edge. And while his double life of danger could pose a threat to anyone that gets too close, he finds himself unable to resist the only woman who can satisfy his tastes. Until…

Angry to discover that he has been deceived, Devlin demands compensation. Grace is to pretend to be his betrothed and spend time with him whenever he pleases. But with danger lurking in the shadows, she is soon to discover why being too close to Devlin is no different than risking her own life…

 

Prologue


Grace Patterson ran through the dimly lit halls, glancing behind her once, then again, to be certain he was not following her. Seeing no one, her steps slowed until she stood in the middle of the hall, her brows drawn over her eyes, and a curse on her lips.

She leaned against a wall and waited. When several minutes passed and she did not hear anything alarming, she decided to return to the ballroom. As she turned a corner, she saw the very gentleman she had run from.

“Oh, damn it!” she muttered. His back was turned, but as if he could sense her presence, he began to turn.

Grace did not allow him to see her before she turned and ran back the way she had come. Instead of stopping in the hallway as before, she saw a flight of stairs and quickly took it. She arrived in a hallway on the second floor of the Manor, and to ensure she would not be found, she opened the first door she saw and walked into what appeared to be a sitting room, closing the door firmly behind her.

“What are you doing here?” a deep voice asked, and Grace’s head snapped up.

She gasped at the sight before her, and her eyes widened with shock. She had never seen a man naked before, and although the one that stood at the other end of the room was only naked from his waist up, Grace could not help the blush that took command of her cheeks, and the sensual heat that spread through her body.

“Can you not speak?” the man asked, sounding annoyed. He was standing near a table and a chair between two large windows.

“I can,” she replied quickly. His dark brows rose as he waited for her to tell him why she was there.

She was attending a ball, and had been running not out of fear but to get away from Mr. Digby, a man devoid of manners, who had insisted on keeping her company the entire evening. He had even followed her out of the ballroom when she snuck away.

She gazed up at the powerful blue eyes watching from across the room. “I wanted to be alone,” she replied.

His brows furrowed. “And you decided to come here?”

“I did not know I would find anyone here.”

“I am sure you can find another room in this Manor that you can be alone in.” The commanding tone in his voice made her bristle, and she raised a defiant chin at him. She was about to challenge him for ordering her to leave a room that did not belong to him when he moved slightly and she saw blood running down from his shoulder.

“You are hurt,” she said, and his body visibly stiffened while he cast her a blue glare.

“That is no concern of yours,” he returned, picking up a long piece of linen and holding one end with his teeth and pulling. The sound of fabric ripping filled the room, and a sense of danger surrounded Grace, exciting her, which was not appropriate to feel in such a situation.

Any sensible young lady would run, especially one who had just debuted into society, but Grace stepped toward this man. She told herself that he might need help, but the truth was that he was pulling her like lodestone, and she refused to fight any of the urges she was feeling. He was sinfully handsome, his body was perfectly sculpted, and she was exceedingly impulsive by nature.

He was reaching for a liquor bottle when he saw her approach him and stopped. “What are you doing?”

“I thought you might need help.” She did not give him a chance to stop before she added, “I have studied wounds extensively, and if I were not a woman, I would well be on my way to becoming a physician.”

One of his dark brows rose, and his irritation quickly dissolved into amusement. “Have you now?“

“Would you like me to demonstrate my skill?” she asked, holding her hand out for the strip of linen in his hand.

Wordlessly, he stepped closed and handed it to her. Now that he was close enough, she could see that the wound was a stab on his trapezius, and she wondered how he got injured and who had done it. Supposing he would not tell her if she asked, she decided to help him, and perhaps get to know him as she did.

“I have not been able to stop the bleeding,” he confessed.

“That is because the cut is quite deep and about an inch long. You might need to find a physician to stitch it.” She looked up at him. “It would help you heal faster and also lessen the chance of the wound getting infected.”

His eyes held hers for a while, and the heat she had felt earlier returned, flooding her senses. “Can you stitch?” he asked. His question told Grace that he did not want his wound discovered, which subsequently suggested that whatever he had been doing was wrong. She did not want to think that she might be helping a criminal but she could not walk away now that she saw that he would not be able to properly tend to his wound himself.

“Yes,” she replied, feeling a little breathless under his gaze, “but we have to find something—"

“I have everything we need.” He pointed at a small wooden box on the table beside him, and there were sewing items inside. Grace looked around them, noticing a bloodied paper knife on the table beside the box, and pieces of linen that had been ineffective in staunching his wound.

“Where did you find the linen and sewing items?” she asked, folding the cloth in her hand and pressing it to his wound, carefully at first, and when he did not flinch, she applied more pressure.

He gestured toward the other end of the room. “I was fortunate enough that someone had left their embroidery.”

“You are even more fortunate that I came when I did,” she murmured.

“Is that so?” He smiled roguishly. When she nodded, he asked, “Do you consider yourself my savior now?”

“Indeed, I do.” When he grinned, Grace nearly stopped breathing for how charming he looked.

“Are you a scoundrel pretending to be a gentleman?” she asked, more curious about him than she had earlier been.

“Perhaps.” His mouth curved slyly, and he sat in a chair so she could better tend to him.

When she was sure she could clean the cut without blood interfering, she removed the cloth and picked up a bottle of liquor. Then she looked up at him, and whispered, “Hold your breath.”

He inhaled but kept his gaze on her. Grace was a little nervous for him when she began to pour the liquor into his shoulder. Every other muscle on his body tensed, and he cursed.

She found a needle from the box and held it to the flame of a candle on the same table for a short while, then she threaded the needle and leaned over his shoulder again. “Do you want to bite down on something?” she asked, wishing for him to be comfortable.

“No, I do not,” he replied tensely. “And please, do not dally.”

Grace did not respond as she gently pulled the skin together and began to stitch. For several minutes, her attention was entirely on her task, and she felt incredibly triumphant when she straightened to look down at her handiwork.

She smiled at him and murmured, “You shall live,” before she took the other strip of linen to bind his shoulder with.

“Thank you,” he said.

“You are welcome.” Their eyes held for a moment, and Grace had to remind herself that she had not finished her task. He raised his arm for her to run the strip under twice. After making a small knot, she found another cloth and cleaned the rest of the blood that had run down his chest.

“Tell me, how did you manage to get stabbed at a ball?” she asked.

“I was attempting to steal a kiss.” The seductive note in his voice raised her head to see the hunger behind his gaze.

Her mouth and throat suddenly grew dry, and she swallowed. “From who?”

“A lovely red-haired woman with a commendable skill in mending wounds.” He gently took her elbow and drew her onto his lap. Tucking a finger under her chin, he drew her face down to his.

Grace’s blood began to pound fiercely with desire, and she closed her eyes, waiting for and anticipating the moment their lips would touch. She had been enamored with him from the instant she saw him, and she believed a kiss would be the reward for both her effort and patience.

He lightly brushed his lips against hers, electrifying her, before properly kissing her. His mouth was firm but gentle against hers, and his tongue caressed her lips before slipping between them. Grace was unable to help the little moan that made its way out of her throat, and she shifted slightly on his lap, yearning for more.

One of his arms circled her waist, while his other hand caressed the back of her neck, tickling her senses. Grace absently held his shoulders, then clutched them, and he hissed, biting her lip. The pleasure that made her heart pound faster and the region between her thighs quivering was as unexpected as it was thrilling.

He stilled, then broke the kiss to look at her, surprise in his eyes. “You found that enjoyable, did you not?” he asked. She nodded, and he immediately returned his lips to hers, biting her again. He nipped her skin as his mouth moved from her lips, down her neck, and to her chest. She arched her back, inviting him to do more, but he slowed, and she groaned in protest. He raised his head to look at her, his eyes burning.

“Are you married?” he asked, and she shook her head. “And you are not a widow?”

She shook her head again, and said, “This is my first season.”

He closed his eyes as if he regretted kissing her. “You should go if you would like to keep your virtue.”

His words forced Grace to think. She might have been from the merchant class but she had to marry well like a proper lady, and she would undo everything her father had done to give her a good season if she was caught with this man, whom she knew nothing about. She rose from his lap and straightened her dress, her body still craving what she had just been introduced to.

Grace wanted to linger, but she had to do what was right even though she had spent most of her childhood doing the wrong things. “You should see a physician despite what I have done,” she said.

“I will consider it,” he muttered, gaining his feet and reaching for his shirt. “I thought you were leaving,” he added when she did not move.

“I am.” She turned and walked to the door. Before she opened it, she thought she could not leave without saying more, thus, she turned. “That was a pleasure.”

“Indeed,” he purred, a devilish grin spreading across his face.

Grace opened the door and walked out, wondering if she had made the right decision.


Chapter One

Two Years Later

Grace groaned and closed her eyes, cursing as the knock came. “Now, what does she want?” she muttered to herself.

“May I come in?” her older sister, Natalie, asked from the other side of the door.

“Yes!” Grace called, then sighed and set down the chisel she was holding. She was in her workroom on the topmost floor of their townhouse on Broad Street, where she carved small delicate things out of wood. She was rarely disturbed here, and it was never a good thing when her sister sought her out.

Natalie opened the door and walked in with a cup of milk on a small tray. “Bertha said you wanted some milk, and I took the liberty of bringing you some.” She set it down on Grace’s work table beside a block of mahogany.

Grace regarded her warily and patiently waited for her to tell her what she wanted because a good gesture from Natalie was hardly what it seemed.

“Why do you gaze at me so strangely?” Natalie asked.

“I want to know why you are being courteous toward me. Is there something you want?”

It had been a decade since their mother died of a mysterious illness, and during the long years that followed her death, Grace had learned, in a rather difficult way, that her sister had no love for her. Thankfully, she had a doting father, who she did all she could to never disappoint, including walking away from the pleasure she knew she would never find again in her life.

“Must I want something to bring you some milk?” Natalie asked sweetly, walking around the table. She reached for a jewelry box that had just been painted, and Grace’s hand shot out to stop her.

“The paint is yet to dry,” she explained.

“My apologies,” Natalie said, stepping back with a slight smile before pursing her lips and regarding Grace expectantly. “I wanted to ask if I could wear your blue dress.”

Grace knew she wanted something, and she asked, “Which of my blue dresses? I have several.”

“The pale-blue velvet.”

Grace frowned. “It is new and I am yet to wear it, and you ruined the last dress I gave you with mud when you went walking in the park.”

Natalie’s smile faded. “Bertha cleaned the dress.”

“Yes, but the dress is no longer white,” Grace retorted.

“So you will not give me your blue dress?” Natalie asked as though she had heard nothing of what Grace had just said.

Sighing, Grace shook her head and explained. “I never wore my white dress before I gave it to you, and I am afraid this one would suffer the same fate. Perhaps I will give it to you when I have worn it.”

Her sister’s gaze turned into a glare. “That is very selfish of you, Grace.”

“No, I think you are the selfish one here.”

“Saying that to me was a mistake!” Natalie picked up a bird figurine and threw it on the floor. The head broke off and rolled down the wooden floor.

Grace dove to catch it but she was too slow and it rolled beneath the cupboard where she stored paint and her tools. She had been working on that delicate crane for a week because once completed, she would be able to sell it for a good price. Now it was ruined, and it twisted her heart.

Her father’s business was not doing well, and she no longer had any hope of marrying a nobleman because most of them wanted a wife with a fortune, or a title, or both, and Grace had none. She was making some money from the ornaments she carved, which she hoped would aid her to get the independence she had always wanted.

She straightened and stared at her sister, disbelief amalgamating with pain. “Is this what you wanted to do when you decided to come here? Make matters difficult for me?” she asked.

Natalie rolled her eyes. “I would not have done that if you had not angered me. You did this.” She folded her arms across her chest. “Besides, it looks like it was carved by a child.”

“That is because it is unfinished!” Grace defended, her ire rising. She disliked encounters like this with her sister because it further eroded their tenuous relationship, and pushed Grace’s emotions to levels she did not want them to be.

“It does not matter,” Natalie smirked. “What woman hoping to marry well trades? And woodwork, too. I would not be surprised if you become a spinster, for no man would want to marry a carpenter.”

“At least, I am doing something with my life,” Grace retorted.

“Father has worked very hard so we can be genteel women,” Natalie reminded her.

“But we are not, Natalie, and might never be. Have the last social seasons taught you nothing?” Grace was angry now. “Our father is not a gentleman, and the ton only sees us as the daughters of a merchant.”

“Perhaps that is what the ton makes of you but I am an accomplished genteel woman.”

Yet she had been unable to find a husband despite all those shiny accomplishments, and Grace told her. “Return your expectations to reality, Sister. Being a virtuoso at the pianoforte or embroidering Kensington Garden onto a piece of linen will not get you a husband from the Beau Monde.”

This angered Natalie, and she caught Grace’s sleeve. In the struggle to free herself, Grace knocked down another piece from the table, and the tray holding her cup of milk followed. The cup broke and milk pooled on the floor, while the wooden box with paint that was yet to dry stained the floor. 

This was the most Grace had lost in her sister’s hands but she also held herself responsible because she could have sent Natalie away before this occurred.

“What is going on there?” came their aunt, Ranora Jameson’s voice. “Grace?”

Natalie grinned, then called, “Grace ruined the floor!”

“That is not true, Aunt Ranora!” Grace denied it as their aunt appeared in the doorway. This entire situation was ridiculous, but Grace knew she would not win even before her aunt spoke.

“What did you do to your sister, Grace?” Ranora asked. She was a tall, slender, and straight-laced woman who never saw any wrong that Natalie did.

Natalie spoke before Grace could. “I brought her some milk, and she threw it down.”

“Grace, how could you?” Ranora reprimanded as Natalie moved to stand beside her. “You are coming downstairs with me to explain this to your father.”

“Explain what to me?” their father, William Patterson, asked as he appeared behind Ranora.

“Your daughters are fighting again, and it is Grace’s fault,” Ranora told him.

His green eyes moved from Grace’s face to Natalie’s before he said, “Have this place cleaned. Grace, follow me.” He turned and walked down the hall.

She could hear Natalie giggling behind her as she left the room, following her father down the stairs and to his study. He held the door open for her and closed it behind him when he walked in after her.

“What happened?” he asked, going to sit behind his large oak desk. Grace told him everything that had occurred, including their argument about their inability to find husbands.

William sighed and motioned for her to sit. She did, and he leaned forward with his arms on his desk, linking his fingers. “I am aware of your sister’s unfair treatment of you, and so I have spoken many times to her about it.”

“But she never listens,” Grace finished for him. Natalie believed their father did not love her, and their aunt agreed with her.

“I want you to be a little more patient with her. I am hoping she marries this season—” he paused and watched Grace for a moment. “I want you to marry this season, too.”

“What if I do not find a husband, Papa?”

“I will do all I can to help you find one.”

Grace nervously sucked in her lips. She was slowly losing hope of marrying because she still thought of the kiss she had shared with that scoundrel two years ago. She wanted a man who would please her, and she doubted a gentleman was as versed in the art of pleasure as that scoundrel. He might not truly be a scoundrel but it was what she had always thought of him as.

Grace had not seen him again after she left him in the sitting room, and the following day, her family had traveled to London to participate in the social season. She often wondered if he remembered her.

“Papa,” she said slowly, studying her father’s expression.

“Yes?” His dark brows rose.

“What if I no longer have the desire to marry?” She toyed with a loose thread of her dress as she spoke because she knew he would not be pleased by the question. Marrying well was all he had ever wanted for her and her sister.

“I will need you to elaborate, Grace,” he said.

“You have seen the ornaments I craft, and many buy them for good sums. I could be independent and live off my craft.”

William held out his hand to her from across the desk and she took it. “Everything I do is so you do not have to work for a living, Grace. I know that my businesses have not been doing very well for the past year but I am seeking an investor. We have a good house, and you and Natalie have decent dowries. I want you under a respectable gentleman’s care, and women in society do not trade.”

Grace did not agree with him but out of consideration for her father, she decided not to argue. Meanwhile, she would continue crafting and selling ornaments at Mr. Gardener’s shop. No one knew the ornaments were made by a woman, and after every sale, Mr. Gardener sent her share to her, which was seventy percent. She could keep everything if she had her own shop but her father would never allow it.

“We have an invitation to a ball and I have several gentlemen in mind that I would like to introduce you to,” he said. “Promise me you will accept their courtship.”

“You know I cannot make you that promise, Papa,” she protested.

“I am sure you will find a gentleman that suits your requirements out of the seven I will introduce you to.”

“I—"

A knock at the door interrupted them, and her father answered. The butler opened the door and walked in, bowing and announcing. “A Mr. Mills and a Miss Mills are here, Sir. I have shown them to the receiving room.”

Grace leaped from her chair. “Melanie is here?”

“Yes, Miss,” the butler, Fletcher, replied.

“Show them to the drawing room.”

Melanie Mills was her dearest friend, and Grace had not been expecting her, especially because she was from America and did not visit too often. Nevertheless, she was supremely excited and hurried out of the room to meet them. When she entered the receiving room, Melanie jumped up from the chair she was sitting on and ran into Grace’s arms, squealing with delight.

“Manners, Melanie,” Mr. Phillip Mills admonished, and Melanie pulled away from Grace.

“We are just very glad to see each other, Father,” Melanie said.

“Good day, Mr. Mills,” Grace greeted with a sheepish smile, and Phillip nodded pleasantly but condescendingly, too. Like her father, he was a merchant and he had recently invested in the coal factory that William was building, but he was extremely wealthy, more than the lords prancing about London, and never hesitated to show it.

Grace led them to the drawing room, and her father joined shortly afterward. After exchanging greetings, he led Phillip out of the room, leaving Grace and Melanie alone.

“You did not tell me you were coming,” Grace said. “When did you arrive?”

“Yesterday afternoon. I wanted to surprise you.” Melanie grinned, her green eyes sparkling.

“Well, you have. Tell me you will be staying for a while.”

“We will be staying for the entire Season because Father wants me to marry a titled gentleman, preferably a duke or a marquess.” Melanie shook her head as she spoke, her blonde curls bouncing about her face. “He and your father are too alike.”

“That is why they are good friends,” Grace agreed. “Papa and I were talking about marriage when you arrived. He still wants me to marry a gentleman. He no longer dreams of a title which I suppose is good.” Grace stood to ring the bell before returning to her seat.

Melanie took her hands and held them tightly, the gleam in her eyes brightening. “I have so much to tell you, Grace.” She glanced at the door and lowered her voice. “Things I could not put in a letter.”

Grace’s eyes widened and she leaned closer to her friend. “Did you meet someone and fall in love?”

Melanie shook her head. “I am not sure I am in love but I tasted pleasure. True pleasure, Grace, and I want to marry that man.”

That was Grace’s dream, too, and the image of the man she kissed was pulled from her memories. “Who is he?”

“His name is Sam, and I met him in Boston in the winter. I did not give him my name because I was afraid he would tell someone what we did. Father thinks I agreed to come to England to marry the man he chooses for me, but I came to find Sam.” Melanie squeezed Grace’s hand. “I need your help, Grace.”

“You want me to help you find him?” Grace asked, unsure how she could find the man when she had never seen him before. She and Melanie had once imagined passionate encounters with strangers and talked about not giving their names unless the men wished to court them. It was interesting how they had now both had the experience they imagined. They were alike in many ways, and they had first bonded over the loss of their mothers, although Melanie’s mother had died of consumption when Melanie was only four.

“No, I can find him myself,” Melanie replied. “You see, Father has arranged for me to meet the Marquess of Anglesey and perhaps marry him if we are compatible. I do not want to see him—”

She stared at Grace with wide, pleading eyes, and Grace immediately knew what she was asking of her. “You want me to meet him in your stead,” she said.

“Yes, and gain his disapproval to ensure he never wishes to marry me,” Melanie explained.

“I look nothing like you, Melanie,” Grace pointed out.

“He does not know what I look like, and you can speak the way I do. Remember all the practice we had trying to speak like each other?”

Grace laughed at the memory. They had been friends for seven years, and although Grace had never visited America, Melanie traveled to England every year to see her. They mimicked each other’s accents, and Grace was quite good. She still was not sure it was wise to pretend to be her friend.

“Grace, please,” Melanie implored, her eyes misting. “I cannot marry anyone else.”

Grace could sympathize with her because she was in the same situation. She had tasted pleasure from a man and lost him. She still searched for him at every social event, and if she could find him, she would continue what they had begun. If she saw him again, she would not walk away from him. However, Melanie’s plan was bad, and she did not want to risk her reputation.

“What if he sees me at a social event, or has seen me before?” Grace asked.

“I doubt he knows that I arrived in England just yesterday. You can tell him you have been in town for a while.”

Grace shook her head and stood because the whole idea made her uneasy. “There has to be another way, Melanie. This is dangerous for both of us.”

Melanie grasped her hand and her eyes began to fill with tears. “My father is adamant to have me marry a nobleman. You are bolder than me, and you can deter the Marquess much better than I ever could. I implore you, Grace. Help me.”

“Melanie…I cannot.” It pained Grace to say that, and she winced when a tear fell down her friend’s cheek.

“I know what I am asking you is difficult, and I wish I did not have to.” Melanie sniffled. “This is my only chance to find love.”

The mention of love made Grace shut her eyes for a moment before returning to sit beside Melanie. Her friend had dreamed of finding love since they were young, and Grace’s need to help her grew. What if this was Melanie’s only chance?

“Very well,” she conceded, and trepidation circled her like a bird of prey. There were a hundred ways this could go wrong, and it was impossible to know which of them was worse than the other. 

Chapter Two

Devlin Redmond, the Marquess of Anglesey, stepped into Redmond Manor after an eventful day, hoping to go straight to his chambers to rest. However, the sight of the housekeeper and his grandfather’s valet talking in hushed whispers told him it was not to be so.

There was a grave air about them that alarmed him, and he immediately asked, “Where is the Duke?”

The housekeeper exchanged a look with the valet before she said, “The physician just left, My Lord.”

“His Grace is unwell,” the valet, Evans, said what Devlin had already guessed. There was something behind Evans’ expression that he was unable to comprehend, and that deepened his consternation.

“He was fine this morning,” he muttered.

“The fever came suddenly, My Lord,” Evans explained.

Devlin immediately took the stairs, two at a time, to his grandfather’s chambers. He entered the chambers and found his grandfather beneath a mountain of covers, his face pale as a ghost’s in the dimly lit room, and he was shivering. Julius Redmond’s health had been declining in the past year, which was expected in an eighty-year-old man, and every time he fell ill, Devlin feared the worst.

“Grandfather,” he said, sitting on the bed. This was the palest he had ever seen him, and his insides sunk.

Julius groaned weakly and opened his eyes. “Dev, is that you?”

“Yes, Grandfather. Do not strain yourself by speaking.”

“No…there is…something…that I must…” Julius paused to take a long, labored breath before continuing, “tell you.”

“You do not have to tell me now,” Devlin said. “Please rest.”

His grandfather gave a slight shake of his head, and Devlin understood. Julius was not sure how long he had left. Devlin shut his eyes as dread tensed his body. His father and older brother, Eugene, had been taken from him four years ago, forcing him to inherit a title he had never been prepared for. He was not ready for another loss and the burden of another title. 

His grandfather’s sudden coughs interrupted his thoughts, and Devlin quickly helped him up and placed several pillows behind him to keep him upright. Every sound that came out of Julius rasped against Devlin’s composure, and he considered calling the physician back.

However, the coughs subsided after a short while, and Devlin gave him some warm tea, which was on a tray on the nightstand to drink. Julius sighed after drinking enough and raised a trembling hand to point at an end table on his left. “There is…something there…a sheet. Bring it to me.”

Devlin stood and walked around the bed to the table. He picked up the sheet and glanced down at it to see a list of names, female names. His jaw hardened because he was already guessing what his grandfather’s request would be. Nevertheless, he took the sheet to him and sat.

“The years are against me, Dev,” Julius began, and the tea seemed to have restored him somewhat because he spoke easier now. “I am not afraid of death, but I will have one very grave regret if I die now.”

“What would that regret be?” Devlin asked carefully.

“The Redmond bloodline is not secure. I want you to marry so you may have an heir. This is my final wish, Dev.”

Devlin glanced at the list on Julius’ lap. “I suppose this is the list of ladies you want me to consider marrying?”

“Yes.” Julius covered his mouth with a handkerchief and coughed.

Devlin knew he would have to marry someday but now was not the time. His profession ensured he would be placing a woman in danger if he married now. Of course, he understood his grandfather’s concerns and respected them.

“I will marry, Grandfather,” he said quietly, “but not now.”

The corners of Julius’ mouth fell. “What prevents you from marrying now?”

Devlin could not reveal the reason to him, and he sighed. “I am seeking the right woman.”

“Are you even looking?” Julius’ tone was a little forceful, and Devlin’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes, I am, and no woman has managed to capture my interest.” He raised a hand when he saw that his grandfather was going to protest. “I want a woman I am compatible with. You were miserable in your marriage to my grandmother, and I will not suffer the same.”

“There is an heiress on the list,” Julius suggested weakly. “Miss Mills.”

“I have more money than I know what to do with, Grandfather, and so do you.” He wanted this conversation to be over.

“Gaining more wealth would benefit the coming generations.”

“I do not—"

Julius clutched his chest and began to cough again. Devlin wrapped an arm around his grandfather’s shoulders until the convulsions mellowed. When he released him, he saw something white, like powder, on the sleeve of his black coat. Devlin stared curiously at Julius, noticing an oddness in his pallor that he had not seen before, which made him suspicious.

Devlin went to light the rest of the candles in the room. “What are you doing?” Julius asked after he had lit four candles on a candlestick that held six, and Devlin could hear a nervous note in his voice.

“I need better illumination to see the names on the list you gave me,” Devlin replied, lighting more candles before returning to sit beside his grandfather on the bed.

“Why are you staring at me like that?” Julius asked, blinking and swallowing as if he had been caught doing something he should not be doing.

“Say, what is this you have on your face?” Devlin touched his grandfather’s cheek, his fingers collecting the powder he had noticed before.

“Medicine,” Julius said, sounding positively defensive.

Raising his finger to his nose, Devlin sniffed the sweet-smelling powder, and something angry immediately began to stir inside him. “You never saw a physician, did you?”

A guilty look passed over Julius’ wrinkled face. “Let me explain.”

Devlin shot to his feet and turned toward the door. His grandfather’s sickness had been a lie to get him to agree to take a wife, and he was furious because he had been afraid the man would die.

“Dev, wait!” Julius jumped from the bed and caught his arm.

“Such vigor for a man who is unwell,” Devlin murmured, looking down at Julius. He would have laughed at the sight of his grandfather if he were not angry. The man was in a nightshirt that stopped at his skinny calves, and his face was ridiculously white, matching his feathery white hair which pointed in every direction.

Devlin turned and continued toward the door but Julius ran around him to block his path. “You must listen to me. This is the only way I can be sure you will marry.”

“By pretending to be ill?” Devlin asked incredulously.

“Oh, Dev, my boy,” Julius sighed. “Nothing less can get through your unyielding mind.” He smiled sheepishly and waved a hand. “I had to be creative.”

“Unbelievable,” Devlin whispered, walking around Julius to open the door. Someone stumbled into the room and Devlin quickly stepped sideways to avoid being run into. Sam, his adopted brother, smiled stupidly as he caught himself and tugged down his waistcoat.

“Were you eavesdropping?” Devlin asked.

“Er…no. I was listening so I could call the physician if Grandfather’s condition—” Sam’s eyes widened and he sucked his lips in. “I sound stupid, do I not?”

Devlin closed his eyes for a moment. “You arranged this with him,” he stated, and Sam nodded. “Evans and Mrs. Hopper, they knew too, did they not?” Sam nodded again. Their expressions had been genuine.

“We had to do this to help you,” Julius insisted. Devlin opened his mouth to speak but his grandfather quickly said, “I will disinherit you if you do not consider the women on the list.”

Devlin raised a brow. “You expect me to take you seriously after this nonsense?”

“You will thank me one day. I hope I live long enough to see that day.”

Sighing, Devlin decided to oblige his grandfather. He would not marry until he was ready, but he had to ensure he would not be disturbed or tricked again. “I will meet the women on your list, but if I find myself incompatible with any of them, I will retreat, and you will not trouble me again.” Devlin was sure the women would not suit him because he had very specific tastes.

Julius grinned, his blue eyes sparkling impishly. “We have an accord.” He held his hand out and Devlin shook it, getting some powder on his fingers.

“How much of this thing did you use?” Devlin asked as Julius thrust the list into his hand.

“A lot,” Sam answered. Shaking his head, Devlin left the room, and he followed him. “Dev, I must tell you that I tried to discourage him but he would not listen.”

“I know.” Devlin was no longer angry, only mildly annoyed. He walked down the hall to his chambers.

“Do you mean what you said about considering the women?” Sam asked.

Devlin opened the door and walked into his sitting room. “Yes. I will call upon their homes but I will not spend more than five minutes.”

“Five minutes is not enough to establish any compatibility.” Sam Anand was adopted by Julius seven years ago, and Devlin considered him his brother even though he was Julius’ ward, and not his late father’s. His grandfather had found him orphaned and starving in India during one of his travels and brought him back to England.

Their family had faced criticism but the ton came to respect Sam, and now the ladies threw themselves at him, admiring his golden skin and exotic features.

“I know I will not find what I seek in them,” Devlin set the list down on a small table and removed his coat.

“How do you know that?” Sam sat in a chair and inclined his head.

“I just do.” Devlin walked into his bedchamber, then into his dressing room where he set his coat down and proceeded to remove his shirt. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror and the raised scar on his shoulder held his attention. Every time he looked at the scar, he recalled that fateful night in Yorkshire and regretted allowing the woman to leave.

He still saw amber eyes and fiery hair vividly in his dreams, and the passion she stoked in him was as hot and pure as the day he met her. She was a voice from his past that could echo for eternity if he allowed it. Devlin had not seen her again after that night, and he had left England days later to spend a year in Prussia.

The social season had ended when he returned, and because he never got her name, he had no way of finding her. As he did every time thoughts of her rose to the surface, he pushed them down and concentrated on the matters before him. He changed his clothes and rejoined Sam, picking up the list.

 He decided he would call upon the lady whose name his eyes found first. Miss Melanie Mills. He wanted to eliminate her first, especially because his grandfather was most interested in her.

Did you like this preview? Please, don't forget to leave me a comment below!

Want to read how the story ends?

The Night she Met the Marquess is now live on Amazon!

  • The story line captured my interest right away. The preview shows a very promising love story. Will surely check it out on Sept 16. Thank you for the preview.

  • Your Prologue is intriguing and had me throughout.
    You lost me a little in Chapters 1 & 2 as I felt some of the dialogue was a little long and over explained, but that having been said I would definitely read this book as it shows great promise.
    I am only making these comments because you requested feedback.
    I wish you well with your launch.

  • Love the preview & am looking forward to the release to what will undoubtedly be a wonderful love story filled with intrigue & perhaps even some humor.

  • Grace is going to weave a tangled web playing
    with the a marquees.
    It a great plot!
    Sounds like a 5 star book to me!

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