For any of my readers who haven’t picked up my House of Pleasure books, I thought I’d spotlight them this week, one each day. Today I’m continuing with the fourth book of the series, Only Seduction Will Do.
Alethea Forsythe has been desperately in love with the Earl of Manning since they first met last summer and although the earl has made it clear he doesn’t return her regard, Alethea fights to keep her dreams of him alive. However, in a moment of despair, she is seduced by a married man and, when she discovers she is with child, fears she is now undone. With her reputation about to be ruined, she has the choice of accepting an arranged marriage to a stranger or taking matters into her own capable hands.
Jack Fitzwilliam, the Earl of Manning, is out enjoying a little Christmas revelry with friends—which ends in a visit to The House of Pleasure. After an unusual encounter there, he winds his way home to discover a late night summons to Miss Forsythe’s home. His evening becomes even more bizarre when the lady in question throws herself on his mercy and begs he take her to wife. At twenty-three, Jack has many more wild oats to sow, but his innate sense of honor will not allow him to shirk the duty of a gentleman.
Radiantly happy, Alethea vows to be an exemplary wife to Jack, however, his acceptance of her proposal comes with its own set of unexpected conditions. In exchange for the protection of his name, Jack vows his marriage to Alethea will be in name only. Desperate to touch her husband’s heart, Alethea battles to win his trust and love. When a trial by fire tests her love and Jack’s honor, will the passion that suddenly blazes between them temper their love or consume them?
“I want to say straight out, Manning, this was not my idea. I gave the girl several options, but she insisted on this course of action.”
The girl? Not his wife, surely. Did Braeton then mean Miss Forsythe? The hairs on the back of his neck snapped to attention and a chill inched its way down his spine. “Do you refer to Miss Forsythe by any chance, my lord?”
“He certainly does, Lord Manning.” A vision of flames swirled around a lovely face as the tall, copper-haired siren marched into the room. Instead of a modest dress of some dull, suitable color, she’d decked herself out in an evening gown of deep maroon that caught the varying shades of red in her hair, complimenting them and emphasizing the pale skin of her breasts and neck. Her breasts, in fact, swelled alarmingly over the top of her gown, disconcertingly like his sister used to wear her gowns until her husband put a stop to it.
Trouble with a capital T.
“Miss Forsythe.” Jack bowed, as perplexed as ever. What was the woman doing here at this time of night, and dressed most inappropriately?
“Lord Manning, I must apologize for this cryptic summons, but I importuned my cousin to send to you upon a matter of utmost importance.” Miss Forsythe twisted her fingers together brutally, until Jack felt tied in knots.
“Utmost importance to your cousin, Miss Forsythe?”
“To me, Lord Manning. Although it will likely touch on both my cousin and her husband as well.” The woman avoided his eyes by moving swiftly toward Braeton. She grasped his arm and leaned toward him, her lips at his ear.
Braeton kept his voice low, though his face acted as an open book. At her first words, he scowled like a vengeful god.
Jack waited for the thunderbolt.
Shaking his head vigorously, the earl drew his brows down almost to his nose. “You will not—”
“My lord, you promised me earlier.” Miss Forsythe’s face had drawn into determined lines. Her voice lowered, power in her indomitable tone. “Do not renege on this, I beg of you.”
Dark brows still lowered, Braeton threw up his hands, paused to collect himself, then turned to Jack. “Miss Forsythe wishes a word with you, Lord Manning.” He shot an angry glance at the lady. “Alone.”
All Jack’s instincts for self-preservation leaped into high alert. Something ill was afoot and he doubted it would be to his liking one whit when it finally came out.
Miss Forsythe stood, demure for possibly the first time in her life, her gaze lowered, her hands clasped primly in front of her. The picture of an obedient woman. And as false as a Newgate penny, he’d be bound.
“I am certain anything Miss Forsythe has to say to me could be spoken in your presence, Braeton.” He shot a look of desperation at the earl. Had the girl conceived some sort of trap to spring on him, compromise him into marrying her? Jack stiffened, then for the first time since he had arrived, he relaxed. Even though unannounced, he was already betrothed. Miss Carlton had now saved him, it seemed. Quid pro quo.
“I believe my cousin wishes to ask a boon of you, Manning.” Braeton’s mouth twisted as though he’d bitten into a lemon. “I am aware of the nature of the request and agree she would want privacy to ask it. I won’t be far if you should need me.” Braeton bowed curtly and left.
More confused than ever, Jack turned his attention back to Miss Forsythe, who swayed slightly from side to side, fidgeting with a lace handkerchief she’d produced from somewhere. Did she expect their conversation to lead to tears?
“Won’t you please have seat, Lord Manning?” Miss Forsythe indicated the chair nearest the fire. She seated herself opposite him. Perched seemed a better word, on the edge of the brown leather chair. “I do thank you so much for attending me at such an inconvenient time.”
“No inconvenience in the least, Miss Forsythe,” Jack said waving a hand of dismissal. He settled back into the chair. “How may I be of service to you?”
She gripped her lace-edged handkerchief in one hand, the other clenched on the chair’s arm. Raising her chin, her deep blue eyes boring into his, she swallowed hard. “Would you marry me, Lord Manning?”
Will this unexpected proposal lead to something more than a marriage of convenience?