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Authors: Victoria Hanlen

The Trouble With Seduction

BOOK: The Trouble With Seduction
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Rebellious, Scandalous, and Irredeemable

Sarah, Lady Strathford is ready for a little harmless frivolity with a man of her own age and her own appetites… surely that’s not too much to ask! After the death of her beloved husband years before, Sarah is ready for an adventure… Enter the dashing, roguish – and baffling – Mr Cornelius Ravenhill.

Ravenhill, however, is not the gentleman he seems, and soon Sarah finds herself battling against the corrupt and harsh world around her as it threatens to destroy all she holds dear. The question is, will her seduction at the hands of Mr Ravenhill prove to be her savior or her downfall?

The Trouble with Seduction

Victoria Hanlen

www.CarinaUK.com

VICTORIA HANLEN

Award winning, historical romance author,
VICTORIA HANLEN
, has worked at a wide range of jobs, from fashion, to corporate business, to treading the boards of stage and professional opera. A lifelong writer, she once put her skills to use in PR and advertising. But the writing she enjoys most is dreaming up stories with happily ever afters. Victoria and her husband live in rural New England surrounded by a host of wildlife. For more, please visit her at:

http://victoriahanlen.com

https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaHanlen

https://www.twitter.com/VictoriaHanlen

Immense gratitude goes to my fabulous editor, Victoria Oundjian, for her patient guidance and for taking a chance on a new author. Many thanks goes to the very talented Carina UK team. You continue to amaze me with your brilliant, creative work.

To Ann Clement, Julia Gabriel, Anna James, Jael Wye, Jamie Beck and Jessica Trapp—thanks for the honesty, laughter and enthusiasm. It’s meant the world to me. I so appreciate the camaraderie and encouragement of the Connecticut Romance Writers of America.

I’m also grateful for my very supportive family. You are my moorings and inspiration.

Most of all, thank you dear reader for choosing to spend a few hours with
The Trouble with Seduction
. I hope Sarah and Damen entertained you.

To my husband.

Contents

Cover

Blurb

Title Page

Author Bio

Acknowledgments

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Epilogue

Excerpt

Endpages

Copyright

CHAPTER 1

London, England, April 1855

Sarah Strathford brushed a pesky curl out of her eye and glanced at the clocks lining the shelves of her elegant boudoir. Their mélange of rhythms had gone from cheerful patter to nettles in her ears. Each tick taunted that her time had once again been appropriated.

Megpeas, her butler, appeared in the doorway. “My apologies, my lady…”

“I know, I know. Is my brother still here?”

“Yes, my lady. He and Lord Lumsley have made themselves comfortable in the parlor.” Megpeas’s stiff mask indicated they’d run roughshod over him again.

Sarah capped her fountain pen, slid her Mission of Mercy’s account ledger into her desk and tried not to frown at her butler. It wasn’t his fault this made the third time this week her brother and his boon companion decided to
pop by
. “Very well, I will see to them now.”

While descending the stairs, Sarah fumed over what this would do to her crowded schedule. Idle hands were the devil’s handiwork, but more importantly, being productive kept her mind from dwelling on uncomfortable subjects.

As a consequence, she did not like surprises. Especially surprise visits from her brother on the pretext of a friendly chat with
his choice
for her next husband. Hopefully, after a polite word or two, she could send them on their way.

When Sarah reached the first landing of the grand, heart-shaped staircase, she paused to gaze at the magnificent rotunda with the larger-than-life statue of David. The sight still took her breath away. Though not as large as Spencer House, Strathford Hall had many of the fine designs and architectural embellishments. Her dear Edward had bought her this lovely Mayfair home.

She breathed in the clean scent of beeswax and proceeded to the parlor door where she stopped again to smooth down the high collar of her black gown and compose herself. The sooner she said her hellos and goodbyes, the sooner she could get back to her list of tasks. She pushed open the parlor door.

Bear-grease pomade hung thick on the air. Her hand slid the short distance from her collar to her mouth to cover her cough.

“My dear, how lovely you look!” Baron Lumsley jumped to his feet, beaming.

Her brother, the Earl of Rollinson, soon followed, all smiles. He and his friend were a mismatched pair, Niles being tall and thin while Lumsley tended toward portly and barely reached his shoulders. Apart from that, their tailors had put them into similar light-colored jackets, plaid trousers and silk waistcoats.

The mirror over the fireplace immediately revealed her mistake.
Heavens!
No wonder they’d got the wrong impression.

Gracie, her lady’s maid, had been in a surprisingly good mood this morning. While she’d jabbered on about a yellow rooster and a donkey, she’d tamed Sarah’s blonde hair and curled ringlets down the sides of her face. The style rather flattered her. Something Sarah had told her repeatedly not to do. Flattering hairstyles, comely gowns and rouge had a way of putting her into all sorts of unwanted situations. Like now.

“Curls complement you, my dear,” Lumsley effused. He took her hand and placed a damp kiss on her knuckles.

He and Niles had been friends since her brother brought him home from Harrow during one of the holidays. From a round-faced youth, Lumsley had grown into a rather medium sort of man: medium height, medium features, medium build. Not bad… not good… just
medium.

His one distinguishing characteristic – his slicked-down, medium-brown hair – had thinned, leaving a bald patch in back. The missing follicles appeared to have decamped to more fertile ground in his abundant muttonchops, which now framed his ruddy cheeks and met in a bristly mustache under his nose.

“How have you been, my lord?” She withdrew her hand and dried it on her skirt.

“Very well, thank you.” Lumsley’s broad grin showed the gap between his two large front teeth. “This may be rather last minute, but we were in the area and hoped you might accompany us to Berkeley Square for an ice at Gunter’s.”

Sarah tried to keep an equable expression as she gazed at her deceased husband’s little mind-puzzler contraptions sitting on the table in front of the sofa. Few guests could resist their allure and Niles and Lumsley had obviously been playing with them while they waited.

“I do appreciate the offer, but I have an appointment.” She almost added that even if she didn’t have an appointment, she couldn’t think of doing anything so spur-of-the-moment. She must place it on her schedule and mentally prepare.

“Ask them to wait until we return,” Lumsley wheedled amiably. “Or better yet, postpone it to another time.”

Sarah idly scratched her knuckles. “I probably shouldn’t.”

Outside, a furious storm of hammering commenced, rattling the parlor’s glass panes. The workmen had finished their noonday meal and with it went the blessed silence. She stepped to the window to see the journeymen tear into Strathford’s burned laboratory.

A whole other species of masculinity strutted below them – muscling heavy timbers and pieces of granite and brandishing large tools – a surprisingly fit lot and quite diverting for a widow of two-plus years.

Such manliness rarely made it into her limited circle of acquaintances… except for, well, the vexatious Mr Cornelius Ravenhill.

“Sit, then, and spend a few moments with us.” Her brother smiled and motioned for her to take a place on the couch next to his friend.

Sarah loved her brother and didn’t want to disappoint him, but it didn’t take a singular intellect to see he wanted her to marry his best friend.

Outside, a loud screech rent the air. She turned back toward the window in time to see a portion of the laboratory’s wall collapse onto Edward’s invention garden.

Lumsley strode to her side and whistled at the sight.

Sarah gazed down, heartsick. With his wonderful genius, her husband had designed a singular garden and populated it with his unique inventions. It had been the embodiment of everything Edward had been.

Three workmen crawled through the plume of dust spewing out of the new opening. Two more rolled wheelbarrows over the shattered memory fountain to shovel up the debris. A broken water pipe, now a small geyser, flooded what was left of the flower bed.

“This renovation appears quite the undertaking, my lady.” Lumsley turned to her brother. “Are you helping your sister with this project, Rollinson?”

“This is
my
project,” she piped up. “The rooms have needed repair for far too long. A blot on the neighborhood, I’ve been informed. I’m rebuilding them to suit
my
interests.”

“And you haven’t helped her, dear boy? For shame,” Lumsley chastised her brother. “She needs a man to control that army of workmen outside.”

“I’d hoped she would have chosen a husband by now.” Niles winked.

Their conversation faded to the background while Sarah considered the situation. As a young woman she’d been isolated and biddable, marrying two staid old men for her father’s convenience and peace of mind.

Lumsley could be an improvement in some respects. He was closer in age, she’d known him for years and he’d certainly fit in well with the family. But he reminded her of cold porridge. Nothing about him drew her. She gazed about Edward’s collection of small inventions and unique clocks working like delicate heartbeats on the shelves about the room.

Not one of them was ordinary or mediocre. Perhaps that was the reason why her husband so disliked him?

“You were always good at organization, Lumsley. Something I’ve admired about you.” Niles gestured to his friend. “He has the impeccable ability to immediately see where things need to be put to rights.” He swept his hand toward Sarah and raised his brows. “He could help you sort out all that rabble outside if you’d give him a chance.”

Her Aunt Eliza’s counsel came back to her. “Have courage, my dear. You are a widow of means, and now have the luxury to find your own happiness.”

How Sarah wanted to take her aunt’s advice. But the day-to-day responsibilities and realities of making her own way had begun to wear. She’d spent most of her adult years as a wife confined to a woman’s sphere. Doubts now crept in, questioning if she’d the fortitude to withstand her family and society’s pressure against remaining an unmarried woman.

She gazed down at the ruined garden and clenched a fist to her stomach. The sight worked on her like a punch to the solar plexus. Self-condemnation tumbled over her like a wave. If she’d been better at managing, Edward’s miraculous invention garden would still be in one piece.

BOOK: The Trouble With Seduction
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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