Wickedly Yours (The Wickeds Book 4) First Three Chapter

Some wild things want to be tamed…
Lady Arabella Tremaine is in need of rescue. Angry and bitter at her banishment to Wales, she’s agreed to marry for all the wrong reasons; the most important being she loathes her future husband. Unfortunately, the man whose proposal she accepted won’t take no for an answer.

Rowan Grantly, Lord Malden is avoiding marriage, especially to the woman his mother has chosen for him. His tastes run to sour, devious women who favor austere clothing, namely Lady Arabella Tremaine. When Arabella goes missing, it falls to Rowan to retreive the unpleasant woman and bring her back to London.

Arabella is grateful to be rescued, even if it is by Lord Malden a gentleman who she doesn’t particularly care for. And Malden doesn’t like her either. She can’t wait to go their seperate ways. 

Unfortunately once Arabella returns to London she finds herself ruined. 

And betrothed….to Lord Malden.

Wickedly Yours is a sexy, steamy romp through post-Regency England. Book 4 in the Wickeds. 

ONE

Wales would never be her favorite place. Gloomy with a gray cast that never seemed to leave, Wales was full of ill-tempered dark, mysterious folk who glared at her with suspicion and at times open dislike. One of the those being the ancient, deaf cousin that dwelled within the walls of the gray stone edifice of Twinings, the Duke of Dunbar’s far-flung Welsh estate.

All the isolation and lack of sunshine did however give one plenty of time to mull over one’s actions. Assisting in the ill-fated abduction of your sister-in-law, for instance.

Lady Arabella Tremaine, sister of the Duke of Dunbar wandered about the overgrown gardens of Twinings, a letter clutched in one hand as the damp mist of Wales wet her hair and cheeks. The letter was from Arabella’s dearest friend, Lady Miranda Reynolds. Well, no longer Reynolds, for Miranda had married the Earl of Kilmaire in a small wedding nearly a month ago.

A wedding Arabella should have been part of, were she not banished to this pile of ancient stone in the middle of nowhere.

Acid congealed to form a pit of bitterness in Arabella’s stomach. Her hand curled into a fist, half crumpling the letter, as she pressed both against the unwelcome ache. This was what came of protecting her brother from himself. Indignation filled her as well as a spike of jealousy at her friend’s news.

Opening the fine vellum once more, she struggled to read her friend’s words. Miranda’s handwriting was deplorable, nearly impossible to read, but one thing stood out.

‘Your brother gives you leave to return to London for the ball Grandmother is hosting to celebrate my wedding.’

“How lovely of Nick.” She hissed her brother’s name in contempt at a spray of morning glory vine. The vine was clearly struggling to survive in the dank, overgrown garden of Twinings. As was Arabella.

Icy cold rage encased the length of her body at the thought of her brother, His Grace the Duke of Dunbar. Sending her to this prison, to be watched over by a small army of Welshmen, most of whom she couldn’t understand when they spoke. No one lived at Twinings save Cousin Millicent, who was not only deaf but half-mad. Some days Arabella felt as if she were Anne Boleyn or some other tragic figure of history who had been imprisoned unjustly. Well, she had to admit, her imprisonment was not completely without cause.

“All because of Jemma.” A bird flew out from the morning glory vine, terrified at the venom in her voice.

“Arabella? Darling are you out there?” Footsteps sounded on the cobblestone path as her aunt, Lady Cupps-Foster approached. “I’ve received a letter from your brother. It appears your banishment will be short-lived. Thank goodness. While I am a great admirer of the country, I do not care for Wales in the least.”

Poor Aunt Maisy. Stuck here with Arabella for the last few months at Nick’s request to keep her niece out of trouble. As if her aunt didn’t have her own life. Aunt Maisy was the closest thing Arabella had to a mother, since the death of Charlotte Tremaine years ago. Not that Charlotte had been much of a parent. A sour taste settled on her tongue as it often did when she thought of her little-mourned mother. “Has Nick written to me as well?”

The smile on her aunt’s pretty face faltered as she approached. Eyes the color of sapphires were shadowed with apology. “I’m sure Nick thought a letter to me would suffice.” Her aunt tried to smooth over Nick’s rudeness. “He is allowing you to return for Miranda’s wedding celebration. The Dowager Marchioness is hosting herself and the event is planned a fortnight hence to give you and I plenty of time to arrive in London. We must hurry and pack.” Her aunt’s excitement at returning to London was evident as she took Arabella’s arm. “Dearest, do not frown so. You don’t wish to wrinkle. Time enough for such things when you are my age.” Aunt Maisy tugged Arabella in the direction of the house. “Oh, I do so love a wedding celebration, especially one held in honor for our dear Miranda.”

Arabella was put off by her aunt’s easy acceptance of Nick’s reasoning. “He allows me back only for Miranda and no other reason.”

“What difference does it make why he allows you to return to London?” She pulled Miranda close. “Things between you and your brother cannot be mended while you are in Wales. After Miranda’s celebration you will have ample opportunity to apologize for your actions.”

“Nick will never understand that I only sought to protect him from…her. Why could he not have married Miranda as I’d hoped all these years? Grandfather must be spinning in his grave. The very idea that he married a member of the family responsible for my father’s denouncement from society and ultimately his death befuddles the mind. Is it too much to hope that my brother would consider such a thing as he rattles about London?”

Aunt Maisy pursed her lips as if deciding whether to say more. “Your brother has not been in London, Arabella. He’s been at The Egg since his marriage.”

The Egg was the nickname of the Dunbar family seat close to the Scottish border. The estate was nicknamed such because the house was constructed of blinding white limestone, nestled amongst the dark, rocky cliffs that bordered the sea. The impression, as one approached, was of a giant egg in a nest. The Egg was an oddly whimsical name given it was the ancestral home of the most infamous duchy in England. The journey to The Egg was lengthy and the estate isolated. Nick rarely traveled there. He must have wanted privacy for he and his bride.

“It’s a pity Jemma hasn’t tripped and fallen into the sea.” Arabella wasn’t feeling charitable towards the woman her brother married.

Her aunt bit her lip. “Your sister-in-law is with child, several months gone.”

 “Several months?” Arabella chose to ignore the fact that in addition to her other sins, her actions towards Jemma inadvertently endangered an unborn child.

“You will be an aunt.”

 Guilt stung Arabella. She pushed it aside, clinging to the hope that her feelings towards Jemma were justified in some way. “Are we sure the child is Nick’s? After all-”

Aunt Maisy came to a stop, her fingers digging into Arabella’s forearm as she turned to face her. “How dare you.”

Arabella turned away from the vehemence in her aunt’s tone.

“That child is the heir to Dunbar. Should you ever voice such concern in your brother’s presence, Nick may send you away to an even more remote location. Regardless of what you think of Jemma, such a thing in not in her character. I have been assured of the child’s paternity.”

 “I do not,” Arabella sputtered, “understand your acceptance of Nick’s marriage to her. I find it rather appalling.

“Do not make me a liar, Arabella. I have spent my time in Twinings writing your brother letters begging him to forgive your misguided attempt to protect him. I’ve made it clear you did not mean to actually have your brother’s bride abducted by her former suitor and his mother. Jemma was in shock over her father’s treachery. Which, I may add, she is not to blame. Corbett and his mother preyed upon you and manipulated you. At least that is what I’ve relayed to Nick.”

Swayed. Manipulated. Cajoled. While she detested the fact that her anger allowed Corbett to use her in such a way, Arabella still thought her actions somewhat justified. Protecting her brother and the Dunbar honor had motivated her. She still could not understand why Jemma was the woman her brother chose.

“Should you continue down this path, Arabella, you will never have your brother’s forgiveness, nor Jemma’s.”

“I don’t care—”

“You should. The bitterness that has festered for years in your heart finally seeped out and nearly killed an innocent woman. Do you wish to end your days alone with nothing but your anger to warm you? The honor of the Duke of Dunbar is not at stake.” Two spots of color appeared on her aunt’s cheeks. “Your parent’s death was a terrible thing, but your father pulled the trigger ending his life and that of your mother, not Jemma’s nor any other member of the Lord of Marsh’s family. Nick has promised Lord Marsh that not a whisper of what transpired between Marsh’s younger brother and your father shall ever be heard.”

 “Why wouldn’t Nick wish to clear Father’s name? I don’t understand why he wishes to protect the Marsh family from the shame that has haunted ours.”

“Our family’s reputation was infamous long before Jemma’s father arrived to frame yours for treason. More importantly, Nick loves Jemma. He will do anything to protect her, even if it means sending his beloved sister to the other side of the world. It’s best you remember that.” Aunt Maisy tugged her forward. “Come. Nick has instructed Peabody to send the family coach to fetch us. We will have to inform Millicent. Poor dear, she had just gotten used to us being at Twinings and now we are to leave. Perhaps I can convince her to visit us in London.”

“Cousin Millicent hasn’t left Wales in forty years. You are bound to be disappointed.” Reluctantly Arabella allowed herself to be dragged forward. She did so desperately wish to go home.

TWO

Rain dripped down the coach windows as the day turned more gray than usual. The Dunbar coach had arrived exactly on schedule bearing two especially large footmen, a groom and the driver. The footmen Arabella recognized from their original journey to Wales. The young groom was little more than a stable boy named Teddy Mac, an unfortunate lad Nick found picking pockets on the London docks. John, the driver, had driven the duke’s coach for many years. The men, with the exception of Teddy Mac, all bore rather stoic expressions. She couldn’t imagine how dull it was to traipse back and forth to Wales at the whim of the Duke of Dunbar.

Arabella sighed and tucked her feet more firmly against the heated brick beneath her sturdy boots. Warmth wafted pleasurably up her skirts but still she shivered. The journey would take a few days as the coach was in no mad rush to get to London and the weather poor. There would be time to stop and rest the horses, much to Arabella’s relief. Between the damp weather and the condition of the roads, any respite from the coach would be welcome.

Camden, a small town just across the Welsh border was the first stop in their travels. She and Aunt Maisy would spend the night at the Duck and Crow, Camden’s finest inn. Arabella wished desperately for tea and a hot bath.

“I am certain I shall never be warm again.” Her aunt tucked the blanket around her form, shivering as she swaddled herself inside the thick wool.

“Or dry. I don’t know how much longer I can tolerate the feel of my damp skirts. Toadstools could fall out at any moment.” She gave her aunt a weak smile.

“Your mood has improved, niece.” She reached across and patted Arabella’s hands. “I am pleased. Nick has put the past aside and you must as well. I know of the difficulties you’ve faced. The Devils of Dunbar have faced our infamy head on. Really, who believes in witches and such in this day and age? The old tales only give the ton something more to gossip about.” Aunt Maisy sighed. “But, I was young once too. All the notoriety is much worse for we women and I know the stink of treason has made things challenging. Everyone’s path is fraught with difficulty of some sort. I’ve had my own share.”

Sometimes Arabella forgot Aunty Maisy had endured more than most women her age. Widowed three times, her aunt’s first two husbands perished at young ages, leaving her a young mother with two sons to raise. Spencer Hammond, Baron Kelso was Arabella’s eldest cousin. Spence was currently in India doing…something. Arabella was never clear on exactly what Spence involved himself in other than she had a vague notion he worked for the government in some capacity. Brendan, the Earl of Morwick was Aunt Maisy’s other son, as wild and mysterious as the moors from which he hailed in the Dark Peak district of England. Unfortunately, Brendan’s father disappeared while hunting shortly after his son’s birth. It was assumed that the previous Earl of Morwick had fallen into one of the numerous caves that dotted the moors and perished. Aunt Maisy waited seven long years before he was declared dead. Brendan rarely traveled to London. Lord Cupps-Foster, Aunt Maisy’s last husband produced no issue. He died a week after the wedding. Though she was still beautiful and enormously wealthy, no man in his right mind would court Aunt Maisy. Cursed, the ton claimed.

“I forget sometimes, aunt, that you have survived much and yet still smile.”

“Your heart loves where it wishes, even if that love is not perfect. Proper. Expected.” Aunt Maisy’s eyes grew shadowed. “Your brother has found that which he cannot live without. You will understand one day.”

The coach bounced, springs creaking as they rounded a bend in the road and slowed, finally coming to a halt.

Arabella peeked out the window. Another coach blocked the road to Camden. Smaller and shabbier than the Dunbar coach, it nonetheless was large enough so that they could not go around. “The road is blocked with another vehicle. I see no passengers outside and the coach bears no crest. Perhaps it is a mail coach bound for London.”

Aunt Maisy’s brow wrinkled. “I do hope you’re correct, although I’m thankful we’ve these two strapping footmen at our disposal. I did wonder what Peabody was thinking when I first spied them since both men are a bit rough looking to be in service.”

Arabella didn’t answer. She found neither footman to be someone Peabody would hire unless her brother Nick instructed the butler to do so for both were large and muscular with the build of pugilists. And neither wore the Dunbar livery well, something Peabody was a stickler for.

Seagraves, the larger of the two was exceedingly polite, though his manners were a bit rough. He had taken especially good care of Aunt Maisy since leaving Twinings, asking several times if she was comfortable or if he could fetch her another blanket. The attitude of the other footman, Barker, left much to be desired. Barely civil, his insolent gaze had followed Arabella’s every move as she settled herself for the journey. As soon as she and Aunt Maisy arrived in London, Arabella planned to tell Peabody to fire the man.

The coach door opened revealing the red-cheeked face of John, their driver.

“John,” Aunt Maisy greeted him. “Is there no way around?”

“No, my lady. The coach appears abandoned for I see no driver or any passengers. Perhaps they’ve walked to Camden for help, though the horses appear to be fine.” A look of worry entered his eyes. “I’m sure it’s nothing, my lady, but I’ll have Seagraves and Barker move the coach off the road while I inspect the vehicle for damage. Teddy Mac will stay here with you and the horses.” He bowed. “Camden is only another hour and we’ll be there well before nightfall.”

“Very good.” Her aunt sat back with a plop. “I long to be out of this coach and before a fire.”

John closed the coach door and Arabella could hear him speaking to Seagraves and Barker.

“I agree.” The chill and dampness had sunk into Arabella’s bones and she longed to be before a warm hearth where she could discreetly lift her skirts.

A violent lurch rocked the coach. One of the horses shrieked in fright. John called for Teddy Mac just before a large thud sounded as if a body hit the muddy road.

Arabella met Aunt Maisy’s horrified eyes.

“Surely,” her aunt whispered, “no one would dare rob the coach of the Duke of Dunbar. It’s unheard of.” Boots crunched outside and moved closer to the coach.

“Someone does dare.” Arabella threw off her blanket and reached underneath the seat where a compartment held a brace of pistols. Arabella knew how to shoot a pistol, though she doubted she’d have time to load either weapon. Hopefully the thieves who’d stopped the coach wouldn’t realize that.

The door to the coach was flung open to reveal Seagraves, unharmed. “I’m sorry, my lady.”

“Oh, Seagraves”. Aunt Maisy placed a hand on her throat in relief. “What is the matter? It sounded like something happened to the horses. What—” Aunt Maisy’s words dissolved into a gasp of outrage as the footman shoved his massive form into the coach. He settled next to her, pinning her smaller body against the squabs, the breath of his shoulders straining the Dunbar livery as he blocked her aunt’s movements.

 “Don’t fuss so, my lady. I don’t wish you to hurt yourself.” His mouth drew down mournfully. “Nor do I wish to hurt you.”

Aunt Maisy began to pummel Seagraves back with her fists, like a small child trying to move a boulder. The scene would have been ridiculous were the situation not so serious.

We’re being robbed. Seagraves and Barker are part of it.

Arabella’s fingers clawed at the compartment, desperate to pull out the pistols, but Seagraves stuck a booted foot against the opening. He shook his head. “Don’t.” He grunted. “I’ve no wish to hurt you either, my lady.”

“Shut her up.” Barker opened the door and jerked his chin in Aunt Maisy’s direction. “Or I’ll gag her.”

Seagraves immediately placed one meaty paw across Aunt Maisy’s mouth silencing her. Her aunt’s eyes peered over his hand, eyes wide with affront.

Barker turned to Arabella. “Let’s go, my lady.” He sneered the words. Wrapping his blunt fingers around both her wrists, he pulled her towards him with little effort.

Her ankle caught on the brick, tearing her skirt. Arabella instantly regretted not grabbing the brick instead of trying for the pistols. She could have lobbed the hot piece of stone at Barker’s head. Twisting and kicking, she screamed. “Your life isn’t worth a farthing. My brother will see you dead for daring to touch us.”

Barker’s lips twisted, in what she thought was an imitation of a smile. She noticed he was missing two teeth, and another was broken.

“He’s got to find me first.”

“Ow.” Seagraves muttered as her aunt bit his fingers. He removed his hand from her mouth long enough for Aunt Maisy to order him to release her. “Let me out. Let me out this instant.” She slapped at the back of his neck, as she attempted to escape.

“My lady,” Seagraves growled. “Please be still. If you bite me again, I’ll have to tie you up. He held up a dirty length of rope in one hand.

Aunt Maisy’s eyes bugged at the sight of Barker dragging Arabella out the door. “No! Leave her alone, you filthy mongrel.” Her aunt struggled to grab hold of Arabella’s cloak.

Barker shot Seagraves a pointed look and tossed him a scrap of cloth. “Gag her. Now. We’re far enough from Camden but we can’t afford to let anyone chance upon us. You’re too bloody soft,” Barker hissed. “Give her a good slap and she’ll shut up all right.” Barker tugged again and Arabella landed outside the coach.

Seagraves didn’t answer, but his mouth grew taut. “You do your job and I’ll do mine.” He reached over and slammed the door.

Aunt Maisy’s muffled cries continued to sound from the coach.

Arabella’s shock and anger rapidly turned to fear as Barker began to drag her towards the other coach. She kicked furiously at his shins.

Her captor grunted in pain as one of her boot heels hit their mark. He raised a hand and she shied back, certain he would hit her, but Barker lowered his hand with a snarl. Instead he shook Arabella until her teeth clattered together. Stubbornly she dug her heels into the mud and refused to budge, forcing him to drag her.

“What have you done to him?” Arabella choked out as she spied John face down in the road, a trickle of blood oozing from his skull. Teddy Mac sat next to him, a gag in his mouth, his hands and feet tied.

The young groom glared at Barker with anger.

“He’s not dead.” Barker caught her glance at the driver. “I just hit him. But he will be if you don’t stop.” He shook her again and grabbed her more firmly by the arm.

Arabella stopped struggling. She couldn’t risk any harm coming to John or Teddy Mac. “What about my aunt?”

“She’ll be fine with Seagraves.” He led her to the other coach and swung open the dented and scratched door. “Here she is.” Barker flung her inside.

A dank musty smell filled her nose and she fell against the floor of the coach. The blinds were closed, leaving the interior dark. Even though she could see little, Arabella sensed she wasn’t alone.

Firm hands gripped her shoulders and lifted her onto the seat.

“What do you want?” She struggled to keep her voice from trembling though she was terrified for the safety of her aunt. “I demand you let us go. How dare you accost the family of the Duke of Dunbar. Surely you know who we are.” Arabella moved herself to the far corner of the seat. “You will be found out before you can collect any ransom for me if that is your aim.”

A shadowed hand moved the curtains allowing a fraction of light to filter through the dirty windows.

“You.” A dizzying sensation made her ears buzz as she regarded the man before her. He looked only slightly different from their last meeting. Still boyishly handsome, the smug grin he perpetually wore gracing his lips.

 “Lady Arabella,” he said softly. “How lovely to see you again.”

THREE

Augustus Corbett, lately of Bermuda and the cause of Arabella’s exile, sat back, his handsome features full of amusement as he enjoyed her shock at the sight of him. He adjusted the sleeves of his once fine coat, now tattered and frayed around the cuffs and edges. Several buttons were missing from the front or dangling by a mere thread.

 “I have a proposition for you.”

Arabella sat back against the ragged seat cushions, trying to ignore the distasteful stain in the corner of the floor hovering near the edge of her skirts. The coach was filthy and looked as if it had been used to cart about a herd of orphans. She gave Corbett a brittle smile. He didn’t frighten her, not in the least. Corbett always reminded her of a child about to throw a tantrum.

“Is there a reason you stopped my coach? Accosted me and my aunt? Surely you could have sent me a note or visited me in Wales for tea.” She gave him a pointed look. “Well, possibly not as my brother is determined to rid the world of your presence.”

 “Arabella.” He shook his head and a shock of brown hair fell over his brow. “Accost is such an ugly word. I merely wished an opportunity to speak to you. And as for tea, well there were too many fierce Welshmen surrounding Twinings to make that a possibility.”

“I have nothing to say to you. You manipulated me.”

“My dear Arabella, manipulate is rather strong. I prefer, influenced. Mother may have bent the truth a bit about some things, but not about the deceit of Jemma’s father, William. He did commit treason and allow the blame to fall on your father, that much is true. As to the shooting which made you an orphan…” Corbett lifted his hands carelessly. “Who is to say?”

“Your father protected him.” Arabella needed no reminder of the death of her parents and the horror she witnessed as a child.

“True. My father was the Lord Governor of Bermuda and gave William a safe place to hide from your family for many years. What can I say? They were friends.” His gaze traveled up the front of her serviceable brown wool traveling dress, seeming to strip it from her with a glance. “You wear such staid garments, Lady Arabella. Covered from neck to toe. One wonders what you are hiding?”

 The question unnerved her, as did his attention. Arabella had spent a lifetime taking great care to be unattractive to the opposite sex. She did not elicit flattery nor flirtation. Gray and brown were preferred for her wardrobe, though she did not stint on the quality of the fabric. No embellishment. A severe cut, suitable for a matron or a vicar’s wife. Not so much as a hint of her generous bosom could be seen.

“Instead of being concerned over my clothing, you would do better to be concerned for your welfare. It is doubtful you will survive another meeting with my brother.”

He had the grace to flinch at her words. “I purchased passage to America. I imagine your brother assumes me to be in Boston else he would have sent a small army to escort you back to London instead of a young boy and two questionable footmen. Besides, he never found me to be particularly daring. Or devious.” Corbett’s tone was smug. “Won’t he be surprised? Besides the Devil of Dunbar could care less about you, Arabella.”

“Do not call him that.” Arabella hated the reminder that London society considered Nick to be cursed. As angry as she was at him, he was still her brother.

Corbett gave a choked laugh. “Ever the protective sister.” He folded his hands into a peak and peered at her over his fingers. “How did you enjoy your banishment to Wales?”

Heat flew up her cheeks as his words hit home.

 “Aren’t you the least curious why I went to all this trouble? Placing two men in your brother’s employ? Stopping your coach?”

Arabella opened her mouth to spit out a biting comment but stopped. She was curious. Of course, any intelligent young lady, perhaps one who wasn’t still smarting over being sent far away from home as punishment, would have started screaming.

Glancing out the window to her left, she peered through the grime to see the Dunbar coach rock slightly. John and Teddy Mac were still outside in the muddy road. “What could you possibly offer me? You’ve nothing I want.”

“You are such a delightfully sour creature, Arabella.” His voice lowered into a silky whisper, “your reputation in the ton is well deserved.”

“You know nothing of my reputation,” she snapped. Her reputation was unimpeachable. Her entire life had been spent struggling to keep free of the gossip that swirled around the Duke of Dunbar and her family, like moths circling a lantern. Mindful of her father’s reputation as a drunkard, not a drop of alcohol ever touched her lips. Charlotte, her mother, was a known wanton. God forbid anyone should ever hear a flirtatious comment from Arabella. She’d never even been to France least her loyalty to the Crown be questioned as her father’s had been. “I am above reproach.”

 “Yes, my dear. You most certainly are. Every action is proper and orchestrated. You are a paragon of morality, a bastion of discipline, a woman who demands the respect of society. A woman whose dour manner and constant frowning have warned away all but the most determined. No matter how many orphans and widows you support, or ladies luncheons you host, you will always shoulder your family’s reputation. But I suppose fear is preferable to frivolity.”

Arabella’s fingers twitched against her skirts as she absorbed every word, knowing how close to the truth he came.

“Despite your best efforts to garner a place for yourself you are not well-liked in the ton. No one regards you as a friend save Miranda. At best you are an acquaintance, invited so as not to insult your powerful and wealthy family.”

Arabella sucked in her breath.

“But I feel certain you could have tolerated such treatment and convinced yourself you were happy, until your brother had the audacity to wed the daughter of the traitor. You’ve devoted your life to being, as you say, above reproach and your sacrifices mean nothing to him.” He slapped his thighs and sat back. “How that must rankle you. If I were in your shoes, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have committed murder by now. I wonder the news of your brother’s affection for Jemma didn’t hasten your grandfather’s demise.”

Arabella bit the inside of her mouth so hard she tasted blood, for she had often thought the same thing. “Do not speak of my grandfather.” The previous Duke of Dunbar had gone to his grave cursing Nick for not inflicting the revenge the Dunbar honor demanded.

“Thankfully, Lady Miranda begged for your return to London. Your dearest friend. How she must long to rub her marriage, a great love-match, in your face.”

“Miranda would never do such a thing,” she sputtered.

Corbett gave a careless shrug. “You are regretfully, now all alone.”

The sharp intake of air burned her lungs. Corbett was speaking out loud all the horrible things that plagued Arabella’s thoughts since she had received Miranda’s letter. And as for her brother and Jemma? Twinings had not softened her rage towards Nick and his bride in the least.

“Don’t you long to have revenge upon them all?”

Her eyes snapped to his. “You know nothing of what I want.”

Corbett raised his brow. He did know.

“I propose we marry.” The light blue of his eyes darkened with determination. “It is the perfect solution and we will both have what we want most.”

 “You’re joking.” The very idea was absurd. Her hand began to twitch in earnest.

 “Not at all. When you look at the whole of it logically, our marriage makes perfect sense.” Corbett’s eyes held a fanatical gleam, but his voice remained smooth. “Think of Jemma’s horror. Your brother will be incensed.”

“Nick will have you murdered in your sleep.” Corbett was right. No one called on her unless she held a tea to discuss one of her charities. She was never asked to dance at the few balls she attended, instead Arabella lingered next to Aunt Maisy for the duration of the evening. But Arabella was happy for Miranda. In her own way.

“Quite frankly,” Corbett continued in a candid tone, “you’ll never do better. You are destined for spinsterhood, which wouldn’t be so bad I suppose, if you brother remained unmarried or he married a girl you could actually tolerate. But Jemma? Your part in my mother’s failed scheme to force Jemma back to Bermuda and marriage to me certainly won’t help mend fences.”

“I only told you when Jemma would be in the park. I never—”

Corbett continued as if she hadn’t interrupted. “The Duke of Dunbar will never allow you to inhabit the same space as his precious bride. Your brother has made it clear your return to London is temporary.”

“How would you know such a thing?”

 You forget, Seagraves and Barker have been part of the duke’s household and servants gossip. Your chambers are already being redecorated. You’ll be sent packing again in no time. I believe a convent in Scotland was mentioned as your ultimate destination. The entire staff is placing bets on where you’ll end up.” Corbett picked a piece of lint of his knee. “Not that it matters where you go. Eventually, no one will even remember the duke has a sister. Especially not the duke.”

A sickening sensation filled her, reminiscent of the way she once felt after eating fish that had spoiled. The ache caused her to bend at the waist, her free hand pressed against her stomach. “What a pretty speech, Mr. Corbett. How you flatter me.”

My God. He was right. She would end up like Cousin Millicent. Rotting away in some ancient estate in Wales with no visitors for decades.

 “Do you not want your revenge? Surely, revenge is a more desirable alternative than quietly agreeing to banishment?” He regarded her thoughtfully. “Or perhaps not. I thought you had more backbone.”

His words had the desired effect and Arabella stiffened. “A marriage of convenience? Or revenge, I suppose?” Her hand twitched mercilessly against her skirts.

“A business partnership of sorts.” Corbett stroked his chin. “Marriage is the only way to ensure you are not subject to the whims of the Duke of Dunbar or his duchess. Wedding me will assure you’ll have freedom. Your own household. You’ll have a husband who gives your sister-in-law fits. You will never have to leave London unless you wish it.”

“And what about your whims?” she countered.

A small smile lifted his lips. “Money, of course, is my primary objective. My family’s fortunes, as you can imagine, are in ruin. You, on the other hand, have a very substantial dowry. One of the largest in London. In return, I’ll settle a sum on you and be an absentee husband. I understand that’s the best kind.”

 Arabella also had an additional inheritance in her own right, one that would come to her upon marriage, something she would not be disclosing to Corbett. Even if he absconded with every cent of her dowry, she would still be a wealthy woman. Once married, she would have freedom to do as she chose with no threat of being shipped off to Wales again.

“I must be assured that there will be no,” she struggled to find the correct words, “physical aspect to our marriage. The marriage will be in name only.” Dear God, his proposal actually had merit.

“I’ve no desire to bed you. I expect you are quite frigid.” A toothy grin spread his lips to soften his insult. “Consider us to be…business partners. I vow to never cross the door of your bedroom. I do not plan to reside in London at any rate. My presence would be too tempting for your brother. Best I only show my face occasionally.”

“What about my aunt? Our driver and groom?”

Corbett leaned over and took her hand and she resisted the urge to pull free. “No harm whatsoever will come to any of them. Seagraves will simply keep them with the coach for the next day or so. Then he’ll take the horses and ride in the other direction. He’s been well paid to do so. By the time your aunt makes her way to London we will already be wed.”

She thought of her Grandfather cursing the traitor with his last breath, his eyes full of disappointment that Nick had not taken the promised retribution. Bitterness seeped into every corner of her body and she stiffened with righteous indignation. Miranda would soon have a passel of brats around her ankles with little time for Arabella, so what would she care? Aunt Maisy would grow tired of exile with her niece and who could blame her? Nick would never forgive her, but if she married Corbett she would never have to answer to him again. Alarm sounded loudly in her head but Arabella ignored the sense of doom preferring to focus on her indignation and rage.  She was not to be trifled with.

 “Fine.” She clutched her hands to her lap. “I’ll marry you.”

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