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Never a Bride
by Gayle Callen
Book 2 of the Brides trilogy
Lady Emmeline Prescott is shocked when Sir Alexander Thornton, the most incorrigible scoundrel in England, suddenly notices she even exists—and starts flirting with her. Not that she’ll be taken in by his charms.
To win a wager, Alex must win a kiss from an innocent maiden. But first he must get past the giggly young lady's chaperone—her older sister, Lady Emmeline. And to his surprise, it is the enchanting, levelheaded Emmeline who intoxicates him with her soft sensuality.
Note: This book was previously published as His Scandal.
"A treat for romance
lovers, and serves a tasty repast of seduction, humor and inept
"This delight romp is fun
and sexy...yet it also has a poignancy that may bring a tear or two to
(The following is the property of the author and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)
London, September 1588
At the top of the marble stairs, tall, windowed doors swung open, and the queen’s courtiers within the great hall turned to stare, knowing that the moment they’d all waited for had arrived. A petite woman stepped into the hall, flanked by two men, identical in every way, from their black hair to their swarthy skin to their midnight eyes.
Even the orchestra faltered as whispers spread out in a hiss. One of the brothers was Viscount Thornton, newly returned from spying on their enemy, Spain, before the armada had sailed. His heroism had been lauded by Queen Elizabeth, and his bravery had won him the hand of his wife, Lady Roselyn. The crowd surged forward to ingratiate themselves with the new hero; then the tide seemed to flow backward as they all hesitated.
Which one was Lord Thornton—and which was his scandalous brother?
No one wanted to congratulate Sir Alexander, who’d spent almost a year and half deceiving society when he posed as his brother, spending money that wasn’t his, misleading noble maidens with the lure of marrying a viscount. His scandals had shaken London to its core, and were clear proof of who deserved the viscountcy.
Just when the confused murmurs rose like bees buzzing to protect their hive, one of the brothers stepped aside and bowed to the couple left standing on the last stair above the crowd. Concluding the obvious, the courtiers swarmed forward, swallowing up the viscount and his wife.
Alex Thornton was glad for the escape, even though his brother shot him a frown over the heads of his adoring audience. Alex winked and turned away, grabbed the first tankard of ale that floated by on a servant’s tray, and drained it quickly.
He hadn’t even begun to get drunk when he saw Lord Manvil, who’d been working with him on a bill for the House of Lords.
Alex pushed his way through the crowd, then called, “Manvil! Might I have a moment of your time?”
The man turned from his wife and smiled beneath his huge mustache. “Lord Thornton, welcome back!”
Alex gave a lopsided grin. “You’re actually speaking with the knight instead of the viscount. I was wondering if you had some time to discuss that bill we’ve been—”
Manvil held up a hand. “This is highly improper, Sir Alexander. Such private business among the Lords can no longer be your concern.”
Alex widened his eyes, trying not to let this newest slight affect his temper. “But I’m the one who wrote the bill.”
“Nevertheless—ah, it is Lord Thornton himself.”
Alex turned to find his brother standing behind him, obviously having overheard the humiliating encounter with Lord Manvil. To make matters worse, Spencer was trying to hide his worry and pity.
Alex grinned. “There you go, Manvil, just the man you needed. I’m sure you can bring Spence up on all the details.”
“Alex, don’t leave us,” his brother said. “You’ve hardly had a chance to familiarize me with all your work. Lord Manvil, I’m sure you see the necessity of—”
“Nonsense,” Alex interrupted, backing away. “Manvil can explain the whole thing. I’m done with all this, remember? And ’tis about time, too.” He grabbed another tankard of ale and leered at the maidservant carrying it.
Then he went off to find the first of many maidens he would woo away from their outraged mothers for a dance. By midnight, he had propositioned two married women, one of whom had slapped his face, and the other—well, he’d find out her thoughts on his behavior later that night in her bedchamber. It was good to be himself again.
Scandal was what he did best, after all.
London, April 1589
Alex Thornton was fresh out of new scandals. Standing beside his friend Edmund Blackwell, he sighed as he watched the hall full of glittering couples dancing merrily beneath vaulted ceilings.
It had been eight months since he’d given his twin brother Spencer’s identity back to him. Eight months of constantly explaining to disappointed people that he’d only posed as the viscount.
Alex had vowed to enjoy his own life again, without the responsibilities of a noble title. He would do as he pleased, drink, gamble himself into oblivion, and find willing young women to enjoy it all with him.
Sad to say, those pleasures had grown almost…tiresome of late. Each party blurred into the next. He needed a change, something new to interest him.
“Edmund, are you as bored as I?”
Edmund shrugged, and his gaze surveyed the crowd. “I doubt it.”
Of course Edmund wasn’t bored—he hadn’t grown up among the nobility. He was one of those rare men who’d worked hard since childhood to achieve success, and had been knighted for his efforts.
Alex almost envied him.
“We need to enliven the evening,” he continued. “I propose a wager.”
Edmund rolled his eyes. “You know you can outdrink me.”
“No, something new.” He met the bright gaze of a lady and gave her a smile. “We seem to have the attention of several young women this evening.”
“Until their mothers see where they’re looking,” Edmund said dolefully, folding his arms across his chest.
“And there is our challenge. I wager that I can get one dewy-eyed innocent to kiss me before you can find one who’ll kiss that face of yours.”
“A virgin? I’d be beetle-headed to accept such a thing!” Edmund scoffed. “You’ve stolen kisses from half the girls here.”
“Not the challenging ones, I haven’t,” Alex said. “To make this interesting, I shall pick out the girl for you, and you shall pick out mine.”
A slow grin eased Edmund’s deceptively hard face. “I’ll wager five sovereigns. But what happens if an angry father decides that one kiss compromises his daughter?”
Alex shrugged. “We have to marry sometime, do we not?”
“As if you would ever be trapped against your will,” Edmund said. “Very well. I’ll be magnanimous and allow you to choose first.”
They turned to look out on the great hall. Couples whirled about, and women were lifted in the air by their partners. Crowds of people talked and ate and laughed. Who to choose for Edmund?
Then he saw her—blond, pretty, and not ranked highly enough to look down upon Edmund, who’d begun manhood as a common soldier. Due to her overly protective family, it would be difficult for Edmund to get even close to her.
Alex cleared his throat and clasped his hands behind his back. “I have the perfect girl. Elizabeth Langston.”
Edmund looked doubtful. “Her name is not familiar.”
Alex pointed to where she stood alone with her parents.
“She is quite beauteous,” Edmund said. “But surely you had a specific reason in choosing her?”
“I shall just warn you to beware her father—and her brothers.”
Edmund sighed and continued to search the crowd. Finally, he displayed a triumphant smile. “Ah, now there is a woman who’d be a challenge for you.”
“Who?” Alex asked, feeling a pleasant sense of anticipation.
Edmund inclined his head toward the merry dancers. “Lady Blythe Prescott.”
The younger daughter of the Marquess of Kent. When the crowd parted he saw her laughing face, her shining hair the color of the finest chocolate from the New World. Though he’d never conversed with her, he had often noticed her loveliness and her musical laugh.
He was almost…disappointed.
Oh, she was pretty, but the flirtatious glances she bestowed on every dance partner suggested a woman easily kissed.
Edmund laughed. “Do not be so disgruntled, my friend.”
“She will be no challenge. Is there something you are not divulging?” Alex asked, his interest returning as Edmund smirked.
And then he saw another woman, an older, paler imitation of Blythe, approaching the girl while wearing a censorious frown. Blythe gave her partner an apologetic look, slid her arm into the other woman’s, and walked away.
“And who is that?” Alex demanded.
Edmund grinned. “That was Lady Emmeline Prescott, Blythe’s sister.”
“Let me guess—a spinster,” Alex said with groan.
Edmund’s smile showed almost every tooth in his head. “I am certainly going to relish taking your money.”
“You haven’t won yet, my good man. There is not a woman born I can’t cajole. It will be easy to elude one sister in pursuit of the other.”
Edmund gave him a formal bow. “Then I wish you luck, sir—you’ll need it. Shall we begin?” He took himself off without a backward glance.
Alex’s gaze returned to the two sisters, now standing together near the banqueting table. Blythe’s smile was lively as she listened to her sister’s obviously serious words. Emmeline had none of Blythe’s vivaciousness, and her dark hair had a reddish tinge to it. Perhaps if she smiled occasionally, she would have ensnared a man by now.
Yet she was the daughter of a marquess—surely men must be lining up at her door, if only for a share of her wealth. So why had she never married?
Hell, he didn’t have to care about the sister; he only had to outwit her. And for that to succeed, he had to win the younger sister’s cooperation.
So he began to follow Blythe about the room, sending longing glances her way, ready for the moment their eyes would meet.
It came as she was talking to Emmeline, whose back was to Alex. Over Emmeline’s shoulder, Blythe glanced up and saw him there, not ten paces away, watching her. He held her gaze and gave her a slow smile tinged with a slight wickedness. It was something he was naturally good at.
Blythe smiled back, and her cheeks pinkened delightfully. She returned her attention to her sister, but she eventually glanced at him again. He inclined his head, and this time her entire face reddened. He beckoned with one hand—a miscalculation, for her smile faded, and she looked away.
Very well, he had tried the easy method, and was relieved that Blythe would be more challenging. The moment Emmeline left her side, Alex was there, bowing before Blythe. That lovely blush returned to her face.
“Lady Blythe,” he murmured, reaching for her fingers and kissing them. When he didn’t immediately let go, she disengaged her hand from his.
“Good evening, sir,” she said, a reluctant-looking smile on her face. “Have we met?”
“No, my lady, but how can any man not know your name? I am Sir Alexander Thornton, and I would gladly pay a king’s ransom to dance with you.”
“An exchange of coin is not necessary, Sir Alexander,” she said, followed by a spirited laugh. “Dancing is such a joy that I’ll gladly indulge you for free.”
And then he whirled her out into the crowd.
Lady Emmeline Prescott had once again misplaced her sister. She wanted to stomp her foot in frustration, but even in childhood that had never gotten her her way, especially after her mother had died. Emmeline had learned at an early age that her father expected her to rely on herself, but watching over Blythe tested her very intellect and patience.
Emmeline sighed. Her sister was a good girl, just high-spirited, and seemingly unaware that her dowry and her beauty made her a worthy prize to men.
Surprisingly, a dowry alone did not seem to matter, since Emmeline, a wealthy heiress in her own right, seldom had male callers.
But she preferred not to dwell on what could never be. She had Blythe’s happiness and romantic success to worry about. Emmeline was determined that her sister would have the husband she herself never would. She would be a part of Blythe’s family, a dear aunt to Blythe’s children, and know the peace of seeing her sister happy.
If only she could keep Blythe from mischief, and help her to settle on the perfect man.
Then she saw her sister in the midst of the dancers. Who was she with? Every time Emmeline almost caught a glimpse of the tall, dark-haired man, someone stepped between them. She skirted the edges of the hall, keeping out of the way, until she could finally see the couple.
Her sister’s partner bowed as the dance ended. When he straightened, Emmeline felt a jolt of awareness. She had seen him from a distance at court. He was broad-shouldered, with a litheness that made him an excellent dancer. Short black hair framed a face distinguished by olive skin and the only clean-shaven chin in the hall. When he smiled at Blythe, his white teeth were blinding. A pearl earbob dangled from one ear, above a brocade doublet well-tailored to his impressive chest and a short cape that hung back from his shoulders. Oh, he was too handsome a man, perhaps even of foreign birth.
Suddenly he looked directly at Emmeline, and she managed to meet his unsettling gaze with a cool nod. He laughed and swept Blythe into the next dance, leaving Emmeline to feel strangely thwarted. Which was absurd.
It was easy to discover his identity among her acquaintances. Sir Alexander Thornton, the younger son of Viscount Thornton. She was quickly informed of his half-Spanish heritage and his dubious reputation. Her acquaintances made clear that he was not interested in marriage, that he was a favorite of the queen, and actually kept mistresses.
Sir Alexander was not a man Blythe should be trifling with.
Her sister usually reserved her flirting for young men close to her own age, and Emmeline knew a stern warning would only make Blythe do the opposite. Surely there had to be another way to keep Sir Alexander away from her sister.
Just then the man had the gall to meet her gaze over her sister's shouldler and grin at her, leaving her flustered and all the more determined.
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