Once Upon a Wedding Night (The Derrings)

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He moves with the grace of a predator—savage, dangerous, wild. For Grace Hawthorne, the newly arrived stranger is unlike any man she has ever known. Proud, defiant, mesmerizingly masculine, he flouts convention and refuses to enter into proper society. Is he the real Anthony Maddox, heir to a glittering earldom? Or an arrogant imposter, sworn to claim what doesn't belong to him?

Including Grace. Practically engaged to another, the well-bred lady's companion is now entrusted with the task of civilizing the primitive nobleman. Determined to fulfill her duty and nothing more, she tries to ignore her growing desire for Anthony, but it is a futile endeavor.

As they come together in a scandalous secret liaison, Grace must choose between the conventional life she was born to lead. Intoxicating, elusive Thomasina de Ballesteroshas the bloods of London at her feet. But noneof them knows the real Tommy—the one witha shocking pedigree, a few too many secrets,and a healthy scorn for rakes like Jonathan.

She's everything Jonathan never wanted. But on one fateful midnight, he's drawn intoTommy's world of risk, danger. And suddenlyhe's re-thinking everything. Pride and passion collide in this sexy and emotionally rich Victorian-set historical romance from New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan. Desperate, she seeks help from the devilishly charming, untitled, and thoroughly unsuitable Jack Marlowe. All she must do now is resist the tempting rogue…. Bastard son and self-made man, Jack Marlowe loathes the aristocracy.

When he meets Lilah, he expects her to be like all the other greedy husband-hunters. Her alluring smiles and sharp tongue intrigue him. Before he knows it, he agrees to help her find a husband, revealing tricks to ensnare any man. The only problem is, his plan works too well—on him. When Lilah becomes the belle of the ball, Jack realizes he may lose her forever—unless he can take a chance on love and claim his debutante Account Options Sign in. Top Charts. New Arrivals. Sophie Jordan March 17, An Innocent Deception. There is one slight problem, however: Nick can't bear the thought of her wedding any man but him.

More by Sophie Jordan See more. Sophie Jordan. And a most unlikely duchess… When Marian is blackmailed into engagement by a man she despises, Nate impulsively steals her away. Book 1.

  1. chapter 18 Once Upon a Wedding Night (The Derrings #1) by Sophie Jordan read online free?
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The last woman on earth he would ever touch. Reviews Review Policy. Published on. Flowing text, Original pages. Best For. Web, Tablet, Phone, eReader. Content Protection. Learn More. Flag as inappropriate. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are. Please follow the detailed Help center instructions to transfer the files to supported eReaders. Continue the series. See more. Too Wicked to Tame. Book 2. Could this be Lady Derring?

She hardly looked out of the schoolroom. Perhaps a relation? She flushed, instantly certain who he was, and mortified to know that he had discussed her looks, or more specifically her lack of looks, in the company of others. The girl walked into the room with long, assured strides. I shall take this up with him upon our very next meeting. His aversion to the ton had been declared from the start. She suspected he would not take advantage of his ascent into the echelons of Society by making the rounds this Season. It was for the best.

At least for her. She could not bear to see the cold contempt in his eyes at every soiree and ball she attended. I suspected there was no fondness. Highly unnatural and unfeminine, according to Grandmother, that a woman should be an avid reader of anything. But then she had not liked my mother very much, called her an anomaly of womanhood… and all because she was a scholar. And she always does. Apparently they could not have been paramours as she had first thought, unless Nick had a yen for grandmotherly types, and she did not think his tastes ran toward those that experienced and mature.

So how did he manage to get a duchess to sponsor a nobody like her? Portia blinked and seemed to reconsider her choice of words. I suppose it was more like an equitable trade. He foisted me upon your poor grandmother. She has no choice but to sponsor me. How she must dread the chore.

And there is nothing poor about Grandmother. She is a perfect harridan. The woman intends to sell me, her only granddaughter, on the auction block against my wishes. Meredith felt her mouth curve into a smile. Possibly the first in many weeks. Portia laughed mirthlessly. Grandmother will be doing all the accepting and declining on my behalf. Lord Brookshire intends for you to accept the first proposal to come along and be done with it. I will marry this Season. He stopped before the nursery. The door stood ajar. The darkened room suddenly became alive with the past.

He could still hear his nurse, Connie, pleading with his father, begging him to keep Nick. He goes too. Edmund had been there, leaning nonchalantly on the doorjamb, unaffected, indifferent to the impending exile of his stepmother and half brother. Stepping back from the threshold of his old nursery, Nick detached himself from the memories, hating to consider what others might surface during his stay. Nick turned to face Lady Brookshire, prim in a heavy cotton robe that doubtlessly hid an equally prim nightgown.

Hugging a book to her chest like a makeshift shield, she bore no resemblance to the pale-faced, black-clad widow from earlier. Gone was the severity of hairstyle and dress. A long plait of auburn hair hung loosely over her shoulder. She looked young, like a virgin schoolgirl, yet he knew her to be a widow, past the first blush of youth.

No, unfortunately he knew exactly where he stood. Nodding toward the room, he stepped away from the door. She ceased hugging the book so tightly and lowered it in her hands. Does she by chance still work here? Perhaps you could ask in the village. She may still be in the area. He did not live very long after I came here, but he desperately wished to have this nursery full of children again. Instead, she angled her head and studied him curiously. She blinked back at him, eyes wide and guileless.

She posed the question sincerely, without the faintest amount of censure in her voice. I thought you would surely be apprised of all the sordid details. Edmund never spoke of me, then? Had she loved him that much? A sour taste filled his mouth. He looked her over again. The flyaway tendrils of hair haloing her face made her look young, fresh. Undeniably pretty. His blood stirred with both desire and envy. What had Edmund done to deserve her devotion? The brother he remembered hardly seemed the type to evoke loyalty.

The truth is my father cast both of us aside. That ugly little word that is only whispered about in drawing rooms. I was eight years old, but he divorced himself from me just as much as from my mother. Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully and she pursed her lips, evidently considering his words. The lighted sconces on the wall lent shadows that obscured the exact emotion of her eyes, but he sensed her reproach—or perhaps expected it.

It is reprehensible. What of wives? However, I wonder if you would say the same thing had my mother not been an opera singer. Tell me, do you really think that my mother was on equal footing with my father? Did he not possess the wealth and status? Does the law not grant a man more rights than a woman? Are you not right now beholden to me just as you were to Edmund? A point she clearly did not like but nonetheless recognized. Do you find it difficult to hear the truth, my lady?

If the allegation was true, perhaps she deserved the miserable end she suffered. You were a helpless child. It must have been frightening to lose everything safe and familiar. I can understand that. Perhaps she experienced a bit of that right now, with her future still so much unsettled. Not him. If God existed, He had abandoned him long ago. Whether she gave birth to a boy or girl, it was just a roll of the die.

He died a lonely man. If you must pity, pity my mother who had to whore herself just to put food in our mouths and died coughing her guts up in a rat-infested hellhole. Now he had shocked her. And it felt good. Rage—that old familiar friend that got him through the hardest of times—resurfaced. It felt gratifying to lash out at someone.

Everyone else he could blame was dead. The chit had married Edmund, after all, sharing her bed and life with the very brother who had stood silent as he was banished. Edmund had been fifteen, old enough to possess a voice, to have at least spoken out on their behalf. The woman before him had married that gutless man, even mourned him.

He would feel no softness for her. No matter how sweetly she listened as he bared his soul. She dropped her gaze to the carpet, reminding him of a mouse trying to go unseen in the face of its predator. I spoke unthinkingly. I only wish others had known, so they could have helped you.

Did she honestly think no one knew? If the same thing were to happen today, Good Society would not deign to lift a finger. I can say with absolute faith that my former neighbors did not grow a conscience in the last twenty years. Not his. Her sharp intake of breath indicated he had either offended or surprised her.

Once Upon A Wedding Night

That stubborn little chin of hers went up, and he knew she was not going to let his declaration slide past unrefuted. He could regale her with how he grew into a predator on the streets of London: stealing, assaulting, and even killing a man at the tender age of thirteen when the man insisted on becoming his special friend.

Perhaps then she would believe him. She feared for his soul. She probably feared he was going to be swallowed in flames right in front of her. Nick clenched his jaw, her judgment angering him. Or was it disappointment he heard in her voice? Either way, it bothered him more than it should. In fact, he would much rather have her disgust. It would keep things in perspective. The nape of her neck felt soft as silk. He inhaled the scent of her. Mint and honey. A primal growl welled up in him and he inched closer, his eyes fixed on her lush mouth.

Then the thought came, unbidden, unwanted. This woman could have been his. She could be his now. Nick stepped back, dropping his hands to his sides. Could he be that perverse? Her trembling voice rolled through him like warm brandy. Especially for you. We best retire. Sometimes I read when my mind is overwhelmed. Tell me, what overwhelms you? As if burned, she quickly released the book. Why should it? Nick observed her curiously. Most women would have been glad to have a man step in and take charge.

Not this one. From the moment he arrived, it was evident she wanted him gone. He handed the book back. She gave a single curt nod. He remained where he was until she entered her room. The door closed behind her with a soft click. Strange woman. Not the prig he initially thought. No woman could be too priggish with hair that inspired fantasies and a mouth that begged to be kissed.

There was more to her than she would have him see. Chapter 5 nm M eredith needed to escape. Two days of staying tucked away while Nicholas Caulfield surveyed her domain proved difficult to abide. She saw him at evening meals where he exhibited a polite reserve, never again revealing so much of himself as he had that night outside the nursery, never again being so bold as to touch her—for which she felt a small pang of relief and regret. She extended only the required hospitality and was neither warm nor effusive. It would only encourage him to remain, and the last thing she wanted was him underfoot, continually measuring Oak Run and herself for worth.

A dangerous inclination. She could not bear to harbor a soft spot for the man she was cheating out of his birthright. Sunshine sparkled on the morning air.

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  • Meredith decided she had hidden indoors long enough. Sending word ahead for her mount to be readied, she quickly donned a riding habit of fawn-colored velvet. She supposed the color was not entirely appropriate for mourning, but as she did not own a black riding habit, it would simply have to do. Eyeing herself critically in a cheval mirror, she smoothed a hand over her torso and hips, wincing at the evidence of too many honeyed scones. Well, a woman with child—even in the early stage—might be a little thick about the middle. She and her aunt would soon have to come up with a way to fashion a bulging tummy for her.

    Maree would prove helpful in that endeavor. Her mare, a spirited creature name Petunia, was saddled and waiting for her when she emerged outside. Petunia appeared to have missed her exercise as much as Meredith. Soon they were streaking across the countryside. She gave the mare her lead, delighting at the wind on her face as they raced over hills. With a dozen children, the couple had no trouble managing so large a farm. Meredith guessed the woman would not be averse to a little company. At the sound of a distant cry, she looked in the direction of the fields, where Tom Finney and his children hailed her.

    What was he doing here? The Finney children surrounded Nicholas Caulfield, chattering and vying for his attention. Little Meg Finney clung to his hand, hero worship glowing bright in her eyes. Meredith felt little better than the child as she devoured the sight of him. His bare chest glistened with perspiration, and his hair gleamed blue-black in the sun. Heat stole into her face and she fumbled for her bonnet.

    Finney asked. Tying the ribbons of her bonnet beneath her chin, she noticed that Mr. He helped me free the plow from the field. The children and I have been trying at it half the morning. For all that she had done for her tenants, she never helped pull a plow free. And by the glow in Mr. Sally will not like my keeping you from her, my lady. Finney led her inside.

    Undoubtedly, he had further things to do in order to undermine her—surely somewhere there was a baby to birth or a roof to thatch. Sally shrugged. She left the herbs and showed my Catie how to prepare it. Meredith smiled. It had become tradition for her to bring a basket of honeyed sconces and other small gifts to every tenant family that delivered a child. And with your growing brood, I think I shall ask cook to prepare two baskets. Given the length of her visit, Meredith did not expect to find him outside. With his jacket slung carelessly over his shoulder, he was now decently clothed—although his appearance still fell short of proper.

    At least his lovely muscled torso was hidden from view. He went without a cravat, his very tanned throat a stark contrast to the white of his shirt, only half tucked into skintight riding breeches. Her mouth dried at the sight of his rakish mien. His wet hair glistened in the sunlight. The image of him washing up at the well, droplets of water clinging lovingly to every inch of his powerful flesh, teased her.

    Shocked by her carnal thoughts, Meredith quickly averted her gaze, noticing that his horse stood tethered next to hers. Both beasts waited placidly as he chatted with the eldest Finney girl. Unnoticed, Meredith took in the cozy pair with mounting suspicion. A dark-haired girl far too buxom for fifteen years, Catie displayed more selfconfidence than most women.

    Perhaps he intended to play at the seduction of a young farm girl during his stay at Oak Run. Catie started guiltily and dropped her hand from his arm. Red-faced, the girl glanced at Caulfield before addressing her. Stifling an indignant screech, she righted herself in the saddle and glared down at him. Her fingers clenched her riding crop, itching to bring it across his smirking face and erase the amusement from his eyes. Inhaling deeply, she reminded herself to behave properly.

    His eyes danced with laughter. He followed her gaze. Catie visibly started at finding herself the subject of their attention and stepped back from the window, disappearing from view. He was a philanderer, out to seduce anything in skirts. He met her eyes with a dark, brooding stare of his own. You think I crave after little girls? He was a bold, sinful man— willing to ruin any poor country girl who stared moon-eyed after him. He had lived an improper life. That much he had made abundantly clear. A hard, godless existence.

    Whether of his making or not, it was nonetheless his life. His voice dipped. Suddenly she was not so certain of what they discussed. What did she see when she looked at him? When the truth struck her, it could not have terrified her more. She saw what she wanted and could never have. Afraid to speak, in case the real, horrifying answer spilled forth, Meredith tugged her reins, but her mare did not move.

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    She glanced down, seeing that he held the reins, impeding her escape. His sudden, brief laugh rippled through the air and did strange things to her insides. The last thing a man like me desires is a little girl. A rake? Meredith could not hold back her caustic retort. It did not appear that way a moment ago. And this man was far more dangerous than Edmund. The sight of him reminded her of mythical heroes rising naked from hidden lagoons, water sluicing down their hard torsos, bodies steaming in the cool air.

    Meredith swallowed and gave herself a mental shake as she reined in her daydreams. Good God. If he only knew that was but a halftruth. Surely he was accustomed to his choice of beautiful, sophisticated women in Town? Not a dull drab like her. Aside of the perfunctory peck on her wedding day, she had never kissed a man. Ironically, Catie probably possessed more experience than Meredith, a woman nearly twice her age.

    With that humbling thought, Meredith wrenched the reins free. They know I can provide what they want. So raw, bold. Meredith looked him up and down. It fit him perfectly. The emphasis he placed on her name sounded strange, his deep voice softening the accents. It was all too alluring. We are family, are we not? I am your brother of a sort. Meredith choked. Undeniably, her thoughts often became muddled in his presence, but one thought stood out clear and confusion free. This man was not her brother. One look into his laughing eyes told Meredith he did not regard her in a sisterly fashion either, that he merely mocked her with the ridiculous suggestion.

    His hand on the bridle stopped her. Then it dawned. Her fingers drifted to her abdomen, recalling the alleged life there, a life she had completely forgotten about because it did not exist. Most women did not ride during their confinement. It galled her to have overlooked such a consideration before she left this morning. You no longer have only yourself to consider. She could not abide his interference. He did not control her. I am quite accustomed to caring for myself.

    I have been doing that exact thing for years. I can look after myself. His deliberate use of her name chafed her already frayed nerves. Meredith gave no thought to how reckless she appeared as she spun her horse about and tore out of the Finney yard. Her satisfaction was short-lived.

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    Galloping away, her head cleared enough for her to realize how foolish she must appear. If she wanted him gone long before the supposed delivery of her son, she would have to rein in her defiant streak. How was he to be fully confident in her ability to care for herself and Oak Run if she behaved so recklessly? And one thing was for certain. She had to avoid acting rashly in his presence. When forced into his company, she would be modest, demure, the perfect model of gentility—boring.

    He would leave for no other reason than to escape the absolute tedium of her company. She was not quite the frigid piece of lace he had first determined. The way her eyes lingered on his naked chest testified to that. When they quarreled, sparks flew from her green eyes like a hotblooded virago, lighting a fire in the pit of his gut that could not be quenched by any suitable means. She did not at all resemble the prim, retiring, drawing room lady he first thought her to be.

    Not when she looked upon him with desire. It was growing impossible to dismiss her from his mind. Especially since she hid something from him. Her nervousness around him could not totally be attributed to physical attraction. He could not deny his annoyance as he watched her thunder away at breakneck speed, her auburn hair streaming in a wild banner behind her, the final remnants of her plait unraveling in the wind.

    He had half a mind to give chase and haul her bodily from that bloody horse. The woman was a menace to herself and her unborn child, regardless of how intriguing he found her. What was she thinking riding a horse like that? The idea of him tapping into all her fiery energy and seeing just how passionate her nature ran seized him.

    Scowling, Nick gathered his reins and swung himself into his saddle in one easy motion. How had she managed all these years on her own exhibiting such poor judgment? He sighed and urged his horse into a trot. Most importantly, why did he care? Why did he have to feel such bloody obligation to her, a sense of obligation that only increased with their growing acquaintance?

    Nick tried to ignore the answer that teased at him like a pesky fly buzzing around the inside of his head. But it was no use. He gave his head a small shake. An attraction wrong on countless levels, but there it was, nonetheless. As a man unaccustomed to self-denial, this spelled trouble. There was only one solution. He had to leave. Before he found out it was more than her auburn mane and tempting curves that attracted him. Chapter 6 nm M eredith arrived to an empty dining room. Not unusual for a Sunday.

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    Her aunt spent so much time selecting her clothes and turban for church, she often missed breakfast completely. Especially on the first Sunday of the month, when the vicar dined with them. Her aunt always wanted to look her best. She exhaled, not realizing until that moment that she had been holding her breath in anticipation— and dread—of facing Nick.

    Morning sunlight shot through the mullioned windows in bright beams, bringing the air to vibrant life with tiny motes of unknown particles. Maree entered the room, leading her father to his chair with a firm hold on his elbow. Her father may have changed a great deal over the last years, but his preference for cream-laced coffee had not. Meredith smiled at the exchange as she succumbed to her sweet tooth and selected a plump sweet roll from the sideboard. Paying her no heed, he tackled his cup of coffee again. She sighed and exchanged knowing looks with Maree.

    Her father loved his coffee too much to exercise caution. Amid this noisy slurping, Nick entered the room. She breathed easy when he resumed eating, indifferent to their presence as he turned to gaze out the window at the sunlight glinting off the vast landscape of green lawn.

    Seating herself at the twenty-foot dining table, she forced her eyes on her plate, battling the temptation to stare at the man occupying far too much of her thoughts. Peeking beneath lowered lids, she discreetly watched him move along the sideboard. Her attention lingered on the superb fit of his breeches. Mortified by the direction of her thoughts, she wrenched her eyes away, pulled apart her sticky sweet roll and stuffed a generous portion into her mouth. Cheeks burning, she was still chewing when he took the seat directly across from her, snapping his napkin once in the air before laying it over his lap.

    As she reached for her cup of tea, his gaze caught her. He watched her intently as he bit into a slice of jam-slathered toast. Dropping her eyes, she stared into the milky brown contents of the steaming cup she held with both hands. It was the finest of her mourning gowns, the one reserved for church, but still depressing. Only a few more frills and some black beads graced the modest neckline. And she sincerely doubted her person lended any beauty to its moroseness.

    Her hand flew to her hair self-consciously. She usually wore it in a softer fashion for church, taking the time and effort to arrange it into one of her less severely knotted buns. The effort had not been taken on account of him. I always wear it so for church. Clearly, he was a man who enjoyed his food. Meredith liked to cook and believed herself to be a fair hand in the kitchen.

    True, not many ladies could attest to such knowledge—nor would they want to. But she had not been a countess all her life. Before Oak Run her family had only two servants, and when Cook needed a hand in the kitchen, the task fell to Meredith. She watched as he bit into a sweet roll. He closed his eyes with a look of deep appreciation, and she wondered what he would think if he knew she had helped prepare them.

    But that would be a lie. Of course she had thought he would accompany them to church. It was what respectable Society did on Sundays.

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    Your presence will be expected. There will be. It took every ounce of will not to squirm beneath his heavy regard. That had her reacting rather than pausing to think. I simply do not subscribe to the hypocrisy of sitting in a church surrounded by an overprivileged Society that sings alleluias on Sunday and practices hedonism the rest of the week. Country living has left you quite sheltered, then. They are only human, after all.

    However, the majority does aspire to live rightly, including members of the very overprivileged Society you yourself are part of. My father saw to that. Besides, she was doing a poor job of behaving demurely and modestly, as she had only recently avowed. Even if you should deliver a daughter, I shall find a way out of my obligation to Oak Run, the title. Which was absolutely absurd. She did not want to be bound to him any more than he to her. He returned his attention to his food, and Meredith breathed a bit easier, released from his intense scrutiny. They sunk into her head gradually, like a pebble sinking through water and settling at last into a riverbed.

    Slumping back in her chair, her eyes narrowed with sudden insight, as if seeing him for the first time. He really wanted no part of Oak Run. He did not long to take up the title. For him, it was a yoke about his neck—the shackles and dictates of Society. He lived by no code other than his own. His rules were none but his own. Respectability, responsibility, Oak Run, the earldom. Armed with this knowledge, she idly wondered if he would even care about her deception. Perhaps he would help her carry it out. No, an unlikely possibility and not worth the risk.

    Still, she felt better knowing she was giving him what he wanted. A way out. Rising to her feet, Meredith dropped her napkin on her plate. He lifted an eyebrow. Are you off already to join the pillars of Society?

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