Happily Bedded Bliss (The Rakes of Cavendish Square)

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9780451469236: Happily Bedded Bliss (The Rakes of Cavendish Square)

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bedding Proposal comes a seductive new novel about the most devilishly dangerous men in London...

When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can’t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters. 

Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke’s sister—especially since he's never set eyes on her. When Esme’s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks he can forget about his inconvenient bride but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be.

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About the Author:

Tracy Anne Warren is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen romance novels, including The Bedding Proposal, The Trouble with Princesses, and Her Highness and the Highlander. After working in the corporate world for a number of years, she quit her day job to pursue her first love: writing. She has won numerous industry awards, including Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the HOLT Medallion.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 

CHAPTER ONE

 


Gloucestershire, England

September 1818


Lady Esme Byron hiked her sky blue muslin skirts up past her stocking-clad calves and climbed onto the wooden stile that divided the vast Braebourne estate from land owned to the east by her family’s nearest neighbor, Mr. Cray.

Cray, a widower near her eldest brother Edward’s age of forty, was rarely in residence and never complained about her trespassing on his land; since her childhood, he’d let her traipse across it almost as if it were her own. Not that Braebourne didn’t provide plenty of beautiful vistas to explore—it did, especially considering that her brother owned nearly half the county and more besides—it was just that Cray’s land possessed a lovely natural freshwater lake that sat at a perfect walking distance from the house. The lake attracted a rich variety of wildlife, so there was always something fascinating to sketch. Plus, no one ever bothered her there; it was quite her favorite secret place when she was looking for an escape.

She jumped down onto the other side of the stile, taking far more care of the satchel of drawing supplies slung over her shoulder than she did of her fine leather half boots. She wobbled slightly as they sank ankle-deep into the mud, then stared at her ruined boots for a few seconds, knowing her maid would give her a scold for sure. But as she was always able to talk dear Grumbly around, she shrugged away any concern.

Grabbing hold of the fence, she unstuck herself one boot at a time, then scraped the worst of the mess off into the nearby grass. Turning with a swirl of her skirts, she continued on to her destination.

As she walked, she angled her face up to the sun and sighed blissfully.

How good it was to be home again after weeks in London.

How wonderful to be out in the open once more, free to roam wherever she liked, whenever she liked.

A tiny frown of guilt wrinkled her dark brows, since technically she was supposed to be back at the estate helping entertain the houseguests visiting Braebourne. But all seven of her siblings and their families were in residence, even Leo and his new bride Thalia, who had just returned with celebratory fanfare from their honeymoon trip to Italy. With so many Byrons available to make merry, she would hardly be missed.

Besides, they were used to her penchant for disappearing by herself for hours at a time as she roamed the nearby woods and hills and fields. She would be back in time for dinner; that would have to be enough.

An exuberant bark sounded behind her and she glanced around to see her dog Burr leap the stile and race toward her. She bent down and gave his shaggy golden head a scratch. “So, you’re back, are you? Done chasing rabbits?”

He waved his bright flag of a tail in a wide arc, his pink tongue lolling out in a happy grin. Clearly, he was unapologetic for having deserted her a short while ago so he could hunt game in the bushes.

“Well, come along,” she told him before continuing toward a stand of trees in the distance.

Burr trotted enthusiastically at her side.

Nearly ten minutes later, they reached the copse of trees that led to the lake. She was just about to step out of their protective green shelter when she heard a splash.

She stopped and motioned for Burr to do the same.

Someone, she realized, was swimming in the lake. Was it Mr. Cray? Had he returned home unexpectedly?

Soundlessly, she peered through the leaves and watched a man emerge from the water—a man who most definitely was not Mr. Cray.

But who was most definitely naked.

Her eyes widened as she drank in the sight of his long, powerfully graceful form, his pale skin glistening wetly in the sunlight.

A quiet sigh of wonder slid from between her parted lips, her senses awash with the same kind of reverence she felt whenever she beheld something of pure, unadorned beauty.

Not that his face was the handsomest she had ever glimpsed—his features were far too strong and angular for ordinary attractiveness. Yet there was something majestic about him, as if a dark angel had fallen to earth. His tall body was exquisitely proportioned: wide shoulders, sculpted chest, long arms, narrow hips and sinewy legs, even the unmentionable male part of him that hung impressively between his heavily muscled thighs.

Clearly unaware that he was being observed, he casually slicked the water from his dark hair, then walked deeper into the surrounding area of short grass, which she knew was periodically trimmed by the groundskeepers.

She caught her lower lip between her teeth, her heart pounding wildly as she watched him stretch out on his back across the soft green carpet of grass. With a hand, she motioned again for Burr to remain quiet. She did the same, knowing that if she moved now, the mystery man would surely hear her.

One minute melted into two, then three.

Quite unexpectedly, she heard the soft yet unmistakable sound of a snore.

Is he asleep?

She smiled, realizing that was exactly what he must be.

Of course she knew she ought to leave. But even as she began to ease away, he shifted, his face turning toward her. One of his hands lay on his flat stomach, one ankle tucked under the other at an elegant angle.

And suddenly she couldn’t leave.

Not when she was in the presence of such splendor and grace; it was as if the universe had decided to give her a gift.

I simply have to draw him.

Without considering her decision any further, she sank quietly onto a fallen log nearby that provided her with a sheltered, yet excellent view of her subject. Burr settled down at her side, laying his chin on his paws as she extracted her pencil and sketchbook from her bag and set to work.

Gabriel Landsdowne came abruptly awake, the late-afternoon sun strong in his eyes. He blinked and sat up, giving his head a slight shake to clear out the last of the drowsy cobwebs.

He’d fallen asleep without even realizing. Apparently, he was more tired than he’d thought. Then again, that was why he’d come here to Cray’s, so he could spend a little time alone, doing nothing more strenuous than taking a leisurely swim and lazing away the day. He could have done the same at his own estate, of course, but visiting Ten Elms always put him in a foul humor.

Too many bad memories.

Too many unwanted responsibilities on behalf of a place that had never brought him anything but pain. For the most part, he left Ten Elms’ management to his steward, since he rarely set foot over the threshold, but invariably there was some matter or other that would crop up, requiring his attention. There was also his house in Cornwall, and his town house in London, both of which put claims on his time and attention, but he never minded seeing to those properties. They were his and his alone, with none of the taint of the past to sour his habitation.

Yet he’d grown tired of his usual haunts of late—and his usual companions and their seemingly insatiable craving for debauchery.

Even the devil needed a holiday every once in a while.

When his old, and far more respectable, friend Cray mentioned that he was going hunting in Scotland—an activity Gabriel did not enjoy—Cray offered Gabriel the use of his house in his absence. Knowing that Cray House was a place none of his regular crowd would ever think to find him, Gabriel had accepted. He’d actually left London without so much as a word to anyone, instructing his butler to take the knocker off the door and say only that the master was away at present and not receiving.

Wouldn’t his ribald set of cronies laugh now to see him doing something as prosaic as taking a solitary afternoon nap? Then again, he was out of doors, stark naked, so they would most certainly approve of that.

Smirking, he stood up, brushing an errant blade of grass from his bare buttocks. He was about to cross to the stand of bushes where he’d left his clothes when he heard a faint rustling sound behind him. He turned and stared into the foliage.

“Who is it? Is someone there?” he demanded.

The only answer was silence.

He looked again, scanning the area, but nothing moved; no one spoke.

Maybe it had been the wind? Or an animal foraging in the woods?

Suddenly a dog burst from the concealment of the trees, its shaggy wheaten coat gleaming warmly in the sun. He was a medium-sized mix of no particular breed, part hound, possibly, or maybe retriever. He seemed well fed, so it was doubtful that he was a stray. Then again, mayhap he was skilled at poaching birds and rabbits from the bountiful reserves of game in the area.

The dog stopped and looked at him, eyes bright and inquiring but not unfriendly.

“Who might you be, fellow?” Gabriel asked.

The animal wagged his tail and barked twice. Then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, he spun and disappeared into the trees once more.

In that instant, Gabriel thought he spied a flash of blue in the woods.

A bird?

The dog must have sensed it and gone off to chase.

Gabriel stared for one last long moment, then shrugged and turned to gather his clothes.



CHAPTER TWO


“’Tis high time you got home, my lady,” Esme’s maid scolded as Esme hurried into her bedroom nearly fifteen minutes after the dressing gong had been rung. “I was on the verge of sending one of the footmen out to fetch you. Och, and look at those boots. What new mischief have you been about this afternoon? Tromping in the mud again, I see.”

The older woman’s face creased into a scowl that put Esme in mind of a wizened prune.

“Oh, don’t carry on so, Grumbly,” Esme said with a coaxing smile, using the old nickname she’d given Mrs. Grumblethorpe when Esme had still been in leading strings. “I went for a walk, then stopped at the stables afterward to check on Aeolus. His wing is still healing and he needs food and exercise twice a day.”

Aeolus was a hawk Esme had found in the woods a couple of months earlier, shot with an arrow. She’d nursed him through the worst and hoped the bird might be able to fly again with enough time and care.

Grumblethorpe tsked and turned Esme around, her fingers moving quickly to unfasten the buttons on Esme’s mud-stained dress. “You and your animals. Always worrying over some poor, misbegotten creature. Rabbits and birds, hedgehogs and box turtles. You’re forever dragging something back, to say nothing of all the cats and dogs you’ve brought with you into the house.”

Esme let her maid’s words roll harmlessly away. Despite Grumblethorpe’s noises of disapproval, Esme knew she liked the family pets. She just didn’t approve of having so many of them in her mistress’s bedroom at once. Still, it was an old battle and one the lady’s maid had given up waging long ago.

Good thing too, since four of Esme’s six cats—who had all started life in either the Braebourne stables or as strays she’d rescued—were snoozing in various locations around her room. They included a big orange male, Tobias, who was curled up in a cozy spot in the middle of her bed; Queen Elizabeth—a sweet-natured tabby, who was lounging in her usual window seat; Mozart—a luxuriously coated white longhair who luckily loved being brushed; and Naiad, a one-eyed black female, whom Esme had rescued from drowning as a kitten. Her other two cats, Persephone and Ruff, were out and about, seeing to their own cat business.

As for the dogs, Burr lay stretched out on the hearthrug in front of the fireplace. He snored gently, clearly tired after their recent adventures. And joining him in the land of dreams was dear old Henry, a brindle spaniel who was curled up inside a nearby dog bed lined with plush pillows that helped cushion his aging joints. Handel and Haydn, a pair of impish Scottish terriers, were absent. She suspected they were on the third floor playing with her increasingly large brood of nieces and nephews. The dogs loved the children.

Still making a few noises that were true to her name, Grumblethorpe stripped Esme down to her shift and bare feet. She carried away the soiled garments, leaving Esme to wash up with the fresh water and towels that had been laid out.

As Esme dipped her hands into the basin of water, her thoughts turned again to the mysterious naked man at the lake and the drawing of him that now resided in her sketchbook.

A warm flush rose on her skin, together with a tiny secret smile. He truly had been . . . magnificent. Better than any of the Greek statues she’d ever seen.

But her interest in him had been strictly artistic, she assured herself. She was an artist and he had been her chosen subject. If he happened to be pleasingly shaped, and if she happened to have taken extra care in her rendering of certain intriguing body parts, well, she had only been doing justice to the artwork, nothing more.

Even so, she was grateful he hadn’t realized that she’d drawn him. Some people didn’t like having their likenesses sketched—although considering that he’d been swimming naked, he didn’t strike her as the bashful type.

Thank heavens, though, for Burr. For a few seconds, when she’d been turning to leave, she’d feared that her accidental Adonis had spotted her. But Burr had dashed out and diverted his attention so that he hadn’t known she was there.

Picking up the bar of honey-scented soap, she lathered her hands and began to wash. As she did, she speculated again on who he might be. Certainly no one who lived in the neighborhood; she would have remembered a man like him. So why did she have the strangest feeling she’d seen him somewhere before? For the life of her, she couldn’t place him.

Oh well, it would come to her eventually—or not. She wasn’t going to concern herself. After all, it wasn’t as if their paths were likely ever to cross again.

Just then, Grumblethorpe came back into the room with Esme’s evening gown and silk slippers in hand. Realizing she had no further time to ruminate, Esme began to bathe in earnest.

In far less time than one might have imagined, Esme stood clean, elegantly coiffed and attired in an evening gown of demure white silk—presentable for company once again.

She’d hoped with the Season over, she might be able to put all the entertaining behind her for the year. But then Claire had decided to host one of her autumn country parties, inviting the usual gathering of friends and family, in addition to a few new acquaintances from London.

Esme sighed inwardly, wishing she could spend a quiet evening with just the family, then retire early with a good book.

Instead, she straightened her shoulders, fixed a smile on her lips and headed downstairs.

“Might I have the pleasure of procuring a beverage for you, Lady Esme?”

Esme glanced up from where she sat on the end of the long drawing room sofa and into the eager gray eyes of Lord Eversley.

Only minutes before, the gentlemen had rejoined the ladies after dinner, strolling in on a wave of companionable talk and the faint lingering aromas of cigar smoke and port wine.

Esme had been half listening to the other women’s discussion of the latest fashions when Lord Eversley approached and...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bedding Proposal comes a seductive new novel about the most devilishly dangerous men in London. When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters. Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke s sister--especially since he s never set eyes on her. When Esme s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks he can forget about his inconvenient bride but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780451469236

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bedding Proposal comes a seductive new novel about the most devilishly dangerous men in London. When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters. Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke s sister--especially since he s never set eyes on her. When Esme s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks he can forget about his inconvenient bride but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780451469236

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bedding Proposal comes a seductive new novel about the most devilishly dangerous men in London. When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters. Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke s sister--especially since he s never set eyes on her. When Esme s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks he can forget about his inconvenient bride but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9780451469236

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