Never Seduce a Scoundrel (School for Heiresses Series)

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9781441839138: Never Seduce a Scoundrel (School for Heiresses Series)

“Be careful, Amelia – you know how reckless you can be!” – Mrs. Charlotte Harris, headmistress Lady Amelia Plume has many admirers – it’s too bad they’re all fortune hunters and fops who can’t provide the exotic adventures she seeks. But the ballrooms of Mayfair have become much more appealing since the arrival of Major Lucas Winter, an American with a dark past and a dangerous air. Lucas is brash, arrogant – and scandalously tempting. Every thrilling kiss sparks hotter desire, yet Amelia suspects Lucas has a hidden motive in wooing her. And she intends to discover it, by any means necessary....

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About the Author:

By the time SABRINA JEFFRIES was eighteen, she’d eaten chicken heads and jellyfish, been chased by a baby elephant, seen countless cobras and pythons, had the entire series of rabies shots, and visited rain forests and rubber plantations. But that wasn’t enough excitement for her; to escape her mundane life as a missionary’s daughter, she read romance novels. Now she writes romance novels, and her bestselling, award-winning tales of strong women and sexy, dangerous men have been translated all over the world. Although she now lives a quiet life in North Carolina with her husband and son, her colorful past has given her plenty of inspiration for more novels.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

London

June 1818

Dear Cousin Michael,

For the next few weeks, I shan't be at the school, but in London chaperoning Lady Amelia while her father and stepmother are in the country. Do continue to send your missives. I'll need your sage advice, for Lady Amelia is high-spirited (dare I say, almost as much as I?) and liable to land us both in trouble before the season ends.

Yours sincerely,

Charlotte

Who would ever guess balls could be boring?

Certainly not Lady Amelia Plume. When she'd first come to London from the tiny seaside town of Torquay, every tea, every ball, every soiree had been a wonder.

But that was two years ago, before she'd realized they were all alike. And the Dowager Viscountess Kirkwood's annual spring ball was no exception, judging from the crowd Amelia surveyed as she entered the rose-bedecked ballroom. It was the same dull people -- the same prancing fops and gossipy matrons and frivolous young misses. No aspiring lady adventurer with an ounce of self-respect would stay.

Unfortunately, she'd promised her Scottish friend, Lady Venetia Campbell, that she would. At least Venetia, whom she spotted a short distance away, knew how to enliven a tedious evening.

"Thank heaven you've come," Venetia said as she approached. "I swear I shall die of boredom. There's hardly anybody interesting here."

"Nobody?" Amelia asked, her disappointment acute. "No Spanish ambassadors or explorers newly arrived from the Pacific, or even an opera singer?"

Venetia laughed. "I was thinking more in terms of eligible men."

For Venetia, that meant clever men. Not that she couldn't have her pick of the male crop, clever or otherwise. Besides being obscenely wealthy, she had the sort of beauty men slobbered over, with raven tresses and creamy skin and rather...enormous breasts.

Next to Venetia, Amelia was abominably average -- of average height, with average skin, of average tone. Her average figure would never inspire rhapsodies, and her medium brown hair vacillated between being curly and straight.

But she had quite a lot of hair, thank goodness, and kept it lustrous with pomatum and her American stepmother's honeysuckle water. Amelia's eyes might not be the siren's green of Venetia's, but men described them as "sparkling," and her breasts generally commanded attention.

In short, Amelia possessed her share of modest attractions...and modest suitors. Granted, most men only cared about her not-so-modest inheritance and her position as the Earl of Tovey's daughter. But she didn't intend to marry any of them, anyway -- neither the Marquess of Pomeroy, an aging general who fancied her and her fortune, nor their hostess's son, the Viscount Kirkwood himself, who'd made overtures to her last year.

She aspired to a more adventurous life -- touring Turkey like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, or living in Syria like the legendary Lady Hester Stanhope.

"Actually," Venetia said, "there's one person here we'd both find 'interesting': Lord Kirkwood's American cousin." She nodded to a spot beyond Amelia. "Major Lucas Winter is apparently in England on assignment with the United States Marine Guard."

Expecting some weather-grizzled older fellow, Amelia followed Venetia's gaze. Then stared. Good Lord, how had she missed him when she'd come in?

Major Winter stuck out in the cramped ballroom like a hawk among pigeons. He wore quite the dashing blue-coated uniform, which bristled with gold braid, and a wide, bloodred sash around his trim waist. Her heart raced just to look at it.

And not only his uniform, either. His inky hair matched his inky boots, and though far from grizzled, his sun-browned skin made the other gentlemen look positively anemic. It hinted at days spent at sea, at battles on the Mediterranean. Oh, the adventures he must have had!

"Now that is a man," Venetia remarked. "They do grow them tall and well built in America, don't they? Even if his features are somewhat rough."

True. The man's jaw was a bit too angular and his nose a touch too narrow for handsome. And any English lord would ruthlessly pluck those thick, unruly eyebrows. But even if his appearance were changed, as long as the man wore that brooding scowl, he would continue to look "rough."

And fascinating.

"He hasn't yet asked a single lady to dance." Mischief glinted in Venetia's eyes. "But you'll adore this -- they say he travels with a veritable arsenal. If he keeps insulting the officers, he may even have to use it."

"He insulted them?" Drat it, she'd missed everything by coming late.

"He told Lord Pomeroy that the Americans won their recent conflict with us because English officers are 'more interested in promenades than pistols.'"

Amelia laughed. She could only imagine how the general had taken that pronouncement. Especially from a man like the major, who clearly saw this as enemy territory, even though the war had ended three years ago. As Major Winter sipped champagne, he scanned the ballroom with the barely leashed contempt of a spy doing reconnaissance.

"Is he married?" Amelia asked.

Venetia frowned. "Come to think of it, no one's actually said."

"I do hope he isn't." Amelia slid another glance his way. "He must be remarkably brave to face his old enemies in their own territory."

"And he must have something more than deadwood under his kilt," Venetia added, her Scottish burr faintly evident.

Amelia eyed her askance. "You've been reading the chapbook of harem tales again, haven't you?"

"It's quite informative." Venetia lowered her voice to a whisper. "What do you think? Does the major have a 'sword' worth worshipping with one's mouth?"

"Goodness, even I'm not shameless enough to speculate on the major's 'sword.'"

Venetia chuckled. "Your stepmother will be delighted to hear it."

Amelia laughed. "Lord knows Dolly despairs of me enough as it is, poor thing. She hated being dragged across the world by her late husband, so she can't understand why I would jump at the chance to travel."

Her gaze drifted back to the major. The American marines were famous for battling the Barbary pirates in years past. Was he too young to have experienced that? Did she dare wangle an introduction to him to find out?

Lord Kirkwood glanced in her direction and murmured something to his cousin, who followed his gaze. It was the first time the American had looked her way, so she flashed him an inviting smile.

He didn't return it. His eyes narrowed on her with a sudden predatory intensity, then drifted rather impudently down her gown of yellow Chinese silk with its Oriental red flounces. By the time they trailed back up to fix on her face, hot color was rising in her cheeks.

Goodness gracious, the man was bold. No Englishman had ever looked at her as if she stood there stark naked. How very intriguing. It sent a delicious chill right down her spine.

Then he ruined it with a curt nod and returned his gaze to his cousin.

Well! What was she to make of that?

"Where's your stepmother tonight, anyway?" Venetia asked.

"She and Papa left for Torquay yesterday," Amelia said absently. Now that Dolly was expecting her first child, Papa was determined to coddle her in the country. "They nearly made me go, too, but Mrs. Harris fortunately agreed to come to town and chaperone me while she's not needed at the school."

Amelia and Venetia had graduated from Mrs. Harris's School for Young Ladies two years ago, and their schoolmistress still bore a strong affection for them -- as they did for her. That's why they rode out there monthly for tea and her "lessons for heiresses." Not to mention the wealth of information she received regularly from her mysterious benefactor, "Cousin Michael."

"Much as I adore Mrs. Harris," Venetia said, "I wouldn't want her for a chaperone. She'd never allow you a private moment with a gentleman."

"What gentleman is Amelia having a private moment with?" a querulous voice asked behind them.

Amelia stifled a groan. It was Miss Sarah Linley, another schoolmate. Amelia had tried to like her, but Silly Sarah's petulance and snobbery made even Amelia clench her teeth.

"Hello, Sarah." She pasted a polite smile on her face. "We were just talking about the lack of eligible men here."

"What lack?" Sarah said. "I see several. Lord Kirkwood, for example."

"Who I hear is trying to marry a fortune," Venetia pointed out.

Sarah twirled one of her golden ringlets about her finger. "And I have a fortune, don't I?"

The banker's daughter also had the exquisite features of a porcelain doll. A pity she had nothing resembling a brain.

"Lord Kirkwood would never show an interest in you," Venetia bit out, not bothering to hide her loathing. Thanks to Sarah's frequent mentions of "those dirty Scots," the two of them were always at daggers drawn.

"Ah, but he has already done so," Sarah said, in a voice dripping condescension. Then she sighed dramatically. "Unfortunately, my parents disapprove. Papa calls Lord Kirkwood a 'titled wastrel' and wants me to marry some tea merchant with pots of money. They only let me attend tonight because the merchant was coming here, too. Me, married to a tea merchant! Can you imagine? When I could be Lady Kirkwood?"

"I'm sure the viscount is brokenhearted," Venetia said sarcastically.

"Oh, the tale isn't over yet." Sarah flashed them a secretive smile.

Amelia knew better than to encourage her, but Venetia clearly couldn't stand having Sarah know something she didn't. "Really?" Venetia prodded.

Sarah leaned close. "Promise you won't tell anyone?"

Venetia exchanged a glance with Amelia. "Certainly not."

"He slipped me a letter at the last assembly declaring his intentions."

Amelia barely disguised her shock. She'd thought Lord Kirkwood sensible, but if he would seriously contemplate marriage to Silly Sarah, he was clearly mad...or mor...

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