Meredith Duran Wicked Becomes You

ISBN 13: 9781476788906

Wicked Becomes You

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9781476788906: Wicked Becomes You


She’s been burned not once but twice by London’s so-call ed gentlemen . . .

Gwen Maudsley is pretty enough to be popular, and plenty wealthy, too. But what she’s best known and loved for is being so very, very nice. When a cad jilts her at the altar—again—the scandal has her outraged friends calling for blood. Only Gwen has a different plan. If nice no longer works for her, then it’s time to learn to be naughty. Happily, she knows the perfect tutor—Alexander Ramsey, her late brother’s best friend and a notorious rogue.

So why won’t a confirmed scoundrel let her be as bad as she wants to be?

Unbeknownst to Gwen, Alex’s aloof demeanor veils his deepest unspoken desire. He has no wish to see her change, nor to tempt himself with her presence when his own secrets make any future between them impossible. But on a wild romp from Paris to the Riviera, their friendship gives way to something hotter, darker, and altogether more dangerous. With Alex’s past and Gwen’s newly unleashed wildness on a collision course, Gwen must convince Alex that his wickedest intentions are exactly what she needs.

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About the Author:

Meredith Duran is the USA TODAY bestselling author of ten previous novels. She blames Anne Boleyn for sparking her lifelong obsession with British history (and for convincing her that princely love is no prize if it doesn’t come with a happily-ever-after). She enjoys collecting old etiquette manuals, guidebooks to nineteenth-century London, and travelogues by intrepid Victorian women.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Fridays were not Gwen’s favorite; they too often rained. But in April of 1890, they turned lucky for her. On the first Friday of the month, a note arrived from an anonymous admirer, delicately sprinkled with rose-scented tears. On the second Friday, she supervised the placement of the final pagoda in the garden at Heaton Dale. And on the third Friday, beneath an unseasonably bright sun, three hundred of London’s most fashionable citizens filed into church to witness her marriage to Viscount Pennington.

Gwen waited on her feet, in a little antechamber off the nave, a wholly unnecessary fire crackling in the hearth. The ceremony should have started half an hour ago, but (so Belinda had told her, in a brief visit to ensure that her veil still sat straight) the guests were too busy consorting to be seated. The brightest lights of society were convening, some for the first time since last season; according to one of the social columns this morning, “Only the angelic Miss Maudsley, whom everybody adores,” could gather a crowd of such numbers before Whitsuntide.

Gwen took a deep breath and cast her eyes to the window above her. It was not odd, really, that she wished she were in the pews, exchanging greetings. Or outside, even. In the park. The air in here felt stifling, far too warm.

The walls seemed to be closing in.

What am I doing?

She bit her lip. Her discomfort was only the fault of the fire, of course, and the boy who fed it too much wood. And perhaps a bit of it was owed to the memory of that other time, and that other fiancé. It had taken months of brilliant successes to persuade the papers to describe her as anything other than “the much-beleaguered Miss M——, so dreadfully disappointed by the treacherous Lord T——.”

Still, for all that she was now a shining success set to achieve her greatest triumph, this corset was strangling the life from her. And her gown, encrusted with innumerable pearls, weighed thirty pounds at the least. One might drown in such a gown! And these heeled shoes pinched her toes awfully.

She took a deep breath. This is the happiest day of my life.

Of course it was. Her feet throbbed, regardless. The stool to her right began to beckon like a siren. An evil siren. The bustle of her train would not survive a crushing.

Giggles exploded from across the room. Four bridesmaids in pink and ivory ribbons clustered by the door, their noses pressed to the crack. “Oh, Lord,” Katherine Percy squealed. “I died! She matched peacock feathers with plaid!”

“That’s appalling,” said Lady Anne. “One would cut her, but she’s evidently too blind to take note of it.”

Gwen cleared her throat. “Lady Embury has arrived?”

Four faces turned toward her, mouths agape. “You’re a marvel,” Katherine said. “How did you guess? Yes, it was she!”

Gwen pressed her palm to her stomach, which was jumping so violently that it seemed a wonder her hand could not detect the commotion. She had told the baroness not to add the feathers. An entire morning they had spent designing that hat! What was the point of soliciting counsel if one refused to heed it?

“Oh!” Lucy clutched Katherine’s shoulder. “Look now! Gwen, your groom is passing by!”

Lady Anne’s back went rigid as a poker. Gwen, meanwhile, felt a startling wave of relief. She realized that some secret part of her had been braced for another debacle like the one with Lord Trent.

Well, perhaps her nerves would settle now. This was the day she’d dreamed of for years. Surely she could manage to enjoy it!

Charlotte Everdell glanced toward her. “He’s so handsome, Gwen! Why, I think the viscount is the most attractive man in London!”

She managed a smile. Thomas was not so handsome. That word better fitted the angelic blondness of Mr. Cust, or, at the darker end of it, Alex Ramsey, whose blue eyes worked to such striking effect against his dark hair and angular cheekbones. But what of it? A wise woman did not place much import on looks. Mr. Cust, after all, was a mean-tempered scalawag, and Alex a notorious rogue; she rarely passed five minutes in his company before biting her tongue lest she reply to some rude quip in kind. Indeed, Alex proved the point: looks mattered little without a manner to match them.

Happily, Thomas’s manner was just like his face: pleasant through and through. He lacked a chin but made up for it with a fine beard, black as the hair on his head. His green eyes were kind and his thin lips, given to smiling. And he loved her! That was most important of all. He had told her so a hundred times. In an hour at most, she would once again have a family of her own—a real family, not just one made of friends and paid companions.

“He’s gone,” Katherine said. “Boohoo.”

“Up the aisle?” Gwen asked softly.

“No, not yet. Oh, Gwen, what a brilliant match. I’m so happy for you!”

“We all are,” said Lucy. “The nicest girl in England, and the handsomest heir in the realm! Why, it’s like some fairy tale.”

Charlotte clapped. “Oh, do tell us, Gwen—don’t you love him awfully?”

“Of course she does,” snapped Lady Anne. “Really, what an absurd question to ask at her wedding.”

Charlotte shrank. Lucy, patting her arm, sent a knowing look to Gwen.

Gwen pretended not to see it, but she took the meaning. Lady Anne had nursed a terrible crush on Thomas last season. She couldn’t afford him, of course; her father’s magnificent estates near Lincoln were as heavily mortgaged as his. But her eyes had followed him across the floor at every ball.

Gwen felt very bad for her. Only four weeks ago, she’d felt utterly wretched. But then she’d learned that Lady Anne had volunteered her to knit ten sweaters for Lady Milton’s orphanage before its spring excursion to Ramsgate. Ten sweaters in a month! Gwen was not a loom! It’s a marvelous opportunity to prove your dedication, Lady Anne had told her. But this was not the first time she’d made impossible promises on Gwen’s behalf. Last season, shortly after Thomas had paid his first call, it had been thirty embroidered handkerchiefs for Lady Milton’s charity bazaar, not three weeks away. It seemed clear that these sweaters were Lady Anne’s latest attempt to sabotage Gwen’s bid for a seat on the charity committee.

All the same, Gwen had smiled and thanked her and put in an order for merino. Madness was forgivable in the heartbroken. (Why, after Lord Trent had jilted her, she’d briefly taken an interest in learning Latin!) Still, when the newspapers claimed that she was “everyone’s bosom friend” on account of her “inborn good cheer,” they missed how much work the position actually required—not to mention the toll it took on her wrists.

Perhaps, she thought, she would give up knitting after marriage.

And embroidery, while she was at it.

What a thrilling notion. Did she dare?

A knock came at the door. The bridesmaids leapt back. Aunt Elma entered, smiling. When Uncle Henry appeared behind her, Gwen’s mouth went dry. “Is it time?” she whispered.

“So it is,” Elma said warmly. “I’ve come for your bridesmaids, dear.”

They turned to Gwen, clapping, crying out encouragement, blowing her kisses as they hurried out.

And then the door closed, and it was only she and Uncle Henry who remained.

Silence filled the room. Without her friends’ chatter to oppose it, the noise filtering through the door from the nave seemed much louder, like the roaring of the crowd at a circus. Surely three hundred people wasn’t that many?

That’s six hundred eyes.

“Well,” she said brightly.

Henry Beecham was not given to garrulity. He cleared his throat, nodded at her, ran a hand over his silver mustache, and then resumed his inspection of his shoes.

She smiled, remembering that the first time she’d arrived on his doorstep, he’d greeted her just so, with a stroke of his mustache and a snuffle. His wife, Elma, had told him to say something lest Gwen think him a mute. “All right then,” he’d said, and that had been the last Gwen had heard from him for a day or two.

As a thirteen-year-old, she’d found his silence quite puzzling. Frightening, even. Now, ten years later, she would not have the first idea what to do if he began to soliloquize. Call for a doctor, maybe.

She was glad he would walk her up the aisle. Her brother had paid the Beechams to raise her, but their affection had long since grown genuine. Since Richard’s death, they were the closest thing she had to family.

But not in half an hour. By noon, I will have a real family.

It would still be purchased, though.

The thought was dark and evil and skittered across her brain like a big black beetle. She shook her head to cast it out—mindful to do so carefully, lest she disturb the veil. This was not at all like the arrangement her brother had struck with the Beechams. The viscount loved her. And if she admired his station, that was only natural. His family tree was old and much distinguished, whereas hers . . . well, hers was more in the way of a very stumpy shrub. That it also happened to be gilded in gold—or the dyes her father had invented; no difference, really—made her more attractive to Thomas than she would have been otherwise. She knew that. Still, she was not paying him to be her husband. And as for his motives . . . well, her fortune hadn’t persuaded Lord Trent to the altar, had it?

“Auspicious day,” Henry muttered.

“Yes.”

He looked up sharply. “Bit nervous?”

Her voice failed her. She nodded.

He chuckled. “Should’ve seen me. Shaking in my shoes. Best man had to hold my head over a chamber pot. I’ll tell you what he told me: ‘So long as you lay the cornerstone straight, Providence will build the house.’”

She managed a smile but found the adage ominous. Thomas had thirteen houses, all of them in terrible disrepair; another would only add to the expense.

Now came another knock, and Uncle Henry straightened and extended his elbow to her. She realized only belatedly, from the pain in her loosening fingers, that she’d been squeezing her hands into fists.

But he loves me, she thought. That is all that matters. He loves me, and I want this. What was all of it for, if not for this? I’ve wanted this forever.

And so did Mama and Papa and Richard. They wanted this for me, too. We all did.

I want this.

She cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said. She laid her hand on Henry’s arm. “I’m ready.”

Alex arrived without warning, flustering his brother’s butler with his refusal to be announced. There was a mystery here, and in his experience, ambushes were the most expedient way to uncover the truth.

He walked toward Gerard’s study on legs still braced for the unsteady sway of a ship. He could smell the widow’s perfume rising from his skin, and the scent compounded on his fatigue, making his stomach churn. The lady had slipped into his cabin last night after thirty days of idle flirtation, but this headache was enough to make him regret having entertained her. The attraction between them had been more the product of boredom than true interest. What harm? he’d reasoned. Left to his own devices, he wouldn’t have managed to sleep anyway. He barely remembered what a sound sleep felt like.

Odd to think that the insomnia had seemed a blessing, at first. So much useful time no longer squandered on unconsciousness. But after five months, the nights were beginning to stretch into dry-eyed eternities. The widow’s company had not made the time pass more quickly for him.

At least her perfume would lend him the illusion of having bathed.

As he turned the corner, he willed himself to focus on the task at hand. It would be convenient to find an obvious explanation for his brother’s actions, but nothing in the house spoke of want. The threadbare Aubussons had not been replaced by newer, plusher, cheaper rugs. The wallpaper bore no darkened patches where frames had been removed. In the box stalls in the mews, which he had checked upon arrival, a new pair of chestnuts now gave company to the matched grays. The carriages showed no signs of neglect. Everything looked exactly the same, which made Gerry’s decision all the more baffling.

The door to the study stood open. For an uncanny second, as Alex paused in the doorway, he had a sense of looking onto a scene long dead: his father, sitting ramrod-straight at his desk, industriously scrutinizing the household accounts. With the déjà vu came other, equally dead impulses—to stay quiet; to walk on by; to avoid a fight that could not be won. The weariness that touched him was not all from the insomnia, nor the long journey either. As a boy, he’d had to work very hard to believe in possibilities.

He exhaled. It was only Gerard at the desk, of course. His older brother was the picture of the Earl of Weston before him, lantern-jawed and stocky, as well-fleshed as a bull. Came home more frequently in the evenings, though. And there were other small differences—such as the fact that their father would have shot himself before surrendering any title to family land.

Of course, it would have been a waste of a bullet, in Alex’s view. He had no interest in the patrimony. It wasn’t his, anyway.

Why the bloody hell am I here, then?

He sighed. He was heartily sick of this question, having asked it of himself all the way from Gibraltar. Little else to do in the early hours before dawn. Best answer: his sisters had asked it of him. It would be his favor to them, then—enough to purchase twelve months’ freedom from additional pestering. “Cheers,” he said from the doorway.

Gerard looked up. “What—Alex!” He started to rise, then caught himself. “You’re back! We had no idea!”

“Neither did I,” said Alex. “A sudden decision when I reached Gibraltar. The whole place reeks of blood pudding—brought the motherland to mind.”

In fact, he’d received several telegrams during his stop there: two outraged screeds from his sisters, and a half-dozen cautions from friends who had seen Christopher Monsanto dining in Buenos Aires with the Peruvian trade minister. It seemed that the Yank now had his overbearing eye on Alex’s contracts with the Peruvian government.

The thought seemed to add weight to his exhaustion. He would probably regret not having turned back for Lima at once.

“Well.” Gerry was making a swift, critical inspection, his gaze raking Alex from head to toe. “I must say, this is a splendid surprise.”

As always, the inspection grated. As always, Alex produced a smile. “Will I live?” he asked. “Or does the deathbed draw nigh?”

His brother had the grace to redden. “You look whole enough. Do sit, then.”

Alex picked up an armchair on his way across the carpet.

“Careful,” Gerry said sharply. “That’s heavy.”

Sweet Christ. Alex dropped the chair in front of the desk and took his seat. “It weighs no more than a ten year old,” he said. “Really, Gerry, has it escaped your notice that I outstrip you by a head?” Since his fourteenth birthday, he’d been outrunning and outfighting his brother in any number of arenas. But if he picked up a toy poodle, Gerry would probably feel the need to call out a warning.

“Bulk, not height,” Gerry said critically. “Bulk is what matters.”

Alex eyed his brother’s ever-expanding gut. “Yes, I suppose that’s one view of it.”

“You look as if you could use a meal. And some sleep.”

He made a one-shouldere...

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Book Description Gallery Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. She s been burned not once but twice by London s so-call ed gentlemen . . . Gwen Maudsley is pretty enough to be popular, and plenty wealthy, too. But what she s best known and loved for is being so very, very nice. When a cad jilts her at the altar--again--the scandal has her outraged friends calling for blood. Only Gwen has a different plan. If nice no longer works for her, then it s time to learn to be naughty. Happily, she knows the perfect tutor--Alexander Ramsey, her late brother s best friend and a notorious rogue. So why won t a confirmed scoundrel let her be as bad as she wants to be? Unbeknownst to Gwen, Alex s aloof demeanor veils his deepest unspoken desire. He has no wish to see her change, nor to tempt himself with her presence when his own secrets make any future between them impossible. But on a wild romp from Paris to the Riviera, their friendship gives way to something hotter, darker, and altogether more dangerous. With Alex s past and Gwen s newly unleashed wildness on a collision course, Gwen must convince Alex that his wickedest intentions are exactly what she needs. Bookseller Inventory # APC9781476788906

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Book Description Gallery Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.She s been burned not once but twice by London s so-call ed gentlemen . . . Gwen Maudsley is pretty enough to be popular, and plenty wealthy, too. But what she s best known and loved for is being so very, very nice. When a cad jilts her at the altar--again--the scandal has her outraged friends calling for blood. Only Gwen has a different plan. If nice no longer works for her, then it s time to learn to be naughty. Happily, she knows the perfect tutor--Alexander Ramsey, her late brother s best friend and a notorious rogue. So why won t a confirmed scoundrel let her be as bad as she wants to be? Unbeknownst to Gwen, Alex s aloof demeanor veils his deepest unspoken desire. He has no wish to see her change, nor to tempt himself with her presence when his own secrets make any future between them impossible. But on a wild romp from Paris to the Riviera, their friendship gives way to something hotter, darker, and altogether more dangerous. With Alex s past and Gwen s newly unleashed wildness on a collision course, Gwen must convince Alex that his wickedest intentions are exactly what she needs. Bookseller Inventory # APC9781476788906

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