In this enticing new romance ripe with sensuality and wit, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh proves that comfort is no match for passion when a stuffy gentleman becomes the object of desire of an adoring and spirited young woman.
THE SECRET MISTRESS
While Lady Angeline Dudley’s pedigree dictates that she must land a titled gentleman, the irrepressible beauty secretly longs for a simple, ordinary suitor. No wild rakes like the men of her family, just a kind heart and good nature. So when Edward Ailsbury, the new Earl of Heyward, rescues her with unmatched civility from the advances of a scoundrel, Angeline thinks that she has found her true love. Persuading the earl is another matter entirely.
Edward has his future neatly mapped out. He hopes to wed his steadfast companion, a woman who shares his values of loyalty, respect, and decorum. But arriving in London to take his seat in the House of Lords, he is derailed by Angeline, an exquisite bird of paradise seemingly devoted to sending his predictable life into chaos.
From the brilliant hues of her fashion to her hoydenish antics, Angeline is the last woman on earth for Edward. And yet a stolen kiss in the moonlight awakens something deep and primal within him. Naturally, being a gentleman, he does the right thing after compromising a lady: He offers marriage.
Angeline knows that Edward’s proposal is born of duty, not love. But denying something so provocative and passionate is easier said than done. Deep down, Angeline believes that Edward’s dedication to convention will melt behind closed doors, where sensuality and seduction play wicked games. For a proper wife by day can become a husband’s secret mistress by night, when delicious desire rules.
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Mary Balogh is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books, including the acclaimed Slightly and Simply novels and her Huxtable series: First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Seduction, At Last Comes Love, Seducing an Angel, and A Secret Affair. A former teacher, she grew up in Wales and now lives in Canada.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Lady Angeline Dudley was standing at the window of the taproom in the Rose and Crown Inn east of Reading. Quite scandalously, she was alone there, but what was she to do? The window of her own room looked out only upon a rural landscape. It was picturesque enough, but it was not the view she wanted. Only the taproom window offered that, looking out as it did upon the inn yard into which any new arrival was bound to ride.
Angeline was waiting, with barely curbed impatience, for the arrival of her brother and guardian, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham. He was to have been here before her, but she had arrived an hour and a half ago and there had been no sign of him. It was very provoking. A string of governesses over the years, culminating in Miss Pratt, had instilled in her the idea that a lady never showed an excess of emotion, but how was one not to do so when one was on one's way to London for the Season-one's first-and one was eager to be there so that one's adult life could begin in earnest at last, yet one's brother had apparently forgotten all about one's very existence and was about to leave one languishing forever at a public inn a day's journey away from the rest of one's life?
Of course, she had arrived here ridiculously early. Tresham had arranged for her to travel this far under the care of the Reverend Isaiah Coombes and his wife and two children before they went off in a different direction to celebrate some special anniversary with Mrs. Coombes's relatives, and Angeline was transferred to the care of her brother, who was to come from London. The Coombeses arose each morning at the crack of dawn or even earlier, despite yawning protests from the junior Coombeses, with the result that their day's journey was completed almost before those of more normal persons even began.
The Reverend and Mrs. Coombes had been quite prepared to settle in and wait like long-suffering martyrs at the inn until their precious charge could be handed over to the care of His Grace, but Angeline had persuaded them to be on their way. What could possibly happen to her at the Rose and Crown Inn, after all? It was a perfectly respectable establishment-Tresham had chosen it himself, had he not? And it was not as if she was quite alone. There was Betty, her maid; two burly grooms from the stables at Acton Park, Tresham's estate in Hampshire; and two stout footmen from the house. And Tresham himself was sure to arrive any minute.
The Reverend Coombes had been swayed, against his better judgment, by the soundness of her reasoning-and by the anxiety of his wife lest their journey not be completed before nightfall, and by the whining complaints of Miss Chastity Coombes and Master Esau Coombes, aged eleven and nine respectively, that they would never get to play with their cousins if they had to wait here forever.
Angeline's patience had been severely tried by those two while she had been forced to share a carriage with them.
She had retired to her room to change out of her travel clothes and to have Betty brush and restyle her hair. She had then instructed her drooping maid to rest awhile, which the girl had done to immediate effect on the truckle bed at the foot of Angeline's own. Meanwhile Angeline had noticed that her window would give no advance notice whatsoever of the arrival of her brother, so she had left the room to find a more satisfactory window-only to discover the four hefty male servants from Acton arrayed in all their menacing largeness outside her door as though to protect her from foreign invasion. She had banished them to the servants' quarters for rest and refreshments, explaining by way of persuasion that she had not noticed any highwaymen or footpads or brigands or other assorted villains hovering about the inn. Had they?
And then, alone at last, she had discovered the window she was searching for-in the public taproom. It was not quite proper for her to be there unescorted, but the room was deserted, so where was the harm? Who was to know of her slight indiscretion? If any persons came before Tresham rode into the inn yard, she would simply withdraw to her room until they left. When Tresham arrived, she would dash up to her room so that when he entered the inn, she could be descending the stairs, all modest respectability, Betty behind her, as though she were just coming down to ask about him.
Oh, it was very hard not to bounce around with impatience and excitement. She was nineteen years old, and this was almost the first time she had been more than ten miles from Acton Park. She had lived a very sheltered existence, thanks to a stern, overprotective father and an absentee overprotective brother after him, and thanks to a mother who had never taken her to London or Bath or Brighton or any of the other places she herself had frequented.
Angeline had entertained hopes of making her come-out at the age of seventeen, but before she could muster all her arguments and begin persuading and wheedling the persons who held her fate in their hands, her mother had died unexpectedly in London and there had been a whole year of mourning to be lived through at Acton. And then last year, when all had been set for her come-out at the indisputably correct age of eighteen, she had broken her leg, and Tresham, provoking man, had flatly refused to allow her to clump into the queen's presence on crutches in order to make her curtsy and her debut into the adult world of the ton and the marriage mart.
By now she was ancient, a veritable fossil, but nevertheless a hopeful, excited, impatient one.
Angeline leaned her forearms along the windowsill and rested her bosom on them as she cocked her ear closer to the window.
And carriage wheels!
Oh, she could not possibly be mistaken.
She was not. A team of horses, followed by a carriage, turned in at the gate and clopped and rumbled over the cobbles to the far side of the yard.
It was immediately apparent to Angeline, however, that this was not Tresham. The carriage was far too battered and ancient. And the gentleman who jumped down from inside it even before the coachman could set down the steps bore no resemblance to her brother. Before she could see him clearly enough to decide if he was worth looking at anyway, though, her attention was distracted by the deafening sound of a horn blast, and almost simultaneously another team and another coach hove into sight and drew to a halt close to the taproom door.
Again, it was not Tresham's carriage. That had been apparent from the first moment. It was a stagecoach.
Angeline did not feel as great a disappointment as might have been expected, though. This bustle of human activity was all new and exciting to her. She watched as the coachman opened the door and set down the steps and passengers spilled out onto the cobbles from inside and clambered down a rickety ladder from the roof. Too late she realized that, of course, all these people were about to swarm inside for refreshments and that she ought not to be here when they did. The inn door was opening even as she thought it, and the buzz of at least a dozen voices all talking at once preceded their owners inside, but only by a second or two.
If she withdrew now, Angeline thought, she would be far more conspicuous than if she stayed where she was. Besides, she was enjoying the scene. And besides again, if she went upstairs and waited for the coach to be on its way, she might miss the arrival of her brother, and it seemed somehow important to her to see him the moment he appeared. She had not seen him in the two years since their mother's funeral at Acton Park.
She stayed and assuaged her conscience by continuing to look out the window, her back to the room, while people called with varying degrees of politeness and patience for ale and pasties and one or two instructed someone to look sharp about it, and the someone addressed replied tartly that she had only one pair of hands and was it her fault the coach was running an hour late and the passengers had been given only a ten-minute stop instead of half an hour?
Indeed, ten minutes after the coach's arrival, the passengers were called to board again if they did not want to get left behind, and they hurried or straggled out, some complaining vociferously that they had to abandon at least half their ale.
The taproom was soon as empty and silent as it had been before. No one had had time to notice Angeline, a fact for which she was profoundly grateful. Miss Pratt even now, a full year after moving on to other employment, would have had a fit of the vapors if she could have seen the full taproom with her former pupil standing alone at the window. Tresham would have had a fit of something far more volcanic.
No matter. No one would ever know.
Would he never come?
Angeline heaved a deep sigh as the coachman blew his yard of tin again to warn any persons or dogs or chickens out on the street that they were in imminent danger of being mown down if they did not immediately scurry for safety. The coach rattled out through the gates, turning as it went, and disappeared from sight.
The gentleman's carriage was still at the far side of the yard, but now it had fresh horses attached. He was still here, then. He must be taking refreshments in a private parlor.
Angeline adjusted her bosom on her arms, wiggled herself into a more comfortable position, and proceeded to dream about all the splendors of the Season awaiting her in London.
Oh, she could not wait.
It did seem, however, that she had no choice but to do just that.
Had Tresham even left London yet?
The gentleman whose carriage awaited him at the far side of the inn yard was not taking refreshments in a private parlor. He was doing so in the public taproom, his elbow resting on the high counter. The reason Angeline did not realize he was there was that he did not slurp his ale and did not talk aloud to himself.
Edward Ailsbury, Earl of Heyward, was feeling more than slightly uncomfortable. ...
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