WIHA-3D-cover Read an Excerpt

Wicked in His Arms

Wedded by Scandal Series

A marriage most scandalous.

Tobias Walcott, the Earl of Blade, has learned it is best to exercise rigid control over his passions and emotions in all that he does. Uncaring that it makes him seem cool and aloof to most in the ton, he is content with his desire to only woo agreeable and demur females. Then unforeseen circumstances see him trapped in a closet at a house party with the last woman he would ever make his countess.

Lady Olivia Sherwood is everything he should not desire in a female—unconventional, too decisive, and utterly without decorum. But passion ignites between them and they are discovered. Honor demands they wed, and while Tobias finds himself unwillingly drawn to the bewitching beauty, he must do everything not to tempt the passion that burns in him for her, lest it leads to disastrous consequences.

Chapter One

April 1818

Hertfordshire, England

Riverhill Manor

The worst had passed.

A wracking cough jerked Viscount Bathhurst’s frame from the bed, and Lady Olivia Henrietta Sherwood—Livvie to her friends and family—reached for a washcloth and dabbed the spittle from the corner of his lips. It brought tears to her eyes to see her stepfather like this, when up until only a few months ago, he had been hale and hearty. A fall from his horse, then an attack of the heart, had rendered him thin and frail.

Livvie had worked diligently to hide her terror when she thought he’d been dying. She’d already lost one father, and she had yet to recover from the devastation. Everyone, including the servants, had anticipated the passing of the viscount with grim visages. However, he had rallied and now seemed to be on the mend.

He struggled to sit, a grimace settling on his weary but handsome face. “My dear Livvie,” he said, “we must discuss your future.”

“Please, Father, conserve your strength. I am certain now is not the time for such conversations.”

He smiled. “Nonsense, the doctors have given me a good report. I shall be well, my dear, very well indeed.”

Renewed hope blasted through her heart at his wonderful optimism. “I prayed and lit a candle for you every night for the last few weeks.”

His face softened with tenderness. “I daresay God heard your prayers, Livvie, for I can assure you my mending started several weeks ago. What shall I do without you?”

Oh no. She knew where he was going with this…

After successfully settling against the mound of pillows, he reached for her hand and clasped it gently in his. “I have written to ask my cousin, the Countess of Blade, to sponsor you into society,” he said, diving straight to the heart of her fear.

“Father, you are mending. Surely there is no haste?” She had hoped there would be no more talk of her facing the cruelty of London’s society again. After her dismal and harsh reception three years ago, she had made a vow to be true to her own heart, and she would follow it. And her heart was not intent on wading through the fierce and delicate waters of high society to find a husband, at least not until she had her own money. She would not be persuaded to select a gentleman simply because he had over ten thousand a year.

“You are twenty-two, my dear, and close to becoming on the shelf.”

“Twenty-two isn’t decrepit,” she said softly.

He shook his head, sympathy lighting his eyes. “Because of your ghastly experience of losing your papa and then facing the vileness of society’s expectations, your mother and I have been too indulgent. We understood your aversion to another Season and the possibility of facing rumors about your father’s…unfortunate demise again. But you must learn to move past it, Livvie.”

Unfortunate demise. Such an understatement of the heartbreak she and her mother had been made to suffer. Familiar grief twisted through her.

“And I thank you for sparing me such pain, but I am not hiding from the ton, I am living a life I am truly happy with.”

His fingers stroked over her knuckles in a soothing caress, but his lips remained firm. “Though we had the best intentions, we did you a disservice having you here at Riverhills running wild, fishing, swimming in the lake at all odd hours, selling your paintings when you should have been in Town, attaining enough social polish to land yourself a well-heeled gentleman.”

A well-heeled gentleman? “Father—”

“Come, Livvie, surely you expect to be married someday?” He said it gently, but there was steel underlying his tone.

“Eventually…if I develop an attachment to someone.”

“Many people have formed comfortable and lasting attachments without the finer sentiments guiding them. I wish I could grant you your desire to remain unmarried. I dearly wish I could leave more for my daughters if I should perish.” His eyes darkened. “I wish for many things, my dear.”

She knew for what he wished. That the law made it fit for him to leave more than five hundred pounds per year to his wife, Lady Helena, and one hundred pounds to Livvie and her younger sister, Ophelia. They were not to benefit from or partake in any of the houses and monies the viscount owned, for everything was entailed and belonged to William—her stepfather’s son and heir.

There was a modest cottage in Derbyshire, which was not entailed, and she, her mother, and her sister were to move there when Father died. With the income they had, and if they practiced economy, her family should have a comfortable life, though not a wealthy one. “Father, please, I do not need a husband. I—”

He patted her hand. “Hush, now. Do not let this old man worry about you, Livvie. You’ve been independent for far too long and it’s time for you to have another Season to secure a husband.”

Her stomach knotted. The idea of wading through the painful gossips again was unbearable. Worse, there was a dreadful scandal in her past. The stain of her real father, Lord Harcourt, killing himself was never to be overcome, even if years had passed since the tragedy.

Her papa’s cowardly actions had sullied Livvie’s character, as surely as if she had been the one with the gambling debts and a mistress he had found impossible to live without. It indicated a weakness of character that she might pass on to her sons.

“Once a woman marries, she is at the mercy of her husband. She has no rights of her own. I…I…will have no rights. Everything I love to do will be curtailed. I would very much appreciate a gentleman who would let me be, but I do not think there is such a man.”

Her father grimaced. “I never thought you a romantic, my dear.”

“I simply do not want to make myself dependent on a man unless I would derive some benefit.”

Her mother had faced the mountain of debts her first husband had incurred. The creditors had taken everything that was not entailed or entrusted, and almost all the fixtures and fittings in their home had been sold to pay bills. If not for the benevolence of the viscount, Livvie was unsure how her mother would have fared.

The hardships and endurances of those months after Papa’s death had been unpleasant. After being turned out of their home within weeks, as Papa’s heir claimed his inheritance, they had lived in a small well-kept house at the generosity of Cousin Iphigenia. And while they had been able to retain a cook and a housekeeper, they had to make do with no other servants. There had been days when food had been hard to procure, and even their housekeeper had eventually departed because Mother had been unable to pay her wages. That winter had been the coldest Livvie had ever experienced, and she had learned then to hate weeping…for it was all her mother had done for months.

A few weeks ago, Livvie had been appalled to see her mother planning for the viscount’s death by simply trying to prepare her to find a husband. It infuriated Livvie that her mother had never considered they could manage themselves.

“Livvie, are houses, carriages, servants, and money not beneficial comforts?” her stepfather demanded, pulling her from the dark memories.

“Those are the things I can buy with my own money, which I am determined to earn. I have sold seven paintings, and I have put aside a tidy sum. The only things I want from a husband are the things I cannot get with money—acceptance and love,” she said frankly. She accepted that might never happen because of her supposedly wild, independent ways, including the stain of a weak nature. She would not pine away hoping for some gentleman to find her virtuous and honorable when there was nothing wrong with her.

You are a smart and beautiful young girl. Don’t you ever change, Livvie,” her papa had told her several times, when she’d lamented she was not the daughter her mother desired. She’d loved him dearly and had been broken when he took his life. She had held on to the lessons he’d taught her in life, but his final lesson, the one he taught her in death, was the most profound.

“I want to concentrate on being the best painter I can be. I’ll choose a husband when I am ready.”

“You are naive, my dear. I do not criticize you harshly for it, but it will not serve you well in the world you were born to.” A deep sigh issued from the viscount. “You will go to my cousin and she will help launch you into society.”

“Father—”

“No, my dear, Livvie. Heed me in this, for I shall accept no compromise. You will be married within the year. Do not force me to make a choice for you.”

She swallowed her protest. The last thing she wanted to do was upset him when he was finally on the mend. The entire bed jerked then as he was consumed by a fit of coughing. She murmured soothing nonsense, stroking his knuckles, watching keenly as he rallied.

“Forgive me, my dear,” he said hoarsely.

She offered him a smile. “There is nothing to forgive.”

“I’ve already spoken with William. If I do not recover as is hoped, you are to receive a Season and a dowry.”

She squeezed his hand, unable to speak past the lump growing in her throat.

Her stepfather nodded, relief settling on his face, before allowing his eyes to drift shut. She stood and drew the drapes open, allowing a measure of light to fill the room. She hurried into her room and collected the book she had been reading earlier. Then she went back to her stepfather’s chamber and sat in the chair closest to him. Livvie hoped the somewhat gothic and mysterious stories of In the Service of the Crown by Theodore Aikens would be soothing.

She skipped to her last read page and leaned closer to her father. She started to read. “Danger rode the air, the hum of it sliding across his skin like a sharp cutting blade. Wrotham slowly lowered the hidden floor panel into its proper place and rose with fluid grace to face the man who had discovered him. A low vibration of warning thrummed through his veins. He recognized Jasper, one of the deadliest assassins of the sixth order. A surge went through Wrotham, and he realized it was the thrill of the hunt, the inherent danger in facing off with a man that might even be more merciless than he. He slid a dagger from the cuff of his sleeve and slipped into the shadows, allowing icy resolve to flow into his veins. Only one of them would make it out of this encounter alive…” Livvie paused from reading to glance at the peaceful look on her father’s face.

“Father, are you sleeping?” she whispered.

A smile tugged at his lips. “How can I when I must discover how Wrotham will fare against an assassin from the fearsome sixth order?”

With a chuckle, she continued reading. For now, her father seemed as if he was on the mend, and she quieted the fear in her heart. She would immerse them into the exotic cloak-and-dagger world of danger and espionage the author had created, leaving their fear behind…even if only for a few hours.

 

An hour later, Livvie strolled with her mother, Lady Helena, Viscountess Bathhurst, down the winding staircase of the elegant manor that had been their main residence for the last eleven years. Her mother had once been an extremely beautiful woman, and in middle age retained traces of the fragile flower she had once been. Even now, she walked gracefully and was dressed elegantly.

“How was your visit with your father?” her mother asked, her voice cracking with grief.

“Father won’t die,” Livvie said firmly. “Dr. Greaves has said he is on the mend, and we must do all what we can to improve his spirits.”

“Your optimism is wonderful, my dear, but my husband has summoned his heir from Town.” Her throat worked. “To do that, he must believe there is a chance of relapse.”

A loud crash sounded from the parlor and they faltered. Her stepbrother’s wife, Lady Louisa’s, voice filtered through the heavy oak door of the drawing room. “You would deprive your family for…for that—”

Livvie winced. “Come, Mother, we can take a turn in the gardens and have tea later.”

“No, we must hear what is being said.”

“Mother, please—”

“Upon my honor my father asked me to provide a dowry and Season for Livvie if he dies,” William snapped. “It is a sickbed wish, how do I ignore it with good conscience?”

“She is not your real sister! Why should we deprive our son and daughters of a sum of two thousand pounds, for people who are not real family? I have never heard a more ridiculous notion. The only person we have some obligation to is dear Ophelia and she has years before she will be out of the schoolroom. When the time comes, you can sponsor her Season.”

A heavy sigh sounded. “Louisa—”

“No, William, a dowry and a Season would be wasted on Livvie. Some may call her beautiful, to be certain, but are you forgetting the stain on her name? Her father killed himself,” Louisa said furiously. “For years we have had to suffer such an undesirable connection because your father took it upon himself to wed Lady Helena and her…her improper and soiled daughter came with her. Our name was brought into disrepute, and surely, surely, my darling, you cannot think to continue with such ill connections after your father passes. I assure you, he will not know if his wife and stepdaughter are in Derbyshire, where they belong, or in Town.”

Her mother swayed.

Improper and soiled? Anger burned through Livvie, and she took a step toward the drawing room only to be halted by her mother’s hand on her arm. The torment on her lovely features had fury beating in Livvie’s breastbone. She wanted to storm the drawing room and provide Lady Louisa with the tongue-lashing she richly deserved. To be so heartless!

“Mother, let me speak with Lady Louisa. I will be mindful with my tongue—”

“No. What she says is true,” her mother said through bloodless lips. “It is painful to acknowledge, but William does not need to honor his father’s wishes.”

“He most assuredly does. We are—”

“I have been married to his father for years, and you have tried to be a good sister to him, but we have never truly belonged.”

Livvie clasped her hands, hating to acknowledge the truth of her mother’s words. Her stomach dipped at the idea of their future becoming so uncertain again, but she would ensure they weathered this as a family. “Father is mending, our worries are for naught,” she said, hating the doubt snaking through her.

Her mother’s eyes were dark with sorrow. “And if he does not?”

It was such an unbearable thought, but she had to be strong for her mother. “Then we will mourn as a family, and then do what is needed. I am most content to retire to Derbyshire with you and Ophelia. I am fluent in three languages, and as you know, I paint rather well. I will seek jobs—”

“Hush, Livvie! There shall be no talk of you working. You are a gentleman’s daughter, a lady, and I will hear no talk of you acting beneath your station. We will find you a husband.”

“Mamma, I am truly not averse to working.”

Her mother’s golden eyes flashed with determination. “I will hear no word of you working. You are the daughter of a baron, and you shall act like it until the day you die. Your sister will need to form a suitable connection.”

Exasperation rushed through Livvie. “Ophelia is eight, Mamma.”

“Be that as it may, we will need to lay the groundwork for her, and that will not be done by living in a cottage with a widow’s portion of five hundred pounds yearly,” she said, strolling toward the side doors leading to the gardens.

“We must make our own future and not rely on the goodwill of others. In Derbyshire we—”

“I will not consent for us to live in such squalor, Livvie. You need a husband.”

“I do not need a man to live comfortably,” she snapped, then regretted her harsh tone. “Forgive me, Mamma, but if I marry a man and he passes, then we will be right back where we started.”

“No, if you marry a rich and titled gentleman, when he dies you will be left with a good widow’s portion that will see us comfortable.”

“Mother…”

“It is your duty to this family to marry, and marry well. I will hear no more talk of being independent. It is just not done. Now, let’s say a prayer for your father together and then prepare for dinner.”

When her mother spoke in that tone, there was no point in arguing with her. But Livvie had to find a way to make her mother and stepfather understand. She could not relinquish her freedom to any man and then be made to suffer how her mother had suffered when Papa had left them. The lines of grief and worry now lining her mother’s features indicated how much she had fretted about the death of her second husband and facing the harsh reality of genteel poverty once more. Livvie would much prefer to concentrate on building a comfortable life without depending on the wealth and security of being any gentleman’s wife.

She gritted her teeth and said nothing more. She would not come of age until her twenty-fifth birthday. By then she will have been married off, if her parents had their wish.

How was she to escape this mess?

 

Several hours later, Livvie was snuggled beneath the warm coverlets, reading the latest volume of Theodore Aikens’s novel of espionage. His stories were powerful, evocative, and usually scintillating. For the past four years, society had clamored to discover the identity of Aikens. Some had speculated that Theodore Aikens was a pseudonym for Lord Byron because of the dark passionate flair he wrote with. The poet, however, had said much to his regret that he could not claim the credit.

Aikens’s hero, Wrotham, bordered on the brink of disreputable indecency with his lewd cutting tongue, and his dangerous patriotic services for the crown made him dashing and admirable. Livvie’s mother had scolded her several times for reading the scandalous books, but she was too enthralled by the stories to pay her any heed.

There was a sharp rap on her door, and before she answered, the handle turned and in walked her brother. Alarm had her closing the small leather volume, dropping it on the sheets, and stumbling from the bed. “Is it Father?” she demanded, tugging her robe from the peg and slipping it on. “Has he taken a worse turn?”

William frowned, then gently closed the door. “No, he is recovering well.”

She rested a palm against her heart, taking even breaths to still its furious pounding. “Then why are you in my chamber?”

“I’ve come to discuss your future.”

Of course, his wife had made her ultimatums, but Livvie did not desire to hear it tonight. She wanted the ability to have a proper night’s rest before facing the uncertainties of tomorrow.

“Can this wait until in the morning, William? It is a bit…unsettling having you in my chamber.” Her brother had never visited her in her sanctuary before. His rooms were, in fact, on the opposite side of the manor.

He lifted the candle high, and for a moment the shadows painted his face in a sinister mold. Her heart lurched, and she silently scolded her imagination for running wild.

“No, it cannot wait. I find I am eager to start…our relationship.”

She blinked. “Is this about Father’s request?”

“It most assuredly is,” he said, walking even farther into her chamber. “Despite our low coffers a few years ago, Father provided money for a Season for you. It was wasted. There should be no expectations now, with you being buried in the country for three years after your spectacular failure, that society will receive you favorably and an offer will come your way.”

She flinched at his blunt assessment. There was greed in his eyes as he gazed at her with shocking boldness. Her heart lurched in acute discomfort. She found it prudent to move away from the bed and toward the door. “William, I—”

“I’ve thought long and hard on this, and I have decided to have you as my mistress.”

She faltered. Mistress? “I beg your pardon?”

He nodded firmly. “Let’s be honest, my dear. Settling a dowry on you will be a waste. No man will have you after your father’s cowardly action and you have no polish. But you are delectable, and after deep consideration, I find the best place for you will be in my bed, where I’ve long wanted you to be,” he ended thickly. “I will settle the same two thousand pounds, and I will let a house for you. You will have servants and carriages and a few pieces of jewelry now and then.”

Her palms grew suddenly damp as alarm shivered through her. They had not been as close as brothers and sisters ought to be, and his regard of late had been somewhat unsettling, but she had simply thought it an aberration.

“How charitable of you,” she said faintly, her heart beating an erratic cadenza in her chest.

He narrowed his eyes. “I could see you turned out without a farthing when Father passes. It is tempting to take you now, but I do not want Louisa to know about us, or your mother.” He walked closer to grasp a loose tendril of her hair. “I will be generous with you, Livvie, and I will take care not to foist any bastards on you.”

Bastards? She recoiled, disgust roiling though her. “I am your sister!”

“Wrong,” he snapped. “We have no blood ties.”

“What you are suggesting is reprehensible.” Her father had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger without hesitation, leaving her and her mother to face debt and society’s derision alone, because of a mistress, and William would dare to suggest she assume such a position? “I have lost all good opinion and respect I once had for you,” she whispered furiously, hating the burn of tears filling her eyes.

He had the temerity to appear puzzled at her rejection. “You will never get a better offer, surely you must see this?”

“You seek to dishonor me after years of friendship.”

“I offer you a life of wealth and leisure.”

Dread swirled like acid through her veins. “How can you so calmly abandon all the wishes of our father?”

My father, Olivia, my house, my wealth…and the only way I shall part with it to you, is if you are in my bed.”

“Leave my chambers at once,” she growled. “Or I shall scream and bring the household down on us.”

William tugged her to him and slammed his lips against hers with a speed that shocked and terrified her. His breath smelled of liquor, and the fumes almost made her gag. His larger frame dwarfed her, and she struggled to be released from his crushing embrace. Disgust and shock tried to steal her thoughts and when he tried to insert his tongue into her mouth, she bit down hard.

He pushed her away, and she stumbled. Rage contorted his features. “You damnable bitch!”

“Get out,” she shouted, trembling, fear twisting through her.

“Think on my offer, sister. I assure you it is the only one you will be receiving. I shall anticipate your answer by the end of the week.” With rapid strides, he left her room.

As if she would ever countenance such a despicable and unfavorable proposition. She staggered to the chair by the window on shaky legs. She sank into its depth and curled her feet underneath her. What was he thinking?

A mistress.

Humiliation burned through her. William was much changed from the boy she had grown up with over the years. He was still as handsome as ever, with his dark brown hair and light blue eyes, but beneath the veneer of affection lurked something more lustful that she had been ignoring, believing it to be her overactive imagination. How wrong she had been.

He had conducted himself most dishonorably and she was at loss about what to do. To burden her father now, on his sick bed, would be cruel, and her mother did not have the constitution to handle such dreadful news. Livvie sighed. She would have to take care of the matter herself, and if he were to ever accost her person again, she would execute one of the lessons Papa had taught her before he died.

She would use her knee against William’s most private parts.

Still trembling, Livvie climbed into the bed and pulled the coverlets to her chin. Dear Lord, now that she had to deal with William’s disgusting advances, staying at Riverhill was no longer an option. The blackguard would remain underfoot until their father recovered and that could take several weeks. She would have to stay with the Countess of Blade to acquire the polish to enable her to land herself a well-heeled gentleman.

Botheration!

Want to know what comes next?

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Copyright © 2017 by Stacy Reid. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Reviews

More from Series