Met By Chance: Triple Countess, Book Three
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by Lynne Connolly
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: There's more to this man than satin and lace. The third book in the Triple Countess series. After a serious riding accident, Perdita Garland is back in society. Unfortunately the first man who catches her interest, Charles Dalton, Marquis of Petherbridge, turns out to be a popinjay with a spoiled daughter in tow. And his equally spoiled sister is flirting with the same fortune-hunting suitor who almost cost Perdita her life. What's a lady to do? Warn the marquis of the danger, of course. Charles knows that English society finds his manners and dress astonishing, but they cover a man broken by a disastrous marriage to a faithless wife. Now a widowed father determined not to be fooled again, he is nevertheless charmed by Perdita and the steely strength of will under her fragile exterior. If only the lady would mind her own business. But when his impulsive sister elopes and kidnaps his daughter, he finds himself wishing he had listened to the little busybody. And Perdita, feeling partly responsible for the disaster, boldly sets out to help him put things right. Alone in a strange city with his lordship, plunged into danger, Perdita discovers there is more than meets the eye under the pampered skin of the marquis. There is strength, power?and passion beyond her wildest dreams. Product Warnings Warning: Graphic sexual intimacy between a man and a woman too obsessed with each other to notice where they are or why they shouldn't.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2008
eBookwise Release Date: February 2011
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [387 KB]
Reading time: 251-352 min.
Charles was halfway to the trees before he realised just how improper his behaviour was. He didn't stop walking, since the deed was done, but he owed Lady Perdita a deep apology for his behaviour. The trouble was, once he saw Millicent heading for the undergrowth he knew precisely what would happen next.
Exactly what happened last time. Only this time the result might not be as favourable as the last. His sister was an accomplished flirt, and didn't know where to draw the line. The last time it had taken a fortune to quiet the budding scandal. Kissing a man in the corridor at the Opera they had, not unnaturally, been seen. She was at it again, and Charles intended to save himself considerable expenditure by finishing it now.
They were some way ahead, Millicent and the unknown man, and Charles hadn't caught up with them by the time they disappeared between the trees. Only a flick of blue from Millicent's gown betrayed their progression to the rear of the copse, where it was darkest. Charles quickened his stride, until he heard something behind him and turned to see the cause of it.
Damn! Lady Perdita was determinedly following. Why couldn't she have waited in the phaeton? He would have to take her into his confidence now. Charles frowned when he saw her stumble on the rough ground. He had no choice. He waited for her.
Her breath came in short gasps, and it was only then he recollected her accident, the one that had broken both her legs. His agitation had driven the memory momentarily out of his mind. Lady Perdita had only been ambulant for a year, and still felt the effects of such severe injury. He'd felt as much last night, when he'd danced with her. He cursed his carelessness that made him forget.
She stared at him, getting her breath back. "Don't stop! Go after them!"
Astonished, Charles held his arm out for her. "Come. We'll go after them together. How did you know?"
She shot him a frowning look. "What else could it be but an impending scandal? Who is she?"
"My sister Millicent." The hand on his sleeve tightened, but she did not use him as support, instead using it to help her quicken her stride.
They reached the trees. "Where are they?" he wondered. In the time he'd taken his attention from his sister to attend to Lady Perdita, Millicent had disappeared.
All he could hear was her laboured breathing, slowly settling. Then he heard a giggle, some way distant. "There!" He set off as quickly as he could, considering he had to consider someone else. He didn't have to tow her, although his pace was probably too quick for her.
The trees here, past the sycamores, were old elms, interspersed with newer saplings, an artificial construct. Not being familiar with Hyde Park, he wasn't sure where they led. Although reading his mind she said, "This comes out by the Serpentine. There will be people there."
He let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "She's a flirt," he said, lightly, "but too young to have complete control of herself. I returned from France to find her deep in trouble, and having extricated her from that, I have no desire to see her do it again."
"She could empty your coffers."
So she realised just how he'd extricated Millicent last time. He glanced at Lady Perdita's face, and saw total understanding there. He hoped he saw discretion, too. His irritation with his sister grew. He had been enjoying his drive, and enjoying her company. Millicent had ruined it. He dismissed his twinge of regret and plunged on, determined to do his duty.
Lady Perdita kept up, gamely refusing to lean on his arm, but determinedly keeping pace with him. When he glanced at her, he saw her lips tightly compressed, a sure sign of strain. He prayed the swift walk would do her legs no damage and fervently wished she'd remained behind.
They came out of the trees suddenly, a small copse, but artfully designed. People strolled this side of the bank of trees, enjoying the fine day and the view of the small river winding through the park. The sunlight blinded him and he blinked while his eyes adjusted to the altered circumstances. Then he spied his sister and the unknown man. She stopped walking, and faced her suitor, ready for his kiss.
Charles watched, aghast, as Millicent moved closer to her swain. How much this time? Two thousand? Three? More?
Then another couple moved out of the trees, heading for the Serpentine. Charles recognised them at once. The Earl and Countess of Ilford. Incorruptible leaders of society. If they saw this little scene, the game would be up, and his sister married to a man who was likely a fortune hunter, prepared to milk Charles and his family of everything he could get, and more importantly, make Millicent's life a misery.
He felt a tug on his sleeve, and he turned, but without taking his attention from the awful scene being enacted before him. When he finally looked at Lady Perdita, the entreaty in her eyes startled him. Her hand curled behind his neck, and he bent towards her, rather than resist. Then he realised what she was about.
A distraction. Perfect.
Their lips met. Feeling hers part under his, Charles succumbed to the urges never far under the skin since he'd met her last night and clasped her closer, so she couldn't get away even if she wanted to. Her mouth hot under his, he pushed her lips further apart with his own, so he could enter her with his tongue.
Exquisite hot, damp, warmth. Something he hadn't felt for five years. The welcoming, feminine form moved closer, and his hands tightened on the warm silk of her gown, giving himself up to the kiss, forgetting everything but their startlingly intimate embrace.
When she gasped, he pushed his tongue between her lips in exploration, found the firm, sweet roof of her mouth and stroked it, as though caressing her bare skin with his hands. She was open to him, unknowingly offering all she could give, and if it weren't for the time and the place he would be tempted to take it.
His own thoughts reminded him of the time and place. Allowing courtesy to dictate his actions, he slackened his grip, removed his tongue from her inviting mouth and finished the kiss with a quiet, closed mouth caress.
Charles allowed himself a moment to gaze at her, so close, her wondrous blue eyes as dazed as he knew his own must be. Then, brought back to the immediacy of the situation, he drew back and looked around him.
For a moment, he'd forgotten where he was and what they were supposed to be doing there. He couldn't remember that happening to him before. Ever. Shaking the feeling of otherworldliness out of his brain, he stopped to glance down at her.