Can't Say No [The Improper Ladies 3]
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by Emma Wildes
Description: Helen Richmond, the daughter of the infamous Earl of Charbeau, is privileged, aristocratic, and pledged to a man she loathes. There is only one way she can think of to get her point across about her upcoming unwanted marriage and that is to lose her virginity in the most scandalous way possible. It doesn't matter that he doesn't deserve his reputation as London's most celebrated libertine, Wade 'Wicked" Warrick knows how everyone sees him. He finds the whispers an irritant until one night a beautiful young woman climbs into his carriage and offers him her body. Normally, he would refuse outright, but something about her is unique and somehow he just can't say no. [Erotic Historical Romance. Warning: Contains graphic sexual content and adult language.]
eBook Publisher: Siren-BookStrand, Inc./Siren Classic, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: November 2009
99 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [215 KB]
Reading time: 132-185 min.
"5 BLUE RIBBONS: Emma Wildes's historicals are always a pleasure to read. The characters are strong and brilliantly depicted so that readers are quickly caught up in their plights. Can't Say No is the third book in The Improper Ladies series and it's a fabulous addition to Ms. Wildes's book list. Helen's determination to be 'ruined' and Wade's disbelief at her plea drew me into the storyline but it's the passion and desire between them that kept me enchanted by their story. In addition, there's plenty of mystery, laughter, joy and even a few tears that make Can't Say No a title you won't want to miss."--Chrissy Dionne, Romance Junkies Reviews
"Emma Wildes writes the naughtiest erotic historical romances and I just love them. Each and every plot is original and moving. With beautiful love scenes and a great storyline, Can't Say No by Emma Wildes is a tremendous read. Ms. Wildes continues to be one of my favorite authors and I crave every new release!"--Talia Ricci, Joyfully Reviewed
It was a cloudless night, brilliant with stars, and Wade Warrick stepped outside with both appreciation of the celestial view above and the fresher air. The ballroom had been stifling, packed with milling guests, and he never enjoyed a crush. His carriage had already been brought around and he looked very much forward to several stiff brandies and the peace and quiet of his study.
The entire evening had been a bit annoying. Just what the latest rumor circulating was he didn't know firsthand, but it apparently involved him and Lady Taylor.
Good Lord, he'd waltzed with the woman one time. Didn't the gossips have anything better to do than speculate on his love life?
He grasped the handle, put one foot on the step, and in the very act of climbing into his carriage he froze.
It wasn't empty.
"Please don't say or do anything so anyone knows I'm here."
The soft entreaty was almost as puzzling as finding the vehicle occupied. He certainly arrived alone. Moreover his visitor was a woman, though in the gloom it was difficult to see exactly who she might be. Not sure what to do except honor her request, and admittedly curious, he did as she asked and simply climbed in.
Bloody hell, now what?
"Thank you." She sat primly on the seat, her hands folded in her lap, a dark cloak draped around her slender shoulders. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he recognized her with a small glimmer of surprise. Even in the uncertain light there was no mistaking the signature pale gleam of her hair or her strikingly beautiful features. In the same soft tone, she asked, "Where can we go?"
Nonplussed, as he didn't really know her other than one brief introduction months ago, he found himself at a loss for words momentarily. "I beg your pardon?"
The young daughter of the Earl of Charbeau, the reigning beauty of the haute ton, recently engaged to one of the wealthiest peers in England, explained in a matter of fact tone. "I guess I should have clarified my question. Where can we go that is completely private?"
They were already in motion, his driver apparently unaware he had company.
The word private and this young woman set off an entire chorus of alarm bells ringing. "I am quite sure I do not understand, for which, I think, you cannot blame me, Lady Helen. We are barely acquainted, it is late, you have no chaperone--"
"A chaperone would spoil the whole thing. I want you, in fact, to ruin me."
Wade stared at her incredulously, not sure he wasn't having some odd hallucination. "What?"
"Don't worry, no one will ever know it was you. I just need someone to...well...bed me. I was certain you would know someplace discreet where we wouldn't be seen together."
He'd certainly been propositioned before, but not with such bluntness, and at least he usually had more than a passing acquaintance with the woman. He knew Helen Richmond even less than he did Lady Taylor. Wade lifted his brows and studied her lovely face in the dim light. "Let me clarify this. You wish to be ruined? It seems to me your future husband might take exception."
"Exactly. If he knows I am no longer a virgin, you can be sure he won't want me any longer. No one is more pompous and arrogant than the Duke of Resdale. Surely you know him."
Finally a glimmer of light shone in the befuddling situation. Wade lounged back and rubbed his jaw. "Yes," he admitted, not caring much for the man himself. In his opinion the adjectives applied quite well though the handsome duke was both popular and considered very charming by most of society. The exception apparently sat right in front of him and unfortunately it was Resdale's betrothed. "It seems to me your approach to this is a bit drastic, my lady. Why not sever your engagement by simply calling it off?"
She decisively shook her blonde head, a silky curl brushing her slender neck. "You must understand, sir, as surely as the betrothal was forced on me, so would be the marriage. My father's family is very close to the duke's family, the Westerlands. The idea of the marriage has existed since the day I was born, and the whole situation is made worse by the fact Frederick has an apparent penchant for me. On my part, I think he is boorish and spoiled. In front of my parents, of course, he is charming and attentive, but beneath the polished public surface, he is completely different. No, I will do anything to make sure he is the one who decides against it."
There wasn't much doubting her conviction. Wade gave a small sardonic smile. "May I ask, pray tell, why was I selected for this honor?"
Actually, he didn't really need to ask, damn Jason and James to perdition. Just because his older twin brothers were considered two of the most notorious rakes in all of Britain, he somehow had the same reputation. No one seemed to notice he did not pursue every attractive female in sight. In fact, he disapproved of their iniquitous lifestyles for the most part and shunned the idea of a retinue of different females constantly in his bed. He believed in feeling a genuine passion for a woman before becoming intimately involved, not merely passing lust.
For the first time, the very lovely Miss Richmond looked other than completely self-possessed. Her long lashes lowered a fraction. Under the cloak she wore a low-cut fashionable ball gown and he saw the upper curves of her ivory breasts quiver as she took a breath. "First, I chose you because of my mother."
"Your mother?" He stifled a mirthless laugh. "This just becomes more interesting by the moment. I am perishing to know the segue between your mother, myself, and your determination to thwart Resdale's passion for you."
"Actually, I overheard her and several ladies gossiping over tea a few days ago and she remarked that though you were a typical roguish Warrick male, at least you are discreet and do not flaunt your affairs. Once again, no one will ever know it was you, and I prefer you, of course, keep it a secret. It will be enough that I have had a lover."
He was perceived as discreet because he didn't dash around having casual liaisons, but Wade simply lifted his brows. "Why not just invent one? Surely you needn't actually go through with it."
"My mother has an uncanny knack of being able to tell if I am lying. I gave up as a child. No, it's best to truly do the deed in truth."
He eyed the resolute tenseness of her shoulders and the shadowed set of her delicately beautiful face. "I see you believe that. What is the second reason you decided out of all the men already prostrate at your feet you would pick one you barely know?"
"We have never even shared a dance or more than a polite word. My father won't suspect you. I especially do not want to marry Frederick, but there is no one else I care to marry either. When I tell my father what I've done, I am sure the first thing he will demand is the identity of the culprit. When I refuse to reveal it, he will look to the suitors who have been pursuing me this Season. They will all be innocent, so he won't be able to prove anything. Many of them have already offered for me, so if I asked one of them to do this, I might end up married anyway. It is logical to choose someone like you with no interest in me."
He'd like to meet the man who could completely ignore her spectacular beauty. If she thought he could, she was wrong. However, she did have a point. He hadn't ever considered pursuing her in a romantic way with marriage as the end result.
She certainly seemed to have thought it all through, except she chose the wrong Warrick brother for a casual seduction, whatever they said about him. "Look, Lady Helen, while I am flattered--"
"I have always thought you are very handsome." The confession was made with just the right touch of shyness, a contrast to her brazen proposal. "That helps as well. And by all accounts, you have the practice to make it, well...a pleasant experience. All I want is a few hours of your time. Surely, for a man who spends most nights engaged in the activity in question, it won't be too much of an imposition?"
The imploring look in her eyes gave him pause. A beautiful young woman begging a man to take her to bed would tempt anyone, and especially Helen Richmond with her compelling loveliness. Most men would be tripping over themselves--and probably killing each other--for this chance. However, she was wrong. He didn't spend most nights fornicating with women he didn't know, no matter how appealing. His practice, as she put it, was limited to several short love affairs.
Yet the faint drift of her perfume lingered in the air, like an elusive incentive. If he said no, he wondered, would she simply seek out someone else?
He had the damned reputation, maybe for once he should live up to it. Lord Charbeau's daughter was more than a little tempting, and while he wasn't the proliferate rakehell he was perceived as by society, he was still a man with all the typical urges. This evening was proof that no matter how circumspect his behavior, he was still perceived as a libertine of the first order.
If she was really going to do this, it might as well be him.
Good God, he wasn't really thinking about it, was he?
* * * *
Her palms were damp, her heart pounded, and surely if he realized how nervous she actually was, he would be even more inclined to turn her down.
That Wicked Warrick, as he was dubbed by society, might refuse her was a surprise.
Helen just assumed a rake of his caliber would immediately have agreed to a sexual proposition, but he truly seemed hesitant.
She hadn't lied to flatter him though, he was easily one of the most attractive men she had ever seen, and long before her shocking idea occurred to her, she had very much noticed the notoriously handsome and sinful Wade Warrick.
First of all, he was like all the Warrick men, tall, wide-shouldered, and dark-haired, with the splendid bone-structure that made women take a second glance--high cheekbones, a straight clean jaw, that sensual mouth--his stark male beauty was undeniable. It was impossible to ignore the color of his eyes, an unusual deep blue framed by almost girlish long lashes. But there was nothing feminine about his well-muscled body, or the length of his legs as he reclined across from her, booted feet extended, very much larger than life. At close range, his potent masculinity was almost overwhelming.
Could she really go through with this, Helen wondered, but then she thought of Frederick with his sneering, superior smile and how just that afternoon he informed her she would soon be his property. Her resolve stiffened. Even if she was somehow still forced to go through with the ceremony, she would always have the satisfaction of knowing she had given herself to someone else first.
Warrick shifted a little, his blue eyes narrowed as he looked at her. "You realize there will be a scandal if Resdale is involved. I would guess he isn't going to keep the information about your fall from grace to himself, especially if he is angry and spiteful over the unwelcome news."
She smiled, hoping her lips didn't tremble. "My mother was stranded on a deserted island for many months with three men. She came back to England unwed and pregnant, yet she has managed just fine in society. She married my father and his name and wealth protected her, just as it will protect me. I imagine even someone like Frederick will think twice before he decides to smear my name in public. The disclosure will be a very private affair, believe me. I doubt he'll say anything out of pride, and I'll let him be the one to save face. Our story will be he changed his mind about the marriage and backed out. I am fine with it."
"No one will believe it." The softly said words were accompanied by the quicksilver smile she'd seen moments before, a charming but all too quick brief curve of his mouth. Somehow, she'd expected the infamous youngest Warrick to be more smooth, more dashing, not almost diffident and quiet. Any man who had a reputation for seduction like his surely was a bit more suave.
"Why not?" Helen shifted as they clattered around a corner. "It will be the truth. When he finds out I chose to lie with another man, he actually will retract his proposal."
"You're very beautiful. I think you may have been told that once or twice before." The tone of his voice was dry. "What if he decides it's worth it to marry you anyway?"
If there was one thing she knew about Frederick it was it would make him insane to picture her with another man. He was too obsessed with complete control and his damned exalted title. "He won't."
"You're so sure?"
"Yes. Will you help me?"
He hesitated, and then raked his hand through his glossy hair. It framed his chiseled features in unruly waves and brushed his broad shoulders. "I certainly shouldn't. You caught me at a bad moment or I wouldn't even think of this."
"I give you my word, no one will find out from me." She felt a flicker of triumph, though she had no idea what he meant exactly by that cryptic declaration.
She felt something else, too. A wanton twinge of excitement coiled deep in her stomach as she gazed at him.
What will it be like to be held in his arms?
"Despite what you've heard, my lady, this is actually a bit of a moral dilemma for me. I do not take advantage of innocent young ladies." His mouth tightened a fraction. "Believe it or not."
"I believe I am taking advantage of you, sir. Think of it that way."
"What will you do if I refuse?"
She shrugged, hoping she looked sangfroid. "As you pointed out, there are other options, but you seem the best choice."
He stared at her for a moment and then gave a small sigh. "You are determined."
"Are you certain you can't talk to your father?"
"I've talked to him, argued with him, and explained my position with tedious repetition. He isn't an ogre, but he won't listen because he believes making an advantageous marriage to a respectable wealthy man is best for me."
Warrick settled farther back into the seat, his expression inscrutable. "Maybe he's right."
"If he is, Frederick is still the wrong choice. Tell me, Mr. Warrick, would you like to be forced into marrying a woman you not only did not love, but actually disliked?"
"No," he admitted. "It isn't I don't see your point, my lady, I am just unsure playing the role you have asked of me in your quest to free yourself from this unwanted engagement is at all wise."
"I promise it will be very simple."
He looked wryly amused. "If you think sex is simple, you are wrong. Where do your parents think you are, anyway?"
"Staying overnight with a friend after the ball. We have until dawn if you can see through to being chivalrous enough to aid me."
As if on cue, the carriage slowed and rolled to a halt for apparently he didn't live far. Helen gazed at him expectantly through the veil of her slightly lowered lashes, seeing the indecision etched in his classic handsome features.
To press the advantage, she whispered, "Please. I will be forever in your debt."
He ran a hand restlessly again through his thick hair. "I pride myself on having at least a modicum of sense. I should take you straight home."
"And how would you explain that, sir?" She knew she had a point, for if her father realized she'd been deposited back home by Wade Warrick's carriage, he would react with predictable fatherly outrage. "In the morning I have arranged to meet my friend by the park and she will take me home as if I had been with her all night."
"You certainly seem to have this all planned."
"I've been thinking about it for some time."
There was another moment of patent hesitation before he inclined his dark head in a curt nod. "Very well. We are at my townhouse and I live alone. It should be private enough, for the servants will all be in bed. Pull up the hood of your cloak so no one sees your face, my reckless lady, and we'll go inside."