Last Chance, My Love by Lynne Connolly by Lynne Connolly - Read Online

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What if you're in love - but you can't make love?

Miranda and Daniel, Earl and Countess of Rosington are deeply in love. However, Miranda contacted a severe fever in childbirth, leaving her with a high risk of dying should she conceive again. Daniel can't bear the thought of losing his wife and treats her like a porcelain doll, not a real woman. Distraught, Miranda turns to her brother in law Orlando for advice. Together they concoct a plan that will bring Daniel to his senses, and soon Daniel finds himself on the losing end of a wager. Miranda and Daniel must pose as a simple innkeeper and his wife, working together to save a failing business. Forced into sharing a bed, searing desire threatens to ruin Daniel's good intentions. Daniel will have to overcome his fear of his wife dying, and Miranda must overcome her inhibitions, to seduce Daniel. Can Daniel and Miranda give in to their love and save their marriage? Find out by reading the first book in the new Triple Countess series from Lynne Connolly!

Published: LMC Publications on
ISBN: 9781386554004
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Last Chance, My Love - Lynne Connolly

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Secrets

What if you're in love - but you can't make love?

Book One of the Triple Countess series.

Miranda and Daniel, Earl and Countess of Rosington are deeply in love. However, Miranda contacted a severe fever in childbirth, leaving her with a high risk of dying should she conceive again. Daniel can't bear the thought of losing his wife and treats her like a porcelain doll, not a real woman. Distraught, Miranda turns to her brother in law Orlando for advice. Together they concoct a plan that will bring Daniel to his senses, and soon Daniel finds himself on the losing end of a wager. Miranda and Daniel must pose as a simple innkeeper and his wife, working together to save a failing business. Forced into sharing a bed, searing desire threatens to ruin Daniel's good intentions. Daniel will have to overcome his fear of his wife dying, and Miranda must overcome her inhibitions, to seduce Daniel. Can Daniel and Miranda give in to their love and save their marriage? Find out by reading the first book in the new Triple Countess series from Lynne Connolly!

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eBooks are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this work.

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Last Chance, My Love

Copyright © 2007 by Lynne Connolly

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews

Chapter One

Stop! Lady Rosington flung out a dramatic hand, shocking her companion so much he sat bolt upright and stared about in alarm, dropping his elegant gold-topped cane, which clattered to the floor of the carriage.

Whatever is it, Miranda?

Orlando stuck his head out the open window and stared up the fashionable street to see what was wrong. Pulling his head back in, he snatched up his cane and rapped on the roof of the chaise to attract the driver’s attention. Take us home, Troughton. Her ladyship isn’t feeling very well. His fury apparent in his sparkling eyes, he glared at her before pulling himself together. She appreciated his anger, but wondered a little at it. Orlando rarely showed anything but a fashionably bored mien in public, but what he saw as they drove past had driven him to instant anger.

The carriage picked up speed, sending the horses into a trot. Orlando took Miranda’s trembling hand. Miranda, surely you knew Daniel was looking for a mistress!

Biting her lip she shook her head vehemently, dislodging several hairpins that flew with a series of metallic tinkles to the floor. I had no idea. How long has it been going on?

The carriage swung round the corner into Brook Street and Orlando lost no time hastening Miranda indoors and ordering a pot of tea brought to the drawing room. Her ladyship is not feeling well, he informed the footman. She is to receive no visitors.

Very well, my lord.

Orlando saw Miranda clutch at the banister rail and badly wanted to carry her upstairs before the servants realised it was distress, not ill health that had caused their mistress’s precipitate return from her shopping expedition.

She entered the drawing room and Orlando helped her to remove her hat, cloak and gloves, acting with unusual clinical precision. She sat straight as a ramrod in her chair, her face expressionless, until the maid brought tea and was dismissed.

Miranda sank forward, her forehead resting on one slender hand. How long has it been going on?

Orlando didn’t pretend to misunderstand. It hasn’t started yet. He sat in a chair opposite hers, legs crossed at the ankles, the picture of elegant repose. "He’s considering asking her to enter his keeping and giving her carte blanche. I swear it’s the truth, Miranda. Daniel has been faithful to you since your wedding day. Only recently has he even considered taking a mistress."

She lifted her head and let him see her distress. She knew, for all his reputation and his outrageous social behaviour, Orlando cared for those he let into his private life. If she couldn’t trust him to keep her secret, she couldn’t trust anyone. The world thought she didn’t care, but deep inside, where she kept it locked away, their situation was tearing her apart. Why? Why now?

Orlando frowned and picked up his tea dish. He sipped, put the dish back in its deep saucer and looked up at her. Daniel doesn’t confide in anyone, least of all me, but I grew up with him. There aren’t many people who know him better than I do. Mama perhaps. He’s lonely, Miranda.

Silence fell, only broken by the sound of a light carriage travelling up the street outside. Miranda swallowed, and turned to the small table by her side to pick up her own tea. She didn’t want it, but it gave her something to do. I don’t know why he doesn’t come to me any more. After Christopher’s birth, I was ill, but he’s never asked me, never come near me.

Orlando made a hissing sound. He thinks you’re too ill. Dr. Sewell gives that impression. He bit his lip, obviously holding something back.

She stared at him. I had a terrible time birthing John. A long labour. Daniel stopped coming to me every night, but he still came sometimes. Christopher’s birth was easier, but I got the fever afterwards, and Dr. Sewell advised us not to—not to sleep together for a while. It became a habit, I suppose.

Orlando lifted one long forefinger and pressed it to his forehead, his habit when mulling over a problem. Did Daniel say he loves you?

She smiled and shook her head. I’ve never looked for that. We have an arranged marriage, after all. It’s been very successful as far as society is concerned. She smoothed her skirt, the fine silk creasing under her trembling hand. I thought he would take a mistress eventually, but I didn’t realise it would affect me in quite this way. It would happen, I’d hear of it, and that would be that. I’m only glad I was with you when I saw them together and not anyone else. Her hands shook, but she kept her poise, as she had done for years. It was almost second nature to her now.

Orlando lifted his hand away. He needs to look—really look at you. Daniel loves you, somewhere inside that pillar of stone he always puts in front of his true feelings. I know you love him. Have you ever told him?

She bit her lip to stop the tears coming. Once. I don’t think he remembers it. Orlando, it’s just a foolish feeling I have. It will go away in time, I’m sure of it.

Die of neglect more like, Orlando picked up the delicate tea dish between finger and thumb and took a sip. I’d rather it didn’t. When you married I thought it might be the making of him, stop him becoming a dead bore. I was a bad-mannered, ill-behaved child, and much of it was because Daniel was the opposite; a model of propriety, good and obedient. You’d hardly know there’s barely five years between us. Daniel acts as if he’s my father more than my brother most of the time.

Miranda thought of the brothers’ mother, the volatile, beautiful Triple Countess, and wondered how she could produce three such different sons as Daniel, Orlando and Corin. The family resemblance was there in the deep blue eyes and the sensual mouths, but hair colour, style, build and personality varied enormously.

She had been married to the eldest of the brothers, Daniel, Earl of Rosington for five years now, and produced the requisite heir and spare. No more babies followed the birth of Christopher, three years before, but then there hadn’t been any reason for one. After Miranda recovered from childbed fever, Daniel lost interest in intimacy, at least with her. She tried, but he rebuffed her every time and her pride wouldn’t take it any more. Perhaps he had tired of her and was looking for a change. She said it, trying to sound offhand, for her own sake as much as for Orlando’s. He never loved me, and now he’s done his duty, there’s no need for him to pretend. He’s always treated me with respect.

What, by taking La Perla Perfetta shopping when he knew I was accompanying you today? Orlando spat out. "It’s as though he wanted you to see him!"

With an impulsive motion he got to his feet, the full skirts of his coat swirling around him. Miranda couldn’t see his face, for he turned partially away from her, but she saw the furrow between his dark brows before he turned.

She let silence fall, as she could with Orlando, her best of friends. Orlando Garland, who seduced as many married women as were willing, never laid a lascivious finger on her. Not that Daniel had shown any sign of caring if he did or not. He spun back to her on one high heel. You need time. I have the makings of an idea. Leave it with me, Miranda. I’ll come up with something. He bowed and, after ensuring that she was recovered from her shock, left her.

Miranda was not convinced.

Lord and Lady Rosington dined alone, unusual when in Town, but the Season was coming to an end. They planned to leave for the country in a week or two and join the rest of their kind, society’s favoured elite. If not for John’s putrid sore throat they would probably have left before, but Miranda insisted that they stay in London until they were sure it wasn’t going to turn into anything worse.

On the surface the dinner was all smooth going, until after they had eaten. They ate in near silence, but Daniel didn’t seem perturbed. He probably hadn’t seen her earlier in the day when he was leaning over the petite, pretty woman, smiling in the intimate way Miranda hadn’t seen for some time.

Miranda stood to go. She could bear it no longer. When she reached the door she turned, determined to break the dreadful tension in her heart. Have you any plans for this evening, my lord? She kept her words innocuous, but gripped her hands together. He might be planning to go to his courtesan tonight, if she had accepted his offer.

He glanced up at her. Not really. I thought I might look in at the club, and perhaps the theatre. Are you engaged this evening?

I planned to stay with John now he is better. He needs occupying. I’m glad we’re going away soon. He needs the fresh air of the country.

Yes, he’s looking very pale. Whatever Daniel’s failings as a husband, he made an excellent father.

She spoke abruptly, letting the words come as they would. Have I done something wrong?

He gazed directly at her, puzzlement creasing his brow and in his eyes. No, of course not.

Why don’t you come to me any more? Why are we no longer intimate?

His forehead cleared, but his demeanour didn’t lighten. You’ve not been well, he said patiently. You’ve never been well since you had Christopher. I’d be a brute to come to you.

Bitterly, Miranda thought back on her own behaviour. At first she’d found it easier to lie back and allow her attendants to wait on her. Near death, she hadn’t felt properly well for six months after that terrible time. After that, it became something of a habit to succumb to every chill and ache, and use it as an excuse to take to her bed. Had that deterred him? She had been so in the habit of it she hardly thought of it. I’m quite well now, she said firmly.

He smiled gently and shook his head. I fear not.

Irritation itched at her. She was not a child to be humoured. If I say I am, then I am. Is that why I saw you with La Perla Perfetta today? Are you considering taking your business elsewhere?

He’d reached out to the fruit bowl but he paused at that, and looked up at her, peach in hand. Did you? What has that to do with anything?

Don’t be disingenuous! she snapped, and immediately wished the words back. She wanted to win him, not antagonise him. Oh well, now it was done she had better explain herself. You and I both know what her fame is! She’s newly arrived in society, ready to help her mother with her infamous business. It’s well known she’s looking for a keeper! Will it be you?

He put the peach down with infinite care. How do you know what she looks like?

You mean her constant appearances at Drury Lane and the opera aren’t enough? Scorn seared her voice. Of course I know her by sight; who doesn’t? That white mask, those white clothes, they’re all meant to draw the eye. Her husband frowned. Miranda didn’t let it deter her. "Well? Will it be you? I would rather know for sure than see society laugh at my ignorance."

He leaned back in his chair, seemingly at ease, and cleaned his juice-stained fingers with his napkin. He must have clutched the ripe fruit too hard, for it lay on his plate, the marks of his fingers easily apparent on its furry surface. You shouldn’t speak of such things.

Not in public, she replied, "but there’s no one here to hear us and I want to know. Be assured, when you offer her carte blanche it will be all over London, and the scandal sheets. I want to be forewarned. You owe me that, at least."

He regarded her steadily. In that case, madam, you will know when the rest of London knows.

She went back to the table and reached for her chair, fumbling for a hold. Losing her patience she flung the chair back with a movement that sent it clattering to the floor. Do you have such little regard for me? How will you feel when I take my first lover? Slowly she came round the table, closer to him. His face remained carefully expressionless. Will it hurt you? She shrugged. Probably not. You’ll be too busy in your love nest, won’t you? I’m told the hurt goes away in time, and marriage becomes a business arrangement. She bent so she could stare into his deep, fathomless eyes. She saw nothing there and straightened up before he could see the bitter hurt in hers. Perhaps it will be easier then.

Swiftly Miranda gathered her skirts and made for the door. She heard a choking sound, and then she thought she heard her name but she didn’t stay. She had made her point, and it was obvious he would not answer her with anything like a straight answer.

She flung open the door of the elegant dining room, quite discommoding the footman crouched behind it, and strode upstairs. She was careful not to slam her bedroom door.

Chapter Two

My lady, how are you today? Dr. Sewell with his unctuous manner and perfect clothes entered the bedroom, the only man to do so these days apart from the occasional servant.

Perfectly well, thank you, doctor.

He gave her a roguish smile. You will allow me to be the judge of that, my lady.

Dr. Sewell had cared for her since her first pregnancy, paying her much more attention than Miranda thought she deserved. Despite her personal dislike of his examinations and cosseting, she knew it was for the best, and submitted to it. He visited her weekly in town, monthly when they were in the country. Very few country doctors left town for the country, and Miranda was suitably appreciative of his care for her. In fact, she had been suffering a headache since her confrontation with Daniel the previous day. She told him, omitting the cause of her pain.

He frowned at her. It isn’t a good sign, my lady. Please disrobe. I will perform the examination, and then prescribe something for your nerves. You must not allow yourself to be overset.

Miranda sighed and allowed her maid to help her out of her voluminous dressing robe. Underneath she wore only her shift, but she felt little embarrassment. The doctor had seen her before, and he never showed any signs of anything but professional detachment. In a way she wished he would. It would at least show her that she was desirable to someone. Anyone. She would never accept any advances from him, of course. She just wanted to know.

Dr. Sewell conducted his examination, as he always did, with tact and discretion, although he was as thorough as always. Miranda hated the examination worst of all. It made her feel like a helpless invalid, which she was far from being these days. However, she reminded herself it was all for her own good. Her experience of near death made her doubly careful for her health.

His hands passed over her body, testing and probing. Miranda glanced up and saw her maid seemingly busy about her tasks, but with an eye carefully on the bed. Even though Dr. Sewell was a doctor, and probably spent all day examining women, it made Miranda feel safer when her maid stayed with her.

Miranda appreciated the gentle massage the doctor gave her when he had done. On her back, up her neck and finishing at her temples. She let her head sink back against the pillows, and sighed when he finally lifted his hands away from her. That always makes me feel much better, doctor.

Dr. Sewell stood regarding her, a thoughtful frown between his thick grey brows. I think you should take something for the headache and rest for the remainder of the day, my lady.

Thank you. Is everything all right?

There is little change since last time, the doctor said. Miranda found that too enigmatic for her comfort, but perhaps he was trying to save her distress. After Christopher’s birth she had been so weak it was a relief to trust someone with her physical health, and now she couldn’t imagine it any other way.

The doctor poured a careful measure of dark brown liquid into a glass. Laudanum, with some of his own ingredients added. Miranda sighed. She wouldn’t be getting up that day. Once she woke up she would find her mind disordered and dizzy. Take this for now, my lady. I shall leave some of your usual mixture with your maid. You should not take laudanum again this week. You don’t wish to become dependent on it, do you? He smiled in a paternal way.

Miranda knew what he meant. Just after her illness, the doctor discovered her daily consumption of the drug. Severely displeased he removed it from her, substituting something of his own. She’d found the transition hard, but when she recovered from her near addiction, Miranda realised Dr. Sewell had been right. Much more and she would have become an automaton, able to function at only the most superficial level. She was grateful to him for that, once she recovered.

Daniel had not noticed anything.

Daniel looked up as Dr. Sewell entered his study on the ground floor. He had asked that the doctor look in before he left. He asked occasionally, but since the news had all been depressing, the visits had dropped off. Dr. Sewell was one of the most fashionable—and expensive—doctors in London, specialising in women’s needs. Daniel gladly paid his extortionate fees, happy to see Miranda cared for. It wasn’t the good doctor’s fault his marriage had worked out so badly.

Dr. Sewell entered and took the comfortable leather chair Daniel waved him to as well as the sherry Daniel poured for him. Despite that his face was grave.

Daniel felt he didn’t want to hear, but he owed it to Miranda. Can you tell me how my wife is faring? He kept his gaze steady, his face impassive.

Dr. Sewell sighed and took a restorative sip. She is doing well, my lord. That is, her condition has not worsened since I saw her last and I am hoping she will maintain her present state of health. She complained of a headache and I prescribed her some drops. She should sleep comfortably for a while now.

Good. Will she recover any of her strength? She seems so tired all the time, so listless. She went out shopping with my brother the other day and returned out of spirits. That was the nearest he would come to discussing the controversy that had ruined his dinner and his plans.

She may get a little stronger in time, my lord, but I should tell you that her ladyship will always be delicate. The doctor put down his empty glass. Daniel reached for the decanter and replenished it. Dr. Sewell gave a heavy sigh. It would, of course, threaten her life if she were to bear another child. It would almost certainly kill her.

Is there no way—no way this can be avoided? I have no desire to cause my wife pain, but marital relations are non-existent.

Dr. Sewell frowned and took a deep sip. May I speak frankly, my lord?

Daniel gripped his pen tightly. Of course.

I do not scruple to tell you that sexual intercourse with your wife would more than likely cause her pain. She would not welcome your advances. In addition, any relations would put her life at risk. There is no sure way of preventing conception. There are some methods practised, but they only lessen the risk. They do not eliminate it. He paused to finish his second glass of sherry. I am deeply sorry, my lord, but marital relations with your wife are no longer possible.

Forever?

For the foreseeable future. With a sigh heavier than all the others, the doctor stood up and put down his glass. I will bid you good day, my lord. How you cope with this news is up to you, naturally. I merely put you in possession of the facts.

He left the room quietly.

Daniel studied his untouched glass balefully, as though it held all his troubles in its amber depths. He could not take a mistress and hurt Miranda that way. He could not share a bed with his wife. He still wanted her.

That was his burden. He could not add to hers by sharing it.

Chapter Three

Rosington!

Daniel stopped on the threshold of Whites’ Club and looked around. His heart sinking, he recognised his two brothers seated together at the end of the room. He strolled towards them, taking his time. A family reunion? he drawled.

Orlando studied him, taking in more than Daniel wished him to see, his sharp-eyed stare too perceptive for Daniel’s liking. You’re not happy, dear boy. Could it be the delectable Miranda has taken you to task?

You know she has. Daniel pulled up a chair and lowered himself into it. You were with her yesterday, weren’t you?

I was. Orlando gathered up the cards lying higgledy-piggledy on the table before him and straightened them deftly.

How did she seem?

Orlando turned his head to take in his brother’s expression. I don’t think I will tell you. If I say she was distressed by what she saw it’s likely you’ll be suffused with your own importance, which isn’t at all the right thing to think. If I say she shrugged her shoulders and laughed you’ll take that as justification to take La Perla Perfetta into your keeping. He leaned back, idly shuffling the pack. Have a drink, he suggested.

The decanter glittering at Daniel from the tabletop contained good French brandy. A waiter brought him a glass and Daniel took advantage of the invitation. He needed a drink. Or two.

Do you know how expensive that particular trollop is? Orlando asked.

I’m beginning to get an idea, Daniel admitted. At a sound of displeasure he turned to face his younger brother. Well? You might as well say what you have to and get it over with!

Corin Wyndham, Viscount Elston, heir to the earldom of Taversall stretched his long legs out before him, studying the glittering buckles at his knees with a concentrated frown. He lifted his eyes to his brother’s. Why, what would I have to say about anything? You must do as you please, Rosington. If it makes you happy to turn your back on a glorious creature like Miranda, I’m sure many other men would be only too happy to step in.

Elston watched with interest as Daniel’s hand curled into a fist. They don’t like brawls in here.

You’ll meet me for that! growled Daniel.

No, I won’t, Corin countered. Meet my own brother? You must have bats in your attic, Rosington! Besides, I’m only saying what you’ll read in the scandal sheets in a few weeks. Lazily, he picked up a card from the floor and handed it to Orlando. I might join the queue.

What makes you think Miranda would do such a thing? Daniel surprised himself by his revulsion when he thought of his wife in bed with anyone else. After all, it happened all the time to other couples. For the first time he realised that if he went ahead and offered a carte blanche, he would open the floodgates. He might also close something that had never fully opened. He shrugged, attempting a casual approach. You know my marriage was arranged. We’ve done our duty.

I’ve seen you look at her. Orlando’s low voice sounded surprisingly emotional, although to any casual onlooker he concentrated on the cards he held. He began to deal three hands. Loo? He tossed three guineas into the middle of the table. Unlimited, he added.

Corin picked up his own cards. It shouldn’t be too expensive between the three of us. If anyone loses his shirt, at least we’ll keep said shirt in the family.

Daniel felt in his pockets for a stake. Haven’t got much on me tonight. In fact, he’d left the house in rather a hurry.

Orlando waved that aside. "We know your vouchers