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Always a Maiden

Always a Maiden

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Always a Maiden

Length:
244 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 7, 2017
Format:
Book

Description

Lady Susanah Poole is everything a gentleman should want in a bride. She’s pretty enough, the heir to her father’s considerable estate, and she’s perfectly behaved. Except she keeps losing her suitors one right after another to the Belles of Beak Street. When a completely unacceptable rake catches her in a rare fit of pique and suggests he could teach her what the belles have, she is determined to do whatever it takes to land a lord before her exasperated father forces her to marry an old man—even if it means accepting the guidance of a notorious womanizer.
The last thing Evan Cooper expects is for the rigidly proper Lady Susanah to accept his off-the-cuff offer to teach her about passion. While she is not in his usual vein of bored widows or neglected wives, he is intrigued by her. But she makes it perfectly clear, while she may welcome his kisses, she’ll never accept his proposal—not that he has any plan to marry...or fall in love for that matter.

Publisher:
Released:
Jul 7, 2017
Format:
Book

About the author

Katy Madison has always loved stories and books. As a child she was always lugging a book around. In third grade, she fell in love with the romance genre when her mother fed her voracious appetite for books with a romance novel. Sidetracked by real life, a husband, kids, and a career at The Kansas City Star, where she authored a few incident reports and a system manual, she returned to her love of the genre with her gothic romance, Tainted by Temptation. Katy makes her home on a tree-lined street in Kansas City, Missouri, and thinks there is nothing better than curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book while a storm rages outside.


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Always a Maiden - Katy Madison

coincidental.

Chapter 1

London, 1806

Lady Susanah ducked down a corridor and slid into a darkened alcove furtively looking around. She wanted to scream. But ladies didn’t scream. They didn’t bemoan their fates. And they most certainly didn’t try to escape a function where eligible bachelors were present. Especially not when they were five and twenty and very nearly dried up old maids.

Why? she muttered.

She picked up the hem of her ballgown and tried to tear it. But the stupid material resisted. If she knew any curse words, she would be using them. But as she searched her mind for some unsavory phrase issued by a passing hansom cab driver, her memories refused to cooperate. The best she could manage was, Oh botheration!

But then the self-recriminations started. Four complete seasons and part of a fifth, a future duke and two future earls she’d failed to bring up to scratch. Well, one had proposed but had withdrawn his offer before the day was done. She’d lost all of her potential husbands to the belles of Beak Street. She took the defections with equanimity, with the dignity her station demanded and pretended that it didn’t mean anything. She’d even helped quell the scandals, and they just went on stealing her beaus one after another. But the announcement this evening had been like being thrown from a horse, sudden, jarring, and painful.

She’d never quite accepted defeat with the future duke. She’d very nearly landed him her first season. She would have if she hadn’t been so stupid as to refuse what he asked of her. Now in spite of her hints to him that she’d reconsidered her position, the last of the unmarried belles had reeled him into her net.

Bringing the edge of her hem to her mouth she tried to tear through it with her teeth. The dress tasted of chalk and floor wax and made her gag long before she was successful in starting a rent. Flinging her skirt down, she berated herself that she couldn’t manage a little thing like tearing her dress, let alone finding a husband.

Her mother would be looking for her, but Susanah was in a state. She didn’t know that she could stuff down her emotions and behave perfectly. Not this time.

Damn belles, she muttered almost gleeful that she managed to speak as she’d never done before. She could curse. But the despair quickly shoved through her tiny bit of satisfaction. Tomorrow she would be ashamed of her outburst, private though it was. What do they have that I don’t?

Do you—

A jolt of fear and surprise nearly had her jumping out of her skin.

—really want me to answer that? The voice was low and masculine and slightly familiar.

Her face suddenly aflame, she turned and opened her mouth to apologize, then flee, and instead gasped.

Evan Cooper stood just behind her in the recessed doorway of the alcove watching her intently. Although what was more shocking than being alone with him, was that he stood there with his waistcoat draped over his arm, the ends of his cravat drooped untied, and his shoes dangled from his fingers.

Obviously, he’d just come from some tryst. He hadn’t been there when she spied the alcove, but then she’d been too focused on watching the corridor for witnesses to her shame to look behind her. Her face burned in mortification, while he casually dropped his shoes to the floor.

Why are you trying to rip your dress? he asked as if it were a perfectly ordinary meeting and he wasn’t half undressed. He stepped into his shoes.

She should just go. She couldn’t be caught alone in a darkened corridor with him. He was a philander and a penniless one at that. He was the sort of man who could ruin her with just a hint of warm attention. Or worse he could deliberately bring about her downfall just to get at her substantial dowry and eventual inheritance. She wanted to be married, but not beneath her. She was supposed to net an aristocrat and one with a good title, not some mere mister.

He shrugged out of his evening coat and handed it to her.

Like an idiot she took it. Where did you come from?

It leads to the servants’ stairs. He gave a slight nod toward the door and pushed his arms through his waistcoat, then clicked the door shut. I can help you.

I don’t think so, she said with all the stiffness she could muster. She was never improper. Just as she never allowed her emotions to be seen—until now.

He buttoned his waistcoat, and she thrust out his coat. He ignored it.

You were with Mrs. Barnet, she accused. Nearly a half hour ago she’d heard her husband couldn’t find his wife. Not that it was any of her concern. Not that it mattered to her in the slightest. Not that she should have said anything about it, even if she had noticed.

His fingers paused on the last button and he looked at her, his eyes narrowed. I don’t kiss and tell.

Susanah didn’t know if that was a confirmation or a denial. She wasn’t good with subtleties, which could be part of the reason she failed to land a husband in four and a half seasons. She’s very pretty, she heard herself say. Her ears grew hot. She pushed out his coat again. Here. I have to go.

He made no move to take his coat and took the ends of his cravat and straightened them. You don’t want me to rip your dress?

She stared at him. Did he mean to rip her dress by assaulting her? Her mother had warned her time and again that a fortune hunter might try to force her to the altar by ruining her. That was why her mother never let her out of her sight. Almost never. Evan Cooper was exactly the sort of man who would look to marry an heiress like her because he had no expectations of his own. Although from a socially acceptable family, he only got by on the generosity of an uncle. But he was putting on his clothes, which would make it look less like anything improper had happened. Or perhaps even the fortune hunters thought her too long on the shelf. Mr. Cooper?

He finished tying his cravat in a simple, albeit fashionable, style. And here I am making myself presentable so I can fetch your mother and alert her to your disaster. Bend a little at your knees, Lady Susanah.

W-What?

He took a step toward her.

She reached for the wall behind her trying to scuttle backward. She was shivering, yet she felt hot, not cold.

That’ll do. He stepped on her dress, catching her like a wild animal in a sprung trap. Then he was lifting her up, his hands beneath her underarms, thumbs perilously close to her breasts, which tingled oddly.

Surely this wasn’t how a man kissed a woman or assaulted her or anything of the kind. Her dress rent with the pop of stitches and ripping material.

He set her back on her feet and looked down. Well, that was rather worse than I intended. But there is no doubt that your parents will have to take you home, now.

How had he known why she wanted to tear her dress?

His hand shifted from under her arm to the gaping hole against her ribs. Her stays were visible. And he was touching them.

Her heart thrummed madly. For a second she stared at him, her mouth open before she recalled herself and erased all expression from her face. Yes, thank you.

She twisted away from his far too disturbing touch. But it wasn’t as if she could go back in the company with her undergarments exposed.

He backed away and ran his fingers through his disordered locks as if trying to coax his wild waves into order. Instead, she noticed the way one strand curled behind his ear. He had hair the color of tobacco, a mix of raw umber, burnt sienna and a bit of ochre here and there. His eyes sometimes looked green and sometimes brown—rather fascinating if she had ever allowed herself to be fascinated. It was as if he had so much color within him that neither his hair nor his eyes could settle on just one shade.

Would you be so kind? He turned and held out his arms as if she were a valet to help him dress. He crouched down a little so she wouldn’t have to reach up too high.

She did her best to help him into his coat and found her hand smoothing the material over his shoulder before she snatched it away. What was wrong with her?

He turned, touched his fingers to her heated cheek, and grinned at her. I’ll go tell your mother. Stay here.

Please, she said. She wasn’t quite certain what she was asking of him. A few options sprang to mind. Remove your hand should have come first. Be quick about it was a good second option. Kiss me sprang to mind. She said nothing.

Cocking his head to the side, Mr. Cooper said, You may have what the belles all have.

They’re all beautiful, she said a bit wistfully. It is no wonder they’ve been so successful in spite… In spite of the scandals swirling around them, but she couldn’t say that out loud. Oh never mind.

Looks aren’t everything, or you would be just as successful.

Before she realized he’d complimented her, he was sauntering down the corridor, without looking back. An unusual warmth was spreading through her like butter melting on a fresh roll. Likely it was embarrassment she told herself firmly. It couldn’t possibly be anything else.

But she didn’t have whatever the belles had or she wouldn’t have lost all her suitors to them.

Winding through the company in the ballroom, Evan rather thought he might have seen more emotion in Lady Susanah in the last five minutes than he’d seen in the last five years. Altogether his encounter with her had been far more pleasurable than his encounter with Theresa Barnet. Oddly enough Theresa had wanted him to rip off her shift, and he’d declined. Then he’d turned around and ripped Lady Susanah’s dress for her. One of life’s little ironies, he supposed.

Truth be told, he’d enjoyed the chase with Theresa far more than he’d enjoyed the hollow victory. That she had set up an assignation in the midst of a well-attended ball had smacked of wanting to be discovered rather than conducting a discreet liaison, especially since her husband was in attendance. He didn’t mind putting the horns on a man, but he would be damned before he gored the man with them. By all accounts, Mr. Barnet adored his wife. Evan wished him well of her. He was done with Theresa.

He found the woman he was looking for peering around the ballroom with a bit of a frantic, searching look in her eyes. Pasting on a smile, he approached her. Lady Weatdon, I must apologize.

For a second he thought the marchioness would give him the cut direct, but she finally deigned to look in his direction. Her glare seared through him. It said she didn’t have time for him and he wasn’t good enough to exchange polite pleasantries with. Especially not when her precious daughter was missing.

You see I stepped on Lady Susanah’s gown and ripped it badly. True so far. He should have thought to ask Susanah if she’d been dancing or exactly how he could have encountered her on the floor. I do regret it.

Lady Weatdon gave a sniff, her barely stifled irritation was palpable. You did what?

I stepped on her dress and it tore. There is no repairing it. I’m dreadfully sorry. If you would come with me, I’ll take you to her. Evan extended his arm.

Lady Weatdon ignored it. Her upper lip thinned and she finally asked. Where is she?

In yonder passageway, trying to stay out of sight. Still true, although he suspected Susanah’s hiding initially had been more about escaping from her mother. He half wondered if Susanah might be more animated if she was allowed off her lead every once in a while. This way, my lady.

He didn’t bother to see if she followed him as he wove through the guests again.

People cast curious stares in his direction. He wondered if Theresa had reappeared yet. If Lady Susanah had put two and two together, others likely would have too. He knew it was past time he changed his ways and he was bored with the game, but a man had needs. He couldn’t afford a mistress and a wife was out of the question. If he ended up being a caretaker to his reclusive cousin for the next forty or fifty years that wasn’t any kind of life for a wife. Although reclusive wasn’t the right word. Sequestered was a better fit. But that was the bargain he’d made with his uncle.

Lady Susanah was still in the alcove of the back passageway. He could just see the hem of her dress peeking out. Her thoroughly torn dress. He supposed he should show them the way out through the library as he’d planned to leave earlier.

He turned to see if Lady Weatdon was behind him. The marchioness was bearing down on him, albeit with a generous gap between them. She looked around as if trying to assess who had noticed her following him. He gave her a nod and then went down the corridor to the alcove. Lady Susanah?

She peeked out, her cheeks pink.

Surprised that he’d never really noticed her before, he studied her for a minute. Oh, he knew her. They ran in the same circles. But between his avoiding any woman who might expect a proposal and her seeking out suitors from the upper echelons of the aristocracy, they weren’t cozy with each other. Really, what he knew was that she was rumored to be excessively proper and dull as ditchwater—distinctly passionless—which was hardly a deterrent to matrimony when she also possessed a generous dowry and was her father’s sole heir.

She stepped out a little, holding the skirt of her gown to the bodice. Did you find my mother?

That her stays were peeking through stirred interest in him, in spite of himself. She’s nearly here.

Susanah’s expression went blank. Or severely schooled. There was a pleasant tilt to the corners of her mouth, but otherwise no animation at all. Somehow as he watched her control her features, he had the urge to prod her until her bland disguise slipped again.

He stared at her looking for the girl who a bit ago had cursed the belles and lamented not having what they had. We should talk about what the belles have, he heard himself say.

Her nose crinkled just the slightest bit as if expressing distaste, but it had the effect of making her practiced expression slip. W-What do all the belles have?

He grinned and then leaned close to her ear and whispered. Unrestrained passion, my dear lady.

She jerked back against the door and stared at him. Her face darkened. L-Ladies don’t…

He raised his eyebrows to challenge her. What was wrong with him? He didn’t need to tutor an ingénue in the ways of the world. Although Lady Susanah was a little old to still be playing the innocent. Not to mention, she had guessed the reason for his state of undress rather too quickly to be entirely pure in thought.

A lady doesn’t…A gentleman surely wants a…a…a wife who is well b-behaved and proper, she stammered.

Hell, if he wanted a challenge to the game of seduction, she’d make a perfect candidate. Even getting her alone with her dragon of a mother watching her every move would present problems and probably save him from his worst instincts.

They most assuredly do. In the drawing room. But in the bedroom, a man wants a woman who is wanton and wild for him. Good Lord, he was dicked in the nob for saying such a thing to her. A man who finds both in a wife is blessed beyond measure.

Her throat worked as she swallowed. All the while she stared up at him as if he were a feral beast who might attack her.

He wouldn’t attack per se, but he wasn’t entirely certain he would refrain from seduction. No, this wouldn’t do. He didn’t destroy unsullied maidens, and he wouldn’t start now. A gentleman, even one as disreputable as him, didn’t set out to ruin an unmarried lady. Or at least not without having marriage as a goal, which he didn’t—couldn’t in fact. He might have the reputation of a rake, but he wasn’t a ruthless defiler of women. No, he should just give her a wide berth.

"I hope you are not encouraging him, Susanah’s mother said as soon as the carriage door shut them inside. Mr. Cooper is not the sort who deserves your dowry."

Her perhaps, but not her dowry or inheritance. She was, after all, a most disappointing child, both in her sex and her failure to land a husband of consequence. Susanah folded her hands in her lap, now that she didn’t need to hold her dress together. Of course not. He has nothing to offer me, and I would never encourage a fortune hunter.

I should hope not.

Evan Cooper didn’t have a title, nor did he have an estate, or, from what she knew, the expectation of one. If she remembered correctly he had older brothers, although his father was just a plain esquire. So there wasn’t a wisp of a hope that some distant noble relative might expire childless. Even if she should debase herself to consider ordinary gentlemen as potential husbands, she wanted one who had his own house. The idea of living with her mother for the rest of her life was enough to give Susanah hives. It wasn’t for lack of effort that she’d lived at home this long.

Her mother reached across and twitched aside her cloak. A tear this large couldn’t have happened if you didn’t pull away from him.

I didn’t realize… Susanah tried to frame a defense. She just left off because her mother would no doubt find fault with anything she said.

You didn’t realize what?

That my dress would rip. I’m not even quite certain how it happened. Susanah fretted with the tattered edges of the tear just so her mother couldn’t look at her face. Not that she was likely to give the lie away with her expression, but her face felt warm. If she was blushing, her mother would never let her be. She had to think of anything other than how her dress had ripped and how Mr. Cooper had so easily lifted her.

What were you doing talking to him? Each word her mother uttered, made Susanah want to shrivel.

I wasn’t—at least not before… Susanah straightened before her mother berated her for her posture and looked out the window. "I had

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