A Rogue of Her Own
Book 4 in the Windham Brides series
For Miss Charlotte Windham, the best way to maintain her spinsterhood—and her independence—is a teeny, tiny brush with scandal. She chooses wealthy, handsome upstart Lucas Sherbourne as her unwitting accomplice. He’s intelligent, logical and ambitious. What Charlotte doesn’t count on is that one kiss leads straight to the altar.
Sherbourne has no love for Polite Society, nor is he keen on being anybody’s husband of last resort. He is attracted to Charlotte’s boldness, though—and her family’s influence. Without a title, he knows he’ll never truly be part of their world, even as he and Charlotte inch closer to a marriage that means much more than convenience. But a scheming business partner is about to test that tenuous trust, forcing Sherbourne to make a drastic choice: his wealth or his wife.
Enjoy An Excerpt
Charlotte Windham has little use for the typical bachelor, but for Lucas Sherbourne, she does have a few plans….
Charlotte had hoped the ritual of the tea service would soothe her, but there Lucas Sherbourne sat, in morning attire that featured a waistcoat embroidered with more gold thread than some high church bishops wore at Easter services.
How could one be soothed when beholding such masculine splendor? His attire was distinctive, but so too was the sense of animal instincts prowling close to the surface of his personality. Sherbourne was alert, heedful of both danger and opportunity even in a duke’s drawing room. With him on the premises, Charlotte would never be bored, never feel invisible.
“You might not dislike me,” Charlotte said, checking the strength of the tea, “but many others find me…irksome. How do you take your tea?”
“Milk and sugar. I would have thought the shoe on the other foot. You find most of humanity irksome, if not most of creation.”
“People usually can’t help themselves when they are tiresome or ignorant. They do the best they can, that doesn’t mean they’re likeable. More sugar?”
“That’s enough, thank you. Too much sweetness ruins the pleasure of the experience. Get to the part about being ruined.”
“A lady can be ruined by flouting convention, such as by walking unescorted from the home of one family member to the home of another, traversing two entire streets on her own in broad daylight in the safest neighborhood in London. Mind you, the maids, laundresses, and shopgirls manage many times that distance without losing their virtue, but let’s not impose a foolish consistency on the rules of proper decorum.”
Sherbourne held his tea without taking a sip, which was mannerly of him, because Charlotte had yet to serve herself.
“A lady taking a short walk on her own would cause a few remarks,” he said. “I doubt she’d be ruined.”
Charlotte had planned to test her wings with a small but public gesture—a pathetically tame adventure, and yet, she’d felt daring as she’d put her hand on the door latch and prepared to negotiate the wilds of Mayfair alone.
“I was starting with a modest exercise in ruination. I doubt full blown impropriety is within my abilities.”
“For which your parents are doubtless grateful. Aren’t you having any tea?”
“I prefer mine quite strong. Another path to ruin is to simply go mad.”
Sherbourne set down his teacup. “Charlotte Windham, you are the sanest woman I know. Who has afflicted you with this case of the blue devils?”
A hundred jealous debutantes and presuming bachelors had contributed to Charlotte’s low mood. So had a horde of happy, well-meaning, married relations.
“Viscount Neederby spoke to my papa before my parents left for Scotland. Papa’s letter arrived this morning, asking me to give the boy a chance.”
Sherbourne got to his feet. “Neederby is not a boy.”
“Nor is he a man in any sense that could merit my esteem, and yet, I was supposed to give him a chance.” The betrayal of that, and the lack of staunchly supportive sisters to commiserate with, had pushed Charlotte from a blue mood to a black mood.
What was the distance from a black mood to melancholia or some other form of mental instability?
“You are understandably upset, but why seek ruin? Windhams are nearly unruinable.”
Full blown impropriety had no appeal, but perhaps…?
“If the right people came upon me in a torrid embrace with the right sort of man, I’d be ruined.” Charlotte took a sip of Sherbourne’s tea, which was perfectly hot, sweet, and strong.
He crossed his arms, regarding her as if she’d proposed building a bridge across the Channel. Fine idea—if daft.
“Have you ever been in a torrid embrace, Miss Charlotte?”
Charlotte rose, because that was not a question a lady answered sitting down. “I’ve never so much as said the word torrid aloud before, but the plan has merit. I thought I could put up with all the matchmaking, be the family project for a few years, then the doting aunt, but I’m alone now.”
The admission hurt as Papa’s ridiculous letter had not. Papa was simply being a papa—half blind, well-meaning, fallible.
But the aloneness…In less than a year, all three of Charlotte’s sisters had married well, and to men who lived very far from London, Kent, or Hampshire. The Moreland townhouse, always spacious, was now a maze of empty rooms and silent reproaches.
“You’ll be much more alone if you’re ruined,” Sherbourne said. “You’ll be packed off to some distant cottage, the only people to visit you will be other outcast women, some of them so poor they’ll impose on your hospitality for months. You won’t like it.”
Well, no. To be smothered by family was unbearable, but to be abandoned by them…
“I’m prepared to endure a kiss or two in the interests of broadening my options. Vauxhall should serve for a location, which means—”
Sherbourne moved so he stood immediately before Charlotte. “Shall I kiss you?”
Though he’d asked permission—to kiss her—the question was far from polite. The whole discussion was outlandish, for that matter, and Sherbourne’s tone was pugnacious rather than flirtatious.
“You think some dashing cavalier can buss your cheek and earn you a holiday in Kent for the next six months. Room to breathe and rest from the blows this year has dealt you. A buss to the cheek won’t cause any stir whatsoever. Your family will brush it aside, the witnesses will recall it as a harmless indiscretion on your part, a daring presumption from the gentleman.”
He was right, drat him clear back to Wales. “I must do something, Mr. Sherbourne. The present course is unsupportable.”
Charlotte never, ever complied with orders given by men, but she occasionally compromised. In this case, she closed her eyes, raised her chin, and wondered if truly her reason hadn’t already departed.
“You kiss me,” she said.
Sherbourne obeyed her.
I must learn to discuss the weather.
On the heels of that thought, Sherbourne had another: Charlotte Windham could teach him to prattle on about the weather more proficiently than any titled dandy had ever discussed anything.
She looked bravely resigned. Her face upturned, lips closed, shoulders square.
Sherbourne started there, rubbing his thumbs over her shoulders, learning the contour and muscle of them.
“Relax, Charlotte. This is a kiss, not a tribute to your posture board.”
She opened those magnificent blue eyes. “Then be about the kissing, please, and dispense with the lectures.”
Sherbourne kissed her cheek and slid his hands into her hair. “A kiss is generally a mutual undertaking. You might consider putting your hands on my person.”
Her hair was soft, thick, and at her nape, warm. She smelled of orange blossoms with a hint of lavender.
“There’s rather a lot of you,” she replied. “One hardly knows where one’s hands might best be deployed.”
Deployed, in the manner of infantry or weapons. “Surprise me.”
Surprise him, she did. She put her right hand over his solar plexus, the softest possible blow, and eased her fingertips upward, tracing the embroidery of his waistcoat. Her left arm went around his waist, getting a good, firm hold.
As her hand meandered over his chest, Sherbourne touched his lips to hers. She neither startled nor drew back, so he repeated the gesture, brushing gently at her mouth.
Charlotte reciprocated, like a fencer answering a beat with a rebeat. Sherbourne drew her closer, or she drew him closer. She might have been smiling against his mouth.
The kiss gradually became intimate, wandering past playful, to curious, then bold—the lady tasted him first—to thoughtful, then on to daring. By the time Charlotte had sunk her fingers into Sherbourne’s hair and given it a stout twist, he was growing aroused.
He stepped back, keeping his arms looped around Charlotte’s shoulders. “That’s a taste of torrid, a mere sample. A lovely sample, I might add.”
“You torrid very well, Mr. Sherbourne. May I prevail on you to ruin me?”
Order your copy of A Rogue of Her Own!