Get ready to add some color to your day with this excerpt from Isabella Bradford’s A Sinful Deception, the second in her beguiling Breconridge Brothers series. Make yourself a nice cup of tea — or hot chocolate — and settle in with this exclusive look at chapter three:
The afternoon was warm and bright with sunshine, and Hyde Park was crowded. To Geoffrey it seemed that all of fashionable London must have decided to take a turn around the park, and a good deal of unfashionable London with it. The ways were packed with carriages of ladies displaying overwrought new bonnets, middle aged gentlemen pretending to be country squires, and officers in red coats on prancing, high-strung mounts. Every kind of street hawker selling oranges and gingerbread and primroses was boldly darting between the horses and carriages in search of customers, and mixed in among them beneath the trees were fiddlers with their hats on the grass before them and showmen with their puppets and trained squirrels.
It was all just one massive, cacophonous distraction to Geoffrey, whose single concern was finding Serena Carew. How in blazes he was supposed to accomplish this was a challenge he hadn’t expected. He never came to the park at this hour, and he was irritated and frustrated by how slow his progress was now, forced to ride at the trudging pace of a stately snail.
He’d been picturing Miss Carew as a daring rider, one of those rare ladies who feared nothing as she raced over the open lawns, and looked quite fetching whilst doing it. In fact from the moment she’d slipped back into the ballroom and from his sight, he hadn’t been able to stop imagining her doing a great many things, most of which had been wickedly entertaining to him, if not very respectful of Miss Carew’s heretofore impeccable reputation.
But now he not only despaired of witnessing any daring or entertainment this afternoon, he despaired of seeing the lady herself. As he came to the end of Rotten Row yet again, nodding at one more of his father’s friends, he heard the half-hour chime of a nearby church bell, and his despair deepened to pure misery. She’d said she rode in the park at two thirty, and now it was half past three. He was generally good-natured about women and time, understanding that they required more of that commodity than men to prepare themselves to face the world.
But an hour was his limit for waiting, and Miss Carew had now exceeded that. Far worse, however, was the nagging suspicion that she wasn’t delayed by vanity or accident, but had instead simply chosen not to join him, and regarded their appointment of so little significance that she hadn’t bothered to send word that she’d changed her mind. All that feverish talk of kismet and fate from her in the moonlight might have evaporated with the common sense of dawn. For that matter, he could well have been doing a bit of imagining himself, remembering more of an attraction between them than had actually existed.
It would serve him right, he thought with gloomy resignation, lusting after a genteel, romantic virgin like that. He was much better off with actresses and bored married women who wouldn’t turn skittish and not keep assignations. As intriguing as Miss Carew had been, he wasn’t going to let her play him for a fool, and with a muttered oath of frustration he turned his horse toward home.
And there, of course, she was.
She was riding toward him on a neat black mare, riding with exactly the same grace that he’d imagined. She sat tall yet easy, with her back making a long, sinuous curve over the sidesaddle. Her habit was nearly the same brilliant blue as her gown had been last night, with silver lace that glittered in the sun, and on her head was a stylish black silk hat inspired by a jockey’s cap, and crowned by a curling black plume. Tied diagonally over her breast was a patterned, scarlet sash knotted at the shoulder, with gold silk fringes that danced and rippled against her hip in the breeze.
In short she looked quite, quite perfect, and instantly made him forget all the bustling crowds and racket and his impatience as well. He lifted his hat and rode forward to join her.
“Good day, Miss Carew,” he said, smiling warmly as he guided his horse to fall into step beside hers. “A beautiful afternoon is made all the better because you are now in it.”
The compliment didn’t make her smile, and seemingly neither did his presence. But then she’d been like this when they’d first met last night as well; he must remember that, and do his best to thaw her.
“Good day to you, Lord Geoffrey,” she said, her voice solemn. “I must beg your forgiveness for being so much later than I had originally said.”
“I took no notice,” he lied, beaming. It was always a good thing to have a lady indebted to him, even over something as foolish as this. “All that matters is that you are here now.”
“It was due to my aunt, you see,” she continued, as if he hadn’t spoken at all. “She wished me to sit in the carriage, while I preferred to ride. Our, ah, conversation took longer than I anticipated.”
Pointedly she glanced over her shoulder, and he followed her gaze. A pair of burly grooms in her grandfather’s pale gray livery were riding directly behind her, and behind them was an open carriage with Lady Morley, sitting in the center of the seat in an extravagantly beribboned hat and a parasol on her shoulder.
How in blazes had he forgotten? Miss Carew was a young, unmarried lady, and young, unmarried ladies were never permitted to go anywhere unattended, from fear that men like him would swoop down and snatch away their virtue.
Which, given how beguiling Miss Carew appeared today, was a very genuine possibility. Or at least it had been, until he’d realized she was being guarded as closely as the crown jewels in the Tower. The odds against him having her to himself alone again as he had last night were slim, very slim. He would simply have to be more inventive. Kisses and caresses were the easiest path toward seduction, yet from experience he’d found the right words could be effective as well. More challenging, yes, but this lady was well worth the extra effort.
“I must go to Lady Morley and pay my respects,” he said gallantly, knowing how important it was to keep in her aunt’s good graces. “The older ladies merit that, you know.”
“No,” Miss Carew said swiftly, reaching out to place her small gloved hand on his arm to hold him back. “That is not necessary. She will already be pleased beyond measure to have you join us. Besides, I wish to speak to you. At once, if I may.”
Happily he complied, and reined his horse back beside hers. “I am glad of it, Miss Carew, because I have things I wish to say to you as well.”
Her eyes widened beneath the curving black brim of her hat. “You do, Lord Geoffrey?”
“I do,” he said. “You needn’t look so wary, either. I promise you I’ll say nothing that merits that kind of look from you.”
“Hah.” She ducked her chin for a moment, visibly composing herself before she raised her gaze once again to meet his. She’d done this last night, too, shifting her emotions as easily as other women took off their gloves, and he found it intriguing. Now her unusual amber colored eyes only showed curiosity. “I can only begin to guess what you’d say to me.”
“Then I suppose I must tell you at once,” he said easily, “and end your suffering.”
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