From the moment Daphne, Lady Pomeroy, meets the mysterious Marquess of Hartwell at a masquerade ball, she's determined to seduce him. The handsome, charming man cannot possibly be the cold, calculating lord who Society calls "Black Hart." Risking everything, the lonely widow invites the elusive Hartwell to her dinner party...for two.
Hartwell's arrogant reputation is built on a lie. For he has a shameful secret that keeps him in the shadows: a stutter--his downfall since childhood. He'd rather keep his mouth shut than look the fool. But he's shocked to discover that in Daphne's company--and in her bed--his stutter vanishes.
After one wanton evening together, Daphne is hurt when the lord lives up to his Black Hart name. Yet his reasons for leaving surprise even him. Now he must confess everything or risk losing Daphne forever...
"I think you should consider marriage."
The widowed Countess of Pomeroy paused, fork in hand and hovering over her breakfast plate as she stared at her older brother in shock. "Surely you jest," she said once she recovered her voice. "Do you not recall that I've been married once already?"
Hugh shrugged and sipped from his cup before speaking. "Can you not marry again? You're young. You have no children. Wouldn't it be smart to find a new husband?"
"Phrased as such, you make it sound like a purchase. 'I'll take that gown, the straw hat, the beautiful lace gloves and one husband, please.'" Daphne shook her head, worry filling her. "Have you grown weary of my staying with you?"
"You are always more than welcome," he assured, but she wondered.
Her brother was a confirmed and somewhat notorious bachelor. One of the most sought after in all of London, what with his dashing good looks and the vast fortune he'd grown since he'd inherited their father's title five years ago. Viscount Huxley fought off the eager debutantes with frightening regularity and she'd heard more than one whispered rumor about his various conquests and the trail of mistresses he left behind since her recent return to London.
Her residing with him these last few months must have put a terrible cramp in his style.
"Are you trying to be rid of me then?" She wasn't insulted, not in the least. At the ripe old age of thirty-three and a widow for the past two years, she was indeed a burden upon her brother.
Oh yes, she'd received enough funds from her husband's estate to keep a modest household if she so chose. She'd resided the last two years at the Pomeroy country home since her husband's death. The current Earl of Pomeroy--the eldest son of her dead husband and his first wife, long deceased now--was most kind in letting her reside there without squabble.
But she'd grown bored. As time went on and she mourned properly the loss of her husband after a long illness, she realized she longed for the excitement only a London Season could bring. Unfortunately, the various social gatherings she'd attended so far had been a vast disappointment. She was half-tempted to return to the country estate.
"I would never wish to be rid of you, sister dear." Hugh smiled, exuding all of the Huxley charm he was known for. Goodness, no wonder the ladies clamored after him. "Perhaps we should host a ball in your honor. A sort of re-coming out, so to speak."
Daphne's lips parted in horror. That sounded--awful. So much expected of her, enduring all the gossip and the attention of men both young and old she didn't want? "I could never do such a thing. That would be positively scandalous."
Hugh shrugged. Again. The man hadn't a care in the world, or so it seemed. "It wouldn't hurt to add some interest to the Season. So far, it's been dreadfully boring." He had that right. "We could certainly liven it up with a ball. Perhaps a masquerade, even."
Daphne was shocked. Her brother suggesting they host a masquerade ball together? It was unheard of. She knew he didn't mind attending such gatherings, but planning them? "Are you quite sure? Perhaps you're ill and not thinking clearly. Should you go back to bed and rest?"
He chuckled. "Absolutely, I'm sure. We can invite a herd of titled gentlemen who are in dire need of a wife and line them up for your perusal."