When the Ministry of Marriage arranges a match, all that matters is power, wealth and prestige. In the business of marriage, there is no room for love. But even the most prudent plans can go awry...
Jane, Lady Roxdale, has endured one marriage of convenience decreed by the Ministry of Marriage. While she deeply regrets her late husband's death, she is relieved to be free at last. But when a dissolute rake threatens everything Jane holds dear, she must contemplate marrying a second time...
Disgraced libertine Constantine Black inherits his cousin Roxdale's land and title—while Roxdale's prim widow is left all the wealth. Constantine is not a marrying man, but wedding Jane is the only way to save the estate from ruin. Jane resists the smoldering heat between them, desperate not to fall in love with an unrepentant rake. But for the first time ever, Constantine wants more than seduction. He wants all of her—body, heart, and soul...
THE COTSWOLDS, ENGLAND, SPRING, 1814
The newly widowed Jane, Lady Roxdale, stood at the window of her private sitting room, staring out at the scene below.
Carriage upon carriage, some draped in black crêpe, some emblazoned with noble coats of arms, choked the rush-strewn drive that wound up to the house. Like a train of shiny black beetles, they shuffled between ornate wrought-iron gates, marched through an avenue of oaks, then paused beneath the portico to disgorge mourners.
Their pace was slow, respectful, inexorable. And Jane could not wait for them all to depart as slowly and respectfully as they'd come.
She pressed trembling fingertips to the windowpane. How soon? How soon must she leave her home?
Not hers anymore. His.
Constantine Black. Her husband's cousin and heir. The scoundrel who had not even bestirred himself to appear at his kinsman's funeral.
If he couldn't summon sufficient proper feeling to appear today, was she not right to fear for the estate? But then, the new Lord Roxdale was reputed to be glittering and wild, a philanderer, a drunkard, a gamester, with no thought in his head save the next faro bank, the next wench, the next bottle of wine.
He would run through his new fortune, just as he'd squandered the funds he'd inherited from his father. That would take time, of course, even for an inveterate gamester such as Constantine Black.
The Lazenby estate was vast, bolstered by the spectacular dowry Jane had brought to her marriage. Her family's money would fund this wastrel's dissipation, while she was cast out of her home. The utter, galling unfairness of it! If only ...
If only she'd borne an heir, this disaster could have been averted.
Her throat ached with a sudden rush of sadness. If only Luke were the son of her body as well as the son of her heart.
Outside, sullen drizzle turned to rain, spattering those barouches and landaus, tapping at her fingertips through the windowpane. Footmen with umbrellas emerged to rescue the mourners inside the stalled vehicles and shepherd them into the house.
Jane let the curtain fall and closed her eyes. Constantine Black would plunder the legacy that had dropped like a ripe whore into his lap. She'd no power to stop him. None.
A jolt of awareness made her eyes snap open. Something must have alerted her. Not a sound, for the rain and the thick panes of glass muffled noise from the outside. More an atmosphere. She fingered the gauzy curtain aside and peered out again to see a flurry, a veritable commotion below.
A man. Yes, a man on a white horse, thundering down the lawn alongside the drive, streaking past all those black beetles like a shooting star through the night.
She couldn't see his face, merely gained the impression of broad shoulders, muscular thighs hugging the horse's flanks, and a daredevil billow and furl to his cloak as it streamed out behind.
He reined in where the bottleneck of carriages made passage to the shelter of the portico impossible. The big, milk-white stallion stood quiescent, magnificent, as the gentleman dismounted in a graceful slide.
The newcomer swept off his hat and bowed to the mourners, who were undoubtedly agog but too well-bred to show it. Black curls tousled and damped in the wet breeze.
He stilled. His big shoulders lifted slightly, as if invisible fingers pinched his nape.
Then he turned. And looked up. At her.
Their gazes met, and the distance between them seemed to vanish in a dizzying flash. Somnolent eyes openly stared at her, heavy-lidded, insolent, a touch quizzical.
Jane's lips parted. Her heart pounded against her ribs. She had to remind herself...