Unwilling to taint any woman with the terrible secret hidden in his heart, Sebastian, Viscount Ravenswood, has sworn never to marry. Luckily, whimsical Henrietta Ashby was never much of a temptation for the devilishly handsome rogueâuntil now. Suddenly, Henrietta has learned to seduce him with a bewitching charm . . . and clandestine midnight kisses.
Henrietta would go to any lengths to catch the eye of the man she's long loved from afarâeven seeking the help of the most notorious courtesan in England! But as Sebastian's secret follows them from the ballroom to the boudoir, and his diabolical enemy plots revenge, will Henrietta risk her life to offer him a passionate redemption . . . or will he prove to be too scandalous to wed?
"Good heavens, Henry, you're still in your drawers!"
And Henrietta Ashby was going to stay in her drawers until she figured out the ideal dress to wearâmuch to the dismay of her mother, Lady Lara Ashby.
"I'll be there in a minute, Mama."
Distraught, the elder woman proclaimed, "But Henry, the guests have already arrived!"
Henrietta wasn't interested in the guests below . . . well, she was interested in one particular guest, hence the crucial decision she had to make.
"Which one, Mama, the pink or the peach?"
Lady Ashby fluttered her fan in quick succession. "Henry, can't you ever make up your mind?"
Unfortunately, Henrietta could not. She had a penchant for disorder and a tendency to waver over every decision. Alas, it was not her fault she had such a flighty disposition. Truly, it wasn't. Henrietta was the youngest offspring of Baron Nicholas Ashby, and, as such, the most pampered of the lot. She also served as the baron's surrogate son, thus the nickname Henry.
You see, the baron had a brood of childrenâall girls! Desperate for a male heir, he had christened his fifth daughter Henry, and like any indulgent papa, the baron catered to his "son's" every wish and whim without complaint. Though there was no property to inherit or title to come into, that did not stop Henrietta from acting the part of the doted-upon son and heir. The only trouble with being Henry was the freedom to do as she pleased without a thought to the consequences.
"I think I'll go with the pink," said Henrietta.
"Fine." Lady Ashby sighed with impatience. "I want you below in five minutes!"
The door thudded closed.
Jenny, the poor chambermaid, blanched at the command, not that Henrietta noticed. She eyed the rose silk ruffs and heart-shaped neckline and thought: It's perfect!
The peach frock went flying through the air, skewered on a bedpost. Discarded and forgotten, the dress dangled in neglect like so many other wisps of fabric scattered across the bedroom floor.
Musing, Henrietta glanced around the cluttered space. "Now for the mask."
She went over to the bed, tossed the weekly gossip papers asideâshe'd been reading the juicy tidbits earlier in the dayâand sifted through the many scattered headdresses, looking for the best match.
With a pleading look in her eyes, the young chambermaid lifted a bejeweled headpiece. "Will this do, miss?"
Henrietta eyed the glittering adornment. "Yes, that will do."
Jenny whistled a sigh of relief and quickly ushered her mistress to the vanity. It took a little longer than five minutes, but soon Henrietta was all decked out in a resplendent evening gown of shimmering rose silk and a lovely jewel-encrusted mask to match.
She twirled in front of the full-length mirror, inspecting her reflection. The frock complemented the auburn glow of her hair and deep brown hue of her eyes to perfection.
If this doesn't draw his notice, I'm going to scratch out his eyes.
With that encouraging thought in mind, Henrietta thanked her maid.
Jenny started to tidy up the room.
"Never mind that," said Henrietta. She took Jenny by the hand and shooed her out the door. "Cook needs help in the kitchen, I'm sure. You can clean the mess later."
Jenny sighed and skirted off. "Yes, Miss Ashby."
A spring to her step, Henrietta made her way down to the ballroom. Baron Ashby's annual masquerade ball was fast becoming a tradition. The third so far, it was first initiated at the behest of Lady Ashby to help find her youngest daughter a mate. With four sisters already wed, Henrietta was the last of the brood to get leg-shackled. Spinsterhood was fast approaching, and that, of course, put Lady Ashby in near hysterics.
But what Mama did...