Abigail Mercer was breathless with anticipation at being reunited with Spencer Law, whom she met once and later married by proxy. But now the dashing Viscount Ravenswood denies all knowledge of their union! Far too many witnesses have made it impossible for the secretive Spencer to reject his "bride" without causing a scandal. So he has proposed a marriage in-name-only until they can locate his mysteriously absent younger brother—who is responsible for everything!—and untangle this messy affair.
Abigail is incensed, irate . . . and irresistibly attracted to this handsome, infuriating man who hides his smoldering passion behind a proper exterior. So the lady will agree to his terms on one condition: Spencer must seal their bargain with a kiss. But he finds that one deep, lingering, unforgettable kiss isn't nearly enough. And keeping his hands off his pretty wife is going to be much harder than he thought . . .
Even the finest butler may blunder when announcing a surprise guest, but he should use the occasion to learn the correct styling. One never knows when a surprise guest may become important in his employer's household.
Suggestions for the Stoic Servant,
by the Butler to a Very Important Gentleman
April 15, 1822
The bride-to-be was here. The groom-to-be was two hours late. As betrothal dinners went, this one qualified for fiasco of the season. Spencer, reluctant host of the fiasco, surveyed the immaculately appointed dining table in his London town house and sighed. How soon could he call an end to this painful ordeal and retreat to his study and his cognac? Probably not for at least another hour. Anything less would rouse suspicion among his twenty-six guests.
Thanks to his quick thinking and talent for lying, they didn't even know the dinner was a fiasco. And until he found out why Nat had disappeared, he had no intention of letting them in on the secret.
He glanced over at Lady Evelina, the bride-to-be. Thank God she'd apparently accepted his far-fetched tale. Like a china doll, she perched on her chair in cultivated perfection, blond ringlets framing her flawless brow, her cheeks pink but not rouged, and her gown the ideal hue for her porcelain skin. Only her sparkling eyes hinted at the sweet-natured girl Nat and Spencer had teased while she was growing up.
Catching his eye, Evelina dabbed daintily at her cupid-bow lips with a damask napkin. "I do hope they don't detain poor Nathaniel at the police offices all night. Did his note say how long it might be?"
That damned fictitious note. "No, but they'll probably keep him awhile," Spencer lied with all the practiced ease of a former spymaster. "He'll have to give testimony against the ruffian he caught snatching that woman's reticule."
"It was so brave of him to run off after the villain all alone," she said. "And then to insist on carrying that man to the police himselfâhow noble of him!"
"Yes, Nat is nothing if not noble." That lie came harder in the face of young Evelina's starry-eyed loyalty.
Not that Spencer had any other choice. Engaging in a manly pursuit of justice was an acceptable excuse for not attending one's betrothal dinner; abandoning one's bride-to-be was not. Until Spencer knew the reason for Nat's apparent defection, he had to keep lying. Otherwise, Evelina and her widowed mother, Lady Tyndale, would suffer public humiliation. Which Spencer refused to allow.
Where the hell was he? When Spencer had last seen Nat an hour before dinner, his brother hadn't mentioned any plans to dash out. And although Spencer's butler McFee had seen Nat receive a message shortly after that, no one had seen the man leave. But no one could find him, either, not in the house or at any of his favorite London haunts.
Nat had simply vanished, and it looked deliberate. After all, how much trouble could one man get into in only a few hours?
Spencer sighed. Nat had acted strangely ever since his return from America a month agoâhe was inordinately interested in the mail, came and went at all hours, had mysterious meetings, and in general acted like a man still sowing wild oats instead of preparing to marry.
Now this. For God's sake, where was he?
"Well, I for one am surprised Nathaniel even had the presence of mind to send a note at all," Evelina's mother commented. "But the man is always so considerate."
"And noble, too," the woman sitting next to her added with a hint of sarcasm. "Let's not forget 'noble.'"
Wonderful. Now Lady Brumley was putting her nose in it. Why in hell had Evelina's mother invited a woman popularly known as the Galleon of Gossip?