New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens has created some of romance's most unforgettable novels. Now she has created her most provocative love story--and amazing hero--to date. This is the book that dares to ask the question: Who is this man's ideal bride?
Michael Anstruther-Wetherby is a rising member of Parliament--a man destined for power. Aristocratic, elegant, and effortlessly charming, he is just arrogant enough to capture the interest of the ladies of the ton. And with his connections to the wealthy and influential Cynster family--his sister is married to Devil Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives--his future appears assured.
Except that Michael lacks the single most important element of success: a wife.
Political pressure sends him searching for his ideal bride, a gently bred, malleable young lady, preferably one with a political background. Michael discovers such a paragon but finds a formidable obstacle in his path--the young lady's beautiful, strong-minded aunt--Caroline Sutcliffe.
One of London's foremost diplomatic hostesses, Caro has style and status but, having lived through an unhappy political marriage, wants nothing of the sort for her niece, who has already lost her heart to another.
So Caro and the younger woman hatch a plot--Caro will demonstrate why an inexperienced young lady is not the bride for Michael. She succeeds in convincing him that what he really needs is a lady of experience by his side.
And the perfect candidate is right under his nose--Caro herself. Then it is Michael's turn to be persuasive, a task that requires every ounce of his seductive charm as he tempts and tantalizes Caro, seeking to convince her that becoming his bride will bring her all her heart desires . . . and more.
But then a series of mysterious, and dangerous, accidents befall Caro--an assailant has stepped in with their own idea for Caro's future--one that could involve murder. Before Caro can become Michael's ideal bride, they must race to uncover the unknown's identity before all hope of what they long for, and wish for, is destroyed.
Late June, 1825
Eyeworth Manor, near Fritham in the New Forest, Hampshire
Wife, wife, wife, wife.
Michael Anstruther-Wetherby swore beneath his breath. That refrain had plagued him for the last twenty-four hours. When he'd driven away from Amelia Cynster's wedding breakfast, it had run to the rhythm of his curricle's wheels; now it was playing to the steady clop of his bay gelding's hooves.
Lips setting, he wheeled Atlas out of the stableyard and set out along the drive circling his home.
If he hadn't gone to Cambridgeshire to attend Amelia's wedding, he'd already be one step closer to being an affianced man. But the wedding had been one event he hadn't even thought of missing; aside from the fact that his sister Honoria, Duchess of St. Ives, had been the hostess, the wedding had been a family gathering and he valued family ties.
Familial links had helped him immeasurably in recent years, first in gaining his position as Member of Parliament for this district, and subsequently in forging his path upward through the ranks, yet that wasn't the wellspring of his appreciation; family had always meant a great deal to him.
Rounding his house, a sturdy, three-storied manor house built of gray stone, his gaze went -- as it always did when he passed this way -- to the monument that stood on the verge halfway between the house and the gates. Set against the dark-leaved shrubs filling the gaps beneath the tall trees, the simple stone had stood for fourteen years; it marked the spot where his family -- his parents and younger brother and sister racing home in a curricle in the teeth of a storm -- had been killed by a falling tree. He and Honoria had witnessed the accident from the schoolroom windows high above.
Perhaps it was simply human nature to value highly something one had lost.
Left shocked, grieving, and adrift, he and Honoria had still had each other, but with him barely nineteen and her sixteen, they'd had to part. They'd never lost touch -- they were, even now, close -- but Honoria had since met Devil Cynster; she now had a family of her own.
Slowing Atlas as he approached the stone, Michael was acutely aware that he did not. His life was full to bursting, his schedule perennially crammed; it was only in moments like this that the lack shone so clearly, and loneliness jabbed.
He paused, studying the stone, then, jaw setting, faced forward and flicked the reins. Atlas picked up his pace; passing through the gates, Michael held him to a steady canter along the narrow lane.
The nightmarish sound of horses screaming slowly faded. Today he was determined to take the first step toward establishing a family of his own.
Wife, wife, wife, wife.
The countryside closed around him, embraced him in its lush green arms, welcomed him into the woods and forests that to him were the essence of home. Sunlight flickered, glimmered through shifting leaves. Birds called and twittered; beyond the rustle of the canopies, there was no other sound to punctuate the clop of Atlas's hooves. Narrow and winding, the lane led nowhere but to the Manor, joining a wider road that led south to Lyndhurst. Not far from that junction, another lane wended east to the village of Bramshaw, and Bramshaw House, his destination.
He'd decided on his course some months ago, but once again government concerns had demanded his attention and he'd let matters slide ... when he'd realized, he'd pulled himself up short, sat down, and laid out a schedule. Despite the distraction of Amelia's wedding, he'd stuck rigidly to his self-imposed timetable and left the wedding breakfast in good time to drive down here. To his necessary destiny.