The stranger i married, p.1
The Stranger I Married, p.1Sylvia Day
THE STRANGER I
THE STRANGER I
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
This book is gratefully dedicated to Editorial Goddess Kate Duffy. There are numerous reasons why I think she’s fabulous—from the biggies like being the first editor to buy my work, to the smaller (but no less important) things like being generous with her praise.
How lucky I am to write for you.
Your enthusiasm for our work together is such a gift. I’m thankful every day to have found you right at the beginning of my career. You have taught me so much, and given me so many opportunities to grow. You allow me to write the stories in my heart, and you’ve shown me how wonderful the editor/author relationship can be.
Thank you so much.
As always, huge thanks and hugs go out to my critique partner, Annette McCleave (www.AnnetteMcCleave.com). She keeps me on my toes, and I love her for it.
Much love goes out to my agents Deidre Knight and Pamela Harty. I am blessed, honored, and grateful to work with you both.
And the Allure Authors (www.AllureAuthors.com) for supporting me and my work. The Allure gals have a true sisterhood, and it means a great deal to me.
“Do you truly intend to steal your best friend’s mistress?”
Gerard Faulkner, the sixth Marquess of Grayson, kept his eyes on the woman in question, and smiled. Those who knew him well also knew that look, and its wicked portent. “I certainly do.”
“Dastardly,” Bartley muttered. “Too low even for you, Gray. Is it not sufficient to cuckold Sinclair? You know how Markham feels about Pel. He’s lost his head over her.”
Gray studied Lady Pelham with a connoisseur’s eye. There was no incertitude about her suitability for his needs. Beautiful and scandalous, he could not have designed a wife more suited to irritating his mother if he’d tried. Pel, as she was affectionately referred to, was of medium height, but stunningly curved, and built for a man’s pleasure. The auburn-haired widow of the late Earl of Pelham had a brazen sultriness that was addicting, or so rumor said. Her former lover, Lord Pearson, had gone into a long decline after she ended their affair.
Gerard had no difficulty seeing how a man could mourn the loss of her attentions. Under the blazing lights of the massive chandeliers, Isabel Pelham glittered like a precious jewel, expensive and worth every shilling.
He watched as she smiled up at Markham with a wide curving of her lips, lips which were considered too full for conventional beauty, but just the right plumpness to rim a man’s cock. All around the room, covetous male eyes watched her, hoping for the day when she might turn those sherry-colored eyes upon them, and perhaps select one of them as her next lover. To Gerard, their longing was pitiable. The woman was extremely selective, and retained her lovers for years. She’d had Markham on a leash for nearly two now, and showed no signs of losing interest.
But that interest did not extend to matrimony.
On the few occasions when the viscount had begged for her hand, she refused him, declaring she had no interest in marrying a second time. Gray, on the other hand, had no doubts whatsoever that he could change her mind about that.
“Calm yourself, Bartley,” he murmured. “Things will work out. Trust me.”
“No one can trust you.”
“You can trust me to give you five hundred pounds if you drag Markham away from Pel and into the card room.”
“Well, then.” Bartley straightened his spine and his waistcoat, neither action capable of hiding his widening middle. “I am at your service.”
Grinning, Gerard bowed slightly to his greedy acquaintance who took off to the right, while he made his way to the left. He strolled without haste around the fringes of the ballroom, making his way toward the pivotal object of his plan. The journey was slow going, his way blocked by one mother-and-debutante pairing after another. Most bachelor peers similarly hounded would grimace with annoyance, but Gerard was known as much for his overabundance of charm, as he was for his penchant for mischief. So he flirted outrageously, kissed hands freely, and left every female in his wake certain he would be calling on her with a formal offer of marriage.
Casting the occasional glance toward Markham, he noted the exact moment Bartley lured him away, and then crossed the distance with purposeful strides, taking Pel’s gloved hand to his lips before the usual throng of avid admirers could encircle her.
As he lifted his head, he caught her eyes laughing at him. “Why, Lord Grayson. A woman cannot help but be flattered by such a single-minded approach.”
“Lovely Isabel, your beauty drew me like a moth to a flame.” He tucked her hand around his forearm, and led her away for a walk around the dance floor.
“Needed a respite from the ambitious mothers, I assume?” she asked in her throaty voice. “I’m afraid even my association will not be enough to make you less appealing. You are simply too delicious for words. You shall be the death of one of these poor girls.”
Gerard breathed a deep sigh of satisfaction, an action which inundated his senses with her lush scent of some exotic flower. They would rub along famously, he knew. He had come to know her well in the years she had been with Markham, and he had always liked her immensely. “I agree. None of these women will do.”
Pel gave a delicate shrug of her bare shoulders, her pale skin set off beautifully by her dark blue gown and sapphire necklace. “You are young yet, Grayson. Once you are my age, perhaps you will have settled down enough to not completely torment your bride with your appetites.”
“Or I can marry a mature woman, and save myself the effort of altering my habits.”
Arching a perfectly shaped brow, she said, “This conversation is leading somewhere, is it not, my lord?”
“I want you, Pel,” he said softly. “Desperately. Only an affair will not suffice. Marriage, however, will take care of it nicely.”
Soft, husky laughter drifted in the air between them. “Oh, Gray. I do adore your humor, you know. It is hard to find men so deliciously unabashed in their wickedness.”
“And it is lamentably hard to find a creature as blatantly sexual as you, my dear Isabel. I’m afraid you are quite unique, and therefore irreplaceable for my needs.”
She shot him a sidelong glance. “I was under the impression you were keeping that actress, the pretty one who cannot remember her lines.”
Gerard smiled. “Yes, that’s true. All of it.” Anne could not act to save her life. Her talents lay in other, more carnal activities.
“And honestly, Gray. You are too young for me. I am six and twenty, you know. And you are…” She raked him with a narrowed glance. “Well, you are delectable, but—”
“I am two and twenty, and could ride you well, Pel, never doubt it. However, you misunderstand. I have a mistress. Two, in fact, and you have Markham—”
“Yes, and I am not quite finished with him.”
“Keep him, I ha
“I’m relieved to have your approval,” she said dryly, and then she laughed again, a sound Gray had always enjoyed. “You are quite mad.”
“Over you, Pel, definitely. Have been from the first.”
“But you’ve no wish to bed me.”
He looked at her with pure male appreciation, taking in the ripe swell of her breasts above the low bodice. “Now, I did not say that. You are a beautiful woman, and I am an amorous man. However, since we are to be bound together, when we decide to fall into bed with one another is moot, yes? We shall have a lifetime to make that leap, if we decide it would be mutually enjoyable.”
“Are you in your cups?” she asked, frowning.
Pel stopped, forcing him to stop with her. She stared up at him, and then shook her head. “If you are serious—”
“There you are!” called a voice behind them.
Gerard bit back a curse at the sound of Markham’s voice, but he faced his friend with a careless smile. Isabel’s countenance was equally innocent. She truly was flawless.
“I must thank you for keeping the vultures at a distance, Gray,” Markham said jovially, his handsome face lit with pleasure at the sight of his paramour. “I was momentarily distracted by something that proved not to be worth my time.”
Relinquishing Pel’s hand with a flourish, Gerard said, “What are friends for?”
“Where have you been?” Gerard growled a few hours later, as a hooded figure entered his bedroom. He paused his pacing, his black silk robe swirling to a halt around his bare legs.
“You know I come when I can, Gray.”
The hood was thrown back revealing silvery blond hair and a beloved face. He crossed the room in two strides and took her mouth, lifting her feet from the floor. “It is not often enough, Em,” he breathed. “Not nearly.”
“I cannot drop everything to serve your needs. I am a married woman.”
“You’ve no need to remind me of that fact,” he grumbled. “I never forget it.”
He buried his face in the curve of her shoulder, and breathed her in. She was so soft and innocent, so sweet. “I’ve missed you.”
Emily, now Lady Sinclair, gave a breathless laugh, her lips swollen from his kisses. “Liar.” Her mouth turned down morosely. “You have been seen with that actress more than a few times in the fortnight since I saw you last.”
“You know she means nothing. It’s you I love.”
He could explain, but she would not understand his need for wild, unrestrained fucking, just as she had not understood Sinclair’s demands. She was too slight of frame, and genteel in sensibility, to enjoy such fervency. It was his respect for her which led him to seek such release elsewhere.
“Oh, Gray.” She sighed, her fingers curling into the hairs at his nape. “Sometimes I think you truly believe that. But perhaps you love me as much as a man like you is able.”
“Never doubt it,” he said ardently. “I love you more than anything, Em. I always have.” Taking a moment to divest her of the cape, he tossed it aside and carried her to the waiting bed.
As he undressed her with quiet efficiency, he seethed inside. Emily was supposed to have been his bride, but he had gone away on his Grand Tour, and returned to find his childhood love married. She said her heart had been broken when he left, and rumors of his affairs had reached her ears. She had reminded him that he had never written, which led her to believe he had forgotten her.
Gerard knew his mother had helped to plant the seeds of doubt, and then had watered them daily. Emily had not been worthy in the dowager’s eyes. She had wanted him to marry a bride of higher station, so he would do the opposite, to thwart her and pay her in kind.
If only Em had held on to her faith a little while longer, they could have been wed now. This could have been her bed, one she did not have to leave before the sun rose.
Naked, her pale skin glowing like ivory in the candlelight, Emily took his breath away, as she always had. He had loved her as long as he could remember. She was so beautiful. Not in the way Pel was. Pel had an earthy, carnal sensuality. Em was a different kind of beautiful, more fragile and understated. They were as opposite as a rose was to a daisy.
Gerard was very fond of daisies.
His large hand reached out and cupped the slight weight of her breast. “You are still maturing, Em,” he said, noting the new fullness.
She covered his hand with her own. “Gerard,” she said in her lilting voice.
He caught her gaze, and his heart swelled at the love he saw there. “Yes, my love?”
“I am enceinte.”
Gerard gaped. He had been careful, and made use of French letters. “Em, dear God!”
Her blue eyes, those lovely eyes the color of cornflowers, filled with tears. “Tell me you are happy. Please.”
“I…” He swallowed hard. “Of course, sweet.” He had to ask the obvious question. “What of Sinclair?”
Emily smiled sadly. “I do not believe there will be a doubt in anyone’s mind that the child is yours, but he will not refute it. He gave me his word. In a way, ’tis fitting. He released his last mistress due to pregnancy.”
His stomach clenched tight with shock, Gerard laid her down upon the mattress. She looked so tiny, so angelic against the blood red color of his velvet counterpane. He discarded his robe and climbed over her. “Come away with me.”
Gerard lowered his head, and sealed his lips over hers, moaning at the sweet taste of her. If only things were different. If only she had waited.
“Come away with me, Emily,” he begged again. “We can be happy together.”
Tears slid down her temples. “Gray, my love.” She cupped his face in her tiny hands. “You are such a passionate dreamer.”
He nuzzled the fragrant valley between her breasts, his hips grinding his erection into the mattress in an attempt to temper his desire. With an iron will, he controlled his baser demands. “You cannot deny me.”
“Too true,” she gasped, caressing his back. “If I had been stronger, how different our lives would have been. But Sinclair…the dear man. I have shamed him enough.”
Gerard pressed loving kisses into her tight belly, and thought of his child who had taken root there. His heart raced in near panic. “What will you do then, if you will not have me?”
“I depart tomorrow for Northumberland.”
“Northumberland!” His head lifted in surprise. “Bloody hell, why so far away?”
“Because that is where Sinclair wishes to go.” With her hands under his arms, she tugged him over her, her legs spreading wide in welcome. “Under the circumstances, how can I refuse?”
Feeling as if she were drifting away, Gerard rose over her, and slid his cock slowly into her, groaning his lust as she closed hot and tight around him. “But you will come back,” he said hoarsely.
Emily’s golden head thrashed softly in pleasure, her eyes squeezed shut. “God, yes, I will return.” Her depths fluttered along his shaft. “I cannot live without you. Without this.”
Holding her tightly to him, Gerard began to thrust gently. He stroked into her in the way he knew brought her the most pleasure, while restraining his own needs. “I love you, Em.”
“My love,” she gasped. And then she came apart in his arms.
Isabel awoke with a groan, knowing by the soft purplish color of the sky and her exhaustion that it must be just after dawn. She lay there a moment, her mind groggy, trying to determine what had disturbed her sleep.
Running her hands over her eyes, Isabel sat up and reached for her night rail to cover her nakedness. She glanced at the large-faced clock on the mantel and realized Markham had departed only two hours before. She had hoped to sleep until late afternoon, and still intended to do so, once she dealt with her recalcitrant swain. Whoever he was.
She shivered as she made her way to the window, where tiny pebbles hi
The Marquess of Grayson grinned up at her, his shiny brown hair disheveled and his deep blue eyes red-rimmed. He was missing his cravat and the neck of his shirt gaped open, revealing a golden throat and a few strands of dark chest hair. He appeared to be lacking a waistcoat as well, and she could not help but smile back at him. Gray reminded her so much of Pelham when she had first met him nine years ago. Those had been happy times, short-lived as they were.
“O Romeo, Romeo!” she recited, taking a seat on the window bench. “Wherefore art thou—”
“Oh, please, Pel,” he groaned, cutting her off with that deep laugh of his. “Let me in, will you? It’s cold out here.”
“Gray.” She shook her head. “If I open my door to you, this incident will be all over London by supper time. Go away, before you are seen.”
He crossed his arms stubbornly, the material of his black jacket straining to contain his brawny arms and broad shoulders. Grayson was so young, his face as yet unlined. Still a boy in so many ways. Pelham had been the same age when he’d swept her off her seventeen-year-old feet.
The Stranger I Married by Sylvia Day / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes