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ISBN-10: 0312381832 | ISBN-13: 978-0312381837
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AN INCONVENIENT SCANDAL
Emma Hallaway has not seen her husband in twelve years—and that’s fine with her. As a young girl, she’d agreed to a simple marriage of convenience, allowing her to pursue her private passion for painting. And though unknown to the rest of polite society, Emma is now one of the most daring and sought-after artists in London. However, when her secret is threatened to be exposed, Emma is forced to open her heart—and her home—to a total stranger: her husband…
AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE
Richard Mansfield, Earl of Asbury, is all too familiar with danger. As a matter of fact, it is hard on his heels when he returns to England. Still, even he is shocked to learn of his wife’s scandalous double life as an artist. But once he sees the vibrant grown woman she has become—so passionate, so strong, and so alluring—his undeniable attraction to Emma stuns him. Suddenly Richard is determined to turn their sham of a marriage into a true and lasting love. But how exactly does a gentleman seduce his own wife?
The last place Richard Mansfield, Earl of Asbury, expects to find his wife, Emma, is in a house of harlots; then again, it has been 12 years since Richard set eyes on Emma. The last person Emma expects to run into in London’s most notorious brothel is her husband, Richard, especially since encountering him now threatens to ruin her life, which is already spiraling out of control. What Richard doesn’t know is that Emma is being blackmailed by the Earl of Waverly, who possesses a very “revealing” self-portrait painted by Emma, who will do anything to keep her identity as England’s most scandalous artist a secret. But Richard is equally determined not only to find out exactly what passionate secrets his wife is keeping, but also to win his way back into her life. In her second captivating historical romance, Clare turns up the sensual heat with a sizzling, sexy tale of a husband and wife engaged in a seductive battle of wits that proves to be splendidly entertaining.
-John Charles, Booklist
-John Charles, Booklist
The second chapter of Clare’s trilogy is as bold and alluring as this exciting newcomer’s first book. Clare takes a “second chance at love” romance, twisting the theme into a highly sensual tale of passion and suspense. But there’s also humor, created by secondary characters, and love to round out a tantalizing read.
– RT Top Pick!
– RT Top Pick!
A steamy Victorian.
An arousing and amusing Victorian reverse romance!
An exciting and imaginative read that captivates the imagination and arouses the senses. Suspense, intrigue and passion abound in this historical romance.
Manipulating sisters, sinister plots and a pending divorce making this romance a bit different than your normal run of the mill romances. The initial scenes will draw you in only to entice you to stay and read more and more. Soon you’ll find yourself riveted to this story only to find you have reached the end.
-Night Owl Reviews, Top Pick
-Night Owl Reviews, Top Pick
Tiffany Clare has penned another superb and masterfully crafted romance. The Seduction of His Wife has all that I love in a book: humor, suspense, sigh-inducing romance, and fan-your-face, sizzling sex scenes. Ms. Clare’s first book, The Surrender of A Lady was a bold and daring story, and her latest book is equally as entertaining. If you’ve never read a Tiffany Clare book, run to your nearest bookstore. You don’t know what you’re missing!
-Gannon, The Romance Dish
-Gannon, The Romance Dish
Read the first chapter (from the unedited proof)
You never write to me. I don’t even know your whereabouts in the world.
You never write to me. I don’t even know your whereabouts in the world.
“You can’t go in there with me, Grace.” Emma Hallaway-Mansfield, Countess of Asbury, tugged her sister’s hand away from the latch on the carriage door.
Grace studied her with furrowed brows. “Emma, you asked me to come here with you. I won’t abandon you in your time of greatest need.”
“You have no choice.” Emma had to go in there by herself. “If anyone should recognize us, our reputations will be in shambles. You can’t risk that.”
“I don’t care. You’re my sister. You would never ask me to go into such a place on my own.”
“Think of Abby, Grace. If my reputation is completely ruined, I’ll not be able to help find our sister a husband . . . you, on the other hand, will.”
“You don’t know the things that happen in such a place.”
“And how would you know?”
Though Grace probably did know better than she, since her late husband had actually spent a great deal of time in her company. Which was more than Emma could say for her marriage. Emma refused to think about her marriage, or lack thereof, right now.
She’d been sitting here too long in indecisiveness—she was already running a few minutes late—and their nondescript carriage was drawing unwanted attention.
“Take the carriage around the square a few times. I won’t spend more than twenty minutes inside.”
“I ought to come with you. Waverly had no right in courting me, and then to turn around and do this to you.”
“Believe me, I know.” Emma sighed heavily and twirled her locket between her fingers as she tried to think of another solution. There was none. She was stalling at doing the inevitable. “But it can’t be changed.”
She had to find Waverly—the lying scoundrel—soundly reprimand him for his audacity, and then demand that her portrait be returned. A portrait she should have never painted. Or at least never have sold, since the subject in the nude was her.
With a deep breath, she tied a beaded velvet mask around her head to cover the top portion of her face. Not the greatest of disguises, but it would have to do.
“If you’re not back in twenty minutes, I’ll have no choice but to follow you in,” Grace said.
Kissing her sister on the cheek, Emma said, “Twenty-five minutes, no more.”
Emma turned up the latch on the carriage door. When her feet were on solid ground, her stomach turned into a jumble of nerves. She gave one last look in the dark window of the hack before turning away.
Night had fallen, but Haymarket was busy with foot traffic. She’d never been to this part of town. It was a place where gentlemen indulged in the sorts of wicked things a lady wasn’t supposed to have knowledge of. Emma hadn’t reached the ripe age of seven and twenty without discovering some of life’s idiosyncrasies, particularly where men were concerned.
After a couple of deep breaths, her stomach steeled against her anxiety, and she moved grudgingly forward. Standing before a great wooden door with iron detail of a medieval design, Emma lifted the horned-devil knocker and rapped it once.
A small peephole slid open and was followed by the gruff voice of a man. “Pass.”
“Balderdash,” she answered.
The door creaked open, giving way to a beefy man with bare arms bigger than the width of her cinched waist. Goodness, he was a veritable giant. Emma barely resisted the urge to take a step back and flee to the safety of the carriage. Scars marred one side of his face; his blue eyes were like shards of ice cutting through her as he gave her a once over.
She stood taller, showing her determination to enter a bawdy house, and met his rigid gaze with her resolute one. She would not be refused entry. Nothing would stand in the way of saving the loosening threads of her reputation.
“Ain’t yer type o’ place,” the giant said.
“I’m sure it’s not.”
The giant took a step to the side, moving from the doorway with a firm scowl in place. “Don’t usually have yer kinder flashies. But yer gots yer pass.”
Emma looked around the amber lit foyer. Rich Chinese silks and heavy Italian brocades hung on the walls in a conflicting mishmash of sheer and woven materials. Foreign perfume lingered in the air; it was so powerfully sweet, it burned her nostrils and had her holding her breath intermittently. The hallway was narrow and had no rooms on either side. A set of darkly stained wooden stairs loomed directly in front of her.
Courage, she told herself. She needed to pretend just for tonight that she had the courage to confront her nemesis. She couldn’t imagine what Waverly thought to gain in blackmailing her here. His purpose was obvious; the whys were not.
Ascending the steps quickly, she opened another, less forbidding door at the top of the stairs.
Emma’s eyes went wide at the sight before her. The place was hot and crowded with at least fifty people—more people than she had expected. The room was wide and open, sporting high ceilings that did not dim the ruckus of everyone talking at the same time. Settees and deep couches were set around the room for patrons to repose on. The men in attendance all seemed to be of means if their pressed, finely cut suits were anything to go by.
Bawds mingled wantonly and freely amongst the crowd. Some were bare-chested while others wandered around without skirts and bodices to decently cover their unmentionables. Her hand clenched around her locket.
A small twinge of comfort enveloped her on noticing she wasn’t the only one sporting a demi-masque. She wasn’t the only one who needed to protect her identity.
On closer inspection of the debauched scene around her, patrons she thought were relaxing on the sofas were actually in coitus.
Eyes wide with that revelation, Emma reeled and nearly went back through the door to escape the scene unfolding around her. She stopped herself short of reaching that goal.
She couldn’t leave. First, the direction on the letter had been a firm demand she attend this place. Second, her sister would have taken the carriage around and would arrive back in fifteen minutes at the most. Emma would not stand in the streets of Haymarket. It wasn’t safe for a proper lady to do so.
Taking a deep breath to prepare herself for the scene behind her, Emma tried to act as if she’d been in a place like this before and held her chin up unashamedly as she turned back around.
A few naked women would not scare her away. She was no stranger to the female form, since she painted it on a regular basis. As for the men engaging in all sorts of wicked, she’d just have to pay them no mind.
Despite the low décolletage of Emma’s pale cerulean evening gown, it was obvious she wore too many clothes not to be noticed by every man in the room. The other women of the upper echelon wore rich, dark tones, the gowns swept low off their shoulders. Emma was surprised their breasts didn’t spill right out of their dresses.
Emma skirted toward the private rooms. Taking a deep breath, she pressed open the first darkly painted door to reveal a couple bent over a red velvet divan in the throes of passion. A fat, squat man heaving to and fro in some mockery of the primal dance held a fistful of yellow hair at the back of the woman’s head.
Emma’s breath faltered, her will to do this sinking faster than a rock thrown in water. She shut the door with a snap, hoping she didn’t remember that horrible image for the rest of her days. Certainly married women didn’t participate in such untamed, wanton things.
The letter had been clear that she was to find the fourth door on this floor. She wasn’t thinking clearly when she most needed her wits about her.
Turning away from the line of doors, Emma looked about the room, hoping no one watched her. She hadn’t thought it possible for her day to get worse, but it had. Her eyes locked upon a gentleman she wished she could forget as easily as he had forgotten her.
Putting her hand to her mouth, she hoped she didn’t lose her meager dinner as she gazed at the man who had abandoned her a dozen years ago. He was like a predator lying in wait, all sleek and masculine where he lounged. Her heart stuttered in her chest at the sight of him. Swallowing past the lump in her throat was near impossible.
He wouldn’t recognize her. Or would he? She’d never have recognized him except for the fact that he looked like a younger version of his father.
There was no mistaking that strong Roman nose of his, or the tussled waves of light brown hair that brushed the open collar of his shirt. His face was weatherworn and tanned, evidence he spent most of his days in the sun. The boy she’d known had grown into a distinguished gentleman.
How she wished it wasn’t him.
But there lounged her husband—whom she hadn’t seen in twelve years—with a bawd atop his lap.
What a farce this was.
Words escape me. Why is it I’m helpless but to bleed ink onto paper, even if I never deliver the final version of this letter?
Words escape me. Why is it I’m helpless but to bleed ink onto paper, even if I never deliver the final version of this letter?
Her husband. Emma wanted to scream.
A pained noise escaped her mouth before she could quell the hurt building in her chest. She dug her nails into her palm, hoping the physical pain would narrow her focus, erase the pain splintering her heart unbearably. It felt like the whole world was falling away from beneath her feet, ready to swallow her into a chasm of nothingness.
Unlike the other men milling about the room, at least he had the decency to keep his trousers done up. His head tilted back to the sofa, his eyes were closed. He watched no one, not even his ladybird. She, however, was not idle. Her hands massaged his chest. His shoulders.
Emma forced her feet to move back to the private rooms, but she couldn’t keep her mind on the task she was supposed to be focused on. It was impossible to keep from turning back and staring at her husband.
She peeked around one of the supporting beams that shot through the floor before going into her appointed room. She trailed her eyes over his form one last time, absorbing every detail she could. He wore no necktie. His shirt gaped open where the buttons were released, revealing the hollow at his throat and the speckle of light brown hairs on his chest. A fresh dusting of hair stippled the lower portion his face.
Her husband would rather have the company of a prostitute than spend any time with his wife. Hadn’t it always been that way? He had never wanted her. Tears welled in her eyes, but she refused to let them fall.
Then his eyes snapped open, his dark brown gaze stared straight at her, nearly pinning her to the spot. It was not the gaze of the young man she remembered, but of a man who lived. Really lived. There was a knowing expression in that gaze.
Caught watching him, she turned hurriedly away. She was naught more than a well-dressed woman in a den of iniquity. He’d most certainly not recognize her after their time apart.
Opening the door to find the private room empty, she stepped inside to shut out the image of her husband.
Emma leaned her back to the door and wedged her slippered foot tightly to the bottom to stop anyone from interrupting her moment of solitude. Her heart beat frantically at the fact that her husband had spied her.
For now, there were more pressing issues to deal with than one wayward husband. Wiping her sweaty palms down the side of her bodice, she reached behind her and clicked over the lock. There was a letter sitting atop the divan with her name scrolled on the outside.
She swallowed back her nervousness and sat heavily on the couch as she unfolded the paper. Waverly wanted her back in Bakewell in three days’ time. Why ask her here if he was only going to demand she be at her country estate?
Was it possible that he’d had a change of heart? Certainly, he didn’t mean to reveal her portrait to the rest of the world without talking to her first?
She didn’t know what to think or do.She didn’t know what to think or do. Knowing her sister wouldn’t have made her way back around yet, Emma waited ten minutes before she slid out of the room to head back to the entrance of the harlots’ den.
Suddenly an arm snaked around her waist and pulled her aside. She squealed out a protest and began to fight whoever had grabbed her.
When Emma looked up to the man who held her, she froze in his arms. Even her heart missed a beat at the realization that she’d been caught.
Her husband’s expression was far from amused.
Swathed in blue silk and a felted black mask, Richard Mansfield, Earl of Asbury, could still make out the lady’s high cheekbones, round eyes, and kissable pouting lower lip. She was like
Aphrodite elevated above the disciples surrounding her, ripe for plucking and bedding.
There was no mistaking those luxurious blonde curls, or her tall, slender frame. He remembered her always being conscious of her height as a girl. Now she was cloaked in a confidence that had her standing tall and glaring back at him with rancor.
Why, of all places, was his wife in a whorehouse?
A wife he hadn’t seen in more than a decade.
The moment she had come out of the private room, he wrapped his arms around her waist to halt her.
Emma tried to squirm free, so he held her more firmly. She was all soft, ripe curves pressed up against him, stirring his blood and awakening his body to a lust he’d never had for his wife before now.
What in hell!
She didn’t know what to think or do.“Unhand me, sir.” Her voice was pitched low, like the sound of a woman well tumbled and unused to speaking. Did she hope to disguise the true timbre of her voice, or was she worried they would be overheard?
“I’m not fooled by your disguise.”
Her gaze flickered to the open buttons of his shirt before veering off over his shoulder to the room beyond them as he forced her a step back and into the shadows.
Her lips parted, revealing the tip of her pink tongue; her pupils dilated in a state of half euphoria. Maybe this type of jaunt onto the wilder, seedier side of life was a common occurrence. He was willing to show her just what kind of fun could be had in such a place.
What if she’d come here looking for some company of the male persuasion? Why else would she be here but for that reason alone? That thought set a trigger off in his mind and forced him into quick action.
Richard placed his arms on either side of her shoulders, his hands against the wall so she had no place to go, and stared into her green eyes.
What man wouldn’t desire her?
He nearly growled at the thought.
Her slender form curved inward just the right amount at the waist. Her bosom was more than enough to fill a man’s hand. His own flexed against the wall in anticipation of doing just that.
He leaned in closer, intent on figuring out her motives in coming here. Did she have an assignation tonight?
Fool of him to think she’d not found the comforting arms of another man over the years. So why did that thought sit so uncomfortably on his mind?
With difficulty, he kept his hands pressed to the wall rather than somewhere else on her person. Like her breasts. He was helpless to stop his gaze from straying to the dip at her bosom. Though he liked what he saw, a little too much, he didn’t appreciate the fact that every other man in the room had the same glimpse of what she had to offer. This possessiveness over a woman was unlike him. Women were a means to an end. A passing amusement when needed.
But Emma was his bloody wife. She belonged to him alone.
“Do you want to tell me what you are doing here, wife?”
“Leaving, if you don’t mind.”
Defiance was clear in her stance as she lifted her chin in a haughty manner and glared at him. Not the cowering miss he remembered her to be.
“What I mind is finding you here.”
At least he blocked her from the view of other patrons. Her black-felted mask was a joke. How she thought to hide her true identity was anyone’s guess. He lifted his hand, ignoring her annoyed huff of air as he fingered one of the curls that had fallen free of her pins. He wanted to feel her hair splayed over him as she worked herself above him.
She tried to duck under his arm, but he stepped closer to her. Her attempt to escape his hold was a wasted effort. He’d not let her leave until he was done talking to her. He wrapped one soft curl of her hair tightly around his forefinger, liking the silkiness against his rough hands.
Her skin would be soft to touch, too.
“I planned to come and go from this establishment quickly,” she hissed under her breath.
“You cannot expect an answer like that to suffice. The last place I wanted or expected to find you was in a bawds’ den.” He kept his voice low, intimate.
“I’ll not have you traipsing around London looking for lovers.”
Good God, how had she turned into such a beauty? She’d been pretty enough when they had married all those years ago, certainly not the nymph teasing him now with her demure glance. Would he have left for parts of the world unknown had they married when they were both more mature? He couldn’t say. And would definitely never know.
“How dare you accuse me of any such thing. You’ve no right!”
“I have every right when my wife shows her face in a house for whores.”
She cheeks flushed in anger.
What did she expect him to say? She dared to come to a place where any man had free license to approach her. He’d never desired her before——she’d been so young when they’d married. But now that she was in his arms, and quite grown up . . .
Couldn’t he do everything running through his mind? It would be easy to push her up against the wall, nibble at the exposed bits of flesh: her neck, her shoulder, her breasts. So very tempting.
He blinked and shook his head to pull himself from the trance she’d put him in. What in hell had come over him? He had more important matters to look after while he was in London. And yet, he’d thought of nothing but bedding his wife since the moment he’d seen her.
Her seductive eyes stared back at him in question. He swallowed against the desire burning a firestorm through his body.
“How did you recognize me, Richard?”
With his free hand, he skimmed his fingers over the lacy edge of her décolletage. “Your lackluster choice in costume for a whorehouse was a clear enough indication you didn’t belong.” Actually, he never forgot a face, no matter that she had been a mere child of fifteen when they’d married.
She hissed in a breath at his crude language, or perhaps at his daring stroke. Wanting to know which had caused her reaction, he traced his finger lower. Her skin was as soft as he had imagined. He wanted to touch all of her. Massage every bit of feminine skin while he peeled back the layers of her modest dress. Pulling the curl he held around his finger straight down, he watched it unravel then bounce back into place.
“I’m expected somewhere,” she snapped and pushed at his shoulder.
She tried to sidle out from beneath his arm. He didn’t give her the opportunity to free herself just yet. He stepped closer, so close their bodies touched from breast to thigh, and he did what he’d desired since getting her into this position. He ran his knuckles over the swell of her soft breast.
She hissed in a ragged breath. So, she was not completely unaffected by his touch. Good. Because he didn’t know what in hell had come over him. He was supposed to be scaring her away from this establishment, not trying to seduce her into the nearest bed.
The problem was, he didn’t want to let her go now that he’d caught her. Where the doxy had failed to amuse and arouse him, his wife had little problem.
Interesting predicament this put him in.
He was definitely rising to the occasion.
Even so, this was not the right place or time for this kind of reaction. He didn’t believe in coincidence. His wife’s sudden appearance here, at the only brothel he ever visited in London when he needed a safe place to stay for a night or two, was some sort of trick.
Someone was trying to lure him into a madman’s game of life and death. Why they would include Emma was anyone’s guess. He hadn’t spoken or seen her in a dozen years.
He stared down at her. Up to this point she’d always meant nothing. And that had remained true until this very moment. Damn it. He didn’t need any distractions right now.
With much reluctance, he dropped his hand from her breast to her tucked-in waist, and held on to the enticing curve of her hip. She was so small in his grasp. He wanted to cradle her protectively into his body, to take her out of this hellhole so no other man dared to lay eyes upon her.
He wasn’t thinking clearly. Not at all.
Angrier with himself now than her, he snapped, “Your decorum is sorely lacking. Your boldness in finding a suitor leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Is it time I paid you a visit?”
Visiting her was not part of his agenda. On the other hand, he’d not let his wife traipse around London entering other places like this one. Or allow her to have an affair right under his nose.
Emma hissed in another breath and tilted her head back to regard him with nothing short of fury. “You’ve never seen fit to do so before.”
She stepped away from him, back to the wall, so he’d have to reach for her if he wanted to touch her again. The little minx was challenging him. He jerked her back to him, aligning their bodies. She was warm and soft. Supple and exactly what his body wanted to sink into. But now was not the time to be led by his cock.
“Don’t think we won’t discuss this lapse in judgment, Emma.”
This wasn’t the safest place to speak of his planned whereabouts in the coming days. And he knew without doubt his plans now included a visit to their shared town house. Damn his wife for stepping foot in this place.
“So be it,” she said, doubt lacing her voice.
Before she could push past him, he blocked her once again.
“I let you leave not because you will it, but because you should never have set foot in such a place.”
“Your high-handedness falls on deaf ears. You cannot control me any more than I can control you, Richard.”
He didn’t know how else to act toward her. Not when he wanted to push her back into the room she’d come from and take every imaginable advantage he could. She took away his ability to think straight about the things that were most important right now.
Whatever happened to the meek girl she’d been when they’d courted?
“I will see you in due course.” He stepped away from her and inclined his head.
She did not return the parting gesture with a curtsy. Instead, she left in a flounce of irritated skirts. She couldn’t leave fast enough. Not once did she turn her head as she proceeded for the stairs that led back outside.
Richard sagged against the wall, his strength finally giving out. A quick look about the room revealed no one watching their exchange or her hasty exit.
Pressing his hand lightly to his side, his fingers came away slick.
He’d been doing fine until she’d shown herself. Exhaustion blanketed his mind, numbing his limbs at a rather alarming rate.
Dante, his longtime business partner and friend, was suddenly there, studying his bloodied side. “You need to take care of that.”
Richard waved him off. “Follow the lady to her carriage. Make sure she’s not accosted by anyone on the stairs or in the street.”
With a scowl, Dante left to do as bid.
Glancing over the guests, Richard searched for the mistress of the house. When their eyes clashed, he called her over with a nod. She was putting him up as a favor tonight.
He’d be moving back to his town house tomorrow.
It was the perfect place to go. He needed to lay low for a few weeks, long enough for things to settle down in the East with his business dealings. Long enough for his and Dante’s shipping empire to trade hands.
Dante had traveled with him to England after the attempt on Richard’s life. He’d known the man for eight years, and Dante was the last business associate he could trust at this point. The man was loyal to a fault.
Marietta, the mistress of the house, was at his side, her ample bosom on display with ruched trimmings lined with a neat row of beads and feathers drawing the eye of any man within her vicinity. Her plump face, with her rouged lips and kohl-lined eyes, gave him a commanding expression.
“You shouldn’t be up and about yet, your lordship. I’ll not have you pulling out my fine stitchwork.”
That had been the other reason he’d come to Madam Purforry’s. She had a steady hand and didn’t faint at the first sight of blood. She’d had him cleaned, his side sewn back together and patched up within an hour of his arrival.
“Stitches still feel tight. I’ve just stretched the skin.” Cocking a grin at the mistress, he pushed slowly off the wall, impressed that he didn’t fall over when he suddenly felt light-headed. “I’m embarrassed to say, I need your support.”
Marietta put her shoulder under Richard’s arm.
“No need to dally with the flashy types coming through here,” she tsked. “I’ve got plenty of pretty innocent-looking girls if that’s what you seek. They’ll sit on your lap and do all the work.”
Didn’t he know that for the truth.
Marietta wrapped her arm around his middle, mindful of the blood-soaked patch on his shirt. Her voluptuous figure barely held his tall frame upright. “Juliet wasn’t pleasing enough? I can send up another girl. Someone to take your mind from the pain.”
“No company tonight.”
He couldn’t take her up on that offer now that he’d seen his wife. Emma looked the same . . . only grown up. As well as he could tell with that flimsy mask that did nothing to conceal her features. Her high cheekbones, her slightly freckled nose, those blonde curls of hers that looked and felt as smooth as the finest silk. He’d wanted to unravel her hair from all those pins and spread it out beneath him.
There his thoughts went again. Strange how he’d not spared his wife a thought since their wedding night and now his mind almost seemed consumed by her.