Excerpt: Seducing The Single Lady
Seducing the Single Lady is a sexy historical romance novella inspired by the songs of Beyoncé. In this excerpt, our hero discovers the girl he left behind is not the woman he’s returning to. Mistaken identities, foolish wagers…the fun is only just beginning!
Chapter 1: Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
Of all the single ladies in Almack’s Assembly rooms that evening, none was more sought out than Miss Susannah Grey. The girl once ridiculed in the papers as a “scrappy brat” had transformed herself into the woman all the gentlemen wanted. They were, alas, bound to be disappointed.
Susannah smiled as she strolled through the crowd on the arm of her dearest friend, Lord Stanford. They had been childhood friends along with Damien. She had grown into a beauty. Stanford had transformed into quite a dandy who took as much of an interest as she in the fashions of the day. As for Damien…he was long gone.
“By rights you ought to be a spinster and yet you are the belle of the ball,” Stanford declared, at once insulting and complimenting her. Susannah decided to ignore it.
“Funny how a fortune makes everyone forget that I have reached the advanced age of six and twenty,” Susannah replied in a very low voice so that too many people did not hear her precise age. “I ought to be languishing in the dowager corner. And yet…” Susannah caught the eye of Lord Gerard, the sort of devastatingly handsome and dangerous man from whom young ladies were cautioned to keep their distance. His lips curved into a wolfish smile. Her pulse quickened. She smiled coyly over her should as she and Stanford strolled past.
“And yet it is the opposite,” Stanford said. “You are the most fashionable for one thing.” He gave an appreciative glance at her blue silk gown with delicate tulle sleeves that slid off her shoulders. The bodice was embroidered with small crystals which complimented her diamond earbobs. Her once frizzy auburn curls had been tamed into the sort of complicated style that took hours to arrange.
“After years of all those dowdy gowns, can you fault me for delighting in these lovely silks and satins?” Susannah replied, smoothing her gloved hands over the luxurious fabric of her dress and indulging in the sensation of her own touch
“Why do I fear you might spend your inheritance upon dresses, jewels, and other fripperies?” Stanford lamented. Not that he was one to talk about economies in fashion. She had used some of her inheritance to pay bills from his tailor.
“Because I just might,” Susannah said with a wicked smile. “After all those years of watching Lord Collins spend my inheritance on himself, or Lord Bedford insisting I preserve it for my dowry, I am quite happy to spend it on myself. And to revel in this,” Susannah said, sweeping her arm to indicate the crush in the Almack’s ballroom and all the suitors vying for her attentions.
How often she had lain awake at night, alone in her bed, and dreaming of this! The sound of animated conversations and laughter mingling with the melodies from the orchestra, all the beautiful gowns in vibrant jewel toned gowns, and men in fine evening clothes. All the intrigue and all the romance…
“You should enjoy all this as Queen of the marriage mart,” Stanford said. “You have become such a sensation.” He gave her a knowing look. For most of her life no one would have pegged Miss Susannah Grey as a sensation on the marriage mart. But the ugly duckling had transformed into a swan.
“In truth, I am flummoxed. I imagined it, of course. Especially the pretty compliments and prettier dresses. Isn’t it such a pity that I never had a season? There was no point given that I had been betrothed from the cradle. I just never believed this would actually happen.”
“All it took was one tragic, mysterious death,” Stanford pointed out gravely. They paused in their strolling, a thought for their childhood friend. Though friend perhaps wasn’t the right word.
“Rather sad, isn’t it?” Susannah said mournfully. She heaved a heartfelt sigh. “Even though Damien plagued me from the day I was born, I never wanted to marry him, and I am happy to have my freedom now, I am still sorry for his untimely demise.”
Susannah winced at the words: untimely demise. So dramatic, so tragic, so absurd. But then again it was absurd that her life should have revolved around a man who fled the country rather than marry her, only to be stupidly killed in a skirmish in some far-flung corner of the continent.
“You are the catch of the season, Susannah,” Stanford gushed, as he plucked two glasses of champagne from a passing footman and handed them to her. “You could have anyone you want.”
“You make me sound like a fish, Stanford.”
“No one could make that mistake. Do you not think it’s time to take a husband?” She pursed her lips. No one asked Stanford if he thought it was time to take a wife. But a woman…her whole life was a quest to snare a husband. And then what? No more flirtations, no more intrigues, no more possibilities. She would rusticate in the country with a passel of brats. No, she did not wish to marry.
“I don’t think I wish to marry. Not yet, anyway. Possibly not ever.” She glanced at Stanford. His green eyes were wide with surprise. “However,” she murmured, snapping her fan open to cover her lips and lowering her voice. “I may take a lover.”
“Susannah!” He swatted her arm playfully. She giggled.
“I know, it’s terribly wicked of me. But why hand over control of my fortune and my person when I have only just secured it myself? I need no permission to do what I please. No husband for me! However, I think I shall simply enjoy being courted and I shall enjoy the rare, privileged position of being an heiress with no one to answer to. At last.”
Susannah turned to face the ballroom. An inviting glance was all it took to summon her suitors and their friends who would soon fall under her spell. Gerard was there. Beaumont and Sommerly, too. They spouted terrible, but flattering, poetry. They regaled her with humorous stories. They jostled to get close and kiss her gloved hand.
From nowhere came the strangest thought: If only Damien could see me now.
But he was gone. Dead. Tragically demised. And she was very much alive.
Susannah accepted Lord Sommerly’s invitation to dance. Taking her hand, he led her out to the floor where the other couples were in the midst of a lively country dance. With her hands in the air, turning this way and that, hips moving to the music under her long satin skirts, Susannah felt her cheeks flush pink with pleasure. She loved to move to the music. She loved being the center of attention. She loved all her beaux. After years shut away in dowdy dresses at the mercy of greedy relatives, she delighted in her freedom to laugh, love, be romanced…
That is, until a sudden commotion diverted her attention.
That is, until it was revealed that she wasn’t so free after all.
* * *
Despite all reports to the contrary, Damien Rhys Redmayne, now Viscount Bedford, was not dead. In fact, he was very much among the living. After nine years abroad—nine years of days and nights of debauchery—he had returned.
His father had died thinking his son was a disgrace, which made Damien burn with regret. He had made so many mistakes because of his stupid, selfish, and reckless behavior. There was nothing Damien could do but reform and live his remaining days in a manner befitting a gentleman.
He could be a man his father would be proud of.
Finally, he would be the son his father always wanted to have.
Starting with the fiancé he’d left behind.
After quietly returning to town, catching up on all the news, refurbishing his wardrobe, and generally preparing himself and his affairs for his grand return to society—and return from the dead—Damien sought his betrothed.
He was informed that she could be found at Almack’s.
To Almack’s he went.
With his friend Lord Watson by his side, Damien scanned the crowd, particularly focusing upon the wallflowers and other dowdy girls lurking in the darkened corners. When he’d left, Susannah had been plain and generally unkempt—not the sort of dazzling beauty that an idiot boy of eighteen was remotely interested in flirting with, let alone marrying. He imagined her unchanged.
He also imagined her eyes lighting up when she saw that he had returned and that their life together would finally begin. But Damien’s attention was drawn away from the wallflowers to an auburn-haired beauty in blue silk dancing happily with a man in a ridiculous violet-colored waistcoat and matching jacket.
“Who might that young woman be?” he asked his friend. Watson had warmly welcomed him back to town and was guiding his reentry into society. He knew everyone and all the latest gossip.
Watson’s mouth quirked almost into a smile before settling into a firm line. Damien noted that curiously.
“I thought we were here for one particular woman,” Watson replied. “One woman only.”
There was a note of warning in Watson’s tone. Do not lose your resolve. Be Good.
Damien had informed his friend of his sins and plans for atonement. Marriage. Sobriety. No more carousing or gambling or engaging in any activity that is not befitting the most upright gentleman. Damien had also begged his friend to keep him from temptation—he would go to Almack’s, but he would not go to his club. He would wed Susannah, but he would not bed any opera singers, actresses or courtesans.
“Yes, you’re right. I was just curious,” Damien hastened to reply. He was here for the girl he’d once likened to a Christmas ham and he was going to marry her. Mrs. Christmas Ham. He gritted his teeth. He had to stop thinking of her thusly. It would make the wedding night deuced awkward, for one thing. And that was not how a gentleman thought of a lady.
In his defense, she’d been a wee infant at the time and he just a young boy. But it was time to set aside childish things. He inhaled deeply and exhaled with a deliberate slowness that did not come easily.
“So will you propose immediately?” Watson inquired. “Or do you think you will woo her?”
“I suppose the proposal could wait until tomorrow,” Damien conceded. “After all, it’s been some time since we’ve last seen each other. Nine years, in fact. I imagine she is probably desperate for my return. So wooing her won’t really be necessary.”
Not that she’d been all too keen on him when they were children…but surely she was eager for a husband and children of her own. He’d provide them. She’d be grateful. They’d live pleasantly ever after.
Meanwhile, Watson seemed to be choking on something. Damien glanced at his friend, concerned.
“Are you unwell?”
“Perfectly fine,” Watson sputtered. But his lips were twitching oddly.
“This is a serious matter, Watson,” Damien reminded him. “I have to reform. And marry.”
“Are you certain you will recognize her after all that time?” Watson asked, recovering.
“Of course; I grew up with her. I’ll just look for the…” Damien’s voice trailed off as he bit back the words scrappy brat. “I’ll look for a plain woman concerned with more important things than feminine fripperies.”
“You sound very confident,” Watson remarked. “A plain woman. Desperate for your return. Eager to marry you.”
“We have been betrothed since birth. It is time we made it official.”
“How romantic,” Watson said dryly.
“Romance is irrelevant,” he answered, even though he wasn’t immune to romance at all. In those nine years abroad he had delighted in wooing women, from the first glance across a crowded room, to the tortured anticipation of a first kiss and more. But he was determined to be good. “I must assume the responsibilities of a Bedford. Starting with marriage to my betrothed.”
“So you’ll be married within the week?”
“If all goes according to plan, yes. And I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t. Why wait any longer?”
It sounded, even to his own ears, like ought to get it over with. Hardly romantic. But he was so keen to redeem himself that he didn’t want to waste another minute with his selfish antics. He wanted to pour over those estate ledgers and sire an heir and lounge at the club and talk about drainage ditches and other agricultural problems instead of gambling away his fortune.
“Would you care to wager on that?” Watson inquired.
Speaking of gambling…It was a tempting offer, even though Damien had sworn never to wager again. But it was sort of noble, so perhaps it was alright. He could take the winnings and buy a gift for his bride.
“I’m fond of such easily earned money,” Damien replied, finding that his mischievous and adventurous spirit hadn’t quite been extinguished yet. “Shall we say fifty pounds?”
Watson muttered something that sounded like: “we probably shouldn’t.” But that was followed up with: “Oh, what the hell? You have a deal, Bedford.”
The men shook on it.
Damien’s gaze returned to the woman in the blue dress. The gown showed off her figure advantageously. The contrast between the swell of her milky white breasts and her narrow waist made his mouth dry. Watching the movement of her skirts, he got a hint of how she moved her hips and damned if that didn’t make him imagine bedroom things.
Judging by the expressions on the faces of all the other gents who were watching her, they were thinking the very same.
The dance concluded and she bowed gracefully to her partner. Damien didn’t miss the gleam in her eye that promised mischief and delight. Oh, he knew that look well—from the looking glass or catching his reflection in a well-polished silver whatever at some late hour, or from a woman he was about to bed.
He reminded himself, yet again, that he was reformed. He wasn’t Damien the Debauched but Bedford the Behaved. Really, though, he wanted to follow that girl and indulge in all sorts of wicked pleasure with her.
She snapped open her fan, shielding her face, before sauntering off into the thick crowd.
“I don’t see Susannah,” Damien said told Watson. “I suppose we ought to take a walk through the ballroom.”
“Yes, let’s,” Watson agreed. But it sounded like he was choking on something. Again. Oddly.
Damien set off in the direction of the mysterious, tantalizing woman. Drawn to her, he was. However, he kept his pace slow and paused to acknowledge the gasps of shock his appearance caused—he had been declared dead, after all. But given that he was on a mission, Damien kept any greetings short and polite. He did not take the time to explain how he’d been assumed dead and why he’d returned.
And then they turned a corner from the ballroom to the refreshments room and came face-to-face with her—the girl of the auburn hair, incredible figure, and blue gown he would rather see in a pile on his bedroom floor.
She emitted a startled “Oh!”
“Ah, Miss Grey. We’d been hoping to find you,” Watson said grandly.
It was Damien’s turn to choke. Miss Grey? This was Miss Grey?!
Damien’s jaw might have dropped in shock. His wits most certainly fled. This was not the Miss Grey he had left and he could not reconcile the scrappy brat he had fled and the vivacious Goddess standing before him.
“I hope I needn’t perform introductions between you and your fiancé,” Watson replied smoothly. Damien’s heart still hadn’t remembered its purpose.
“But just in case…Miss Grey, may I reintroduced Lord Bedford.”
It seemed Miss Grey was similarly afflicted. She froze. Her lips pursed. Her eyes darkened. It was abundantly clear that she was not pleased to see him.
It didn’t take a genius to recognize that she would be less than eager to wed him.
His plans, gone up in smoke.
His wits, dissolved.
His desire, inflamed.
SOUNTRACK/TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
Chapter 2: Déjà Vu
Chapter 3: If I Were A Boy
Chapter 4: Naughty Girl
Chapter 5: Halo
Chapter 6: Irreplaceable
Chapter 7: Broken-Hearted Girl
Chapter 8: Crazy in Love
Chapter 9: Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) Redux
Epilogue: Love on Top