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Tempting the Marquess

Tempting the Marquess, June 2010
Weston #2
by Sara Lindsey

Signet Eclipse
320 pages
ISBN: 0451230442
EAN: 9780451230447
Paperback
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"A brilliant, creative and passionately written tale of romance."

Fresh Fiction Review

Tempting the Marquess
Sara Lindsey

Reviewed by Mandy Burns
Posted May 13, 2010

Romance Historical

Olivia Weston's passion for books, especially romance novels, has set her standards for the perfect husband high. Until he comes along, reorganizing Haile Castle's library and staying with her Aunt Kate will keep her occupied. This is when she comes across Lord Sheldon's former wife's diary mapping out her last days before a fatal accident took her life. Olivia knows she must find a way to help ease the pain of his past, so she decides to travel with her aunt to Pembrokeshire, Wales, to spend Christmas with his family. Olivia quickly realizes he needs her help more than she originally thinks and sets out to help him move on from his past while keeping her own secrets close to her heart.

The first priority of Jason Traherne, the current Marquess of Sheldon, is to his son, Edward. Jason's focus is to be the best single parent he can be to Edward without allowing the past to disrupt the future. Jason keeps his life orderly and strict, which makes keeping a staff nearly impossible, and with company arriving soon, a bit inconvenient. With his surly demeanor, Jason's preference is to keep to himself and trust only a few people. Time can't go fast enough dealing with all the Welsh traditions during Christmas, until the beautiful and free-spirited Olivia Weston sweeps into his home, charming his staff, his brother-in-law and most importantly his son. Jason's own feelings are unwanted and a surprise, since he's had no interest in women after his wife's death.

This humorous and stimulating adventure, book two of the Weston series is beyond brilliant, creative and written with a passionate flare. This series is not to be missed!

Learn more about Tempting the Marquess

SUMMARY

The Weston family series continues with the tale of a brooding widower and the lively young woman who tempts him to believe in love again...

Excerpt

Olivia stood before the castle’s thick wooden portal, inwardly bracing herself against what lay in wait on the other side. Freezing rain had plastered her shabby traveling gown to her body, and the biting wind whipped at her sodden locks. She thought wistfully of her blue velvet pelisse with the ermine trim, but she had left the garment— and the elegant, easy life it represented—behind when she had chosen to run away rather than marry the lecherous Duke of Devonbridge. And now she was a lowly governess, dependent on the kindness and goodwill of her employer. . . and her new master was purported to have little of either.

A lone wolf howled somewhere out on the misty, moonlit moors that stretched for miles around the isolated edifice. She shivered with cold and fright, wondering if she might not be safer with the wolves than inside the castle’s walls. A different sort of beast lay within that impenetrable stone fortress. A caged beast, confined not by chains but by his own despair.

The villagers called him the Mad Marquess, for he had been crazed with grief since the death of his wife some four years past. He eschewed all company . . . not that there were many eager to subject themselves to his foul humor. In the past year alone no fewer than eleven maids had resigned their posts at Castle Arlyss. She’d heard rumors, too, of a centuries-old curse. . . .

Olivia raised her face to the heavens, searching for a sign that this was indeed the path she was meant to travel— that she was meant to save this tormented soul and show his son a mother’s love. Lightning flashed and crackled through the night sky, setting her hair on end. The angry rumble of thunder followed close behind.

Stiffening her spine, Olivia raised her fist to knock. Then, all of a sudden, a strong gust of the wind snatched at her sleeve, as if trying to stop her. The air swirled around her, rustling through the dead leaves underfoot.

It seemed to whisper a name.

Her name.

Livvy, it murmured. Livvy . . .

* * *

December 1798

A Carriage Bound for Castle Arlyss

Pembrokeshire, Wales

“Livvy!”

Olivia opened her eyes and stared unseeing out the coach window. She blinked at the few rays of sunlight that dared penetrate the winter gloom lingering over the southwest of England. She shook her head. The wild, stormy night had vanished, and she was back in her aunt’s well-sprung carriage.

A wistful sigh escaped her. The dream had been so real. . . . And now she was back to being ordinary Olivia Weston.

She turned her head to look at her young cousin, Charlotte, who was tugging rather insistently at her sleeve.

“Livvy!”

“What is it?” Livvy asked in as understanding a tone as she could muster. The journey from Scotland to Wales had already taken close to a fortnight, and though she loved Charlotte dearly, the boundless energy of a five-year-old was ill-suited to the close confines of a carriage. Not that Olivia was any stranger to small children. As the third of seven siblings, she knew all about them.

The little girl frowned, tugging at one of her glossy, dark ringlets, then shrugged. “I forget.”

Livvy bit back a groan and stifled the urge to tear at her hair, which, to her everlasting disappointment, was neither curly nor dark. Neither was it blond and straight. Olivia’s hair was a very ordinary, indeterminate shade of brown, and it had just enough of a wave to always escape its pins and make her look unkempt.

“Livvy?”

“What, Char?”

“I remembered. I had a secret to tell you.” Charlotte crossed her arms over her chest and flopped back against the plush squabs with a satisfied smile.

“And?” Olivia prompted. She waited for further elucidation, but none was forthcoming. “Did you wish to tell me this secret you remembered?”

Charlotte thought a moment before shaking her head. “I’ll tell Queenie instead.”

Queen Anne, a doll in lavish court dress, was Charlotte’s most prized possession, a distinction it had held since being unwrapped a few weeks past. Yes, Livvy thought, she had been replaced in her cousin’s affections by an inanimate object. How distressing! She consoled herself with the knowledge that her conversational skills far surpassed those of Queenie. Then again, so did a squirrel’s. As was her wont, she began composing a list in her head:

Ways in Which I Am Superior to Queenie

1. I can read.

2. I can write.

3. My head is not made of wood.

4. I can breathe.

Hmm, perhaps that last should have been first on her list; it seemed a fairly important distinction. Of course, squirrels also breathed. Maybe she ought to list the ways she was superior to squirrels instead. . . . She stopped herself, wondering if it was possible to go mad from boredom.

Aunt Kate looked up from her book to address her daughter. “Charlotte, I do believe Queenie looks a bit peaked. Perhaps you should both try to rest for a time and let your poor cousin alone.”

Charlotte was disgusted by this suggestion. “Mama, Queenie is a doll. How can she rest when her eyes don’t even close?”

Aunt Kate sighed and peered out the window at the passing scenery. “At least we are getting close to the end. We should arrive tomorrow provided the weather doesn’t change—” A choked laugh escaped her. “Dear heavens, that child will be the death of me!”

Livvy glanced at Charlotte, who had apparently decided to take her mother’s advice. She was curled into the corner of the carriage, with her feet drawn up under her and her head pillowed against one hand. Her eyes were closed, a beatific smile on her face. Queenie lay in the crook of her free arm— Olivia smothered a laugh as she realized the reason for her aunt’s proclamation.

As the doll’s eyes did not, as Charlotte had pointed out, close, her enterprising mistress had contrived other means by which Queenie might rest. Raising Queenie’s gown up over her head did shield her face from light, but this also exposed the doll’s lower half. And while Queenie’s ensemble boasted exquisitely detailed garters, stockings, and shoes, it did not apparently run to petticoats.

Ha! Petticoats! There was another way in which she was superior to Queenie and squirrels, too, for Livvy had never encountered a petticoat-wearing squirrel and very much doubted she ever would. The closest she was ever like to come was the stable cat her younger sisters had caught long enough to dress it in a bonnet and christening gown.

Aunt Kate leaned forward and spoke quietly so as not to disturb Charlotte. “I feel I ought to warn you about my stepson.”

“Warn me?” Olivia’s cheeks grew warm. “I hardly think— ”

Her aunt waved a hand dismissively. “Heavens, child, I’m not suggesting anything of that nature. No, I only meant to caution you about the welcome we are like to receive.”

“You mentioned Lord Sheldon keeps to himself a great deal of the time. I am not expecting to be met with a grand parade. I wish to inconvenience the marquess as little as possible.”

That wasn’t precisely true.

If all went to plan, she would put the man to a great deal of trouble. . . .

But that was her secret, one she didn’t dare share with present company. Not with Aunt Kate, certainly not with Charlotte, and not even with Queenie, who was by nature most admirably closemouthed.

“Jason,” Aunt Kate began, then sighed. “I know I should call him Sheldon, but I can’t seem to get my mind round it, no matter that he’s held the title for five years now. I suppose his Christian name is rather too familiar for polite conversation, but he has always been Jason to me.”

“Did he not have use of a courtesy title?”

“There is one,” her aunt admitted, “but most of the heirs would rather do without it.” Her eyes sparkled with laughter. “Most understandable, really. Would you like to go through life being addressed as Bramblybum?”

“B-bramblybum?” Olivia burst out laughing. She caught her aunt’s sharp glance at Charlotte and lowered her voice. “Surely you are joking.”

Aunt Kate shook her head. “The marquisate was created for the ninth Viscount Traherne, who was, I gather, a great personal favorite with James I. The viscount’s son, who went on to become the second Marquess of Sheldon, openly disapproved of his sire’s, ah, special relationship with the king. The Traherne men have never been ones to keep their opinions to themselves, which perhaps accounts for the dearth of ambassadors and politicians in the family.

“In any case, the young man’s outbursts angered the king, and he might have met a very sorry end had not his father intervened. The viscount begged the king to disregard his son and joked how the boy had been born with nettles stinging his backside. The king’s revenge was to bestow a marquisate and an earldom upon the viscount. While his father was alive, the second marquess was known by his courtesy title.”

“The Earl of Bramblybum,” Livvy whispered, torn between horror and hilarity.

“Earl Bramblybum, actually, but I wouldn’t suggest you let that pass your lips once we reach Castle Arlyss. Jason always gets fussed on hearing it. He certainly doesn’t use the title for Edward. I have told you about Jason’s son, Edward, haven’t I? He’s nearly seven now and such a dear, sweet boy.”

Olivia nodded. She wasn’t sure if Aunt Kate had told her about Edward, but she knew about him all the same. But that was part of her secret.

Unconsciously, she bent forward and smoothed her hands over her skirts, her fingers searching out the almost imperceptible bump of the little fichu pin she wore affixed to her garter. The dainty brooch featured a tiny silhouette set in a gold frame surrounded by garnets. The portrait was no bigger than her thumbnail, but the artist had rendered the gentleman’s profile in great detail, from the slight curl in the hair at his nape to the soft ruffles of his shirt frills. An elegant man, but Livvy reserved final judgment until she met him in the flesh, which, with any luck, would be on the morrow. Finally, she thought, a little sigh escaping her.

“I’ll stop nattering on and let you rest.” Aunt Kate’s eyes twinkled. “You needn’t go take the same drastic measures as poor Queenie and cast your skirts over your face.”

“I wasn’t— I mean, you weren’t—,” Livvy stammered out a protest.

“Calm yourself, my dear, I’m only teasing. I know I have a tendency to ramble, especially when I don’t have to mind my tongue.” She winked and nodded in Charlotte’s direction.

A rush of pride swept over Olivia at her aunt’s words. In the eyes of Society she was an adult and had been since her eighteenth birthday close to a year earlier. Girls her age, and even some younger, had already had their come-outs this past Season. She should have come out then as well, but her sojourn in Scotland with Aunt Kate, Charlotte, and Livvy’s newly married (and freshly abandoned) older sister, Isabella, had lasted longer than expected.

Nine months longer, give or take a little.

Olivia hadn’t minded putting off her come-out. She wasn’t overly anxious to put herself on the Marriage Mart, and besides, her sister had needed her. That last trumped everything else as far as Livvy was concerned.

Aunt Kate reached forward and patted Olivia’s knee. “I’ve grown accustomed to having you and Izzie around. I was so pleased when you asked to come along with us to Wales. I would have invited you had I known you were so interested in this part of the country.”

“I must confess, some of my interest stemmed from wanting to avoid traveling home with Mama, spending countless hours trapped in a carriage listening her expound on some Shakespearean heroine or other.”

For as long as Olivia could remember, her mother had been writing a critical work about Shakespeare’s heroines. Life in the Weston household was all Shakespeare, all the time, at least when her mother was present. The rest of the family bore it with equanimity—mostly because they tended to ignore her—but over the years her mother’s obsession increasingly grated on Livvy’s nerves.

She adored her mother, really she did, but she could easily do without hearing, at least once a week, as she had for her entire life: “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Lady Weston particularly enjoyed tailoring her recitations so that each of her children would be familiar with the plays from whence had come their names. Though Olivia resented having Shakespeare’s greatness constantly thrust upon her, not for the world would she have hurt her mother’s feelings by telling her so. All in all, she felt lucky to have been named for a character in Twelfth Night, which, in her opinion, was one of Shakespeare’s more tolerable works, and not only because it was relatively short.

Her younger sisters, identical twins Cordelia and Imogen, were stuck with King Lear and Cymbeline, two plays that were, in Olivia’s opinion, entirely too puffed up with melodrama. The first words Richard, her precocious little brother, babbled had sounded suspiciously like: “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Portia, the baby of the family, hadn’t got much past cooing and gurgling when Livvy had left for Scotland. . . .

She realized with a slight pang that she had missed her youngest sister’s first words, and a wave of homesickness swept over her. These past months marked the longest time she had ever been away from her younger siblings.

“What’s caused that long face?” Aunt Kate asked. “Have I scared you off with this talk of my stepson? You mustn’t let him upset you. He is very changed since Laura’s death, and grief affects us all in different ways. Perhaps, given time. . .” She trailed off, her hopes for the future unspoken but entirely clear.

Olivia wanted to say she knew, or at least had an inkling, of what the marquess had been like before his wife’s death—but she could not. Instead she smiled brightly and said, “Then we must do our best to bring some cheer to both him and his son this holiday season. If you don’t mind, Aunt Kate, I think I’ll read a bit while Char is quiet.”

Her aunt laughed. “Yes, living with Charlotte one does learn to seize those rare moments of peace. They certainly don’t last long.”

Olivia nodded distractedly, already absorbed with her book. Or rather, with the piece of paper hidden inside. In bold, scrawling script were the words—the first clue—that had led her to the brooch, thus prompting her seemingly impromptu journey to Wales—words penned by none other than the Mad Marquess of her dreams.


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