Keepsake (The Distinguished Rogues Book 5)

KEEPSAKE

The Distinguished Rogues—5

by

Heather Boyd

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

KEEPSAKE

Copyright © 2014 by Heather Boyd

LLD Press

ISBN: 978-0-9924863-2-7

Edited by Anne Victory

Cover Design by Heather Boyd

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.

For more information visit:

www.heather-boyd.com

A BATTLE OF WILLS…

When the Marquess of Taverham married at eighteen, he was certain his life would be smooth and well ordered—right up till the moment his exuberant bride ran away on their wedding night, never to be seen again. Ten years later, when Kit is finally prepared to set his rash marriage aside by having his wife declared dead, she makes a shocking return, still beautiful but distrustful, and once more throws his life off-balance by refusing to live with him and resume their marriage.

…A WAR OF PASSION

Despite some lingering attraction, Miranda Reed has no love left for the heartless rogue she married. Older and wiser, she refuses to be a convenient wife for a man who expects everything to be his way with no care for her feelings. Keeping her husband at arm’s length is essential; her secrets will bring him to his knees. But in a battle of wills where hope and trust are both the prize and the casualty of war, the victor isn’t always the winner. Sometimes it takes an act of rebellion to recapture a fragile love.

DEDICATION

For M&M&M

Michelle—for her continued support and generosity

Molly—for her smiles despite my preoccupation with work

Melissa—for being the strongest person I virtually know

Much love to all.

PROLOGUE

On the Eve of a Wedding, 1803

“Are you comfortable?” the Marquess of Taverham whispered into the silence of the blue guest bedchamber at Twilit Hill, the Taverham family’s country estate. The room had been assigned to Miranda since the night of her arrival. The scandalous fact that the young marquess, her betrothed, had frequented her bed each night since she’d crossed his threshold ahead of their wedding was a secret he insisted she keep to herself.

“Yes. Very,” she assured him. She drew in a deep breath, temporarily at peace with the night and her own desires.

If all they had were these nighttime hours, Miranda would be blissfully overjoyed to be Taverham’s wife and a future marchioness, but the demands of the days threatened to smother her happiness.

She had never imagined she’d be accepted easily into his life—her family’s fortune came from trade and she didn’t possess the same distinguished pedigree other well-born debutants could claim. Her friends were concerned she was rushing into the marriage without proper consideration. Her father was beside himself at the valuable connections the marriage would bring to him.

She couldn’t blame her friends for worrying. She was headed for a very different life than most of them. Miranda had just passed her seventeenth birthday. Taverham would be nineteen years in a few months time. She was aware that Taverham’s guardians didn’t exactly approve of his plans to marry her. They were both so very young.

She had tried very hard to make friends among Taverham’s acquaintances and family, and she’d thought some had accepted her. And some definitely had not. Those closest to Taverham made little effort to hide their dismay over tomorrow's wedding. His stern and unsmiling mother was the worst at hiding her disapproval.

Taverham tugged her into his arms and settled her there with a steady hand to her lower back, pressing her close against his long limbs, which always burned with fiery warmth.

She hugged close to her betrothed—eager for the reassurance that always came with being near him.

Today’s lecture from his mother had been on the uncomfortable topic of delivering an heir as soon as possible and the great obligation she had in ensuring the child thrived. Miranda was not to run about. She was not to exert herself. She was not to impose herself on her husband unless it was for the purposes of getting his heir.

Miranda hadn’t had a mother to tell her what to do for a very long time, and the frank and blunt discussion had shocked her to her core. She had nodded, unable at the time to give voice to her astonishment. Miranda might have only seen seventeen years of life, but delivering a healthy child was of course imperative, and not just for her husband’s sake. She longed for a child of her own to love, a family to take care of, and nothing would influence her wish to be a devoted and involved mother.

Miranda let out a shaky breath as the full scope of her earlier mistake struck her. She had to stand up to the marchioness if she wished to be seen as her husband’s equal in this marriage.

She was a silly fool to let a demanding older woman shake her confidence. She would be the marchioness, the mother of Taverham’s heir. Miranda had known she would face a difficult road ahead. Taverham might have ruined her, but she couldn’t claim she’d disliked the experience. He had taken her innocence so completely that she couldn’t even remember ever not knowing the feel of his hands on her skin. Given enough time and the right words, she would bring Taverham around to her way of thinking about the manner in which they would raise their children.

She would persevere through the difficulties because she loved him. One day she’d tell him.

“Mama and Emily have worked wonders with the staff to have the house ready for the wedding,” he whispered. “It will be perfect, despite the rush. I promise you there is nothing you need do.”

Emily, Lady Brighthurst, seemed to hold great sway over her husband’s decisions too.

Miranda saw no point to having ice sculptures adorn her wedding breakfast tables and had said as much, but been overruled. Lady Brighthurst had claimed them essential for such an occasion and Miranda’s future mother-in-law had supported Emily’s frivolous wishes, not Miranda’s simpler suggestions.

She bit back her resentment. Miranda hated roses, but they were everywhere in the house. They made her sneeze, and that sent more irritated looks darting in her direction. Emily had convinced the marchioness that they were best suited for a June wedding and had stripped the gardens and hothouses, regardless of Miranda’s preference for milder wildflowers.

Despite her hopes of managing her own home, it had become very clear that Kit’s mother ruled this house and wasn’t about to relinquish her control to any new wife, though what Emily wanted always seemed to come to pass. Emily appeared to be the only woman the marchioness seemed to approve of.

Miranda would learn that secret and soon.

“I’m sure everything will work itself out,” she murmured.

Taverham kissed her brow, slid from beneath her gently, and left the bed entirely. Miranda lay in a puddle of untidy sheets an uncertain moment and then rolled over to watch him dress. He paused beside the bed, facing the fire. The light thrown by the pitiful flame made him appear much older than his eighteen years. They were both so young to marry, but Taverham had promised her father she’d make a fine marchioness.

He’d sounded so certain.

He nodded to himself and collected his clothes.

“Are you going?”

“Tomorrow is an important day and you shouldn’t lose any more sleep because of me.”

“I don’t mind.” Miranda smiled wickedly. She raised one knee, slowly rocking it to and fro. She had learned a little of teasing these past weeks and had a fair idea of what her future husband liked to see.

Taverham’s gaze shifted to her activity. He licked his lips. “Are you not weary?”

“No. I never feel tired when I’m with you.” Making love to Taverham was not a chore in any sense of the word. He was adventurous but liked to have his own way. In fact, these secret meetings had made her feel irresistible.

He shook his head, a rueful smile passing over his lips. “You make me forget my purpose. What will I do with you once we are wed?”

Miranda would turn herself inside out to make him want her at his side always. She raised herself to a provocative sitting position, brazenly revealing her breasts to him. She slowly stroked the nipple of one. His gaze narrowed to what she was doing.

“I have an idea of what we could do together,” she whispered.

As hoped, his gaze flickered over her skin and she warmed from head to toe at his heated expression. His clothing dropped to the floor. “So do I, but…”

She smiled at the desire in his eyes. Keeping him close would only strengthen the bonds between them. “You do still want an heir while you are a young man, don’t you?”

His gaze drifted low to rest on her stomach. His brow creased into a frown. “I had hoped we’d done enough toward that already.”

A pang of fear filled her at the lack of affection in his words. If he thought her with child would he discontinue his visits to her bed? She didn’t want to lose his attention, so Miranda forced her fear down and feigned nonchalance. “Perhaps we have. But it is far too soon to be certain.”

His graze flew to hers and he stared.

Miranda grew uncomfortable at the anticipation lighting his eyes. She shrugged. “I am a little late, but that may be merely the stress surrounding the wedding.” And dealing with his mother and friends. They both knew he was marrying her for her dowry and an heir; he had an estate to save from ruin. He’d been completely open about his priorities. Marriage, estate, heir, in that order. In comparison, Miranda’s hopes were very small—a home and someone to love her.

“You’re with child,” he said, nodding decisively, but not a smile crossed his lips. “Once our guests have departed, I’ll inform Mama about your condition. She knows what must be done. You need not worry about anything, I swear.”

Despair filled her as he turned away. She had to stop him telling his mother until she’d time to take up the reins as mistress of this house. Their unborn children, their sons particularly, had already had their lives planned out to the smallest detail. Miranda could only dread the future in store for them. Wet nurses, nannies, private and expensive tutors, and finally Eton or Cambridge would be their future.

Not with Miranda. Not with their mama. Her place was never mentioned, her suggestions brushed aside in favor of years of family tradition.

That had to change.

Miranda flew from the bed and grasped his arm before he could slip from her room. “Please. I’m uncertain. It’s early days yet. Don’t tell her so soon. Can it not be our secret a little longer as meeting each night has been?”

He raked his hands through his hair and then he glanced down the length of her naked body. He groaned. “Thank God we wed tomorrow; I’ll be glad to be done with all this sneaking about.”

She set her hands to his shoulders. She’d lost her heart to him the night they’d met and she’d hoped his feeling would one day mirror hers. “I am too. After all we have done together, and I suspect there is more pleasure to be had still, I am very eager to share your bed as often as you want.”

His eyes widened and he pulled her against him. “Temptress.”

He kissed her hard, demanding entry to her mouth with his tongue. His hands gripped her hips with definite eagerness, and Miranda liked that about him. His arousal soon pressed against her belly, hot and full. Miranda smiled against his lips. She’d claim this small victory. The first of many, she hoped. Still kissing her, he herded her across the room toward the bed and Miranda didn’t mind his bossiness. When he released her, Miranda eased onto the mattress slowly, relishing Taverham’s slow prowl toward her as he crawled on hands and knees. She lay back as his head dipped and his lips skimmed her still-flat stomach. His kiss was reverent, almost shy, when he’d never been that way before.

His kisses grew firmer as he moved lower. When he nudged her legs apart roughly and kissed her at the apex of her thighs, she covered her mouth to stifle her moan. Taverham’s kisses were sweet and addictive.

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