Read Season for Surrender Online

Authors: Theresa Romain

Season for Surrender

“LOUISA?”
“Yes,” she said. She didn't know if she was responding to her name, or giving him permission.
She was Lady Irving's niece, wasn't she? She didn't need to grant permission for him to take what he wanted.
She
could take what
she
wanted.
So she chose to reach for his hand. She chose to intertwine her gloved fingers in his. She watched as his eyes widened, as his other hand dropped its weight of mistletoe and reached for hers. His expression was like that of Michelangelo's
David
: wary, coiled, determined.
The failing light made him look ruthless, slicing every slope of his face into a sharp angle of shadow. Surely such a man would allow nothing to be taken from him that he did not wish to give.
She wanted to kiss him, to give this gift to herself. Boldness. Pleasure for its own sake.
Books by Theresa Romain
Season for Temptation
 
Season for Surrender
 
 
 
 
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
S
EASON
for
S
URRENDER
T
HERESA
R
OMAIN
ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Table of Contents
“LOUISA?”
Books by Theresa Romain
Title Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Chapter 1
-
Containing Several Damned Nuisances
Chapter 2
-
Containing All the Ingredients for a Scandal Broth
Chapter 3
-
Containing Speculation and Secrets
Chapter 4
-
Containing . . . Potential
Chapter 5
-
Containing a Red Blindfold, Used to Great Effect
Chapter 6
-
Containing a Theatrical Fantasy
Chapter 7
-
Containing Balsamic Injections
Chapter 8
-
Containing a Dreadful Imitation of a Stag
Chapter 9
-
Containing a Well-Timed Muffin
Chapter 10
-
Containing One Berry Too Few
Chapter 11
-
Containing No Room
Chapter 12
-
Containing a Most Seductive Fiction
Chapter 13
-
Containing a Most Seductive Reality
Chapter 14
-
Containing an Incorrect Tally of Livestock
Chapter 15
-
Containing the Tale of a Paddling
Chapter 16
-
Containing a Lavender Cravat
Chapter 17
-
Containing an Entirely New Numbered Expression
Chapter 18
-
Containing a Lost Parrot
Chapter 19
-
Containing Unexpected Shadow
Chapter 20
-
Containing the Ingenuity of Lady Irving
Chapter 21
-
Containing Startling Revelations
Chapter 22
-
Containing Some False Statements, and Some True
Chapter 23
-
Containing Advice from a Variety of Italians
Chapter 24
-
Containing a Great Many Resolutions
Chapter 25
-
Containing the Aggravation of Shakespearean Insight
Chapter 26
-
Containing a Most Unexpected Guest
Chapter 27
-
Containing the Essential Code
Chapter 28
-
Containing Another Dreadful Imitation of a Stag
Chapter 29
-
Containing Lord Xavier's Final Absolution
Chapter 30
-
Containing Lord Lockwood's Entrapment
Epilogue
-
Containing a Wedding, Then a Marriage
Author's Note
Did you miss SEASON FOR TEMPTATION?
Copyright Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Above all, thanks to my husband for his infinite patience as our family entered the new world of “writing to deadline.”
 
Many thanks to my agent, Paige Wheeler, who is both honest and encouraging, and my editor, Alicia Condon, whose enthusiasm inspires me. And to Amanda, beta reader extraordinaire, and my ever-supportive family and friends.
 
Over the past year, I've had the honor of meeting many romance authors, bloggers, and readers online. The romance community loves books and loves love—and knows that books about love are the best imaginable. It has been a pleasure to laugh with and learn from these wonderful people.
 
Last and certainly not least, thanks to my readers. Many of you who read my debut, SEASON FOR TEMPTATION, wanted Louisa to get her own happily-ever-after. I'm so glad to share her story with you.
Chapter 1
Containing Several Damned Nuisances
December 1, 1818
London
 
A man determined to play a role in polite society must accept the fact that he can never take a day's rest from it. And Alexander Edgware, the ninth Earl of Xavier, had played a leading role among the
haut ton
for years.
Today, though, he had a rheumy cold. To one known more for sin than sickness, this was an irritating development.
He'd greeted the day with bloodshot eyes, his head uncomfortably full and sensitive to sound and light. When the day greeted him in return with the inevitable gray drizzle of early winter, he decided to bypass the bow window of White's—his habitual seat of prominence—for the quieter warmth of the coffee room on the club's first floor.
As he sat in a leather wing chair before the marble fireplace, toying with a snifter of brandy, Xavier's feeling of well-being began to return. White's was a bell jar of wealth and influence, a haven of dark wood and costly carpets, attentive waiters, and fires built high enough to banish the wintry chill entirely.
Oh yes. And White's had the famed betting book. Sometimes he thought his life centered on that fat, worn leather folio. Which was all right with him, for there centered society.
He turned a page of his newspaper and scanned the column of
on-dit
s through his quizzing glass. More gossip surrounding the recent death of the queen. Her many children couldn't stop squabbling, even with grief to unite them. Xavier was not displeased that he was unblessed—or uncursed—by siblings.
He skimmed over the accounts of royal misbehavior and found the next item. He could guess the identity of Lady S——; the Viscountess Shelton had recently been found in a state of undress with two footmen and a maid. Rather ambitious of her.
Ha. Here was another tidbit of scandal he understood.
Lord L——has parted with his ladybird under mysterious circumstances. The unfortunate female must have failed to give pleasure . . . or failed to give pain?
“It was the pleasure, of course,” said a voice at Xavier's shoulder. A moment later, his distant cousin, the Marquess of Lockwood, dropped into the leather armchair next to Xavier's. “Damned nuisance, keeping a mistress.”
Xavier folded his newspaper and regarded his cousin. They bore the same dark hair and olive-toned complexions, thanks to a shared Italian ancestor. Lockwood's eyes were pale blue to Xavier's gray, though, and just now the marquess wore a smug smile that Xavier would have considered beneath his own dignity.
“You look very pleased with yourself,” Xavier remarked.
“Damned nuisance, being mentioned in the scandal sheets.” Lockwood preened.
Xavier couldn't resist. “Quite a tragic day for you, if everything has become a damned nuisance. Well, don't trouble yourself, Lockwood. I believe Lord Lowbrough recently turned off his mistress, too, and likely everyone will assume the item refers to him.”
Lockwood's grin fell. Brows knit, he snapped for a waiter. “Coffee. Sugar with it.” He noted Xavier's snifter and added, “A brandy, too.”
The marquess settled back in his chair and slung a booted foot across his other knee. “I'm better off quit of her. A man of the world has no need to buy such an arrangement, eh?”
“It depends on the tastes of the man,” Xavier replied. “I always thought Melissande an elegant sort for a mistress, though her pug was grotesque. At my last year's house party, it soiled half the carpets in the east wing.”
Lockwood raised his eyebrows. “How foul. Though it might as easily have been the woman as the dog, for she wasn't as elegant as you presume. I assure you, I'm through with her.”
He took his brandy and coffee from the waiter and drained the snifter in one swallow. “Ah. That's the thing for an abysmal day like today.”
He set the coffee cup down on a spindly table next to his chair, then shot a look at Xavier. “I say, Coz, you look as though you'd got the devil of a head. Late night?”
Xavier blinked, then realized: his reddened eyes could just as well be a legacy of drink as his cold. He seized the excuse, offering his most maddeningly secretive expression. “I'm not one to tell what I've been up to.”
“No, the scandal sheets are eager enough to do that for you. Where were you last night? Didn't see you out on the Town.”
Probably because he'd plummeted into bed before midnight. This cold had made him miserable all out of proportion to its severity.
“It wasn't one of the usual places,” Xavier said with a slow, curling smile. “It was a private encounter.”
Very private. Involving only himself and a headache powder.
Lockwood slapped his knee, bumping the spindly table with his boot. His coffee cup rattled a warning in its saucer. “Private, was it? Who was she?”
Xavier grinned, the sudden flash of mischief that made women swoon and call him wicked. “What makes you think there was a woman involved? Perhaps I simply stayed home and turned in early with a good book.”
Lockwood hooted. “If you've read anything besides the
on-dit
s lately, I'll eat one of your boots.”
“If you so much as touch one, you'll find it planted in your arse.”
Lockwood laughed again, as he was meant to. Ah, the ever entertaining role of Xavier: parrying, puckishness, and a touch of profanity.
The role certainly did not include any pastime so quiet as reading. So he didn't mention that, as a matter of fact, he'd read a little Dante before his bleary eyes closed the night before. He'd never claimed to be a scholar, but he had a knack for languages and a fondness for poetry.
He slid his feet closer to the fire, allowing its warmth to saturate the thick leather of his boots, then turned the subject. “We must set our wager soon for my house party, Lockwood, since it's less than three weeks away. We can enter it in the betting book before we leave.”
Surely half of the White's betting book was filled with wagers between Xavier and Lockwood. The last had been only two days ago, when they'd bet two bottles of Armagnac brandy on who could drink his bottle quicker.
Xavier had won. Xavier always won. It was part of being Xavier. And when he had to go to the washroom soon afterward and cast up his accounts, no one noticed, because he talked his way into the wine cellar and returned with a bottle of still better brandy, which he shared among all the spectators to the bet.
That was part of being Xavier, too.
“I was thinking,” he said, “of something to do with that opera singer. Signora . . . what is it? Frittarelli?”
“Frittata,” Lockwood snorted, and snapped his fingers for another brandy.
“Fondant.”
“Fellatio.” The snort became a guffaw.
Xavier raised his eyebrows. “Language, language. You can only hope.” He grinned to remove the sting. “I do think it's Frittarelli. She's singing tonight at Lady Alleyneham's musicale.”
“I've heard she's quite a prime piece. I'll go and get a look at her. Will you come?”
Xavier didn't have to feign his shudder. “God, no. I'd rather have my fingers chewed off by a dog.” His aching head couldn't bear a crowded room, a musical cacophony. Not today.
“No need for mutilation. I'll go alone and check out the wares.” Lockwood raised his refilled snifter and inhaled deeply. “I've got a taste for that Grande Champagne brandy you ferreted out a few days ago. Excellent. Makes the Armagnac taste like horse piss.”
Xavier regarded his own snifter of Armagnac. “It does well enough for everyday. But you're celebrating your freedom from your pug-loving mistress, aren't you? You ought to have the finest
cru
today. Let me stand you the bottle.”
“Much appreciated, Coz. Indeed. I'll have another.” Lockwood's eyes were a bit red-rimmed, and Xavier wondered if he was as pleased to be free of Melissande as he professed.
The parting of ways could have been due to lack of funds, not lack of pleasure. Xavier and Lockwood had grown up together, the last remnants of two illustrious titles. But where Xavier's had grown richer over the passing generations, the Lockwood marquessate's fortunes had dwindled.
The mistress's departure, whatever the reason, provided an excuse for Xavier to bear the cost of Lockwood's brandy. When the two men wagered, they never staked more than a token sum. As often as they bet against one another, Lockwood would have been ruined otherwise.
“The wager, then, now that you're fortified,” Xavier said. “If not
la signora
, would you care for a match race? I've a new gelding that's at least as fast as your Tarantella.”
“Not fast enough,” Lockwood said with a slight hiccup. “The wager, I mean, not the horse. No, much better to bet on the party itself, if it's to be the usual sort of raucous affair.”
“I'm not inviting Prinny again, if that's what you have in mind.” The dissolute Prince Regent had ruined as many carpets as Melissande's pug the previous year.
“No no.” Lockwood batted the suggestion away like a cobweb, wobbling in his chair. “It's no kind of a challenge to get Prinny to a house party, and a challenge is what we want.” He rotated his snifter slowly, then rapped it down onto the table at his side. “I have the very thing. I'll wager that you can't get a respectable young woman to attend. Ten pounds on it.”
Xavier never declined a bet, but that didn't mean he never remolded it to suit his preference. He shook his head. “I won't risk an unmarried lady's reputation, Lockwood. Much better that we bet on
la signora
or someone of her kind.”
“But we need a
challenge
. Naturally, the young woman would be permitted a chaperone.”
“No, it won't do.” Xavier stared down the length of his stretched-out legs. The sheen on his boots was mirror bright despite the drizzle and puddles outside. He had to watch his every step in order to keep them looking just so.
Lockwood tried again. “Your house party's always a roosting place for the birds of paradise with no place to go for Christmas. Just give it a festive air to appeal to the sparrows, too. Mistletoe in the corners, punch every night—revelry will be expected. If you're as charming as all the world says, you should have no trouble in persuading a respectable young lady to attend.”
Xavier adopted Expression Number Three, Amused Tolerance. “You said it, Lockwood, not I. I've never professed many virtues.”
“The best way to gain virtue,” Lockwood replied with his own attempt at Expression Number Three, “is to employ your well-tried methods of seduction. Yes?”
“I'll hardly gain virtue for myself by stealing it from a young lady,” Xavier said smoothly. “Though as I said, I have no high aspirations for myself in that area.”
“No debauchery need be involved. All you need do is invite the young lady. If she attends, and stays for the full two weeks, then you win the bet. All very proper.” Lockwood smirked. “Unless the lady proves otherwise.”
Xavier mirrored Lockwood's smirk but hesitated. His annual house party wasn't exactly the type of party a young lady of quality ought to attend. And he'd never wagered on anyone's reputation but his own.
At his hesitation, the marquess pounced. “If you're afraid you can't do it, you could forfeit the bet. Here, I'll enter the wager in the betting book, and then we'll forget the whole thing.”
He held out his hand. “Ten pounds on it?” His expression was guileless, but his eyes were not.
Xavier's fingers flexed, and he clenched them into a fist.
He couldn't decline the bet. He had a reputation to uphold: this creation, Lord Xavier, whose exploits were as much figments of others' imaginations as they were of his own doing. One of Lord Xavier's best-known qualities was that he never turned down a wager. And he never lost.
“No tenner for you,” he said in his breeziest voice. “Enter the bet, and name the young lady.
N'importe qui
.”
Lockwood's smile turned feral. He motioned for a servant and demanded writing implements and the betting book, a leather-bound affair of seeming ancientness.
He deliberated over the entry, writing down his name and Xavier's first, then the stake often pounds. “It wouldn't do to write the lady's name in the book. But I've hit upon the very one, as you've given me the choice. You shall invite Miss Oliver.”
The name was a gut-punch.
Xavier dropped his eyelids, slow and sleepy, to cover his surprise. Louisa Oliver. Damnation.
If there was any young lady in London who was certain to decline an invitation from Xavier, it was she—that quiet bluestocking with uncommonly wary eyes. He knew Miss Oliver blamed him for the scandal that had swirled about her sister's engagement earlier that year.

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