New York Times Bestselling author Barbara Dawson Smith returns with another enchanting, unforgettable novel featuring the beloved Kenyon family...
One Wild Night
I have always taken pride in my bad reputation. Polite society viewed me as depraved and utterly dissolute, for I was a disciple of passion. Pleasure was my hallmark, women my pastime. That is, before the incomparable Lady Charlotte Quinton disrupted my life--again.
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About the Author
Barbara Dawson Smith is the New York Times author of Seducing the Heiress, Tempt Me Twice, and Scandal of the Year. She has been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1981, and her novels have won the Golden Heart Award, Best Historical Romantic Suspense and Best Regency Historical from Romantic Times, and the prestigious RITA award. She lives in Houston, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
ONE Wild Night
By Barbara Dawson Smith
St. Martin's PaperbacksCopyright © 2003 Barbara Dawson Smith
All right reserved.
London, one month later
"I'm here to see my grandmother," Lady Charlotte Quinton told the butler as she entered the mansion on a draft of wintry air. She set down Fancy's basket in the foyer, then stooped to release the leather catch.
A bushy brown dog hopped out, skidded on the marble floor, and leapt straight into Charlotte's arms, nearly bowling her over. She fought for balance on feet numbed by the cold. Her muscles were stiff from sitting in the coach for the past two days, confined with her chatterbox maid, Nan.
But personal comforts were of little consequence when Grandmama had been injured. Charlotte would endure anything for the sake of her beloved grandmother-even enter the lair of her sworn enemy.
Brand Villiers, the infamous Earl of Faversham.
Charlotte's stomach clenched. Never had she expected to find herself here, standing in the foyer of his London house.
Sixteen years ago, when she was just a girl, Brand had broken her heart. He had given Charlotte her first kiss-only to scorn her romantic dreams of love. She had fled from his mocking laughter, stumbled into a hearth fire, and suffered burns over her right ann. The combination of physical and emotional scars had left her bitter and angry.
Eleven years ago, when the time came for her to make her debut at age eighteen, she had been too self-conscious to face London society. While other ladies married and started families of their own, Charlotte had remained at her parents' house in Devon.
Five years ago, selfish and immature, she had set her sights on Brand's best friend, Michael Kenyon. She had tried to end Michael's budding romance with Brand's half sister, Vivien. She had stolen a necklace and made Vivien look like a thief.
Brand, unfortunately, had been the one to uncover Charlotte's plot.
She still cringed at the memory of her folly-and the lash of Brand's rebuke. As punishment, she had been banished by her family to the north country of Yorkshire, a banishment that she now realized she'd sorely needed. No one knew better than Charlotte just how much growing up she'd done in the past five years. Or just how much she wanted to make amends.
Amends, that is, with everyone except Brand.
Two days ago, she had received an urgent message that her grandmother had been injured in a carriage accident and was convalescing in, of all places, Brand's London house. Charlotte had had no choice but to journey to the home of the man she viewed as the devil himself.
Clutching her dog Fancy against her merino cloak, Charlotte regarded the butler, whose jowly, ancient face bore a look of befuddlement. "I'm Lady Charlotte Quinton," she explained. "My grandmother is Lady Enid Quinton. She's staying here while she recovers from the accident."
Dragging his rheumy gaze from the dog, the butler raised a fastidious white eyebrow. "Of course, m'lady. I wasn't informed of your impending arrival."
"There was no point in sending a message since I left York straightaway. Have my parents arrived? Or any of my brothers and sisters?"
"Nay, you've been her ladyship's only visitor."
Charlotte frowned. Her family had always been caught up in their own squabbling, but they all loved Grandmama and Charlotte had expected them to make the journey from Devon. Why hadn't they come? "If you'd be so good as to take me straight to Lady Enid."
"I'm afraid that's impossible."
"Impossible? Why?" Dread honed Charlotte's voice, as sharp and cold as the blustery evening. The hastily penned summons from Lady Stokeford had revealed precious little information, only that Grandmama and her two dearest friends had been injured in a carriage crash. Now, all the worry and fear of the past forty-eight hours overwhelmed Charlotte.
Was Grandmama ... dead?
Horror must have shown on her face, for the stooped old butler said quickly, "There's naught to fear. 'Tis only that the physician is presently with the ladies."
A measure of relief eased the knot in her breast. "How fares my grandmother? How badly was she hurt?"
"Your questions are best directed at the doctor," he intoned. "Might I take your wrap?"
As he approached, holding out his white-gloved hands, Fancy growled in the circle of Charlotte's arms. "It's all right, darling, he won't hurt you," she murmured, stroking the dog's fluffy head. To the butler, she said, "I'll keep my cloak, thank you. May I ask your name?"
"North, m'lady." "I will speak to the doctor, North. Take me to him at once."
"I'm sorry, but the earl has given orders-"
"Lord Faversham is here?" Her insides clenched again, this time with dismay. It had been too much to hope that Brand would be gone to a gaming hell with his dissolute cronies. This was his house, after all. She knew he despised her after her behavior five years ago. And the feeling was mutual.
But that was the least of her worries. "His lordship just returned from visiting friends out of town," North said. "If m'lady would care to be shown to a chamber-"
"No," Charlotte said firmly. "While my maid settles my luggage, I'll see Grandmama. You may tell the earl that I insisted."
North hesitated, then made a creaky bow. A tonsure of gray hair cupped his balding pate. "As m'lady wishes."
He led the way up the broad marble steps, and the lamp in his hand cast a wavering light over the simple elegance of the decor. Charlotte was hard-pressed not to gawk at the fine paintings and exquisite furnishings. Because of the longtime friendship between their grandmothers, she had known Brand for her entire life. However, although she'd often visited his country estate in Devon, she hadn't traveled to London for her debut and had never before seen his town house.
It was a deplorable twist of fate that Grandmama and her two friends had suffered the coach accident on their way into the city. Charlotte could only hope that she wouldn't encounter Brand until the morrow.
Her footsteps blended with the butler's shuffling gait. As they reached the top of the stairs and headed down a murky passageway, Fancy quivered, her bright black eyes peering from the bail of brownish fur.
Perhaps she sensed her mistress's unease, Charlotte thought, stroking the animal. Fancy had grown plumper in the fortnight since Charlotte had rescued her from a gang of ruffians in York. With loving care and a steady diet, the thin, woebegone creature had filled out. A daily brushing had lent a sheen to her ratty coat, and the bald patch on her back leg was growing new fuzz. Now if only Grandmama could learn to love Fancy ...
North stopped outside an ornate door framed in gilt moldings. "Permit me to announce you, m'lady."
Charlotte gave a distracted nod. As the butler vanished into the chamber, she set Fancy on the floor and then paced the long corridor, the dog shadowing her. Slipping off her cloak, Charlotte tossed it onto a spindly chair. No mirror hung on the blue-striped wallpaper, so she patted her untidy chestnut hair and hoped for the best. She was hungry, weary, and teetering on the ragged edge of patience. But she couldn't rest until she had assured herself of her grandmother's improved health.
What was taking North so long? Were Grandmama's injuries worse than the man had reported?
Charlotte reached for the door handle just as the gilded panel swung open again. The butler's aging form reappeared, but he merely nodded to her and trudged down the passageway. Starting into the chamber, she came to an enforced halt.
She stood face to face with Brand Villiers.
Tall and lean, he blocked the doorway. His ice-gray eyes held the worldly amusement that had always both intrigued and annoyed her. He was clad almost entirely in black with only a gray waistcoat to temper his devilish image.
Five years hadn't changed those saturnine features with the small scar that lifted one corner of his mouth in an eternal smirk. Nor had the passage of time altered his wicked handsomeness-or the telltale warmth that suffused her body. Except for a few threads of silver in the dark brown hair at his temples, he looked exactly as he had on the day he had caught her in the throes of malicious mischief.
Her heart skittered inside her breast. Sweet heavens, he could still awaken a tangle of intense feelings in her. Humiliation for the way he so callously treated her after their kiss-her first kiss. Shame for the wrong she'd done to her friend Vivien-Brand's half sister. Resentment than he had so relished the chance to chastise Charlotte. And an involuntary tug of something else, something soft and aching. Despite all the history and rancor between them, she still remembered how it felt to have his hard male body pressed to hers.
"Look What an ill wind blew in," he said.
Charlotte forced a polite smile. Not for the world would she let him guess her reaction to him. "I see you're as channing as ever," she said coolly. "If you'll excuse me, I'd like to visit my grandmother."
He remained in place, lounging against the door frame. "The doctor is finishing his examination. There's time for us to have a little chat."
"My only interest is Grandmama. How is she?"
"Both of our grandmothers are well enough, all things considered. So you can curb that impatience of yours and speak with me."
"I've nothing to say to you."
"Then I'll do the talking. Perhaps you've heard that Vivien and Michael have been happily married for five years now."
Charlotte felt herself blush and hated that betrayal of her emotions. So he wouldn't let the matter drop. Although she had made a horrible mistake in trying to win Michael for herself, she didn't need to hear so again from Brand. "Of course. I'm happy for them."
He cocked a disbelieving eyebrow. "They've added two children to their family."
"Then I wish them well," she said with more sincerity than he would ever believe of her. "If that's all you have to say ..."
"It's only the beginning."
His indolent gaze sauntered from her bedraggled garb down to the tips of her muddied half-boots. For a heartbeat, she regretted not taking the time to freshen up in her chamber. She should have been girded in her best gown instead of this drab, wrinkled brown designed to withstand the dirt and splatters of traveling. She should have faced him with her hair brushed and tidied into an elegant chignon. Not because she cared to impress him, but because she needed armor against his scorn.
"Kindly move aside," she said.
"All in good time." He gazed down at Fancy, who peeked out from behind Charlotte's skirts. "I see you've found at least one creature that will tolerate your company. If indeed that hairball is a dog."
He reached down as if to pet Fancy.
A growl vibrated from Fancy's throat, and although it wasn't in Charlotte's nature to retreat, she stepped back, the dog keeping close to her. "Don't touch her. She's frightened of men."
"Like her mistress?"
"I've no fear of you. Only disgust."
Brand chuckled. "Good old Char. I always did enjoy your frankness."
"I'm not here to give you pleasure."
Again, his gaze slid over her form. "A pity. You don't know what you're missing."
"I regard it as a blessing, not a pity."
Charlotte brushed past him, and when he didn't move aside, their arms touched. She caught her breath at the shiver that sped over her skin. It was impossible that she could still suffer such a reaction to him. Yet her blood flowed faster and her heart beat out of control. In defiance of common sense, she noticed every detail about him: his spicy scent, his masculine form, his brooding mouth. Awareness coursed downward to her bosom and lower, settling in her nether regions with a familiar, irksome ache.
Blast him. He was a worthless reprobate. Thank heavens she had the sense to prefer a man like Mr. Harold Rountree. Charlotte latched on to that thought. Mr. Rountree had more scruples in his neatly trimmed fingeruails than Brand Villiers had in his entire wicked body.
The dog trotting at her heels, Charlotte hastened through a small antechamber with an arrangement of chairs, an alabaster bust on a pedestal, a flickering oil lamp. Peeling off her kid gloves, she made a conscious effort to tamp down her anxiety. It wouldn't do to appear worried. She must greet Grandmama with an encouraging smile.
Provided, of course, that Grandmama was conscious.
An old, lanky gentleman carrying a leather satchel came through the doorway of the bedchamber. She extended her hand to him. "I'm Charlotte Quinton, Lady Enid's granddaughter. Are you the physician?"
"Dr. Spencer, at your service." As he made a quaint, courtly bow, he stopped short, his gaze fixed on her hand.
She resisted the old habit of hiding her scars behind her back. People often stared at the ugly network of whitened flesh that extended up her right arm. At least her long sleeve covered the worst of it. "Burns," she said, preferring bluntness to pretense.
Blinking, he returned his gaze to her face. "Er ... I see. Her ladyship is resting comfortably. You'll be pleased to hear she's much improved today."
"How badly was she injured?"
"'Twas a clean fracture, and the bone should mend quite nicely."
"She's suffered a broken arm, my lady. There's a bottle of laudanum on the bedside table. Two drops every four hours should relieve her pain and help her sleep."
"I'll be sure she takes it." Somewhat heartened by his prognosis, Charlotte went past him and through the open doorway.
Inside the spacious, high-ceilinged chamber, several candelabra cast golden haloes of light, while shadows gathered in the corners. A fire burned on a hearth of pale marble, tended by a housemaid, who curtsied to Charlotte and then retreated into an adjacent chamber. Across the room stood three ornate beds with identical hangings of deep maroon velvet tied back by gold tasseled ropes.
Charlotte paused at the sight. How like the Rosebuds to arrange to be together in one chamber. The three old ladies had been fast friends for more than half a century. In their first season, as celebrated debutantes, they had been dubbed the Rosebuds for their youth and beauty. They often spoke fondly of their glory days, though Charlotte suspected there was more to their stories than they let on.
But now she could think only of how happy she was to see them again. And how grateful that they had survived that awful crash of their coach.
On the left, dainty Lady Stokeford reclined against a mound of feather pillows. Strong-willed in spite of her fragile appearance, she was grandmother to the three Kenyon brothers, whom Charlotte had known while growing up. A dapper, white-haired gentleman sat in a chair beside her.
Excerpted from ONE Wild Night by Barbara Dawson Smith Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Dawson Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Devil's Due,
Chapter 2: A Secret Admirer,
Chapter 3: The Missing Footman,
Chapter 4: Something Fishy,
Chapter 5: The Summons,
Chapter 6: The Locked Drawer,
Chapter 7: Spark and Tinder,
Chapter 8: Brand's Mistress,
Chapter 9: Encounter in the Kitchen,
Chapter 10: Collision Course,
Chapter 11: Amy's Gift,
Chapter 12: Caught in the Act,
Chapter 13: The Man Downstairs,
Chapter 14: Family Secrets,
Chapter 15: Fancy's Folly,
Chapter 16: Miss Darby's Plea,
Chapter 17: An Unexpected Visitor,
Chapter 18: Brand's Confession,
Chapter 19: An Unwelcome Proposition,
Chapter 20: Irrefutable Evidence,
Chapter 21: The Entrapment,
Chapter 22: The Telltale Ink,
Chapter 23: The Diary,
Chapter 24: One More Night,
Chapter 25: The Missing Bridegroom,
About the Author,
St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles by Barbara Dawson Smith,