THE STANHOPE CHALLENGE, 4 brothers, 4 love affairs, 1 family curse, 12 months a Bestselling Regency! PRIZES!
Dear Readers, Celebrating 12 solid months on 3 Regency bestseller lists, I am proud to be here at my friend, Desiree Holt’s site with this giveaway!
For one lucky person who comments BELOW, a $20 gift card! For everyone who sends me the receipt for purchase of HER BEGUILING BUTLER on any vendor site, I will send you THE STANHOPE CHALLENGE free! BUY LINK for STANHOPE on Amazon
Be sure to send that RECEIPT to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
THANK YOU to my wonderful readers!
There is nothing like a book to calm your mind, ease your worries and make your day sublime.
And now a nibble of THE STANHOPE CHALLENGE, Book 3, the story of Jack and Emma, MISS DARLING’S INDECENT OFFER!
London, March 1810
Emma Darling snuggled down into her coat, the winter chill like daggers in her bones. Squinting, she tried to see through the foggy window of her carriage. Where was the man? Drinking, carousing most likely.
She had no delusions about the precarious nature of her indecent offer to Jack Stanhope. He had an inglorious reputation as a rake and would be no coy boy falling over himself to accept her odd proposal. Despite all the marks against his person—the mistresses, the gambling, the aggressiveness in business matters—Jack Stanhope had one fine trait. And that Emma meant to tap. His honor, she dared to hope, would rise up to meet his reason and agree to aid her. Either that, or the man would scoff, then throw her out of his carriage and into the rain like so much rubbish.
She sniffed, pulled herself up to her own imperious reputation as the bane of her step-father’s existence and willed some iron in her spine. “You will smile. You will not simper. You will entice him, Emma. With logic.”
“Miss Darling?” Her coachman rapped on the bottom of his seat and she jumped.
“The gentleman you wanted?”
“Aye, Miss,” said her kindly servant who’d defied his master to assist her this horrid night. “In the street coming out the door.”
She wiped the moisture from her carriage window and spied the male figure emerging from the entrance to White’s. She peered through her window and wiped fog from its expanse. “You think that man is he?”
“Aye, Miss, blue covered brougham with the Stanhope crest waiting for him. Must be ‘im.”
“Thank you, Harris.” She lifted her hood and draped it over her hastily set mop of hair. Rain or no, now is the time, Emma. She waited a heartbeat as her servant climbed down from his box, opened the door for her and let down the steps for her to alight. She gave him her hand and a smile. Watery thing that it was, the expression was one he did not return for he feared for his position should her step-father learn of his part in her escape tonight. “Please do not worry, Harris. I promise I will speak on your behalf.”
“I know, Miss. But I fret for your safety. The Viscount Durham is a bad sort.” He handed her out into the pouring rain.
“Not completely so,” she told him. Then she scampered across the cobbles. Deuced bad luck that the heavens opened at that hideous moment. She squealed and picked up her pace through the torrent of rain. Catching her balance time and again, she fought for clear vision as she slipped on one stone and slid across another. She heard Jack Stanhope shouting to his own coachman as she lifted her arm to beckon him.
“My lord!” Don’t leave, Jack! “My lord!”
The coachman slammed the door of Jack’s carriage. She scurried along. The driver climbed up into his box. He’d soon be picking up the reins and hurrying on. She panicked that if she did not do something rash, all her plans would be lost.
She swerved, stepped in front of the coach, and slipped, slid and lost her footing. Her bottom met hard, hurtful cobbles. Her heart met despair. She splashed about in a freezing puddle.
“Ohhhhh, damn!” She beat the cobbles with one fist, wild at her clumsiness.
The coachman yelled. The horses neighed.
“Stop! Please stop!” She pushed up, hands wrist deep in pools of rain, her pelisse soaked. Her hair plastered to her cheeks. She gasped in pain.
Hands grabbed her under the armpits and hoisted her from the stones. “Get her up, Rawley.”
She swayed. Before her stood a tall, lean striking man who scowled at her and hooked his arm around her waist.
“Can you stand? What the hell is wrong with you?” He brushed a hand over her cheek. “A beauty out in this rain? Running into my horses? Are you mad?”
Mad? “I’m wet,” she said like a ninny, mesmerized by the might of him, the sharpness of his features and the fragrance of his cologne.
His coachman strode around them. “Good god, milord! She’s a fright!”
“Can’t stand out here all night. Let’s get her in the coach, Rawley.”
She smiled. Yes, let’s.
“Oh. She finds this amusing. Wonderful,” Jack muttered as he snatched her up in strong arms like a sack of potatoes, took two steps and shoved her, like so much dross, into a coach. To the floor, in fact. “Here you go.”
She glanced up at that incomparable face, all brooding angles and intensity. He grabbed her with iron-like hands and unceremoniously dragged her up and over the squabs. He picked at her hood with deft fingers, undid her ties and threw back the wool to lift her chin.
“Christ, you are soaked! What in hell are you doing out on a night like this?”
She stared at him. Delighted. Dismayed now that she was here and of all the ways, of all the times that she had to meet the heir of the Stanhope family, she met the glorious, notorious Viscount Durham looking like a ragamuffin.
Aye, this was Jack Stanhope, no other. Eyes like lightning. Hair like midnight. Jaw like iron.
Collect yourself. “I had to come out.” Of course you did, you idiot. He’s not all that handsome that his mere looks can rattle you.
He frowned at her, pushed her wet curls back from her cheeks, and hauled her up higher. By the light of the interior lamp, she saw him better now. Close as a lover. And the clarity of her first hard look at the Pride of the Stanhopes made her admire the family traits all the more.
He was a luscious specimen of manhood, imperial and imposing. The broadest of shoulders. The squarest of chins. The dimple there, dead center. She’d glimpsed him twice before, years ago at his racing box in Harton. She’d been drawn to his brash demeanor, his open laugh and booming voice. She’d been drawn by his magnetism. A daring rake of magnificent proportions, Jack Stanhope was not so much handsome as overwhelming. Not so much refined as damned perfect. For her. Her needs.
“What in god’s good name is a lady doing out at this hour of the night? And falling in front of my carriage, no less?” His striking eyes went wide as he examined her. He seemed sober, though she could smell faint traces of liquor on his breath. His fingers dug into her upper arms. “Answer me!”
“I need to talk to you.”
“The devil, you say. Who are you?” He lifted her higher, nearer, his silver-blue eyes searing her face as he scanned her features with a curious hunger.
“Darling…” He caught her cheeks in both hands and turned her more fully toward the light. With his thumbs, he brushed rain drops from her skin and then drew her, inch by inch toward him until her torso was flush against him.
Fires of delight ran through her blood. He was interested. He might be intrigued. She needed that. Needed more from him.
He sank his fingers into her newly cropped cap of Grecian curls and turned her face to the left and right. “What the hell? Joan Darling’s girl?”
“Yes, Frank’s and Joan’s.” Did he know her mother?
“You’re shivering. Wet as a cat. Sit here.” He pushed her back into the luxury of the squabs, both hands to her shoulders in a move that was mostly a shove. “Take off that cloak.” He worked at a fastening to her wrap. “You’ll die of cold. Your mother will have me for breakfast.”
“No!” Emma wrapped her hand around his forearm and noted that he was so large she could only partially succeeded. “No, she won’t. Can’t.”
“What?” He shook his head as he tried to undo the fastening of her wrap. She sat helpless as a child letting him undress her, marvelling at the arch of his cheeks and the perfect sculpt of his sensuous mouth. “This damn thing is too wet. Can’t get it open.” His hands fumbled. “Why can’t your mother help you?”
“She’s ill. In the country.” Dying from her husband’s cruelty and neglect.
He scowled. “That’s why I have not seen her about town.”
“Listen to me, Jack.”
If her hands on his hadn’t brought him up short, the use of his given name by a stranger did. He paused, curious now and perhaps even insulted. “You have my attention. What is it you want, Miss Darling?”
“I need your help.”
“At three in the morning? A very inclement morning?” He wiggled his black brows in mirth and surprise.
In the lamplight, his features mellowed with amusement. His brows were long and precise, his eyes large and luminous, his lips full and supple. Generous. Oh, god. Please let him be generous.
“This was the best time to find you, my lord. You would never have seen me at home. Not mine certainly.”
“You did not invite me,” he told her, his words a bit slurred, an impish grin gracing his mouth. “I accept all invitations from beautiful women.”
“So I understand, but—” I am not beautiful. “You would not have come.”
“You’re certain, eh? Why not?”
“You do not really know me.”
He narrowed his starry eyes and let them roam from her lips to her eyes to her hair and back again. “I daresay I should.”
“Yes, you should.” She leaned forward now, comforted by his humor and the kindness of him to take her in his carriage and have such care of her. But she must look a fright, coming out as she did so quickly, taking the chance she could catch him. “You will. If you accept my offer.”
“An offer? Pardon me, Miss Darling. It’s late and my manners are as short as my penchant for games.” Bursting into a chuckle, he fell back to the plush leather upholstery. Sobering, he ran a hand over his face. He knit his brows and surveyed her state of cold, wet dishabille. “And you are not amused either. Are you?”
She shook her head once, her lips pressed together.
He slapped a hand to his knee. “Very well. I must take you home. Isn’t it Park Lane? Opposite the street from my Aunt Amaryllis Stanhope?”
She folded her arms, the rain seeping through her cloak to her thin cotton gown and making her shiver. “I will not return there.”
He cocked his head. “Why ever not?”
“He is there.”
Jack scowled. “Who?”
“Daniel.” She murmured the name of the man who meant to ruin her life, keep her in rags and deny her her due.
“Your mother’s husband? Pinrose?”
He muttered beneath his breath. “Your stepfather.”
“The same.” Her teeth began to clatter. She clenched her jaw. Wrapped her arms more tightly about her. “He is a tyrant. I have come to you to escape him.”
Jack winced, glanced out the window and focused on her again. “Escape Pinrose?”
“Precisely.” She sneezed.
He picked up the plaid woolen blanket on the seat next to her and tucked it around her body and under her chin. “Christ, you’re cold as ice. How long have you been out in this?”
“Since ten or so,” she told him.
“Good god. Must be a damned good reason to chill yourself to the quick. What is it?”
She shot forward and grabbed the lapels of his coat. “Jack, please help me. I have waited for you because I need you. Only you can help me.”
He arched a long black brow at her. “I am honored, Miss Darling, but—”
“Emma, my dear young woman, I have no idea what you wish. I barely know who you are, let alone what I might do to assist—”
He stilled. “Did you say…?”