All the Byrons are just as “mad, bad and dangerous to know” as their famous non-relation…but now the time has come for the eldest son to marry…
Edward Byron, Duke of Clybourne, has everything a man in Society needs…except a wife. Duty requires he wed, so he decides that a long-standing arranged marriage will do nicely. He knows his bride is beautiful, biddable and bright enough to run his household and nursery. He expects his betrothed, Lady Claire Marsden, will be thrilled with his decision—unfortunately, she’s not!
Claire has longed for Edward since she was sixteen, but how can he expect her to agree to his proposal when he barely knows her and doesn’t love her? Nothing will convince her to accept a loveless marriage. And so she begins a battle of outrageous resistance, forcing Edward to learn that he must lose his heart in order to win his bride.
Winner of the 2011 Virginia Romance Writers’ Holt Medallion for Best Historical Romance.
***** FIVE STARS! "Warren has brazenly shown that she is one of the best Regency romance authors of our time!" ––Detra Fitch, Huntress Book Reviews
"Delightfully witty and sexy. Readers will be utterly entertained by Warren’s stylish prose and hallmark humor." ––Kathe Robin, Romantic Times BookReviews
“Actually,” Edward said, “I’m rather glad your mother had reason to leave us, since I was hoping we might have an opportunity to spend a few minutes alone.”
Claire grew still. “Oh? Why?”
He quirked a brow, resisting the urge to smile at her candor. “So I can give you this. Somehow, I thought you might prefer not having an audience.” Reaching into his coat pocket, he drew out a small square box, then popped open the lid to reveal a glittering diamond. “Your engagement ring,” he announced.
She didn’t say a word.
“Here, why don’t you try it on to see if it fits.” Removing the ring from its velvet bed, he held the jewelry between his thumb and forefinger and waited.
She didn’t move.
“It’s not going to bite, you know,” he said with a half-exasperated chuckle.
She sent him a faintly mocking look before slowing extending her right hand.
He grinned. “Other one. An engagement ring is supposed to go on the left. Tradition holds that the veins in the hand connect directly to the heart.”
Her hand trembled slightly. “Then it seems I chose correctly the first time,” she murmured, “since this arrangement between us has nothing to do with hearts.”
His smile fell away. “Perhaps not,” he said as he slid the ring into place. “But I am convinced we shall fare well together regardless.”
“As you say, Your Grace.”
“Edward.” He gazed into her lovely, clear eyes for a few moments before taking in the whole of her face. “You’ve a smudge.”
“On your cheek. Here, let me help.”
“I can get it,” she stated, reaching up to rub her fingers across her skin.
“Other cheek,” he said, as his smile returned. “Please, allow me.” Extracting a handkerchief from his pocket, he stroked the silk across her skin.
“Is it gone?” she asked in a tremulous voice.
“Almost.” He rubbed in gentle circles until he’d lifted the mark free. “There.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“Edward,” he corrected in a patient tone. “Your hair needs arranging as well.”
“My maid can help me.”
“Your maid isn’t here.” Without waiting for permission, he captured the errant tress in his hand. Rather than tucking it into her coiffure though, he looped it around his fingers, winding the deliciously soft strand around and around until there was no more hair left to wind. He let it go, watching it unfurl like a sail. But instead of retrieving it again, he stepped closer and cupped his palm against the side of her face. “I just realized there is something important I have yet to do.”
“W-what is that, Your . . . Edward?” she whispered, her gaze locked with his own.
“This,” he said.
And then he bent his head and pressed his lips to hers.
Claire couldn’t move, her breath trapped inside her lungs, her heart slamming so hard in her chest her ribs ached.
She’d waited so long for this moment, her whole life it seemed, to taste her very first kiss. Once, long ago, she’d hoped Edward would be the one to give her that kiss. And then she’d hoped he wouldn’t. But now, dangerous as it might be, that original wish was coming true.
She knew she should pull away, but she couldn’t, the sensation of his mouth too glorious to resist. His touch was everything she’d ever dreamed of and more. Warm and firm, yet shockingly soft, as his lips moved over hers.
Patient. Infinitely patient.
And sweetly tender as well.
A shivery sigh rippled through her body, making her tingle from head to foot. Her toes arched inside her half-boots as she sank deeper beneath his spell, heady delight roaring in her head like a misty, drumming rain.
One touch and he made her melt.
One kiss and the earth ceased to turn on its axis. Just think what might happen if he dared to do more.
And then he did, drawing the velvety tip of his tongue in a slow, hot glide across her lower lip. She gasped, the sound as startling as a clap of thunder in her ears.
He lifted his head, an expression of bemusement in his dark blue eyes. Seconds passed, as though he were trying to decide whether to kiss her again or let her go.
Then the decision was taken away, as footsteps echoed in the hallway outside the drawing room. Edward straightened and stepped away. “I believe your mother may be returning.”
Claire stared blindly, first at him, then down at the carpet, as she struggled to shake off the pleasurable lethargy still humming through her veins. Clenching her fists at her sides, she turned and dropped into the safety of her earlier abandoned chair.
“The crisis has been resolved,” her mother declared as she moved into the room. “So, how have you two been faring in my absence?” she inquired, glancing between Claire and Edward.
“Quite well, ma’am,” he replied in a smooth tone. “We have managed to keep each other reasonably entertained, I believed. Is that not so, Lady Claire?”
Claire fought down a blush, resisting the urge to shoot him an accusing glare as well.
He’s so calm? she thought. How can he act as though we’ve been sitting here doing nothing more strenuous than talking about the weather?
And then she realized that even though she’d just experienced the wonder of her very first kiss, their embrace had been far from the first for him. How many women had he known in his three-and-thirty years? How many kisses had he shared?
The last of her hazy delight fell away. She might be his fiancée and now wear his ring on her hand, but nothing essential had changed between them. She was still a convenience needed to secure his lineage. And he was still the man she couldn’t afford to let herself love.
“Yes,” she said in a clear voice. “His Grace has made sure I was far from bored. Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I shall seek my room for a change of attire.”
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