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Authors: Cecilia Gray

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A Dangerous Expectation (The Gentlemen Next Door)

BOOK: A Dangerous Expectation (The Gentlemen Next Door)
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A DANGEROUS EXPECTATION

 

The Gentlemen Next Door Series

 

by

Cecilia Gray

 

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* * *

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead, or places, events, or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

Copyright 2012 by Cecilia Gray

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written consent from the author/publisher.

 

Published by The Alpha Division, LLC

Praise for Cecilia Gray’s Novels

 

 

“A compelling mix of action, drama and love.” —
Kirkus Reviews
(starred review) (Best of 2012)

 

“Gray’s characters are so full of life, hope and dreams, it’s a pleasure to read about them.”
—Schenni’s Book Nook

 

“Captures your attention from the first page.” —
Ed and Em’s Reviews

 

“Cecilia has a talent for instilling warmth and weight into her characters.”
—Romancing the Book

 

“Will have you captivated from beginning to end.”
—Can’t Put It Down Reviews

Titles by Cecilia Gray

 

Fall For You

So Into You

When I'm With You

 

A Delightful Arrangement

An Illicit Engagement

A Dangerous Expectation

A Flirtatious Rendezvous

 

Falling

Fading

A Dangerous Expectation

 

* * *

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead, or places, events, or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

Copyright 2012 by Cecilia Gray

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written consent from the author/publisher.

 

Published by The Alpha Division, LLC

Acknowledgements

 

First and foremost, to fans of The Gentlemen Next Door series: I didn’t know you existed. But you do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Ingrid and Lisa—you keep reading these! You’re such gluttons for punishment.

 

As always, thank you to Shelley. For occasionally letting me start my sentences with prepositions.

Chapter One

 

Cassandra Drummond’s mind was unreliable at best.

She hadn’t always known this to be so. As a child, when she had lived in the worst of slums with her father and sister, she had spoken her mind and there had been no one to correct her for it.

But as a young lady, after her father had made his fortune in shipping, there were governesses and ladies’ maids and well-meaning matrons to hush and quiet and shush and chastise and correct and worst of all—criticize.

Cassandra soon learned her mind was most unreliable in the presence of the opposite sex.

"Is your shirt sewn so tight on purpose?" she’d remarked to a viscount.

"Do you even like your wife?" she’d asked a particularly respected earl.

"Can you breathe with that cravat bursting up to your nose?" That gem she had saved for a duke.

After enough hand slaps and hushes, she could barely bring herself to speak in the presence of others—particularly men. In fact, now, when a man entered the room, Cassandra’s throat tightened and perspiration broke out until her skin felt clammy. The London social scene was unbearable.

Fortunately, London, with its smoky stacks, its closely clustered buildings, and worse yet, its teeming hordes of fortune hunters, was receding further and further behind her.

With every clop of the horses’ hooves against the uneven dirt road, the tension eased in Cassandra Drummond’s body. Her shoulders relaxed to reveal a graceful neck. Her tightly fisted hands, often cramped, softened their grip. Her clenched jaw slowly loosened until she managed a weak smile of relief. Lines eased around her otherwise perpetually knit brow so that a sparkle returned to her green eyes.

Unfortunately, leaving London also meant leaving Chastity, although she’d promised to stay until week’s end to help select a wedding dress.

While she couldn’t be happier for her sister’s whirlwind engagement to their neighbor, Lord Lucas Willoughby, Cassandra knew she would not survive another day in London. The engagement of one of the Drummond Shipping heiresses seemed to mean open season on her, the other, and the callers had come in full force.

They seemed flabbergasted, sincerely flabbergasted, that she had no interest in wading into their ranks. She had to grit her teeth to keep from asking them, "How am I to love a fully grown man still attached to his mother’s teat?" or "If I am a banknote to you, how might you look to me, you philandering gambler?"

Her dear sister lamented the crippling anxiety that overwhelmed Cassandra whenever she was in the presence of men, but at least it saved her from becoming an embarrassment to her family. At least it prevented her from possibly plunging her already socially precarious family back into ruin. By keeping quiet, she’d developed a reputation for being aloof. Better that than uncouth.

Not that she had reconciled herself to a life of loneliness, a life without children or family or someone to love…perhaps one day she might outgrow her condition. But today was not that day.

When Lord Willoughby had offered the use of his modest—and he had emphasized the word
modest
several times—home in the country, she’d leapt at the opportunity. So what if she was now leaping a week earlier than she’d anticipated? Chastity managed the financial operations of their father’s shipping empire; surely she could manage to find a dress on her own. Ah, there was that twinge of guilt again for abandoning her sister…

But she need only peek out the carriage window to the sun dipping below the horizon of green meadows, she need only breathe in the crisp air, to know it was the right choice. She felt calm. She felt at peace. She’d never been in the countryside and was pleased to find it agreed with her.

Here, in the countryside, there was nothing but space…between her and men. Nothing but freedom…from having to speak to strange callers.

The summer in the country would allow her the chance to collect her wits so that by the time the wedding date arrived in the fall, she would be able to stand beside her sister before a church full of hundreds (half of them men, no doubt!) without quaking with fear that she might blurt an inappropriate word. A summer in the country would mean solitude—blessed, blessed solitude.

The carriage lurched as the clop of horses’ hooves slowed to a stop and the beasts neighed against the pull of their reins. She peeked outside. It was dark, although a full moon illuminated the night sky. She could see out the outline of a two-story house that couldn’t have had more than ten windows, a neighboring cottage’s roof, and a small stable. Modest, indeed. And perfect.

"My apologies for the lateness, miss, the detour took longer than expected," the coachman said as he opened the carriage door and offered her a hand. This she deftly ignored as she leapt from the carriage, lest she say, "Longer than
you
expected, perhaps, but the rest of us can calculate."

Her shoes hit the ground with a moment’s waver, but she righted herself and felt steady. The soft earth beneath her shoes felt so different from the cold, hard streets of London.

"I’ll see to your bags." The coachman trailed behind her as she stepped closer to peer up at the house. "I must drive down the road to inform Lady Chesterley you’ve arrived. There’s a note that she’s to be informed to welcome you."

"But I’m a week early," she protested. "And it is past dark." She hated stating the obvious.

"As you wish—however, it was implied that it would be best to follow her instructions regardless of the hour," the coachman said.

Cassandra swallowed a sigh. Knowing Lady Chesterley, he was probably right. Better to let the lady welcome her now than tolerate the tirade if she felt usurped. Besides, if he fetched Lady Chesterley, the driver would leave her be, and she would have a few moments to settle in.

"Then make haste," she said. "I’ll see myself in and ring for tea."

"Are you sure?"

I’m sure I can manage to walk into a house and ring for tea without help.
She bit her tongue and managed a humble nod. He was only being polite, only asking what was expected, after all.

After opening the front door and setting her bags in the hallway, the coachman returned to his carriage. Cassandra heard the whicker of the horses and the crunch of the turning wheels running over stone.

He was making haste, indeed.

Cassandra peered into the house that would be hers for the summer.

Lucas Willoughby had been given the house, the neighboring workman’s cottage, and the surrounding lands as part of a barony from his brother. He’d assured Cassandra that he had no need for the residence and that the meager staff—an elderly couple—would be happy to attend to her.

This would be the first time Cassandra had ever lived alone. While she already missed her sister, she was positively giddy with the prospect of being on her own. Of being allowed to do whatever she wanted when she wanted. Without the constant warnings and naggings about how her experiments might burn down the house (it had only been the one time) or she was ruining her expensive clothes (which was poppycock because her sister was infamously miserly when it came to their personal purchases).

With a wide smile, she stepped further into the foyer.

She should ring for the elderly couple, but it was late and she didn’t want to trouble them with her awkwardness. Besides, she wanted a few more moments alone.

The house was hushed, quiet. Cassandra could hear the leaves outside rustling in the breeze. There was another noise—a crackling and popping sound.

She walked past a sitting room, peering in quickly to determine the source of the noise wasn’t inside. It was then she noticed a door down the hall with a glow of light seeping under it.

Cassandra felt drawn to the light, to the warmth she could feel, and the crackling sound registered as a fire just as she opened the door to a library. The roaring flames licked at a brick fireplace and cast amber shadows on rows and rows of books. Neither she nor Chastity read for enjoyment—they’d learned to read late in life—but she loved the idea of a million stories tucked away in these pages waiting to be discovered.

Perhaps she would see to Lady Chesterley here instead of the sitting room. It was already warm, after all. She approached the fire, pulling off her gloves by their fingertips, and knelt before the open hearth so the warmth might lave her skin.

With a contented sigh she stood and turned.

Her heart squeezed as she caught sight of him—a man with tawny hair and golden eyes, open and curious and fixed on her—lying on the couch.

Unsuitable thoughts, indeed.

 

* * *

 

Gray Abernathy was a man of meager expectations—as the estranged youngest son of an impoverished duke, very little was expected of him in return. Gray had no money, little connection besides his family, and no possibility of improving his station without marriage to an heiress.

Thus Gray had no intention of ever improving his station.

He wasn’t above earning his keep. He eked out a meager existence as a permanent houseguest to one family or another, compliments of his pretty face and even prettier manners. His good humor was his only currency and he was fortunate it came easily and had no shortage.

He didn’t expect to be gifted with anything—not even in his fantasies—so he was stunned by the sight of this woman.

He’d fallen asleep on the sofa after having had too much to drink while pondering where to move, as his stay was due to end in a week. But could too much drink be responsible for the vision that stood before the fireplace?

She was stunning, with sleek blond hair and catlike green eyes. He felt her stare like a physical spear piercing his chest. There was no guile there, no flirtation. Only direct, constant contact.

BOOK: A Dangerous Expectation (The Gentlemen Next Door)
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