Authors: The Rake's Substitute Bride
THE RAKE’S SUBSTITUTE BRIDE
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 permission in writing from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
: This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and events are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to real person, places, or events is coincidental.
Copyright 2012 Mysty McPartland
With the note crushed in his hand, Nathan thrust the door to the bridal suite open and glared at the occupants. He was so enraged that the woman he was about to marry had fled just minutes before the wedding ceremony. She wouldn’t get away with this, nor would her family. No one made him look like a fool and they most assuredly were going to pay for it.
“What is the meaning of this? Where is she? I paid off your debts and extra for a bride. I have half the town downstairs expecting me to wed. You sir have twenty minutes to supply me with a bride or you will find yourself in debtor’s prison.” He bellowed, threatening the occupants before spinning around, and storming back to his bedchamber where he started to pace.
He was furious, he needed a wife now before it was too late, time was running out. He had to have at least one child filling his nursery by next year or he would lose everything. Damn is grandfather and the stipulation in the old man’s will. When his parents died he’d been in his teens and was the next in line to inherit the title and lands. Though he detested the thought of marrying, he would be damned if he was going to let his sniveling weasel of a cousin inherit what was rightly his. So there had better be a bride walking down the aisle in fifteen minutes or there would be hell to pay. He dragged his fingers through his hair in frustration as he glared unseeing out the window.
How had he managed to get it so wrong? He was positive the woman he chose to wed was ecstatic about marrying him. The few times he spent in her company she seemed happy enough. So what was all this nonsense about and why did she suddenly have a change of heart? He scowled darkly, his hands fisted in the pockets of his gray morning pants. He didn’t want to think about or have the time to hunt down another woman who would be a suitable wife. And it would be damn humiliating if the ceremony didn’t take place today.
If he ever saw the infernal woman again he would relish wringing her neck for this, be damned if he wouldn’t. Well she better pray her father came up with the goods, because if the man didn’t, they would all live to regret it. He had only twelve months to sire an offspring and he couldn’t waste one more day. After his wife conceived and nine months later there was a baby in the nursery, she could do what she liked. Just as long as he fulfilled the terms of the will, nothing else mattered.
As long as they were both discreet, he had no problem with her living her own life because that’s just what he planned to do himself. After all, it was only a marriage of convenience and all he asked from her was respect and obedience. He would bestow a decent allowance on her and when it was necessary, escort her to certain functions. It would be no different from every other marriage of the ton. Well it would have been if the silly twit hadn’t run away. Damn her to hell.
An enraged growl rumbled in his chest when the clock struck the hour, jerking his hands free from his pants he spun around and left the room. Humiliated or not, he had to go downstairs and stand in front of the preacher. It was time to get this farce over and done with and if no bride was produced heads would roll. He would be damned if he was going to be used and made to look like an idiot.
At the sight of the powerful, enraged duke crashing into the bedchamber, Sheldon held her breath and trembled. Although he was a magnificent sight in his suit, he also frightened her. She peeked at her mother and father and noticed they were trembling as well. When the duke stopped roaring, she frowned. What gambling debts was he talking about? And where was her sister? Some sixth sense told her that her family was in very deep trouble.
When the duke slammed his way out of the bedroom she turned to her father and stared at him in apprehension; her father’s face had drained of color. Did her papa really sell his own daughter to the duke? She didn’t want to believe it but after what was just shouted at them, she knew it could only be the truth. No wonder Beth ran away. However, it did leave them all in a terrible dilemma, especially her parents. What were they going to do about this mess? She couldn’t see any way out of it.
The outraged duke would just have to realize that he wouldn’t be getting married today. Moving closer to her father, she grasped his arm. “I think we should leave Papa. There isn’t anything we can do since Beth has run away and left us to take the blame.” She frowned in concern when she saw that he was looking extremely worried.
Jeremy, pale and shaken, stared down at his eldest daughter and scowled. Sheldon was a pretty little thing, but compared to his youngest daughter she was a disappointment. Not only in looks, but also her height, her stubbornness and her willful independence. What could have come over Bethany to run away, and leave him in such an appalling predicament? If he tried to leave, the duke would have him locked up.
There was only one choice to be made and he knew no one would be happy about it. Especially the duke, who was a well-known rake, and a connoisseur of beautiful women. Sheldon wouldn’t be any happier either, she would probably still be arguing and refusing even when they dragged him off to prison. However, in this she would obey him. “Sheldon, change your gown. You will take your sisters place and marry the man. You heard him, all he wants is a bride and he doesn’t care who it is.”
Aghast, Sheldon stared at her father. She was absolutely horrified, surely he couldn’t really mean it, could he? The very last thing she wanted to do was get married and especially married to that wicked, depraved duke. She shook her head in refusal, but the glare her father was giving her, she knew that it would take some quick talking on her part if she had any hope of changing his mind.
Well so be it, she wasn’t going to be anyone’s substitute bride, especially that mans. “I won’t do it Papa. I decline to take Bethany’s place and wed that horrid rapscallion.”
“Daughter, you will not refuse me. Do you have any idea what will happen if you don’t marry that man? I will be carted off to prison and you and your mother will be destitute. You will have no home, no money and would have to survive on the streets.” Jeremy huffed a breath of irritation, and the tension eased out of him when he saw the resignation dulling his daughter’s eyes.
The horror of her father’s words sunk in and Sheldon knew she wouldn’t have any other choice but to do what her papa demanded. Oh, she wasn’t doing it for him, she would do it for her mother. However, she wasn’t going to go along with the arrangement like a good biddable daughter. So squaring her shoulders and raising her chin, she demanded a promise from her father. “If I agree to such a thing I want your word Papa that you will never gamble again.”
Spluttering over his daughter’s ultimatum, Jeremy saw the stubborn set of her features, and knew that if he didn’t agree she wouldn’t marry the duke. “Very well Sheldon, I will give you my word that I will never gamble again.”
Her eyes narrowing in distrust, Sheldon suspected her father was only agreeing to mollify her, well it wasn’t good enough. “I want your sacred oath Papa.” She knew once her father swore such a thing, he would never break his promise.
Jeremy puffed out his chest, damn impertinent daughter. “Fine. I give my sacred oath I will never gamble again. Happy now?”
“Yes, but there is more yet Papa.” Sheldon hid her smile when she saw the exasperation on her father’s face. He was going to be more than vexed with her when she finished with her demands. “I suggest you inform the duke that even though I agree to marry him to save him from an embarrassing situation. I will not consent to the bedding. He only wants a bride and so he will have one. Only if he agrees to my terms.”
My God, was the girl daft? Everyone knew that the only reason the man was marrying was to beget children. Nevertheless, he knew if he didn’t agree to his obstinate daughter’s ultimatum there would be no wedding. He took a few minutes to think it over. The duke was well known for his many amorous affairs with women, and he was positive the man wouldn’t have any trouble in persuading Sheldon into his bed. He would placate her by agreeing. He had no intentions of informing the man of his daughter’s demands. He decided to leave it up to the other man to deal with the strong willed, stubborn little miss. “All right Sheldon, I will explain your terms to the duke. In the mean time, I suggest you ready yourself for the ceremony.”
Not altogether trusting her father, but knowing there was little else she could do, she nodded her head in confirmation and watched her father charge out of the room with her mother following sedately behind. When the door slammed behind him, her shoulders sagged in utter desolation. She was about to marry a man she didn’t love, detested strongly and actually frightened her. The future looked very bleak indeed, and if it wasn’t for her sweet loving mother, she would refuse outright and let her father suffer for his foolishness.
She wished she could run away like Bethany. Where did she run off to? Why did she leave them all to face this terrible predicament? Sadly shaking her head, she knew why, her sister was selfish and spoiled. Bethany cared for no one but herself. Well, the next time she saw her sister, she would give the self-centered girl a good piece of her mind and never forgive her selfish sister for forcing her into this deplorable situation.
Utter desolation swept through her when the door opened and half a dozen maids bustled in, her knees quaked and her heart raced. In a very short time, her life would change dramatically and never be the same ever again. She desperately wanted to flee, but a fierce jolt of pride went through her and she stiffened her shoulders. With her back ramrod straight, everything inside her was frozen solid. Without a word or a smile she let the maids fuss over her and prepare her for a doomed marriage.
Just because she was being forced to marry the wicked duke didn’t mean her life would change, she tried to re-assure herself. Nothing would alter overmuch except her last name and her status. She cared little about becoming a duchess, and she was sure that once she and the duke established some ground rules, they both could continue on with their lives without any interference from each other.
Even though she told herself these things, she wasn’t quite sure that the duke would agree to anything. The odious man didn’t care about anything but himself, well she told herself sternly, she had a backbone and wouldn’t let the man walk all over her. She was independent and smart and she would let no man dominate her. From the onset, she would let him know where they both stood in this marriage and if he didn’t like it, well that was just too bad for him.
She refused to even think about the last time she saw him. No she wouldn’t let her mind dwell on how superbly glorious he looked or how enraged he was at the time. Her mouth twisted in a sneer, yet she was actually relieved that he hadn’t recognized her yet. However, she was certain it wouldn’t take him long and shivered in dread just thinking about how he would react when he did.
It had been a relief to see a woman walking down the aisle towards him when the organ started to play. Thank God. Nathan let his gaze rake over her and frowned when he noticed the white organdy dress looked ridiculous, as if it swamped her. Well it didn’t matter, he told himself. He turned to face the priest and waited for her to join him. He held little interest in who she was or what she looked like. All that mattered was that the wedding take place. When she finally reached him, he grasped her hand without glancing at her and held it firmly, making sure she wouldn’t bolt at the last minute.
Now that the ceremony was finally over, he turned to take his first glance at the woman who was now his wife. He scowled, confused and wondered if she was a full grown woman at all. She barely reached his chest and she was so slight and delicate that he could easily crush her in his hands.
“You may kiss your bride, your lordship.”
Nathan shook himself together when he heard the preacher’s words, reaching out he clasped the top of the woman’s arms and turned her to face him. For a few breathless moments he was rocked by her porcelain exotic features. He became perplexed when he noticed the spark of anger and defiance in her deep purple eyes, and he sensed that this woman wouldn’t be easy to manage.
Well, he thought with amusement, no woman would get the better of him, they hadn’t in the past and they most certainly wouldn’t in the future. He was positive he would soon have this woman tamed and biddable. Confident in his ability, he leaned down and brushed her mouth with his. As he straightened up, his fingers locked around her elbow and strode down the aisle with his wife at his side.
Mission accomplished. Now in a few hours he could start working on producing an heir for his nursery. From the quick glimpse he had of her features, he would say she was old enough to bed and supply him with children. He frowned as he gazed down the length of her, there wasn’t much of her, that was certain.
They reached the decorated, open carriage and he helped her up. Once she was seated, he joined her. “I don’t think we’ve met before.” His lips twisted in a grimace when she refused to turn and look at him. He let out a grunt of impatience and waited for her to reply. He couldn’t really blame her for being angry. After all, she’d been forced into a marriage.
Throughout the ceremony and afterwards, Sheldon refused to take notice of the man beside her. But at his question, she knew she couldn’t put the moment off any longer. She didn’t know whether to be insulted or not that he didn’t recognize her. Even though she trembled at the thought of his reaction, she knew it would pointless putting off the confrontation any longer. Slowly, she swiveled to face him and couldn’t miss seeing the amusement dancing in his light silver eyes. She sniffed in irritation.
“Oh but we have my lord. You were otherwise occupied when I stumbled on you in such an indelicate situation.”
For a moment Nathan’s brow came together trying to remember, suddenly it hit him and he glared at her with hostility as a clear and precise picture filled his mind. “You! You were that woman that burst into the boudoir at Madam Sophie’s?” Rage laced his voice and vibrated through every muscle. He would never forget the humiliation of that night and it was the woman sitting so primly beside him that caused it. His whole body quivered with the need to keep control of his rage before he said or did something wrong and would ruin the rest of their life.
“Oh and while we’re on the subject of bedrooms, I am very relieved you agreed to my terms.” Sheldon sat stiffly and her chin thrust in the air with determination. She frowned when he scowled at her in puzzlement. Eyeing him beneath her lashes, she could see that his was in a fine temper and the way he was staring at her made her heart race with trepidation.
Through narrowed lids Nathan watched her suspiciously. Something about this conversation he knew he wasn’t going to like. He bit back the bellow strangling in his throat, demanding she explain to him immediately. However, in the mildest voice he could summon up he asked, “What terms did I agree to?” He was beyond aggravation. He was still infuriated that his evening with the lovely Peaches had been ruined and by this interfering uptight little baggage.
Her senses on alert, Sheldon started to become worried. She wouldn’t put it past her sneaky father not to have mentioned her demand to the duke. Well no use putting it off, she told herself. Drawing in long breath for courage, she eyed him with determination. “I’m sure my father informed you of my terms. That I would be your substitute bride but I would not be your substitute bedmate.”
He could only stare back at her incredulously. Was the woman insane? Didn’t she realize the only reason he married in the first place was to beget heirs, and for no other reason. He shook his head, she was being ridiculous. “Now see here woman, I didn’t agree to anything. Your father never came to see me and why do you think I was in a rush to marry? It wasn’t because I wanted a damn wife to begin with. I want heirs and since we’re married, you’re going to supply them.”
The anger coming from him made her jerk away, she’d already been a victim of it once. However, she told herself not to be a weak kneed ninny and lifting her chin, she met his hostile glare with her own. “Well there is only one recourse you can take sir. And that is to have the marriage annulled at once and find yourself a more willing wife. One, who doesn’t mind a loveless marriage or accept a bridegroom who has shared his body with more women than anyone can count.”
His jaw clenched, he glared at her hotly. “Firstly, there will be no annulment. Do you think I would put myself through this debacle again? Well, you’re wrong. Secondly, you’re living in fairy land if you think anyone marries for love even if it does exist, which I very much doubt. Thirdly, you’re sounding quite miffed over just how many women have enjoyed my body. And I can assure none of them have ever complained.” The damn woman infuriated him. If she thought she was going to keep him out of her bed, well she was dead wrong.
“I can strongly assure you sir, I am not miffed or anything else.” She scoffed in indignation and turned away. The man was so egotistical and needed to be put in his place. Who did he think he was; some demi god or the world’s greatest lover?
It was hard to control his annoyance. Not even married half an hour and they were already bickering. It didn’t make the future years with this woman look an inviting prospect, however, it wasn’t going to change anything. “I suggest we put the rest of this conversation aside until after the wedding breakfast and we are alone.” Nathan suggested tightly.
“Fine with me, but I can’t think of anything else that needs to be said on the matter.” Sheldon could see by the narrowing of his eyes that he was fighting to control his temper. She turned away and fiddled with her oversize wedding gown. The man was just too handsome for his own good she reluctantly admitted to herself. She also couldn’t help remembering when she stumbled across him in the whore house, naked and in bed with a woman.
Even now she grew breathless picturing him in all his glory, such a magnificent physic. He had a strong, broad chest that was scattered with a swirl of dark hair. The hair tapered in a thin line down a flat stomach and muscled ribs. She could feel her face growing warm and tried to shut off her thoughts, but they wouldn’t be ignored and she couldn’t stop remembering the power of what stood out so proudly between his strong thighs. Oh, she’d seen naked men before and she didn’t know why this one affected her differently.
Since the night she spied him naked, she hadn’t been able to forget him or the beauty of his body. Much to her annoyance, he also had a face to match the rest of him. Now truly miffed at herself, she determinedly shut her mind off and was relieved when the carriage pulled up in front of his mansion.
Nathan studied the woman through narrowed eyes. She wasn’t what people would call the usual beauty. Not with those big purple eyes, the little snub nose, her lips though were full and pouting, lush and red. He shifted. He became uncomfortable thinking how they would taste. He gave his head a shake as he continued to appraise her. Long think black lashes and brows, a small pointed chin and there was no mistaking her stubbornness.
He reluctantly admitted he liked what he saw, in fact her features fascinated him. It was a good thing he supposed, that at least he found her attractive since they were married. She was so different from her sister and remembering that woman he grew angry all over again. When the carriage came to a stop, he grasped her arm and waited impatiently for her to acknowledge him. “Where is your sister? And explain to me why she ran away?”
“I don’t know where Bethany is or why she left. One can only assume she abhorred the thought of marrying you.” Sheldon could tell that her explanation set his temper off once again. Well she didn’t care. She wasn’t taking the blame for her sisters selfishness, not after being forced into a marriage with a renowned womanizing rake.
His jaw clenched, Nathan fought down his anger. The little hellion certainly knew who to spike a man’s displeasure. Especially his. His jaw clenched as he remembered the night she caught him naked and fully aroused. He’d been livid at the time, yet she stood facing him with utter contempt in her eyes. His annoyance rose up several degrees, wondering just how many other men she caught in such a compromising situation. It would be another thing they would have to discuss later, because it was damn sure not going to happen again. He intended to put a stop to her visiting whore houses, or any other undesirable establishments.
Sheldon stood up and shrugged in unconcern, but inside she quivered in trepidation. “I know we’ll talk about this later.” Lord, the man was maddening.
Nathan also rose to his feet and clasped her elbow. “Damn right we will.” He snarled out the side of his mouth as he alighted from the carriage and helped her down. “For the time being though, I recommend you portray the happy bride.”
Her eyes rolling, Sheldon was tempted to give a scathing reply, but the unbridled warning and anger in his eyes made her decide to keep her remark to herself. The argument between them wasn’t over by a long shot, and she knew the next few hours were going to be nerve racking as it was.
While they strode together up the steps, Nathan was preoccupied. His thoughts were on how he was going to explain the change in brides. It was damn humiliating, but what could he have done about it other than what he did. His wife’s sister was what everyone called a true beauty, tall, willowy and blonde hair. The complete opposite to the woman he married as night and day. Bethany, though lovely to look upon, didn’t have a sensible or intelligent thought in her head.
Which suited him just fine. He didn’t want a wife to have an opinion on matters that didn’t have anything to do with a woman. He only wanted a wife that would satisfy him occasionally in bed and give birth to his children. Other than that, he wanted nothing else from her. He knew though that the woman walking beside him would be none of those things. She would be argumentative on just about everything. She was quite adamant that she wasn’t going to satisfy him in bed or have his children.
So just what he was going to do about the situation he wasn’t quite certain? Although, he did know for a certainty that they would stay married. He definitely wasn’t going to go through this nightmare again. Well, that only left one alternative, he would have to charm the damn little spitfire and seduce her into bed. How hard could it be? After all, no woman ever denied him before, so he didn’t see any problem with his plan. Just because he’d never needed to do it before didn’t mean he couldn’t.