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Rogues Rush In
 

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Rogues Rush In


  Rogues Rush In

  a Regency Duet

  By

  Tessa Dare and Christi Caldwell

  His Bride for the Taking

  Copyright © 2018 by Tessa Dare

  His Duchess for a Day

  Copyright © 2018 by Christi Caldwell

  EPUB Edition

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without written permission.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it or borrow it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.

  Table of Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  His Bride for the Taking

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Epilogue

  More Books by Tessa Dare

  About the Author

  His Duchess for a Day

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Other Titles by Christi Caldwell

  Biography

  His Bride for the Taking

  By

  Tessa Dare

  Chapter 1

  It was the first rule of friendship among gentlemen: Never, ever lay a hand on your best friend’s sister.

  Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it.

  Not. One. Finger.

  Sebastian Ives, Lord Byrne, had never been one for following rules. But promises? He took those seriously indeed. His friendship with Henry Clayton had been the anchor in his turbulent youth, too valuable to risk. So he’d made a vow to himself, and he’d steadfastly held to it—as best he could, anyhow—for years.

  Eleven years.

  Eleven long years.

  More than four thousand days of wrestling the temptation to take Mary Clayton in his arms and…

  Well, from there the specifics varied.

  Suffice it to say, aside from the casual contact necessitated by social convention, he’d never touched her—with one exception. After Henry’s funeral, he’d held her for hours as she wept. That didn’t count, surely.

  But today, Sebastian found himself tempted to break his promise. No, “break” was too weak a word. He wanted to bundle his principles, snap them in two, and grind them to sand beneath his boot.

  Damn, she looked lovely in her wedding gown.

  Not only lovely, but inexplicably alone.

  “Where the devil is your groom?”

  “I’m not certain,” she said.

  He paced the floor of the chapel’s tiny annex, averting his gaze from the slope of her neck and the gentle curl of auburn hair that adorned it. “How dare he keep you waiting, the bastard.”

  “Mr. Perry’s not a bastard. He’s the legitimate son of a barrister.”

  “I don’t care if he’s the Prince of Wales. The man made a promise to you, and he’s not here to keep it. That makes him a bastard. A tardy bastard, at that.”

  “He isn’t late, Sebastian.” She paused. “He’s not coming.”

  “Impossible.”

  “It’s quite possible. In fact, it’s evident. He’s not here, and neither is his family.” She released her breath in a defeated sigh. “He must have changed his mind at the last moment.”

  “Changed his mind? What sort of idiotic milksop would change his mind about marrying you?”

  “One who wanted a different sort of wife, I suppose. Someone less opinionated, more amenable. You of all people know I can be difficult.”

  Difficult? When it came to Mary, his only difficulty had been keeping his distance.

  He supposed he could see why a weaker man might find her intimidating. She’d always been more clever than Sebastian and Henry put together. She was strong and self-reliant, because losing her mother at a young age had given her no other choice.

  And she was passionate. If she believed in something, she would argue her case with everything she had, and never back down. She believed that women should have the vote, that prisoners should have better rations, that war widows should have pensions.

  And that sons of violent drunkards should never spend Christmas alone.

  Any man who’d let her go was a bloody fool.

  “It’s done,” she said. “I’ll have to find the curate and tell him the wedding has been called off.”

  “Oh no, you won’t. I’m going to go out and find that blackguard and drag him here.”

  “I don’t want to marry a man who needs to be dragged to the altar. Even in my current state of bruised pride, I think I deserve a bit better than that.”

  “Of course you do. You always deserved better than Giles Perry in the first place. But he proposed to you, and you accepted him. And I’ll be damned if he’ll get away with this.”

  “Sebastian.”

  He relented. “Very well. I won’t drag him back. I’ll invite him to make good on his word to you.”

  “And if he doesn’t accept that invitation?”

  Sebastian stopped pacing and turned to her, staring directly into her brilliant blue eyes. “Then I’ll call the bastard out.”

  *

  “A duel?” Mary’s heart missed a beat. “Oh, no. You can’t.”

  “Oh, yes. I will.”

  He gave her the classic Sebastian look, commanding and stubborn in equal measures. She’d watched grown men wither under that glare. It didn’t help that he was built like a Viking warrior, tall and broad-shouldered, with features struck from bronze. There was nothing soft on him, anywhere.

  Not on the outside, at least.

  “That look doesn’t work on me,” she said. “I know you too well.”

  “You don’t know everything, Mary.”

  “I know I’ve watched you cradle a sparrow hatchling in your hand and feed it from a tincture dropper.”

  He tipped his head back and groaned. “That was ages ago.”

  “Mashed worms, three times an hour, for days.”

  “Rescuing the thing was not my idea. It was Henry’s.”

  “But you were the one who saw it through. The dear little bird thought you were its mother. Remember?” She hooked two fingers and skipped them up his arm. “Hop, hop, hop…”

  “Stop.”

  She withdrew her hand. “I’m just saying that if you ever had any hope of intimidating me, it disappeared that summer. So don’t even think about dueling. You’re not a man who’d kill another in cold blood.”

  “Your honor must be defended. Perry’s already put off this wedding twice.”

  “He put off the wedding once,” she corrected. “The other time I was in mourning. That wasn’t his fault.”

/>   “No, that wasn’t his fault,” Sebastian said in a low, bitter voice. “It was mine.”

  Mary silently cursed herself. She never should have mentioned it. “You must stop blaming yourself. It was war; men die. You weren’t responsible for Henry’s decision to enlist.”

  “Perhaps not. But when he was killed, I became responsible for you.”

  “I’m nearly twenty-eight years old. I should think by now I’m responsible for myself. And I may have been jilted, but I’m not heartbroken. Giles and I held each other in esteem, but it wasn’t a love match. I’ll survive.”

  “Yes, but your reputation will not. You know the things people say when a long engagement is broken. They will assume that you’ve… Well, that the two of you…” He churned the air with one hand. “Help me here. What’s a polite way to say it?”

  Mary was suddenly curious about the impolite ways to say it. But that wasn’t a conversation for the moment. “They’ll assume we anticipated the wedding vows.”

  “Yes,” he said with obvious relief. “That.”

  “I can’t help it if people gossip.”

  “You’ll be ruined. You don’t have the money or connections to overcome even a hint of scandal. If you don’t marry Perry today, you might never wed anyone at all.”

  “I’m aware of that.” Painfully so.

  Spinsterhood wasn’t an especially appealing prospect—not only because she’d always dreamed of falling in love, setting up house, and having children—but because with Henry gone, the modest family fortune had passed to a third cousin. Thus far, her cousin had been both sympathetic and generous, but should he change his mind, her financial situation could quickly turn grim.

  “And what about your political causes and all those charitable organizations?” he asked. “I know how important they are to you. If you lose your good reputation, you’d lose a good measure of influence, too.”

  Yet another blow, and one that struck nearer her heart.

  She shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “Perhaps I’ll have to surrender my membership in the Ladies’ Social Justice Society. The meetings were rather a bore, anyhow.”

  “I’ll take care of this,” he said. “Once I have him staring into the end of my pistol, he’ll reconsider. Don’t worry.”

  Don’t worry? The only emotion she could feel at the moment was worry. The chances of Giles killing Sebastian in a duel were slim, but they weren’t nonexistent.

  “Sebastian, I won’t let you risk your life for me. Not over this.”

  “I’d give my life for you. Without a moment’s thought.”

  Goodness. For once, she was caught without a response. He’d taken her breath away. She’d already lost her father, then her only brother.

  Mary couldn’t bear to lose him, too.

  “Listen to me. I’m not going to wed Giles. Ever. Even if you found him, reduced him to pleading at gunpoint, and brought him back to this chapel within the next quarter-hour, I would refuse. Do you mean to threaten me with a pistol, too?”

  “Of course not,” he grumbled. “I can’t force you to marry him.”

  “Well, then. That’s settled. Spinsterhood it shall be.” She steadied herself. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go explain to the curate.”

  He caught her by the arm. “No, I will not excuse you. You will not go explain to the curate. You will not be ruined, and you are not going to be a spinster, either. You’re going to marry me.”

  Chapter 2

  Sebastian didn’t expect that she would take his declaration well.

  And he was right.

  “What?” she exclaimed.

  “You need to marry someone, and if you won’t wed Perry, you will marry me. It’s the only way.”

  Her brow crinkled. “It’s not the only way.”

  “It’s the only way I’ll allow. I know how small your dowry is. You’re not going to be an impoverished spinster if I can help it. And I can.”

  “If it’s the money you’re concerned about, you could settle a few thousand pounds on me. You certainly have it to spare.”

  “And make you a target for unscrupulous fortune-hunters? The devil I will.”

  “My goodness. What a low opinion you have of my ability to choose suitors.”

  He stepped back and made a show of searching the room. “The last man you chose to wed isn’t here.”

  He saw her flinch, and he regretted his harsh tone. He didn’t want to hurt her. She deserved to be courted by scores of men and worshipped by the lucky fellow she chose. But the world they lived in wasn’t fair. That damned Perry would go on to have a fine life, and Mary would pay the price—with her prospects, her reputation, her friends, her influence.

  She sighed. “I know you see this as your problem to solve, with Henry gone. But Henry cared about you, too. He wouldn’t want you to throw your future away out of misplaced loyalty.”

  “My loyalty is not misplaced. In fact, there is nowhere else my loyalty could be placed. I don’t have anyone else.” He forged on, wanting to escape the softness in her eyes. “As for the suggestion that I’d be throwing away my future, I won’t even dignify that with a response.”

  “I’m not helpless, Sebastian.”

  “I know you aren’t. But it’s what’s best. No one will fault you. It’s exactly something society would expect me to do, kidnapping a bride from the altar. I’m a shameless rogue.”

  “No, you’re not.”

  He refused to take up that argument. “You’ll be a lady. A wealthy one. I’ve always known I’d need a wife eventually.”

  “But…I’m too old,” she blurted out.

  “You’re not old.”

  “I’m older than you.”

  “By two years.”

  “Closer to three. Most men want a younger bride.”

  “I’m not most men.”

  She looked at him and sighed. “Yes, I’d noticed.”

  Well, he’d done more than notice Mary. She’d captured his attention from the very first, and all because she was older. She was more worldly and interesting than the girls his own age. Not to mention, her womanly figure had been a source of both temptation and torment.

  And on that subject…

  “There’s one thing you should know,” he said. “I am a lord, even if a disgraced one. There’s still an entail on the family property.” He paused. “I’ll need a son. And that means we’ll have to…” He searched once again for a polite term.

  “Share a bed.”

  “Do you know what that involves?” He assumed that someone would have given her some idea, but he wanted to be absolutely certain that she knew what she’d be undertaking.

  For Sebastian, of course, the bedding would be no chore. He’d imagined making love to her more than once.

  Who was he fooling? He’d imagined it hundreds of times. He’d even dreamed about her, long after he thought he’d ceased dreaming of anything.

  “I understand the marriage bed,” she said in perfect innocence. “The husband kisses the wife on the lips, and then she becomes pregnant.”

  He stared at her, quietly panicked.

  She broke into laughter. “I know how intercourse works, Sebastian. Even if I haven’t experienced it yet.”

  Thank God. “So you understand that in order to create a child, we’ll need to … do that. At least once. Possibly several times. Even then, the child could be a girl. In which case, we’d have to begin all over again. But I promise, I’d impose on you no more than necessary, and only when you’re ready.”

  She shook her head. “You are running so far ahead of yourself, you’re a vanishing dot on the horizon. Right now, I need to announce that this wedding isn’t happening. After an appropriate interval—a few months, at the least—we can discuss this again. If you still feel the same, and if I agree, we can announce an engagement then. Maybe a wedding in October.”

  “Unacceptable.”

  “Christmas, then.”

  “Definitely not.” He’d managed to
talk her into this. He wasn’t giving her months of time to change her mind. “We’re getting married today.”

  *

  “Today?” Mary echoed. He’d flown past determined, straight into the realm of deranged.

  He made a circuit of the vestry, gathering her things. Flowers, veil, wrap. “Your trunks are packed, I assume.”

  “They’re outside, in the coach that Giles hired. We were going to leave for the honeymoon directly after the wedding.” Thank goodness they’d planned for a small ceremony at the church, with no wedding breakfast. At least there weren’t many witnesses to her humiliation.

  “So that’s sorted. And you’re wearing a gown.”

  “We can’t marry today,” she declared, having recalled that she was the daughter of a solicitor and claimed more than a passing familiarity with the law. “We don’t have a license, and no banns have been read. It simply isn’t possible. So there you have it.”

  He stopped and considered this. “You’re right, we’ll need a special license. Which means we’ll go to Canterbury and be married there.”

  “Oh, Lord. You’ve taken leave of your senses. This explains so much.”

  “My parents are both dead, as are yours. And now Henry, too. We don’t have families to attend the ceremony. Or to object.”

  “I object.” She spread her arms. “Here I am, standing right in front of you. Objecting.”

  “You’re not objecting on any reasonable grounds. You’re just being contrary.”

  “Well, you’re just being hot-headed.”

  “I’m not hot-headed. I make swift decisions, often ruthless ones. The estate would have gone insolvent years ago otherwise. But when I heed my gut, I’ve never had cause to regret it.”

  She raised an eyebrow. “Yet.”

  He took her by the hand and fairly dragged her out the vestry’s side door, hurrying her toward the waiting coach. “I have a seaside property. A mere cottage, but it’s situated nicely on the cliffs near Ramsgate, just a few hours’ journey from Canterbury. It’s the ideal place to spend a week or two away from London. Less gossip that way.”

  The gossip.

 
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