One Wanton Wager – Amanda Mariel

DAPHNE SUMERVİLLE, THE widowed Viscountess Gilford, sat opposite her sisters-in-law sipping tea. She lowered her teacup and gave Rebecca and Phoebe a bright smile. Rebecca and Camden had returned to Yorkshire yesterday after having departed nearly a year ago and Daphne was thrilled to see her again. She’d missed Rebecca dearly during her absence. Phoebe, Rebecca’s twin, had missed her just as much. Perhaps more, for the moment the sun crested the horizon this morning, she’d rushed over, dragging Daphne in her wake. Not that she would complain, for she, too, had been bursting with excitement at the couple’s arrival. Daphne glanced around the castle’s solar before returning her attention to Rebecca. “It’s good to have you back, but wouldn’t you be more comfortable at your parents’ house?” “Oh, yes, you know you would.” Phoebe squealed, her eyes lighting. “You cannot possibly wish to stay here with scarcely any furniture and only a couple of borrowed servants.” Rebecca shook her head then took a sip of her tea. “You well know how much I love Babylon. Besides, I’ve reconsidered my prior stance and we are renovating.” Daphne could not keep the shock from her expression.

Rebecca had been adamant about keeping the castle as a monument to Sir Kenton and Lady Nicola, the last couple to reside within these walls more than a hundred years prior. “What changed your mind?” she asked, unable to curb her growing curiosity. “I think Sir Kenton and Lady Nicola brought Camden and I together. Their legacy is strong, their love still flows through the walls and across the landscape of Babylon. They would be pleased to see the castle restored to its prior beauty and brimming with life and love once more.” Rebecca cast a wistful glance around the solar, a small grin pulling at her lips. “This is home.” “I see your mind is set.” Phoebe’s shoulders slumped, but only for a moment. “It will be a grand castle when you have finished.

” Daphne nodded. “Indeed, and what’s more, I believe you are right. Sir Kenton and Lady Nicola would approve.” Rebecca’s eyes sparkled with delight as she set her teacup on the table Camden had built when he’d first arrived at Babylon a year ago. “I want the two of you to help me decorate. I’d like to maintain a medieval feel. Do my best to honor their memory as we refurbish.” “What fun,” Phoebe said. “When do we begin?” “Camden is in town with his cousin, Alex—” “The connoisseur of women?” Phoebe gasped. Daphne nearly choked on her tea.

“The what?” Phoebe gave a mischievous grin. “Rebecca has written to me about him. He’s an earl and enjoys the company of many women. Lord Bedford prides himself on being a connoisseur of women.” She turned toward Rebecca, “Isn’t that right?” “Indeed. But he’s truly a kind man. No doubt a rogue, but a rather lovable one if I dare say so.” Rebecca reached for the teapot then poured herself another cup. Daphne would have to take her word for that because she had no intention of becoming familiar with such a man. She did hope to someday remarry, in fact, she would have to before long.

She’d already been a widow for more than three years and felt exceedingly bad about accepting financial assistance from Lord and Lady Chesterfield. There was Henry to consider as well. Her son would require more as he grew older. Yes, she needed a husband, and soon. However, a rogue would never suit. “I cannot wait to meet him.” Phoebe flipped open her fan and waved it with flair. Rebecca reached out, stilling the fan. “He’s been warned to leave you alone.” “Why?” Phoebe snapped the fan closed and lowered it back to her lap.

“I’ve never been in the presence of such a man and was rather looking forward to it.” “There is your answer, dear sister. A man like him would charm your socks off before you realized the threat his syrupy words held.” Rebecca smiled. “Do stop pouting. I am certain you will have many admirers among the guests at Mother and Father’s annual house party.” “I doubt that very much. Mother invites the same families every year and it has yet to garner me any serious suitors.” Phoebe bit the inside of her cheek. “I’ve grown weary of waiting.

I want to fall in love and start a family of my own.” Rebecca took her hand, giving a little squeeze. “I know you do, and so you shall.” “But a rogue would not help you to accomplish that goal,” Daphne added. Rebecca gave another squeeze before releasing Phoebe’s hand. “You cannot rush love. It finds you when it is ready. She’s right about that.” “Right about what?” Camden strolled into the solar, going to Rebecca and dropping a kiss on the top of her head. Daphne’s gaze locked on the tall gentleman who walked in behind him.

Mercy, he was handsome. Midnight-colored hair brushed his neck and temples. His bright green eyes were framed in dark lashes, and his nose, mouth, and jaw were so well formed they could have been carved from granite. Her gaze trailed lower, taking in his wide shoulders then following the lines of his toned body down to his tapered waist and muscular thighs. He may be the finest specimen of masculinity she’d ever laid eyes on. It wasn’t hard to understand why women threw themselves into his bed. When she raked her gaze back up his form, his eyes meet hers, a glint of amusement lighting them. She should look away but found herself too captivated to break free. Then he smiled, revealing perfect polished teeth behind a toe-curling rakish grin. She swallowed hard, ripping her gaze from his.

Heat flamed across her cheeks. “Oh, nothing important.” Rebecca waved her hand through the air dismissing the subject. “Tell us, how did you fare in town?” Daphne turned her attention to Camden, eager to hear what he had to say. Not because she thought his words would interest her so much as because she needed the distraction. “First, you must introduce me to these lovely creatures.” The rogue stepped closer to Daphne. “Oh, yes, of course.” Rebecca stood. Phoebe and Daphne did as well.

“Lord Bedford, may I introduce you to my sister, Lady Phoebe.” Phoebe dipped a curtsey. Lord Bedford bowed before taking her hand and dropping a kiss on her glove-covered knuckles. “Do call me Alex. We are family after all.” “Indeed.” Phoebe beamed a bright smile. “And you shall call me Phoebe.” Lord Bedford turned his attention to Daphne. Rebecca gave a nod.

“And this is my sister-in-law, Daphne Sumerville, Viscountess Gilford.” The rogue wasted no time taking her hand, his lips lingering far longer than they should before he pulled back to gaze at her. The heat in his eyes caused her stomach to tighten in a most unsettling way. “Please call me Alex.” His voice, deep and husky, spoke of anything but propriety. Daphne swallowed past the tightness in her throat, then nodded. She would not use his given name but hadn’t the will to say as much. Regardless, he would soon figure it out. Or better yet, he never would because she had no intention of spending time in his company. Rebecca lowered herself back onto the sofa.

“Now, do join us and tell me about your trip to town.” Daphne returned to her chair, grateful that the rogue could not sit beside her. A temporary joy as he quickly came to stand near the chair. But then, she supposed he hadn’t any other choice. The room was sparsely furnished, containing only a sofa, chair, and table. Camden rested his hip on the arm of the sofa near his wife and Phoebe sat beside her. There truly wasn’t anywhere else for Lord Bedford to dwell. Nonetheless, she found his nearness unsettling. Determined to scrub the man from her mind, she focused on Camden. “We were met with some success.

Alex managed to hire a handful of laborers to begin work on the castle while I put out inquiries for servants and ordered supplies.” He grinned at Rebecca. “Be sure to leave time in your schedule tomorrow to conduct interviews and select furniture.” Her eyes sparkled. “I am very much looking forward to the task.” “I fear it may take most of the day. Potential servants will begin arriving around ten in the morning. Maids, a cook, footmen, and a butler were all inquired after. Of course, if you desire any additional servants, you have leave to hire them.” Rebecca gazed at Camden, love bursting from within the depths of her eyes.

“And what of the tradesmen?” “They are set to call later in the afternoon. Expect them around five. I fear you will have samples of fabrics and catalogs galore to consider.” “How splendid. I can scarcely wait.” She glanced from Phoebe to Daphne. “And the two of you will help me. Say you will.” Rebecca’s excitement was contagious. “It shall be our honor to do so,” Daphne said, excitement blooming within her chest.

“While you ladies are busy with that, Alex and I will be helping the laborers and determining what repairs need to be made,” Camden said. Drat. Daphne had gotten carried away in Rebecca’s eagerness and forgotten about the rogue who even now stood too close to her. She feared it may be impossible to avoid him. All the same, she would do her best. What other choice did she have? She slanted her gaze to him, her cheeks warming. The mere sight of him sent her body into a tangle of desire. There was no way she could trust herself in his company.

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