Taming a Wicked Rake – Tammy Andresen

Lady Madeline Maddox held the folded note in her hand, afraid to breathe. Excitement and a touch of fear slithered down her spine. He’d sent her another. Maddie raced out to the garden and sat upon her favorite bench, the smell of spring flowers perfuming the air. Birds chirped and bees buzzed as spring came into full bloom, but she paid it no mind. With trembling fingers, she slid open the seal and unfolded the parchment. Their correspondence had begun three months prior when Maddie had sent him an article she’d penned, under an assumed name of course. Women did not generally publish works that didn’t involve fashion, motherhood, or some other such topic, and ladies of her station didn’t publish anything at all. She shuddered to think what would happen if others discovered her work. Writing the essays was important to her, of course, but such deeds could damage her family, her own future prospects. Still, despite the risks, she’d continued sending her essays to the editor of the London Standard. In them, she discussed the precarious situation of women in all levels of society, the need to protect them further. For once, her editor, Charles Delaney, hadn’t laughed at her, shushed her, or pretended she hadn’t spoken. Instead, he’d agreed with her. In his latest letter, he discussed his disenchantment with society and his desire to rise above the riff raff and become the man he was always meant to be.

He claimed that together, they could make a real difference in the world. He’d hinted that as editor of the London Standard, he had the tools to reshape the hierarchy of power, but he needed her help. Her heart hammered in her chest as it cried out that yes, she could help him. Together, they could expose how so many people in England were left at the feet of a few elite. Men were victims, too of course, but women were often left defenseless. For once, when she spoke on such topics, a man saw her as a person who understood the world, whose opinions might matter, and whose actions could improve lives. Most men saw her as a beautiful ornament attached to a purse and a duke. The Siren of London is what gentlemen whispered behind her back. Her breath caught again. She supposed it was meant to be a compliment.

She was so beautiful and alluring, they couldn’t resist her. But she hated that name. As though she only had value in what she did to men rather than who she was or what she thought. She finally let out her breath. She’d been dreaming of a man who saw past the items that could be counted, measured, or weighed and looked at the woman underneath. It’s what Maddie had always wanted. And Charles Delaney by all accounts was that man. Finally, after years of searching, she’d found someone who valued her…not just the package she came in. Her father and her brother had married partners in life. Women who were smart, kind, generous, and loving.

Emily helped Bar with many of the ducal tasks. She was not relegated to embroidery and serving tea. She wanted a match like they had. Which was why she’d managed to make it to the age of four and twenty without marrying. Her assets benefitted her in many ways. Normally a lady could not afford to be so picky or wait so long but thanks to her father’s title and her excellent dowry, men still clamored for her attention. But after six years of trying, they were all the same. Which was why Charles was so intriguing. He mentioned the difference they might make in the world, not the changes she could bring to his personal finances or what a handsome couple they’d make. She ignored the alarm bells that sounded in her mind at some of his words.

Things like, “people don’t understand me” and “with you by my side I might finally rise to my deserved position.” Instead, she reread the passages that discussed how she was a fresh breath of air and how they simply must get to know one another better. Charles, as he’d insisted she call him because their relationship went beyond the formalities, had finally requested they meet. She’d been honest from the first that she was writing under an assumed name because of her social standing. He’d been understanding when so many men would have dismissed her. And in this last letter, he’d asked to meet her at the Everston ball this Saturday night. Neither had met, he didn’t even know her real name. Instead, he called her by the name she’d adopted for writing, M.B. Fresh.

Charles wanted to rendezvous in the rose garden, at the back of the Everston’s London property at exactly midnight. It was a famous spot amongst the ton and was referred to as Lovers’ Corner because of the perfumed flowers and dim lighting, being so far removed from the ballroom, it afforded couples privacy. Nervous flutters made her hands tremble. It was an exciting thought, a secret meeting, but it also filled her with a little fear. He argued that no one would see them meet, which would protect her secret name and authorship of the essays once published. Her stomach churned at the thought of attending such a first meeting. A lady was never alone with a man like this and though she hated the restrictions put on women, for her family’s sake, she was bound to them. With that in mind, she’d gone inside and penned an answer. While she wanted to meet him, wouldn’t it be far better if they danced? He could wear a distinctive neck tie so that she might distinguish him from the crowd and she a bright blue dress. The next day, which was Friday, she received a reply.

Her work was too important to be compromised by a public meeting. They needed secrecy so that they might affect social justice. It stole her breath away that he understood her so completely and she found herself responding that she would meet him at the stroke of midnight by the rose bushes of the garden. She’d never actually been to the spot, odd she supposed for a woman nicknamed the Siren of London, but how hard could it be to find? It was, after all, well known. With that in mind, she dressed carefully for the evening. Her dark hair was loosely twisted back, her dress a bright blue, as promised, that brought out the color of her eyes and the darker hue of her skin that she’d inherited from her father. Her shoulders and a decent amount of cleavage were exposed and the dress cinched below the bust highlighting her natural waist. Perhaps it wasn’t the best dress for a future newswoman and instigator of social change. But she also wanted Charles to see her as more than a potential writer. If they had a real partnership, Maddie placed her hand over her heart, she could have all of her dreams.

Family, career, a partnership where she was valued. With a deep breath, she headed down the stairs of her family’s townhouse. Both her brothers and her sister-in-law waited for her at the bottom. Harry had joined the army but a year prior and was home on leave. It was a wonderful treat to see him and she beamed down as she descended the stairs. “I dare say,” Harry called from the entry. “I’ve missed seeing you come down in your finest, sister.” He held out his arm for her, giving her a warm smile. “Pish,” she chastised as she slipped her hand into his elbow. “You hated every minute of escorting me through a season.

” “I did,” he chuckled. “It’s worse than fighting the French.” He began leading her toward the door as Bar and Emily both laughed too. “I swear, soldiers are easier to negotiate with than you. They see when they are defeated. You have stubbornly held onto your status as an eligible lady.” Maddie swatted at her brother’s arm. “You only wanted me to choose so you could stop escorting me.” She notched her chin. “Would you have me marry an inferior man just so that you didn’t need to escort me to a few balls?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Six seasons and you haven’t met one man who was superior?” Actually, no. She’d watched many of her friends meet men, fall in love and marry. Every once in a while, she worried there might be something wrong with her. Maddie gave his arm a little squeeze. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve grown up with such fine examples of masculine quality that no other man compares.” Bar rumbled behind her. “You are too charming by half. This is why you haven’t needed to choose. Men just keep lining up to tell you how wonderful you are.

” She gave her hand a little wave, dismissing his comment. “Take away my dowry and they will cease lining up for my attention.” “I’m not so sure, Maddie,” Emily murmured behind her. “You are uniquely beautiful, and you have an innate ability to say what a person needs to hear.” “She’s like our mother in that regard,” Bar said. “Are they ever returning from the continent?” Harry stopped, turning back toward his brother. Bar shrugged even as Maddie’s insides jolted. Her parents had been gone for nearly two years. They’d only come back long enough to see Bar and Emily married. “Father always preferred the States.

He’s says he’s seeing to our business interests on the other side of the ocean, but I wonder if he just doesn’t want to return.” Maddie took a deep breath. She missed her parents. “They won’t stay away much longer. Mother will see to that.” “I hope not. I know how much you all miss them,” Emily said as she reached for Maddie’s shoulder. Maddie’s stomach twisted with regret. Her parents had missed so much. Emily had become the sister she’d never had.

She loved her dearly. But to herself, she could admit, she was jealous of the happiness she and Bar had found. There had been a hole in her life that needed to be filled. Was this meeting with Charles the first step toward a future of her own? “And they’ll want to meet their grandson.” Maddie gave Emily a wink. The child was three months old and about the sweetest being ever created. Whenever Maddie held him her chest tightened in the strangest way. The group climbed into the carriage and Maddie settled next to Emily. She drew in a calming breath. Perhaps by the time her parents returned, she’d be engaged.

Hope bubbled inside her. Tonight would be the beginning of her future. * * * Lord Adam Kingsley looked through the dancers twirling about the floor. His next dance was with a woman he was particularly interested in getting to know better. Lady Crumwell had been recently widowed by her much older and very wealthy husband. The young widow was ripe picking for any man who liked uninhibited, carefree women of experience. Desire crashed over him like a wave. His favorite type. They understood the rules of these sorts of affairs perfectly. She had no desire to marry again.

At least not yet. And he had no desire to marry ever. They’d share a few days, weeks, or months of company and then amicably depart for other pastures. He caught sight of Lady Crumwell and began moving across the crowded room. It took a dastardly long time but as the set was about to end, he finally got close to her where she chatted with other partygoers. It was nearing midnight and he’d grown tired of the crowd. He’d never cared much for these sorts of affairs and only attended when attempting to find a new companion. Society was an illusion. Most of them hid who they really were, especially the ladies. They all put on their finery and batted their long lashes and smiled as though they were the most innocent creatures in existence and then…they closed their trap.

Thoughts of one lady in particular flitted through his mind. With a growl, he pushed her aside. He’d not think on her now or ever for that matter. He’d allowed her too much of his time already. He picked up speed, anxious to reach Lady Crumwell and bury himself in a diversion. Distracted he didn’t see the group to his right as they stepped in his path. He tried to sidestep them and nearly barreled into another guest. Only the bright blue of her dress caught his gaze and he stopped just as she bumped into his chest. Her skirts tangled about his legs even as her arms grabbed his biceps. Shooting his hands out, he held her waist, her very tiny waist, and steadied her by pulling her against his body.

Her lush supple body. Damnation. When had a woman ever fit against him so perfectly? Small yet soft, she might have been the most feminine female he’d ever laid hands on. Large blue eyes stared up at his as dark pink lips parted. “I’m so very sorry.” Her honeyed voice washed over him even as heat coiled in his belly at her touch. Hellfire, she was stunning. Dark hair framed the perfect heart shape of her face. Her large eyes were fringed with a sweep of dark lashes and perfectly arched brows. Her nose was small and straight, just the tiniest upsweep at the end, softening her high cheekbones.

And her lips. He’d bet they tasted as sweet as her voice. The long column of her neck flared into her bare shoulders and he had the distinct urge to kiss a path across her exposed skin. And the rest of her? He didn’t have to see her to know that she was stunning. He could feel the press of her curves against him. “The fault is mine,” he answered. Then he slowly, reluctantly untangled her from his limbs. “Lord Kingsley at your service.” Her hands slid from his arms and she took a step back. He bowed his eyes, sliding down the indent of her waist to the supple flair of her hip.

She dipped into a slight curtsey. That’s when he caught sight of her ample cleavage. His already racing pulse stopped short for a moment before redoubling. Which was annoying. He was acting like a schoolboy who’d just seen his first hint of breast, not a seasoned rake who bedded nearly every pretty widow this side of the Thames and fair number on the others. “Kingsley,” a deep voice rumbled from next to his mystery woman. Disappointment made his gut clench. Of course this lovely creature was married. How could she not be? And judging by the timber of his voice he was young and healthy and not likely to leave a widow anytime soon. “I see you’ve introduced yourself to my sister.

” He tore his gaze from the lady to find the owner of the voice. Lord Devon stood next to her. The man was well known throughout society for being both powerful and decent. A rarity to be certain. He was one of the few men who matched Adam’s height and dark eyes who now stared accusingly into his with glittering animosity. The sister of Lord Devon? Lady Madeline Maddox? The Siren of London? Bloody hell, it would have been far better if she’d been married. “By sheer accident, I can assure you.” Devon stepped closer, his brows drawing down over his eyes. “I find that hard to believe.” He had to give Devon credit.

The man had a menacing voice to match his height. Adam straightened his shoulders. At near fifteen stone, he didn’t intimidate easily. He understood why the other man didn’t trust him. Adam had a reputation, one which he’d earned over the years. And Lady Madeline was…stunningly delicious. Her brothers must have had a hell of a time keeping men in check. No wonder she had the nickname of Siren. He ignored Devon’s comment and looked back at Lady Madeline. A hint of a smile played at her lips making her look just a touch mischievous, and completely alluring.

It was too bad she was an eligible lady. He’d love to have an affair with such a delicious dish. But there was always the future. “My apologies again, my lady. Please enjoy the rest of your evening.” Then he turned away, disappointment drawing his features tight as he left Lady Madeline and once again sought out his chosen partner.

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