Wooed in Winter – Scarlett Scott

THE MARQUESS OF Haven could tie leaden weights about his ankles and go swimming in the Serpentine for all she cared. At least, that was what Hannah thought when she saw him again for the first time since he had broken her heart. The second thing was… “What in the name of heaven is he doing here?” one of her sisters whispered. “I was wondering precisely the same thing myself,” Hannah told her. “You must not look at him, Evie.” “You are looking at him,” Evie pointed out wryly. Yes, drat it all. She was. And she had to stop. At once. But before she could, his gaze slammed into hers. They were on opposite ends of the massive Abingdon House ballroom. And still, she felt the shock of his stare as if he had touched her. As if time had never intervened. She inhaled against a sharp surge of memory, anguish, resentment.

Above all, anger. Yet somehow also, the glimmers of foolish yearning still burned alongside those other flames, like hot coals about to rekindle into flame. No. She must not think that. Nor must she think of him. Graham. He had not always been Lord Haven. Once, he had been hers. Or so she had recklessly believed… Hannah jerked her eyes from him, turning her attention to her sisters as she struggled to maintain her composure. She was far wiser than she had been the last time she had seen the marquess.

She was more experienced. More worldly. Bitter and widowed. She chased the unwanted acknowledgment from her mind. For yes, she was those things as well. The first thanks to Haven and her former husband both, and the last thanks only to her former husband. If Fawkesbury had not already been buried in his family plot, she would have urged him to accompany Haven in his swimming endeavors. Complete with the leaden weights. Perhaps with an extra set tied to his neck. “Hannah, are you well?” her other sister Adele asked, her countenance creased with worry.

No, she was not. “Yes, of course.” She pinned a false smile to her lips. “I have never been happier, darling.” “You do not look happy,” Evie observed. “You look rather ill.” She had agreed to attend this Christmas country house party, being held by Lady Emilia Winter and her new husband, Mr. Devereaux Winter, to chaperone her twin sisters Evie and Addy. They were six years her junior and in desperate need of husbands, their mama feared, lest they ruin themselves as Hannah had done. But when Mama had rushed home to Cornwall to look after her own Haven could tie leaden weights about his ankles and go swimming in the Serpentine At least, that was what Hannah thought when she saw him again for the first time since he had “I was wondering precisely the same thing myself,” Hannah told her.

“You must not look at him, But before she could, his gaze slammed into hers. They were on opposite ends of the massive Abingdon House ballroom. And still, she felt the shock of his stare as if he had touched her. As if Yet somehow also, the glimmers of foolish yearning still burned alongside those other flames, He had not always been Lord Hannah jerked her eyes from him, turning her attention to her sisters as she struggled to maintain her composure. She was far wiser than she had been the last time she had seen the marquess. She was She chased the unwanted acknowledgment from her mind. For yes, she was those things as well. The first thanks to Haven and her former husband both, and the last thanks only to her former husband. If Fawkesbury had not already been buried in his family plot, she would have urged him to She had agreed to attend this Christmas country house party, being held by Lady Emilia Winter and her new husband, Mr. Devereaux Winter, to chaperone her twin sisters Evie and Addy.

They were six years her junior and in desperate need of husbands, their mama feared, lest they ruin themselves as Hannah had done. But when Mama had rushed home to Cornwall to look after her own ailing mother, Hannah had been charged with the most unwanted task of playing escort to Evie and Addy. Not unwanted because she did not love her sisters, but unwanted because Hannah did not often mix with society. Indeed, had she known Lord Haven would be present, she would not have come at all. But she was here now. And so was he. “Hannah?” Adele prodded. Her traitorous gaze had stolen across the ballroom to Lord Haven once more. She jerked her eyes back to her sister. “Lady Emilia seems happy, do you not think, sisters?” she asked, deliberately changing the subject.

Lady Emilia, who had once been betrothed to their cousin. At the remembrance of her dear cousin James, Hannah’s heart gave a pang. For he had been a god among men. Kindhearted, loyal, and true. Gone far too soon. “She is in love,” Evie observed with a sigh. “If such a state indeed exists,” Adele added. “I strongly suspect it does not.” Love, for Hannah, had been nothing but a fiction. A cleverly crafted illusion, which had led to her stunning downfall.

“Some believe so,” Hannah said reluctantly, fanning herself. Truly, it was not her task to disenchant her sisters. She hoped a much better fate awaited them in their marriages than she had found in her own. The ballroom was quite a crush, and surely that was the reason for the heat in her cheeks. It had nothing at all to do with the Marquess of Haven. The man she had loved, once upon a time. The man who had scorned her and made a fool of her. The man she would never, ever forgive. “He is a dashing fellow, too, do you not think?” Evie asked. “He is not at all dashing.

” She frowned. “Not unless one finds heartless cads and cruel scoundrels alluring.” Evie raised a brow. “I was speaking of Mr. Winter, Hannah.” Oh. Further agitated, she whipped her fan again. “He seems a most considerate man in relation to Lady Emilia, though we have not had occasion to speak much since her nuptials.” Lady Emilia’s wedding had been sudden and unexpected. And Hannah had been in the country at the time, where she generally preferred to be, busying herself with Mama.

Poking about in Papa’s library. Distracting herself from London. Hiding, in truth. From her past and everyone in it. Which made the appearance of Lord Haven, on the other side of the room, all the more disconcerting. “Hannah, are you certain you are well?” Evie asked, concern threading her voice. “I am promised for the next dance, but I do not wish to leave you in such a state.” “What state?” She fanned herself, stretching her false smile even wider. “We are here for you, my dearest sisters. Do not concern yourself with me.

I shall be fine, just as I have always been.” ailing mother, Hannah had been charged with the most unwanted task of playing escort to Evie and Not unwanted because she did not love her sisters, but unwanted because Hannah did not often mix with society. Indeed, had she known Lord Haven would be present, she would not have come at She jerked her eyes back to her sister. “Lady Emilia seems happy, do you not think, sisters?” she Lady Emilia, who had once been betrothed to their cousin. At the remembrance of her dear cousin James, Hannah’s heart gave a pang. For he had been a god among men. Kindhearted, loyal, and true. Love, for Hannah, had been nothing but a fiction. A cleverly crafted illusion, which had led to her “Some believe so,” Hannah said reluctantly, fanning herself. Truly, it was not her task to disenchant her sisters.

She hoped a much better fate awaited them in their marriages than she had The ballroom was quite a crush, and surely that was the reason for the heat in her cheeks. It had “He is not at all dashing.” She frowned. “Not unless one finds heartless cads and cruel scoundrels Further agitated, she whipped her fan again. “He seems a most considerate man in relation to Lady Emilia’s wedding had been sudden and unexpected. And Hannah had been in the country at the time, where she generally preferred to be, busying herself with Mama. Poking about in Papa’s Which made the appearance of Lord Haven, on the other side of the room, all the more “Hannah, are you certain you are well?” Evie asked, concern threading her voice. “I am promised , my As if on cue, Lord Denton and Lord Foy approached. Both were handsome and young, cutting fashionable figures. The gentlemen bowed.

Denton was first to speak. “Lady Fawkesbury, Lady Evangeline, Lady Adele.” Evie was still frowning at Hannah, paying little attention to her prospective suitor. Go she mouthed surreptitiously to her sister as she dipped into a curtsy. “Lord Denton. Lord Foy.” Evie presented a passable curtsy as well. Adele’s was less than elegant. Hannah made a note to discuss her sisters’ forms with them later. “I believe the next dance is mine,” Denton said to Evie.

“Yes it is,” Evie agreed, giving Hannah one last, lingering look. “Lady Adele.” Foy extended his arm. Addy, too, searched Hannah’s gaze, the sadness that had been her younger sister’s accompaniment ever since their departure from London seemingly more pronounced. This house party was about her sisters, who were just beginning their lives. Not about her. Not about her feelings. Not about her dreaded past. To the devil with Lord Haven. She could exist beneath the same roof as he for a few weeks.

She would simply ignore him. Feign indifference. Pretend she had never known him. Never loved him. God, what a fool she was. Not even she believed her own inner reassurances. Hannah watched her sisters being swept to the dance floor, and she had to admit they looked a matched pair with their beaux. Lord Denton’s golden hair was the same shade as Evie’s. Evie was petite, scarcely reaching his shoulders. Lord Foy was dark-haired and dark-eyed as Adele was.

Her twin sisters were opposites in appearance and temperament. But both beloved to her. The orchestra struck up the strains of a country reel, and she forced herself to observe for another moment before taking the opportunity to flee. She was overheated. And she needed a minute to regain her composure. Perhaps two. Certainly no more than three. Though the December air was unseasonably cold, the immense garden of Abingdon House beckoned, just beyond the doors of the ballroom. Without thought, she quit the room. She did not dare set her eyes upon him again.

She would carry on, as she always had done. She would do so for her sisters’ sakes. And that of her pride. She would simply pretend he was not here. That he did not exist. She firmly ignored any voice to the contrary as she swept into the cold night air. SHE WAS HERE. Han. Hannah. Lady Fawkesbury now, Graham reminded himself, the thought like a stab to his gut.

For five years, he had managed to avoid her, though memories of her continued to plague him. She had buried herself in the country with Fawkesbury. She had been beyond reach and out of sight, but she had never been far from his mind. Indeed, her mere appearance here, in Oxfordshire, at the country house party he was attending in an effort to do his bloody duty to the line and obtain a bride made him wonder if he had conjured her. As if on cue, Lord Denton and Lord Foy approached. Both were handsome and young, cutting she Evie presented a passable curtsy as well. Adele’s was less than elegant. Hannah made a note to Addy, too, searched Hannah’s gaze, the sadness that had been her younger sister’s accompaniment To the devil with Lord Haven. She could exist beneath the same roof as he for a few weeks. She Hannah watched her sisters being swept to the dance floor, and she had to admit they looked a matched pair with their beaux.

Lord Denton’s golden hair was the same shade as Evie’s. Evie was petite, scarcely reaching his shoulders. Lord Foy was dark-haired and dark-eyed as Adele was. Her The orchestra struck up the strains of a country reel, and she forced herself to observe for another moment before taking the opportunity to flee. She was overheated. And she needed a minute to regain her composure. Perhaps two. Certainly no more than three. Though the December air was unseasonably cold, the immense garden of Abingdon House beckoned, just beyond the doors of the She would carry on, as she always had done. She would do so for her sisters’ sakes.

And that of For five years, he had managed to avoid her, though memories of her continued to plague him. She had buried herself in the country with Fawkesbury. She had been beyond reach and out of sight, but Indeed, her mere appearance here, in Oxfordshire, at the country house party he was attending in an effort to do his bloody duty to the line and obtain a bride made him wonder if he had conjured her. How odd was it—nay, how impossible—that the only woman he had ever wanted to marry should appear when he had finally decided to take a wife? Impossible, said a voice deep inside himself. And yet, it was true. She had come. She was here. In the same house, beneath the same roof. Closer than she had ever been in years. Their gazes had fleetingly met across the sea of merrymakers, clashing.

He had lost his breath. His heart had hammered faster than the hooves of a runaway stallion pounding over the earth. He despised his reaction to her. The way it had all come rushing back to him. One look was all it had required. And he could envision the sensation of her velvet-smooth skin beneath his questing fingertips. He could hear her sweet gasp of pleasure. He could feel her body under his, giving, surrendering, fooling him into believing she would be his only. His always. She had never been his.

Graham’s fists were balled at his sides, and he realized, quite belatedly, he was clenching his jaw with so much force, it ached. He took a breath. Then another. By God, he needed a drink. “Bloody hell, Haven, you look as if you have just seen a ghost,” observed his friend, Lord Percival Vale. Percy, like, Graham, had been born a second son. Unlike Graham, however, Percy’s brother, the wastrel Duke of Bellingham, was still very much alive. Gervase was not so fortunate, and neither was Graham. The Haven marquisate was a curse and a burden, and Graham had damn well never wanted it. “I have seen a specter of sorts,” he forced himself to say.

“Are they serving anything aside from orgeat and negus? Something stronger, perhaps?” It had taken less than a minute to alter his life. With Gervase’s fall from a horse five years ago, Graham had become Marquess of Haven. But each time someone referred to him as Haven, he felt a horrible ache. A hot spear of anguish, knowing his brother was forever gone. That Graham himself was nothing but a usurper. “I believe there are some brandy stores in the library,” Percy observed drily. “Shall we reconnoiter there and see if we can liberate some?” “Not just yet,” he found himself saying, his gaze traveling, inevitably, back to Hannah. He wished he could say the last five years had been unkind to her. She was still the most haunting beauty he had ever beheld. Her golden hair, which he knew possessed a natural curl and felt like spun silk sifting through his fingers, was lustrous as ever beneath the blazing light of the chandeliers.

She looked slimmer than he recalled. It appeared as if she were playing the role of shepherdess for her twin sisters, hovering over them as two suitors approached. “Are you acquainted with Lady Fawkesbury, old chap?” Percy asked, dragging Graham’s gaze away from her once more. He wished he could unsee her. Unlove her. He wished he could stop his foolish, useless heart from pounding so damn hard. “I was,” he clipped, frowning at his friend to discourage further discussion of her. “Her brother How odd was it—nay, how impossible—that the only woman he had ever wanted to marry should . In the same house, beneath the same roof. Closer than she had ever been in years.

Their gazes had fleetingly met across the sea of merrymakers, clashing. He had lost his breath. His heart had hammered faster than the hooves of a runaway stallion The way it had all come rushing back to him. One look was all it had required. And he could envision the sensation of her velvet-smooth skin beneath his questing fingertips. He could hear her sweet gasp of pleasure. He could feel her body under his, giving, surrendering, fooling him into Graham’s fists were balled at his sides, and he realized, quite belatedly, he was clenching his jaw “Bloody hell, Haven, you look as if you have just seen a ghost,” observed his friend, Lord Percy, like, Graham, had been born a second son. Unlike Graham, however, Percy’s brother, the wastrel Duke of Bellingham, was still very much alive. Gervase was not so fortunate, and neither was Graham. The Haven marquisate was a curse and a burden, and Graham had damn well never wanted seen a specter of sorts,” he forced himself to say.

“Are they serving anything aside from It had taken less than a minute to alter his life. With Gervase’s fall from a horse five years ago, Graham had become Marquess of Haven. But each time someone referred to him as Haven, he felt a horrible ache. A hot spear of anguish, knowing his brother was forever gone. That Graham himself “I believe there are some brandy stores in the library,” Percy observed drily. “Shall we He wished he could say the last five years had been unkind to her. She was still the most haunting beauty he had ever beheld. Her golden hair, which he knew possessed a natural curl and felt like spun silk sifting through his fingers, was lustrous as ever beneath the blazing light of the chandeliers. She looked slimmer than he recalled. It appeared as if she were playing the role of shepherdess for her “Are you acquainted with Lady Fawkesbury, old chap?” Percy asked, dragging Graham’s gaze “I was,” he clipped, frowning at his friend to discourage further discussion of her.

“Her brother was an old Eton friend. Our families were…familiar.” And good God, how familiar he had been with her. He still recalled every detail: the birthmark on her hip, the sweet scent of lavender on her skin, the feeling of being deep inside her. “She is widowed.” Once more, Percy’s voice dragged Graham back from the craggy cliffs of the past. “There is something delightfully luscious about a lonely woman of experience.” Graham ground his molars. Percy was a flirt and a skirt hound, it was true. The notion of his friend chasing after Hannah was enough to make his stomach curdle.

“Not this one,” he managed, pleased with himself for how calm his voice sounded, quite the opposite of the raging fury teeming within. “She is a cunning jade. You would do best to keep your distance.” “It sounds as if you were more than acquainted with the lady in question.” Percy eyed him shrewdly, too intelligent not to sense there was more to his story. But he was not in the mood for sharing the jagged pieces of his past. Not today. Not ever. A new song began to play. A country reel of some sort.

His eyes, curse them, had once more strayed to Hannah. Her sisters were being led away from her side, to the dance floor. And she was moving. Striding with haste, her expression pinched. Almost as if she were in pain. “She has a reputation,” he said curtly. “That is all. Keep your distance from her.” “Warning received, old chap,” Percy said. Had he been warning his friend away from her? Lord in heaven, what a fool he was.

His eyes were still following her as she slipped to the doors that had been propped open to allow some cold winter’s air into the room. Between the chandeliers blazing and the crush of dancers, the room was quite stuffy and warm. Even so, she did not have a wrap. She would take a chill. He told himself he did not give a damn. That the weather outside was as frigid as her black heart. He told himself he was not going to follow her into the garden, into the moonlight. But he had always been a horrible, bloody liar. “Excuse me, Percy. I need to take the air for a moment,” he told his friend just as the last flash of Hannah’s gown disappeared into the waiting night.

Without waiting for a response from his friend, he stalked after her. He had ever been like the drunk, craving his next tipple from the bottle, when it came to Hannah Spencer. Just like her beauty, his longing for her had failed to fade. Damn it all. And damn her, too.

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