Two years ago, Caroline Carrington had made the biggest mistake of her life; she had rejected the man she loved.
Now, she was back in London and ready to find a husband.
But first, before proper Caroline did exactly what was expected of her, she wanted a little scandal, something to remember during her life as a perfect society wife. Not enough to ruin her, but enough to make her feel alive.
Who then is better placed to help her with her quest than Tom Crawdon, the man whose mere presence still had the power to weaken her knees, and her heart?
Tom had promised himself that he would never allow another woman to get under his skin the way Caroline Carrington had. He had returned to London intent on forgetting her and moving on with his life.
Forgetting her however, would have been a lot easier had she not arrived in London at the same time as he had.
What was worse, she seemed to be on a mission to shake off her good girl reputation. And who better to help her than a notorious rake like him?
But could he help her while still protecting her unblemished reputation? And what happened if she snuck her way right back into his heart?
Especially someone he l- cared for.
A sound drew his attention and he turned to see Caroline trying to get herself back onto Fortuna.
No doubt she was trying to storm away. But since Fortuna was far too large for Caroline to be able to reach the stirrups alone, all she had managed to achieve was to be halfway up the horse, with one foot in the stirrup and the other dangling uselessly as her arms clearly did not have the strength to continue pulling.
“Er – what exactly are you doing?” he asked politely.
“Minding my own business,” she snapped back, “you should try it.”
Ah, she was still upset.
He didn’t think he’d ever seen her in a rage before. It was most amusing.
“Let me help you”, he tried again.
With a huff, she gave up on the frankly impossible task of mounting her horse alone.
She whipped round to face him, her face red from the exertion of scaling a horse, her eyes flashing fire.
“Oh, now you want to help?” she drawled sarcastically. “Well, no thank you. You have made your feelings on helping me perfectly clear.”
Tom felt his temper rise to match her own.
“I cannot believe that you are angry with me for trying to preserve your reputation.”
“Hang my reputation”, she shouted now.
“Hang it, indeed. You forget I know you Caroline and I know that you may speak as if you do not care but I was there the night you decided that your reputation was more important to you than anything else in the world, remember?”
His outburst brought an abrupt stop to her ranting and there was a deadly silence between them both.
He had thought that his words had taken the sting out of her mood? That she would apologise and say that he was right?
He watched as she bowed her golden head and waited for her to lift it again, to see her eyes filled with contrition.
Lift her head she did, but her eyes were glinting with determination now. Not contrition.
He was immediately suspicious.
“I have told you before, I am well aware of what I did two years ago. And what it cost me”.
His heart slammed at her words. Was she saying that she regretted it? That she felt she had lost him?
When all it would take was a word from her?
Before he could speak, however, she continued.
“I am prepared to live with the choices I have made. And live with them I will. I will become everything I thought I wanted to be and I will do so with good grace, as all ladies do.”
She sounded now much more like the Caroline of old and he felt a certain relief at it. This new Caroline kept him constantly wrong-footed and it wasn’t a feeling he liked.
“However”, she continued, a hard edge to her voice now, “I am still absolutely determined to enjoy a little scandal before that happens. And if you won’t help me I will find someone who will.”
A rage such as Tom had rarely felt burst through him at her words. The thoughts of her kissing another man as she had been kissing him just moments before were enough to make him want to hit something.
“Like hell you will”, he growled.
She raised a disdainful brow.
“And who will stop me?”
She was goading him. He knew it. He knew that he should not rise to it. Knew that she was probably calling his bluff.
What if she were true to her word? What if she meant to give another man her smiles, her laughs, her kisses?
He’d be damned to hell before he allowed that to happen.
Looking her dead in the eye, he reached out and grabbed her to him.
Her eyes widened but rather than fear, they held unbridled passion and excitement. And it was his undoing.
“Me”, he finally answered before once again crushing her lips beneath his own.
*** EXCERPT FROM SEEKING SCANDAL ***
“I had held off on telling you until everything was ready but I have acquired some property in Essex, and I plan to hold a house party there” said Tom.
“Oh how wonderful! That would be perfect. When do you plan to travel there?”
“I thought perhaps family could come as early as next week, and then some friends and acquaintances could join us for a second week. I’ve met the local gentry. They seem pleasant enough, so plenty of entertainment to be had. It will give me a chance to show off my new property and, Caroline a chance to keep a low profile for a time.”
“Yes, yes that is perfect Tom. I cannot wait to see it. Is it very big? What’s it called?”
Tom smiled indulgently, feeling rather proud of Rebecca’s obvious excitement.
He took great pleasure in telling her all about his new home, Woodview Hall. A sprawling red brick manor house built in the Palladian style that was all the rage a few years ago. It had belonged to a well to do earl whose son had squandered the family money before deciding that the European way of life was more suited to his desired lifestyle.
Rebecca was enchanted.
“Oh, it sounds just like the houses Caroline and I dreamed about as little girls!” She sighed wistfully.
Tom tried not to let his reaction show. But hearing that Caroline would likely approve of the house caused him more happiness than he would have wished.
“None of my estates appeal to you then, sweetheart?” Edward asked with a raised brow.
“Everything about you appeals to me.” Rebecca answered.
Tom sighed and averted his eyes from the smouldering looks between the two. Really, they were ridiculous.
“Anyway”, he interrupted loudly, “I shall be travelling down in the next day or two and you are, of course, welcome to join me whenever it is convenient. It is really only a few hours ride so should not be too difficult for Henry.”
“It sounds perfect. Just the thing that Caroline needs.” Said Rebecca excitedly before her eyes suddenly glinted with a mischievous light. “You are inviting friends and acquaintances you say?”
“Yes.” Said Tom warily. She was up to something. She was always bloody up to something.
“I am not entirely sure yet.”
“Perhaps I can suggest a few guests.”
Tom looked to Edward for a clue as to what Rebecca might be concocting but he shrugged to indicate he was as in the dark as Tom.
“Who did you have in mind?”
“Oh,” began Rebecca breezily, “just a few eligible gentlemen that might rouse Caroline’s interest. She is, after all, on the lookout for a suitable husband. And if we drag her away mid-Season she will miss several opportunities. Of course, a house party where they can concentrate solely on her would be just the thing.”
Tom felt his temper flare and clenched his fists tightly to try and reign in his emotions.
“Much as I’m sure your sister would appreciate having a parade of men fawning over her for a week or two, I do not particularly relish the idea of having strangers in my house.” He said through gritted teeth.
“No, I don’t suppose you would. But surely you must know some gentlemen who would suit Caroline?”
For God’s sake. The woman didn’t let up.
“I shall consider it when sending out invitations.” He said now to shut her up.
The idea of handpicking potential suitors for Caroline was the outside of enough and he didn’t want to think about it, much less talk about it anymore.
He did not need, he thought with murderous rage, visions of another man’s arms around her soft, inviting body, another man’s lips caressing hers, another man –
“Excellent. And if you do have trouble coming up with some suggestions I shall have plenty of my own.” Rebecca said now with an iron stare.
So, his first thought of conveniently leaving all single gentlemen off his invitation list probably wouldn’t work. Dammit.
“I shan’t have any trouble.” He muttered sulkily.
Tom’s retort was interrupted by the door opening slowly.
There was a brief pause before anyone entered, and Tom felt the familiar prickling of his skin that told him it was Caroline.
Sure enough, seconds later she entered and damn near took his breath away.