A Duke's Wild Kiss (Kiss the Wallflower, Book 5) (Ebook)
A Duke's Wild Kiss (Kiss the Wallflower, Book 5) (Ebook)
Miss Olivia Quinton is certain a marriage proposal is imminent, but her hopes are dashed when her gentleman admirer moves his attentions to another at a country house party. Disappointed by these turns of events and seeing the man for the fiend he is, Olivia hatches a plan of revenge. With the aid of Duke Hamlyn, she sets out to make her past love interest pay for his betrayal.
Jasper Abraham, Duke Hamlyn, did not think his Season would be taken up with helping a bedeviling chit in gaining her revenge. Everything would work out splendidly well if he hadn’t already agreed to help his friend keep Olivia away from him during the house party and remaining Season.
Thrown together with opposite goals, Jasper cannot help but wonder why anyone would overthrow the delectable, sweet Olivia Quinton. Playing her fake beau is no chore, and the more time he spends with her, the more he wants to do a lot more than flirt with the chit.
Unfortunately, when games are played, there can be only one winner, but perhaps in this folly, everyone will lose.
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"Will you do it for me, Hamlyn? We're not far from Chidding Hall, and I need your assurance you will support me with this matter. I need to have your promise, as my friend, that you will help me."
Jasper Abraham, Duke Hamlyn, gaped at his friend, Marquess Oglemoore. Had the fellow gone mad! He shook his head as the blood rushed back into his brain. "Absolutely not. Should I court Miss Quinton, she'd believe me to be enamored of her and possibly want a declaration of love and marriage soon after. If you led her to believe you liked her in town last Season and you did not, then you need to be the one who cleans up after your mistakes. I will not do it for you."
"You owe me, Hamlyn. Did I not step in at Bath just last month and stop those laborers from giving you a good thrashing? Which, by the way, I'm still unsure that you did not deserve."
"Now see here, how is it my fault that one of the men's sweethearts worked at the tavern and rented out her assets to those who could pay? I did not know she was betrothed."
"So you did sleep with her? I should have let them thrash you," Oglemoore said, raising his brow with a sarcastic tilt.
"I did no such thing. The woman seized my hand and placed it on her breast at the very moment her betrothed walked into the taproom. Had it been a bout of one-on-one, I would have had no qualms in thrashing the fool for allowing himself to be played so, but one on five and I drew the line." Jasper glared at his friend, disappointed. "What is more surprising to me is your seeking repayment of that service. I should have taken the bloodied nose and been done with it. I do not want to fool Miss Quinton in such a deceitful way. When she was in town last year, what I remember of her was a sweet, pleasant-looking woman. Are you sure you do not wish to court her instead of this Lady Athol Scott chit?"
"Absolutely certain. Miss Quinton is not for me. She's the niece of a duke, granddaughter of one, but other than the house she inherited from her father, and a notable portion, she has little else. Her cousin Lady Clara rules London society like the strict headmaster we had at Eton, and I'm not looking to be under her rule for the remainder of my days.
"I'm Marquess Oglemoore, my family has always married well. Lady Athol owns half of the Scottish lowlands. Imagine the hunting we can do if I marry her. No, Athol suits me very well."
"So, it's a love match, then?" Jasper said, his tone riddled with sarcasm.
Oglemoore's lips thinned into a disapproving line. "I do not love her, but I'm sure that will follow in time. I am fond of the chit, and so she will be my wife. But as for Miss Quinton, you must be the one to show more interest in her person. I need you to do this, truly. When she finds out that I'm courting someone else, she'll be right grieved. But if you, my handsome, English-titled friend show her there is more in the world than me, then she'll move on quick enough."
"And if she chooses me to be the man that she moves on with, what shall I do then? I do not want to be saddled with a wife. I have a mistress in town. A life." The horror of doing such a thing to an innocent woman did not sit well with Jasper, no matter who he had waiting for him back in London. He hated lies and deceit above most things. Oglemoore ought to know better. That he did not was no act of a gentleman.
"Please, my old friend. I'm begging you."
Jasper sighed, glaring across the carriage as it turned through the gates of Chidding Hall. "Very well, but this more than pays back my debt and then some. You owe me by quite a lot."
Oglemoore beamed, clapping his legs with his hands. "I knew I could count on you, my good friend. I shall gladly pay you back tenfold for this. Thank you."
Jasper wasn't so sure he would ever be repaid for acting the lovesick fool trying to turn a woman's eye toward him and off another. Even so, he would do it for his friend since he seemed so desperate. He could be Miss Quinton's friend, guide her away. There need not be anything romantic between them. If he followed that rule, all would be well and work out in the end.
"We're here," Oglemoore said, sliding toward the door.
Jasper picked up his top hat, slapping it onto his head. "Let the games begin," he said, throwing his friend a small grimace.
Let the games begin indeed.
Olivia swallowed the bile that rose in her throat at hearing her closest friend declare that she hoped to marry Elliott Keating, Marquess Oglemoore.
"We were introduced at a ball in London. He's affable, and I enjoyed his company. I look forward to seeing him attend the house party," Athol said, a small smile playing about her lips.
The world spun around Olivia, and she clasped her stomach, taking a deep breath to try to stop her stomach contents from making an appearance.
"I had no idea you were even acquainted?" she stated, quite shocked by the fact. Lord Oglemoore was not only one of the most highly placed gentlemen in the ton, but he was also one of the most handsome. There was not a feminine heart in London that did not flutter in his presence.
Last Season Olivia had happened upon Lord Oglemoore as he'd stumbled out of the supper room after slipping on some barberry ices. She had awkwardly caught him, but instead of acting the assaulted debutante, she had laughed off the collision, and they had been friends ever since.
"Oh, it's all a bit of a shock to me too. We met at Almacks one Wednesday evening. He asked me to dance, and I agreed. I like him, and I do believe he likes me as well. Or," her friend said, biting her lip, "I hope he does, at least. The ladies speak highly of him, and he seems determined to find a wife. I merely hope he chooses me."
"Of course," Olivia said, her mind reeling. "As a gentleman, I'm sure he will not play you false. If he's shown an interest in you and you return favorably, this house party may end with a betrothal announcement." Olivia smiled at her friend, whom she loved most dearly, but the idea that the one gentleman whom she'd believed to have wanted to court her was instead seemingly interested in Athol was indeed a bitter pill to swallow. How had she been so wrong to read his character and interest so incorrectly?
Athol chuckled. "I do hope so. I seem to have pinned all my hopes on him, even though I have many gentlemen in town who stated they were awaiting my return. But I like Lord Oglemoore best of them all. He will do for me, I believe."
Olivia stared at Athol, unsure what she was hearing was true. Athol was going to marry a man simply because of what? "I'm sorry, my dear, but why marry him if you only think him your best choice? Why not take your time? This is only your second Season. Find a gentleman who puts your heart in his hand and never lets it go."
Her friend shrugged, plopping a grape in her mouth. They were seated out on the terrace that overlooked the grounds of her cousin's estate, the day warm without a breath of wind in the air.
"If you haven't noticed, we are getting rather long in the tooth, Olivia dear. We're both from respectable families and will do well together. I never cared overly much for a marriage to be based on love. You know I've always been practical with those types of things."
Olivia nodded, looking out over the gardens, bewildered at her friend's words. If she did not love Lord Oglemoore, then why could she not leave him be? Leave him for her?
The sound of a carriage approaching caught her attention, and Olivia glanced to where the road leading into the estate became visible through the trees. A black, highly polished carriage flittered through the foliage—more guests she assumed.
Athol shot to her feet, checking her gown and hair. "This will be Lord Oglemoore now. He said he'd arrive today. I'm so thankful that Lady Clara was willing to invite him and his friend to stay for the house party too."
Olivia did not move, not sure if her legs would support her. What a fun party they would all make with the man she had pinned all her hopes upon and her best friend who was trying as hard as she might to gain an understanding with him. She inwardly groaned, wanting to vanish to her rooms instead of meeting the guests as she should.
"Come, Olivia. Let us go out to the front and welcome them."
Olivia nodded, following without a word. Athol strode ahead, every now and then stopping to call for Olivia to quicken her pace. They made the estate front just as the carriage rocked to a halt, a billow of dust and all.
Her cousin Lady Clara and her husband, Mr. Grant, were already waiting on the home's steps, a warm smile on their lips as they prepared to greet their guests. Clara met Olivia's gaze. Puzzlement crossed her features before she joined her on the graveled drive.
"Are you well, Olivia dear? You look somewhat pale." She reached out, touching her forehead. "You do not feel warm, is there something else that is bothering you?"
Besides the fact that her best friend wanted to marry the man she coveted as her husband, no everything was perfectly well. "It is nothing, I assure you. Perhaps I have had too much sun today."
A footman opened the carriage door, and Lord Oglemoore jumped out, clasping Mr. Grant's—Stephen to those who knew him well—hands in welcome. He then turned to Athol, who stood waiting close by. Pleasure crossed his features, and Olivia felt the devastation of his attachment to her friend to her core. He liked her, to his credit. More than she'd thought, considering Athol merely liked the fellow, not actually loved him. Even so, Lord Oglemoore smiled lovingly at her friend, and Olivia did not miss the blush that stole across her friend’s cheeks.
The carriage dipped a second time, and another gentleman appeared in the door. Olivia glanced at the man who jumped out of the equipage, dismissing him when Lord Oglemoore spoke.
"How wonderful to be back here again. It has been too long, Lady Clara, since you've opened the house," he said, smiling at her cousin before his gaze met hers.
He stepped toward her but did not drop Athol's hand that sat upon his arm. "Miss Quinton. You are a welcome sight, to be sure. I hope you're well?"
Somehow in all the despondency that pumped through her veins, she remembered her manners and smiled. "I am well, Lord Oglemoore. It is good to see you again too."
Oglemoore gestured to the gentleman behind him, and for the first time, Olivia took in the other house guest. He was taller than his lordship, athletic in build and surprisingly handsome.
She frowned, feeling as if she'd met him before, but unable to place where.
He smiled in welcome, a contemplative look in his eye when his gaze landed on her.
"This is my friend, His Grace, the Duke of Hamlyn."
Stephen held out his hand to His Grace, shaking it. "It has been too long, Hamlyn. I'm glad you're able to make the trip to Kent."
"Thank you for having me stay and congratulations on your marriage," the duke said, in a honeyed, deep tone.
Olivia watched as the duke kissed her cousin's cheeks. She turned for the doors, ready to go inside where she may be able to slip away for a moment or two to gather her wits. The house party loomed like a week of torture, and she wasn't so sure she wanted to be here anymore.
Her escape was blocked when Clara caught up to her, leading her into the drawing room where an array of refreshments and a light lunch were prepared.
"Where do you think you're disappearing to, my dear? You have guests whom you must help me with."
Olivia sighed, letting Clara lead her into the room. "I need to speak to you when you are free. It is imperative."
Clara glanced at her, her brow furrowed. "Of course. I knew something was troubling you. We shall speak as soon as we can."
"Thank you." Olivia blinked away the sting of tears as she watched Athol and Lord Oglemoore seat themselves together on the settee by the window that overlooked the river. The duke hovered near the unlit hearth, speaking to Stephen.
"I'll come to your room before dinner this evening, and we'll have a chat," Clara said, patting her hand in comfort.
"Thank you." Olivia seated herself on a single leather-backed chair, willing the time to go by fast. A shadow passed over her and she glanced up, only to meet the amused gaze of the duke. She raised one brow, contesting his inspection of her with one of her own. "Is something amiss, Your Grace? You're scrutinizing me as if I have a blemish on my nose." Her question was, she supposed, rather rude, but she was no longer in the mood to be congenial. When one's hope of happiness was stripped, one was allowed to be curt.
"I do believe we've met, Miss Quinton. Last Season, in fact," he answered, his lips catching Olivia's attention for a moment before she tore her gaze away.
She shrugged, not willing to admit she knew him as well. A passing acquaintance and nothing more. He certainly never asked her to dance, she remembered that all too well. "It is possible that our paths crossed, Your Grace. I've met many people over the last few years in London." Pity he had not deemed her worthy of his interest, for he was known as a most sought-after catch.
He kneeled beside her chair, his hand resting on the arm. Olivia glanced at it. Really, did the man have to invade her space as well as ask her questions about a Season she'd prefer to forget?
"I assumed when you did not return to London this year that you had married." A light blush stole across his cheeks. Olivia narrowed her eyes, undecided if she would let him get away with what he was implying, that she was still unwed, an old maid in the making.
"I did not think gentlemen cared whether women they hardly favored to know married or not." He glanced at her, an amused look she found annoying filling his eyes. Did the man have no shame?
"I merely was surprised that an intelligent and beautiful woman such as yourself had not been swooped off her feet and carried into the sunset. That is all."
Olivia shut her mouth with a snap and tore her gaze away from him. He did not need to be so forward as that. Nor did she like his light flirtation with her. She did not want it from the duke.
She wanted it from Lord Oglemoore. Not that that was a possibility since the gentleman had his whole purpose fixed on her best friend. "I have not found anything to tempt me to the altar, my lord."
"Is that so?" he stated, glancing at his friend and then back to her. Olivia refused to blush or break her gaze. To do so would give credence to what he was saying, and she would not give him that pleasure. He continued to stare, not giving an inch on their little challenge and her blush deepened, their fixation on each other growing awkward.
Stephen cleared his throat, coming to stand beside Olivia. "Everything well, my dear?" he asked her, touching her shoulder.
Olivia nodded, cursing that she had to look away before others noticed their frivolous game and made a comment.
"Of course. His Grace was just telling me how fond he is of your home and would like a tour," she lied.
Olivia stood and strode from the room before her cousin's husband asked if she would do the honors. Under no circumstance was she in the mood to play tour guide, and certainly not to a man who seemed amused by what was going on between her and Lord Oglemoore.
She strode toward the stairs, not caring she did not resemble the duke's granddaughter she was. She needed to reach the sanctity of her room. A place she could think and plan.
What that plan was, however, she was not certain just yet. Would she try to dissuade Athol into marrying Lord Oglemoore should he ask? Over the years, she'd certainly heard plenty of tales about the gentleman's antics both in London and Bath.
Some of which had made even herself blush a time or two, but after his kindness toward her last Season she had dismissed the stories as false.
Olivia made her room, closing and locking the door before she flopped onto the bed. How could this have happened? She had been so sure of his regard for her. Last Season, Lord Oglemoore sought her out, danced and took supper with her. The horrible thought crossed her mind that it was all for show, a game he enjoyed to play with unattached women.
She sighed, staring up at the wooden beams lining her bedroom ceiling. There were two choices she could make regarding this awful turn of events. She could wish them well and move on with her life. Have another Season and see if any offers were forthcoming.
To parade herself again would be a humiliation she doubted she could ever recover from, and she wasn't certain she had it in her to do again. To walk into a ballroom, night after night, and try to find love.
She swiped a tear from her cheek, annoyance thrumming through her. Athol deserved better than a man who would treat her friend or any woman with so little respect. What was stopping him from throwing Athol aside when someone better in his opinion came along? Nothing.
Olivia sat up, thinking of what could be done. He would pay for his callousness. She would show Athol he was unworthy of her during the week that he was here. Olivia chewed her bottom lip, frowning in thought. But how, that was the question, and one she would mull over before tomorrow.
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