Courting A Sinful Stranger (Preview)

Chapter One

It was an exceedingly bright summer’s evening. Lady Sarah Rubyton found herself squinting as she gazed out of the carriage window, surveying the rolling green hills of the countryside surrounding Bath.

Sighing, she covertly adjusted the neckline of her gown. Was it just a little too low, in the décolletage? She glanced at her mother. Lady Rubyton had insisted on this gown and studiously ignored the sweeping neckline. Sarah knew why – her dear mama thought that she would catch rather more admirers with a slightly exposed bust than not. But one did not say that, of course.

She sighed again, gazing at her parents, sitting opposite her in the carriage. Lady Rubyton was stiffly encased in a peacock blue silk gown, wincing slightly as the carriage’s wheels bumped over various potholes on the rough country road. Her corset had obviously been laced too tightly, Sarah reflected. Mama rather had the appearance of a brightly coloured sausage about to split out of its skin. The matching garishly dyed blue feather in her hair jolted from side to side, so high that it brushed against the roof of the carriage.

Her eyes slid to her father, who was gazing out the window, a bit peevishly. A large, bulky man, the Earl of Pembleton always looked uncomfortable in confined spaces such as this. Sarah knew that her dear papa would prefer not to have to attend any social engagements at all and always suffered mightily when his wife forced him to. Sarah knew that Lord Rubyton would much rather be sitting in his study, idling away the evening, sipping port and perusing his various geological journals.

Lord Rubyton turned to his wife, his dark eyes flashing. “We shall only stay as long as we must, Ann,” he snapped. “A dratted ball! I thought that I would be done with the insufferable things when I secured you, my dear.” He shifted uncomfortably on the seat, pulling at his cravat, as if it were choking him.

Lady Rubyton pursed her lips. “Now, Peter,” she said, in a steady voice. “You know that we must do our duty by our daughter.” Her eyes narrowed as she focused on Sarah. “A young lady of marriageable age must socialise, my dear. And it is our responsibility to make sure our Sarah takes full advantage of every opportunity presented to her.”

Sarah’s lips tightened. “You parade me as if I am a pony at auction day,” she snapped, feeling the familiar frustration overwhelm her. “Must I dress up and play the simpering maiden to all of the eligible gentlemen in the district?”

Her parents looked astounded.

“You have rather too sharp a tongue on you, my girl,” said her father, his eyes narrowing snapping dangerously. “You are but twenty years of age, with the mouth of a shrew! I do hope you do not have such a loose tongue when you speak with the gentlemen, Sarah.” He turned to his wife, shaking his head dispiritedly. “No wonder we are having such a hard time of it with her, Ann.”

Lady Rubyton sighed heavily. “You do not have to remind me of that, my dear.” She glared at Sarah. “Whatever is wrong with you, Sarah? You know that it is your duty to secure a good match. It is the only duty of a young lady. And yet you are always fighting it. Pray, do you want to end up as a spinster?”

Sarah stared at her mother. Lady Rubyton had veritably spat the word out, as if it were something loathsome on her tongue. The worst thing in the world was a lady who missed all her chances and ended up unmarried, sitting in her parent’s’ home forever, like a forgotten ornament gathering dust on a mantelpiece. At least, that was what her parents believed. It was what the whole of good society believed.

Sarah kept staring mutinously at her mother. It wasn’t that she wished to end up as an old maid, exactly; it was just that the whole matrimonial game left her cold. Endlessly parading herself before gentlemen in the hope that one would look favourably upon her and pick her out of the crowd. She was just one of dozens of young ladies always jostling for attention at these social engagements, hoping fervently to catch the eye of a man. It just seemed so…cold blooded.

And the eligible gentlemen were all so dull and boring, Sarah reflected. They were either chinless wonders, barely out of their linen clouts, or else older gentlemen who had missed their chance in their youth. Invariably these older gentlemen were not the most attractive of their ilk, either suffering from physical impediments ranging from cross eyes to hair lips, or seriously lacking conversational skills or charm. The thought of ending up married to any of them made Sarah shudder with revulsion.

The younger gentlemen were not much better. They were like stunned mullets in the firing line, being pushed by their own eager mamas to secure a good match. Not one of them moved Sarah in any way at all. They might as well have been made from stone.

She sighed. Surely, there was more to courtship and marriage than this?
“The eligible gentlemen are all as dull as dishwater,” she declared stoutly. “If I married any of them, I do not know what I would perish from first – childbed or boredom.”

There was a swift intake of shocked breath from both her parents. Sarah bit her lip. Why was she always antagonising them? She hadn’t meant to say it so boldly. But it was as if her tongue had a mind of its own.

“I say,” spluttered her father, turning puce. “That is no way for a young lady to speak! Have you no shame?” He glared at his daughter. “If you were younger you would be feeling the back of my hand for that remark, Sarah. It is rather a pity that you are not.”

Sarah looked shamefaced. “Sorry, Papa,” she mumbled, under her breath.

“I have given you far too much leeway, my girl,” he remonstratedsnapped. “Letting you swan around playing the lady of the district, with your pretty new gowns and endless assignations at teashops with your friends.” He took a deep breath. “It stops now, Sarah. Obviously, a young lady must not have too much freedom for fear it shall go to her head! Your duty in life is to secure a good husband. You need to buckle down and get to the serious work of finding one.”

Lady Rubyton pursed her lips. “Yes. I have clearly been remiss in my duty towards you, daughter, for you to have such a loose tongue and be so unmindful of your responsibilities towards your family.” Her gaze sharpened. “You will no longer turn perfectly good suitors away, Sarah, or refuse any invitations from them. As soon as we get to the Clifford ball, I am filling your dance card with eligible gentlemen.”

Sarah stared at her in dismay. She had rather thought she would spend the evening dodging the gentlemen and giggling in a private corner with her best friend, Lady Mary Marcus, while they stuffed their faces with cream cakes.

“Well done, my dear,” huffed her father, nodding with satisfaction. “That is just the ticket! And I shall add a proviso that Sarah must then pick one to court or I shall take the matter out of her hands entirely and pick one for her.” He shifted again on his seat. “The sooner this matter is resolved, the sooner I do not have to primp myself in these rags and may return to the sweet solitude of my study, pray the Lord.”

Sarah’s heart plummeted. Angry tears filled her eyes. Gloomily, she stared out of the carriage window. The Clifford estate was in view, now; she could see the carriages all lined up in front of it. The ball was obviously in full swing. Within five minutes or less their own carriage would be drawing up at the grand entrance and they would be joining the multitude.

It was promising to be a grand affair. The Clifford’s annual Midsummer ball. There would be lashings of iced lemonade and champagne, mountains of sweet treats, and a full orchestra for the young ladies and gentlemen whose duty it was to dance. It was all so predictable that Sarah could barely stifle a yawn at the thought of it.

The same old crowd, she thought dismissively. The same ball, just in a different location. It was all the same. How am I to endure it? Especially now that I shall be forced to dance with every chinless wonder and old doddering fool there is available.

She shuddered. And to add insult to injury, she must choose one of them to court.
“Sarah?” Her mother was peering at her closely. “Do you understand what you must do this evening?”

“Yes, Mama.,” Sshe sighed, picking at the net overlay on her gown dispiritedly. “I must dance and make a choice among the gentlemen.”

Her mother’s eyes flashed. “You are lucky that you have a choice of them, my girl. Be thankful that you are blessed with beauty and have suitors. Not all young ladies are so lucky. Turn your mind upon poor Miss Pickford. You would not wish to be her, would you?”

Sarah bristled. Fanny Pickford was the resident wallflower of the district, never asked for a dance, always wallowing on the side lines gazing wistfully at the dancers. Poor Fanny, indeed. It wasn’t her fault she had slightly buck teeth and a braying laugh and none of the gentlemen found her appealing. But Sarah knew that Fanny was kind and funny and would make any of those men a fine wife.

It wasn’t fair. All Fanny Pickford desired was to be noticed by a gentleman – any gentleman. She wanted to do her duty and marry. Whereas Sarah, who was always spurning them, didn’t want it at all. If only they could swap places. If she had buck teeth and a braying laugh perhaps her parents would just resolve themselves to the fact their daughter was not destined for matrimony and leave her alone. Not for the first time she rued the fact that she had been born with looks society deemed acceptable.

The carriage was pulling up. A brightly liviered footman sprang forward like a spring opening the carriage door. They stepped out into the balmy summer night. Sarah gazed around her. The Clifford’sClifford’s had done an impressive job.

The house was festooned with lanterns, glittering like fireflies in the semi darkness. An arch laced with white flowers had been erected for the guests to walk through to the front door. Sarah stifled a giggle as her father swatted away a honeybee intent on landing on his right shoulder. The creature was obviously muddled and late back to its hive.

“Damnable insects,” he muttered, patting his face with a handkerchief as he gazed furiously at the arch. “Whose bright idea was it to drown this thing in flowers?”

They stepped into the foyer. The sound of tinkling laughter and the hum of conversation was audible from the grand hall, as was the sound of Mozart drifting on the air. Sarah took a deep breath for courage. The evening was about to begin and not the one she had envisaged. She must dance and she must choose a suitor. It was all so tedious she simply did not know how she would bear it.

Marriage, she thought contemptuously. What a ruse it is. Only a way to keep a lady in her place. Who in their right mind would wish to be shackled to any gentleman?

But she knew that she had no choice. Her days of dodging her duty were well and truly numbered. And now she must choose the least offensive of them to get her parents off her back. That was just the reality of life for any young lady of good breeding and there was simply nothing to be done about it.

Chapter Two

Sarah’s eyes darted left and right before she gripped Lady Mary Marcus’s arm, almost pulling her towards the secluded alcove away from the crowd.

“Quickly,” she hissed. “I simply must sit down and rest for a moment, dear Mary, before my parents discover me missing from the dance floor.”

Mary giggled. “As you please, dearest. It is all rather fatiguing, is it not?”

“Very,” whispered Sarah grimly.

The alcove was blessedly empty when they sat down. Mary had even managed to secure a small plate of sweet treats, which she placed between them. Sarah leaned back, kicking off her slippers. Her mother would murder her if she saw but she was past caring for the moment. She needed a rest and she wanted to catch up with her friend.

“You have been energetic this evening,” remarked Mary, picking up an éclair. “I do not think I have ever seen you dance so much at a ball.”

Sarah snorted. “It is only because my dear mama filled my dance card as soon as we arrived. She is determined that I must pick a suitor. And Papa is backing her to the hilt.”

“Poor Sarah,” teased Mary, biting into her treat with relish. “You do know that most of the young ladies would kill to be in your position, do you not? Think of poor Fanny Pickford.”

Sarah’s gaze lingered on the young lady, who was hovering on the edge of the dance floor with a fixed smile on her face, obviously hoping some gentleman would sweep her off to dance a quadrille.

“My mother says exactly the same thing,” said Sarah. She turned to her friend. “I know it is shocking to say, Mary, but sometimes I wish that I was like Fanny. How blessed would it be to just be left to one’s own devices?”

Mary finished her éclair. “You do not mean that, Sarah. You do not truly wish to be like Fanny Pickford, who is destined to be an old maid.” She eyed Sarah thoughtfully. “Do you not want a husband and a home and a family of your own one day?”

Sarah sighed deeply. “It is not that I desire spinsterhood, dear one. It is just that I cannot for the life of me work out why all the young ladies are like bees in a bottle about the gentlemen.” She took a deep breath. “They are all so dull and boring! Imagine having to live with one and endure their frightful countenance forever?”

Mary laughed. “You are shocking. But you only say that because you have not met the right one yet, Sarah. My mama toldells me that when that happens it is like the sun peeking out from behind darkened clouds.” She sounded wistful.

Sarah rolled her eyes. “Do not tell me you have bought into that fairy story as well, Mary. Have you yet met any gentleman who makes you feel such a thing?”

“Well, no,” admitted Mary, picking up a slice of ginger cake. “But that is not to say that it will not happen, my dear. I do have hope.”

Sarah sighed again. “I believe that romantic love is just a myth that we are told to make us submit to our destinies,” she mused. “Most matches are pragmatic, Mary. Most of our friends and acquaintances will eventually choose a husband because he can support them well or because he can raise their status in society. Not for love, whatever that is.”

Mary glanced closely at her friend. “I believe in love, dearest. I believe it is possible. I have seen love matches and know it to be true…”

“Infatuation,” interrupted Sarah, waving a hand dismissively. “I have heard of it and seen young ladies in the fierce grip of it. But those same young ladies look rather less pleased after years of putting up with the object of their affection. Especially when they have been turned into a brood mare as well.”

“Sarah!” Mary looked shocked. “It is the natural way for us to become mothers. It is the ultimate joy in life. What else is there, after all?”

Sarah shrugged. She didn’t have an answer for her friend. It wasn’t as if a young lady could do anything else with her life. There was only one choice: marriage and children. A spinster was a despised thing, existing on the fringes of other people’s lives and had no control over her own life at all. It wasn’t as if a spinster could make her way in the world like a bachelor could. There was one rule for gentlemen and quite another for ladies.

“I know,” she said despairingly. “I know you are right, Mary. It is just that it irritates me I am being forced to choose a mate from such an uninspiring pool. I have danced with just about all the eligible gentlemen here this evening and they are so insipid. They make polite conversation about suitable topics and do not even listen to my replies.” She took a deep breath. “All they want is a good society marriage. A pretty lady as a wife on their arm who should also be endowed with a suitable fortune. None of them truly see or hear me.”

Mary blinked rapidly. “Perhaps your expectations are too high, dearest. Or perhaps you have just not met the right gentleman yet…”

“What does it matter?” burst out Sarah. “The sand has reached the bottom of the hourglass and my time is up. My parents insist that I must choose a suitor.” She glanced at the crowd milling beyond them. “The ball is nearly over and every single gentleman I have danced with thus far is lacking in some way or other. I do not want any of them as a suitor and yet I must pick one of them.”

“The night is not over yet, dearest,” said Mary, patting her arm. “You have not danced with Lord Frankland yet…he is rather dashing…”

“He likes his own reflection just a little too much,” scoffed Sarah. “Have you not seen him preening himself in front of any window when he has a chance?”

Mary giggled. “What of Mr. Lumley? Amy Worthington says that he is a skilled conversationalist.”

Sarah rolled her eyes again. “A gentleman who drones on about his horses and his hounds. I am almost falling to sleep just thinking about him.”

“Lord Cavell?”

“A poser,” declared Sarah stoutly. “I declare that he would not look amiss amongst the finest dandies on Bond Street in London.”

“Sarah, you are wicked,” giggled Mary. “You are very harsh on the poor gentlemen.”

Sarah shrugged. “I am only telling the truth, dear Mary. You would not consider any of them, would you?”

Mary shook her head. “But then, I do not have your beauty and charm, Sarah,” she said. “The gentlemen do not buzz around me like bees around a honeypot as they do you. Even if I was inclined towards any of them, I think they would barely notice me.”

“You do yourself a disservice, Mary,” said Sarah, frowning. “You are perfectly lovely and very amiable. It is only your confidence in yourself that needs work, my dear friend.”

Mary blushed, staring down at the plate. Sarah resisted reaching across and taking her friend’s hand in her own. She knew that it would only embarrass Mary.

She gazed warmly at the slightly younger woman. She had been best friends with Lady Mary Marcus since they were girls, growing up on neighbouring estates. When they were little, they would ride their ponies together and host grand tea parties for their collections of dolls and bears. Mary was always the shyer of the pair, trailing in Sarah’s shadow, but their affection for each other had only deepened over time.

Two years ago, tragedy had struck her dear friend’s life. Her parents had been killed in a carriage accident making Mary an orphan. It was only because her only sibling James was older and had reached his majority, inheriting the earldom of Tolmere from his late father, that she had stayed in her own home and not been farmed out to a distant relative. James was unconventional and allowed Mary a great deal of freedom. Her friend had no pressure on her to secure a marriage like Sarah did.

Sarah smiled slightly. She liked James. He was like the older brother that she had never had, teasing her mercilessly whenever he saw her. And Lord Tolmere also had the courage to live his life exactly as he wished, even if he was an earl. He filled Tolmere Manor with bohemians and artists from London and seemed in no hurry to take a wife. In fact, Sarah could not recall him ever courting a young lady at all.

“You are the sweetest friend, Sarah,” said Mary, colouring slightly. “You only say such a thing because you like me. But I do despair that I shall ever make a good match. James does not push me like Mama would have done if she was still with us and sometimes, I feel like a boat with no rudder…”

Sarah’s heart tightened. “Mama loves you like her another daughter, Mary. If you ever need advice from an older lady about anything, I know she would be more than happy to guide you.”
Mary smiled faintly. “I esteem Lady Rubyton. But she is busy with you, Sarah. She does not have time to advise me on gowns and etiquette.”

“Fiddlesticks,” said Sarah briskly. “You must come and stay more often, Mary. Mama will delight in taking you under her wing.” Her face darkened. “She will probably think you a far more docile study in how to be a proper lady than I.”

Mary opened her mouth to protest, but Sarah gripped her arm tightly, shaking her head.
“Do not breathe a word,” she whispered, her eyes fixed to the crowd. “Mama is on the warpath. She must have noticed that I am not on the dancefloor.”

Her mother was pushing through the crowd, her face full of thunder. She was dragging a gentleman in her wake. Sarah’s heart sank. It was Lord Maxwell, the next gentleman on her dance card. A man of eight and thirty with a balding pate and bulging eyes. Lord Maxwell also had an unfortunate habit of laughing inanely at everything, even if it wasn’t funny in the slightest.

“By Jove’s beard,” swore Sarah, hastily putting on her slippers. “It seems our idyll is over, Mary. I must dance with the dreadful Lord Maxwell.”

“He is not so very bad,” declared Mary unconvincingly.

Sarah sighed heavily. She did not even bother to contradict her friend. They both knew the truth. If only this night would end, she thought fervently.

She was already on her feet, walking towards her mother and the gentleman like a condemned prisoner towards the noose when there was a sudden shushing of the crowd. The host, Lord Clifford, was addressing the guests.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he boomed, a smile playing on his lips. “Our evening has almost reached its conclusion. But before you all depart, Lady Clifford and I have a surprise in store.” His eyes twinkled. “We believe it a fun finale to the night, dear guests. We hope you think so, too.”
He held up his hand. He was clutching a white masquerade mask. The crowd spontaneously started clapping.

Sarah turned excitedly to Mary. “A masquerade! Oh, what fun!”

“There are enough masks for all,” smiled Lord Clifford. “Please, ladies and gentlemen, take one and become someone else entirely. Become whoever you wish to be.” He paused dramatically, his eyes twinkling wickedly. “At least for the next dance.”

Sarah gripped Mary’s hand, veering right, away from where her mother and Lord Maxwell were standing.

“Come on,” she whispered. “Let us get masks. This is the only exciting part of the evening. And I shall not waste it dancing with Lord Maxwell, to be sure.”

“Courting A Sinful Stranger” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

The tempting Lady Sarah Rubyton is tired of acting like a well behaved young lady, only to please her parents that want her settled with a proper, tedious gentleman. Sarah yearns for so much more, secretly lusting for an enthralling adventure… When she attends a masquerade ball, she is allured by the raven-haired seductive stranger, who whispers shockingly tempting things into her ear, without revealing his identity. She knows all this is far from how a lady should behave, but she finds this game of seduction simply irresistible. After all, what hope can a respectable young lady have in finding any kind of tantalizing excitement? While trying to unveil this captivating masquerader’s identity, will she indulge in an adventure of inappropriate promises and lustful desire?

Arthur Colton, the Viscount Nordarken, is a bored gentleman, ready to risk it all for the sake of pleasure. While visiting his father in the district, he is on the hunt for a rousing distraction. Sadly, not even one of the eligible young ladies sparks his interest after the whirlwind of excitement that London was. Little did he know that everything was about to change with the announcement of a masquerade ball and the appearance of an enticing dark-eyed beauty into his dangerous path. Being used to always getting what he wants, he comes up with a wicked plan, to make her succumb to his sinful passion. How far is he willing to go in order to conquer her fiery heart?

Against all odds, their lives and their feelings get tangled and challenge everything they have ever known. That is when a game of false identities and flaming desire begins… A game that must end soon, or it could otherwise lead to their destruction. For Sarah it is being in the midst of a scandal and losing her gracious place in society. For Arthur it is being targeted and risking turning into a social pariah.Will an arising old scandal threaten their affair to its very core? Will their untamed passion for one another be enough to thrive, in spite of all the hardships or will they drift apart after all?

“Courting A Sinful Stranger” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

3 thoughts on “Courting A Sinful Stranger (Preview)”

  1. Mary is going on trouble , I don’t think it will make her change her, until she meets the right one. Can’t wait to read it.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and support, my dear Joyce. I truly appreciate it!

      So glad you enjoyed the story! Make sure to stay tuned because I have more coming!

      Thank you again and have a lovely day!

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