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A scandalous gamble . . .
With her exceptional beauty, heiress Tess Hamlin has been dubbed "the Incomparable" by the lords of the ton. Though she can have her pick of suitors, Tess has no desire to wed. She'd rather delight in the intoxicating effect she has on men when she enters a room. But when she makes a daring wager and must secure a marriage proposal in one evening, she plays a dangerous charade with the first man who's ever set her pulse racing.
Leads to the most unexpected passion . . .
As the new, impoverished Earl of Merton, Brenn Owen needs to find a wealthy wife--and fast. He can think of no better woman than Tess. She's stunning, intriguing-- and rich! Utterly captivated by Tess, Brenn vows to have her. When news of Tess's wager breaks, her brother, who hopes to avoid the ensuing scandal, accepts Brenn's offer to marry his sister--much to Tess's dismay. Now will a marriage made in haste lead to disaster . . . or the most blissful desire?
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Tess Hamlin slammed open the door to the ladies' retiring room. "Where is Leah Carrollton?"
The chatter of a half dozen young women dressed in their ball gowns of silks and Indian muslins came to an abrupt halt. The close air smelled of perfume, powder, and candle wax. All eyes turned to the doorway.
Tess smiled, pleased that she had their attention. She walked into the room.
Eyes widened and several pairs of lips formed silent O's but no one answered.
Anne Burnett, Tess's very best friend, gently touched Tess's arm, trying to pull her back. "Please, Tess. This isn't the time or the place. I shouldn't have said anything. Let us go back to the ballroom."
Tess shook Anne's hand away. "I am not going to let her get away with it. Not this time."
She confronted the young women. Many were new to this Season and, since Leah was one of them, her supporters. One or two others there had weathered previous Seasons--although none, not even Anne, had seen as many as Tess.
Not that Tess couldn't have contracted for a husband any number of times over the last several years. Occasionally, a lord or two had made her pause and consider her obligations to marry, but she'd held off. She was an heiress and, without being vain about her looks, she knew men found her attractive. Why else would they have dubbed her "the Incomparable"?
But she wasn't ready to settle down. She enjoyed the stirring of male appreciation when she entered a room. It gave her a feeling of power, a power she'd lose once she was married. Yes, some women claimed marriage gave them new freedom, but Tess didn't agree. She'd watched too many women grow disillusioned and bored after the heady thrill of the wedding. Their lives were over. Even her brother Neil and his wife Stella went their separate ways.
To her, freedom had to mean something more than the liberty to come and go as she pleased without a chaperone or the opportunity to take on lovers once an heir was born. But she didn't know what the extra "something" was. Life should hold more than socializing and gossip, but what else was there? Until she knew the answer, she wasn't going to trap herself into marriage.
She brought herself back to the moment. The silly girls practically shook in their kid slippers at the thought of incurring her displeasure. She honed in on a tall blonde, Daphne, the oldest daughter of a duke.
"Daphne, do you know where Leah is?"
"N-no, I don't," Daphne squeaked out.Anne shut the door behind her. "Tess, stop this. You are giving the poor girl a fright."
Good, sweet Anne. "If I don't crack the whip every once in a while then we'd all be run over by the likes of a Leah Carrollton."
"Did someone mention my name?" A young woman stepped out from behind a japanned privacy screen. She was a bold, voluptuous beauty with just the right touch of pout to her lower lip to make men dance in constant attendance.
Since the beginning of this year's Season, Tess and Leah had been cast in the roles of competitors, at first more for the contrast in their looks than any real disharmony between them. Tess was a proud red head who stood equal in height to most men. Poems had been written comparing her eyes to the light sparkling off the blue waters of the Mediterranean or the stained glass in Salisbury Cathedral.
Petite Leah's exotic dark eyes and coal-black hair seemed to have the power to mesmerize men. Even the Prince of Wales had succumbed to her charm.
In between these two rivals stood Anne with her soft, curling brown hair, heart-shaped face, and trusting eyes. Tess didn't understand why everyone didn't see what a noble, wonderful person Anne was....
Married in HasteBy: Cathy Maxwell