Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James


  This book is dedicated to my husband, Alessandro,

  because the simple joy of knowing he is mine

  underlies every happy line I write.



  Title Page



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven


  A Note about Battles and Books


  About the Author

  By Eloisa James


  About the Publisher


  Lindow Castle, Cheshire

  County Seat of the Duke of Lindow

  July 6, 1778

  Betrothal party for Lord Roland Wilde and Miss Diana Belgrave

  Lord Roland Northbridge Wilde—known to his friends and family as North—had been taught at his governess’s knee that a gentleman defines himself by his respectful and decorous manner toward the fair sex. He did not ask indelicate questions, nor engage in boorish behavior.

  Even, or perhaps especially, if the lady was his fiancée.

  It never occurred to North that he might be tempted to behave otherwise. As a future duke, he considered it beneath his dignity to kneel while asking Miss Diana Belgrave for the honor of her hand in marriage, but he donned a coat that had been praised by the king himself. The ring he slid on her finger had belonged to his grandmother, the late Duchess of Lindow.

  He bent to kiss her cheek, registering how much he admired light gray eyes ringed with dark blue. She misunderstood, turned her head, and soft lips touched his.

  That was the moment he grasped that civilized manners are no more than a thin veneer over the inner man. He found himself in the grip of a ferocious wish to engage in ungentlemanly behavior.

  In the next weeks, he told himself over and over that an honorable man does not tempt his bride. Lord knew his older brother Horatius—who should have been standing in his shoes—wouldn’t have succumbed to an undignified impulse.

  Horatius had probably never had them.

  Perhaps it was a good thing that North kept finding himself on the other side of the room from his fiancée. His father’s house party at Lindow Castle—in honor of their betrothal—offered all too many opportunities to kiss in corners, or worse. He had the impression that his brother Alaric had abandoned all propriety in his pursuit of Miss Willa Ffynche.

  Yet Diana never approached him, or sought him out. She often made excuses and fled the room. Alaric had asked North outright whether his fiancée liked him.

  Liked him?

  North didn’t think about whether people liked him. He was going to be a duke. It was irrelevant.

  Now the question nagged at him.

  He couldn’t remember when he last heard Diana laugh, even though her joyful laughter was what first caught his attention. She didn’t look like a young lady celebrating a betrothal. She didn’t look as if she had captured the best prospect on the marriage mart.

  She looked miserable.

  At the moment his fiancée was staring out the window of the drawing room, her arms tightly wound about her middle. As he watched, she raised her hand and—whisked away a tear?

  He made his way between his father’s guests, thinking hard. It was too late to dissolve the betrothal. Besides, his gut-deep feeling that he wanted her had not eased.

  Still, they had to talk.

  Two minutes later, he ushered her into the library. When she looked up at him inquiringly, he registered that violet smudges lay under her eyes.

  “Shall we sit?” he asked, but it wasn’t really a question.

  Diana sat, hands folded in her lap, and regarded him mutely. She was an extraordinarily well-behaved young lady.

  As a future duchess should be, he told himself.

  His uneasiness growing stronger, he chose his words carefully. “Are you entirely happy with our upcoming wedding, Diana?” He almost said, “Miss Belgrave.”

  She returned his gaze for a moment before she looked down at her hands. “Certainly,” she murmured.

  Bloody hell. Alaric was right; she didn’t like him. This match was a mistake.

  But he still wanted her. And he was all too used to getting what he wanted. Perhaps she was merely shy. Perhaps . . .

  Discarding the question of gentlemanly conduct, he tilted up her chin and lowered his mouth to hers.

  For a second, they were frozen in place, like lovers in a painting. Her lips parted in surprise, and he couldn’t help himself, coaxing her lips wider as he tasted her.

  Her tongue met his, curious . . . innocent. He deepened the kiss, and her arms rose and curled around his neck. She made an inarticulate, sweet sound that hit him like a blow.

  If he didn’t stop now, he would ease her backward and kiss her until she moaned again and again, until she abandoned all propriety. Cried into his mouth, begged him for more.

  Making an iron effort, he pulled back before he could lose control. Diana was staring at him, beautiful eyes wide, mouth open.

  “You will be a marvelous duchess,” North whispered, his voice deep and low.

  For a moment he saw pleasure in her eyes, a surprised delight. But another emotion—sorrow? guilt?—followed just as quickly. She pulled away and jumped to her feet.

  Before he could stand, Diana bobbed a curtsy and said that she needed to visit the ladies’ retiring room to pin up her hem.

  That was the last time he saw her.

  She jilted him without a note, his ring left carelessly on her dressing table, along with her other jewelry. She took only a hatbox with her on the public stagecoach.

  North traveled to London, but discovered Diana’s mother knew nothing of her flight. He searched for months, and finally, on the eve of his regiment’s leaving for America, he found her. Diana answered the door of a small cottage, far from London.

  Sunlight loved her, he thought numbly. It lit the perfect cream of her cheek, the shadow cast by her fringe of eyelashes. Diana stared up at him in shock, a simple bonnet framing her face. Deluded fool that he was, he found himself memorizing every detail so that he could take it with him into war.

  He could have sworn that she was happy to see him, if astounded to see him in uniform. Perhaps they could make this work. He could find out what made her flee, and fix it.

  Then a cry sounded from behind her, high and young, full of tears. A baby, on the verge of wailing.

  A child who couldn’t be his.

  Diana’s eyes met his. “I’m sorry, North,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

  Frost settled deep in his bones, though perhaps he should have felt the chill in his chest. His world shifted.

  Without another word, he turned and strode away, swung himself up onto his horse, and spurred it to a gallop.

  The dust rose up to meet him and he welcomed it. An officer—and a gentleman—blinked his eyes to rid them of grit.

  Never a

  Beatrix’s Babble

  By Subscription Only

  March 12, 1780

  Young ladies swooning over the infamous adventurer and author, Lord Wilde, may not realize that his older brother, Lord Roland, now rivals him in infamy. Beatrix has learned that the future duke’s exploits on the American continent were many and of the sort that would make a proper woman faint dead away!

  Matrons among us will remember that Lord Roland’s engagement was abruptly broken off nearly two years ago . . . when the lady in question fled her own betrothal party. In a truly shocking turn of events, Beatrix has heard on the best authority that the lady has returned to Lindow Castle with a child in tow, and is now working as a governess! It is not a leap of intellect to assume that Lord Roland is in for quite a surprise when he returns from quelling the rebellion in the colonies.

  Generally speaking, Beatrix prefers to not sully the ears of young ladies with stories such as these, but she feels it is important to note that mothers should take care: This particular Wilde is, by any estimation, Too Wilde to Wed!

  Chapter One

  Lindow Castle

  May 15, 1780

  Diana Belgrave rarely thought about the days when she’d been the pampered heiress who had taken London by storm and stolen the heart of a future duke. When she did, she found herself shaking her head.

  She had been so impossibly young, willing to do anything to satisfy her ambitious mother—a feat that, with the benefit of hindsight, Diana knew to be impossible. Perhaps that was the definition of maturity: recognizing that pleasing everyone was not possible.

  In the long run, she wouldn’t have pleased her fiancé North (or, more formally, Lord Roland) either, or so she told herself when she was feeling guilty. After all, he hadn’t actually proposed to her, to Diana. He had offered his hand to a quiet and biddable young lady, a role her mother forced her to play.

  The flicker of desire she used to catch in his eyes? It wasn’t for her, but for her mother’s creation, that docile creature in towering, bejeweled wigs.

  She had a distinct feeling that North had never liked the way he felt about her; his desire for her made him irritable, as if it diminished his power. As if it meant she possessed some part of him, and the future Duke of Lindow was used to being the absolute monarch of his world.

  Just imagine how angry he would have become on learning that the woman he’d chosen as his consort wasn’t really that woman at all.

  With a sigh, Diana pulled herself back into the present. Once upon a time, she had been a future mistress of Lindow Castle; now she was a servant in it. More importantly, she’d been an unhappy young lady, but she was a very happy governess. Perhaps not a good governess, but she liked the work.

  Most of the time.

  Bending over, she scooped up her two-year-old charge, Lady Artemisia Wilde, and propped her on one hip. Then she turned to the three-year-old seated on the floor, drawing designs in mashed turnip. “Godfrey, do you need to use the chamber pot?”

  Her nephew, Godfrey Belgrave, shook his head, which was lucky because at that moment Diana saw the chamber pot was lying on its side on the hearth rather than neatly hidden behind its screen.

  Hopefully, it had been empty.

  She smelled of turnip, and she was desperate for a cup of strong milky tea. But the tea was cold, and the last of the milk was dripping off the nursery table, joining the mash.

  The housekeeper would shriek if she saw the children’s dining room before Diana had a chance to clean it. Mrs. Mousekin never ceased to be stunned by the disarray that seemed to follow Diana and the children everywhere, but at this point, the housekeeper’s outrage was mostly a habit.

  Or so Diana liked to tell herself.

  She couldn’t seem to combine basic hygiene with a happy day for two toddlers.

  “DeeDee.” Artie sighed, pushing her fat little fingers into Diana’s bun and pulling out a lock of hair, which made the entire coil fall down Diana’s neck. It took a lot of energy to hurl food around the room, and Artie had woken well before dawn, so it was time for a nap. The child stuck the hair in her mouth and drowsily put her head on Diana’s shoulder.

  Diana took a deep, steadying breath as a wave of exhaustion bore down on her. It wasn’t merely the long day, but the unnerving sense of doom hanging over her head.

  North was home.

  Those three words kept echoing in her ears. Her former fiancé had returned from the war in the colonies.

  She had known he was on the way; she had sobbed with pure relief half the night after the duke announced his son was selling out. It meant she wasn’t responsible for killing a future duke. As far as she could tell, their broken engagement had precipitated his decision to buy a commission. If he had died . . .

  Well, he hadn’t died.

  She could move on from terror to guilt for all the other things she’d done to his life, most of which he didn’t even know about yet.

  In the last few minutes, two footmen had made excuses to run up to the nursery and warn Diana of the arrival of North—or Lord Roland, as she ought to call him now. Everyone in the household knew that the duke had ordered that no letters mention Diana; he hadn’t wanted his son distracted by domestic matters in time of war.

  To put it another way, everyone knew that North’s supposed bastard was in the household—except North.

  Perhaps no one would tell him she was here. After all, Artie’s parents, the duke and duchess, were in London, and Lady Knowe, the duke’s twin sister, rarely visited the nursery . . .


  If no one else, Boodle, his valet, would reveal the news. Boodle viewed North as an extension of his own consequence, so any slur on his master’s reputation—and a bastard definitely qualified—was a personal insult.

  Boodle must be in transports at His Lordship’s return. After North left for the war, Boodle had served the duke, North’s father, but he had found His Grace’s complete lack of interest in his own appearance galling. Now that the duke’s wildly fashionable heir had returned, Boodle would once again reign supreme over all other gentlemen’s gentlemen—at least, after the knotty problem of North’s by-blow was resolved.

  During their betrothal, North had been starchily respectful. He had never laughed, belched, nor told a joke. He didn’t get angry either. He kept a tight rein on his emotions. Perhaps laughter was too spontaneous for a duke’s heir. Or perhaps he had no sense of humor.

  No matter how calm his nature, any man would be explosively furious to learn that he—or perhaps even worse, his father—had been housing a child under false pretenses.

  Diana straightened her shoulders, steeling herself. She was no longer the compliant girl she’d been. She was a strong and independent woman, who received a wage that she herself had earned.

  She had many things she longed to say to North, and no matter how enraged he was—rightfully enraged—she meant to get them out. She refused to waste all the nights she’d been unable to sleep, anguishing over what she had done to him. Even if he kicked her out of the house tonight, she was going to apologize first.

  “Gird your loins and do it properly,” her grandfather would have told her.

  Godfrey made his way over and grabbed her skirts with a sticky hand. He was not an attractive boy, being possessed of knobby knees, angular cheekbones, and rust-colored hair.

  But he was hers, no matter what he looked like. Diana was still trying to understand how she could take one glance at a scrawny, wailing baby and know instantly that she would do anything—sacrifice anything—to keep him safe.

  “Time for baths,” she told the children. Halfway down the corridor, she paused to adjust Artie’s weight on her hip. “Sweetheart, please don’t drool on my neck. Godfrey, could you walk faster?”

  She could have groaned at her own foolishness, because one only had to ask Godfrey to do something to incite him to its opposite. Sure enough, the little boy fell to his knees and scuttled back down the corridor toward the din
ing room.

  “Godfrey!” she called, struggling to keep her tone even. He became naughtier if people shouted at him.

  “I’ll go,” Artemisia said, spitting out Diana’s hair and wriggling. “I’ll get Free,” which was what she called Godfrey. Godfrey didn’t call his playmate anything because—at well over three years old—he still hadn’t said a word.

  As Diana put Artie on the floor, she heard footsteps creaking on the bare wooden stairs leading to the nursery wing. Panic raced through her veins.


  Her former fiancé wore high heels, she reminded herself. High heels. Striped stockings with clocks. Tawny silk coats. The type of wig that obliged its wearer to mince across the floor or risk it falling from a great height. He was dandified, proper, and boring.

  North had been as much Boodle’s creation as she had been her mother’s.

  A man rounded the corner; her heart thumped once and settled. It wasn’t North, but the castle butler, Prism.

  To her chagrin, Diana discovered that she had flattened herself against the wall, as if expecting the sheriff. She dropped into a jerky curtsy. “Good afternoon, Prism—” She coughed. “Mr. Prism.”

  The first few weeks she was in the nursery, she had made mistakes like that all the time—the result of having been raised a lady and hired as a servant. But she hadn’t made one in well over a year.

  Mr. Prism was tall and distinguished. To Diana, he appeared to be a gentleman, but Prism wouldn’t agree. Hierarchy and blood were all-important to him; it didn’t matter a whit that he had better manners than most lords. It had offended his sensibilities when a lady who had visited the castle as the guest of honor returned as a servant.

  “Miss Belgrave.” He didn’t bow, but an invisible bow hovered around his waist.

  “May I be of service?” Diana inquired. As a pampered young heiress, she’d always felt uncomfortable around servants, who never overlooked the fortune her grandfather made as a grocer. Now that she was a servant, she found most of them endlessly kind. Prism, for one, regularly ignored her mishaps in the nursery.

No Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]