The Rake’s Seductress (Preview)

Chapter 1

London, March 1820, Walington Ball

 “You will keep my words in mind, won’t you, my dear? You must remember not to do anything foolish or clumsy, Annabelle, as is your wont,” Annabelle’s mother, Eliza, the Dowager Duchess of Tidendale, pointed at her daughter from across their dim carriage. Her brother Jeremy sat next to her sullen and silent.

Everything in Annabelle’s body tightened whenever she heard a scolding from her mother. She could prepare adequately beforehand, but no matter what, her mother would remind her not to be the awkward wallflower that she unfortunately was.

“Yes, Mother,” she said, looking out of the carriage window at the dark streets of London.

The heater was lighting the carriage, warming it slightly; however, she pulled her wrap more tightly around her, wishing she could jump out of the carriage and onto the cold cobblestone; that would at least save her from further reminders of how bad of an impression she made at social events.

“It is your third Season,” her mother said, nodding along to her own words as if they were fresh and new.

If her mother couldn’t see her, Annabelle could have mouthed the speech word for word.

In a high voice filled with indignation, her mother continued, “And it is high time, it is beyond high time, that you get yourself a respectable husband. The Season is beginning again, and you must do your utmost to make a fine impression.”

“There is enough time, dear Mother, for Annabelle to find a husband,” Jeremy said in a calm, slightly bored voice. He was seated at his mother’s side. “There is no need to push her.”

Annabelle unclenched slightly, grateful for her brother’s aid but a little confused by it. He was usually so intent upon following rules, always holding her to an exacting standard.

“I do see the need!” her mother said sharply, turning to face Jeremy. “And you should be just as worried as I. You are the Duke of Tidendale now, and Annabelle is your responsibility.” Her mother pointed to her. “This is Annabelle’s third Season, and she has still not received a proposal!”

Annabelle closed her eyes and sighed. Her mother often forgot that she was in the room when she spoke of her and her failings. It was not as if Annabelle did not want a husband or a future of her own. For one thing, it would take her out of her mother’s house, and she would be able to live freely, without constant scolds.

What a dream life that would be.

But finding a husband was a far more difficult task than she’d initially thought. Her friends had been married off one by one as the Seasons passed, and now Annabelle, daughter of a duke, was the only unmarried one left among her acquaintances. Each Season, each ball grew ever more embarrassing.

Clutching at a new thought, trying to change the subject, Annabelle said prettily, “Jeremy, how is your wrist after fencing?”

Jeremy’s eyes narrowed in frustration, and he rubbed at his left wrist. “Unfortunately, it is taking longer to heal, damn it all. I would much rather be sparring than going to a ball,” he grumbled, and Annabelle smirked at her mother’s slight gasp.

“It’s only been a week,” Annabelle replied, smirking at her brother’s serious tone and expression. Ever since he had taken over the dukedom six years ago, tension had grown between them, and she knew that her lack of a husband had brought about some of it. However, it was not as if he had married, bringing a new duchess into the family.

His tousled blond hair and light eyes drew many a young woman, and Annabelle hoped that one day, one of them would be able to soften his expression once more and turn him into the cheerful brother he had been.

Annabelle shared the same features as her brother, instead with long, blonde ringlets, but unfortunately, her looks had done her no favors in the ballroom.

Her mother hmphed and crossed her arms. “I am sympathetic to my dear son’s ailment, for he will not be able to dance as heartily as he would normally this evening.”

Turning to her daughter, she continued, “Do not think that you can escape my words, Annabelle. You are in a privileged position, and it only makes sense that you should marry someone respectable and titled.” Her mother chuckled mirthlessly and, with a shudder, said, “At this rate, you’ll have to marry a clergyman or a barrister. Oh, the horror.”

Annabelle bit her lip to keep from saying something unkind. Since she was old enough to marry, her mother had spoken to her in such a way. She had changed since her husband died, and at times, Annabelle felt like she was living with strangers. Strangers who didn’t seem to care much for her and treated her like an object or an obligation to be foisted off upon another.

“At least you look well enough, Annabelle. You can be quite pretty at times, but you must be rid of that wide-eyed look of fear.”

Still gritting her teeth, Annabelle’s heart leapt in happiness when she saw the façade of the impressive Walington Manor come into her view.

“Thank you for your advice, Mother,” Annabelle said, grinning widely.

Her mother looked taken aback at Annabelle’s sudden change in mood but dismissed it quickly.

The carriage slowed, and a liveried footman opened the carriage door. A gust of cool March wind rushed inside, and Annabelle shivered. At least the inside of the Walington’s ballroom would be warm and comfortable.

She grabbed the footman’s gloved hand, and he helped her down the steps out of the carriage. Looking up at the brightly lit house, she took a breath. “It’s only a few hours. You can do this,” she whispered to herself encouragingly.

Silently, Jeremy offered her his arm as he emerged, and the three of them joined the greeting line for the ball. The closer she got, the more her stomach twisted with nerves. It was the first ball she was attending this Season, and she knew that her future depended on it. She had to find a husband, no matter how impossible that seemed.

She couldn’t finish another Season without receiving a proposal. And deep down, she also wanted her mother to be proud of her, something she craved more than she cared to admit.

Once inside, having survived the greeting of the hosts, she slipped out of her mother’s clutches before she could give out another warning. She made her way to the far wall, where potted plants stood on pillars, a refreshment table nearby. It was the perfect place to hide away—the perfect place to keep a wallflower from embarrassing herself.

Annabelle stood on her toes, trying to see around the large potted plants to look at the dance floor. It was filled with beautiful, swirling couples. The muslins and silks ranged from pastel pinks and blues to dark, rich reds. The gentlemen’s coats were dark as well, and each one seemed to be more handsome than the next.

Give me torture. Give me a battlefield at war—anything but a ballroom during the Season.

Annabelle’s gloved fingertips patted against her thigh in time to the music. Even if she was a little clumsy on the dance floor, she did love music.

She enjoyed playing the pianoforte if she was comfortable around those who listened. Annabelle looked down at her dress. It was the palest of pinks, and while it went with her blue eyes, she still felt uncomfortable in it. Like she was pretending to be someone she was not. Even if she was a duke’s daughter and now a duke’s sister, she never felt like her status gave her much of anything. Who was she?

Sometimes she dreamed about balls. She would close her eyes at night and think about what they would be like if she were graceful and elegant – if everything went right. She always pictured herself dancing with the same gentleman: Calum Spencer, her brother’s best friend, her friend too. She’d known him for years and years, and ever since she was young, she’d given him her heart fully and completely. Unfortunately, Calum was far too handsome and charming to notice her as anything more than his friend’s younger sister, who humiliated herself at every turn.

Sometimes he would come to balls, and sometimes not. It seemed to depend on how much time he had, but he was always dancing with various beautiful partners whenever he did come. When she lifted her head to look at the dancers again, she sucked in a breath when she saw him. Calum Spencer asking the beautiful Dowager Countess of Fernglen to dance. Now that she’d found him at the ball, she knew she wouldn’t be able to look away.

“Oh dear,” she said forlornly and clenched her hands together, annoyed at the way her heart reacted to her brother’s friend. Having Calum Spencer at this ball looking just as handsome as ever would not help her keep her head that evening. She swallowed and sent up a silent prayer for help.


Calum clutched his glass of wine as he stared out across the ballroom. A man recently introduced to him droned on about something relating to business.

“I say that it’s far closer to get American cotton for the mills, but it is not as high quality as Indian cotton. What say you, Mr. Spencer? I was told that you are one of the foremost textile business owners in all of London. I thought you might be able to provide an intelligent and sufficient answer.”

“Certainly, Mr…”

“Burton,” the man supplied with a quick smile.

When Calum turned to face him fully, he saw that the man had eager eyes with little intelligence behind them. People often conversed with him about business, pretending they knew anything at all.

“We take whichever materials are most cost-effective, and the different kinds of cotton can be used for different purposes. If you’ll excuse me,” he said, spying the widowed Countess of Fernglen out of the corner of his eye. She was looking just as beautiful as she always did, and it had been days since their last rendezvous. He was eager for another. He gave Mr Burton a wide smile. “As I’m sure you can understand, I wish to dance this evening with some lovely young ladies. Business can always wait for another time.”

“Of course, Mr. Spencer. I quite agree with you,” Burton said with a chuckle and left.

Calum downed the last of his wine, putting the glass down before he approached Delilah.

“Good evening, my lady,” he said with a bow. Delilah beamed at him.

Her dark hair was curled low at the base of her neck, and her lovely red lips were turned up into a seductive smile. Calum had never seen such alluring beauty, and it was no wonder that he and the widow had been together many times over the past months. He was not the sort of man for intimate relationships, but she had kept his bed pleasantly warm. And they got along well enough. It was the most he ever wanted from this sort of relationship, and it suited him fine.

“Mr. Spencer, what a pleasant surprise to see you here. I forgot that the marchioness is a friend of yours,” she lifted one dark brow in a teasing gesture that never ceased to entice him.

“An old friend, Lady Fernglen,” he said, grasping her hand and laying a kiss upon it, not taking his light blue eyes from her dark blue ones.

“Well, that is some comfort,” she said with a little laugh. The sort of practiced laugh meant to reel a man in, and she did it expertly. His eyes were drawn to her mouth, making him think of the delights he could find there. Leaning in, she whispered behind her fan, “I don’t like to share.”

“Well then, I won’t ask it of you. Now would you share this dance with me, my lady? I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to ask you. Seeing as normally the gentlemen are flocking.” She could tease, but so could he.

He held out a gloved hand, and with another pretty smile, she slid her delicate hand into his. “Yes, certainly.”

With a swish, he pulled her onto the dance floor, taking her up into his arms when he heard the first few chords of a waltz. This was the only reason he had any interest in attending balls. Dancing with a pretty woman was a relaxing respite from the cold, challenging world of business. Not only that, but he enjoyed showing the stuffy ton that he had grace and elegance, even if he was only a bastard son of an earl.

“Every young woman’s eye is upon you this evening, Mr. Spencer,” Delilah said, her lovely head turning left and right, watching the crowd as they swirled together. He smiled as he breathed in her floral scent.

“I do believe they are all looking at you, my lady,” Calum replied in a low voice, thinking about when they could get away, and he could forget all about balls, dancing, and business.

“You are always full of compliments, Mr. Spencer,” Delilah tittered. “Ah, I think that young woman over there has you most in her sights. It is difficult to resist a rogue. I understand her completely.” She nodded her head to the woman, and Calum turned to look.

He lifted a brow as he saw who was peeking out from behind the plants. He would know those bright blonde ringlets anywhere.

He quickly saw her disappear behind the plant once more, placing her firmly in the section usually reserved for wallflowers.

Poor Annabelle.

“Ah, yes. She is an old friend. Lady Annabelle Tidemore.”

“Yes, that’s right. I’ve seen her,” Delilah said. “Her brother, the duke, is quite handsome, but it seems his sister is more like a wallflower. Poor thing. Rather like a frightened mouse.”

Calum felt the urge to reply, to protect Annabelle from Delilah’s words. There was no chance Annabelle Tidemore could compete with Delilah as a socialite, but she was not homely by any means. And when one could get her in conversation, she was very entertaining.

“Well, not every woman can have your confidence, Delilah,” he whispered in her ear, and she shivered just as he hoped. However, he couldn’t help but glance back up at where Annabelle was hiding, wishing that she would step out just as confidently as Delilah. She deserved to, and he’d never understood why she didn’t believe it herself.


Chapter 2

Annabelle closed her eyes and felt her cheeks burn as she pulled back behind the plant. Both Lady Fernglen and Calum knew that she was looking at them, and she knew she couldn’t possibly leave her place if there was a chance of facing them again.

However, despite it all, Annabelle railed against her fear. She leaned back against the safety of the ballroom wall. She knew that her mother would scold her for the rest of her days if she didn’t come out at all that evening.

A pair of tittering female voices drew Annabelle out. Gathering her courage, she stepped out toward the refreshment table, where the women were standing near the crystal bowl filled with punch. Annabelle swallowed hard. Part of the difficulty of being in a busy ballroom was the fact that she was surrounded by beautiful, elegant women like Lady Fernglen.

Annabelle wished that she could be like Delilah, oozing confidence, beauty, and seduction with ease. Now that Delilah was widowed, it was increasingly evident in each of her movements. Her lips pouted at just the right time. Her eyelashes fluttered prettily whenever she was speaking to a man, and her dancing was smooth and graceful as if she had left the woman in the middle of a waltz. Delilah had nearly all the men in the ballroom watching her.

Sighing with envy, Annabelle stared at the two young beauties who had caught her attention with their whispers. Both of them had found husbands in their first Season: Lady Fiona Pembrooke and Lady Constance Stanley. Their blonde heads were bobbing as they whispered and laughed to one another, watching the dancers. While beautiful, their personalities left much to be desired.

“And he thinks that he can act as though he belongs here?” Lady Fiona said, arching a delicate blonde brow.

Annabelle took a proffered glass of punch from a footman and moved closer to hear them better.

“I know, Calum Spencer seems to have a very high opinion of himself,” Lady Constance retorted, waving her fan with a practiced flair. “Just watch him there with the dowager countess, dancing with her as if he is a duke or an earl!” She laughed.

“The Marchioness of Walington has a soft heart. If it was my ball, I should not even think to invite him.” Fiona lowered her voice, but Annabelle could still hear her, her heart thudding nervously. She found herself growing angry at the words she overheard. “He is simply an illegitimate child, you know – a shameless rogue, born because his mother was light-skirted. Why, he is a menace now to every gullible young woman! Quite the rake, so they say, tempting them with his good looks but unable to provide anything but scandal!”

Annabelle couldn’t stand it any longer. Calum had always been good and kind to her, no matter his reputation. He had saved her from so many situations; she couldn’t just stand there and let someone speak of him that way. In a bold burst of courage, she stepped forward.

Without a proper greeting, she said, “You know that you shouldn’t say such things. It is rude and uncalled for. Cal—I mean, Mr. Spencer has been invited by the marchioness. He has just as much right to be here as you.”

Even though her words sounded strong, Annabelle could feel her muscles trembling as both beautiful young women turned to face her.

“Dearest Lady Annabelle, how sweet of you to come to the young man’s aid,” Lady Fiona said. “Isn’t it, Constance?”

“It certainly is. Why, it seems that you are showing quite a regard for him, nearly calling him by his Christian name as well. Imagine it, Fiona, the wallflower having a tenderness for the devilish rogue!”

The two of them burst into merry laughter, and Annabelle blushed furiously, fearful that someone had heard, that people would know of her secret affection for Calum. It was something she’d never told anyone.

Her mouth went dry. The two women waited for her to come up with something clever in reply, but there was nothing. As always, when under pressure, Annabelle’s mind went blank, and her tongue sat heavy in her mouth. There was nothing she could think to say, and as a result, her palms began to sweat, and a prickle ran down her neck. She had to leave, even though she was both angry at the women and angry at herself because she could never stand up to people properly.

In order to affect her escape, she turned abruptly to leave, but something caught her foot – and she tripped, gasping before she saw the crystal bowl of punch growing larger as she fell towards it.

Time slowed, but there was no stopping it now. Annabelle tumbled into the refreshment table. It all crashed to the floor in a loud noise that could rival a warring battlefield.

Annabelle, sprawled on the floor, heard the screech of the orchestra’s strings stop in mid-song. A collective gasp went up from the crowd before it all went silent.

She stayed still, her heartbeat slow, thudding out each painful moment as it passed. Annabelle had embarrassed herself before, but this was by far the worst.

There was glass everywhere, the punch had fallen all over her hair and gown, and champagne glasses had fallen to the ground as well, shattering into thousands upon thousands of tiny bits of glass. She was also certain she had cut herself a little. In the silence, she could hear footsteps rushing towards her. Finally, she dared to open her eyes.

When she looked up, she saw Calum’s handsome face, his dark hair hanging loose over his forehead, his light blue eyes staring into hers. “Lady Annabelle, are you all right?” he asked kindly.

It felt as if people were craning and crowding to see just how the clumsy Lady Annabelle had embarrassed herself this time.

Tears burned behind her eyes when she heard the sounds of soft snickers, but she nodded her head at Calum. She was grateful to him, despite her embarrassment, for Calum Spencer was like a strong rock in a raging river. Her life was full of mistakes and faux pas, but Calum had always been there to rescue her whenever she needed him.

Suddenly, her mind flashed back to when she was twelve years old, and she’d wanted to ride a pony her father had just bought. Even though everyone had told her she wasn’t yet ready, she climbed atop it anyway.

Naturally, the pony had thrown her off, and she’d landed in the mud. Unharmed, but feeling foolish. Her brother Jeremy had just stood there, shaking his head at her, but it had been Calum who’d reached out to help her up, just as he was doing now.

Will there ever be a time that I do not need rescuing?

Calum looked away for a moment, and she heard her brother ask him if he might carry Annabelle from the room.

When she felt Calum’s strong arms reach underneath her, Annabelle could think of nothing else but to pretend to faint. At least that would save her from some embarrassment, and she wouldn’t have to speak to anyone, including her mother.


As he heard a loud crash, he jumped in surprise and could feel Delilah spinning around to see what had caused such a noise.

“Excuse me. I will go and see what’s happened,” he said to Delilah, freeing himself from her clutches.

The crowd had parted slightly, and he felt his stomach twist in knots when he saw Annabelle sprawled out on the floor amidst the broken glass and spilt punch. The music had screeched to a halt, and he could not think of a worse situation for Annabelle to have gotten herself into. He felt terribly sorry for her, and he wished that he could pick her up and rush out of there. Ever since they were young, Annabelle had been the clumsiest person he had ever met. He wasn’t sure what it was, but she always got herself into scrapes. He’d been witness to many of her clumsy mishaps, and this time was no exception.

The ton’s eyes were on Annabelle, and he could hear laughter from a few of the young women on the side.

Annabelle Tidemore is worth three of you, he wanted to say, but refrained.

Delilah was still there, after all, watching all the goings-on. He pushed through the crowd until he knelt at Annabelle’s side. “Are you all right, Lady Annabelle?” he asked, conscious of the watching eyes. She nodded. He was angry and ashamed that Annabelle’s mother had not rushed to her aid. Even her brother stood back.

He turned to Jeremy as he remembered his friend’s fencing injury. Jeremy walked up to him.

“Will you carry her out?” Jeremy asked, rubbing at his wrist.

“Yes, of course,” Calum replied.

When he reached out to pick her up, Annabelle felt weak in his arms. He lifted her and realized she had fainted. He took Annabelle out of the room, Jeremy leading him, glad to leave the judgmental ton behind.

He looked down into Annabelle’s face. Her lovely blonde hair was matted against her face, the punch clinging to the light strands.

Jeremy led him to a couch in the drawing-room, and the sounds of the ballroom increased again as the music commenced once more. Jeremy walked back out of the door to quickly apologize to the hostess as Calum laid Annabelle softly down on the sofa. Her eyes were still closed.

He remained on his knees in front of her as he brushed a finger across her forehead to move her hair out of the way.

“Annabelle,” he said, with some regret, feeling sorry for her. It was a difficult thing for a young woman to have to go out into a Season, especially one whose status was as high as Annabelle’s. She would never be snubbed entirely, but he could see the teasing looks in many of the women’s eyes that evening as Annabelle lay sprawled out on the floor.

“We are like peas in a pod, you and I,” he said with a smirk, realizing that they both didn’t quite fit, even though they’d done everything they could.

Annabelle had her title, and he had his wealth and consequence. And yet, he knew that she felt as much of an outsider as he did. As he watched her, his heart did a strange little flip. He had known Annabelle for so long, and he had grown protective of her. She was the kindest, sweetest creature in the world and had turned into a beautiful woman.

“I think that will keep the ton’s tongues wagging for years to come,” Jeremy said, having returned to the room.

Calum stood and said, “Soon enough, they will have found something else to chatter about.”

“Everyone has started dancing again,” Jeremy said helpfully.

“I think the marchioness will not care in the slightest. Her ball was a success. The incident was a brief moment that we will laugh about later. I’m sure.”

“Hmm,” Jeremy said, looking down at his sister. He knelt before her. “I think that we should call for the physician.”

“He is here!” Calum turned to see the dowager duchess racing in with a young physician. “We are lucky that he was attending the ball. I found him and asked him if he might assist us.”

“I’m afraid all I brought with me are my smelling salts, but they shall do well enough.” He crouched next to Jeremy and lifted the salts to Annabelle’s nose.

With a jolt, she awoke and looked about her wearily. Her eyes caught his for a moment, and he tried to smile, to send her encouragement. Her cheeks flushed as they usually did in his presence, and she gave him a thin smile back.

“I suppose that was rather foolish of me,” she said in a small voice, not looking at either of them.

“Are you injured?” Jeremy asked with a frown. Calum wished he would be a little softer with her.

She shook her head.

“I think you should take your dear sister home, Your Grace,” the physician said, standing up. “She looks well enough, and there are just a few scrapes and bruises, but rest will do her well.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Jeremy said, and when he turned back to Calum, no doubt to ask for his help again, Annabelle put out a hand to stop him.

“I can do it, Jeremy,” she said and got to her feet. She was brushing at her skirt and pushing her hair back. At that moment, Calum admired her for her attempt at regaining a modicum of pride.

Calum followed the family out of a side door and assisted them in calling for their carriage whilst he called for his own.

“You do not have to go, Calum,” Annabelle said, shivering under her wrap, her clothing damp. “You do not have to leave on my account.” Her brother and mother were standing behind her.

“I do not need to stay, Annabelle,” Calum said. “I have had enough of the ton for the evening.”

As their carriage arrived, he helped her and her mother inside, waving the family off. He glanced up at the marchioness’ house for a few more seconds, thinking of Delilah and the pleasures that could await him, but he didn’t have the stomach for entering the ballroom again.

It was better that he ended the night there. Delilah would understand. However, he was slightly worried that Annabelle might never recover.

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