Too Wilde to Wed (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #2)

Too Wilde to Wed (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #2)

Eloisa James


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.

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