A Secret Proposal
Secret Brides Series, Book 1.5
After reading a scandalous pamphlet entitled SECRETS OF A WEDDING NIGHT and becoming scared half to death, Miss Amelia Templeton cried off from her fiance, the Marquis of Colton. But Amelia’s mother is set on seeing her daughter land a peer before the end of the Season. Amelia will do her duty. This time she’s compiled a list of the three oldest, most decrepit, and most titled gentlemen in the ton who are looking for a wife. She’ll marry one of them. But first she needs to conquer her fear of a wedding night. She enlists the help of the fourth man on her list. The one her mother would never allow her to see, let alone, marry.
Mr. Thaddeus Hammond is a mere mister whose reputation is riddled with scandal. He’s also Amelia’s dead brother’s closest friend. Thad has never told the story of what happened the night Amelia’s brother died, but Thad did make her a promise three years ago. He would do anything for Amelia, whenever she needed him. Amelia seeks out Thad to make good on his promise. She issues him a scandalous proposal: spend the night with her to show her the real secrets of a wedding night. Can Thad survive his own secrets and his guilt and resist the torture of making love to a woman he should never touch?
Read an Excerpt
London, June 1816
Amelia Templeton propped her hand on her chin and tapped the nib of her quill against the paper laying on the desktop in front of her. She’d spent the entire morning preparing the list that now sat glaring at her like a challenge. But she was pleased with the result. Three names. (Well, four actually, but the fourth one didn’t truly count.) Names of the three men she was targeting to…marry. And this time, this time, she would not fail. Mama wanted a title in the family and Amelia‑always dutiful, always proper‑intended to deliver. With these three names, she could not fail.
She rubbed a finger down the list, smudging the ink a bit.
Number one, the Duke of Stanford.
Number two, the Marquis of Bartholomew.
And number three, the Earl of Highland.
All of whom were exceedingly eligible, exceedingly titled, and‑most importantly‑exceedingly p-o-o-r. Which made them the perfect trio. Papa had money to spare after all. Amelia was sitting upon an indecently large dowry. One that was sure to lure these gentlemen. Which one didn’t matter.
Amelia let her gaze slide to the fourth name on the list. It tugged at her heart. Sent her mind reeling back to memories. Memories—
“Have you finished your task?” Amelia jumped as Mama strode into the drawing room, her skirts crinkling. She arched a judgmental brow at her only daughter.
Mama never failed to frighten her. She in front of her, tapping her slippered foot on the marble floor and glaring at Amelia over her folded arms. The woman always smelled like starch. The acrid scent burnt Amelia’s nose.
Her heart firmly lodged in her throat, Amelia quickly ripped the fourth name from the bottom of the list. It would not do for her mother to see that name. Not at all. Amelia stuffed the bit of paper into the pocket of her morning dress. Then she quickly stood up and hurried over to face her mother.
“Yes, Mama.” Amelia nodded, gulping. “I just finished.”
Mama’s hawk-like eyes rested on the paper. “Let me see it.” She held out a palm and allowed Amelia to press the parchment into it.
Mama turned the paper around. Her gaze scanned the page. One blond-gray eyebrow still arched.
“The Earl of Highland,” she intoned. “Certainly a fine and decent choice. His connections are impeccable.”
And he’s nearly sixty. But Amelia let out a sigh of relief. Thank goodness Mama approved. The earl was the least prestigious title on the list and Amelia had been half-afraid Mama would reject him. Amelia had lost a marquis, after all. Would a lowly earl replace him? Apparently, so.
Her mother gave her a stern stare. “Stop wringing your hands,” she commanded, before turning her attention back to the list. “The Marquis of Bartholomew.” A slow smile spread across Mama’s face. “Excellent. If you land him, the Marquis of Colton will rue the day he let you go.”
Her face carefully blank, Amelia nodded. “Yes, Mama.” She hated it when Mama brought up the Marquis of Colton. But after what Amelia had done—crying off from her engagement to one of London’s most eligible noblemen—she was fortunate Mama was still speaking to her. A few mentions of Lord Colton were to be taken in stride.
The Marquis of Bartholomew was also much older than Amelia, but no matter. What did being young and attractive have to do with the business of marriage, after all? Well, at least for the men… Unfair, unfair, unfair. But, typical, typical, typical.
Mama’s eyes touched the last name on the list. She sucked in her breath. “The Duke of Stanford?” Her voice nearly dripped with anticipation. Was Mama salivating? Amelia could have sworn she saw a bit of spittle on the sides of her mother’s mouth. “The duke…” Mama repeated, her eyes growing wide. She stared off —not seeing—out the window into the gardens beyond. “You could be the Duchess of Stanford…a duchess.”
Amelia pressed her lips together. Of course Mama liked Stanford the best. He held the most prestigious title of them all. He also happened to be the oldest and sickest of the lot. Amelia fought her shudder. Perhaps Stanford would do her the courtesy of slipping away peacefully in his sleep soon after the nuptials—oh, and after he’d done his duty and got her with an heir. The duke had survived three duchesses already—none of whom had produced the future duke—so Amelia had placed his name on the list. He was decrepit—and if rumors were to be believed—sorely in need of her dowry, and desperate for a legitimate heir. The perfect candidate.
Mama let the list float to the desk in front of Amelia’s face. “You’ve done well, my child. I find nothing to object to with any of these gentlemen. And now that you’ve picked the names yourself, I expect there shall be no more nonsense about the fright of your wedding night. Do you hear me?”
Amelia nodded again. Of course Mama didn’t find anything wrong with the gentlemen. She didn’t have to face the prospect of spending a scary wedding night with any of them. She wasn’t the one who’d read that awful Secrets of a Wedding Night pamphlet after all.
Mama and her crinkly skirts turned back toward the door. “I’ll tell Hannah to begin packing for the house party immediately.”
“And then I’ll see to it that all three of those gentlemen are in attendance.”
Amelia had no doubts. If Horatia Templeton was anything, she was well-connected. The woman was gifted with the ability to procure an invitation to nearly any party in town, for anyone. Their little family was Society hangers-on, barely able to claim a foothold in the ton, and that, based solely upon Papa’s distant relatives. But Mama used their wealth and what little connection they did have to full and constant advantage.
Mama swept from the room, her mind no doubt filled with images of her daughter, the future duchess. Amelia waited until the door clicked shut, then turned back toward the windows and slowly pulled the bit of paper from her pocket.
The fourth name.
She unfolded the little crumpled piece of parchment and smoothed her hand across the three words. She swallowed hard. A title did not accompany this name. And in addition to that sin, there was another even greater one. For the name that stared back at Amelia from the scrap of paper was Mister Thaddeus Hammond. Her brother’s former best friend. Her own former close friend. The man responsible for her brother’s death.
And she didn’t have much time to find him.