The Irresistible Rogue
Playful Brides Series, Book 4
A PROPOSAL FROM A SCOUNDREL
Daphne Swift has not laid eyes on her devilishly charming husband, Captain Rafferty Cavendish, in quite some time. As a matter of fact, she wants the rogue to annul their brief marriage so that she can marry the reliable and estimable Lord Fitzwell. But the breathtakingly handsome Rafe is not interested in letting Daphne go—at least not without paying his scandalous price…
THE SEDUCTION OF HIS WIFE
Rafe prefers to face the dangers of spying alone, but this time he needs his innocent, fiery wife to uncover the information he seeks. He has even agreed to release her from their marriage if she submits completely to his plan. However, Daphne’s alluring combination of courage and curves makes her a dangerous distraction, and it is not long before Rafe is trading subterfuge for seduction in order to prove that Daphne is meant to be his and his alone…
Read an Excerpt
London, June 1816
The Earl of Swifdon’s town house, Hanover Square
Daphne Swift eyed the mysterious present that rested atop her writing desk. It was wrapped in soft pink paper and tied with a wide white ribbon. Someone obviously knew her favorite color. But the gift did little to stop the terror that had been steadily rising in her throat all morning.
“I think it’s an engagement gift,” her young cousin Delilah said. “For your party tomorrow.” Moments ago, Delilah had flounced into the room carrying the wrapped box in both hands, an impish smile on her face. “I simply cannot wait until I’m old enough to receive an engagement present.” Drama dripped from Delilah’s voice, and she clasped her hands together near her hip. She blinked rapidly. “J’adore presents.”
“Delilah, you’re barely twelve.” Daphne nudged the gift with her fingertip. “And this is not an engagement gift. I am not engaged.”
Delilah lifted both dark brows. “Not yet. But your mama says you’re sure to receive an offer from Lord Fitzwell after the ball tomorrow night. He’s been courting you for weeks.” Delilah sighed again. “I cannot wait until I am old enough to receive marriage offers. I should like enough to have a choice. But not so many as to be vulgar.”
Daphne shook her head. “Don’t be so quick to want to grow up. Believe me, maturity includes far more trouble than you realize.”
“What sort of trouble, Cousin Daphne?” Delilah’s voice was filled with her ubiquitous curiosity.
“Like . . .” Daphne snapped shut her mouth. Trouble? A handsome face filled her mind. Laughing sky-blue eyes, a firm chin with an intriguing dimple, sun-streaked short blond hair, and the most devastatingly charming smile that ever graced the lips of a man. And oh, what a man he was, if infuriating. “Like . . . trouble.”
“I don’t care. J’adore les cadeaux. Who sent that one?” Delilah pointed at the box and twirled a long, dark curl around the tip of her finger. She hopped from the bed and skipped over to the desk where she plucked the calling card from the top of the box.
She held the card in front of her elfish face. Her dark eyes grew as big as if she’d seen the vicar sneaking gin. “Captain Rafferty Cavendish?”
Daphne’s heart tripped in her chest. And the blue eyes reappeared in her mind. Rafe? That rogue. That liar. She swallowed hard and concentrated on keeping the anger from her face and the terror from suffocating her. She tugged on the finger that would have worn a ring, twisting her right fist round and round. She took a deep breath. She must open the present or give Delilah a sufficient reason why she wouldn’t. She might as well get it over with. It was only a gift.
So why was her stomach pulling into knots?
Perhaps it was because of the note she’d received three days ago. The note she’d read and hidden in the back of her wardrobe. The note in which Rafe had insisted they meet immediately.
The note she had decidedly ignored.
“Does the card say anything else?” Daphne ventured, wincing.
Delilah flipped it over. “Upon the occasion of your imminent engagement. Many happy returns,” she read. “Oh, I was right. It is an engagement present, Cousin Daphne.”
Daphne snatched the card from Delilah’s hand. She scoured the vellum but there was nothing else. Nothing save Rafe’s bold, scrawling handwriting and the implied sarcasm that suffused those words. Sarcasm only Daphne could know about.
“What did he send you?” Delilah nodded toward the gift.
“I’ve no idea. You open it,” Daphne replied, swallowing hard.
Delilah didn’t need to be asked twice. She promptly seized the package and ripped off the ribbon and the pretty pink paper to reveal a small white box.
The cousins exchanged a curious glance.
Delilah snatched off the lid and stared into the box. Her face crumpled into a scowl that looked as if she’d just drunk curdled milk.
“What? What is it?” Daphne’s hands turned clammy. She clenched and unclenched her fists to keep the feeling in her fingers that were quickly going numb with worry.
“It’s a . . . little wooden ship,” Delilah replied. “I cannot say j’adore it.”
“Well, that would be a first,” Daphne replied with a laugh. “But a ship?” She took the box from Delilah and stared down into it. There, nestled in white tissue paper, was a replica of a ship the size of Daphne’s palm.
She carefully lifted it out of the box. There was something familiar . . .
Delilah waggled her brows. “Why would the dashing, handsome Captain Cavendish send you an engagement present, Cousin Daphne? Besides, I thought he was a captain in the army, not a captain of a ship.”
“He is.” Daphne turned the replica around in her hand. She caught her breath. The name was painted in bold black letters across the stern . . . just the way they were on the real vessel.
The True Love.
Daphne pressed her palm to the desktop, her knees buckling beneath her. She tried to drag air in and out of her lungs. She did not need this reminder, today of all days.
Delilah peered at her sideways. “What is it, Cousin Daphne?”
Daphne quickly dropped the small ship back into the tissue paper, ensuring that Delilah didn’t see its name.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Someone at the door had saved her. Thank heavens. Daphne quickly turned toward the sound. “Who is it?”
“It’s Mama, dear.”
“Just a moment, Mama.” Daphne waved a hand at Delilah. She gave the girl a stern stare. “Not a word about this,” she whispered fiercely. “You may borrow my diamond ear bobs for two weeks.”
Delilah gave her a conspiratorial wink and a firm nod. “I promise.”
“Thank you,” Daphne whispered, moving over to the corner. Her cousin could always be counted upon to be bribed. “Now help me with this chair. I still haven’t found the fichu Aunt Willie gave me, and I must hide this thing.” She lifted the box.
“Why?” Delilah asked, springing into motion to assist Daphne with pushing the tufted chair near the window over to the wardrobe.
Daphne whispered while she pushed. “There’s no time to explain now.”
The chair scraped across the wooden floor.
“What’s that noise, dear?” Mama called from the corridor.
“Nothing. I’m coming.” Daphne mashed the lid back on the box, climbed up on the seat of the chair, and quickly shoved the gift onto the highest shelf of the wardrobe. She hopped down and smoothed her hands over her coiffure and skirts before hastily making her way to the door. She swung it open and stood facing her mother.
Her mother brushed past her into the room. “Delilah, there you are.” Mama’s gaze swept the room. “Why is the chair near the wardrobe?”
Daphne concentrated on keeping her face blank. “Because I was . . . looking for something.”
Her mother’s confused gaze met hers.
“A . . . fichu. The one Aunt Willie gave me last Christmas.” She took a deep breath, at least that much was true. She had been searching her room for the little lace collar all morning. “Don’t you remember it, Mama? It was a hideous thing. I think I put it in the top of the wardrobe and I’m too short to find it without the chair.” She gave Delilah a pleading look.
“Yes, and I’ve been helping her,” Delilah added in an overly loud voice.
Daphne let out a loud, long sigh. “It’s ever so inconvenient being the opposite of tall.”
“The opposite of tall, Cousin Daphne?” Delilah asked.
“I don’t care much for the word ‘short’,” Daphne replied with another sigh.
Mama’s brow wrinkled. “If the fichu is so hideous, why are you searching for it?”
Daphne made her way over to her dressing table. She sat and began rubbing cream onto her hands. “Because Aunt Willie would be disappointed if she arrives this weekend and doesn’t see me wearing it at least once. I’d rather see a smile on her face and suffer through a few hours of wearing a hideous fichu.”
Her mother’s face was wreathed with a smile. “You’re kind to your auntie, dear.” Aunt Willie was her mother’s and Delilah’s mother’s sister. The three women had grown up together, the daughters of the sixth Earl of Galverston.
Delilah absently patted the bow on the top of her head. “I agree. That’s quite nice of you, Cousin Daphne. I will endeavor to do the same when you are elderly and present me with a hideous fichu.”
Daphne let out a short bark of laughter. “Thank you, Delilah. I appreciate that, even though I am only seven years older than you. Not to mention I don’t care for hideous fichus. Though I suppose, in my old age, I may endeavor to create a few of them, as Aunt Willie has done.”
“You may be only seven years older than me, Cousin Daphne. But they are seven crucial years. You are about to become engaged and I am not even close to my come out. Alas.” Delilah put the back of her hand to her forehead and let out an overly dramatic sigh.
“What’s this, dear?” Mama asked, her eyes trained on Daphne’s writing desk.
Daphne’s mother stood near the desk looking beautiful with her honey-blond hair now laced with white and her gray eyes that Daphne had inherited.
“What?” Daphne asked.
“This book.” Mama slid a volume from the top of the desk.
“Oh, that.” Daphne nearly sighed in relief. “It’s just my copy of The Adventures of Miss Calliope Cauldwell. I found it in the back of my desk drawer earlier while I was looking for the fichu.”
“I remember it now. This used to be your favorite book, dear,” her mother murmured.
Daphne made her way over to stand next to her mother and stared down at the old, worn cover. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Mama was right. It had been her favorite book. Back when she dreamed of things like adventures and spying and—
Fiddle. None of that mattered now. She’d been on an adventure—thank you very much— and it had been positively dreadful. She opened her desk drawer and slid the book inside. Then she shook her head. “I know it’s been exceedingly busy downstairs today, what with preparing for the party,” Daphne said. “Why, I must have heard the knocker at least a half-dozen times. I promise to come down right away to assist you.”
“That’s not necessary, dear. Pengree and I have been seeing to all the callers, except . . .”
“I know, Mama, but I insist upon helping.”
Her mother’s smile was cheerful. “Nothing to worry about, my dear. I’m in my element. Notes are coming from all corners of London and the countryside. The party tomorrow night is sure to be a smashing success. All of our relatives, friends, and acquaintances are eager to wish you well on your potential engagement to Lord Fitzwell.”
Daphne swallowed. Why did it still sound so foreign to her ears? Engagement to Lord Fitzwell. This is what she’d been planning for weeks. She’d been spending time with Lord Fitzwell, allowing him to escort her to events about town, riding with him in the park. It was time. It was past time. She was soon to begin her third Season out. But now, now that it was finally about to happen, the knots in her belly were forming an army. “The engagement has not been announced formally, Mama.”
“Of course not, dear. Not yet, but everyone knows that the ball may very well turn into your engagement ball.”
Daphne put the back of her hand to her forehead. “Is it hot in here?”
“Oh, dear. I do hope you’re not coming down with something.”
Daphne shook her head. “Oh, no, no, no. I’ll be fine. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken to bed ill. Besides, I have a myriad of duties I should be attending to, like helping you with the party preparations, Mama.” Daphne bit her lip. The lovely, thoughtful, expensive party that would no doubt be difficult to call off. Not that she wanted to call it off. No, she did not. She was going to have this party and accept Lord Fitzwell’s suit, if he proposed, of course, and nothing was going to stop it. Nothing save— There went the terror rising in her throat again. She gulped.
“The reason I came up is because you have a visitor, dear,” Mama said quietly.
“Mama, you needn’t have troubled yourself. You should have sent Pengree or one of the footmen.”
Her mother pressed her lips together. “I wasn’t certain you’d want to see this particular visitor.”
Daphne whipped her head around, her brow wrinkled. “Who?”
“Who?” Delilah echoed.
Mama’s kind eyes searched Daphne’s face. “It’s Captain Cavendish, dear.”
Delilah’s eyes rounded and her mouth formed a wide O. Daphne sucked in her breath but quickly shook her head and concentrated on keeping her face still. She mustn’t allow her mother to see how greatly the name affected her. But that was the one person who stood to ruin the entire party, indeed, the entire engagement. And her mother didn’t even know why.
Captain Rafferty Cavendish.