One Wild Dawn (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 1)
One Wild Dawn (The Northumberland Nine Series Book 1)
Will one wild dawn lead to true love or heartbreak?
The oldest of nine sisters, Miss Annette Marsden spends her life taking care of others and keeping her father’s modest estate from falling apart while longing for a romance she only dare to dream about.
The younger brother of the Duke of Selbourne, Lord Roderick Andrews finds himself tiring of the same old debauchery and longs for the one woman who does not swoon at his feet.
One wild dawn, driven by a stolen kiss, Anne and Roderick are swept away by desire. Anne dares to hope her dream of love may come true, only to find that Roderick was so drunk that he doesn’t remember what happened!
Now the romance she once craved has left her carrying a secret that will ruin her and her sisters. A house party is her only chance to find a husband as quickly as possible. But Roderick is determined to prove he can change and win her heart. Can he rekindle the passion they'd found and redeem himself to Anne or is their one chance at happiness gone with Roderick's memories?
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May 12, 1825
Lord Roderick Andrews spotted his prey across the grand hall of his castle home. Her dark hair shined in the candlelight, beckoning him, but he remained where he stood, sipping his brandy and watching. He cursed the rivulets of guests that blocked his view of her until she appeared once more. She moved through the crowd, as graceful as a swan gliding across water, smiling and nodding at guests, but never looking his way. A swell of bodies swallowed her again, and Roderick buried the urge to snarl.
He hadn’t seen the hall this lit with candles, or this crowded with people since…ever. But his brother, the infamous Undesirable Duke of Selbourne, had recently returned to England and everyone wanted a glimpse of the mad, scarred duke. In reality his brother, Weirick, was quite sane but also determined to see Roderick wed as soon as possible. But none of the women invited to this ball compared to the one he truly wanted, the one woman who scorned the very air he breathed. His lungs hitched as she appeared again, closer than she’d been all evening. She did not even know she held his complete attention. Could she not feel the power of his gaze?
Was she that immune to him?
Annette Marsden stood tall and elegant, black hair coiled on her head with loose curls framing her face, speaking with her usual polite sereneness to Mrs. Dalrymple. She wore an outdated, white muslin gown, accessorized with a youthful pink satin ribbon under the bust that led one to believe Miss Marsden was the epitome of innocence. But Roderick knew, with one glance into her dark brown eyes flecked with honey and gold, there was so much more. Not that she wasn’t innocent, she most certainly was. Innocent was a word prescribed to the naïve and
young, and Annette was one of those few people born with all the knowledge they would ever need, somehow older and wiser than everyone around them.
Except for one minor defect in her knowledge. She had decided some time ago that he was not worth her time, and tonight, Roderick was going to correct that misinformation.
But first, he would need to approach her, without garnering one of her freezing stares, and beg for a spot on her dance card. And beg he intended to do, for he could not settle for just any dance. No. It must be a waltz. Only a waltz would do for this momentous occasion of which Roderick would begin his campaign to change Miss Marsden’s mind about him. Changing a woman’s mind was no easy feat. One had to thread carefully, not insist or order, and show her the benefits of changing her own mind, the way a gardener carefully tends a delicate flower, feeding, watering, and keeping the weeds at bay until said flower saw fit to open her petals.
Not the most advanced prose he’d ever strung together, but he’d forgive himself because he only needed to admit that talking to Annette Marsden, let alone dancing with her, made him nervous, and Roderick had thought he’d become immune to such nonsense long ago.
He drew closer as the conversation between Anne and Mrs. Dalrymple concluded. Annette pivoted away with a gracious smile aimed at those around her and quietly slipped through a side door.
Roderick just barely caught himself from bolting after her. Instead he frowned down at his cuff, as if it dared to insult him with a stain, and marched through that same door. Not very discreet, but Roderick had discovered during his years as a careless rake about town, that the more ordinary something looked, the less a person paid attention to it. And besides, no one—his mind vehemently repeated, no one—would ever suspect that he and Anne Marsden were up to something together. Her dislike of him was known far and wide.
Which meant it was the perfect cover for this little endeavor.
Roderick closed the door, his eyes adjusting to the darkness on the other side. This door led not to the kitchens or withdrawing room, but to rooms guests would not need to venture, affording him many opportunities. But why did she enter here?
A creak in the floorboards up ahead alerted him to her presence, or perhaps the presence of someone else in the corridor. Either way, he would soon find out.
He trod silently to the end of the corridor. In the weak light of a moonbeam breaking through a bank of rain clouds, there she stood, bathed in soft light, using it to ill effects to scribble on the papers of her dance card.
He stood mesmerized, scarcely breathing as he pored over her features, the radiant glow of her skin, the black shine of her eyes that he suspected, if he looked into now, her face tilted up to his in the light, he’d see stars there. A vast space of black with points of light that he could fall into without fear. Her lips would part, the petal soft skin deeper in shade than its usual mauve perfection. But damn it, what would she taste like? In his fevered imaginings, he could never decide.
“Eep!” She visibly jumped and clutched her hands to her chest.
Roderick blinked, his musings vanished from his mind as she glared at him, catching him spying on her like the lecherous rogue he was.
“What the—, Roderick! What are you doing here?”
“Devil, I suppose you meant, but would never degrade yourself to say,” he said and smiled slyly. He moved closer so that more of the moonlight fell on him. “I live here. I can go anywhere I please without question. But why are you here, Anne?” He looked around the dim hall. “Meeting someone?” he teased. He’d yank his eyelids off if it were true.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I needed a space to think, and every other public spot available is brimming with people.”
“Ah, yes. Your demise is other people, hordes of them.”
She pressed her lips together, no doubt curbing some urge to insult him. Restraint is what lent Anne her peculiar air of seriousness.
“Whatever the case may be, the truth is I followed you here, so that I may ask to be your partner for the waltz.”
For a delicious moment, Roderick enjoyed the blanket of shock that covered her features.
Then she blinked it away. “I beg your pardon?”
“The waltz. There is only one, and I want to dance it with you.”
She blinked again. “Good God, why?”
He chuckled, inching closer. She was still safely out of arm’s reach, but he’d never had the privilege of standing so close to her, utterly alone, and the space between them was rife with possibilities. He was the only one of them aware of the possibilities, but all the same, it awed him to be so close to her. The only recipient of her attention, even if it carried a fair bit of scorn. He was that—he tried to find the right word—lost for her. Yes, lost. That was how he felt. Unmoored, drifting in foreign currents.
He thought of his poem again.
She’s quiet as a starless night, as still as waters deep. What lurks therein, secrets? The bones of ships long sailed, sailors entombed…
Ah, a bit macabre he decided, but still worth finishing, for that was precisely what she made him feel. Lost, destroyed by a force as mysterious and all-consuming as the sea. That was how Anne Marsden made him feel.
Damn it all.
He was speechless, and she was gawking at him as if he’d grown a second head.
He cleared his throat.
“You…want to dance with me?” she said, with more than a little disbelief.
“I will be required to dance every set, according to my mother, but tonight I want to waltz with you. We’ve known each other all our lives. It’s time, Anne.” Christ, what did he mean? Time for what?
An unreadable emotion rippled over her face. “But what of Miss Everly. Everyone thinks you will pick her for a wife.”
He swallowed, wanting to tug on his cravat that bit into his neck. He stepped closer.
“Can you keep a secret?”
She cocked her head to the side and gave him a slow blink to warn him of his stupidity and her impending lack of patience for it.
“Of course, you can”—he stepped closer—“you see…” Lud, but she was within arm’s reach now. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d been this close to her, near enough to smell her perfume, to count the freckles on her cheeks.
She folded her arms. She was not amused in the slightest.
“Miss Everly is in love with my brother, and my brother is in love with her. My courtship of her is only a ruse to incite my brother to stop being an idiot.”
She snorted, an entirely unlike-Anne sound. “You cannot be serious.”
“I am extremely serious.”
“You are never serious.”
He scoffed. “I am about this. He means to leave England again—for good this time—and I can’t see my mother suffer like that again.”
Her features softened. “That I believe.”
“Good. But don’t tell a soul what I have told you. If Weirick knew we conspired to make him fall in love, he’d revolt.”
“He’d tear your arms off,” she said with a smirk, as if she’d enjoy the spectacle.
“Yes, I can tell you’d enjoy that, but in the meantime, I’d like to use my arms to waltz with you.”
He’d caught her off guard. Good, she was forever en garde with him. He needed to convince her to let her walls down just a bit, at the very least.
“Very well,” she said.
He raised a brow but kept his triumphant hoot bottled inside. “Very well?”
“I will give you my waltz.”
He wasn’t about to question good fortune and ask why she had agreed. He nodded and presented his arm. “Unless you have more meetings to tend to in this hall?”
She tentatively took his arm. “Not at the moment.”
The touch of her gloved fingers sent trails of shock up his arm. He escorted her back to the hall where the music was beginning. He scribbled his name in her dance card and then retreated to his brother’s study for a bracing shot of whiskey.
He was going to dance with Annette Marsden.
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