Check out Her Gilded Prison by Beverly Oakley
The lovely Lady Sybil’s 20-year marriage has not produced an heir – which is hardly surprising since her husband cannot bear to be parted from his long-term mistress.
When heir-apparent, handsome cousin Stephen arrives at Grange Hall to be briefed on his duties as the next Viscount Partington, he sets many feminine hearts a-flutter, including those of Sybil’s two daughters: plain, dumpy Hetty and fiery, exquisite Araminta.
Then a unwelcome contender for the viscountancy emerges. Presumed dead, Edgar turns out not to have died on the battlefield – but nor has he distinguished himself there, either.
In order that mutton-headed Edgar never inherit what her husband has spent his lifetime creating, Lady Sybil devises an extraordinary plan…
In his wildest dreams, Cousin Stephen never expected his duties would be so diverse.
Read an Excerpt of Her Gilded Prison:
Chapter One of Her Gilded Prison
The three men were on their knees now, heads craned forward, eyes fixed with prurient interest on the amorous adventure playing out on the gossamer web before them.
“He’s launching in, for God’s sake! Dipping his wick – if you could only see it! Look at him.”
Stephen felt the young Earl of Barston’s breath hot on his arm, then intercepted his gaze: rapt, enquiring, as he whispered, “She’ll kill him for it?”
His host, Sir Archie Ledger’s coarse laugh cut in as he jostled for a better look. “You say he knows his reward is death?” He twisted his head to look at Stephen, darting a glance at his wife who sat calmly embroidering at the far end of the drawing room, before adding under his breath, “The fuck of eternal damnation, eh? I reckon that’s what I got.”
It was no secret Sir Archibald Ledger had been pressured into marriage following an indiscretion with the lovely but sharp-tongued Miss Julia Preston.
Lady Julia raised her head at the commotion and her voice cut like scissors into the schoolboy game Stephen was master-minding.
“I say, gentlemen, what’s more interesting than paying some attention to the ladies. Mr Craven, I want you to please take a seat by me and tell me all about your new benefactor.”
Archie’s voice dropped a notch and the three young men huddled closer, eyes still fixed on the spider’s web, just below the escritoire. “Take cover, gentlemen, here she comes.” His voice soured. “No, it’s no good. She’s found us. Story of my life. Fun’s over.”
Stephen, still on his knees, blinked to see first Lady Julia’s well turned ankle and then, as she bent down, her lovely face. As her lively green eyes locked with his, he felt the tug between gaze and groin, and wondered at Archie’s discontent. She was a diamond of the first water.
“What is so fascinating, gentlemen?” Her intimate murmur sounded as if it were just for him. Her gaze was certainly focused on him as her mouth curved in a secret, knowing smile.
Stephen sucked in a breath and found he was quite unable to answer. Since he’d come back from war he was unused to mixing in such elite company, though as a boy, before his mother’s decline, he remembered frequenting houses like this.
Just when he assumed she’d solicit her husband for information she brushed his hand with hers, the smile that was just for him, still in place.
Good God, he thought he’d imagined it before. Now, with Sir Archie still on his haunches, to her right, reluctantly in the process of rising, Stephen was quite clearly being conveyed a secret message. Lady Julia admired him. He forced himself to breathe evenly as his cock sprang to attention. He could not rise now, for God’s sake. He must keep them watching at least a few seconds longer.
“She’s going to devour him.” He heard the urgency in his voice that had nothing to do with the mating spiders.
“Nothing happening.” Archie sounded bored as he groaned and gripped the table leg to heave himself up. Stephen remembered having wondered at a match which had the spindly-legged, unprepossessing Sir Archie marching the very lovely Miss Julia Preston down the aisle with such haste the season before. He’d not thought about the lovely debutante again until news spread that the couple had been blessed with twin boys within a barely timely eight and a half months of their nuptials.
Now Lady Julia looked as dewy fresh and desirable as she had when Stephen had gazed admiringly at her in the ballroom as a young man experienced in battle but completely unprepared for London society. His mother had left him little of the vast fortune she’d frittered away through drink and gambling though enough to at least deport himself like the gentleman he’d been born.
He managed, but only just.
“No, nothing happening,” repeated Archie. “I’ll wager a thousand monkeys you’re all hot air, Craven.”
Lady Julia, who’d straightened, bent at the waist to peer again at the scene which had so excited the gentlemen.
“Oh, my goodness, the spider jumped!” she squeaked, twisting round so suddenly she tripped over her husband’s arm and fell full length upon Stephen.
For a second he just lay prone beneath her, eyes wide with shock as her soft curves moulded his hard – very hard – contours – not all of them his bones … and swallowed as he broke into a cold sweat – for she must clearly recognise she was lying upon where there should be no peaks.
“Get up Julia. Craven, do you accept the wager?” Archie, who sounded as if these were everyday occurrences, took his wife’s elbow and hauled her to her feet. But not before Julia had slanted a knowing, and very provocative look, at Stephen.
“What? Er, yes,” Stephen mumbled, paying only half a mind. He rarely gambled these days. He had only to recall his wretched, fatherless youth, and the antics of his feckless, beloved, wager-mad mama.
“Good fellow!” A hearty handshake followed as Stephen rose. He took refuge behind the back of the Egyptian sofa and forced a strained smile at his hosts.
“I do love an unusual wager,” Lady Julia murmured, adopting a pose of rare solidarity beside her husband. “So this big, bold, female spider – obviously a prime article in the arachnid world – has just suffered the amorous attentions of her tiny, boring, timid, ineffectual husband.” Her knowing smile broadened and her words were heavy with emphasis as she enunciated each word. It was impossible to miss her meaning and Stephen could only wonder that Archie didn’t bristle at the obvious allusion to their own marital situation. She stroked Archie’s arm while asking Stephen in silky tones, “You’re the celebrated man of science in the room, Mr Craven. Please explain in … explicit terms … the courting rituals of the spider world.”
Stephen flicked a glance at Archie. Fortunately he appeared to be his usual good-humoured self – and just as keen for information as his wife.
He cleared his throat. “The male spider will court the female and … and then after he…”
“Impregnates her,” Lady Julia supplied with an enquiring smile.
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