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Tall, Dark & Irresistible: The Rogue's Disgraced Lady

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«Tall, Dark & Irresistible: The Rogue's Disgraced Lady» - Кэрол Мортимер

Dangerous Regency Rogues!The Rogue's Disgraced Lady – Society gossip has kept Lady Juliet Boyd out of the public eye since the suspicious death of her husband, until she accepts an invitation to a summer house party, where she meets scandalous Sebastian St. Claire, who makes her feel things she’s never experienced before. Juliet finds his lovemaking irresistible. But does he really want her – or just the truth behind the rumours?Also includes: Lady Arabella's Scandalous Marriage.
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About the Author

CAROLE MORTIMER was born in England, the youngest of three children. She began writing in 1978 and has now written over one hundred and eighty books for Mills & Boon. Carole has six sons, Matthew, Joshua, Timothy, Michael, David and Peter. She says, ‘I’m happily married to Peter senior; we’re best friends as well as lovers, which is probably the best recipe for a successful relationship. We live in a lovely part of England.’

Tall, Dark & Irresistible

The Rogue’s Disgraced Lady

Lady Arabella’s Scandalous Marriage

Carole Mortimer


The Rogues Disgraced Lady

For Karin Stoecker

Thank you for listening to me when the idea for the St. Claire family first entered my imagination!


Banford House, Mayfair, late July, 1817

‘It is you, Sebastian!’ his hostess greeted him warmly as he was announced into her drawing-room. ‘When Revell informed me that Lord St Claire had come to call I thought … But of course Lucian is newly married, and most probably still upon his honeymoon. It is so good to see you!’

Sebastian, Lord St Claire, was, as usual, dressed in the height of fashion, in a perfectly tailored brown superfine over a gold brocade waistcoat and snowy white linen, with fawn pantaloons and brown-topped black Hessians. His fashionably overlong teak-coloured hair was shot through with natural streaks of gold.

He gave a roguish smile as he crossed the room to where Dolly Vaughn reclined graciously upon the raspberry-red sofa in the drawing room of her town house. Except she was no longer Dolly Vaughn, of course, but Lady Dorothea Bancroft, the Countess of Banford.

Eyes the colour of warm whisky laughingly met her teasing blue ones as Sebastian took the hand she offered and raised it to his lips. ‘Please do not shatter all my illusions and tell me that you were once acquainted with my brother Lucian,’ he drawled.

‘Intimately,’ Dolly assured him mischievously. ‘Stourbridge too, on one memorable occasion. But that is another story entirely …’ She gave a delighted laugh as Sebastian’s eyes widened at this mention of his eldest brother Hawk, the aristocratic and aloof tenth Duke of Stourbridge. ‘Poor Bancroft has the devil of a time pretending not to be aware of the names of any of my past lovers,’ she added with an unrepentant smile.

William Bancroft, Earl of Banford, should, and did, consider himself the most fortunate of men in having Dolly as his wife for the last three years. Before her marriage she had been the discreet paramour of many a male member of the ton—both of Sebastian’s older brothers amongst them, apparently!

Sebastian’s own relationship with Dolly was based purely on a platonic friendship that had developed when he first came to town at the tender age of seventeen, still a virgin. Dolly had found Sebastian a less experienced young lady than herself to introduce him to all the carnal delights.

‘Please do sit down, Sebastian,’ she invited warmly now as she patted the sofa beside her, still a golden-haired beauty, though now aged in her mid-thirties. ‘I have ordered tea for us both. It is a little early as yet for me to offer any stronger refreshment, I am afraid,’ she added derisively as he raised dark brows.

Sebastian could remember a time when it had never been too early for Dolly to take ‘stronger refreshment’, but out of respect for her role as the Countess of Banford he did not remind her of those occasions. ‘You are looking very well, Lady Bancroft,’ he complimented her as he sat down beside her. ‘Marriage obviously suits you.’

‘Marriage to my darling Bancroft suits me,’ she corrected him firmly. ‘And I refuse to allow you to behave so formally with me.’ She tapped his wrist lightly with her fan. ‘When we’re alone like this, I insist we be as we always were—simply Dolly and Sebastian.’ She turned as the butler returned with a tray of tea things, informing him, ‘I am not at home to any more visitors this afternoon, Revell.’ She waited until the servant had vacated the room before speaking again. ‘I am afraid, even after three years, the servants still find my refusal to follow the rules something of a trial,’ Dolly explained airily as she sat forward to pour the tea, the blue of her high-waisted gown a perfect match for her eyes.

She had given Sebastian the very opening in the conversation that he had been hoping for. ‘But the ton are a little … kinder to you now than they used to be, are they not?’

‘Oh, my dear, I have become quite the thing!’ Dolly assured him laughingly as she handed him one of the delicate china teacups. ‘An invitation to one of my summer house parties at Banford Park has become famously exclusive.’

Sebastian nodded. ‘It is concerning this year’s house party that I have come to see you.’

She gave him a look from eyes that had become shrewdly considering. ‘Surely you and several of your friends have already received this year’s invitation, Sebastian? An invitation, if my memory serves me correctly, that you have always refused in the past.’

They were both aware there was absolutely nothing amiss with Dolly’s memory. ‘I am thinking of accepting this year …’

Her gaze became even shrewder. ‘If …?’

Sebastian gave a husky laugh as he relaxed back on the sofa.

‘You are far too forthright for a man’s comfort, Dolly!’

She arched blonde brows. ‘For your comfort!?’

When Sebastian had come up with the idea it had seemed perfectly straightforward. A simple request for Dolly to include another woman—a particular woman—in her guest list for the two-week summer house party to be held at the Banford estate in Hampshire in two weeks’ time. Unfortunately, Sebastian had overlooked the sharpness of Dolly’s curiosity …

‘You wish me to add another guest to my list. A female guest,’ Dolly guessed correctly. ‘What of your affair with the widowed Lady Hawtry?’

‘Not much escapes your notice, does it, Dolly?’ Sebastian said ruefully. ‘That relationship is at an end.’ As any of his relationships were, whenever the lady began to talk of marriage!

‘So who is it this time, Sebastian? Is your reluctance to tell me her name because she is a married lady?’ she prompted, at Sebastian’s continued silence. ‘I assure you, after three years amongst the ton, I am beyond being shocked by anything any of them choose to do behind closed doors—even when it includes my own!’

‘The lady was married,’ Sebastian admitted. ‘But is no longer.’ Despite his attraction to the lady in question, Sebastian would never have considered seducing her if she were still married—after all, even a man who was considered a rake of the first order by both the male and female members of the ton must have some principles!

‘Another widow, then. But which one, I wonder …?’ Dolly looked thoughtful as she considered all the widowed ladies of her acquaintance. ‘Oh, do give me some clue, Sebastian, please!’ she begged a few minutes later. ‘You know how I have always hated a mystery.’

Yes, this had all seemed so much easier when Sebastian had sat at home alone, considering how he might gain an introduction to a woman whose very reclusive behaviour this last eighteen months represented something of a challenge to a seasoned rake!

He grimaced. ‘Her year of mourning her husband came to an end six months ago, but unfortunately for me—and every other man who relishes being the widow’s first lover—she has not as yet returned into Society.’

‘Hmm …’ Dolly tapped a considering fingertip against her lips. ‘No!’ She gave a disbelieving gasp, her gaze suddenly guarded as she turned to Sebastian. ‘You do not mean—Sebastian, surely you cannot be referring to—’

He gave an acknowledging inclination of his head. ‘She was one of the few who were kind to you three years ago, when Bancroft first introduced you to the ton as his wife, was she not?’

‘You do mean her, then!’ Dolly breathed softly. ‘I would never have thought …!’ She eyed him speculatively. ‘Sebastian, you must be aware of the unpleasant gossip that has circulated about her since the untimely death of her husband?’

‘Of course I am aware of it,’ he said dismissively. ‘It only makes the lady more … intriguing.’

The Countess of Banford frowned. ‘There is often some truth to such rumours, you know.’

Sebastian shrugged. ‘And what if there is? I told you—I intend seducing the woman, not marrying her!’

She chewed on her bottom lip. ‘I am just concerned for you, Sebastian …’

He gave a grin. ‘There is no reason to be, I assure you.’

‘Your intentions really are not honourable, then?’ Dolly gave him another of those shrewd glances.

‘I have just told you they are not,’ he reiterated. ‘I am a bachelor by choice, Dolly—and I assure you, no matter what a lady’s charms, I intend to continue in that enviable state!’

Dolly nodded. ‘You do realise this particular lady has not been seen at all since moving to the estate left to her in Shropshire?’

‘I would not be asking you to issue this invitation to her if I thought there were any other way in which I might be introduced to her,’ Sebastian reasoned wryly.

Dolly’s eyes widened. ‘The two of you have never even been introduced?’

‘Not as yet.’ Sebastian grinned wolfishly. ‘Her husband and I, for obvious reasons, did not share the same circle of friends.’

‘He was rather a pompous bore, was he not?’ Dolly conceded. ‘So, the two of you have never actually met ….’

‘I have merely gazed at her once or twice from afar,’ Sebastian admitted.

‘And now you wish to gaze at her more intimately?’ Dolly teased. ‘Poor Juliet will not stand a chance!’

‘You flatter me, Dolly.’

She shook her head. ‘What woman could not be flattered by the attentions of the handsome but equally elusive Lord Sebastian St Claire?’ She eyed his roguish good looks and the strength of his leanly muscled body appreciatively. ‘It so happens, Sebastian, that I have already issued an invitation to the lady in question.’

‘Better and better,’ Sebastian murmured appreciatively.

Dolly gave an elegant inclination of one eyebrow. ‘We were friends before her husband’s death, and despite the gossip I have decided she cannot continue to languish in Shropshire.’

‘Has she accepted the invitation?’ Sebastian asked eagerly.

‘Not yet.

But she will,’ Dolly assured him with certainty. ‘Really, Sebastian, how could you possibly doubt my powers of persuasion?’ Dolly rebuked as she saw his suddenly sceptical expression.

Indeed …

‘What do you make of this, Helena?’ Juliet Boyd, Countess of Crestwood, finished reading the printed invitation she had just received before passing it frowningly to her cousin as the two of them sat together in the breakfast room at Falcon Manor.

Helena gave Juliet a quizzical glance before taking the invitation. Her pale blonde hair was pulled back from her colourless face, her figure thin as a boy’s in one of the dull brown gowns she always wore. A frown marred her brow when she looked up again. ‘Shall you go, Juliet?’

Ordinarily Juliet would have left the Countess of Banford’s invitation, and its envelope, on the table to be disposed of along with the other debris from breakfast. She hesitated now only because there had been a letter enclosed with the invitation. A handwritten letter that she also handed to her cousin to read.

‘“My dear”,’ Helena read. ‘“You were always so kind to me in the past, and now I take great pleasure in returning that kindness by the enclosed invitation. It is only to be Bancroft and myself, and a few select friends.

‘“Please, please do say you will come, Juliet!

‘“Your friend, Dolly Bancroft”.’

‘It is very thoughtful of her to write to me so kindly, but of course I cannot go, Helena,’ Juliet said softly.

‘But of course you must go!’ Her cousin contradicted impatiently, the sudden colour to her pale cheeks giving a brief glimpse of the beauty that was otherwise not apparent in the severity of her hairstyle and dress. ‘Do you not see that this could be your door back into Society?’

A door Juliet would prefer to remain firmly closed. ‘I want no part of Society, you know that, Helena. As Society has made it more than plain this past year and a half that they no longer wish to have any part of me,’ she added dryly.

Her time of mourning had been difficult enough for Juliet to bear when she felt relief rather than a sense of loss at Edward’s death. But the cuts she had received from the ton as early as those who had attended Crestwood’s funeral, had only served to show her that Society now felt well rid of her.

She sighed. ‘It is very kind of Dolly Bancroft to think of me, of course—’

‘And were you not kind to her before she became Society’s darling?’ her cousin reminded her tartly. ‘Before Banford’s connections and his prestige in the House caused them to forget that she was nothing more than a mistress who married her lover before his first wife was even cold in her grave!’ Helena added, in her usual forthright manner.

It had been her cousin’s down-to-earth practicality that had helped Juliet endure this past year and a half of virtual ostracism, and she smiled at Helena now. ‘It was a good nine months after his wife’s death, actually. And Society was not so kind to me either twelve years ago, when Miss Juliet Chatterton married the retired war hero Admiral Lord Edward Boyd, Earl of Crestwood, member of the House of Lords, and adviser to the War Cabinet. I felt offering my friendship to Dolly Bancroft three years ago was the least I could do if it helped to ease her own path into Society even a little.’

Juliet had only been eighteen when she had married a man thirty years her senior. As was customary, the match had been made and approved by her parents, but nevertheless Juliet had begun her married life with all the naïve expectations of lifelong happiness that were usual in someone so young and unknowing.

She had quickly learnt that her husband had no interest in her happiness, and that in the privacy of their own home he was not the same man his peers and the country so admired.

Juliet’s only consolation had been that her parents had not been alive to witness such an ill matched marriage as hers had turned out to be, Mr and Mrs Chatterton having drowned in a boating accident only months after Juliet had married the Earl of Crestwood.

The unhappiness of Juliet’s marriage had been eased a little when her cousin Helena, then sixteen years old, had escaped from France six years ago and come to live with them, becoming Juliet’s companion. Crestwood, it seemed, had been coward enough not to reveal the cruelty of his true character in front of a witness.

‘Then you must let her do this for you, Cousin.’ Once again Helena was the practical one. ‘You are still far too young and beautiful to allow yourself to just wither away in the country!’

‘I assure you I am not yet ready for my bath-chair, Helena!’ Juliet gave an indulgent laugh, revealing straight white teeth between lips that were full and unknowingly sensual.

Now aged thirty, Juliet knew she was no longer in possession of the youthful bloom that had once caught Crestwood’s eye. Instead, she had become a woman of maturity—and not only in years. Her time spent as Crestwood’s wife had left an indelible mark upon her.

Thankfully, she had borne Crestwood no children to inherit their father’s cold and unforgiving nature, and so her figure, although more curvaceous now, was still slender. The long darkness of her hair was healthily shiny, loosely confined now at her crown, with wispy curls at her nape and temple as was currently the fashion. Her complexion was still as creamy and unlined as it had ever been.

But there was a lingering shadow of unhappiness in the green depths of her eyes, and Juliet smiled much less often now than she had been seen to do during her single coming-out Season twelve years ago. Before over ten years of marriage to the icy Earl of Crestwood had stripped her of all that girlish joy.

‘Anyway, I will never remarry,’ she added fiercely.

‘No one is suggesting that you should do so, silly.’ Helena reached out to squeeze her clenched hands affectionately, having been intuitive enough within months of coming to live at Falcon Manor to know of Juliet’s unhappiness in her marriage. ‘Two weeks at Banford Park, to gently introduce yourself back into Society, does not mean you have to accept a marriage proposal.’

Juliet had been softening slightly towards the idea of a fortnight spent in the congenial company of Dolly Bancroft’s ‘few select friends’, but this last remark made her bristle anew. ‘Nor any other sort of proposal, either,’ she stated, only too aware, after years in their midst, of the behaviour of some of the ton at these summer house parties, where it seemed to be accepted that a man would spend his nights in the bedchamber of any woman but that of his own wife.

Helena shook her head. ‘I am sure, as she has said in the letter that accompanied her invitation, that Lady Bancroft just means to repay your earlier kindness to her.’

Juliet wished that she could be as sure of that. Oh, she did not for a moment doubt Dolly’s good intentions. She had come to know the older woman as being kind and caring, as well as deeply in love with her husband. Juliet only feared that her own idea of good intentions and Dolly Bancroft’s might not coincide ….

‘Oh, do say you will go, Juliet!’ Helena entreated. ‘I can come with you and act as your maid—’

‘You are my cousin, not a servant!’ Juliet protested.

‘But your cousin is not invited,’ Helena pointed out ruefully. ‘Think on it, Juliet. It could be fun. And you will be all the fashion, with your French maid Helena Jourdan to attend you.’

Fun, as Juliet well knew, was something that Helena had not had much of in her young life. Her parents, the sister of Juliet’s own mother and the Frenchman she had married twenty-five years ago, had been victims of the scourge that had overtaken France during Napoleon’s reign, both killed during a raid on their small manor house six years ago, by soldiers in search of food and valuables.

Helena had been present when the raid had occurred, and reluctant after her escape to England to talk of her own fate during that week-long siege. But it had not been too difficult to guess, from the way Helena chose to play down her delicate beauty and dressed so severely, that she had not escaped the soldiers’ attentions unscathed.

The two of them had lived quietly and alone except for their few servants this past year and a half, at the estate Crestwood had left his widow, and whilst Juliet had not minded for herself she accepted that at only two and twenty Helena would probably welcome some excitement into their dull lives.

The sort of excitement a two-week stay at Dolly Bancroft’s country estate would no doubt provide ….


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