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A Regency Family Saga with Secrets, Mystery, and Espionage. 


Two nobly born debutantes and their illegitimate half-sisters—must navigate the treacherous waters of London society to unmask a devilishly handsome villain who threatens to destroy their lives and their chances at love.

From glittering ballrooms to shadowy alleys, they must use their wit, courage, and allure to unravel a web of lies and betrayal before it's too late.

Will Sybil, Lady Partington, succumb to her illicit desire for her husband's newly-discovered heir, or sacrifice her own happiness to secure her daughter's future? Can shy, plain Hetty resist the fiery kisses of the man accused of treason, or will she risk her reputation and heart to prove his innocence? And will Lissa, the governess with a secret past, find the strength to confront her own identity and save her half-sister from a dangerous game of espionage?

Start reading today and discover why readers can't put down this addictive Regency Family Saga!

"These books are the best-written timepieces I've ever read." ~ Kindle Reader. 
"I really enjoyed the unexpected romance and twists in this is absolutely scorching hot. Big thumbs up!" ~ Kindle reader.


Reading order...

Book 1: Her Gilded Prison
Book 2: Dangerous Gentlemen
Book 3: The Mysterious Governess
Book 4: Beyond Rubies
Book 5: Lady Unveiled~The Cuckold Conspiracy

Prequel: Scandal of the Season

Or buy the combined books 1-3 at the retailers




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Chapter One

Monkton ~ June 21, 1816
“He’s launching in, for God’s sake! Look at him!” The Earl of Barston’s heir shifted on his knees, his breath hot on Stephen’s arm as the three men gazed, rapt, at the amorous adventure playing out on the gossamer web before them.
Warmed by the drawing room fire that crackled merrily a few feet from them, Stephen watched with satisfaction the elaborate arachnid courtship ritual playing out before their eyes, just as he’d foretold.
His host, Sir Archie Ledger, laughed coarsely. “You say he knows his reward is death?”
Stephen nodded, pleased that his boyhood fascination had earned him so much positive attention when he’d simply been glad of a comfortable bed for the night. A friend had warned him against taking up Sir Archie’s offer of hospitality but Stephen thought the young baronet a capital fellow.
Sir Archie darted a glance at his wife who sat calmly embroidering at the far end of the drawing room, and lowered his voice. “The Paphian jig of eternal damnation, eh? I reckon that’s what I got,” he muttered.
It was no secret Sir Archie had been pressured into marriage following an indiscretion with the lovely but sharp-tongued Miss Julia Preston.
Lady Julia—as she now liked to call herself—raised her head at the commotion, her voice cutting crisply into the schoolboy game Stephen was orchestrating. “I say, gentlemen, what’s more interesting than paying some attention to the ladies? Mr. Cranborne, I want you to please take a seat by me and tell me all about your new benefactor.”
Ignoring her, the three young men huddled closer, eyes still fixed on the spider’s web just below the window. “Take cover, gentlemen, here she comes.” Sir Archie’s tone soured. “No, it’s no good. She’s found us. Story of my life. Fun’s over.”
Stephen, still on his knees like the rest of them, 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 wondered at Sir 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 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 he remembered frequenting houses like this when he was a boy before his mother’s decline.
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 groin hardened. He could not rise now, for God’s sake. He must keep them watching at least a few seconds longer while he remained crouching.
“She’s going to devour him.” The urgency in his voice had nothing to do with the mating spiders.
“Nothing happening.” Archie sounded bored as he groaned and gripped the table edge to heave himself up. Stephen had wondered at a match between the spindly-legged, chinless baronet and the ravishing debutante conducted in such haste the season before. He’d not thought about the lovely Miss Julia again until news spread that the couple had been blessed with twin boys within a barely timely eight months of their nuptials.
Now Lady Julia looked as dewy fresh and desirable as the debutantes Stephen had admired when he’d first been launched upon London’s ballrooms as a young man experienced in battle but completely unprepared for society. His mother had left him little of the vast fortune she’d frittered away through drink and gambling but enough to at least deport himself like the gentleman he’d been born.
He managed. Just.
“No, nothing happening,” muttered Barston, also rising unsteadily. “I’ll wager a thousand monkeys you’re all hot air, Cranborne.”
Lady Julia, who’d straightened, bent at the waist to peer again at the scene that had so excited the gentlemen. “Oh, my goodness, the spider jumped!” she squeaked, twisting round so suddenly she tripped over her husband and fell full length upon Stephen.
For a second he just lay beneath her, eyes wide with shock as her soft curves molded his hard—very hard—contours.
“Get up, Julia. Cranborne, 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 adopted 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 words were heavy with emphasis as she enunciated each one. 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. Cranborne. 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-humored 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 inquiring smile.
“That’s correct, yes, the female will devour him.” Stephen let out his breath in a low whistle as his erection finally subsided. God, he hoped Archie hadn’t noticed. Lady Julia might be a diamond of the first water but she was dangerous and Stephen wasn’t in a position to alienate the few advantageous connections he’d made since his unexpected elevation in the world.
“Nonsense!” Archie let out a guffaw. “The male of every species is infinitely superior in every respect and I’ll wager the insect world is no exception. Cranborne, if this pretty boy spider is still safely in his love lair, gazing raptly at his lady love in two hours, then I’ve won the wager.”
Stephen quirked an eyebrow, the fog which clouded his brain starting to clear. He’d not realized what he’d agreed to. Honesty and fair play won over though the temptation to take advantage of Sir Archie was great. “I’m happy to call off the wager, old chap. It was foolishly done in the heat of the moment, for one can’t bet against the laws of nature. The study of spiders was my childhood hobby. As sure as the sun rises in the east this puny male will have been devoured by his mate by two a.m.”
“The wager stands.” Archie grinned. “I’m willing to bet that a female is no match for a male—in any arena.” He glanced at his wife. “Don’t I prove that time and time again, dearest?”
Lady Julia’s smile for her husband was limpid but when she slid her eyes across to Stephen he read calculation in their depths. Arousal slammed through him and he lowered his head to hide the guilt that burned his cheeks. If Archie were to intercept the silent messages she was sending him, the young baronet would go wild. Particularly if he knew the effect they were having on Stephen.
Stephen had drunk more than usual yet he was not addle-witted. When he rose from his bow, his three companions were looking at him. He shrugged helplessly. Tomorrow he was to meet Lord Partington, his new benefactor. He wanted to be in top form. On the other hand, he’d need to stay to see his wager translate into a thousand pounds, an enormous sum but one that seemed neither here nor there to Archie.
Archie was now bending over again, peering at the web beneath the table. “Can’t say the housemaids are up to snuff in this place but it’s good for a lark. Nothing’s happening. Reckon the old boy’s going to turn tail and run in a sec. Now, ‘nother drink, old chap?”
“Thank you,” Stephen replied, though his bladder was full to bursting. He moved to the door. “Call of nature,” he mumbled. “Please excuse me.”
He drew in a lungful of air as he headed up the passageway to the privy. He’d have to return in the next few minutes to keep an eye on his booty though he’d much rather have gone to bed. Still, he couldn’t afford to lose the wager. It would be some time before he became the next Viscount Partington and could enjoy the financial benefits that came with the title.
He was just returning, issuing into the corridor, pausing to adjust his breeches, when a whiff of familiar orange-water scent assailed his nostrils.
“Good Lord, I beg your pardon.” He stepped back as if stung from the connection of his forehead with Lady Julia’s pert breasts as he straightened. Half expecting an outraged slap, he was astonished by the warmth of her expression as she raised her candle.
“You are a very handsome man, Stephen.” There was no mistaking the intention, conveyed by the calculating gleam in her eye and husky whisper.
Her delicate fingers curved around his wrist and she gave a gentle tug. Obediently he followed her, assuming she wanted to show him something, though not really knowing what to expect.
And certainly not expecting the door of a small closet to be closed behind him, plunging them into almost total darkness save for the candle she set upon the windowsill.
“Lady Julia—”
His words were cut short by the touch of her lips, soft yet demanding as they covered his half-open mouth. He knew he should resist, and indeed he’d half turned to withdraw from the store room and save them both from temptation.
But then surprise coalesced into desire, fierce and potent as her deft little fingers fumbled with the buttons of his breeches and closed around his pulsing manhood.
“By all that’s holy—” he croaked, sucking in a breath when her tongue breached the seam of his lips and her grip upon him tightened. Self restraint was impossible. “Oh God,” he rasped as, this time without hesitation, he responded as she obviously intended he should by touching her, his hands roaming over her pliant, yielding body, all hard angles and soft curves. “What about…your husband—?”
“Too busy watching the spider,” she murmured, suckling his lower lip then biting it gently, her gleaming eyes dancing wickedly before him when he blinked open his own lust-dazed lids.
Reality slammed through him.
“My wager,” he said, drawing away, quickly. He had go to. This was one bet he could not afford to lose.
“Oh God,” he groaned again, glancing down now at the top of her shiny blonde head. She was kneeling, both hands circling his erection, glancing up at him with those knowing eyes full of promise and mischief.
Mesmerized, he watched as she parted her lips, moistening them slowly with the tip of her tongue.
“Do you really want to beat such a hasty retreat, Mr. Cranborne?” Her voice was husky, languid with promise.
He swallowed then made a slightly strangled noise as, slowly, she touched the tip of her tongue to his swollen member. Her eyes glinted, disappearing from view as she dipped her head to the base of his shaft.
“Oh God,” he muttered again through clenched teeth. He thought he’d explode, his need for instant sexual gratification now greater than it had ever been with the Spanish whores and French camp followers who’d been his usual sparse bedroom fare until now. Indeed, Stephen Cranborne was rising in the world in all respects.
Never had he ever been so desired. The lovely Lady Julia wanted him and nothing mattered except his sensory gratification at the hands of this exquisite woman.
She must have sensed he was on the edge and wanted to prolong their lovemaking, for still gripping him, she rose to her feet so that her head rested just beneath his.
Her arms went around him and she wriggled her body tight and hard against his almost painful erection, whispering, “Lift me onto the table, Mr. Cranborne, and let’s see what you’re really made of.”
He did not need to be invited twice. He hoisted her onto the ledge, then rucked up her skirts, his hands skimming her smooth, shapely thighs. The candle flickered perilously.
“Careful, Mr. Cranborne, or you’ll engulf us both in the fires of Hell.” She gave a throaty chuckle.
Wasn’t that where he was going for taking his fill with another man’s wife?
The thought was not enough to stop him. If the exquisite Lady Julia wanted him, he’d take her anywhere.
He stepped back, her parted legs and rucked up skirts offering a tantalizing glimpse glistening folds.
“Come, Mr. Cranborne.” Her voice was hoarse and rough with desire. “Show me how a real man satisfies a woman. I get little enough pleasure in the marital bed. No, don’t be afraid. Archie is already so befuddled he won’t know if we’ve been gone five minutes or an hour.”
A flicker of concern over his wager made him hesitate but was banished when she reached for him, to guide him into her, the rapture in her expression banishing the last vestiges of resistance. After so many years in hellholes across the continent, fighting for king and country, it was rare to feel such a prize with the ladies.
“That’s right, my lovely,” she crooned as she wrapped her legs around his waist and began to move. “My, but you’re so much bigger than my Archie. I want to eat you all up.”
Something in her words sparked a momentary alarm but as she jerked her body forward, plunging him further into her hidden depths, his thoughts were consumed by one thing only.
It had been a long time since he’d not had to pay a woman for sex. This one wanted him. Lady Julia wanted him.
And she had a body to drown in.
For the first time, Mr. Stephen Cranborne made love as a gentleman of the ton in a poky closet off the corridor of a home grander than he was used to gracing and not as grand as he was about to inherit.
The world was at his fingertips and he’d never felt so on top.
“Oh yes, Mr. Cranborne!” With a cry fit to bring the roof—and Sir Archie’s fury—crashing down upon them, Lady Julia convulsed in a final outpouring of pleasure. There was no mistaking the force of her orgasm, which fueled the ferocity of his, the pulsing of her silken canal in which he was so gloriously sheathed, sending the blood roaring to his extremities.
“Oh God, Lady Julia!” he gasped, spilling himself into her, clasping her to him and clinging on for dear life so they didn’t both tumble dangerously to the stone-flagged floor.
It’s where they ended up, regardless, in a froth of petticoats and half-buttoned breeches, exhausted, spent and unable to move.
In the silence all he could hear was their ragged breathing. It was a full few minutes before she struggled out from under him to lie against his side and whisper languidly, “Oh, Mr. Cranborne, you are so much more the athlete than my frogspawn, Archie. You can be my houseguest anytime.”
Sir Archibald. Stephen froze. Sir Archie was in the next room, or as near as made no difference. How long had they been gone? How long before he’d come searching for his missing wife…who’d disappeared in the wake of his missing houseguest?
“Don’t trouble yourself, Mr. Cranborne,” she whispered, as if reading his thoughts. “Archie will be snoring by now. He can’t stay awake beyond midnight. Not much sport for poor me. Won’t you stay another day?” Her tone was cajoling. “Perhaps we could do this again tomorrow.”
His pulse skittered like a nervous schoolboy’s. He’d like to do it again tomorrow. He’d like to do it again every day. He gazed down at her with desperate fondness. No woman had ever wanted him like Lady Julia. In that moment they were as star-crossed lovers. Impulsively, he said, “You must come away with me.”
She cocked her head. “Come away with you? Where to?”
The ludicrousness of his words was brought home to him—he had no home. The army had been home for years. His father had departed this mortal coil when he’d been a boy. His mother had died when he was eighteen. In the time since then he’d drifted, making do on his paltry allowance of four hundred pounds a year. Good fortune had favored him on a few occasions at the horse races but he’d been burned and he’d learned his lesson.
Oh God, his wager!
She must have seen his panic. Leisurely she extended her hand, fondling his balls so that he hardened instantly, despite himself.
He closed his eyes, hardly able to believe that this lovely woman wanted to do this all over again with him.
After years as a young boy spent dodging his mother’s creditors while their well-connected friends dwindled, followed by a series of unexceptional liaisons while in the army, Stephen had been conscious of his shaky foothold on society’s ladder.
Tonight in the arms of Lady Julia, he’d been admired as a man and embraced by quality. One day he would be a viscount. In two short weeks his world had expanded, offering him unlimited horizons.
In a burst of adolescent daydreaming, he imagined pulling her up in front of him on his white charger as Sir Archie grasped ineffectually for its mane. Stephen the conqueror had claimed Lady Julia as his woman.
He was conscious of her reaching down to adjust her garter.
He glanced at her. She did not wear the love-limpid look he’d expected.
“Let’s see what that spider’s up to, shall we?” she suggested as she tickled him playfully under the chin. “If you’ve won the wager, I think I deserve a present, don’t you?”
He blinked, his throat dry. This was not how it was supposed to be in the aftermath of grand passion.
“Come, Mr. Cranborne, let me smooth your hair and put you in order. That’s right, now… Goodness, we were awfully near the drawing room, I hadn’t realized. I hope Archie doesn’t mind. You’re right—if he suspects he’ll be awfully cross with me.” She put her finger to her lips. “Our secret, eh, Mr. Cranborne?” Her eyes danced with seductive allure but this time Stephen didn’t respond. Couldn’t. He had no idea what to think.
Archie turned as Stephen entered the drawing room. “Ah, Cranborne… Sorry, old fellow, but you owe me rather a few monkeys.” He beckoned to him from the escritoire. “There’s the old chap, still loyally by her side.” He pointed. “Admittedly, she tried to best him.” There was gloating in his tone. “But he soon had her in order. As I maintained before, the male is the superior species, in every sphere. Ain’t that right, Julia?”
“Of course, darling,” she replied. “You certainly rein supreme in this household.”
From his chair by the fire, the earl of Barston nodded gloomily as he corroborated his host’s pronouncement. “Sorry, old chap.”
It took a few seconds for the full import of Sir Achie’s words to sink into Stephen’s fuddled brain. He shook his head as if to clear it, picturing the mismatched spider couple. “But…I’ve seen it time and again. A male that tiny always becomes prey to its mate. I saw the way she moved. She was preparing to attack just as I was leaving.”
“You were gone quite some time,” Archie said, pointedly before resuming his mournful expression. “So unless you want to watch the two of them smelling of April and May until the morning..?” He indicated the apparently honeymooning arachnid couple, yawning.
Barston was already snoring gently, his head rising and falling on his chest from each breath.
Lady Julia moved forward to stroke Stephen’s arm, murmuring words of comfort. “Poor Mr. Cranborne. Still, you’ll probably win that and more as soon as you take up residence with your rich relations. Perhaps you can ask your uncle — or, second cousin, isn’t it? — for an advance on your inheritance.”
Stephen looked down at her face, pert with bright assurance. His stomach flip-flopped. He truly was all at sea. “I…I don’t see what choice I have but to ask Lord Partington,” he muttered, assessing the parlous state of his finances. His new coat was, literally, the most he’d outlaid on anything.
Sir Archie raised his tumbler of whisky. “Or perhaps you’ll find yourself in parson’s mousetrap allied to Lord Partington’s lovely daughter, Miss Araminta. She comes with a sizeable dowry. You could be wed before the season’s over and then it won’t matter how long His Lordship kicks around on this mortal coil.”
Lady Julia gave a snide laugh and said under her breath, “Designing little minx, that one.” When Stephen turned startled eyes upon her, she added unrepentantly, “Miss Araminta caused quite a scandal last season. Had to be shipped home early, though it’s not my place to gossip about what crimes she may or may not have been guilty of.”
“Indeed not, my dear,” her husband cut in dryly, “in view of your own clever ploy in getting me to the altar.”
Lady Julia dismissed this with a toss of her head. “I’d say you are a marked man, Mr. Cranborne. Why, Miss Araminta told me with her own lips that she intends to be mistress of The Grange, the home she grew up in.” She laughed, adding, “At the time, her cabbage-headed cousin Edgar was her father’s heir, so of course her wish was implicit upon marrying him, and you never met a greater ninnyhammer.”
“Oh, Edgar wasn’t that bad,” drawled Sir Archie. “I won a few wagers against him.”
“Edgar was utterly bacon-brained.” Lady Julia ruffled her husband’s hair. “Do you remember how you gammoned him over that story of your pointer, Benny, darling? You said the dog had disappeared during a shoot but was discovered a year later, turned literally into stone.”
Sir Archie sniggered. “Oh yes. I told him the story at my club and he demanded to see the evidence. Said he’d wager two hundred I was lying. It only cost me a few guineas to have a stone mason craft me a reputable copy of Benny, which we positioned by the river.” He grinned. “Well, cabbage-headed Edgar said he couldn’t refute the evidence when I took him to see it. Paid me on the spot, in fact.”
Stephen didn’t share in the hilarity at the expense of his poor distant, departed cousin Edgar. He was beginning to suspect he’d been set up the same way.
Lady Julia’s laugh seemed to hold an edge to it, her quick glance at him suggesting that indeed he had.
“A good thing for the whole family that poor Edgar took a bullet at Corunna, eh?” she said. “You must be awfully pleased too, Stephen. Otherwise you’d not be next in line for the title and chances are we’d never have had such a jolly time this evening.”
Her dancing green eyes searched his, her pretty white teeth bared in a smile.
And Stephen did not respond with the rush of adrenaline to the groin he had earlier in the evening when she’d focused her attentions so singularly upon him.

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