The Problem with Seduction
Scandalous Spinsters Book 2
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An outrageous proposition
Elizabeth Spencer needs a man. Preferably one who won’t be too picky about the morality of her proposition, or his reputation. Lord Constantine Alexander can’t afford another trip to debtors’ prison, which makes him the perfect candidate. She doesn’t expect him to have a heart of gold, or to hold up his end of the bargain—particularly when his high-in-the-instep family gets involved. Nor does she expect to find him irresistible, because while she needs a man, she doesn’t particularly want one.
A wicked bargain
When a beautiful courtesan offers to satisfy his creditors, Con leaps at the opportunity. Never mind his mother and brothers are suspicious of his newfound fortune—being with Elizabeth is intoxicating enough to wipe any thought of scruples away. He soon realizes it’s not just his future he’s been gambling, but his future family. How can he convince London’s premier courtesan he’s more than a callow rake?
Surely this was the first and only time Lord Constantine Alexander would ever approach another man and utter the words, “Pardon me, sir, but I believe you have my baby.”
Activities at the closest gaming tables ceased. Patrons leaned forward in anticipation of witnessing a scene that would no doubt be fodder for the better part of the night, if not the week.
Con had no idea how Captain Nicholas Finn would reply to his claim—or if the larger, more seasoned man would even use words. An accusation like the one Con had made could end in fisticuffs, or a call for his second.
Con would really rather not be shot tonight.
Captain Finn’s mouth slowly snapped shut. His brown eyes narrowed. Otherwise, he maintained control. “Who the hell are you?”READ MORE
“Lord Constantine Alexander, at your service.” Con tightened his grimace into a proper smirk. A man who’d just claimed to have impregnated another man’s mistress would smirk, wouldn’t he? Otherwise, if he were not a cocky cad intent on embarrassing his opponent, he would have done it all in private.
“Well, do you or don’t you have my son?” Con demanded.
Finn didn’t respond. Con was careful not to twitch his fingertips against his leg. He must look sure. He couldn’t afford to fail his mission, and that meant the captain couldn’t have any reason to doubt his claim.
Con did his best to look arrogant. “By my counting, you do.”
Finn thumped his empty tumbler onto the gaming table. Then he rose to his feet. Even standing, he had to tilt his head back to glare up at Con. “I don’t need to count backward to know my own son,” Finn growled, stepping closer.
“Measure twice, cut once, or so my tailor always says.” Con chuckled into the man’s face, though he didn’t feel like smiling—far from it. But appearances had to be maintained. He wouldn’t see a shilling until the baby in question was returned to its mother—that was the first stipulation of his bounty. The ten thousand pounds he’d receive after the child’s successful recovery would stop the moneylenders in their tracks.
He needed this to work. It all added up to his freedom—each reassuring 0 guaranteed he wouldn’t have to spend another night in King’s Bench, the debtors’ prison that all but had his name etched into a cell wall.
If he failed at this, there’d be no second chance for him.
He grinned again, as if the rest of his life didn’t hinge on the next few moments. “I believe this has been a misunderstanding from the start,” he explained, loudly enough for everyone to hear. “Please, allow me to set the events in question straight so there can be no doubt.”
He must leave Finn with no recourse—that was the second stipulation. The men in this room must be tantalized enough to spread word of this debacle across every club in London, leaving Finn no possibility of reneging.
It was up to Con to make this confrontation between them as salacious—and believable—as possible.
“Four months ago,” he said, his voice booming in the silent room, “you were summoned to a tiny hamlet in Devon by the notorious courtesan Elizabeth Spencer, who had been your mistress for the majority of three years. You were presented with an infant you were told had sprung from your loins. Do I have the right of it so far?”
Finn didn’t spare a glance for the onlookers watching with unabashed interest. He didn’t stop to suggest that he and Con should retreat out of earshot. Instead, his eyes bored into Con’s with an intensity that made it hard not to squirm.
As if he cared, with every iota of feeling in him about what Con was saying. As if his whole life hung in the balance.
Con felt the first twinge of guilt.
“Well,” he continued when Finn’s only reply was a deepening of that discomfiting stare, “why did you think she was in Devon? It wasn’t to see her family. They live in Shropshire, and besides, I hear they aren’t on speaking—”
“What are you trying to say?” Finn bellowed.
Con really, really didn’t want to be shot tonight.
But, if he had to choose between a bullet and the gaol—a very real choice he might be making in the morning—the bullet won. The damp, dark cell at King’s Bench weighed on his lungs. Just remembering that cold, dirty hellhole sent ice through his veins.
His fear helped him to sound beleaguered, as though it pained him to explain what he’d hoped would be obvious by this point. “I live in Devon. She went to Devon to have my baby. That’s what I’m trying to say.”
Their audience’s collective gasp was quickly followed by a round of “I say!” and one “Really, that was not well done of you, Alexander.”
Red splotches mottled Captain Finn’s tanned face as he strained to loom over Con. “That’s absurd! Elizabeth panted after my attentions for three years. She never would have—” But he stopped.
Con barely kept from sagging. Oh, God. He’d done it. He’d planted the seed of doubt.
Finn advanced a step, testing Con’s ability to stand his ground. “She’s my mistress. Not yours. You cowardly, bloody whelp. I demand your retraction.”
He swung his arm wide and Con flinched, belatedly realizing Finn had meant to use his arm to indicate the gaming hell’s occupants, not plant Con a facer.
“None of you laid a hand on her, not in the last three years. You wouldn’t dare. She’s mine. Elizabeth Spencer is mine.”
A choked cough somewhere in the back of the room drew a new level of silence. Awkwardness hung in the air, as each man struggled to decide if it had been a throat tickle or a smothered admission of guilt.
Finn spun in the direction of the cough. Finally freed of that drilling stare, Con breathed easier.
Yet his heart thumped in his chest so hard, surely everyone could hear it. The child wasn’t in Con’s arms—yet. He wasn’t clear of King’s Bench—yet.
“Who did that?” Finn demanded. “Which one of you sniveling bastards wants to join young Alexander here in a fist-pounding?”
Seconds of silence felt like minutes. Con resisted the urge to shift uneasily. The notion that he’d fathered the child, rather than Captain Finn, wasn’t that far-fetched. Elizabeth was a courtesan. She needn’t remain faithful to a man who spent half his life disparaging her and the other half sailing the oceans—in his absences, she might take a legion of bedfellows without his knowing a whit of it.
Whether or not she had done so, Con really wasn’t in a position to know. He’d first spoken to her three days earlier, when she’d found him in a gaming hell and presented him with this plot. But if even one more man would come forward with an admission, his task would be so much easier.
The silence held.
Finn turned to face him. “See? You’re a liar.”
“She isn’t your mistress now, though, is she?” Con taunted. His steady voice surprised him, since he could’ve sworn Finn’s boot was already pressing on his throat. “And she hasn’t always been. You’ve given her up a time or two. She tries your nerves.”
Finn glowered. But he didn’t dispute what was only fact.
Con eased his stance. As he’d done with every creditor who’d ever dogged him, he feigned nonchalance. “You replaced her most recently with Millicent Kimble. A delectable piece, I credit you, as was Mrs. Brooks before her. And a little over a year ago, if I may relate your history aloud, you were keen on Beth Rawlings. I can’t fault your taste, Finn, but I must say, women do have a strong dislike of being jilted.”
Murmurs of agreement wound through the room.
“By my math,” Con said again, feeling surer of himself the longer Finn remained quiet, “the child you’ve been tricked into acknowledging is actually mine. I am sorry, old boy. But if you don’t mind, I’d like my son back. He was the cutest little imp when he was born, and I will never forgive myself for quarreling with Elizabeth just a few days later.”
He laughed quietly, as if they shared a secret. “It’s too easy, is it not, to rile her passions. I ought to have minded my tongue when she was at her most vulnerable. I sent her running back to you instead.”
Finn’s eyes darkened, the leathery skin of his brow creasing. He was assessing Con’s claim, and he didn’t like his conclusion.
Con stood straighter. He was a devil of a handsome man. An objective evaluation, based on his observation that his twin brother was an out-and-out rogue.
Finn was realizing the crux of it now: Con was worthy competition. And beautiful, self-made Elizabeth Spencer did not like to be crossed.
Con almost felt sorry for the man.
He couldn’t take too much time to pity his opponent, though. He didn’t have her baby yet. Only when Finn stormed out of the room, growling, “That duplicitous little slut. I’ll be damned if she sneaks your bastard under my nose,” did Con finally ease his rigid stance.
And the next morning, when a runner knocked at the door of Merritt House, rousing the staff with the announcement that a baby was to be delivered that afternoon, the dread in Con’s belly began to unfurl.
But it was the ten thousand pounds quietly transferred into his accounts that fully unwound his insides and allowed him to take an unfettered breath. When the last IOU had been ripped asunder and even the least of the creditors was satisfied, Con exhaled a deep sigh of relief.
He even had a few coins to spare.
Coins he might not have much longer, as he was in the mood to celebrate his own resourcefulness—until he returned to Merritt House, and his mother greeted him at the foot of the stairs.
“Constantine,” she cried, “where on earth have you hidden my little grandchild? Mr. Benjamin seems to think you’ve no intention of raising him here, but I told him that cannot be true. You wouldn’t keep your own son from his family.” Her blue eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Constantine, you wouldn’t, would you? You’d never be so cruel.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but he had nothing to say. He stared at his mother, powerless to reassure her that no, he wasn’t that kind of father.
The uncaring kind. The absent kind.
The kind his father had been.
It was his first indication that, perhaps, he hadn’t thought this scheme entirely through.
* * *
Elizabeth Spencer would have paid Lord Constantine twenty thousand pounds for the return of her son. She’d not told him so, of course. She’d let him name his price, then bargained him down. It was not by accident that she’d started out penniless and become a very wealthy woman.
But it was to her benefit that he’d been as desperate for money as she’d been for his services. Ten thousand pounds was a paltry sum; she retained more than enough in her accounts to sustain herself and Oliver for the rest of her life. She need not return to her old tricks.
She held her son tightly to her breast and blinked back tears. Her servants were packing the house belowstairs. She must leave immediately, before Nicholas had time to reconsider. He’d stolen five weeks of her son’s life from her. Five weeks of watching him grow, of holding him—
She gasped for breath. It must never happen again.
She’d barely survived the heartbreak of losing her baby once. The unbearably long separation, the weeks of Nicholas keeping her child from her, the days and nights spent in torment, knowing that another woman was caring for her son, that she was never to see her son again, had felt like death.
Even after a full day of having Oliver with her again, she hadn’t accepted her anguish was over. He was hers again. Here. At last. And yet, she remained terrified.
Gazing into his beautiful little face, she willed herself to believe her nightmare was over. She touched his soft cheek and sighed the first sigh of contentment she’d felt since…
It didn’t bear thinking about. Nicholas was gone. Oliver was her joy, her life.
The baby squirmed in her arms. Gray eyes the same shade as her own opened. He cooed.
“Well, look at you, there,” she murmured, nuzzling his tiny nose with her own.
Never again. She would never allow Nicholas to take him again.
A scratch at the nursery door called her attention. Nelly entered, her curly red hair peeping from beneath a mobcap. “You have a caller, ma’am.”
Alarm filled Elizabeth. “Who is he?”
“Not Captain Finn, ma’am. I didn’t recognize him.”
Elizabeth frowned and eased. “Rand ought to have given you his name. You must ask next time, before coming up.”
Nelly bobbed. “Yes, ma’am, and I would have done, but Rand said to hurry. I peeked over the banister when I heard all the going-on. He’s sinful good-looking, ma’am. That’s all I know.” Her pretty brown eyes shone with fear of reprisal, and the thrill of a handsome stranger.
Elizabeth had taken her fill of handsome strangers. The bundle in her arms was the only male in her sphere now. “Inform him that I am unavailable.”
“Mr. Rand did try, ma’am. He’s demanding to see you.”
Elizabeth tucked Oliver’s swaddling more tightly around him. “All the more reason I shan’t stir.”
She ignored the maid’s titter of amusement. The girl was one of the servants Elizabeth had hired to attend her in Devon, where she’d meant to raise Oliver with the help of another courtesan who’d wished to leave her past behind.
Nelly had no family and no prospects, and so when Elizabeth had abandoned her plans for Devon, she’d brought the chit to London, though the employ of a courtesan was no place for an innocent.
Elizabeth knew all too well the fate that awaited a girl who had no family, no prospects and no employer at all.
Minutes after the maid departed, the unmistakable cadence of masculine footfalls approached the nursery door.
Elizabeth frowned. There wasn’t time to set Oliver down before a solid rap against the frame caused her to startle.
Heavier footsteps pursued the lighter ones. Elizabeth eased into her chair as her doorman closed in on the intruder. There was a reason her butler had the physique of a dockside worker. Let Rand see him out bodily, if that was what it took.
“Elizabeth,” a deep voice called through the wood paneling, “you have five seconds to make yourself presentable before I come in.”
She froze in her chair. The man sounded like Lord Constantine.
But he’d already been paid.
“The devil you will.” Rand’s growl came through the door. A thunk sounded outside. “I have every intention of smashing your pretty face through this wall.”
The door opened. A man’s gloved hand reached inside, bracing against the doorframe. Then Lord Constantine ducked into the room, presumably avoiding Rand’s right hook.
He slammed the door closed behind him. “If this is what passes for hospitality around here…” he muttered, straightening his bottle green coat and turning to her.
She remained seated, for Lord Constantine posed no threat to her.
Except, perhaps, the threat of a handsome man.
He was sinful good-looking, to quote her maid, if one liked impossibly tall men with straight noses and a permanent furrow between their brows, which Elizabeth very much did.
The door burst open. Rand’s burly frame filled the entrance. “I’m going to—”
Lord Constantine turned in place. He shook his head, as if talking to a child. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“What the h—?”
“It’s quite all right,” Elizabeth broke in, before her butler could carry out with his threat of bodily harm. “Lord Constantine is the father of my child. I suppose that means I must see him on occasion, if only because I cannot legally keep him from seeing his son.”
If Rand’s wits had been addled by Lord Constantine’s tongue-in-cheek greeting, they positively scrambled at Elizabeth’s outrageous pronouncement. He stood agape, shoulders hunched forward and hands fisted at his sides—just like the prizefighter he once was.
“You do know how pig-headed Lord Constantine becomes when he doesn’t have his way,” she added with a husky laugh, as though she and the young lord had indeed been lovers, and perhaps still were. “You may leave now, Rand. Ask Nelly to fetch another nappy. Oliver is feeling damp again.”
Rand knew better than to think Lord Constantine had ever been one of her paramours. He also knew better than to contradict her.
Rand left. Silence stretched between Elizabeth and Lord Constantine as she refused to be the first to speak. It grew thick, crowding the room. Not because a cradle, a rocking chair and two chests of drawers took up the space between them. Because she was very much alone with a man whose broad shoulders and fashionably mussed hair could have once made her whisper an indecent proposal into his ear.
She laughed to herself. She had whispered an indecent proposal into his ear. It simply hadn’t been the kind that made a man hard. “Lord Constantine, how do you feel about becoming the father of my child?”
Looking at the tall, well-formed man in buff breeches and black boots, she still couldn’t quite believe he’d said yes. What had made him accept? Though she’d approached him precisely because she knew enough about him to suspect he’d agree, he was still very much a stranger to her.
She liked it that way. She didn’t need him here, in her nursery, invading her privacy. In fact, it violated the terms of their contract.
She arched a single brow at the handsome rogue who watched her with a slightly pained expression. He was wasting her time.
“I suppose you’ve come for reason,” she said. “I don’t care what it is. There is nothing more I want than for you to see yourself out of my house.”
His sudden grin caused a little flip in her belly.
“I’ll be delighted to do so, but first, I must insist Oliver accompany me when I do.” He had the gall to look sheepish, as her world teetered on a ledge. “Father’s rights, and all that. You do know what I mean, I think—Elizabeth?”COLLAPSE
on Smexy Books:
"Con is such a different romance hero... This is a well-done romance."
on I Am Indeed:
"The author does a really nice job with building up the romance and playing out the conflict. Looking forward to another book in this series for sure."
"The story builds to create a climax that was satisfying and set the groundwork for the next in the series. If you are a fan of redemption stories and like the regency setting, this is the series for you." -
The Problem with Seduction is the second novel in my Scandalous Spinsters series. Readers first met Elizabeth Spencer in The Trouble with Being Wicked, and when she approaches Constantine Alexander with a wild proposition, it sets them both on a course to true love that neither ever expected.