Title: A Matter of Manners
Author: Terry Graham
Genre: Historic Erotic Romance
Jeremy Wyles believes himself sterile. He's also a sadist and fears no lady would agree to marry him. When a woman shows up on his doorstep, pregnant and claiming to be his wife, he'll do whatever is necessary to ensure his dukedom has an heir. A loveless marriage in name only seems the perfect solution, but his disobedient duchess stirs his desire for discipline...and something more.
Irish rebel Kathleen "Katy" Brennan only seeks recompense from the husband whose cousin married her by proxy and left her with child. The bargain he offers is tempting. He'll claim her baby as his own, and she can become the grand lady she's always imagined. There's just one condition she's not sure she can live with. The delicious-looking duke refuses to touch her...ever.
Can Jeremy put aside the wicked urges that rule his life, or will Katy's rebellious spirit destroy his tenuous control?
He would kill George, stomp him into the ground like the snake he was.
Jeremy’s blood pounded with as much force as his boots as they hit the stair steps. The air was as stifling as it was inside, laden with the nauseating scent of lilacs. He hated lilacs. They’d been in bloom when his grandmother came out and told him his parents were dead. He could still hear the strident command demanding he not cry and George’s reaction when he had. George had pitied him.
George wouldn’t pity him now.
Stopping at the bottom step, Jeremy scanned the grounds. Renowned for its gardens, he had played here as a child while Grandma took tea with the marchioness. To the right was the maze he had been lost in for hours, another memory he stomped down. To the left lay the rose garden, where he’d ripped his jacket, earning a different sort of dressing down from dear old Grandma.
God, he hated it here.
He headed straight ahead toward the smoky lights sprinkled over the grounds. Copses of trees littered the area, designed to offer seating for ladies to rest during leisurely walks or for couples seeking a moment or two alone.
Gravel crunched, reminding him to relax his jaw before his teeth shattered. He forced his steps to slow and nodded at the strolling partygoers, a wooden smile plastered on his lips. He’d have to listen for them. It wouldn’t do to simply pop his head into the cloistered shadows. He had no desire to embarrass anyone. What others did in private wasn’t his concern.
Why had she come out here with George?
Behind him, the sound of The Patriot’s Waltz taunted him. He’d looked forward to dancing with her, flaunting the rule forbidding gentlemen to dance with their wives. That they played The Patriot’s Waltz now was ironic. Her family was likely anything but patriotic. It amazed him still that he didn’t care.
A giggle off to his right captured his attention. A stand of pale white birch trees nestled nearby. In the darkness, the limbs danced, like skeletons waving him forward. Glancing around and seeing no one nearby, he sidled closer.
A male voice filtered out, too deep to be George’s.
The crushing tightness in his chest eased. Exhaling, he moved away, following the path, gravel disappearing until his feet encountered pure dirt.
A looming collection of the dreaded lilacs threatened to suffocate him again. He knew a carved stone bench hid in its depths. He’d admired it occasionally after the flowers died, because it curved nicely with ends the perfect height for spanking a woman.
Not hearing anything, he shimmied around the first trunk and peeked through the blooms.
Empty. Except for the mental image of Katy bent over it.
His jaw tensed. There were a few other, similar benches out here.
Thankfully, George didn’t enjoy the same abnormal urges he did.
No, George wooed women with soft words and lies, sentiments ladies appreciated.
Jeremy turned his back on the lilac bushes and hurried along the path. He’d told George what would happen if he came near Katy. He’d thought threatening to cut off his funds would be sufficient. He’d thought, despite George’s actions, that he loved Emily and his children enough not to jeopardize their welfare. That he was wrong made him sick to his stomach. That George was forcing him to follow through made him want to vomit.
Another burst of quiet laughter assailed his ears. He veered toward it, stepping silently, until another male voice rustled through the fragrant juniper trees. His eyes widened at the whispered suggestion until the woman responded. The voice belonged to a widow even more depraved than he was. With a shudder, he fled, remembering his short liaison with her. She’d wanted to be his puppy, so she could defecate in a locked crate. He didn’t enjoy beating puppies.
With a shake of his head, he continued his search, methodically circling the garden one bush at a time. Each hidden copse seemed to hold another couple. Most merely chatted, a few engaged in activities frowned upon but tolerated. None revealed the people for whom he searched.
The journey allowed his anger to cool, the white-hot ire burning out until it felt more like an ember boring through his center. He still found it hard to breathe, the sticky air filling his lungs with lilac. It wasn’t the lilacs that made his chest tight though. It was fear. Fear of what he’d find.
Just as he debated going back inside, deciding that some things were better left alone, he heard her. Off to the side, near a pocket of darkness, nestled an arbor covered with wisteria. Most of the copious purple blooms were dead, their glory spent, but the greenery formed a wall of privacy as impenetrable as stone.
It wasn’t enough to block the sound of her pleas. Those shot through the darkness as swift and cutting as a crossbow.
“Please, George. I’ll do anything.”
Jeremy froze, closing his eyes as if it might help, and slumped against a nearby oak tree.
“I can’t, Katy.” George’s voice held an edge of regret. “And I know what that means. I also know Jeremy will have my head if I do. I can’t risk it. If it was just me, I’d do it in an instant, but it isn’t. He’ll cut me off. Emily and the children will starve.”
“Please, George.” Jeremy could hear her dress rustle. George’s muffled curse sounded like his own oath when she’d offered anything in exchange for forgiving Gregory. He opened his eyes, sucking in air, but it didn’t stop the image from forming. He might not see them, but he knew what was happening.
“Stop, Katy,” George sounded hoarse, but Jeremy didn’t wait to hear more. He’d heard enough.
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A fresh take on Fifty Shades, set in the time of Austin and Mad King George, A Matter of Manners shows how even those with rebellious and tendencies otherwise considered wicked can find love and acceptance with the right person.
Enter to win an e-book bundle of all 17 books featured in the Booklovers' Pot 'O Gold Event:
Runs March 13 – 17, 2020.
Winner will be drawn on March 23, 2020.
Terry Graham has been imagining love stories since she began playing with Barbie and Ken. In high school, she read Barbara Cartland along with Dickens, Austen, Asimov and everything else she could get her hands on. After two careers, as a chemist and a computer programmer, she retired to try her hand at writing. Terry lives in upstate New York with her cat Amber. She's divorced with a grown son who makes it all worthwhile.
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