A Kiss for a Rogue
The Honorable Rogues®, Book One
Formerly titled A Kiss for Miss Kingsley
A lonely wallflower. A future viscount. A second chance at love.
Olivia Kingsley didn’t expect to be swept off her feet and receive a marriage proposal two weeks into her first Season. However, one delicious dance with Allen Wimpleton, and her future is sealed. Or so she thinks until her eccentric father suddenly announces he’s moving the family to the Caribbean for a year.
Terrified of losing Olivia, Allen begs her to elope, but she refuses. Distraught at her leaving, and unaware of her father’s ill-health, Allen doubts her love and foolishly demands she choose—him or her father.
Heartbroken at his callousness, Olivia turns her back on their love. The year becomes three, enough time for her broken heart to heal, and after her father dies, she returns to England.
Coming face to face with Allen at a ball, she realizes she never purged him from her heart.
But can they overcome their pasts and old wounds to trust love again? Or has Allen found another in her absence?
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“Ms. Cameron never fails to give a heart-pounding, nerve wracking read. . . . I confess to almost passing out several times while reading this book – I simply kept forgetting to breathe .Highly recommend!” ★★★★★ ~S. Clark
“All the required elements for a completely wonderful historical romance. . . .truly sigh-worthy . . .” ★★★★★ ~Janice Hougland
“From the very first page I knew there was something special about this story.” ★★★★★ ~Booklover
“Collette delivers as always!!!!” ★★★★★ ~Dee Foster
“I truly love this author’s wonderful Regency romances. They are fun to read,romantic, and cute with a touch of humor.” ★★★★★ ~Nicole Laverdure
“Wonderful tale of love and second chances. ” ★★★★★ ~Vero
“. . . a truly delightful read. I highly recommend it.” ★★★★★ ~Barbara McCarthy.
“I love Collette Cameron’s sense of humor and storytelling . . . get lost in a wonderfully well written story.” ★★★★★ ~Sonja
“Loved this book! Waiting all those years for each other, now that is true love. Would recommend this book to anyone who loves, love stories.” ★★★★★ ~Sharon W.
Chapter One Excerpt
Late May, 1818
“This is a monumental mistake.”
God’s toenails. What were you thinking, Olivia Kingsley, agreeing to Auntie Muriel’s addlepated scheme?
Why had she ever agreed to this farce?
Fingering the heavy ruby pendant hanging at the hollow of her neck, Olivia peeked out the window as the conveyance rounded the corner onto Berkeley Square. Good God. Carriage upon carriage, like great shiny beetles, lined the street beside an ostentatious manor. Her heart skipped a long beat, and she ducked out of sight.
Braving another glance from the window’s corner, her stomach pitched worse than a ship amid a hurricane. The full moon’s milky light, along with the mansion’s rows of glowing diamond-shaped panes, illuminated the street. Dignified guests in their evening finery swarmed before the grand entrance and on the granite stairs as they waited their turn to enter Viscount and Viscountess Wimpleton’s home.
The manor had acquired a new coat of paint since she had seen it last. She didn’t care for the pale lead shade, preferring the previous color, a pleasant, welcoming bronze green. Why anyone living in Town would choose to wrap their home in such a chilly color was beyond her. With its enshrouding fog and perpetually overcast skies, London boasted every shade of gray already.
Three years in the tropics, surrounded by vibrant flowers, pristine powdery beaches, a turquoise sea, and balmy temperatures had rather spoiled her against London’s grime and stench. How long before she grew accustomed to the dank again? The gloom? The smell?
Shivering, Olivia pulled her silk wrap snugger. Though late May, she’d been nigh on to freezing since the ship docked last week.
A few curious guests turned to peer in their carriage’s direction. A lady swathed in gold silk and dripping diamonds, spoke into her companion’s ear and pointed at the gleaming carriage. Did she suspect someone other than Aunt Muriel sat behind the distinctive Daventry crest?
Trepidation dried Olivia’s mouth and tightened her chest. Would many of the ton remember her?
Stupid question, that. Of course she would be remembered.
Much like ivy—its vines clinging tenaciously to a tree—or a barnacle cemented to a rock, one couldn’t easily be pried from the upper ten thousand’s memory. But, more on point, would anyone recall her fascination with Allen Wimpleton?
Coldness didn’t cause the new shudder rippling from her shoulder to her waist.
Yes. Attending the ball was a featherbrained solicitation for disaster. No good could come of it. Flattening against the sky-blue and gold-trimmed velvet squab in the corner of her aunt’s coach, Olivia vehemently shook her head.
“I cannot do it. I thought I could, but I positively cannot.”
A curl came loose, plopping onto her forehead.
The dratted, rebellious nuisance that passed for her hair escaped its confines more often than not. She shoved the annoying tendril beneath a pin, having no doubt the tress would work its way free again before evenings end. Patting the circlet of rubies adorning her hair, she assured herself the band remained secure. The treasure had belonged to Aunt Muriel’s mother, a Prussian princess, and no harm must come to it.
Olivia’s pulse beat an irregular staccato as she searched for a plausible excuse for refusing to attend the ball after all. She wouldn’t lie outright, which ruled out her initial impulse to claim a megrim.
“I … we—” She wiggled her white-gloved fingers at her brother, lounging on the opposite seat. “Were not invited.”
Contented as their fat cat, Socrates, after lapping a saucer of fresh cream, Bradford settled his laughing gaze on her. “Yes, we mustn’t do anything untoward.”
Terribly vulgar, that. Arriving at a haut ton function, no invitation in hand. She and Bradford mightn’t make it past the vigilant majordomo, and then what were they to do? Scuttle away like unwanted pests? Mortifying and prime tinder for the gossips.
“Whatever will people think?” Bradford thrived on upending Society. If permitted, he would dance naked as a robin just to see the reactions. He cocked a cinder-black brow, his gray-blue eyes holding a challenge.
Olivia yearned to tell him to stop giving her that loftier look. Instead, she bit her tongue to keep from sticking it out at him like she had as a child. Irrationality warred with reason, until her common sense finally prevailed. “I wouldn’t want to impose, is all I meant.”
“Nonsense, darling. It’s perfectly acceptable for you and Bradford to accompany me.” The seat creaked as Aunt Muriel, the Duchess of Daventry, bent forward to scrutinize the crowd. She patted Olivia’s knee. “Lady Wimpleton is one of my dearest friends. Why, we had our come-out together, and I’m positive had she known that you and Bradford had recently returned to England, she would have extended an invitation herself.”
Olivia pursed her lips.
Not if she knew the volatile way her son and I parted company, she wouldn’t have.
A powerful peeress, few risked offending Aunt Muriel, and she knew it well. She could haul a haberdasher or a milkmaid to the ball and everyone would paste artificial smiles on their faces and bid the duo a pleasant welcome. Reversely, if someone earned her scorn, they had best pack-up and leave London permanently before doors began slamming in their faces. Her influence rivaled that of the Almack’s patronesses.
Bradford shifted, presenting Olivia with his striking profile as he, too, took in the hubbub before the manor. “You will never be at peace—never be able to move on—unless you do this.”
That morsel of knowledge hadn’t escaped her, which was why she had agreed to the scheme to begin with. Nevertheless, that didn’t make seeing Allen Wimpleton again any less nerve-wracking.
“You must go in, Livy,” Bradford urged, his countenance now entirely brotherly concern.
She stopped plucking at her mantle and frowned. “Please don’t call me that, Brady.”
Once, a lifetime ago, Allen had affectionately called her Livy—until she had refused to succumb to his begging and run away to Scotland. Regret momentarily altered her heart rhythm.
Bradford hunched one of his broad shoulders and scratched his eyebrow. “What harm can come of it? We’ll only stay as long as you like, and I promise, I shall remain by your side the entire time.”
Their aunt’s unladylike snort echoed throughout the carriage.
“And the moon only shines in the summer.” Her voice dry as desert sand, and skepticism peaking her eyebrows high on her forehead, Aunt Muriel fussed with her gloves. “Nephew, I have never known you to forsake an opportunity to become, er …”
She slid Olivia a guarded glance. “Shall we say, become better acquainted with the ladies? This Season, there are several tempting beauties and a particularly large assortment of amiable young widows eager for a distraction.”
Did Aunt Muriel truly believe Olivia don’t know about Bradford’s reputation with females? She was neither blind nor ignorant.
He turned and flashed their aunt one of his dazzling smiles, his deeply tanned face making it all the more brighter. “All pale in comparison to you two lovelies, no doubt.”
Olivia made an impolite noise and, shaking her head, aimed her eyes heavenward in disbelief.
Doing it much too brown. Again.
Bradford was too charming by far—one reason the fairer sex were drawn to him like ants to molasses. She’d been just as doe-eyed and vulnerable when it came to Allen.
“Tish tosh, young scamp. Your compliments are wasted on me.” Still, Aunt Muriel slanted her head, a pleased smile hovered on her lightly-painted mouth and pleating the corners of her eyes. “Besides, if you attach yourself to your sister, she won’t have an opportunity to find herself alone with young Wimpleton.”
Olivia managed to keep her jaw from unhinging as she gaped at her aunt. She snapped her slack mouth shut with an audible click. “Shouldn’t you be cautioning me not to be alone with a gentleman?”
Aunt Muriel chuckled and patted Olivia’s knee again. “That rather defeats the purpose in coming tonight then, doesn’t it, dear?” Giving a naughty wink, she nudged Olivia. “I do hope Wimpleton kisses you. He’s such a handsome young man. Quite the Corinthian too.”
A hearty guffaw escaped Bradford, and he slapped his knee. “Aunt Muriel, I refuse to marry until I find a female as colorful as you. Life would never be dull.”
“I should say not. Daventry and I had quite the adventurous life. It’s in my blood, you know, and yours too, I suspect. Papa rode his stallion right into a church and actually snatched Mama onto his lap moments before she was forced to marry an abusive lecher. The scandal, they say, was utterly delicious.” The duchess sniffed, a put-upon expression on her lined face. “Dull indeed. Hmph. Never. Why, I may have to be vexed with you the entire evening for even hinting such a preposterous thing.”
“Grandpapa abducted Grandmamma? In church, no less?” Bradford dissolved into another round of hearty laughter, something he did often as evidenced by the lines near his eyes.
Unable to utter a single sensible rebuttal, Olivia swung her gaze between them. Her aunt and brother beamed, rather like two naughty imps, not at all abashed at having been caught with their mouth’s full of stolen sweetmeats from the kitchen.
She wrinkled her nose and gave a dismissive flick of her wrist. “Bah. You two are completely hopeless where decorum is concerned.”
“Don’t mistake decorum for stodginess or pomposity, my dear.” Her aunt gave a sage nod. “Neither permits a mite of fun and both make one a cantankerous boor.”
Bradford snickered again, his hair, slightly too long for London, brushing his collar. “By God, if only there were more women like you.”
Olivia itched to box his ears. Did he take nothing seriously?
No. Not since Philomena had died.
Olivia edged near the window once more and worried the flesh of her lower lip. Carriages continued to line up, two or three abreast. Had the entire beau monde turned out for the grand affair?
Botheration. Why must the Wimpletons be so well-received?
She caught site of her tense face reflected in the glass, and hastily turned away.
“And, Aunt Muriel, you’re absolutely positive that Allen—that is, Mr. Wimpleton—remains unattached?”
Fiddling with her shawl’s silk fringes, Olivia attempted a calming breath. No force on heaven or earth could compel her to enter the manor if Allen were betrothed or married to another. Her fragile heart, though finally mended after three years of painful healing, could bear no more anguish or regret.
If he were pledged to another, she would simply take the carriage back to Aunt Muriel’s, pack her belongings, and make for Bromham Hall, Bradford’s newly inherited country estate. Olivia would make a fine spinster; perhaps even take on the task of housekeeper in order to be of some use to her brother. She would never set foot in Town again.
She dashed her aunt an impatient, sidelong peek. Why didn’t Aunt Muriel answer the question?
Head to the side and eyes brimming with compassion, Aunt Muriel regarded her.
“You’re certain he’s not courting anyone?” Olivia pressed for the truth. “There’s no one he has paid marked attention to? You must tell me, mustn’t fear for my sensibilities or that I’ll make a scene.”
She didn’t make scenes.
The A Lady’s Guide to Proper Comportment was most emphatic in that regard.
Only the most vulgar and lowly bred indulge in histrionics or emotional displays.
Aunt Muriel shook her turbaned head firmly. The bold ostrich feather topping the hair covering jolted violently, and her diamond and emerald cushion-shaped earrings swung with the force of her movement. She adjusted her gaudily-colored shawl.
“No. No one. Not from the lack of enthusiastic mamas, and an audacious papa or two, shoving their simpering daughters beneath his nose, I can tell you. Wimpleton’s considered a brilliant catch, quite dashing, and a top-sawyer, to boot.” She winked wickedly again. “Why, if I were only a score of years younger …”
“Yes? What would you do, Aunt Muriel?” Rubbing his jaw, Bradford grinned.
Olivia flung him a flinty-eyed glare. “Hush. Do not encourage her.”
Worse than children, the two of them.
Lips pursed, Aunt Muriel ceased fussing with her skewed pendant and tapped her fingers upon her plump thigh. “I would wager a year’s worth of my favorite pastries that fast Rossington chit has set her cap for him, though. Has her feline claws dug in deep, too, I fear.”