A Rogue’s Scandalous Wish
The Honorable Rogues®, Book Three
Formerly titled Her Scandalous Wish
A marriage offered out of obligation…
…an acceptance compelled by desperation.
At the urging of her dying brother, Philomena Pomfrett reluctantly agrees to attend a London Season. If she fails to acquire a husband, her future is perilous. Betrayed once by Bradford, Viscount Kingsley, as well as scarred from a horrific fire, Philomena entertains no notions of a love-match. Hers will be a marriage of convenience. If she can find man who will have her.
When the woman he loves dies, Bradford leaves England and its painful memories behind. After a three-year absence, he returns home but doesn’t recognize his first love when he stumbles upon her hiding in a shadowy arbor during a ball. Something about the mysterious woman enthralls him, and he steals a moonlit kiss. Caught in the act by Philomena’s brother, Bradford is issued an ultimatum—a duel or marry her.
Bradford refuses to duel with a gravely-ill man and offers marriage. But Philomena rejects his half-hearted proposal, convinced he’d grow to despise her when he sees her disfiguring scars. Then her brother collapses, and frantic to provide the medical care he needs, she’s faced with marrying a man who deserted her once already.
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See what readers are saying!
What a breathtaking novella…She eloquently yet entertainingly takes readers into the lives of high society during London’s Season, creating a fantastically gossip inducing backdrop for this fun & romantic tale. ~Pure Jonel
I swear Collette Cameron nearly gave me a fit of the vapours with HER SCANDALOUS WISH! ~Monique D
Ms. Cameron’s ability to draw you into the characters will have you traveling the same roller coaster as Philomena & Bradford. So buckle in for a wonderful 5 star+ ride. ~Dee Foster
“Had me grinning from chapter one.” ~Aleen-Lampshade Reader
Ms. Cameron has “hit the ball out of the ballpark” again with this delicious novella. ~J. Hougland
Chapter One Excerpt
Wimpleton’s Ball, London, England
Late May 1818
One, two, three, four … No, I think there are actually five.
Yawning behind her partially open fan, Philomena peeked through the leaves of the enormous cage-shaped potted ficus and counted the wiry hairs sprouting from Lady Clutterbuck’s chin. The chinwag and her cronies gossiped a short distance away, their unending litany contributing to the onset of Philomena’s nagging headache.
She relaxed a fraction. No sign of Mr. Wrightly, a repugnant would-be suiter, and the reason she’d dove behind the plant when she spied him looking for her earlier.
Pressing two fingertips between her eyes to ease the thrumming there, she located the mantle clock and breathed out a soft sigh. Not yet ten o’clock. She allowed a droll smile. Giles wouldn’t consider leaving before the supper dance.
Your brother is determined to find you a husband before Season’s end, Philomena Martha Elizabeth Pomfrett. Whether you like it or not.
And she most emphatically did not.
Despite her lack of interest, or the cost to his already fragile health, dear Giles dutifully escorted her to event after event, evening after evening. And she obediently—well, more aptly, reluctantly—husband-hunted.
Content to become a spinster, the mercenary process conflicted with her principles and put her out of sorts, but Giles’s time ran short so, for his sake, she pressed onward. Fear of her prospective husband’s reaction to her scars created a permanent knot in her belly, and she swallowed against the dryness in her mouth.
She shoved the worry aside. She’d deal with that obstacle when the time came. First she had to acquire a spouse, and her prospects weren’t altogether promising.
“Oh, would you look at that delicious specimen of manhood.” The lascivious tone of Lady Clutterbuck’s cohort was entirely inappropriate for an aged, married peeress. “Utterly Scrumptious. Do you know who he is?”
The dame actually licked her lips, and thrust her bosoms skyward. Considering her breasts’ monstrous size, they barely lifted above her ample waist, and a mere moment later, breathing heavily, she sagged into her former sack-shaped posture.
What unfortunate gentleman had found himself the target of the peeress’s lewd attention this evening?
“Bradford, Viscount Kingsley. He’s just come into his title. One hopes he proves himself worthy of the honor and avoids associating with inferiors and underlings.” Lady Clutterbuck’s strident voice plowed into Philomena with the force of a winter gale. The dame jutted her superior nose into the air. “That’s become so common of late with all the mushrooms and nabobs thinking to force their way into Polite Society. Deep pockets are no substitute for good breeding, I say.”
Philomena craned her neck to see around the blasted plant.
Breath held, she deftly parted the foliage and bent forward.
There, at the ballroom’s entrance in his formal evening attire, looking every bit the gentleman of refinement with his lovely auburn-headed sister, Olivia, on one arm and the distinguished Duchess of Daventry on the other. Unable to deny the giddiness seeing him again brought, fleeting excitement filled Philomena.
He swept the room with his brilliant, blue-eyed—slightly bored—gaze, and she jerked backward, kicking the container as she tumbled into the wall.
He can’t see you, ninny.
The gossips snapped curious, somewhat distracted glances in her direction.
Drat it all.
She dropped into a crouch with only her forehead visible above the blue and white porcelain, and in a moment, they put their graying heads together and launched into another round of on dit. For the first time, Philomena gave thanks that rumors dominated their narrow, peevish minds.
Peering between the ficus’s woven branches, she bit her lip as her stomach toppled over itself. She wasn’t ready to see Bradford. Face tanned, his raven hair glistening in the candlelight, he threw back his head and laughed at something the duchess said.
How could he have grown even more beautiful? Deucedly unfair to womanhood.
Still squatting, she pivoted right, and then shuffled left. Where was Giles? He’d promised her a beverage several minutes ago. He was nowhere to be seen, at least not from this awkward position.
Most likely, he’d gotten snared in a conversation with another hard-of-hearing matron. That’s what came of exploiting their distant connection to the Dowager Marchioness Middleton in order to introduce Philomena to Polite Society.
Not one of the ladies in the dame’s favored circle boasted a birthday less than five and seventy years ago, and inevitably, a matron or two or three, imposed upon him to fetch a ratafia, escort her to the card room, retrieve a wrap, or some other trivial matter. Kindhearted, Giles had never been able to politely make his excuses, so he amiably did as they bid.
Half the time, the old birds didn’t need what they requested. They just enjoyed a handsome young man’s attention for a few moments.
Biting her lower lip, Philomena braved another glance to the ballroom’s entrance. Bradford had disappeared into the crowd as well.
Good. She could make her escape.
A cramp seized her calf as she moved to rise. Curses. Closing her eyes, she gripped the pot’s edge, waiting for the spasm to pass. Pray God no one came upon her hugging the pottery. Rather hard to explain her sudden rapt interest in dirt and greeneries.
Easing upright, she surreptitiously examined those nearest her. No one had noticed her. Pretty much a testament to her entire dismal Season. An incomparable, she was not.
Ah, here came Giles now, bearing a glass of ratafia in one hand and punch in the other. His limp had become more pronounced, and his countenance more wan, than it had been scarcely twenty minutes ago. Nonetheless, despite the ravages of ill-health, his striking visage turned many a fair maid’s head as he ambled toward her hiding place.
Why did he insist on putting them through this every night?
He wants to make certain you are provided for when …
She blinked away the familiar prickle of tears and the accompanying rush of anger. His delicate heart could fail at any moment. The injustice galled. He should be strong and healthy, seeking a spouse himself, not gravely weakened by a prolonged fever and resigned to an early death.
How she wished there’d been no need for him to enlist, wished he hadn’t been stationed in the West Indies, hadn’t been wounded, had received proper treatment. Hadn’t contracted Scarlet Fever.
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
Forcing composure, Philomena schooled her features into pleasant lines. She would bear her grief with quiet dignity.
His forehead furrowed, Giles peered about in search of her.
Eager to intercept him, and grateful to be spared overhearing more of Lady Clutterbuck’s malicious claptrap, Philomena skirted the pot and, after edging along the wall a few feet, stepped out into the open.
Perhaps he would consider joining her in a game of loo or whist. His resting a spell at the card tables would also spare her another partnerless set or two. Blasted hard to acquire a husband when she spent most dances tapping her toes or pretending absorption in cornices, portraits, and elaborately painted ceiling panels.
“There you are.” Passing her the ratafia, Giles grinned and winked, his gray-green eyes, so like hers, glinting with mirth. He dipped his honey-blond head near her ear. “Hiding again, little sister?”
He knew her too well.
She shook her head before taking a sip of the overly-sweet beverage. “No, I’m just avoiding—”
“Is that Kingsley?” Gaze as steely and cold as his tone, Giles canted his head to a cluster of guests not more than thirty feet away.
Philomena had thought Bradford attractive across the wide room, but this devilish, rake was garnering moon-eyed sighs and giggles from the younger misses and calculating, seductive glances from the faster, mature set. He hadn’t seen her yet, and she wheeled around, presenting her back. The air clamped in her lungs so fiercely, her head spun dizzily, and her glass slipped from her hand. “Oh, dear God.”
Her ragged gasp alerted Giles, and he seized her drink, preventing an embarrassing mishap or calling Bradford’s attention to her.
Scorn sharpened the planes of his thin face as he scowled at Bradford. Quaffing his remaining punch, Giles then tossed back her ratafia before taking both cups in one hand and maneuvering her into the crowd. His gaze, simmering with sympathy, plucked at her self-control.
“Why don’t we take a turn about the terrace, Phil? A bit of fresh air might help steady your nerves and allow you a few moments to compose yourself.”
So that you don’t make an utter cake of yourself.
She refused to peek over her shoulder, stiffening her spine until the taut muscles between her shoulder blades pinched.
Had the women fluttering their eyelashes and sending coquettish smiles Bradford’s way any notion how ridiculous they looked? Scant difference lay between their brazen invitations and those of seasoned, dockside harlots. Not that Philomena blamed them. He’d matured into an arresting figure of a man, while she concealed hideous scars, necessitating a gown far from the first peak of fashion.
Jealousy dowsed with pain nipped her heart. Once upon a time, he had reserved that charming, sensual smile for her alone. Well, she’d convinced her naïve, younger self he had.
“It’s just there, through those French windows. You go along, and I’ll be right out after I find Lady Middleton’s misplaced shawl and put these down or find a servant to take them.” Giles nodded in the doors’ direction and half-lifted the glasses. “Earlier, I noticed a charming path through the gardens we might stroll.”
And exhaust himself further? No. A secluded bench was a far better option.
Dragging her musings from Bradford, flashing his enigmatic smile at the tittering females, Philomena gave a short jerk of her head. “Yes, yes, fresh air and a stroll. An excellent notion.”
Escape before the tears she swore she’d stopped shedding for him breached the damn of her resolve and surged down her cheeks. Why did seeing him hurt so awfully after all this time?
She should be over him. Wanted to be over him. Had thought she was until this miserable instant. Joy and anguish at seeing him again wrestled fiercely, each vying for supremacy.
Stupid, fickle heart.
Curling her gloved fingers into fists, and with determination in each step, she deftly navigated through the throng, her focus locked on her refuge—the lantern-lit garden. Perhaps, like a mythical tree nymph, she could disappear into the greeneries for the rest of the evening. Truth be known, no one but Giles would miss her.
Bradford hadn’t sent a single letter, not one, the miserable wretch. And neither had he attempted to contact her or Giles after the fire that took Mama’s and Papa’s lives and nearly hers as well. A blaze that had destroyed their home and that Bradford’s fiend of an uncle had started in the sanctuary—accidentally, he claimed, the lying bugger.
Day after day during the months of her convalescence, Philomena had hoped and prayed Bradford would come to see her or at least send word. Her love gave her strength, gave her the will to fight to live, helped her bear the anguish of her healing burns and the horrific loss of her parents and home.
By the time she left her sick-bed, she had relinquished any expectation of hearing from him again. Standing before her aunt’s filmy dressing table mirror, Philomena cringed at the havoc the fire had wreaked on her arms and chest. Yet she possessed a measure of gratitude too, that except for a few minor burns on her shoulders and neck, the rest of her body had been spared. Taking her heart and her youthful love, scarred as viciously as her body, she’d tucked them away, determined never to endure pain that torturous again.
Bradford’s shallow promises—that he’d love her until the end of time, that as soon as he was old enough, he’d ask for her hand, that he couldn’t wait to marry her, that their difference in stations didn’t matter—all lies. He hadn’t wanted a maimed wife after the fire, and now that he held a title, he could choose a diamond of the first water for his viscountess.
Bitter knowledge to her injured pride and wounded soul.
“You knew you’d probably see him, Phil.” Giles steered her further away from the salivating dames and the man who’d trampled her heart. He pressed her elbow. “It’s the talk of London, his arriving in England on the cusp of his uncle’s death. At least you were spared his company the better part of the Season. And you’ve suitors aplenty to choose from. Why, just this evening, Mr. Wrightly asked if he might court you.”
Double her age, the thrice-widowed, rich nabob made no secret he sought a young wife to beget an heir on. Coarse, vulgar, and perpetually reeking of rancid lard and sweat, Mr. Wrightly had finally deduced no lady of consequence would consider his suit, so he’d lowered his standards and now directed his attention to Philomena.
Lucky her. As if she were that desperate. Yet. “Please tell me you said no.”
“Of course I didn’t.” Giles affected an insulted mien. “That’s for you to decide, but you must make a decision by this Season’s end. We haven’t the funds to sponsor another.”
Neither would he likely live that long.
A quartet of giggling misses, trailed by plain-faced Lady Victoria Southwark, staring longingly at Bradford, plowed across their path, scurrying toward the row of chairs to which he had escorted his sister. Obvious as fur on a frog what they schemed. Empty-headed chits.
“We’ve nearly used the whole of what Aunt Alice bequeathed us.” Tense lines bracketing his mouth, Giles veered his attention from the women.
He wouldn’t even permit himself interest in a woman, and sympathy welled at the unfairness of his plight. What a superb husband and father he would have made.
“I know, Giles, and I am trying. Truly.”
Philomena compelled her stiff lips to smile. They’d exhausted their connections as well, and if it hadn’t been for imposing upon Aunt Alice’s distant relation to the Dowager Marchioness of Middleton, no door in London would have opened to them—the insignificant offspring of a second son and his equally unremarkable wife. “There are still a few weeks left in the Season. All is not yet lost.”
Giles accompanied her toward the open French windows, lines of fatigue already deepening around his bleary eyes. “I’m not worried, Phil. You’ve caught the attention of several eligible men, and with your beauty and wit, I’ve no doubt you shall have multiple offers.”
Bless him for his optimism, but blinded by brotherly love, he exaggerated her potential. At two and twenty, with a very modest dowry and a torso and arms riddled with scars, she wasn’t sought after.
Her beaux consisted of an ancient, almost deaf baronet with a mouthful of rotting teeth, a former sea captain who yet retained a cargo hold’s peculiar odor, a pimply-faced youth in line for an earldom, whose mother had towed him away by his ear upon finding him declaring himself to Philomena at a musicale last week, a banker so tight in the pocket he’d worn the exact same clothing every time she’d encountered him and was wont to stuff his pockets with food when he thought no one looked, a fourth son, without a farthing to his name and a propensity to ogle every bosom within ten feet, and now—God bless my remarkable good fortune—the widower, Mr. Wrightly.
Yes, they made a dandy selection to pick from. Why, Philomena was all aflutter, trying to determine which of the extraordinary gentlemen to set her cap for. However could she possibly choose between them?
But choose she must.
To ease Giles’s fretting, she’d given her word she would marry, in spite of not wishing to ever enter that state, and they truly had exhausted most of their meager funds. Despite making economies, they’d only enough money to pay the rent and their expenses through July. To keep them from the poor house, and prevent him from seeking employment, she must wed. He was too weak, and sure as the rich guzzled champagne, acquiring a menial position would mean a speedier end for him.
If any one of her suitors didn’t set her stomach to roiling worse than a pitching deck during a tempest, she would’ve said her vows tomorrow.
Squaring her shoulders, Philomena offered him what she hoped was a brave smile.
What needs done, gets done.
Hopefully, none of her admirers lurked outside, for she’d no wish to encounter them alone. She hadn’t curbed her tendency to speak her mind, an attribute not favored by males, and she wasn’t in a position to spurn anyone’s attentions just yet.
Almost to the exit, she touched his arm. “I’ll meet you outside, Giles, as soon as you are able. Who knows, I might stumble upon yet another potential husband upon the terrace.”
And Lady Clutterbuck might cease gossiping, and snowflakes won’t melt in hell.
Haggard lines creased Giles’s eyes, and he gave her a firm nudge. “Miss Kingsley is looking this way. Hurry, Phil, go before she recognizes us.”