The Viscount's Vow-Castle Brides #1 -Collette Cameron

The Viscount’s Vow

Castle Brides, #1

 

He intended to ruin her…instead, he fell in love.

Ian’s a vengeful lord.

Notorious for his stern demeanor and inflexible honor, he journeys to London for one purpose—the permanent and irreversible downfall of the siren who caused his brother’s death.

Instead of an immoral seductress, he discovers a soft-spoken, raven-haired beauty. Against all reason, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to the last woman in England he could ever love.

Evangeline’s a spirited gypsy lady.

She endures the bon ton’s disdain and numerous indecent propositions with grace and poise. But when a dastardly lord plots her ruination, she’s finished with propriety and politeness.

To make matters worse, he becomes caught in his own snare, forcing them into a marriage neither wants…or do they?

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 See What Readers Are Saying!

“…delightful story filled with amazing characters, heinous villains and a love that defies all odds!” ★★★★★ ~InD’Tale Magazine

“Such a sexy love story with all the Regency flair and bells and whistles. The characters are scrumptious and you will fall in love with them. The descriptive elements bring the page to life.” ★★★★★ ~The Romance Reviews Top Pick

“The Viscount’s Vow is captivating Regency romance that shouldn’t be missed.” ★★★★★ ~The Lusty Penguin Reviews

All in all this was a brilliant historical romance that you won’t be able to put down.” ★★★★★ ~Pure Jonel Reviews

This is another fantastic read from Ms.Cameron.” ★★★★★ ~My Reading Obsession

“With highwaymen, gypsies and an evil-stepmother – heartache, betrayal and smoldering romance, The Viscount’s Vow is fast-paced and action packed all the way to the end!”★★★★★ ~So Little Time-So Much to Read

It had equal parts humor, sweetness and spiciness and is an absolute must read for a romance fan!” ★★★★★ ~The League of Rogues

Brilliant memorable ride when reading…you cannot help but being dazzled by the rich characters and setting of this romantic story.” ★★★★★ ~Romance Reader Girl
 
“From page one, this book had me captured. Ian is everything a girl could want. Great suspense, and intriguing plot kept my interest page after page. I would highly recommend this story . . .” ★★★★★ ~Forever Romance

Kudos to this talented author for the phenomenal cast of characters in this book. Vangie and Ian’s story is a roller coaster ride of drama, action, suspense, humor, and sizzle. I loved every page of this book and look forward to reading more from this talented author in the future.” ★★★★★ ~Deb D.

Flourish

FlourishChapter One Excerpt

 

 

London, England, Late April, 1814

 

Vengeance isn’t sweet.

Ian Warrick tipped his champagne flute and took a lengthy swallow. He’d far prefer whisky or brandy. He eyed the pale amber liquid in his still half-full glass. The insipid wine masquerading as champagne did little to wash away the bitterness lingering in his soul.

A young woman partnered by a fusty old lord whirled by, and Ian’s gaze followed her.

Evangeline Caruthers.

After seeking her the better part of an hour, he’d finally found the chit. Or more on accurately, she’d been pointed out to him. A half-smile tugged his lips upward as he watched the aged poger attempt to steer her into a secluded alcove behind a wall of potted greenery. Even across the ballroom, he couldn’t miss her tromping on the ancient fellow’s foot.

That had been no accident.

For a fleeting moment, his smile stretched into a grin of genuine amusement. It vanished just as quickly. He wasn’t here to be amused. Especially by her.

Lounging against the intricately-carved doorframe, he glanced around the opulent ballroom. Candlelight glistened off the crystal chandeliers and framed mirrors gilding the room’s far side. The glass reflected the dancers in a blur of pulsing colors.

This was the first social event he’d attended since resigning his commission in His Majesty’s army. The first since he’d assumed the duties of the seventh Viscount Warrick. The first since his father had succumbed to heart failure brought on by Geoff’s death.

Ian sought Miss Caruthers again, and his gaze lingered. His younger brother was dead. Because of her. Like a rapier between his ribs, pain stabbed him sharp and fierce, hitching the air in his lungs. He exhaled—a slow, deliberate breath. Narrowing his eyes, he lifted the flute to his lips.

A lieutenant reeking of strong spirits staggered from the ballroom and plowed into him. Ian choked on the wine trickling down his throat. “Good—God—man,” he said between strangled coughs.

“’Scuse me, milord. Don’ feel well. Too hot.”

Swallowing against the stinging in his throat, Ian beckoned to a liveried servant. “Help that chap, please.”

He indicated the lieutenant weaving his way through the doorway and careening into any guest unfortunate enough to be in his path. The crimson-uniformed soldier traveled but a dozen more steps before casting up his accounts on the glossy marble floor. Gentlemen raised their voices in protest as ladies squawked their outrage and yanked their skirts aside.

Ian curved his lips again. Poor sot. He’d done it up brown—literally. The ballroom was much too warm; the crush of guests intolerable. He inhaled, and his nostrils twitched. The place stank of sweat, unwashed bodies, and an abundance of cloying perfume. He smirked. No doubt the ball would be touted a haut ton success despite the lieutenant’s messy mishap.

He cared little. Everything about this falderal left him cold. If the circumstances weren’t pressing, he wouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t be here with his brother dead and buried less than a month, his father scarcely a fortnight. Ian’s breech of mourning protocol bordered on ruinous—not that he gave a damn.

Miss Caruthers’ retribution could not wait.

Nor could the explanation Prinny demanded for Geoff’s role in the Duke of Paneswort’s death. Ian twisted his lips into a grimace. Paneswort, a royal pain in the arse, had been a particular favorite of the Prince Regent’s.

Lecherous cohorts.

At any rate, Prinny was irate. So, Ian had cast off propriety, abandoned the peace and quiet of Somersfield, his country house, and ventured into this fray despite the ton’s disapproval of his presence. He’d deal with Miss Caruthers, pacify His Majesty, and then return home.

He rested his shoulder against the wall, the deep saffron-colored wallpaper, a similar shade to the mess on the floor in the process of being cleared away by two footmen. With a jaundiced eye, he scrutinized the room once more. Lord, how he despised these garish affairs. The pretentiousness. The fake smiles. The gossip. The social climbing. All of it added to the bad taste in his mouth.

As he’d snooped around to determine who Miss Caruthers was, he’d felt an absolute fool. My God, he’d actually stooped to eavesdropping on the spinsterish misses gossiping along the dance floor’s periphery. When they’d turned their eager, expectant faces to him, he’d fled like a frightened dog with its tail between its legs.

He was the worst sort of knave, raising their pitiful hopes then dashing off without so much as a, “How do you do?” Had the toxic mixture of grief and ire addled him? His tightened his grip around the etched flute’s stem.

The idea wasn’t that far-fetched.

He’d resorted—without success until now—to asking acquaintances to identify Miss Caruthers. At his less than subtle probing, more than one male mouth had stretched into a rakish grin.

“Want a taste of that, eh, Warrick?”

“Prime mort, she is.”

Ian raised his glass to take a sip. Empty. The devil take it.

Searching the room for a servant bearing more spirits, he tried to ignore the tittering debutantes and their match-making mamas vying for his attention. He supposed he was ripe for the Marriage Mart now—rather like a piece of prime horseflesh at Tattersalls. Everyone present knew he recently came into his title.

More than one affronted dame glared at him. He’d bet his favorite hunting hound they were more vexed with him for ignoring their transparent attempts to parade their calf-eyed daughters before him than his blatant disregard for mourning customs.

He cared not. Not tonight, leastways.

This evening, Miss Caruthers commandeered his attention. Drawing his eyebrows together and flattening his lips, Ian considered her. Adorned in a shimmering white gown, with some sort of filmy silvery overskirt, she was—he grudgingly admitted—exquisite. A tiara entwined with a filigree circlet adorned her raven hair piled atop her head. The gems twinkled mischievously each time she moved.

She appeared angelic.

He knew better.

Her alluring eyes and seductive smile couldn’t gull him. Miss Caruthers might be a diamond of the first water, but he knew the truth concerning her. He was immune to her charms. His gaze sharp, he cocked his head. She appeared regal, poised, accepting dance request after dance request. A demure, almost shy, smile curved her rosy lips.

Did she rouge them?

He curled his lip in derision. Likely.

Arms folded, languidly holding his glass, he relaxed against the wall. The young bloods buzzing ’round her like bees to golden honey only confirmed what he’d been told.

His sister, Charlotte, eyes red-rimmed from crying, had wailed, “Miss Caruthers collects men like souvenirs.”

Ian grimaced again, his attention never straying from Miss Caruthers as she stepped and dipped to the music. Oh, yes, he knew her kind.

She epitomized the type of women he disdained. Fast women, who bewitched unsuspecting swains, like Geoff, and who stole beaus from innocents like Charlotte. Sirens who cast their admirers off with the same regard as a soiled serviette or used tea leaves. Seductresses ever intent on pursuing their new conquests, uncaring of the hearts they crushed or lives they left in ruins as a consequence of their Jezebel triumphs.

Jezebel triumphs.

A familiar twinge stung his heart—or mayhap it was only his pride. Amelia was such a woman, though he hadn’t known it until she’d tossed him aside for a bigger prize. Why settle for him, the heir to a mere viscountcy, when there was a duke to be seduced? Ironically, the same duke who now lay dead from the lead ball Geoff had planted in his chest.

Exchanging his empty glass for a full one offered by a passing servant, Ian suppressed a sigh. He didn’t want to be here—loathed being here. He’d only come on his brother’s and sister’s behalf, to set things to right. In one quaff, he polished off the weak wine, barely suppressing a shudder.

Vile stuff, that.

Scowling as Miss Caruthers maneuvered the steps of the lively country-dance, he clamped his lips so hard, a muscle spasmed in his jaw. He trailed her movements, ever closer, across the sanded parquet floor. The dance steps brought her within a few feet of where he stood. Skipping past him, she laughed at something her partner said.

A jolt slammed into Ian’s gut.

God’s blood! She was laughing, as if she hadn’t a care in the world. His breath hissed from between clenched teeth. Under his breath he vowed, “By all that is holy, by evening’s end, I’ll put a stop to your dalliances—once and for all.”

Precisely how he would go about curbing her, he hadn’t yet determined.

Someone jabbed his shoulder.

“Nephew?”

He stiffened at the familiar feminine voice.

“Heard tell you were here. Didn’t believe it at first.” His aunt poked him again, harder this time. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you were avoiding me.”

Dash it all, he had been.

He sucked in a calming breath before turning around and smiling down into the face of his maternal aunt, Lady Fitzgibbons. Barely reaching his shoulder, Aunt Edith was a formidable dowager in her own right. Tonight, she was attired in a vivid crimson dress. A colorful ostrich feather waved flirtatiously in her silver-streaked hair. Her familiar, cloying violet perfume wafted upward, tickling his nostrils.

Ian bowed over her outstretched hand. “Aunt Edith, you know I always delight in your company.”

“Pshaw. Don’t try your charming tricks on me, young scamp.” She cast a quick look around the room. “Gads, Ian, you’re in mourning. Whatever are you thinking, putting in an appearance here?”

He arched a brow, but remained silent.

“None of my business, eh?” She surveyed him with shrewd eyes. “How are you faring?” Then, only out of polite necessity he was sure, she inquired, “Lucinda and Charlotte?”

With a quirk of his lips, Ian said, “You don’t care a whit how my stepmother is doing. Or Charlotte either, for that matter.”

Aunt Edith inclined her noble head slightly and poked him with the tortoiseshell fan. Again. He was sorely tempted to snatch the accessory from her and toss it behind the greenery—after snapping it in half.

“You haven’t answered me. I know how much you cared for Geoff.” Worry shadowed her unique gray eyes. His mother’s eyes had been the same unusual shade.

His gaze lingered on her. She was a saucy old bird, but a dear through and through. “I’m fine, Aunt.”

As if compelled by an unseen force, his gaze was drawn to Miss Caruthers once more. A callow-faced youth escorted her to her seat where a line of eager pups stood ready to claim her for the next set.

What’s this?

He stood straighter. Had he imagined it, or had her steps faltered and her shoulders slumped, just the merest bit? Was her smile a little strained? Ian stared, searching her face.

No, she smiled as brightly as ever.

He’d imbibed too much wine—that was all. His faculties were affected, which was why he generally steered clear of the stuff. He fingered the cut crystal glass in his hand. How many had he downed since arriving? He shook his head. More than he ought. He would regret it come the morn. Tonight though, the liquor dulled his senses, his pain, his grief…his rage.

An observant servant offered him another full glass. Ian waved away the offer and handed over the empty flute.

“Ah, I see Miss Caruthers has caught your eye. She’s a delightful girl, has exceptional manners, and is quite an accomplished artist.”

He shot his aunt an astounded look. Thank God, she didn’t see it. She was too busy jabbering on about Miss Caruthers many charms.

“Soft spoken, intelligent, excellent dancer, decorous behavior…”

Ian smothered a contemptuous snort. Miss Caruthers was an accomplished actress, indeed, if Aunt Edith was unaware of her soiled feathers. No doubt she emulated chastity and virtue under the ton’s watchful eye while tossing up her skirts in the shrubberies after nightfall.

A flamboyantly-attired dandy elbowed his way to her side, and she snapped open her fan and began waving it before her face.

Aunt Edith chuckled, elbowing him in the side. “Gads, would you look at Pickering’s togs?” Her shoulders shook with mirth. “La, what a nincompoop. Whatever can he be thinking?”

Ian went rigid, darting his flabbergasted gaze to his aunt then flicking it to the man hovering near Miss Caruthers. “He’s the Earl of Pickering?” He blinked twice.

Charlotte’s beloved Reggie? The man whose affections Miss Caruthers stole?

Ian rolled his eyes at the absurdity. It was laughable. He quirked is mouth into a wry smile at the irony until the memory of Geoff’s grinning face intruded. Charlotte’s affection for Pickering might be ludicrous. Geoff’s and his father’s deaths were anything but. Miss Caruthers had much to atone for.

Crinkling her nose, Aunt Edith whispered, “He doesn’t favor bathing.” She paused, “I take it you’ve not been introduced to the earl?”

Ian sensed his aunt’s perusal. She knew him too well; precisely why he’d avoided her. Mindful of her probing stare, he schooled his features and shook his head. “I’ve not had the…ah…pleasure.”

“He just came into his title. Only because his unfortunate cousin expired without issue.” She cast Pickering a censored look. “He’s an obnoxious coxcomb.”

Ian silently agreed. The ridiculous ensemble Pickering wore pained the eye, clear down to his outdated cherry-red, high-heeled shoes. The shoes pitched his body forward when he walked causing his neck to bobble like the vibrant parrot he resembled.

A moment later Pickering guffawed. The whistling squawks passing for laughter confirmed Ian’s initial assessment of the fop. Miss Caruthers’ fan swished faster, and her eyes—were they blue?—searched the room. Did anxiety crease her otherwise smooth brow? The toes of one foot tapped nonstop. In vexation?

An idea took hold.

“Introduce me, Aunt Edith, won’t you?” Ian would’ve asked Prinny himself to do the honors if it meant making Miss Caruthers’ acquaintance. Only for the purpose of delivering her just dues, of course.

Aunt Edith cocked her head. “I seem to recall you prefer more, shall we say, practiced damsels. Miss Caruthers is far more gentle-bred than your usual choice of companion.” She retreated an arm’s length, assessing him with her too-astute gaze. “What are you really about?”

He couldn’t very well tell her Miss Caruthers was a promiscuous tart—that she was responsible for his father’s and Geoff’s deaths. Instead, forcing a smile, he winked. “Perchance, I’m in the market for a wife.” He couldn’t keep the heavy mockery from his tone.

His aunt snorted. “Rubbish and balderdash. You may be the last in your line, but you’re not that anxious to produce an heir.”

“You wound me, Aunt.” Crossing a hand over his heart, he released an exaggerated sigh.

“Tish tosh.” She wiggled her damned fan two inches under his nose. “Miss Caruthers is an orphan with barely two farthings to rub together, nephew.”

“She doesn’t appear destitute,” he said dryly.

“Lud, Ian, you of all people should know things aren’t always as they appear.” Aunt Edith angled her blasted fan in Miss Caruthers’ direction. “Her uncle, Gideon Stapleton, paid for her gown. Do you suppose he’ll also provide her a marriage settlement?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.” An neither did he care a jot.

No settlement, not a sixpence to scratch with, and Miss Caruthers dispensed her favors like flour to a baker. If Stapleton didn’t dower the chit, her fate was certain: demimondaine or courtesan.

“She’s part Roma, you know.” One eyebrow lifted in speculation, Aunt Edith sent him a side-eyed glance.

“I was unaware,” Ian murmured extending his elbow in a broad hint.

That explained Miss Caruthers’ exotic appearance. He regarded her through hooded eyes. He’d heard Romani women were remarkably creative and responsive between the sheets. His groin tightened.

Damnation.

Aunt Edith slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. “It’s said gypsy women can cast love spells. Think she knows any? Not that I believe any of that flim flam, mind you.” She leaned closer to him and lowered her voice to a covert whisper. “Ian?”

He bent his neck, and the blasted ostrich feather tickled his cheek.

“Perhaps that’s why you cannot take your eyes off her? She’s enchanted you?”

Now Aunt Edith was making a May game of him. He straightened, drawing his eyebrows together in an irritated scowl. Damn it. She thought him enamored of the chit. “I assure you, Aunt Edith, I am not under the influence of any incantation.”

She tilted her head upward, a mischievous glimmer in the center of her silver eyes. “Course with her looks and figure, she mightn’t need it. A marriage settlement, I mean.”

Ian’s gaze roamed over Miss Caruthers, then her bevy of suitors. Devil a bit, Aunt Edith might very well be right. Why that irritated him all the more, he couldn’t say.

She rapped his arm with her fan. “No, I don’t believe she’ll have need of a magic charm or a marriage settlement at all. No, indeed.” Nodding her head in Miss Caruthers’ direction, a devilish smile on her lips, she murmured, “Her kind marries for love.”

 

Flourish

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