Four brothers, four love affairs, four marriages that challenge the Stanhope family curse
Jack, Adam, Wes and Mark Stanhope fear falling in love. No wonder. No Stanhope has enjoyed a happy marriage in centuries. What does it take to change the family curse? Courage? Devotion? Love?
LORD STANHOPE’S IMPROPER PROPOSAL
Adam Stanhope is a politician who needs a wife. When he marries for convenience, he overlooks the fact that he cares for his lovely childhood friend more than he should.
LADY FEATHERSTONE’S FERVENT AFFAIR
Wes Stanhope is a national hero, but he’s wounded physically and emotionally. When the woman he loves wants to help him, he learns that the woman he adores can be just as courageous in the bedroom as he was on the battlefield.
MISS DARLING’S INDECENT OFFER
Jack Stanhope leads a carefree existence but when he meets Emma Darling, he realizes that in saving this woman from dastardly men is his saving grace.
THE BASTARD’S PASSIONATE PRIZE
Illegitimate Mark Stanhope expects nothing from his family, but when they save him, he in turn saves a young noblewoman who has the valor to stand against others who would abuse her.
Cerise DeLand brings you the story of the Stanhope family whose members for centuries have not enjoyed any happily-ever-after love affairs!
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London, January 1809
It is a truth, universally accepted, that a politician in want of the premiership must also be in want of a wife.
Felice knew that was her new husband’s justification for marrying her so quickly.
“A reason as good as my own,” she told herself as she combed her hair back from her face and fluffed the ruffled bodice of her wedding dress.
She pursed her lips, wondering how Adam really kissed a woman. How he kissed his mistresses. After the ceremony minutes ago, he had merely brushed her mouth with his. She’d always thought her lips worth more than a peck—and she was determined that this second husband of hers would do more than ignore her.
“I’ll ensure that he does,” she resolved, with a check of her figure in the cheval mirror in the retiring room of her new brother–in–law’s mansion on Grosvenor Square. “After all, the fictitious Miss Proper has charms that Adam does not know about.” Nor should he!
That secret could ruin her marriage. “And I intend to keep both the secret and my marriage!”
So go to your wedding breakfast and be done with this mooning. She had accepted his proposal. Now she would reap the rewards. London Society was open to her—the excitement of their lives, their intrigues ready fodder for her pen. For her romances and poems.
She frowned at herself.
Be honest, Fee. You want more than inspiration for your stories. More than a means to repay that nefarious man your first husband’s debt. You want Adam Stanhope gracing your own bed, not just his look-alike walking on the pages of your newest romance. You want him inside your body. Making you wet and warm. And kissing your—
A quick knock at the door had her whirling.
“Dear Felice,” cooed her husband’s Great Aunt Amaryllis from behind the portal. “Do come out now. We are quite eager to applaud you and Adam. The guests, too, are clamouring for the receiving line!”
Fee scoffed. Most likely, the men wanted more wine while they made wagers on how soon Adam would bed her. And the women? They wanted to assess how a country mouse like her managed to snare the renowned, rich and eloquent Adam Stanhope. Third son of the earl. Widower. Father. Someday soon, the head of his party, if the papers and broadsheets were to be believed. And thereafter certainly, prime minister.
“Adam Stanhope,” she murmured to herself. “A great catch, Fee. If you can intrigue him.”
And there was the rub.
Adam, now thirty, was notorious for outlandish behavior. When he’d turned seventeen, he’d run away from home and sailed to Hong Kong to work with his cousin in his Far Eastern trading company. Four years later, he’d come home to finish his education at Cambridge, marry the beauty of the Season and run for Parliament. He’d won twice now. But since his wife had died in childbirth, Adam had made a name for himself as a rake. He was just like his brothers in that regard. Still, he was the only one who had married and challenged the Stanhope family curse. For it was a legend that no matter whom a Stanhope married, no matter that person’s quality of character or breeding or good intentions, once wedded, a Stanhope lived in hell.
“I will be happy.” Felice repeated the phrase that had become her motto ever since Adam had appeared in Kent last month and proposed.
“I’ll dispense with this hideous man plaguing me for money to cover those old debts. Then I will devote myself to ensuring Adam is happy. I will be a social asset to him. And a good mother to his son.”
What more could a man ask for?
“A politician has to have a wife! Who the devil put that ridiculous rule about, Reggie?” Adam Stanhope asked his friend as he paced in his brother Jack’s drawing room at eleven in the morning. He threw back another shot of Jack’s fine brandy and coughed. “Oh, lord, that burns all the way down. Whose idea was it to stay out all night, eh?” He scrubbed his hand over his face, acknowledging his predicament had less to do with excess alcohol than with Fee Wentworth. Correction, Stanhope. “Dammit, you’d think a respectable widower with an heir earned the right to be free!”
“No help for it, old man,” Reggie responded and drained his glass of spirits. “Damn good stuff, if I say so myself! But see here, Adam, you admitted you need her. We’ve been through this entire argument before. You’ve got a bit of a reputation, courtesy of that Miss Proper’s ramblings and—”
The far door burst open. Adam’s oldest brother, Jack, appeared in all his dark imperious hauteur. He took one look at both men and slipped inside to shut the world out. “Now, Adam. Reggie. What the hell are you doing in here drinking?”
Adam cocked a long black brow at the man who expected to be obeyed in all things. “Drowning my sorrows.”
“Too late for that!” Jack’s mouth twitched in a grin. “Get the hell out there so we can toast the good health of the bride and groom.”
“Come, come, Jack,” he grumped, “you know what this marriage means for me.”
Jack’s black brows arched high. “Oh, I do. One look at your bride and I have a very good idea that—”
Adam scowled at his brother. “She’s lovely.” Damned gorgeous, in fact. And mine, god help me now. “But I have ruined her.”
Jack startled. “You’ve had her? Already?”
“No, no. That’s not what I mean.”
Jack, his grimace deepening, strode over to remove the snifter glass from Adam’s fingertips. “Sadly, I know what you mean. And this does not help.”
“I’ve known her since she was ten, Jack!” Adam thrust out a hand, roiled by what he had just done to this sweet, shy woman.
“And? She was a charming child then. Now you have—”
“Wrecked her life! That’s what I’ve done!”
Jack narrowed his eyes on his brother. “How late did you stay at White’s last night?”
When Adam said “Ba!” and shook his head, Jack peered at Reggie.
The man winced and brushed imaginary crumbs from his cravat. “Five. Six. Not certain. We were winning at dice, you see, and couldn’t leave.”
Jack glared at the ceiling. “I hope to god it was profitable.”
Adam grinned through his pain. “Five thousand in my pockets I hadn’t had before!”
The far door opened again. An auburn–haired man stuck his head in. “What the hell is the delay here?”
Jack beckoned him. “Wes, Adam is having a rather belated moment of introspection. Do come in and help me talk sense into our youngest brother.”
Wes took a step inside and shut the door behind him. In his cavalryman’s dress blues, he leaned back against the door. “What’s the matter, Adam? Nerves?”
Adam rolled his shoulders. “Every man’s entitled. You told me so yourself.”
“That,” Wes chuckled as he limped over to the chair beside Adam and fell into it, “is before a man goes into battle!”
“Well, I am!”
Wes gave him the quelling glance his men termed The Demand. “You are married.”
“I know I thought it a good idea. Despite the horror of my marriage to Sarah.” The mere mention of his first wife sent a wave of revulsion through him. “Everyone thought it a good idea. My colleagues. The Prime Minister. But you both, most of all, know this won’t work.”
Wes pursed his lips. “I’ve seen your new lady wife, and I say give it a go. If you admit defeat before you start, you’re doomed.”
“This is not a cavalry charge,” Adam murmured.
Wes shrugged. “Perhaps it should be.”
“Wes, have a little pity,” Adam pleaded, his head splitting from too much whiskey and too little sleep.
“No pity for you,” Wes shot back. “Felice lives up to her name in temperament as far as I can tell. And her figure, Adam, has certainly become more alluring than when I last saw her in Great Aunt Amaryllis’ garden.”
“She was ten!”
“Was she, now? Hmm. No wonder she was flat-chested.”
“Now see here,” Adam admonished his older brother. “Her figure is—”
“Superb and yours to explore.” Wes wiggled his brows suggestively, then looked at Jack. “We met her when we first summered at Aunt’s house. What year was it Father foisted us off on the poor old gel?”
Adam groaned. “It doesn’t matter!” I liked her then. Enjoyed her wit and intelligence every time we met. Now I’ve gone and hurt her irrevocably.
Jack shook his head. “Don’t argue with him, Wes. He’s got a snoot full from an all-night gambling rout at White’s. It only encourages him to debate you. And neither of us can ever outtalk him.” He gave his brother, the Colonel and Man of Action, a wide-eyed look of despair.
“The curse is upon him.”
“Oh, hell,” Wes mourned. “Not that again.”
Adam frowned at both of his brothers. “That again? I don’t seem to recall that either of you is yet married. Why not?”
“Not our time,” Jack told him.
“No woman I like enough,” Wes added. “You, Jack?”
“None I cannot live without,” Jack said with pointed disdain for the subject. “Come on, Adam, let’s do our drinking out there with all the others.”
“They all wonder, you know,” Adam offered, his gaze on the door.
“What?” Reggie asked when the two Stanhope brothers didn’t respond to him.
All three Stanhopes considered Reggie Mortenson with bleak expressions.
Adam answered for them all. “They wonder when Felice will leave me. As we speak, they are out there taking wagers on the number of months she remains.”
“The Stanhope women don’t all leave,” Jack reminded Adam.
The three brothers winced and looked at anything but each other. Adam knew each man thought of his own mother and how each had died in succession. And even though Jack’s mother passed away after a riding accident, Wes’s died of consumption and Adam’s of childbed fever, the ton declared each woman had suffered first and foremost from a broken heart.
“He says he loved each one,” Jack reminded them of the phrase their father repeated to them often.
Adam shut his eyes. “He declares he loved Clarice’s mother, too!” Their charming half-sister Clarice had been Stanhope’s by-blow, conveniently born between Jack and Wes.
“Aye,” Wes acknowledged with a smirk. “In his prime, the man was a walking satyr.”
Jack inclined his head toward Wes. “Astonishing, isn’t it, that he managed his estates as well as he did, hopping from bed to bed like a right royal degenerate.” He flourished a hand. “Yet, he cared for each woman he bedded.”
Adam growled. “How can you believe him?” He had never known their father to be honest with anyone, least of all his three legitimate sons.
“You were four years old,” Adam reminded Jack, then faced Wes. “And you were two when I was born and my mother took a childbed fever.
How can you know that he tells the truth?”
Jack rolled a shoulder. “Perhaps on this one issue…”
Adam shook his head, hands fisted on his hips. “I long to see the day each of you faces a woman whom you do not wish to kill with the family curse.” He straightened his cravat and ran two hands through his hair. “For god’s sake. Open the damn door, Wesley, I’m ready to claim my bride and ruin both our lives.”
THE STANHOPE CHALLENGE, Regency Quartet
Cerise DeLand loves to cook, hates to dust, lives to travel, read—and write sexy romances. A Top 20 Bestselling author on many sites, Cerise is known for writing eloquent, rapturous stories.
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