Cover art: Les Byerley
A botched marriage proposal. A mischievous wager. All leading to a game of hide and seek that turns highly erotic…
Branwell “Tinker” Locke believes in grand gestures. However, when his marriage proposal to Miss Cora Reeve is dismissed as a jape, Bran has to find another way to persuade Cora of his utmost sincerity. Even if it means using his tongue for something other than pretty words.
Cora fears that her former childhood friend is simply set upon helping her win a wager, that is, until they’re thrust together during a game of hide and seek and previously un-expressed passion blooms between them. Then, Cora is left wondering if she’s made a terrible mistake. Does Bran really love her, or was that forbidden pleasure between them in the cupboard just a moment that’s gone forever?
The onus is now on her to convince Bran that she really does want him. She’s ready to bare not just her heart and emotions, but all she has. Things a lady should never give without a promise of forever…
A Wager & a Proposition
Six young ladies, five blondes and a brunette, occupied the skittles alley at Rievaulx House yet there was not a single chaperone in sight. This was why Miss Cora Reeve had chosen this particular moment to propose a friendly wager. “For after all,” she remarked.
“None of us wish to be purveyed like horse flesh for a second season. A little incentive might spur us on in our pursuit of husbands. So, what say we agree that whoever secures the first proposal shall win a little something from each of the rest?”
“Cora, isn’t that gambling?” Harriet Cholmonderley asked from her perch atop the old pianoforte stool. Cora’s best friend was so petite and doll-like her feet swung inches above the floor. “Are you sure it’s quite right? Won’t our chaperones be vexed with us? I don’t wish to be sent home in disgrace.” Harriet’s gaze swung fearfully toward the window. Outside on the lawn their chaperones were partaking of tea.
“Well, I don’t comprehend the problem with being invited to another score of parties,” Biddy, the youngest of the group, remarked. Since her arrival she had been interested more in the accumulation of scandalous gossip than a husband. “I shan’t put myself out to secure a proposal. None of the gentlemen here would suit me at all. They are all too fond of themselves and indulging their vices. Lord Swansbrooke spent forty minutes last night reciting the names of his hounds to me. As if I should care that he has one named Horace, let alone three.”
Cora ignored Biddy and focused instead upon her dearest friend, whose hands she clasped reassuringly. “What will our guardians care about a few chicken stakes, Harriet?
Heavens, I only mean for you to win my hat. None of us are set upon compromising our virtue. Nor do I believe I’d be able even if I were intent on such a thing, with both my mother and Aunt Tessa watching over me.” She squeezed Harriet’s knuckles and was blessed with a nod of acquiescence.
To Harriet’s flanks both Amelia and Persephone also signaled their consent. That left Charlotte, who stood holding her fan like a baton she meant to strike them with. She ticked Cora upon the arm with it. “My concern is that this is not a particularly fair wager. Certain of us are far more advantaged than others, and therefore better placed to win.”
She shot a look at Amelia. “Given Mr. Hulme’s obvious attachment, Amelia is certain to triumph.”
Amelia flushed prettily and bowed her head, so that only the blonde crown which had been interwoven with blossoms could be seen. “I think you overstate my hand. Mr. Hulme is very kind, but I don’t believe he sees me in his life in such a permanent way. I’m sure it’s only that he feels a little sorry for me.”
Kind was not quite the word for it. Attentive was more accurate, perhaps even lecherous, if one were being unkind. Nevertheless, Cora echoed the pooh-poohs of the other women. “Wasn’t it Mr. Hulme’s influence with Lord Egremont that ensured your invitation?”
Amelia had no family to speak of and only a modest living. “How are we supposed to interpret that other than as a sign of attachment?”
Amelia gave a delicate shrug. “I’m not the only one possessed of an admirer. Persephone held court to at least five beaus last night.”
“I did,” Persephone admitted, thought not with any relish. Instead, her attention rested upon the portrait of their host upon the rear wall. Alas, Lord Egremont showed no reciprocal signs of affection. In fact, he was always noticeably absent from the coterie of bucks Persephone gathered.
“Do make sure not to forget Cora,” Biddy remarked to Charlotte. “Why, she and your brother are practically married already. One only has to perceive her skill at skittles to know how much time they’ve spent together, and hardly a minute of it properly chaperoned from what I’ve heard.”
Cora opened her mouth to make a retort, only for Persephone to step regally between her and Biddy. “I believe it’s your turn, Cora.”
Very well, she’d let that slight go, but only because it was in fact the truth. Tink—or more correctly—Branwell Locke had indeed taught her the art of skittles, alongside horsemanship, dice, archery, and trout tickling, to name but a few of her more unusual accomplishments. She excelled at them all, whereas her embroidery was mediocre and her singing voice akin to a caterwaul. “We’re nothing more than childhood friends,” she huffed under her breath. “More’s the pity.”
Cora snatched up the skittles ball. She wasn’t sure when over the last few months things had changed so that Bran had stopped being her fond companion and transformed into an eligible gentleman. She supposed it coincided with her formal presentation into society.
Maybe it was merely her perception that had changed.
Bran still treated her like a sister.
She longed to be his wife.