Viscount in Love - Eloisa James

"A reigning queen of romance" - CBS Monday Morning

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Viscount in Love

Book 1 in the Accidental Brides

Two eccentric orphans bring together a grumpy viscount and the free-spirited heroine who steals his heart in the first novel in Eloisa James’s new Accidental Brides series, in which haughty aristocrats find themselves married to the wrong women.

He wants a nanny, not a bride…

Suddenly guardian to twins, Viscount Dominic Kelbourne is luckily betrothed to a suitable lady—until she elopes. With no time to woo, Dominic decides to marry his fiancée’s unconventional sister. Torie isn’t perfect, but their kisses are so passionate that society thinks he’s actually chosen her.

She wants to marry for love…

Torie has never been able to make sense of words on a page, so she has turned her talents to art. She longs for a man who values her as she is… but marries for the sake of the twins. She doubts Dominic is capable of love, let alone respect, but as their heated debates turn into something more, Torie begins to imagine a life as a wife, not a nanny.

But when the arrogant viscount finds that his viscountess has stolen his heart, he’ll have to give all he has to win her love.

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Viscount in Love

Book 1 in the Accidental Brides

Viscount in Love

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Chapter One

March 13, 1800
Lord Westcote’s Ball
Westcote House, London

“I’m so jealous of your sister,” the Honorable Miss Clara Vetry whispered, staring across the ballroom. “Torie, do you think a gentleman will ever adore me the way Leonora’s fiancé does her?”

“Absolutely!” But Miss Victoria Sutton felt compelled to add: “Though to be honest, I don’t think the viscount is in love, and neither is Leonora.”

Watching Viscount Kelbourne woo her older sister in the last months, Torie had seen no signs of rampant passion on either side. The viscount wore a glower, his customary expression. Leonora radiated triumph, which made sense since she had decided in the nursery to marry a mere viscount rather than a duke. Ladies of higher rank were dogged by reporters, and even back then, Leonora disdained gossip.

Romantic to the bone, Clara ignored this dampening observation. “Don’t you see the way Kelbourne is gazing at her? His eyes are blazing.”

Torie glanced across the dance floor to where Leonora was standing with her viscount, Lord Dominic Alston Augustus Kelbourne, who was just as rigid as his name implied. “His eyes are not blazing.”

“Don’t be silly, Torie. The latest gossip column in The Ladies’ Mercury named your sister’s match ‘the most romantic of the Season’! It couldn’t be romantic without Kelbourne being in love, could it?”

Torie made a mental note to ask her maid to read that column aloud. She couldn’t see any adoration in the viscount’s face. The two were standing together mutely, perhaps because Leonora disliked chitchat. In Torie’s jaundiced opinion, silence was an effective tool by which her sister promoted a serene and ladylike reputation.

Kelbourne would likely be surprised to meet the real Leonora, whose true temperament was akin to that of his notorious mistress, a volatile Italian lady who reportedly eschewed tea for pink champagne at breakfast.

“You aren’t imagining that Kelbourne will give up that opera singer, are you, Clara?” she whispered. “Because I assure you that he won’t.”

“Ladies ignore such unpleasantries,” Clara said, and promptly broke her own rule. “Did you hear that Lord Kelbourne’s sister, Lady Dorney, has left her husband and gone to live with her latest inamorata?”

“That’s not true,” Torie said flatly.

“She left two children behind!” Clara added with relish.

“Lady Dorney and her husband dined with us last night to celebrate Leonora’s betrothal. I’m not saying the lady doesn’t have a lover, because she and her husband didn’t speak a word to each other, but they were there. Together.”

“Disappointing,” Clara remarked. Then she perked up. “Lord Kelbourne just spread his hand across your sister’s back. I would die if he touched me like that. His hands are so large that they span her ribs.”

“Likely because she rarely eats more than a few leaves of lettuce. You do not want to be her.”

Clara looked back at the dance floor. “I would nibble lettuce, if that would win me such a ravishing man.”

True, Kelbourne was strong and lean, with a jaw that appeared to be fashioned out of marble and a tumble of dark hair. There was no denying that his broad shoulders and muscled body were a pleasure to behold.

Not that Torie would ever ogle her sister’s future husband.

“I’d prefer my husband wasn’t infamous for losing his temper and bellowing in the House of Lords when he doesn’t get his way,” Torie said. “In my opinion, Kelbourne would be greatly offended if Cupid shot an arrow in his direction. Gentlemen of his sort don’t bother with love. Perhaps not even with affection.”

“Yes, they do! Didn’t you read Love in Excess?” her friend demanded.

“Novels are trivial…frivolous,” Torie said, pitching her tone to lofty disdain.

“Oh pooh,” Clara cried. “You and I are frivolous, Torie! I can’t believe you haven’t read it yet.”

“I disdain such trivialities,” she informed Clara.

Her friend narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about? Just last week you told me that your husband would have to manage all the household expenses, because you plan to spend your spare time sorting your ribbons.”

Torie staged an abrupt counterattack. “Frivolous I may be, but at least I’m not dragging a cat to a ball!”

Clara held up a bag fashioned in the shape of a cat’s face. “Are you talking about my darling reticule?”

“Yes! Are those whiskers made of wire? Because something just poked me in the leg.”

Clara started pulling the whiskers straight. “They keep getting bent and tangled, especially when I dance. You changed the subject, Torie.”

Torie didn’t want to talk about books or gossip columns. “Kelbourne showed no signs of infatuation at dinner last night. As for my sister, I assure you that Leonora sees him as a heap of sovereigns topped by a coronet.”

“I would give anything to marry him,” Clara sighed.

“The viscount is haughty—and bad-tempered. He would squish you like a bug. At dinner, he spoke of nothing other than some bibble-babble going on in the House of Lords.

“Bibble-babble!” Clara repeated, giggling. “Torie, he probably spent the day rewriting the laws of the land.”

“I don’t care. He’s boring. And old.”

Not old,” Clara protested. “He was at Eton with my brother, so he’s not yet thirty. Twenty-seven at most.”

“That’s old,” Torie said dispassionately. “Anyway, you can’t tell me Kelbourne was more charming when he was young.”

Clara opened her mouth, but Torie interrupted her. “Perhaps he cares for Leonora as much as he’s capable. If you ask me, they are like two fish swimming along side by side and deciding to mate. You don’t see a romantic twinkle in the eye of a trout, do you?”

Clara turned red and a peculiar sound escaped her mouth.

“Drat.” Torie willed herself not to blush as she turned about. “Didn’t your nanny tell you that eavesdroppers never hear good things about themselves?”

Chapter Two

“I’m fond of fish, so I take your remark as a compliment,” Viscount Kelbourne said. “Though I agree that the eight years between us might make me appear old, or conversely, you…infantile.” His expression was so daunting that Clara squeaked, bobbed a curtsy, and ran away.

Torie had the refreshing thought that Leonora’s betrothal meant that there was at least one man in London whom she had no need to please. That would be her sister’s task from now on.

If Leonora bothered.

“Your frown chased off my best friend,” she observed.

“I gather that you rate yourself above a trout,” his lordship said.

“Actually, I don’t rate myself very high,” Torie told him. “The problem is that I have resolved to marry for more than my market value.”

He looked gratifyingly surprised. “You are beautiful, charming, and well-bred.” One side of his mouth quirked up. “I would rate you a luxury commodity.”

Torie gave him a twinkling smile. “I wasn’t fishing for a compliment.”

He rolled his eyes.

“True, I am very extravagant,” Torie said, thinking that Kelbourne was ten times more handsome when he was surprised out of his haughtiness. “Just look at my fichu, for example.”

“If I am correct, a fichu is a piece of lace that circles a woman’s neck. You are not wearing one.”

“Precisely! The modiste delivered this gown with an elegant piece of Alsace lace, which I promptly discarded.”

Then she winced. Somehow, she’d come close to flirting with her future brother-in-law. Though his eyes didn’t drop to her admittedly low neckline.

“May I escort you to supper, Miss Victoria?”

“Oughtn’t you to be escorting my sister?” Torie twitched open the fan tied to her wrist, its ribs scrawled with the names of dance partners.

“Miss Sutton plans to accompany your father, Sir William. We shall dine together.”

“I suppose she’s trying to keep him away from the brandy.”

Kelbourne’s eyes didn’t flicker, which meant that he already knew about her father’s propensity to over-indulge.

“We’re family now,” Torie told him, waggling her eyebrows. “You’ll learn all our secrets. I promised the supper dance to Lord Paterson, so I’ll have to give up the pleasure of a meal en famille.” She liked to throw French phrases about now and then, to counter the widespread belief that she was ignorant.

Which she was, but never mind.

“You shouldn’t dine with Paterson,” Kelbourne said, frowning. “The man’s a ne’er do well.”

Torie shrugged. “It’s not as if I’m going to marry him.”

He opened his mouth, so Torie raised her hand. “Or wander into the shrubbery with him. This may be my first Season, but I’m hardly a fool.”

Leonora showed up at Torie’s shoulder. “Of course, you are not,” her sister said in a sharp tone. “Any number of people can’t read. I hold out hope that you might master the art before the Season’s end.”

Torie felt the viscount’s surprised gaze, but she refused to flinch. At least he knew now why her market value was so low. Two gentlemen had withdrawn their proposals when her father informed them of her affliction.

“Another family secret, Lord Kelbourne,” she told him. “My sister tears through books as if they were ballad sheets, so you needn’t fear that your heir will inherit my marginal intelligence.”

“Your curls are disordered,” Leonora observed. “I suggest you retire and compose yourself. Supper has been announced.”

Torie blew a white-blonde curl away from her face. “We can’t all be as perfect as you are, Nora.”

“Do not call me that,” her sister hissed.

“I thought we were sharing our secrets with your fiancé. When I was little, I couldn’t pronounce Leonora’s name,” she told Kelbourne. “I shortened it to Nora, which my sister has never liked, so don’t imitate me.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” Kelbourne replied. He turned to his fiancée and held out his elbow. “Miss Sutton, shall we find Sir William and escort him to dinner?”

“You could call her Leonora,” Torie put in. “For that matter, you may call me Torie. For goodness’ sake, your betrothal has been announced—even if you don’t plan to marry for a year.”

“I would prefer not,” Leonora said, with chilling emphasis. She tucked her hand into the viscount’s elbow. “Perhaps there is a children’s table, Victoria.”

Kelbourne nodded farewell.

“Pooh,” Torie muttered, after the two of them walked off.

They were both as cold as iced-over branches in winter.

They deserved each other.


Two Years Later

After the service, mourners are invited to join the cortege that will accompany the remains to interment in the family vault at Kelbourne Chapel.

 

end of excerpt

Viscount in Love

is available for preorder in the following formats:

Jul 23, 2024

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