I was flattered when my publisher
asked me to participate in an anthology
along with three other authors.
Naturally, I asked what other authors
would be included... I was floored
when I learned romance superstar Kathleen
E. Woodiwiss was one of the
others... and I wasn't about to
concept was simple. Each story
would feature a woman forced to
marry by circumstance; four brides
with nothing in common but a twist
of fate... each one must marry
by the stroke of midnight.
My contribution is the tale of
a woman who seeks to defy her father's
ultimatum with a daring, impetuous
kiss that instead seals her future,
thus the title Scandal's
Bride. I conceived the story
idea before coming up with the
title, which had been shot down
for an earlier book (that book
ended up being titled Just One
Kiss). But Scandal's
Bride suited Victoria and
Miles' situation so perfectly,
I figured it was worth another
Had she known what fate awaited
her, she'd never have kissed
But Lady Victoria Carlton, only
daughter of the marquess of Norcastle,
did not act out of a mere frivolity
of nature. Oh, no. In all truth,
she was desperate to seek an
end to her predicament.
She was convinced her only hope
lay in scandal.
Unfortunately, there was precious
little time. Papa had informed
her this very morn that she must
choose a husband by midnight
Or else he would.
It was not an idle threat--of
this, Victoria was very certain.
Much to Papa's vexation, she
had passed through several Seasons,
turning down each and every one
of the marriage proposals that
had come her way. But now Papa's
patience had come to an end.
He'd received three proposals
during the last fortnight. He
was usually not a tyrant, but
when in one of his testiest moods,
he was an imposing figure--there
was simply no crossing him. And
since she had no engagements
other than the Remingtons' ball
that evening, it must be soon. Very soon
. . .
The ball was a typical gala
affair. A din of voices rose
on the air. Dozens of couples
swirled across the floor in time
to a lively waltz. The ballroom
and adjoining salon had been
decorated with huge clusters
of pink and red roses.
With the deep curtsy, Victoria
laughingly retreated from the
arms of her latest dance partner.
Her steps carried her to the
edge of the salon, near the terrace
doors. It wasn't so crowded there,
and she needed time to think.
Good heavens, time to act, for
only a few hours remained before
There was a touch on her arm.
Victoria turned to her good friend
Sophie Mayfield. Two years her
junior, Sophie had just come
out this Season. Sophie gazed
at her, her brown eyes softly
beseeching. "Victoria, I
beg of you, please do not do
this. Perhaps your father is
right. Perhaps you should have
chosen a husband long ago. Certainly
it's not from a lack of suitors--"
"Pompous and selfish young
bucks dazzled by the size of
my dowry, and none of whom I
care to spend the rest of my
life with." A finely arched
long brow rose high she spoke.
Though her tone was light, the
strength of her resolve was not.
She had entered her first Season
with stars in her eyes and romance
in her heart-- with the dream
of catching a dashingly handsome
young man, of having him fall
madly in love with her. Vivid
in her mind was the certainty
that marriage would follow, and
they would live out the rest
of their lives in blissful enchantment.
Another dear friend, Phoebe
Tattinger, had shared that very
It was Phoebe who found her
prince first. She'd tumbled head
over heels in love with Viscount
Colin Paxton the instant they
met. Victoria did not envy her
good fortune -- no, not in the
least! How could she, for never
had she seen Phoebe so happy!
She discounted the rumors that
Colin's proposal stemmed from
his desire to marry an heiress,
though Phoebe was indeed an heiress.
Colin loved Phoebe Ð she was
as certain of it as her friend.
Phoebe's joy had not lasted
even three months after the wedding.
A pang swept through Victoria.
She tried not to remember, yet
she couldn't help it.
She and Phoebe had been out
walking in Hyde Park one day;
Phoebe had only recently learned
she was with child. For that
very reason they'd stopped to
rest, sitting on a secluded bench
with a view of the pathway, where
they could watch the members
of the ton strut and parade
their fine feathers on this sunny
A man and woman passed by. 'Twas
very clear both gentleman and
lady were of an amorous inclination.
One lace-gloved hand lay tucked
into the gentleman's elbow. The
other was snugly enfolded within
his. Even as they watched, the
couple stopped, touching their
lips together in a sweet, binding
Phoebe had laughingly commented, "It
must be the air in London, Victoria. Everyone is
in love these days--"
But all at once her voice choked
off. Victoria's regard snapped
back to the pair in question.
Never in her life would Victoria
forget her friend's expression.
She had watched as Phoebe's heart
shattered into a million pieces.
She'd held her while Phoebe cried
throughout the day. And she had
waved good-bye when Phoebe departed
for the country two days later.
Colin remained in town, where
he continued his association
with his ladybird, the Lady Marian
Winter, a widow.
Since that day, Victoria had
lost count of the women who had
been associated with him. For
the most part, Phoebe remained
in the country. Victoria had
seen her only a few times since
that horrible day, but the change
in Phoebe was sobering indeed.
She was no longer lively and
vivacious. There was no light
in her eyes, no dazzle in her
smile, where before there had
been sunlight bursting in her
heart and soul.
Slowly, her attention was drawn
back to Sophie. "Oh, come
now," Sophie was saying. "Victoria,
when I think of your suitors--why,
none have been so terrible! And
this very moment, your father
his offers from three prospects.
What about Viscount Newton--"
Victoria's generous mouth had
turned down. "A man whose
arrogance I cannot abide," she
"Well, then, what about
"A cad, Sophie, and you
know it as well as I."
"But there's still Lord
Dunmire's youngest son Phillip--"
"Boorish and dull, Sophie.
I should grow weary of my own
voice were I to marry him. And
I'm told he gambles to excess."
"Victoria, I beg you reconsider."
"There's nothing you can
say to change my mind, Sophie."
"But your reputation will
sighed. "'Tis because of
your friend Phoebe, isn't it,
that you refuse to marry? But
I would remind you, Victoria,
not all men are scoundrels such
as her husband."
"I'm quite aware of that,
Sophie. Indeed, there are times
I enjoy their company very much." It
was true. Oh, she laughed. She
danced, but she was no longer
the innocent she'd been when
she entered her first Season.
Her chin came up. "But
I would remind you that
you are only in your first Season,
and I am not so na·ve as I once
was. I have borne witness to
with mistresses, wives with lovers.
I've seen fortunes lost and amassed
with the turn of a card. The ton is
filled with despicable men whose
vices are exceeded only by their
"And so you will never marry?" Sophie
Victoria's gaze turned cloudy. "I
would never bury myself in the
country as Phoebe does," she
said slowly. "But long ago
I abandoned my foolish notions
about love and marriage. I've
learned that marriages are made
to gain money, power, position,
or land--perhaps to breed an
heir--perhaps any and all of
Sophie fluttered her fan in
utter distress. "But you
will spend your life alone, Victoria,
with no husband, no children.
Why, I find the thought simply
Victoria said nothing. She couldn't
deny that Phoebe's painful experience
had left its mark, for she had
no wish to suffer a betrayal
such as Phoebe had done. She
would not allow any man to use
her as a pawn, for his own gain.
Her heart twisted, for there
was a part of her that was torn
in two--a part of her that could
not disdain love entirely. Her
parents had loved each other,
something she never doubted for
an instant. Though it had been
nearly ten years since Mama died,
Victoria still remembered shared,
subtle glances between them,
a lingering touch on the shoulder
that spoke with such eloquence.
If she were ever to wed, it
must be to a man she could love
enough to trust . . . ah, but
could she trust enough to love?
She had no answer.
She knew only that she could
not spend her life as Phoebe
did, in melancholy despair, hopelessly
in love with a man who shared
nothing of her feelings... never
being loved in return...
She would not.
She would far rather spend her
But now Papa was insisting she
marry... oh, she truly did not
wish to defy him!
And so she turned her attention
to her mission, which was simple.
Were she embroiled in scandal,
her suitors would want no part
of her -- neither those present
nor prospective. As for Papa,
surely he would consider her
totally beyond redemption and
would at last cease his efforts
to see her wed.
Twisting her white lace handkerchief
between slender gloved fingers,
Victoria directed a fervent prayer
heavenward. Forgive me, Mama. Her
poor dead mama would be horrified
at what she proposed to do, yet
Victoria could see no other way.
All she needed was a gentleman
to help her carry out her plan,
such as it was.
The only problem was who. In
all truth, she couldn't quite
summon the nerve to approach
a gentleman with whom she was
already acquainted. It must be
a stranger then, for she knew
she'd never have the courage
to face him again. With that
singular thought high aloft,
she scanned the sea of bodies.
Faith, but there must be someone...
A figure brushed by, elegantly
clad in black. The man was tall,
long of limb and broad of shoulder,
a study of lean, masculine grace.
Victoria caught her breath, for
it was as if he'd been lifted
from the very essence of her
mind -- from those dreams she'd
cast aside long ago. Her gaze
followed him as he passed through
the terrace doors and out into
the shadows of the gardens.
Something leaped in her breast.
There would be no better time.
There would be no better man. Anticipation
sparked within her. If all went
as planned, by midnight her fate
would at last be her own.
She turned to Sophie and saw
that Sophie had again gleaned
her intent. Her friend looked
ready to cry.
Victoria lightly squeezed her
shoulder. "Don't look like
that," she scolded gently. "I
shall be fine, you'll see. You
have only to come to the terrace
in a few minutes' time, but make
sure someone is with you was
well. And don't forget, you must
pretend to be horrified at finding
"I will be horrified!" Sophie's
eyes were huge. "Victoria,
when I think of what you are
about to do... throwing yourself
at a gentleman..."
"Shhh," Victoria cautioned,
then summoned a smile and pinched
poor Sophie's cheek. "Wish
me luck, love." With that
Victoria turned and fairly flew
through the terrace doors.
It was a moment before her eyes
adjusted to the dimness. The
man stood perhaps ten paces distant.
His hands were locked behind
his back, his dark head slightly
inclined as he stared out into
the night. Victoria had to force
her feet to do her bidding. But
a rustle of skirts warned of
her presence. Before she could
say a word, the stranger spun
around just as she came to a
Wide sapphire eyes met those
of steely gray. Victoria's eyes
flew why, and she clutched at
her skirts. It was all she could
do to stand her ground. Her heart
knocked wildly, both in fear
and anticipation. All sense of
reason fled her mind. The moment
was upon her, yet she knew not
what to say. She knew not what
It was he who spoke first. "If
you're looking for someone, I
fear you're destined for disappointment.
I'm the only one here."
"Oh, but I'm hardly disappointed.
You're the very one I sought." The
words tumbled forth before she
could stop them. Victoria colored
as she realized how rash--and
how audacious--she must surely
sound. But she couldn't tear
her gaze for his face. She was
tall for a woman, yet he was
half a head taller than she.
And he really was stunningly
handsome, with winged brows as
black as his hair, and a square,
masculine jaw. His eyes were
most unusual, like clear crystal
with a glimmer of silver. She
found herself thinking that he
would be quite irresistible if
only he smiled.
But now it seemed she was the
one who merited a closer look.
The stranger proceeded to inspect
her from the shining blond coronet
atop her head to her narrow,
slippered feet. Though Victoria
had always prided herself on
her ability to remain unruffled
no matter the circumstances,
there was a sharpness to this
man's gaze that rendered her
distinctly ill at ease.
dark brow hiked upward. "Indeed," he
responded coolly. "To my
knowledge, we've never met."
"No," she agreed. "We
have not." Her mind was
turning frantically. However
was she to accomplish her mission
without sounding like a brazen
"You sought me out, yet
you don't know who I am?"
"Yes. You see, I have a
favor to ask of you."
"A favor. Of a man you
do not know."
"Precisely. You see, I
find myself in a situation only
you can help me with."
His eyes narrowed. "How
Victoria forced a light, buoyant
laugh, even as she battled the
urge to turn and flee. "Men
are very fond of gambling, are
they not? Well, you see, my friend
Sophie proposed a rather outrageous
dare, a dare I simply could not
refuse. She dared me to kiss
the first stranger I met tonight.
And so, kind sir, I wonder if
you are willing to oblige me."
The moment was tortuous. Victoria
held her breath and waited.
Nor did she have long to wait.
"Oblige you? Ah, but we
have not met, have we? You have
no idea who I am. I haven't the
faintest idea who you are, and
I do believe it's best we keep
it that way." His smile
was cutting. "In short,
my lady, I think it best if I
remove myself from your silly,
Victoria understood; truly she
did, for already she had recognized
that this man was not a carefree,
frivolous young buck, like so
many others in the ton.
He was older, for one, and his
bearing was that of a man who
knew what he wanted, and knew
Panic flared high and bright
as he stepped past her. It appeared
he had every intention of returning
"Wait!" she cried. "I
beseech you, please do not leave!"
He swung back to face her. Victoria
cringed inside, for his expression
was no less than forbidding.
"Young woman," he
said sternly, "please do
not make this more difficult
Victoria never heard the rest.
A medley of voices came from
behind him, near the terrace
She had been polite. She had asked.
And now it seemed she must take
matters into her own hands. Quickly,
before she lost her courage,
she flung her arms around him,
and pressed herself against him.
Strong hands clamped down on
her waist. Victoria felt him
stiffen, but she didn't give
him the chance to do more. She
tangled her fingers in the hair
that grew low on his nape, pulled
his head down and levered herself
upward in one fluid move.
Her lips met his. Her eyes squeezed
The world seemed to tilt and
spin. A hundred different sensations
bombarded her. His mouth was
soft, while his body was hard.
She battled the strangest urge
to clutch at him wildly, to press
herself against him and feel
even more of him against her--In
her heart she was appalled at
such a wickedly unladylike thought,
yet she could not deny the hungry
surge within her.
In some distant corner of her
mind, she heard his swiftly indrawn
breath; she sensed that he was
as startled as she. Though his
fingers bit into the soft skin
of her hips, he didn't thrust
her away. An odd little quiver
shot through her, for she'd never
thought to find pleasure in this
moment--yet pleasure there was,
a world of it, intoxicating and
sweet. Her lips parted, a silent
Behind her there
was a gasp-- That would be Sophie,
she thought hazily.
Aware they were no longer alone,
Victoria reluctantly broke off
the kiss. She levered her heels
to the floor and prepared herself
for the sight of Sophie standing
there, pretending to be horrified.
With a breathy little sigh, she
opened her eyes.
Only to confront her father's
"Oh, dear," she whispered.
Sophie was behind Papa, her eyes
huge. Their host, Lord Remington,
was there as well.
The stranger, too, had turned
toward the door. Oddly enough,
one lean hand remained anchored
to her waist, the gesture almost
protective. "Good heavens," he
said irritably. "Who the
devil are you?"
Papa straightened himself to
his full height. "I am the
marquess of Norcastle," her
father said grimly. "And
I'll thank you to unhand my daughter."