Excerpt: To Seduce A Sinner

Excerpt: To Seduce A Sinner

Book 2: Legend of the Four Soldiers


London, England
May 1765

There are few things more unfortunate in a man’s life than being thrown over by one’s prospective bride on one’s wedding day, Jasper Renshaw, Viscount Vale, reflected. But being thrown over on one’s wedding day whilst suffering the lingering aftereffects of a night of heavy drinking . . . well, that had to set some kind of damnable record for bad luck.

“I’m so s-s-s-sorry!” Miss Mary Templeton, the prospective bride in question, wailed at a pitch guaranteed to bring a man’s scalp right off his skull. “I never meant to deceive you!”

“Quite,” Jasper said. “I expect so.” 

He had an urge to rest his aching head in his hands, but this was obviously a highly dramatic point in Miss Templeton’s life, and he felt it wouldn’t show the proper gravity for the moment. At least he was sitting down. There was one straight-backed wooden chair in the church vestry, and he’d commandeered it in a very ungentlemanly manner when first they’d entered. 

Not that Miss Templeton seemed to mind. 

“Oh, my lord!” she cried, presumably to him, although considering where they were, she might’ve been calling on a far higher Presence than he. “I could not help myself, truly I couldn’t. A frail wreck is woman! Too simple, too warmhearted to withstand the gale of passion!”

Gale of passion? “No doubt,” Jasper muttered.

He wished he’d had time for a glass of wine this morning–or two. It might’ve settled his head a bit and helped him to understand what exactly his fiancée was trying to tell him–beyond the obvious fact that she no longer wished to become the fourth Viscountess Vale. But he, poor dumb ass, had tottered out of bed this morning expecting nothing worse than a tedious wedding followed by a protracted wedding breakfast. Instead, he’d been met at the church doors by Mr. and Mrs. Templeton, the former looking grim, the latter suspiciously nervous. Add to that his lovely bride with fresh tears on her face and he’d known, somewhere deep in his dark and heavy soul, that he would not be eating wedding cake today.

He smothered a sigh and eyed his erstwhile bride-to-be. Mary Templeton was quite lovely. Dark shining hair, bright blue eyes, a fresh creamy complexion, and nicely plump titties. He’d been rather looking forward to the plump titties, he thought morosely as she paced in front of him.

“Oh, Julius!” Miss Templeton exclaimed now, throwing out her lovely, round arms. It was really too bad that the vestry was such a little room. Her drama needed a larger venue. “If only I didn’t love you so!”

Jasper blinked and leaned forward, conscious that he must’ve missed something, because he didn’t remember this Julius. “Ah, Julius . . . ?”

She turned and widened her robin’s-egg-blue eyes. Really, they were rather magnificent. “Julius Fernwood. The curate in the town near Papa’s country estate.”

He was being thrown over for a curate?

“Oh, if you could see his gentle brown eyes, his butter-yellow hair, and his grave demeanor, I know you would feel as I do.”

Jasper arched an eyebrow. That seemed most unlikely.

“I love him, my lord! I love him with all my simple soul.”

In an alarming move, she dropped to her knees before him, her pretty, tear-stained face upturned, her soft white hands clutched together between her rounded bosom. “Please! Please, I beg of you, release me from these cruel bonds! Give me back my wings so that I may fly to my true love, the love I will cherish in my heart no matter if I am forced to marry you, forced into your arms, forced to endure your animal lusts, forced to–“

“Yes, yes,” Jasper cut in hastily before she could enlarge on her portrait of him as a slavering beast bent on ravishment. “I can see that I’m no match for butter-colored hair and a curate’s living. I retire from the field of matrimony. Please. Go to your true love. Felicitations and all that.”  

“Oh, thank you, my lord!” She seized his hands and pressed moist kisses on them. “I will be forever grateful, forever in your debt. If ever–“

“Quite. Should I ever need a butter-haired curate or a curate’s wife, et cetera, et cetera. I’ll keep the thought in mind.” With a sudden inspiration, Jasper reached into his pocket and drew out a handful of half crowns. They’d been meant to throw to the rabble outside after the wedding. “Here. For your nuptials. I wish you every happiness with, er, Mr. Fernwood.”

He poured the coins into her hands.

“Oh!” Miss Templeton’s eyes grew even larger. “Oh, thank you!” 

With a last moist kiss to his hand she skipped from the room. Perhaps she realized that the gift of several pounds worth of coins was an impulse on his part and if she stayed longer he might re-think his largess.

Jasper sighed, took out a large linen handkerchief, and wiped his hands. The vestry was a little room, the walls the same ancient gray stone as the church he’d planned to be married in. Dark wood shelves lined one wall, filled with the detritus of the church: old candlesticks, papers, bibles, and pewter plates. Above, a single window with small diamond panes sat high on the wall. He could see the blue sky with a single puffy white cloud floating serenely. A lonely little room to be once more left alone. He replaced the handkerchief in his waistcoat pocket, noticing absently that a button was loose. He’d have to remember to tell Pynch. A long wood table stood beside the chair he sat in. Jasper leaned his elbow on the table and cradled his head, eyes closed. 

Pynch, his man, made a wonderful pick-me-up to settle a sore head after a night of over-indulgence. Soon he could go home and take the brew, perhaps go back to bed. Goddamnit, but his head hurt and he couldn’t leave just yet. Voices rose from outside the vestry, echoing off the vaulted ceiling of the old stone church. From the sound, Miss Templeton was meeting with some paternal resistance to her romantic plan. A corner of Jasper’s mouth kicked up. Perhaps the father wasn’t as swayed by butter-yellow hair as she. In any case, he’d far rather face charging Frenchies than the family and guests outside.

He sighed and stretched his long legs before him. Thus was six month’s hard work undone. Six months was the amount of time he’d taken to court Miss Templeton. A month to find a suitable lass–one from a good family, not too young, not too old, and pretty enough to bed. Three months to carefully court, flirting at balls and salons, taking her for rides in his carriage, buying her sweets and flowers and little fripperies. Then the question put to her, a satisfactory answer, and the chaste kiss on a virginal cheek. After that all that had been left was the calling of the banns and various purchases and arrangements made for the upcoming blissful nuptials. 

What, then, had gone wrong? She’d seemed perfectly complacent to his plans. Had never once before this morning voiced any doubts. Indeed, when presented with pearl and gold earrings, one might even go so far as to say she’d been ecstatic. Whence, then, this sudden urge to marry a butter-haired curate?

This problem of losing fiancées would never have happened to his elder brother, Richard, had he lived long enough to seek his own viscountess. Perhaps it was him, Jasper thought morbidly. Something in him that was anathema to the fairer sex–at least when it came to matrimony. One couldn’t help but make note of the fact that this was the second time in less than a year that he’d been handed his conge. Of course the first time it’d been Emeline, who–let us be fair here–was more sister than lover. Nevertheless, a gentleman might very well–

The sound of the vestry door creaking open interrupted Jasper’s thoughts. He opened his eyes. 

A tall, slim woman hesitated in the doorway. She was a friend of Emeline’s–the one whose name Jasper could never remember.

“I’m sorry, did I wake you?” she asked.

“No, merely resting.”

She nodded, looked quickly over her shoulder, and shut the door behind her, closeting herself quite improperly with him.

Jasper raised his eyebrows. She’d never struck him as the dramatic sort, but then his perception in this area was obviously faulty.

She stood very straight, her shoulders square, her chin lifted ever so slightly. She was a plain woman, with features that a man would be hard-pressed to remember–probably why he couldn’t remember her name now, come to think of it. Her light hair was an indeterminate color between blond and brown, and worn in a knot at the back of her head. Her eyes were a nondescript brown. Her dress was a grayish brown, with an ordinary, square-cut bodice that revealed a meager bosom. The skin there was rather fine, Jasper noted. It was that translucent bluish-white that was often compared to marble. If he peered closer, no doubt he would be able to trace the veins that ran beneath the pale, delicate skin.

Instead he raised his eyes to her face. She’d stood there, unmoving, as he’d examined her, but a faint flush was now visible high on her cheekbones.

The sight of her discomfiture, however slight, made him feel a cad. His words, in consequence, were rather sharp. “Is there some way in which I can assist you, ma’am?”

She answered with a question of her own. “Is it true that Mary will not marry you?”

He sighed. “It appears that she has set her heart on capturing a curate and a mere viscount will no longer do.”

She didn’t smile. “You do not love her.”

He spread his hands. “Sadly true, though it marks me as a blackguard to confess it.”

“Then I have a proposition for you.”


She clasped her hands together in front of herself and did the impossible. She straightened further. “I wonder if you might marry me instead.” 

Melisande Fleming made herself stand still and look Lord Vale in the eye, steadily and without any hint of girlish fluster. She wasn’t a girl, after all. She was a woman in her eight and twentieth year, well past the age of orange blossoms and spring weddings. Well past the hope of happiness, in fact. But it seemed that hope was a hardy thing, almost impossible to beat down.

What she had just proposed was ridiculous. Lord Vale was a wealthy man. A titled man. A man in the prime of his life. In short, a man who could have his pick of simpering girls, both younger and more beautiful than she. Even if he had just been left at the altar for a penniless curate.

So Melisande braced herself for laughter, scorn, or–worst of all–pity.

Instead, Lord Vale simply looked at her. Perhaps he hadn’t heard. His beautiful blue eyes were a trifle bloodshot, and from the way he’d been holding his head when she entered the room, she suspected that he might have overcelebrated his impending nuptials the night before. 

He lounged in his chair, his long muscular legs sprawled before him, taking up much more space than he should. He stared at her with those shockingly bright green-blue eyes. They were luminescent–even whilst bloodshot–but they were the only thing about him that could be called lovely. His face was long, creased with deep lines around the eyes and mouth. His nose was long, too, as well as overlarge. His eyelids drooped at the corners as if he were perpetually sleepy. And his hair . . . actually, his hair was rather nice, curly and thick, and a lovely reddish brown color. It would’ve looked boyish, perhaps even effeminate, on any other man.

She’d nearly not come to his wedding today. Mary was a distant cousin, one she’d spoken to only once or twice in her life. But Gertrude, Melisande’s sister-in-law, had felt ill this morning and insisted that Melisande come to represent their branch of the family. So here she was, having just made the most reckless move of her life.

How odd fate was.

Finally, Lord Vale stirred. He rubbed a large bony hand down his face and then looked at her through long, spread fingers. “I’m an idiot–you must forgive me–but for the life of me I can’t remember your name.”

Naturally. She’d always been the type to hover round the edges of a crowd. Never in the center, never drawing attention to herself.

While he was just the opposite. 

She inhaled, tightening her fingers to still their nervous trembling. She would have only this one chance, and she mustn’t bungle it. 

“I am Melisande Fleming. My father was Ernest Fleming of the Northumberland Flemings.” Her family was old and well respected, and she didn’t deign to elaborate. If he hadn’t heard of them before this, her protestations of respectability would do her no good now. “Father is dead, but I have two brothers, Ernest and Harold. My mother was a Prussian émigré, and she is also dead. You may remember that I am friends with Lady Emeline, who–“

“Yes, yes.” He lifted his hand from his face to wave away her credentials. “I know who you are; I just didn’t know . . .”

“My name.”

He inclined his head. “Quite. As I said–an idiot.” 

She swallowed. “May I have your answer?”

“It’s just that”–he shook his head and gestured vaguely with long fingers–“I know I had too much to drink last night and I’m still a little dazed by Miss Templeton’s defection, so my mental facilities may not yet be up to par, but I don’t see why you’d want to marry me.”

“You are a viscount, my lord. False modesty ill becomes you.”

His wide mouth curved in a faint smile. “Rather tart-tongued, aren’t you, for a lady seeking a gentleman’s hand?”

She felt the heat rise in her neck and cheeks and had to fight the urge to simply fling open the door and run.

“Why,” he asked softly, “amongst all the other viscounts in the world, why marry me?”

“You are an honorable man. I know this from Emeline.” Melisande stepped cautiously, picking and choosing her words with care. “From the brevity of your engagement to Mary, you are anxious to wed, are you not?”

He cocked his head. “It would certainly appear so.”

She nodded. “And I wish to have my own household instead of living on the generosity of my brothers.” A partial truth.

“You have no monies of your own?”

“I have an excellent dowry and monies that are mine besides that. But an unmarried lady can hardly live by herself.”


He contemplated her, apparently quite content to have her stand before him like a petitioner before the king. After a bit, he nodded and stood, his height forcing her to look up. She might be a tall woman, but he was a taller man. 

“Forgive me, but I must be blunt in order to avert an embarrassing misunderstanding later. I wish a real marriage. A marriage that, with God’s grace, will produce children begot in a shared marriage bed.” He smiled charmingly, his turquoise eyes glinting just a little. “Is that also what you seek?”

She held his eyes, not daring to hope. “Yes.”

He bowed his head. “Then, Miss Fleming, I am honored to accept your offer of marriage.”

Her chest felt constricted, and at the same time it was as if a fluttering wild thing beat against her rib cage, struggling to burst free and go flying about the room in joy. 

Melisande held out her hand. “Thank you, my lord.”

He smiled quizzically at her proffered hand and then took it. But instead of shaking to seal the bargain, he bent his head over her knuckles, and she felt the soft brush of his warm lips. She repressed a shudder of longing at the simple touch.

He straightened. “I only hope that you will still thank me after our wedding day, Miss Fleming.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but he was already turning away. “I’m afraid I have an awful head. I’ll call on your brother in three days, shall I? I must play the forsaken lover for at least three days, don’t you think? Any shorter a period and it might reflect badly on Miss Templeton.” 

With an ironic smile, he gently closed the door behind him.

Melisande let her shoulders slump with the release of tension. She stared at the door a moment and then looked around the room. It was ordinary, small and a bit untidy. Not the sort of place one would associate with her world turning upside down. And yet–unless the last quarter hour had been a waking dream–this was the place that had seen her life take a new and completely unexpected diversion. 

She examined the back of her hand. There was no mark to show where he had kissed her. She’d known Jasper Renshaw, Lord Vale, for years, but in all that time he’d never had occasion to touch her. She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth and closed her eyes, imagining what it would be like when he touched his lips to hers. Her body trembled at the thought.

Then she straightened her back again, smoothed her already smooth skirts, and ran her fingertips across her hair to make sure everything was in order. Thus settled, she began to leave the room, but as she moved, her foot struck something. A silver button lay on the flagstones, hidden by her skirts until she’d stepped forward. Melisande picked it up and turned it slowly in her fingers. The letter V was embossed in the silver. She stared at it a moment before hiding the button up her sleeve.

Then she walked from the church vestry.