Books and Bonbons: A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore

By SMW Staff

hintofwickedvCAUGHT BETWEEN DUTY AND DESIRE . . .
Sophie, the Duchess of Calton, has finally moved on. After seven years mourning the loss of her husband, Garrett, at Waterloo, she has married his best friend and heir, Tristan. Sophie gives herself to him body and soul. . . until the day Garrett returns from the Continent, demanding his title, his lands—and his wife.


TORN BETWEEN TWO HUSBANDS . . .

Now Sophie must choose between her first love and her new love, knowing that no matter what, her choice will destroy one of the men she adores. Will it be Garrett, her childhood sweetheart, whose loss nearly destroyed her once already? Or will it be Tristan, beloved friend turned lover, who supported her through the last, dark years and introduced her to a passion she had never known? As her two husbands battle for her heart, Sophie finds herself immersed in a dangerous game—where the stakes are not only love . . . but life and death.


Chapter One London, April 1823

Sophie slowed her chestnut mare to a walk. Beside her, tall and handsome in the saddle of his dapple gray, Tristan mimicked her command, and their horses fell in step side by side. Holding the reins in one hand, Sophie flattened her gloved palm against her mount’s warm neck and took a deep, refreshing breath of the crisp morning air. The tree-lined track was quiet and serene this morning, likely due to the impending foul weather. The atmosphere was cool and heavy with the promise of rain, so she and Tristan had left home early hoping for a brisk outing before the heavens opened. A heavy frost glistened on the branches. Drops coalesced beneath the budding leaves and slipped to the ground, shimmering like tiny diamonds.

She slid a glance at Tristan, smiling at the way the dampness made his satiny black hair curl beneath the rim of his hat. “Are you ready for tonight?”

It was to be their first dinner party in London since they’d arrived in February for the opening of Parliament.

Their first dinner party as husband and wife. They’d wed last July, but they’d spent the short nine months of their married life in the relative quiet of Calton House in Yorkshire. Tonight was to be the first of many parties to come—in a few weeks’ time, Garrett’s young sister would be joining them for her first London Season.

Tristan gave Sophie a cocky, boyish grin that reached all the way to his sparkling chocolate-colored eyes.

“I’m more than ready for tonight. What about you?”

She urged her horse into a gallop, and before he could respond, she threw a smile over her shoulder. “Of course I am,” she called back.

Tristan’s eyes narrowed, and he flicked the reins. Giddy with the prospect of a little competition, Sophie turned forward, tightened her knee around the pommel, and leaned close to the horse’s sleek neck, whispering encouragement for more speed.

Hooves churned the earth, splattering wet clumps of dirt in their wake. Cold wind whipped through Sophie’s hair as she crouched low, the rhythm of the gallop singing through her body. The skirts of her riding habit whipped against the mare’s flanks, and she squealed in glee. They were winning.

She saw the patch of ice a moment too late. The horse slid on the white surface, her legs thrashing with the effort to stay upright. Sophie struggled to stay balanced. She hauled backward on the reins to keep the mare’s head up, but the poor animal’s body flailed beneath her. They were going down. The horse was going to fall on her.

Sophie wrenched her right leg from the sidesaddle pommel and kicked her left foot free of the stirrup. She launched herself from the horse just as the animal’s legs buckled.

Sophie slammed to the ground in a puddle of icy water. The jolt speared pain from her hip through her body. With a thud that seemed to shake the earth, the horse hit the ground, her girth missing Sophie’s legs by mere inches.

Sweet relief coursed through her, only to be replaced by renewed panic as the struggling mare scrambled for footing and jerked Sophie through soft mud toward her kicking legs.

Oh, no. Oh, Lord. The train of her riding habit had caught on one of the pommels.

As the mare heaved her body upright, Sophie grabbed handfuls of dark wool and yanked on her skirts with all her might.

The fabric came free with a screeching tear just as the horse found her feet, a flailing hoof pummeling Sophie on the thigh.

She lay there in the frigid puddle, stunned, straining for air, her skirts tangled around her legs and heavy with mud. Her leg throbbed. Her lungs had closed. She couldn’t breathe.
Tristan came to a sliding stop on his knees in the mud beside her. He gathered her into his arms, combing the hair out of her face with his fingers. She dimly registered that she must’ve lost her hat.

“Sophie! Are you all right? Are you all right, love?”

Her lungs opened slightly and she gasped in a deep breath. “Yes. I—I think so.”

Tristan’s dark eyes glimmered. His body was like steel, strong all around her, but the slightest tremble in his movements betrayed his fear.

Clutching her husband’s arms and taking great gulps of air, Sophie assessed herself. Her thigh throbbed, but she could move her leg, so it was probably only badly bruised. She was wet, bogged down with water and muck. It was quite embarrassing, really. “I-I’m all right, Tristan.”

He gripped her closer and pressed his lips to her hair. She held on to him for several minutes, sitting on his lap with his large body curled around her smaller one. Buried within the cocoon of his warmth and comfort, she began to breathe normally again.

The sound of scuffing dirt made her pull her face away from Tristan. She raised her head to see a man had taken hold of her horse’s reins and was leading her back to them. The animal walked normally and seemed fine. Thank goodness she hadn’t been hurt.

Conscious of her disheveled appearance, Sophie tensed. Tristan tucked the skirt of her riding habit down so it covered her calves, and adjusting her to a comfort¬able position against him, he rose, easily lifting her.

“Oh goodness, Tristan. I can walk. I can ride, too.”

He looked down at her, his brow creased. “Are you sure?”

“Quite sure.”

Gently, he eased her to her feet. Pain radiated down her leg, and she tightened her hand over his arm. He held on to her, his strength keeping her steady. “All right?”

Sophie grimaced. The fall itself was humiliating, and she had no wish to make a dramatic production of it. She’d been kicked in the leg, but that was a minor injury, and she didn’t need coddling. She smiled reassuringly at him. “Absolutely all right.”

He released his hold and gave her a quick, jerky nod before striding over to thank the man who’d returned with her horse. She saw that he was just as disheveled as she—maybe even more so. Tristan was usually fastidious in the extreme, but he didn’t pay any attention to the mud drenching him from the waist down.

After exchanging a few polite words with the Good Samaritan, Tristan took his leave and led the mare over to her.

“How is she?” Sophie tried not to limp as she stepped toward them. She stroked the horse’s silky brown muzzle, murmuring apologies. Her pocket had remained miraculously dry, and scooping out a crushed lump of sugar, she offered it to the mare.

“Uninjured and surprisingly calm.” Tristan’s big, warm hand curled over her upper arm and squeezed. “Can you ride, love?”

“Of course.” She smiled up at him. “It is my own fault— a foolish mistake. I should have paid more attention.”

Tristan nodded grimly, but he didn’t argue with her. “We’re going straight home.” Without asking her if she needed help—he knew she did—he lifted her and set her upon the saddle. He held on to her longer than necessary as she slid her muddy foot into the stirrup and adjusted the torn and muddy skirts modestly around her. When he did let her go, it was with hesitation. “Straight home,” he repeated firmly, meeting her eyes with an expression that brooked no argument.

She watched his lithe, muscular body move with grace as he mounted his horse and rode beside her. His dark gaze bore into her. “Ready?”

His eyes glimmered with worry. His shoulders were tight with frustration, and she knew he had wanted to hold her longer, to comfort her, to carry her home rather than let her risk riding. But he’d respected her wishes and let her show her independence and save her pride.

She could hardly tear her eyes from him. Even half drenched in mud, he was so magnificent, it made her blood heat and her pulse quicken just to look at him.

With a secret inner smile, she turned her horse toward Mayfair. “Yes, I’m ready, Tristan. Let’s go home.”

The patterned red silk of Sophie’s dressing robe whispered over her skin, light and cool after the warm, heavy brocade she had worn to the party. She’d gone to check on the children, and finding them fast asleep, had kissed them goodnight, returned to her dressing room, and called her maid to undress her. Now she sat, finally alone at her table, drawing the pins from her coiffure one by one, watching in the oval gilded mirror as the tendrils of honey-brown hair fell away from her tight chignon.

She paused in mediation as a sudden memory assailed her. Garrett standing behind her, removing her hairpins in the same methodical order, using his fingers to fan her hair over her shoulders. He watched her in the mirror with that stormy look in his blue eyes. The look that reminded her of crashing ocean waves in a storm. The look that said he wanted her.

Sophie curled her toes into the lush ivory strands of the carpet. Dropping the final hairpin on the glossy surface of the mahogany table, she clutched its edge and stared into the mirror, taking deep breaths to regain her composure.

The unbidden memories came less frequently now. She supposed that was natural after so many years.

She didn’t want to forget Garrett. At times, she welcomed the memories, coveted them. But not tonight. Tonight she wished to think only of Tristan, of his long, lean body, his disarming smile, his caresses. The way he’d slid into the mud today to hold her body against his, tight and comforting. The sheer desperation in his expression be¬fore he’d realized she was all right.

As if her thoughts had summoned him, the door sepa¬rating her dressing room from their bedchamber swung open. Swiping the back of her hand over her damp eyes, Sophie reached for her hairbrush. She watched in the mirror as Tristan closed the distance between them, sharp as ever in his snug gray trousers and embroidered waistcoat, the gold thread matching the color of his cravat. He’d un¬tied the cravat, and it hung loose about his neck.

“That didn’t take long,” she murmured, smiling at him.

“I came as quickly as I could, love.” He grinned at her, revealing straight white teeth and the single dimple that always had the ability to melt her heart. “Got rid of Billingsly. Even tales of his Egyptian travels can’t entice me when I know you’re in our bedchamber . . .” a hint of wickedness quirked his lips and sparkled in his eyes in an expression he reserved for her alone, “. . . waiting.”

As she dragged the brush through her hair, Tristan rested his hands on her shoulders. Long-fingered and elegant, with blunt, clean fingernails, his hands weren’t the only part of him that hinted at his position in society. His face was aristocratic, with clean lines, sharp angles, and shrewd, dark eyes. But his refined mannerisms and famed control proved he was of the higher orders. Though he may not have coveted Garrett’s legacy, he suited his new role as the Duke of Calton.

“How’s your leg?”

She forced a smile. A nasty bruise had bloomed on her thigh, but she was thankful. It could have been so much worse. “It’s all right. I scarcely feel it anymore.”

His smile faded as they locked gazes in the mirror. “Ah, Soph . . .” His voice trailed off, and he must have seen the residual grief in her expression, because the pain in his eyes suddenly reflected her own.
He squeezed her shoulders. “I miss him, too, love. Every day.”

Tilting her head to glance up at him, she smiled sadly. Tristan was the one person in the world who understood her loss. He, too, had lost a spouse. Nancy had died giving birth to their son two years after Waterloo. Though Sophie knew he’d loved her, Tristan rarely spoke of Nancy.

Yet the loss of Garrett was different. Garrett had been gone longer, but he remained a solid presence in their lives— perhaps because they had retained hope for so long.

Tristan was patient with her melancholy. Most men would have despised her for continuing to love a dead man. Most men would have been jealous of her unwillingness to let go of her affection for Garrett. But not Tristan. He knew how much she had loved Garrett, and he never tried to take that away from her.

“It’s just—nights like tonight—” Struggling to order her thoughts, she shrugged helplessly.

She never intended to make Tristan feel inferior, be¬cause he wasn’t. He was simply different. When she fell in love with Tristan, it seemed her heart swelled to twice its previous capacity to make room for him.

Still, more than anything, she feared hurting Tristan by clinging so desperately to her feelings for Garrett. If she lost him as she had lost Garrett . . . The thought was intolerable. If that happened, she wouldn’t be able to endure it.

“I know,” he murmured, as if reading her mind. His lips brushed against her hair. “I understand. I do.”

“I’m sorry.”

He rose to his full height. “Don’t be sorry, Soph.”

She set the brush on the table and stood, twining her arms around his neck. The linen of his cravat brushed against her skin as she pressed her cheek to his solid chest. He smelled like exotic spice, like the Eastern countries he was so fond of. “I adore you,” she said. “You mean everything to me.”
His fingers sifted through her hair as he tilted her head to face him. He laughed, but the sound was ragged. “I can’t force you to forget him, Sophie. Hell, I can’t for¬get him. You know how strongly I cared for him. He was more than a brother to me.”

“Yes.” She tightened her arms around him. “Thank you.”

He nuzzled his face in her hair, his breath hot against her scalp. “We’ve come far, wouldn’t you say?”

Sophie nodded. “Yes.”

They’d come much farther than she ever would have imagined. Their wedding night had been difficult. She’d been shy and awkward, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was betraying Garrett’s memory. It was the first time for her since the day Garrett left with his regiment to fight at Waterloo.

But Garrett was gone. Tristan was her husband now, and in the past months, he’d earned her complete trust. In his arms, she’d exposed everything to him, from her life’s desires to her deepest and darkest fantasies. They shared a level of openness and communication she’d never thought to have with anyone.

“There was no need to rush up,” she said in order to change the subject, her voice muffled against his chest. “I would not have begrudged your talking with Mr. Billingsly. I know how you crave news of Egypt.”

“Not as much as I used to. I find myself perfectly con¬tent wherever you and the children are. Egypt seems more of a youthful fancy these days.”

His admission stole the breath from her lungs. Tristan was an adventurer, a traveler. His wanderlust had always been a mystery to her. She felt most comfortable at home, either here in Mayfair or at Calton House in the north. While she’d waited patiently for Garrett’s infrequent trips home, Tristan had explored half the globe. China, India, Madagascar. Jamaica, Ireland, Italy, and America. When he married Nancy, he didn’t stop. Nancy always said good-naturedly that it was a miracle he’d managed to get her with child, he was gone so often.