Secretly pledged to marry each other, Lord Hadley Fullerton is surprised to hear that Lady Evangeline Stuart is to marry another. Heartbroken, Hadley goes on with his life, but never forgets his first love.
Five years later, they meet again. Evangeline is now a widow and Hadley wants nothing to do with the woman that chose a title and wealth over him. At least that is what his mind is telling himself, but his heart is telling him that the woman in front of his is still the love of his life.
When Evangeline gets caught up in the plans of the enemy targeting the Libertine Scholars, Hadley has no choice but to spend more time with her. Will he end up following his head or his heart?
I loved this story just as much as the rest of the books in the Disgraced Lords series. I love second chance romances, and Evans did not disappoint. The chemistry between Evangeline and Hadley was red hot from the moment of their reunion and I loved watching them reconnect with each other!
I can't wait to read Arend's story, A Night of Forever, which comes out in October!
Thanks go out to Random House via NetGalley for a copy of the book in exchange of an honest review.
Keep reading for a sneak peak of Hadley and Evangeline's story.
Surrey, England, 1811
The shade of the weeping willows protected her from the heat of the afternoon sun, but nothing could cool Evangeline’s blood. She fondled the note Stowe had given her half an hour ago. She’d never regretted saving the young stable boy from his brute of a father two years ago. Stowe worshiped her and was the key to keeping her relationship with Hadley a secret from her mother.
She reread the missive. Hadley wanted to see her—urgently—so she’d saddled Rosten, her dapple-gray gelding, and galloped straight to their usual meeting place.
“Urgently” could mean only one thing: he had news on their planned elopement.
Her nerves on edge, her body strung as taut as a bow, she had to use all her mental strength to sit patiently waiting for her love in their favorite spot under the willow tree in the paddock behind his stable.
Lord Hadley Fullerton, the second son of the Duke of Claymore, was prepared to defy Evangeline’s mother, and his own family if need be, to make her his wife. Her heart burst with joy.
How had she got so lucky?
She’d met Hadley three years ago, when she was a young girl of sixteen. He’d been staying at his hunting lodge, which bordered her family’s crumbling estate. She hadn’t understood at the time, but the morning she stumbled upon him he’d been out drinking in the local tavern, as any young man of twenty-two would have been, and he’d ridden straight into a low-hanging branch, knocking himself off his horse. He’d fallen into a drunken sleep right where he’d landed on the path.
Evangeline had almost ridden over him. However, when she rolled him over, she’d thought him the most handsome man she’d ever clapped eyes upon, and when he’d woken up to find her cradling his head in her lap, he’d asked if she was an angel. That was the exact moment she’d fallen in love.
They had stayed in contact, writing to each other and seeing each other whenever he visited his hunting lodge, which was every month once she’d turned nineteen, a little over eight months ago. A neighbor, Sir Clifford, had held a small ball on her birthday, which her mother had allowed her to attend, and when Hadley danced with her, she’d known he was the one. Over the past eight months their relationship had strengthened and developed into something more grown-up.
Very grown-up. Sensual awareness flickered over her body. When Hadley kissed her she wanted to melt. Melt into him. She wanted to be claimed by him so badly, but like the gentleman he was, he refused to compromise her and was content to wait until they wed.
Finally she heard footsteps approaching, and she ran her hand over her hair, pinched her cheeks, and tugged the bodice of her gown lower. More than determined that she would not wait any longer to be made love to, she needed to look like a temptress. If the elopement was organized, then she wanted the first time Hadley made love to her to be here, beneath their tree, on the estate that would be their home, rather than in some coaching inn at Gretna Green.
The branches were swept aside and Hadley walked toward her. Her heart thrilled at the sight of him, while her thighs clenched in heightened anticipation. What would he feel like on top of her, in her . . . She waved her hand in front of her face, trying to quell her lustful hunger.
Upon seeing her, he lengthened his stride. He moved with a combination of polished elegance and raw virility that saw her body respond as if it had a mind of its own. Heat and moisture gathered at her womanly core, while his handsomeness stole her breath.
His smile turned sensual, as if he could read her thoughts and had already agreed they no longer needed to wait.
He stopped before her, and she had to crane her neck to look up the long, muscled length of him. His light brown hair appeared darker in the shade, as did his blue eyes, which were an even deeper blue than normal, almost black-blue, full of heat and desire. He was endowed with a masculine beauty that startled at first glance. It was likely women would deny him nothing; God knew she couldn’t.
But it wasn’t his striking looks or his family’s status that drew her to him. She could probably have married a title if she’d wanted to, and certainly a peer with more money. It was the man that had won her heart. He quite simply was the sweetest, most honorable, kindest, and cleverest man she’d ever met. He’d cared not a fig about her lack of dowry or her family’s dire financial straits. He loved her exactly as she was: a little bit wild, mostly unconventional, and quite outspoken.
Despite her mother doing her utmost to keep her locked away, parading her only when rich gentlemen came to call, she had found love on her terms, in the arms of a handsome man who would cherish her—even though she was the penniless daughter of an almost bankrupt deceased earl.
She finally looked into his eyes. His gaze was fixed intently on her, the flare of heat turning his eyes the deepest of blues. She wished he’d say something, anything, but most of all she wished he’d tell her that the plan they had devised would work.
Finally he gave a slow smile that made her flush deepen. “I have my brother’s blessing. He’ll stand by our elopement and welcome you into our family.”
Her mouth dried as she felt the tears of joy well. The Duke of Claymore accepted her. “I knew I’d love your brother.”
“He even agreed to loan me the money for my vines. He recognizes that he owes me for all the times I took the beatings from Father when it should have been him.”
She winced recalling the stories Hadley had told her about his father’s brutality. Why were men so cruel? Both Stowe’s father and Hadley’s father had seemed to take pleasure in hurting their children. She would never understand how any person could hurt a child, not to mention their own.
Hadley continued. “It will take a few years before the grapes produce enough high-quality wine to earn well, but when they do, we will never have to worry about money again. We won’t be wealthy, but you won’t want for most things.” He looked at her as if she were his whole world. “I can’t believe you’ve given up the chance to take the ton by storm. You could marry a man who could clothe you in silks, house you in a castle, and give you the biggest sapphires to match your eyes.”
“I don’t want a big house, loads of jewels, or the most fashionable gowns—well, maybe a bit of fashion,” she said jokingly. He smiled at her honesty. She reached out her hand and entwined her fingers with his. She pulled him down to sit next to her. “All I have dreamed of for the past three years is being your wife, your lover, and the mother of your children—our children.”
“You will be.”
She nodded, excitement building. “My mother would never openly object to our marriage if the Duke of Claymore gave us his blessing.”
“I’ll do everything I can to try to help your younger brother keep the estate afloat until he’s old enough to sort out your family’s financial woes. Your mother will have to live very frugally, but she won’t be thrown out on the street.”
She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him with all her heart. “Thank you. I feel a weight is lifted knowing I’m not abandoning my brother to the poorhouse. I almost felt obliged to marry one of Mother’s men. Since it was Mother’s gambling that saw us ruined, I will ensure that you hold the purse strings, so that there is an estate for Edward to run.”
“In three days we will elope to Gretna Green. I’ve organized to borrow Augustus’s coach, and once we are married, my friend Lord Arend Aubury has loaned us his hunting lodge near York for a short honeymoon.”
She steeled herself against the hollowness in her chest. This was not how she envisaged her wedding, but if she ended up married to the man sitting next to her, she didn’t really care how that occurred. She was the daughter of an earl, yet she had to sneak away as if in disgrace to wed the second son of a duke, all because of her mother’s greed. If her mother had her way, she’d be sold off to the highest bidder.
At her quietness, he said, “You are not having second thoughts? You do love me?”
She cupped his face in her hands. She loved Hadley so much it was an ache inside her. Yet she could not help but think of Edward and the lean years ahead for him. “I hope Edward can forgive me.”
“When he’s old enough he’ll understand. He loves you. He wouldn’t want you to be unhappy.”
She lay down in the cool moss, pulling Hadley with her. “Nothing would make me happier than being your wife. Well, maybe one thing . . . make love to me, here, now.”
How was a man to deny such a sensual offer? His body burned to be buried deep within Evangeline. All his life he’d strived to be a better man than his brutal, scandal-ridden, and probably pox-riddled father; unlike his departed father, Hadley held his honor in high regard.
He’d sworn he’d claim her only when they married. He’d spent three years getting to know Evangeline, but the last eight months had been torture. She’d matured into a beautiful, sensual woman, but damn it all, he was nothing like his father, and he could wait a few days more and do this properly—when she was his wife.
“I can’t wait to make you my wife, but then and only then will I make love to you. I don’t want anyone to accuse me of being dishonorable. We will be the subjects of gossip as it is for eloping.”
His heart swelled with pride. This beautiful young woman had put her life, her heart, into his hands. He’d cherish her for the rest of his life.
An eager Evangeline pressed her soft curves against him. “Why must we wait?”
He inwardly smiled, his erection lengthening as she rubbed against him. “I want to do this right. I want your first time to be special—in a bed, with your husband.” Since he was twenty-five, it was up to him to be the sensible one.
“I don’t need a bed, only you. I have plans to marry only you.”
Her gaiety was infectious. Her laughter soothed his soul and sent tingles down his spine. He drew in a sharp breath as her fingers found his erection. She molded her palm to his length and rubbed. Over the last few months he had taught her too well.
He’d loved introducing her to passion. She gave herself freely and unreservedly. Her desire matched his own, and it was only through his determination and will of iron that he had not taken her maidenhood already. They had done everything but.
“Please,” she whispered in his ear. “I want to end this magical day with you inside me. To be claimed and loved by you. It won’t be long until we escape to freedom, and then we will marry. I can’t wait even that long.”
Her hand had worked its way through the placket of his trousers, and he gasped as her clever fingers wrapped round him. He drew back and looked into her eyes. They were brimming with love—and desire.
“You tempt me so much,” he declared, and meant every word. How many nights had he twisted and turned in a fever, dreaming of lying above her, sliding deep within her, and claiming her forever more. “I’ve waited over three years—I can wait another few days. Let me do the honorable thing.”
“Honor be damned. I want the first time I lie with you to be here, in our special place, in your garden—our garden. I suspect that once we elope we will have to consummate the marriage at Gretna Green. I want to have the memory of you deep inside me, here, where we intend to live happily ever after. Please don’t deny me that.”
Evangeline looked at him earnestly, and he understood her point. Every time they walked in their grounds, when their children and their grandchildren played here, they would remember this special spot and how they had marked their house, this land, with love.
With no further doubts he took her lips in a kiss meant to convey his desire to please her, to love her—always.
They lay together under the willow tree at the end of the rose garden. No servants were about because he’d informed them to stay away. He didn’t want anyone to see Evangeline visit. They had been sneaking visits, and while he knew his staff were loyal, he had to be careful. especially as her mother would try to stop them eloping.
She wanted Evangeline to marry into wealth in order to save the estate for her younger brother, Edward. Hadley swallowed down his jealousy. She had the beauty, wit, and pedigree to do just that, yet she loved him.
She’d chosen him.
He had no idea what sums of money Evangeline’s family required. Money, or more specifically lack of it, was the bane of his existence. If he had more money, he’d give her a dream wedding with the whole of the ton at her feet.
What scared him was that, even without a dowry, she was beautiful enough to interest any man. She could have any man she wanted, even a duke. He still couldn’t believe she wanted him. His conscience nagged him because she was still quite young. She hadn’t had a season, either, so she had not had a chance to meet other men. Her mother couldn’t afford a season, so instead she got invited to as many house parties as possible, so that she could shop her daughter through the pool of moneyed sharks. The urgency to elope vibrated through every bone in his body because he knew sharks didn’t waste time before biting.
He couldn’t help wondering if, in the future, she would think she’d made a mistake settling for him.
Her lips pressing at his throat made him refocus on the pleasure at hand. If he took her now, she’d have no choice but to wed him. He cursed his selfishness and rebuked the idea. It would have to be her choice.
“If I make love to you, you will have no option but to marry me.”
Her frown was instant. “Whom else would I marry?”
He sighed and pulled her against him. “You’ve not even had a season. If your family could afford it, you would take the ton by storm and you could have your pick of suitors. You could become a duchess or countess or—”
“I’d rather become Lady Hadley Fullerton.”
“How do you know, if you haven’t met anyone else?”
He felt her shudder. “My mother has introduced me to many men.” She snuggled against his chest, her hand pressing over his heart. “I just know I’ll never love anyone as much as I love you. You’re in my soul.”
They lay under their tree, hugging each other tightly, as his body argued with his mind. They should wait, he knew. But when she murmured against his chest, “I love you,” over and over, his will deserted him.
She gave a cry of protest as he pulled back, but her smile returned when he began removing his jacket. He made quick work of discarding the garment. Evangeline quickly sat up and presented her back to him, urging him to help with her dress.
His hands shook as he slipped each hook undone. Today he would claim his heart’s desire. He’d never been so happy, and he wanted to remember this feeling forever.
The heat meant she had not worn a corset. He had seen her naked before, many times, but as she lay spread out before him, a tempting treat, covered only by her thin shift, his throat choked with emotion.
This moment was sacred.
He could barely move, so overcome was he with love for her.
She shyly smiled at him before pulling her shift up and over her head. She wore no undergarments except stockings, and Hadley could barely control his hungry response to the goddess before him.
Her auburn hair fell in waves around creamy shoulders, hiding her long slender neck. Already a few twigs and leaves had become tangled in it; he’d have to remember to pick them out later. But his eyes were drawn to her pert breasts with hard, darkened nipples begging to be suckled. She had a narrow waist, flaring out at her bonny hips. He couldn’t wait to grip them as he slid deep within her. Her stomach was slightly rounded, and the thatch of copper-colored hair between her milky thighs sent his blood thundering round his body, racing to his throbbing cock.
“You’re a vision. Beautiful beyond words.”
She crooked her little finger at him and he rolled toward her, moving between her spread thighs, totally enthralled. He could no longer deny that he didn’t want to wait for their marriage either. He needed her.
“I want you naked too,” she whispered as her hands tugged his shirt out of his breeches. Before he could suck in a much-needed breath, she had his shirt off. When her fingers fumbled with his breeches he had to halt her questing hands. He’d never last if she kept touching him. His body was ready to explode; the reality of finally making love to her sent his desire spiraling toward the point of no return. He needed to ensure she found her pleasure first so that the loss of her maidenhead would not hurt.
He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed it. “Don’t be in such a hurry. I want you to remember this day, as I know I will, forever.”
“I will. I’ll never forget this moment. It’s engraved on my memory.” She looked into his eyes and said, “I love you so much.”
He stood and looked down upon a vision soon to be seared in his brain. Creamy skin rested on the mossy ground, with enticing stockings cloaking her legs. He divested himself of his breeches and with trembling limbs crouched at her feet soaking in her naked beauty.
He ran his hands up and over her stockings until he reached the silken skin of her thighs. His fingers stroked softly until on a small sigh her legs parted, allowing him a view of heaven.
He crawled further between her legs to position himself directly in front of where his mouth longed to taste. He’d feasted on her before and loved her taste, like the sweetest nectar. Her thighs parted further and her hips lifted slightly as if begging for his kiss.
He closed his eyes and breathed deep before lowering his head to touch her with his eager tongue.
The world around him disappeared as he lost himself in her, loving her with his mouth until she was writhing on the ground in need, her hips lifting to press her center closer, demanding more from him. He used his fingers in conjunction with his tongue, and soon he sensed her climax nearing. Her body tightened, her thighs pressed tightly against his head, and as he gave one final suck on her hard little nub, she screamed his name.
With arms that could barely hold him because he was trembling with need, he moved to cover her body, pushing his hips between her thighs, and while she was still shuddering from her release he began to ease inside her.
Dreams are for those who reach for the sky, and as her tight sheath clamped around him, he felt like he was in heaven.