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Desperately Seeking Seduction (Scandalous Brides series #2)

Desperately Seeking Seduction (Scandalous Brides series #2)

When Lord Stratford finds his new valet is keeping an outrageous secret, discovery could bring shame upon both himself and his brother, the new Duke of Ravenswood, whose duchy is already in dire straits. It will take an unexpected attraction, a long-forgotten painting, and a demanding houseguest to avoid a “Sweet” scandal.

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Main Tropes

  • Hidden Identity
  • Reunion
  • Stuck Together


Born female, but living the whole of her life as a male, Dane Winston has stumbled into the employ of Lord Stratford, youngest brother of the Duke of Ravenswood. As his valet, she can barely keep the chatty lord on schedule…nor can she keep his hands off her person, once he discovers her true gender. The only thing more surprising than his attention is how much Winston enjoys it. But their dalliance must be short-lived. As she navigates a house party where certain guests are keen to cause trouble for the duke, she discovers trouble of her own in the form of jealous servants…and someone from her past she hoped never to meet again.

Lord Stratford Sweet has returned home to find his deceased father has left the duchy in dire financial straits. As he scrambles to help his eldest brother, the new duke, hide the extent of their insolvency from a houseful of guests, he certainly needs no further distractions. But he finds one in the form of his new valet, a man who looks too young, too soft…too good in a pair of breeches. When Stratford discovers her secret, keeping Win in his employ could cause a scandal the likes of which the estate can scarcely afford. But the more he learns about Win, and the uncanny connection they share, it may be a scandal he’s willing to endure…forever.

Intro to Chapter One

Lord Stratford Sweet smirked. “It’s big, isn’t it?”
His companion turned obediently to look. “I’ve seen bigger.”
“I’d like to know where,” Stratford muttered, and then sat back with a grunt.
“It is impressive,” Mr. Dane Winston offered with an indifferent shrug.
Stratford pursed his lips in annoyance at the faint praise for so grand a view. “Ravensworth Palace is one of the largest homes in all of England. You could get lost in there on the first day.”
“I’ll do my best not to,” Winston murmured, a faint twist of condescension hovering on the fellow’s lips. “But if I do, I will ask for directions, or perhaps a map.”
Stratford had been forced to hire a replacement for his usual valet, Cuthbert, who’d been injured at the first inn they’d stopped at on his journey home. Cuthbert couldn’t have carried out his duties with a broken wing and banged up head from his tumble down the staircase, and Stratford couldn’t function without a valet to clean up after him. That way led to chaos and tardiness his brother the duke would tease him about. Although this fellow was young, Dane Winston had been eager to escape the inn where he’d been slaving away underpaid, for a better position and wages. Even if it was only to be a temporary position.
Winston was hard to figure out and harder to impress.
Stratford had taken him on despite only having the innkeepers word he was a sensible and dedicated worker and would give him no trouble. But as a traveling companion, he left a lot to be desired.
Winston’s indifference to the things that mattered had begun to irk the longer they were trapped inside the slow-moving carriage. Stratford talked a lot, but Winston seemed to prefer their journey be conducted in near silence. It had already been an hour since their last real conversation. Stratford was about ready to toss Winston out to ride on the back of the carriage with the grooms. However, given the man’s small stature, there was an obvious risk he’d lose the valet at any rough spot along the road.
He regarded Winston with a critical eye, yet again wondering if he’d made a mistake plucking him out for the plum role. Stratford was the younger brother of the new Duke of Ravenswood, after all. But given that Winston had performed all the duties expected of a valet exceptionally well—save for conversation—he had little choice but to keep him until Cuthbert recovered and appeared at Ravenswood Palace. If only Winston had a more outgoing personality, Stratford would be entirely satisfied with his new employee.
He sighed and set his preoccupation for getting a rise out of his new employee aside until later. Coming home would be interesting. It was the first time he’d ever looked forward to it, that he could ever remember. The long-suffering servants should be happy about it too. “You can trust the butler to set you right. That man knows every nook and cranny in the place. He rose through the ranks from pot boy. As for the other servants, I could not say who you might rely upon.”
Winston nodded. “I will be guided by your wisdom.”
“That would be a nice change. I told Cuthbert to watch that step and he still blundered into a fall,” Stratford complained. “Cuthbert surely must have noticed the wobble going up.”
But on the trip down the next morning, he took a tumble and had broken bone. Quite an unsettling howl he’d made, too. By midday, Stratford had known he had to leave the moaning servant behind. It was not every day your beloved elder brother hosted the family for the first time since becoming the Duke of Ravenswood. Stratford was already late.
He turned to take in the view of his ancestral home as they drew nearer. Ravenswood Palace, deep in the heart of Somerset, was a truly spectacular building. Four floors in total, thirty-five bedchambers. Nestled on a slight rise of land. It commanded a view of many miles in every direction.
But best of all was what would be found inside. He could not wait to see all those smug faces in the family wiped clean when they were denied the privilege of the new duke’s favor. Their hands outstretched and smiles imploring, and then those same greedy hands closing over nothing but air as their smiles became a mere memory. It was their own damn fault that Ravenswood would never give any one of them a penny. They should have been kinder to him all along, rather than pandering to the late Duke of Ravenswood’s capricious whims because he preferred to foster competitiveness for his attention.
Stratford’s elder brother, Algernon Sweet, sixth Duke of Ravenswood, did not suffer fools. And the family had a legion of those. He would have to be on his guard, and Stratford had counted on Cuthbert keeping his ear to the ground in the servants’ hall for any potential signs of trouble. Without Cuthbert’s insights, he would have to face the family at large with more of a disadvantage than usual.
But Stratford had made the best of a bad situation. The inn really had only the one decent footman who had dared apply for the position before Stratford had decided he even had need of a replacement. Mr. Dane Winston had seemed the only logical choice. Quite bold, too. He’d quickly gathered up Stratford’s things strewn about the room, spoke with his moaning valet, and promised Stratford would not regret his hire.
And he had not, for the first days, but he would wait to pass judgement until he’d spent a few days at Ravenswood. That would surely be a test of his new valet’s mettle.
When the carriage finally stopped at the front of Ravenswood Palace, he bounded out and rushed toward the massive carved old entrance doors, leaving the servants to do what they normally did when he wasn’t around. It was not strictly a palace, Ravenswood, but the name had stuck, and Father of course would never have diminished the family’s importance by changing it back to merely calling it an overly large manor house.
The Ravenswood butler stepped out the doors before he could reach them, beaming a smile of welcome. “Lord Stratford. Welcome home.”
Stratford handed him his hat and gloves immediately. “Good to see you, Seymour. My usual valet fell ill along the way.” Stratford turned to see Winston scrambling out of the carriage. “That fellow has taken Cuthbert’s place temporarily. He’ll explain it all. Where is the duke and my brothers?”
Seymour nodded. “The duke is in his study, my lord. I believe your brothers are with His Grace there, too.”
Stratford hurried inside, his boots ringing upon the marble entrance floor, and headed toward the ducal study, keen to be reunited with his elder siblings and hear the latest ondit.
Algernon Sweet, Duke of Ravenswood, clad all in black, stood with his back to Stratford when he rushed into the room, looking out upon the lawn that was now his own, but Nash and Jasper faced the door. They saw Stratford and burst to their feet.
“My apologies for being the last to arrive,” he said in a rush.
“Trouble?” Jasper asked, coming closer to embrace him. Jasper was just a year older than Stratford, but far wiser…and a worse rogue than them all combined.
“Only that my valet fell a day out of London. I had to leave him behind to recover his health and composure.”
“I’ll loan you mine,” offered Nash, the second eldest, holding out his hand to shake.
“Not necessary. I found a replacement at the inn.” Stratford ignored the hand and embraced his brother. Nash, as usual, was stiff and unyielding and their embrace was awkward and brief. He didn’t know why he continued to hug his second-eldest brother. He’d simply always tried to breach his reserve, and usually failed to close the distance between them.
He turned his attention to Algernon, the eldest of them all, who had finally turned, and Stratford bowed deeply and theatrically to the new duke. “Your Grace. It is a pleasure to see you again.”
Ravenswood stepped close, looking down at him with a scowl from his greater height. “You’re not quite the last to arrive for the gathering,” Ravenswood chided, but then ruined the complaint by suddenly scuffing up Stratford’s hair, as he’d always done when Stratford was younger. He stepped back with a laugh before Stratford could attempt to retaliate. “You’ll need better wits about you today,” Ravenswood warned.

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Scandalous Brides Series

Scandals rarely take place in the center of the ballroom, but on the fringes anything is possible.