Violet Brantford has always longed for the passionate embrace of Adrian Winter, the wealthy Duke of Raeburn. Problem is, he’s set to marry Violet’s vivacious, more socially polished look-alike twin sister, Jeannette. But when Jeannette refuses to go through with the ceremony mere minutes before it is to begin, soft-spoken Violet finds herself walking down the aisle and taking vows in her sister’s place. Soon shy Violet is a high-society wife, trying to keep her real identity a secret while living out the fantasies of her wildest dreams.
Adrian thinks he knows exactly what he’s gotten himself into: Jeannette may be flighty and, well, a bit self-involved, but she’s the picture-perfect wife to carry on the Winter name. Yet this marriage of convenience brings the groom more than he bargained for when he finds his sweet, innocent wife surprising him at every turn. And though he never planned on true love, Adrian is definitely in danger of losing his heart.
USA Today Bestseller, debuting at #86 and spending two weeks in the top 150 bestselling books.
Winner of the 2007 Romance Writers of America RITA® Award for Best First Book and finalist for Best Long Historical Romance. The RITA is similar to the Oscars for the Romance Writing Industry.
Winner of the 2007 Desert Rose RWA’s Golden Quill Award for Best Historical Romance.
Overall Grand Prize Winner (Best of 12 categories) for the 2007 Romance Writers Ink’s More Than Magic Contest. Winner of Best First Book and Second Place Winner of Best Historical Romance.
2007 Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion finalist for Best First Book.
Winner of the 2006 National Readers’ Choice Award for Best First Book and finalist for Best Historical Romance.
Winner of the 2006 New Jersey Romance Writers' Golden Leaf Award for Best First Book.
2006 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award Nominee for Best First Historical Romance.
“Regency Romance fans may rejoice in this new voice.” ——Amy Cunningham, Romance Reviews Today
“The historical romance genre appears to be on the upswing once again. THE HUSBAND TRAP is a delightful romp into love, conflict, deception and misunderstanding . . . with interesting characters and a plot that is believable.” ——Armchair Interviews
“Endearing characters and a beguiling romance in this sensual and passionate debut.” ——Romantic Times Bookclub
"Strong characters and interesting dialogue with a fascinating plot.
marvelous ingredients for a great story. Very rewarding. 5 cups!" --Coffee
“I, Adrian Philip George Stuart Fitzhugh, take thee, Jeannette Rose, to my wedded wife...”
Violet knew she was going to faint, or else be sick, right here at the altar in front of Adrian and the Archbishop. In front of everyone, nearly the entirety of the Haut Ton, assembled in St. Paul’s Cathedral to witness what was being hailed as the wedding of the year.
One thousand people lined the aisles. Two thousand eyes locked in rapt fascination upon Jeannette Brantford, this Season’s Incomparable--and last year’s as well--as she exchanged vows with Adrian Winter, Sixth Duke of Raeburn, England’s most eligible bachelor.
Trouble was the bride wasn’t Jeannette Rose Brantford.
The bride was Jeannette’s identical twin sister, Jannette Violet Brantford, or Violet as her family called her. And right now she thought perhaps she had gone a little insane.
She fixed her eyes upon her blue silk slippers, studied the intricate designs wrought upon the marble floors beneath the elegant shoes. Light swam around her in a brilliant mist. A few tiny motes of dust winking in the mix of candlelight and natural sunshine that cascaded through colorful stain glass windows in intense shades of blues and greens.
The scents from the great bowers of blush roses and creamy white gardenias arranged for the ceremony curled inside her nostrils, their overly sweet fragrance only adding to her discomfort. She swallowed, her throat dry as sand. A trickle of nervous perspiration slid between her shoulder blades, making her long to wiggle her shoulders against the damp.
She should be a bridesmaid, she thought in dizzying panic. She should be waiting off to the side by now with the other attendants. Instead she was standing here next to Adrian in front of a pair of massive baroque columns with their swirled bands of dark marble and mellow gold; the cathedral’s great dome rising more than three hundred feet above her. Paintings of the life of St. Paul stared down at her from the ceiling, scornfully disapproving her every move, she imagined.
She willed herself to be calm.
How could she possibly be calm when she was perpetrating the most appalling deception of her life? She kept expecting someone to notice who she really was, to stretch out an accusing finger and shout “fraud.”
But as her twin had accurately predicted, people saw exactly what they expected to see. Certainly her parents and the servants had earlier, accepting her as Jeannette when she’d presented herself in her sister’s elegant wedding gown; a lustrous confection of ice blue silk with the elbow-length half-sleeves and an overskirt of snowy white organza, hundreds of seed pearls arranged in the shape of rose blossoms and trailing leaves sewn into the scoop necked bodice. No one had questioned her identity, not even when she’d sent her sister’s dresser into a tizzy by needing to have her hair arranged for a “second” time that morning. The servant forced to painstakingly re-thread pearls and tiny sparkling sapphires into her upswept coiffure.
Oh, merciful God, Violet fretted for the hundredth time, how had she gotten herself into such a fix? Everything had been so blessedly normal when she’d awakened this morning. As normal as a wedding day could be that is, the entire household thrown into a flurry of anxious activity. In hindsight, she would have been a lot more anxious herself had she realized it was to be her wedding day and not her sister’s. She wished now she’d skipped the breakfast of eggs and kippers she’d eaten. The meal wasn’t sitting too pleasantly in her stomach.
Oh, what an idiot she was. She’d never get away with it.
Her hand trembled inside the duke’s, his clasp strong and masculine, so very warm against her own icy skin. Since walking up the aisle, she’d given him little more than a cursory upward glance, too nervous to dare look at him fully. She couldn’t help but be aware of him as he towered beside her. Dark and beautiful, powerful, utterly resplendent in his formal wedding attire.
Did he know? she wondered. Did he suspect? Oh Lord, what if he did? Would he denounce her right there in full view of the entire Ton? Or would he wait until they could be in private and demand the marriage be annulled forthwith? Either way, how would she ever be able to explain?
What could a woman say when her very identity was a lie?
Whatever had possessed her this morning? How could she have allowed Jeannette to talk her into such an appalling ruse? Isn’t that why she had vowed years ago never to trade places again with her elder twin? Because it always led to trouble--for Violet!
Why, oh why, had she let herself be lured down such a treacherous path?
Was it because Jeannette had decided to renege on her promise to marry her rich, handsome, influential bridegroom barely two hours before the ceremony? An action sure to create a scandal so disastrous her family might never recover from the humiliation and shame of it.
Was it because Adrian had settled twenty thousand pounds upon Jeannette for the marriage--money their family had spent like water drained from a well to pay off their father’s and wastrel younger brother, Darrin’s, prodigious debts?
Or was it because she loved Adrian Winter? Had loved him since the moment she first laid eyes upon him at her come-out ball two Seasons before. Had continued to love him, aching and unrequited, even after he offered marriage to her sister. Even though he’d unknowingly captured her heart and left her to bleed.
“Ahem...my Lady,” the Archbishop whispered, “it is your turn.”
“What? Oh, beg pardon. Y...yes, of course,” she replied softly, cringing to realize she had been caught woolgathering.
She glanced upward, caught a glimmer of curious puzzlement in Adrian’s gaze, and immediately looked away.
The Archbishop recited the words for her to speak. “I, Jeannette Rose, take thee, Adrian Philip George Stuart Fitzhugh, to my wedded husband.”
“I, Jannette Vi...umm,” She cleared her throat and coughed. What was wrong with her? If she didn’t take herself in hand she would give the whole thing away without any need for thought from anyone else. Try again, she thought frantically, concentrate. She drew a deep breath. “I, Jeannette Rose, take thee Adrian Philip George...” Her mind went suddenly blank. Oh heavens, what was the rest of it?
“Stuart Fitzhugh,” the Archbishop prompted gently.
“...Stuart Fitzhugh, to my wedded husband...“
The Archbishop recited the next line.
She listened intently, repeating the words when it was her turn. “...To have and to hold from this day forward...For better for worse, for richer for poorer...”
She raised her eyes again, met the steady regard in Adrian’s rich, claret brown gaze.
“...In sickness and in health...”
She felt some of her nerves melt away, knowing she meant each word.
“...To love, cherish, and obey, till death us do part...”
She did love him. Promised to cherish him all the days of her life. As for the obey part...well, she rather feared she might already have violated that one, but she’d try her best to make amends in the future.
“...According to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.”
The Archbishop spoke again. This time to Adrian who lifted her left hand and slid a slender gold band in place next to the immense emerald and diamond ring Jeannette had thrust onto her finger a little over an hour before. Her ring now.
“With this Ring I thee wed...” Adrian intoned, his honeyed voice deep, solemn. “...with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly Goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
“Let us pray.” The Archbishop lifted his prayer book in readiness.
Legs shaking, Violet knelt beside the man who was now nearly her husband. Bowing her head, she closed her eyes and said her own prayer, asking God to forgive her. She was weak and human but she loved this man at her side more than he could possibly imagine or would probably ever know. How could the falsehood she committed be so very great a sin when her heart adored with such steadfast devotion and truth?
It seemed to her God answered her silent entreaty when He allowed the Archbishop to conclude the ceremony unchecked. “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.”
Adrian assisted her to her feet, keeping her right hand tucked within his own. A shiver raced through her as he curved an arm around her waist and drew her nearer.
“Your Grace,” the Archbishop smiled, “you may kiss your bride.”
Violet couldn’t read the expression on Adrian’s chiseled, saturnine features as he bent close, closer.
She had been kissed one time before; a stolen peck in the shade of an apple tree by one of her Brantford cousins when she was twelve. At the time she found the idea of the kiss far more exciting than the actual event, she had to confess.
Adrian’s lips touched hers. Warm and smooth, hard yet tender. And proved to her she had never really been kissed before at all. A rushing hum filled her ears, blood thrumming like racing rivers in her veins as the world melted away; guests, the Archbishop, everyone. Instinctively she parted her lips to let him take more. And for a brief instant he did, intensifying the kiss in a way that stole the air from her lungs, blanked every thought from her brain.
Then suddenly it was over. He pulled back, tucked her arm in the crook of his own to lead her back down the aisle.
“Smile, my dear,” Adrian said for her ears only. “You look pale as death. Although that kiss seems to have put a touch of color back in your cheeks.”
At his mention of the kiss, her blush deepened. Because he had asked, she planted a beatific smile upon her lips and beamed at the blurry mass of guests as they walked past. Look happy, she told herself. Look like Jeannette. She play-acted and did her best to keep from shivering.
She kept pace as they retraced their steps down the long quire, past additional rows of smiling guests seated in the carved dark oak pews, before stepping into a crowd of well-wishers gathered in the cathedral’s wide, domed transept.
Adrian kept her close at his side. She clung gratefully to his supporting arm and did her best to smile and chat instead of withdrawing into shy silence the way she longed to do.
Thankfully they were soon interrupted. One of the Archbishop’s assistants appeared, drew her and Adrian aside after a few murmured words to the duke. Words she wasn’t able to overhear. Violet said nothing as the man led them into the quiet privacy of a nearby chamber, turning to inform them with grave politeness that the Archbishop would wait upon them directly.
Then he closed the door, leaving her and Adrian alone.
She shot a quick glance at her new husband from beneath her lashes, checking to see if his demeanor might hint at why they were here. He didn’t look angry or upset. Although he was good at shielding his thoughts when he wished. She had come to understand him well enough over the past few months to know that much.
Had he guessed the truth? Had the Archbishop? Is that why the pair of them had been escorted here to await the clergyman? Because he knew? Because they all knew?
Legs weak, palms damp with perspiration, she sank down onto a nearby chair. One of two positioned in front of a massive walnut desk that had angels carved across the frontpiece and sides, cherubs along the legs. She could barely make out the fine detail, her close-up vision not much better than an indistinct blur without her spectacles.
Under other circumstances--and had she been allowed the use of her eyeglasses--she would have bent down to study the magnificent desk. But she’d had to forfeit her spectacles to her twin that morning. Jeannette, of course, had no need for the corrective lenses, her vision utterly perfect.
But without her glasses Violet could not fully appreciate the glorious furniture, a pity considering her love of art. Painting, sculpture, architecture--she took pleasure in all things of beauty and creative distinction. The arts, music and literature were, she believed, some of the few things that truly lifted man above himself into the realm of the Heavens.
At this moment though, she had other more important concerns to attend to. Such as not being found out.
“La,” she declared in her best imitation of her sister, “’tis frightful warm, I must say.”
“That likelihood was broached as I recall when the wedding plans were discussed,” Adrian replied. “You are the one who decided to hold the ceremony in mid-July.”
Insisted, more like. Violet remembered the incident and the hand wringing it had caused the household, especially her mother. Any woman could be a June bride, Jeannette had declared, but only a distinctive woman could make the members of the Ton stay in London for two whole weeks after the end of the Season. Jeannette enjoyed possessing and wielding power. Encouragement enough for her to see to it her nuptials became the most spectacular event held since the last royal wedding.
Adrian poured two small glasses of red wine from a crystal decanter on the side table, extending the first one to her. “Here, my dear, you appear as though you could use this.” After she accepted, he took a drink of his own wine. “Are you all right?” he asked in a casual tone.
“In what way?”
“You looked near ready to pass out for a few moments during the ceremony. I could literally feel you shaking in your shoes.”
Her mind raced, scrambling for a response. She decided to use one as close to the truth as possible. “Bridal nerves if you must know. I’ve been feeling a bit peaked all morning. Couldn’t eat, hardly closed my eyes last night. But I am nearly recovered now.” She gave him a small, reassuring smile.
“Well, I’m relieved to hear it is nothing more serious than that. When you were so late arriving today I thought perhaps you had changed your mind.”
She swallowed hastily, nearly sputtering on the small sip of wine she had just taken. Had he guessed about Jeannette’s change of heart? Adrian was far more observant than her sister gave him credit for. The very reason she herself had had such doubts about the success of this insane plan.
“Whatever do you mean?” she asked, faintly breathless.
“I mean I wondered if you were about to desert me at the altar.”
Now what was she supposed to say? Battling down a bubble of panic, she went with her instincts, tossed her head back and laughed. “Don’t be absurd. Of course I wasn’t about to desert you. Why ever would I want to do that?”
He drank another swallow of wine, obviously not yet convinced.
“It was my hair,” she continued gamely.
“Yes. Jacobs, she is my dresser you know, well, she could not get the style right. It took her simply hours but I had to wait until my coiffure was perfect. I couldn’t appear at my own wedding looking less than my best, now could I?”
He met her eyes for a long moment while she held her breath and awaited his response.
Abruptly he relaxed, smiled as humor shone in his gaze. “No, of course you could not, and your efforts were well worth the wait. You look beautiful. You are beautiful.” He stepped close, lifted her hand into his own. “The most beautiful bride any man could have.” He pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist against the delicate blue veins that traced just beneath her skin. She trembled, this time from something that had nothing to do with nerves.
The door opened, the Archbishop strode in, his vestments flapping around his ankles. “I apologize for keeping your Graces waiting. I know you must be anxious to proceed on with this very special of days. I have the marriage register just in the adjoining room. You have only to sign, then our business here will be happily concluded.”
Marriage register? Violet realized both she and Adrian would have to sign the book to make their union official. Oh, dear. Well, she would have to forge Jeannette’s name, that was all.
Yet when it was her turn to step up to the register, Adrian having inscribed his name first, she hesitated. To begin with, the heavy vellum page before her was a great muddled blur. She could barely make out what he had written on the line next to the one she was supposed to use. Now more than ever she bemoaned the loss of her spectacles.
As she prepared to sign her sister’s name, an uncomfortable thought occurred to her. Legally, if she wrote down her twin’s name, wouldn’t it mean Adrian was really married to Jeannette? Even if she, Violet, was the one who’d actually gone through with the ceremony? Oh Lord, she had no idea. She wasn’t a solicitor.
Suddenly, forcefully, she was loathe to give up the one last remaining trace of her own identity. Even if it might be a foolhardy risk.
Only a single letter separated her first name from her twin’s. A simple E that gave the pronunciation of Jeannette’s name an elegant French twist, and left her own sounding oh so plain and boringly English. Maybe if she made a messy scrawl of her first name and omitted her middle name entirely, the signature would pass muster. Assuming, of course, she could squint hard enough to see where she needed to place her pen.
She wished she could plead illiteracy and simply mark an X in the spot. But sadly, not even Jeannette--her less than scholarly sister--was that ignorant.
Knowing she dare not dally a moment longer, she bent to the task and scribbled her given name, Jannette Brantford, across the page. She wondered wistfully if it would be the last time she would ever be able to do so again.
“All finished, your Grace?”
She whirled. “Yes, yes, quite finished,” she said, trying to act as if the Archbishop and his innocent question hadn’t scared her near to death.
She waited, heart kicking like a hammer against an anvil, to see if he would read her signature, if he would notice the discrepancy. But after no more than a cursory glance, he dusted the vellum with a few fine grains of sand to dry the ink, brushed them away and closed the book.
“Allow me to be one of the first to offer my heartfelt wishes for your future happiness, your Grace,” the clergyman told her with a smile, taking her hands in his own. “May your life and his Grace’s be blessed.”
There it was again.
How odd that sounded. How frightening. What did she know about being a duchess? How was she ever to cope? Why had she gone along with Jeannette’s impulsive scheme? Heaven knows, their hoax would lead to nothing but disaster.
Then she looked up at Adrian, where he waited a few feet away, and remembered why.
God help her but she loved him. May he never find out who she truly was.
- top -