At the tender age of fifteen, Emilie Pelham fell for a handsome older man of eighteen who kissed her and then never wrote or sought out her company again. Five years later, Emilie is a happy wallflower who wants nothing to do with men—and especially not one in particular, now the Marquess of Willingham. And yet that is precisely who the matchmaker, hired by her mother, insists is Emilie’s soulmate. Well, she would rather see the surprisingly thoughtful nobleman disgraced than marry him. She is formulating a plan to do just that for she is not one to change to her mind once it’s made up.
Gabriel, the Marquess of Willingham, was a young man ruled by his passions, but he learned his lesson. Now, he keeps a tight rein on his emotions. Since inheriting his father’s title, however, his grandmother has insisted he begin looking for a wife. He is happy to marry, just so long as no emotions are stirred. This is not good enough for Gran, though, who hires a matchmaker to find Gabriel’s soulmate. When the woman pairs him with the beautiful girl who opened his eyes to the dangers of passion, however, he annoyed when the same feelings try to overpower his newfound control.
Neither Emilie nor Gabriel are prepared, however, for the feelings they stir in each other. Neither could have foreseen that a passion sparked years ago could possibly rekindle no matter how hard they fight against. Will hearts be broken a second time or will love prevail?
In this cat and mouse game, it’s possible they both might lose—or both might win.

Chapter One



Lady Emilie Pelham had been having a perfectly wonderful evening with the rest of the wallflowers at Lady Hardcastle’s ball. The strains of the music being played wafted over her and her friends as they stood on the far side of the ballroom. As usual, Miss Merrill had been sighing over Lord Dunright. Miss Smyth had been making snide comments about all the girls dancing, criticizing their gowns, their hair, and even the way they giggled; and Miss Winter had been complaining about her mother and how the woman never made any sort of effort to introduce her to eligible gentlemen because she was too busy throwing herself at them instead—not that she would do anything improper, of course. Baroness Winbourne just liked to flirt, as Miss Winter assured them all again and again.

Emilie was simply content to listen to the other girls and keep an eye out for whoever her mother might force on her next. Every time they went to a party, there was one poor fellow who her mother would hound until he finally gave up and asked Emilie to dance. Every single time she would have her toes stepped on and have to suffer through twenty minutes of inane conversation just so her mother would leave her alone for the rest of the party.

They had an unspoken understanding, Emilie and her mother. Emilie would dance once with a gentleman of the lady’s choosing, and then she would be left alone for the rest of the evening to do as she pleased—which was to watch and feel sorry for all the other girls dancing and having their toes stepped upon. Since her mother was still convinced that Emilie was going to find a husband—despite her arguments to the contrary—and insisted she at least try, this seemed to be the best arrangement Emilie could hope for.

This evening she had already had her dance. It had been with Lord Boring, er, Borling, it was Borling. Goodness, she’s nearly called him Lord Boring to his face! She’d caught herself just in time, she remembered with a little laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Miss Smyth asked. “Is it Miss Talbot? Is it that dress she’s wearing with the… what is it? Twelve flounces? I don’t know—I’ve lost count.” Miss Smyth gave a little smirk.

“What? Oh, no. I was just remembering how I nearly called Lord Borling Lord Boring,” Emilie told her.

Miss Merrill spun toward her. “You didn’t!”

“I didn’t, but it was a near miss,” Emilie said with a little giggle.

Miss Smyth nearly laughed right out loud but caught herself just in time. Instead, the crinkle of her mud-brown eyes was the only way to tell that she was laughing inside. She wasn’t a bad-looking young woman, but she did have rather sharp features and a strong chin. She looked as if she never ate a thing, although Emilie had seen her consume an almost indecent amount of food once.

“Girls, I am so glad to see you are enjoying yourselves this evening,” Lady Tremelling, Emilie’s mother said, coming up to them with a young gentleman in tow. The lady herself was looking as lovely and determined as ever. Her deep-blue gown made the steel gray of her eyes stand out sharply as she took in the girls all standing in a row. Her hair was still the same color as Emilie’s—a rich dark brown—but there was a stray glint of silver caught by the light every so often.

What was this? Emilie thought. She’d already done her duty for the night. A second dance was not part of their deal.

Emilie’s friends all immediately lost their smiles and stepped away from the man, as if he had the plague.

“We are, thank you, Mother,” Emilie said, deliberately ignoring the gentleman.

“Excellent. Lord Easton, may I present my daughter, Lady Emilie Pelham?” her mother said, turning to the man. He was handsome enough with broad shoulders and good height, but it was clear that he didn’t miss a meal and enjoyed them immensely.

He smiled at Emilie and bowed. “It is an honor, Lady Emilie.”

Emilie pulled up a polite smile as she curtsied. “How do you do?”

“Quite well, thank you,” he answered, as if she actually cared. “Lady Emilie, might I lead you out for the next dance?”

Emilie narrowed her eyes momentarily at her mother. This was most definitely not part of their understanding, and she wasn’t going to put up with it. She gave the man a sad smile. “I am so very sorry, my lord, but I’m afraid I turned my ankle when I danced with Lord Borling and it is paining me ever so much. You will please excuse me?”

“Oh dear, I am so very sorry to hear that,” the gentleman said, feigning concern, but in truth, Emilie wasn’t entirely certain there was a hint of relief in his eyes.

“Perhaps a slow promenade about the room instead. That shouldn’t hurt your ankle,” her mother suggested, putting undue stress on the last word. It was clear she didn’t believe Emilie’s excuse for the slightest moment.

“Oh, I don’t—” Emilie started.

“Yes, of course! What a brilliant idea, Lady Tremelling,” the gentleman said, giving her mother a nod. “We will, of course, go slowly so as not to aggravate your injury.”

“You are too kind, my lord,” Emilie said. She had no choice but to take the man’s arm and allow him to lead her away. She didn’t even look at her mother to see the self-satisfied smile she was certain was hovering on the lady’s lips.

Later that evening as they drove home in their carriage, Emilie didn’t hold back. “Mother, how could you bring a second gentleman over for me to meet? I’d thought we had an understanding.”

“Understanding? What understanding?” her mother snapped. She was clearly just as unhappy with Emilie.

“That you would only force one gentleman on me per evening,” Emilie spelled out for her.

Her mother’s jaw dropped, and her eyes widened. “Well, I never agreed to such a thing!”

“But it’s what you’ve always done,” Emilie argued.

Her mother paused, thinking about it. She gave a sniff. “Well, if it is, it is only because you are so ungrateful and unwilling to even give any of the very kind gentlemen I introduce to you a chance.”

“I give them a chance. I never complain when they step on my toes as we dance. I always make polite conversation. I hold up my end of the bargain.”

“You dance with them and then don’t speak with them the rest of the evening.”

“I stand with my friends,” Emilie pointed out.

“You stand with all the other wallflowers when you could be out enjoying yourself and meeting eligible men. You will never find a gentleman to marry if you only dance with one man at every party we go to.”

“I told you. I have no interest in—”

“Yes, yes,” her mother waved away her words with a nonchalant hand. “And I have told you that you will marry, whether you want to do so or not. Dancing with one man per evening will never get you to the altar. What a ridiculous notion! Now, am I going to have to ask your brother to find a husband for you, or will you cooperate?” Her voice had suddenly become much sharper as she turned to stare right at Emilie despite the darkness of the coach.

“I will not—” Emilie started again.

“That’s enough! Enough of this absurdity, Emilie. I am through with coddling you. You will find a gentleman to marry or… or…”

“Or what?” Emilie asked, challenging her.

“Or I will find one for you. No, wait.” Her mother stopped speaking and turned to look out the window for a moment. “I just remembered something. I overheard Lady…” Her voice trailed off as she struggled to remember whatever it was. She then said softly to herself. “Yes. I will have to send ‘round a note… or better yet, pay her a call.” Lady Tremelling turned back toward Emilie with much more determination. “Don’t you worry about a thing. I shall handle everything.”

“Worry? Indeed, I am very worried—now.”