The Stanhope Challenge
Four Regency Romances
Four brothers, four love affairs,
that challenge the family curse
Copyright © 2014 by
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
Cerise DeLand/W.J. Power Publisher
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Cover Art by
Formatting by Wizards in Publishing
Novels previously published individually by Resplendence Publishing. All rights reverted to author.
The Stanhope Challenge consists of edited, expanded works.
The Stanhope Challenge, The Regency Quartet by Cerise DeLand
Table of Contents
I am blessed to have family and friends who support me in my work. For this release, I am especially grateful to my talented and devoted daughter Ann for her expert assistance, including proofing those French words!
For my hard-working colleagues who take their time to be so supportive, I am thankful day after day to Desiree Holt, Brenna Zinn and Sabrina York. For my buddies who promote me in the great wide world of social media, my thanks to Lisabet Sarai, Kate Deveaux, Tina Donahue, Dominique Eastwick, Delilah Marvelle, Rebecca Royce, Natasha Blackthorne, Normandie Alleman, Morticia Knight, Laci Paige, Jessica E. Subject and Sally Goldin.
And to my faithful readers, I am delighted and honored you allow me to entertain you, book after book.
Lord Stanhope’s Improper Proposal
The Stanhope Challenge, Book 1
Adam and Felice
London, January 1809
It is a truth, universally accepted, that a politician in want of the premiership must also be in want of a wife.
Felice knew that was her new husband’s justification for marrying her so quickly.
“A reason as good as my own,” she told herself as she combed her hair back from her face and fluffed the ruffled bodice of her wedding dress. She pursed her lips, wondering how Adam really kissed a woman. How he kissed his mistresses. After the ceremony minutes ago, he had merely brushed her mouth with his. She’d always thought her lips worth more than a peck—and she was determined that this second husband of hers would do more than ignore her.
“I’ll ensure that he does,” she resolved, with a check of her figure in the cheval mirror in the retiring room of her new brother–in–law’s mansion on Grosvenor Square. “After all, the fictitious Miss Proper has charms that Adam does not know about.”
Nor should he!
That secret could ruin her marriage. “And I intend to keep both the secret and my marriage!”
o to your wedding breakfast and be done with this mooning.
She had accepted his proposal. Now she would reap the rewards. London Society was open to her—the excitement of their lives, their intrigues ready fodder for her pen. For her romances and poems.
She frowned at herself.
Be honest, Fee. You want more than inspiration for your stories. More than a means to repay that nefarious man your first husband’s debt. You want Adam Stanhope gracing your own bed, not just his look-alike walking on the pages of your newest romance. You want him inside your body. Making you wet and warm. And kissing your—
A quick knock at the door had her whirling.
“Dear Felice,” cooed her husband’s Great Aunt Amaryllis from behind the portal. “Do come out now. We are quite eager to applaud you and Adam. The guests, too, are clamouring for the receiving line!”
Fee scoffed. Most likely, the men wanted more wine while they made wagers on how soon Adam would bed her. And the women? They wanted to assess how a country mouse like her managed to snare the renowned, rich and eloquent Adam Stanhope. Third son of the earl. Widower. Father. Someday soon, the head of his party, if the papers and broadsheets were to be believed. And thereafter certainly, prime minister.
“Adam Stanhope,” she murmured to herself. “A great catch, Fee. If you can intrigue him.”
And there was the rub.
Adam, now thirty, was notorious for outlandish behavior. When he’d turned seventeen, he’d run away from home and sailed to Hong Kong to work with his cousin in his Far Eastern trading company. Four years later, he’d come home to finish his education at Cambridge, marry the beauty of the Season and run for Parliament. He’d won twice now. But since his wife had died in childbirth, Adam had made a name for himself as a rake. He was just like his brothers in that regard. Still, he was the only one who had married and challenged the Stanhope family curse. For it was a legend that no matter whom a Stanhope married, no matter that person’s quality of character or breeding or good intentions, once wedded, a Stanhope lived in hell.
be happy.” Felice repeated the phrase that had become her motto ever since Adam had appeared in Kent last month and proposed. “I’ll dispense with this hideous man plaguing me for money to cover those old debts. Then I will devote myself to ensuring Adam is happy. I will be a social asset to him. And a good mother to his son.”
What more could a man ask for?
“A politician has to have a wife! Who the devil put that ridiculous rule about, Reggie?” Adam Stanhope asked his friend as he paced in his brother Jack’s drawing room at eleven in the morning. He threw back another shot of Jack’s fine brandy and coughed. “Oh, lord, that burns all the way down. Whose idea was it to stay out all night, eh?” He scrubbed his hand over his face, acknowledging his predicament had less to do with excess alcohol than with Fee Wentworth. Correction, Stanhope. “Dammit, you’d think a respectable widower with an heir earned the right to be free!”
“No help for it, old man,” Reggie responded and drained his glass of spirits. “Damn good stuff, if I say so myself! But see here, Adam, you admitted you need her. We’ve been through this entire argument before. You’ve got a bit of a reputation, courtesy of that Miss Proper’s ramblings and—”
The far door burst open. Adam’s oldest brother, Jack, appeared in all his dark imperious hauteur. He took one look at both men and slipped inside to shut the world out. “Now, Adam. Reggie. What the hell are you doing in here drinking?”
Adam cocked a long black brow at the man who expected to be obeyed in all things. “Drowning my sorrows.”
“Too late for that!” Jack’s mouth twitched in a grin. “Get the hell out there so we can toast the good health of the bride and groom.”
“Come, come, Jack,” he grumped, “you know what this marriage means for me.”
Jack’s black brows arched high. “Oh, I do. One look at your bride and I have a very good idea that—”
Adam scowled at his brother. “She’s lovely.”
Damned gorgeous, in fact. And mine, god help me now.
“But I have ruined her.”
Jack startled. “You’ve
“No, no. That’s not what I mean.”
Jack, his grimace deepening, strode over to remove the snifter glass from Adam’s fingertips. “Sadly, I know what you mean. And this does not help.”
“I’ve known her since she was ten, Jack!” Adam thrust out a hand, roiled by what he had just done to this sweet, shy woman.
“And? She was a charming child then. Now you have—”
“Wrecked her life! That’s what I’ve done!”
Jack narrowed his eyes on his brother. “How late did you stay at White’s last night?”
When Adam said “Ba!” and shook his head, Jack peered at Reggie. “How late?”
The man winced and brushed imaginary crumbs from his cravat. “Five. Six. Not certain. We were winning at dice, you see, and couldn’t leave.”
Jack glared at the ceiling. “I hope to god it was profitable.”
Adam grinned through his pain. “Five thousand in my pockets I hadn’t had before!”
The far door opened again. An auburn–haired man stuck his head in. “What the hell is the delay here?”
Jack beckoned him. “Wes, Adam is having a rather belated moment of introspection. Do come in and help me talk sense into our youngest brother.”
Wes took a step inside and shut the door behind him. In his cavalryman’s dress blues, he leaned back against the door. “What’s the matter, Adam? Nerves?”
Adam rolled his shoulders. “Every man’s entitled. You told me so yourself.”
“That,” Wes chuckled as he limped over to the chair beside Adam and fell into it, “is before a man goes into battle!”