The Stranger I Married - Sylvia Day

Prologue

London, 1815

“Do you truly intend to steal your best friend’s mistress?”

Gerard Faulkner, the sixth Marquess of Grayson, kept his eyes on the woman in question, and smiled. Those who knew him well also knew that look, and its wicked portent. “I certainly do.”

“Dastardly,” Bartley muttered. “Too low even for you, Gray. Is it not sufficient to cuckold Sinclair? You know how Markham feels about Pel. He’s lost his head over her.”

Gray studied Lady Pelham with a connoisseur’s eye. There was no incertitude about her suitability for his needs. Beautiful and scandalous, he could not have designed a wife more suited to irritating his mother if he’d tried. Pel, as she was affectionately referred to, was of medium height, but stunningly curved, and built for a man’s pleasure. The auburn-haired widow of the late Earl of Pelham had a brazen sultriness that was addicting, or so rumor said. Her former lover, Lord Pearson, had gone into a long decline after she ended their affair.

Gerard had no difficulty seeing how a man could mourn the loss of her attentions. Under the blazing lights of the massive chandeliers, Isabel Pelham glittered like a precious jewel, expensive and worth every shilling.

He watched as she smiled up at Markham with a wide curving of her lips, lips which were considered too full for conventional beauty, but just the right plumpness to rim a man’s cock. All around the room, covetous male eyes watched her, hoping for the day when she might turn those sherry-colored eyes upon them, and perhaps select one of them as her next lover. To Gerard, their longing was pitiable. The woman was extremely selective, and retained her lovers for years. She’d had Markham on a leash for nearly two now, and showed no signs of losing interest.

But that interest did not extend to matrimony.

On the few occasions when the viscount had begged for her hand, she refused him, declaring she had no interest in marrying a second time. Gray, on the other hand, had no doubts whatsoever that he could change her mind about that.

“Calm yourself, Bartley,” he murmured. “Things will work out. Trust me.”

“No one can trust you.”

“You can trust me to give you five hundred pounds if you drag Markham away from Pel and into the card room.”

“Well, then.” Bartley straightened his spine and his waistcoat, neither action capable of hiding his widening middle. “I am at your service.”

Grinning, Gerard bowed slightly to his greedy acquaintance who took off to the right, while he made his way to the left. He strolled without haste around the fringes of the ballroom, making his way toward the pivotal object of his plan. The journey was slow going, his way blocked by one mother-and-debutante pairing after another. Most bachelor peers similarly hounded would grimace with annoyance, but Gerard was known as much for his overabundance of charm, as he was for his penchant for mischief. So he flirted outrageously, kissed hands freely, and left every female in his wake certain he would be calling on her with a formal offer of marriage.

Casting the occasional glance toward Markham, he noted the exact moment Bartley lured him away, and then crossed the distance with purposeful strides, taking Pel’s gloved hand to his lips before the usual throng of avid admirers could encircle her.

As he lifted his head, he caught her eyes laughing at him. “Why, Lord Grayson. A woman cannot help but be flattered by such a single-minded approach.”

“Lovely Isabel, your beauty drew me like a moth to a flame.” He tucked her hand around his forearm, and led her away for a walk around