TWICE THE TEMPTATION…DOUBLE THE DESIRE!
After years of being a quiet, dutiful wife, the recently widowed Mrs. Miranda Talbot is finally free to se she pleases. As an attractive woman of independent means, Miranda is suddenly turning heads all around town. When she meets the dashing Mr. Castor Worthington, she is swept away by his passion. Is he too good to be true?
Little does Miranda know that there is more to Castor than meets the eye. In fact, he’s a twin. Castor’s brother, Poll, also a confirmed bachelor, takes his romantic pursuits–and rivals–very seriously. When Castor discovers Miranda is being courted by his own twin, his competitive nature takes over. Who will be the one to win Miranda’s hand and heart?
The race to say I do is about to begin…
* * *
Read the reviews!
Presenting readers with a pair of heroes to die for and a quirky Shakespeare-quoting family, along with a fast pace and snappy dialogue, Bradley is at her best.
–RTBookReviews (read full review!)
The book is a signature Celeste Bradley novel with her wit and engaging writing style.
–Night Owl Reviews (read full review!)
Filled with humor, madcap antics, engaging characters, witty repartee, competition, subterfuge, romance and love, this story is one you do not want to miss.
–Romance Junkies (read full review!)
* * *
Behind the scenes…
So, some people have noticed my fascination with twins…
First we had Bitty and Kitty from the Liar’s Club series. Now we have Castor and Pollux Worthington from the Wicked Worthingtons series!
I love a Bad Boy hero. I really love a Bad Boy hero times two! Of course, I was inspired by darling Fred and George Weasley from the Harry Potter series. I adore those twin partners-in-crime! They are two of my favorite literary characters of all time. (We do NOT talk about the last book in my house!) So when I created the whack-a-doodle Worthington family, how could I not include a pair of brilliantly inventive mischief mongers of my own?
As for Miranda, she is every Good Girl who ever thought that if she just gave enough, and kept quiet enough, and took up as little space as possible, that someday she would reap her reward for all her sacrifice. I just had to give her a little taste of Bad!
I hope you enjoy this second installment of the Wicked Worthington saga–I sure enjoyed writing it!
Hugs and thanks for reading!
* * *
Read an excerpt!
If only I dared, I might be the most blissful of women—although tiresome good sense rushes to assure me I might well be the unhappiest, with a lifetime of regret ahead of me and only sweet memories behind.
I think I might take either future rather than live one more day in this tedious shelter of “unloved” and “overlooked.”
If only I dared . . . .
Mrs. Gideon Talbot strolled sedately down the walk. Miranda was without her maid today, for poor Tildy had a bad cold and was nestled up in her attic bedroom with a hot pot of tea and a crock of broth.
Miranda liked feeling unfettered by company. Why exactly did a lady need to be accompanied by a maid at all times? It wasn’t as though Tiny Tildy could protect her in a crisis. Nor was Tildy needed to carry parcels, for Miranda merely gave the vendors her address, and everything she purchased was delivered promptly and without fail.
When one was a wealthy, respectable widow, the world tended to do as it was told. Such a position was quite refreshing, to tell the truth. So instead of making her usual round of shops and vendors, Miranda directed her hired hack to let her off in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
It wasn’t as though she actually expected to see him here. She was simply curious. She knew he resided nearby and wished to know a little more about the man she could not stop thinking about.
And then, ahead of her, as if summoned by her thoughts, a tall, brown- haired fellow stepped out of an alleyway and ran across the street, dodging carts and riders and piles of horse-apples.
Miranda knew that man. She knew the breadth of his shoulders and the way his hair curled down over the back of his collar and most especially she knew that hard, muscled horseman’s bottom. It had sat upon her sofa for most of the last month of afternoons, while she plied its owner with tea and conversation.
Mr. Pollux Worthington.
Mr. Worthington was a handsome fellow indeed, but his primary attraction for Miranda was his easy smile and his wicked sense of humor. After her dry, lifeless, loveless marriage had turned to a quiet and dusty widowhood, the heat and light generated by Mr. Worthington’s calls had become the climax of her days.
It was entirely proper for her to have a gentleman caller or two, she reminded the harsh voice echoing in her mind from her past. She’d completed her half-mourning, and she’d only allowed two entirely respectable fellows through her very respectable door. Their calls took place in the bright light of afternoon and rarely lasted more than a congenial half-hour.
If her mind sometimes wandered to Mr. Worthington’s wide, capable hands, or if her eyes lingered on his lips, or if her imagination waxed eloquent on the probable feel of his muscular buttocks in her hands, well, no one had to know what went on behind her demurely downcast eyes, did they?
Mr. Worthington had not called upon her in the last few days. Miranda told herself that she only wished only to determine that he was well . . . although perhaps a broken bone or three would most gratifyingly explain his strange and abrupt absence after he’d been so attentive!
So it was merely out of friendly concern that she now strolled in the vicinity of his home. She hadn’t followed him there, truly she hadn’t. However, since he was there and, by random chance, so was she, and they happened to be dawdling on the same street . . . well, she could go on all day in her mind on how she wasn’t tracking the man like a hound on a scent, but the fact remained that she was doing exactly that.
Now, even after so brief a separation, the sight of him made her smile. I believe I am giddy. Impossible! I am much too mature and respectable to become giddy.
Thirty-one years of age and a widow, to boot! How could the mere sight of a certain fellow transform her into a mooning schoolgirl? This is unbearable. I refuse to participate in this—this preposterous state of affairs for one more moment.
Didn’t he look fine, though, with the early summer sunlight pouring over him like golden honey, gleaming his light brown hair and creating that intriguing shadow just beneath his chiseled cheekbone? He was so handsome. Giddy! And dreamy! Intolerable!
Panic set in. What should she do? Should she be casual and assured and greet him nonchalantly? Should she stand here like an empty-headed bit of plaster statuary and hope he spotted her? Miranda bit her lip as she considered her dilemma, or was she considering Mr. Worthington’s bottom? It was muscled and hard, clad in tight riding breeches and just the right shape and form for a man.
After all, too little bottom, and a fellow’s back fell directly into his legs, like rain down a gutter. Too much bottom, and a fellow bore an unfortunate resemblance to a duck, including the tendency to waddle.
No, the derrière in question was without a doubt a superior specimen. And it belonged to her. Or, it could belong to her if she dared. That very bottom had sat upon her parlor sofa for many afternoons in the past few weeks. . . day after day of visits and cups of tea and delightfully witty conversation. To Miranda, good conversation was more heady than wine. Her late husband had never been much of a talker. . . or a listener.
Gideon had been a highly regarded gentleman, a catch, really, for a plain girl like her, with her gawky elbows and knees and that unfortunate tendency toward flatness in the bosom. It hadn’t been Gideon’s fault that he’d not realized that she wished to talk. She’d been virtually ordered to silence by her grandmother while he’d courted her.
That harsh voice rang from the mists of the past once again. “You’ll sit silently and you’ll keep good posture and you’ll nod but not too much! Mind you, smile but not too widely!” The echoes of her grandmother’s ranting rang as fresh as ever. “You’ll not shame me like your wild mother, that hussy! That my pathetic son should have dishonored himself for her—”
Well, the rest of that was better not thought on.
Time and maturity had finally gifted Miranda with a bit of bosom and she’d learned to manage her elbows and knees with grace, mostly by keeping her movements slow and flowing. Yet she’d never truly been able to stop her mind from coming up with odd things to say. She’d only learned to keep her mouth from uttering them.
The derrière—er, the man she’d been observing— left the building that he had briefly entered, only to dart back across the street and back down the alleyway opposite.
Curiosity, while unbecoming in a sedate and mature widow of thirty-one years, mewed piteously and scratched to be let in. Frowning slightly, Miranda could not resist pausing in her perfectly innocent and not-at-all-unseemly stroll to peer down the alleyway when she came abreast of it. She could see very little but dingy cobbles and shadowy rubbish bins. The afternoon sun did nothing to illuminate the narrow lane between the tall brick buildings. Tilting her head, Miranda listened carefully, but only heard only a few strange banging noises, amplified oddly by the narrow passage.
Ladies, especially not sedate widows of a certain age, did not trot down dark alleyways after men.
Yet the unfettered sensation caused by dutiful Tildy’s absence gave a gloss of freedom to Miranda’s thoughts, a sheen they’d not had for so many, many years. I can do as I please. I am no one’s wife, or charge.
Besides, Mr. Worthington was a nice, respectable fellow, prone to amusing conversation about books and current events. Perhaps he had a perfectly good reason to be in such an odd location on a weekday morning.
She opened the figurative door, and curiosity strolled in, tail high and crooked in a question mark at the tip.
Without really allowing herself to ponder the question further, Miranda began to pick her way down the dim, narrow alley, careful to avoid soiling her hem on any of the many wads of nameless really-rather-not-know on the damp, slimy cobbles. She lifted her skirts with one hand and used the other to trail along the brick wall to her right, as if by keeping a few fingertips on something solid, she could prevent being swept away by her own curiosity. She kept close the wall, only stepping away from it only briefly to avoid something especially noxious at her feet.
The distant clanging noises increased in tempo and volume. Now it sounded as though a machine were grinding away. She could definitely distinguish the grinding gears, pistons pumping, steam whistling. .
Curiosity swiveled its ears and quivered its whiskers.
What in heaven’s name could lie ahead?
Pollux Worthington turned to his companion and smirked. “I told you it would work!” His green eyes gleamed.
Castor Worthington, who looked a great deal like Poll—being his identical twin, after all—only frowned as he pondered the giant contraption that took up most of the space in this crook in the alleyway. It was so large, they’d had to do most of the secret final assembly here, in this canyon of brick and stone, with bad light and the constant chance of discovery.
It was a steam engine, at heart. All the other many parts and functions had been added along the way to suit Poll’s evolving design. Now it was meant to be a steam engine, a water pump, a pressure boiler, a home-heating device, and of course, a work of art worthy of gracing the palace of the Prince Regent himself!
Cas wrinkled his brow. Just like many of Poll’s very worst ideas, it had all sounded most interesting at the time. Now Cas wondered how long this test run would take. He had pressing matters to attend to. “Well, it runs . . . sort of. As for actually working . . . .”
Poll rolled his eyes and raised his voice over the noise of the engine. “You still doubt me? Didn’t I get all of it down this alley after you said the cart wouldn’t fit?”
“Well . . . yes, but—”
“And didn’t I get it fired up after you said the coal was too damp?”
Cas shook his head . “I didn’t say damp—”
“And isn’t it, right this very moment, running like a top?”
Once more, Cas gazed at the gusting, clanging—, and, let’s be frank, hideous— creation. “I still think coal is a poor choice. It burns too hot. The steam pressure will—”
“Wood heat would never get the pressure high enough! Just wait, you’ll see!”
Just then, the whistle they had affixed to the meter blew shrilly. Poll grinned triumphantly as when it shot a neat arc of steam into the air as it trilled.
“Ha! Listen to that!”
Cas listened as the whistle squeaked. Then it screamed. Then it popped a rivet, detaching itself to blow off the stack and sail across the alley, its trill weakening in a sudden, pathetic whimper.
Poll’s grin faded. “Oh, damn.”
The twins stepped back at once, Cas down one side of the alley, Poll down the other. After a brief alarmed glance at each other through the growing clouds of steam that really shouldn’t be there, they stepped back again. And again.
A movement at the edge of Castor’s vision caught his attention. He turned his head to peer into the dimness of the alley that ran from the street. A woman? Who—?
The stack itself shook from the pressure building up inside. The rivets holding it in its tubular form began commenced to pop off in sudden, bullet-like haste. The twins threw themselves away from the machine, scrambling over the cobbles, intent only on getting as far from imminent death as possible.
Then Cas remembered the woman. He twisted half about to see that she had come closer, her appalled gaze on the wheezing, screaming, buckling machine.
Opposite him, Poll threw an arm over his face. “We need to get out of here!”
Cas pointed Poll toward the door to the safe interior of the building. “Run!”
He turned back to where the woman stood, her face pale and her hands held before her. She was finally backing away, as it was now quite obvious that the machine was about to explode like a Chinese firework, but she wasn’t moving fast enough. Cas ran at her full-out, diving into her, wrapping his arms about her, and throwing them both back into the narrow, angled safety of the street entrance.
Just as they hit the hard, slimy cobbles, the monster behind them groaned into a roar.
Miranda lay with a heavy weight upon her; a hard, cold lumpy surface beneath her; and a great ringing in her ears.
Through it, she could barely detect Mr. Worthington’s rather gratifying tone of concern. “Oh hell. Oh damn. Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
She remained still, a little surprised that she was, in fact, quite well. Her heart was racing and her bottom grew colder by the moment as the dampness of the ground seeped through her gown, but she felt nary a single bruise on her flesh. His arms were wound about her, so very little of her had impacted the cobbles at full force. His large hand was wrapped around the back of her head, protecting her from the stones even now. She remembered that as they had fallen, he had tucked her face into the hollow of his neck and shoulder and rolled with her quite enveloped in his hold. It had been a splendidly athletic move and really a most gallant rescue.
Now, he remained wrapped about her, lying fully upon her, his knee pressing her own apart. If anything, her pulse increased. He shifted his weight from her and knelt by her side. “Damn it, I’ve killed her!”
Opening her eyes, she couldn’t help smiling up at him gazing worriedly down at her. “A most graceful rescue, sir. Perhaps I should keep you at my side for all future explosions.”
He let out a gusting sigh of relief and grinned ruefully back at her. “No future explosions, I promise. In fact, let us pretend that one never happened!” He stood easily and bowed to her, extending his hand. Taking hers, he lifted her to a standing position, steadying her as she staggered. His arms were strong, keeping her easily on her feet. He took her shoulders in his hands, stepping back while yet steadying her. “My deepest apologies! Are you quite sure you are all right?”
Miranda nodded, blinking back the sudden wave of heat that had apparently come directly from contact with Mr. Worthington’s iron-hard body. Goodness, he might have a taste for awful, foppish weskits, but there was nothing of the soft, doughy dandy about him!
Her feminine obsession with his bottom instantly expanded to a new fascination with that muscled chest. I am incorrigible!
The notion rather pleased her, even as she smiled breathlessly up at Mr. Worthington. Imagine her—shy, awkward Miranda Talbot—incorrigible!
Mr. Worthington took her hand to bow over it. “Lovely lady, might I plead my heroism as cause to sidestep the proprieties just this once? I am Worthington.”
Miranda smiled, completely charmed. Let us pretend that one never happened. He meant to start over indeed, for those were the very words he’d used the day they had met!
On that afternoon a month ago, she’d been crossing a busy street in Mayfair and had caught her heel between two cobbles. Tildy, toting packages, had fallen a little behind. Miranda knew she’d been silly to lose sight of the oncoming traffic in her worry over a shoe, but thankfully a handsome man—Mr. Worthington!—had simply stepped into the street, wrapped an arm about her waist, and plucked her from danger—and the offending shoe!
Now, just as she had then, Miranda dipped a curtsy and said, “Gallantry is its own reward, sir, but your actions were most heroic. I might allow that the act of introducing yourself—while shocking and forward of you!—is a just and proper reward for such valor.” When she straightened, she found her own reward in the warmth of his smile. Goodness, she’d never seen his eyes gleam so at her! Previously warm and friendly, like spring sun on green grass, his gaze eyes now promised heat and light and shadow and all manner of wickedly playful possibilities!
It must be that he’d been affected by their brief intimacy on the cobbles as well! Miranda’s pulse became more rapid. She loved the spring sun but the flame of a midsummer bonfire might warm one twice as well, might it not? Fighting her own timidity, she gazed right back and continued the game. “I am Mrs. Gideon Talbot, Mr. Worthington. However, my hero may address me as Miranda.”
Would he say it again? Would he say the words that had made a fiercely circumspect widow, the very model of propriety, begin to remember that she was a flesh-and-blood woman as well?
His lips curled up at the corners. “Miranda, lovely daughter of Prospero. ‘O you, / So perfect and so peerless, are created / Of every creature’s best!’”
Miranda’s jaw dropped slightly. Oh my.
The first time, he had smiled teasingly and recited, “‘The very instant that I saw you, did / My heart fly to your service.’.” She’d been flattered, impressed by his Shakespeare-at-the-ready compliment, and charmed by his relaxed impertinence.
Now, with his leaf-green eyes gleaming wicked promise and his lean, broad-shouldered form leaning close over hers, she found herself thrilled by the breathtaking notion of being seen as “perfect and peerless” by such a man! She struggled for a light laugh. “You’ve studied up on your Tempest! Very good! But are you my Ferdinand or simply a Caliban?” She pretended arch indifference. “That remains to be seen, does it not?”
Cas gazed stared down at the pretty widow, perplexed. She ought to be weak-kneed and simpering by now, not teasing him so pitilessly. He’d been quite proud of yanking that handy Miranda quote out of his memory. Of course, his father, Archimedes Worthington, Shakespeare scholar, had strolled around the house quoting that bloody play for months. There was nothing so likely to drive a fellow off Shakespeare as an elderly man wandering the house at midnight in his baggy drawers stentoriously spouting Ferdinand’s lines from The Tempest!
Mr. Castor Worthington, confirmed bachelor, appreciator of all things feminine, stepped back to take a better look at the delightfully soft object of his sudden collision. She seemed rather poised. Was this the same woman he’d just tackled and flung onto the cobbles—after very nearly exploding her?
She looked a mess, actually. Her fine, straw bonnet, dyed to match her spencer, was a smeary ruin, as was the spencer. Beneath the short jacket, her gown was sullied with more alley slime, especially about the er . . . arse. The damp fabric clung to her flesh, and Cas took a moment to appreciate the delightful shape revealed beneath it. Then he firmly returned his gaze to her face to find her assessing him expectantly.
Hmm. His smile warmed. Pretty. Perhaps even beautiful, properly gowned in something that would set off that nicely structured bosom and that alabaster skin. Not that she wasn’t well-dressed, just a bit understated. Widow? Who else wore that weary shade of lavender- gray? A pretty widow with a wayward sense of adventure, if he was not mistaken. His very favorite kind.
He smiled in return, a slow, lazy grin that had stripped many a woman right down to her knickers on the spot. He might need to flee the scene of the crime in the next few moments, but that didn’t mean he would pass up a chance to flirt with a pert young widow!
He was yet breathing, after all.
Miranda inhaled, her mouth going dry. Why, all of a sudden, was he smiling down into her eyes as if she were a present he’d very much like to unwrap? Oh, yes. Please unwrap me.
She closed her eyes and stilled her body against the heat that shot through her at that outrageous, wayward thought and the vague, disturbing, and delicious images that followed.
“Mrs. Talbot, I do believe I ought to take you—”
Miranda’s eyes flew open and her lips parted. In addition, her hands went completely numb with shock and parted ways with her reticule, which plopped to the filthy ground.
“—home. You’ll want to change out of these . . . er, damp things.”
Removing her revolting gown would be . . . ”Wonderful,” she breathed. Then she caught herself up. Yes. Home. Changing into something that didn’t reek of best-not-ask! Good plan.
She reached out to awkwardly shake his hand. “It was lovely to . . . well, not really, but . . .” Don’t blather, girl! She straightened and curtsieyed sedately. “Home. Yes. I really must be heading home. I should not like to leave it too late, for it is becoming quite chilly out, isn’t it?”
He smiled down at her. Such a bold little thing! “Is it?” He bent his elbow and offered it to her, his busy schedule entirely dismissed from his thoughts. “Then I must continue my gallantry and accompany you home.” He tucked the pretty hand of the pretty widow into his arm and allowed the lady to turn their feet toward the street, a hired cab, and this fascinating destination. With those sea- green eyes and those enchanting lips, not to mention a smashing figure, she was lovely, sultry, and altogether enticing.
What a grand way to pass the afternoon.
In the hired hack, Miranda found herself very nearly speechless in the company of the man she valued for his sparkling conversation! Yet something was different now. There was a new element, a tension between them that perhaps came from the way their bodies had mingled and warmed to each other.
And when he looked at her with that teasing, appreciative glint in his eyes? I feel almost . . . alluring.
Now, that was a word she’d never thought to apply to herself.
She was a widow, attractive enough, but no raving beauty, either. Mr. Worthington was tall, broad-shouldered, fit as a horseman should be, and possessed of a handsome chiseled face, brilliant green eyes, a devilish smile, and charmingly wayward brown curls. And a truly outstanding bottom. Her fingers twitched with a nearly overwhelming desire to explore further.
Miranda sighed. She had never once thought of running her hands over Gideon’s bottom. She’d never seen her stoop-shouldered, scholarly late husband without his frock coat or his nightshirt. Even marital copulation had been most decorous, in the dark with only the most necessary bits of muslin shifted to allow for the act. She’d done her duty to Gideon, as overseen and supervised by the ever-present Constance, Gideon’s strict elder sister, but she hadn’t loved him.
Nor had he loved her. He’d provided. She’d done her duty, all but for bearing a child. Gideon had found that flaw in his plan a tad disconcerting, but had eventually allowed that children were a disturbing element in a house of cerebral pursuits, and had magnanimously forgiven her. Miranda had comforted herself in her barrenness with the thought that a houseful of little Gideons might have been a bit more than any sane woman might tolerate.
She’d kept her husband’s house in good order and his cerebral work uninterrupted. In return, he’d doled out just enough funds to keep her looking respectable, in gowns subject to Constance’s vision of respectability—i.e. plain and demurely Quakerish. She’d not gone hungry, nor been beaten, nor actually deprived in body at all.
She’d simply been ignored to tiny little bits. She’d actually felt those bits falling off her, like flaking paint on a neglected house, shreds of her mind and soul drifting invisibly down to the carpet, day after day, year after long year.
Then Gideon had died, and shortly afterwards, miraculously, had come the retirement of the repressive Constance, leaving Miranda most satisfactorily alone.
It was odd how being alone with oneself was so much less tedious than being alone with others.
Her year of true mourning was long past, and her year of half- mourning had ended a month prior. She still wore her lavenders and grays, but that was only out of habit.
The hack pulled onto her square. Miranda’s gaze, unable to meet Mr. Worthington’s, went with relief to the neat, respectable facade of her own address. Satisfaction slowed her pulse, calming her. It was her house, her very own, where she might do precisely as she pleased. When she died, she supposed the property would revert to Gideon’s family, if there were Talbots left by then. Constance was twenty years Miranda’s senior and she had no children, maintaining her rigid spinsterhood with pride, as though loneliness were a virtue.
Miranda didn’t think loneliness was virtue. She thought it a great bloody waste of existence, when the bright world beckoned to anyone brave enough to take it. With a series of brief glances, she contemplated the man seated across from her. If I could be brave… She wasn’t, not really. Gideon had chosen her because she was timid. Yet she didn’t wish to be, not in her dreams, not in her mind—and not in the recent and delightful company of Mr. Worthington.
Now, shutting the door firmly on her past marriage, Miranda contemplated her current freedom with serenity and even some eagerness. No one owned her. Her parents were naught but sketchy memory, her harsh, overbearing grandmother gone on to her long-desired reward.
She ran the tip of her tongue over her lips. I am a widow of means. I can do anything I like.
And I like Mr. Worthington.
* * *