Perfect Groom

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-07-17
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Perfection is in the eye of the beholder . . . Proud of his reputation as a rogue, Justin Sterling intends tobe the first to bed "The Unattainable"-the Season's most luscious debutante-and win the wager that's the talk of the ton. However, he never expected the enchantress in question to be Arabella Templeton, who once stole his heart and owns it still. Now the notorious scoundrel will have to prove to her that his intentions are honorable . . . while protecting her virtue from every other rascal in London. Arabella will marry only for love-and she does not need her childhood nemesis to act as her self-appointed guardian! Though the arrogant cad seems sincere, she is well aware of his rakehell history and won't be swayed by his considerable charm and disarming good looks. For it would be pure madness for Arabella to ignore the voice of reason that whispers "beware!" and heed instead a traitorous heart that insists Justin Sterling would make . . .


A Perfect Groom

Chapter One

London, 1817

The atmosphere at White's was not particularlydifferent from any other evening. A numberof well-dressed gentlemen circled the hazard table.The air was thick with the pungent smell of brandyand cigars. His long frame stretched out in a greenvelvet chair, Justin Sterling idly scanned the day'snewspaper, as if he hadn't a care in the world -- andindeed he did not. His long legs crossed at the ankle,his pose was one of redolent ease.

"Upon my soul!" intruded a mocking voice. "Soyou've at last deigned to grace us with your presenceagain!"

Justin glanced over the top of the paper, his greeneyes meeting those of his friend Gideon.

Gideon eyed the empty chair beside him. "May Isit?"

"What, you're asking?" Justin laid aside the newspaper. Gideon was a man known for doingwhat he pleased, when he pleased, and where hepleased -- a man after Justin's own heart, to be sure.

"Well," Gideon said, "given the beastly frame ofmind you were in when you departed the country, Ithought I'd better."

It was true. Even his sister-in-law Devon hadcommented on his wretched mood before he'd left.Why it was so, Justin didn't know. He didn't lackfor companionship, neither female nor familial. Hehad anything he could possibly want at his disposal.Indeed, what more could a man possiblywant?

He didn't know. That was the crux of it.

To that end, he'd decided three months earlierthat a change of scenery was in order, so he'd removedhimself to the Continent. To Paris, Rome,Vienna . . . he'd traveled to his heart's content, indulgedhimself to his heart's content.

Now he was back.

And he was no more content than before.

Justin reached for his port. "And greetings toyou, too," he murmured dryly.

"Oh, all right, then. I daresay, you are lookingsingularly well." Gideon eyed the perfect fit of snugwool across his shoulders. "Must be your tailor.Weston, I presume?"

Justin inclined his head. Weston was the premier -- and most expensive -- tailor in the city. "You presumecorrectly."

Nearby came a raucous burst of laughter.

"Two thousand pounds to the man who can takeher!"

Justin glanced over just as Sir Ashton Bentley executeda wobbly bow. Justin was not surprised;Bentley's predilection for drink somehow alwaysmanaged to surpass his tolerance.

"Raise the stakes and make it worthwhile,"boomed another fellow.

The voices came from a group of men gatheredjust a few paces away from White's famous bay windowwhere Beau Brummell and his cronies usuallygathered, though they were absent this night. It appearedthe discussion was growing quite animated.

There was a loud guffaw. "No one's seen hermuff or likely to, lest it be on her wedding night!"

"She'll never consent to a bedding before marriage!"hooted another. "Ask Bentley!"

"Ha! It damn well won't take marriage, or evenan offer, to make her mine. She'll be green-gownedby the end of the season or my name isn't CharlesBrentwood!"

Another man chortled. "Her? Tumbled on thegrass? Not bloody likely."

"Two thousand says I can mow her down!"boasted Patrick McElroy, second son of a Scottishearl. "And her husband, should she ever deign tochoose one from the buffoons courting her, willnever know he wasn't the first!"

"And just how will we know the deed has beendone?" came the inevitable inquiry. "To lay claimto it is one thing, to succeed is quite another."

Indeed, Justin's mind had been pondering thatvery point.

"He's right," came the shout. "We'll needproof!"

"A trophy!" someone cheered. "We need atrophy!"

"A lock of hair ought to do the trick! There's nota soul in England with hair the color of flame!"

No doubt it was some young debutante who hadcaptured their fancy. Trust the Scotsman McElroyto be vulgar. And Brentwood had no finesse whenit came to the fairer sex. Justin almost felt sorry forthe poor chit, whoever she was.

Justin's gaze hadn't left the group. "A randy lot,it would seem," he murmured to Gideon. "But Iconfess to an abounding curiosity. Who is thiswoman with whom they're so fascinated?"

Gideon offered a mocking smile. "Who else?The Unattainable."

"The what?"

"Not what, but who. You've been gone too long,my friend. Since she turned down three offers ofmarriage in a fortnight -- Bentley among them -- she's become known as The Unattainable. She'squite famously in vogue, you know. The toast ofthe Season thus far."

Justin's gaze lifted heavenward. "Just what Londonneeds. Another drab, boring, insipid debutante."

"Not precisely a debutante. She's almost oneand-twenty, though I don't believe she's ever had a formal coming-out. And she's hardly insipid."Gideon erupted into laughter. "Ah, but that is thelast word I should use to describe The Unattainable."

"And what word would you use to describeher?"

Justin lifted his glass to his lips, while Gideonpursed his lips. "Hmmm. Do you know, one simplywill not do! She's truly quite delectable, but oh,how shall I say this? She is not a woman of convention,yet she's all the rage. She is most certainlynever boring, and she's hardly drab. I don't believeI've yet to see her dressed in white. And her hair isindeed the color of flame." He nodded toward thegroup. "A fitting trophy indeed."

"She hardly sounds the usual diamond of thefirst water."

"She's not the usual debutante. But perhapsthat's the lure. She is a woman of . . . how shall Iput this? A woman of statuesque proportions."Gideon gave a dramatic sigh. "She has all the graceof a fish out of water. And she cannot dance to saveher soul."

A perfectly arched black brow climbed high.Justin lowered his glass to stare at Gideon incredulously.He pretended a shudder of distaste ...

A Perfect Groom. Copyright © by Samantha James. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from A Perfect Groom by Samantha James
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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