Daughters Of Sin – Boxed Set. Books 1-3

The first three complete novels in the Daughters of Sin series.
HER GILDED PRISON – She was determined to secure the succession, he was in it for the pleasure. Falling in love was not part of the arrangement. Heat rate: Sizzling
DANGEROUS GENTLEMEN – Shy, plain Hetty was the wallflower beneath his notice…until a terrible mistake has one dangerous, delicious rake believing she’s the “fair Cyprian” ordered for his pleasure. Heat rate – Sizzling
THE MYSTERIOUS GOVERNESS – Two beautiful sisters – one illegitimate, the other nobly born – compete for love amidst the scandal and intrigue of a Regency London Season. Heat rate – sensual
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In Chapter One, we are introduced to dashing young Stephen Cranborne, Lord Partington’s newly discovered heir.

Now read Chapter Two ~ introducing Sybil, neglected wife and mother of two very different daughters about to be unleashed on society.

The Grange, June 22

Sybil, Lady Partington, clasped her hands in her rabbit-fur muff as the congregation filed into their pews.

With her thirty-eighth birthday looming, she felt old as she watched proceedings through clouds of frosted breath. Particularly today. Old and superfluous. A failed wife. A failed mother.

Araminta had been dismissive of her well-meaning attempts to reassure her that the disgrace of her curtailed London season would not dash her chances of a good match. No, Araminta already had her mind made up in that regard. She knew exactly who she was going to marry, and had done since she was twelve.

There’d been an exchange of words before they’d walked to church. Or rather, Araminta had flounced off ahead while good-natured Hetty had stayed back to keep her mother company.

Sybil slanted a sideways look at the two girls now, neatly turned out in the family pew beside her. Araminta looked proud. Expectant. Sybil repressed a sigh. That’s all she’d been doing lately. Sighing. But perhaps everything would all turn out for the best.

Beside her, Hetty smiled at several new arrivals.

Nobody noticed her.

On Sybil’s other side, her husband made a remark about the floral arrangement. Too flamboyant, he thought.

Sybil nodded distractedly. Nothing seemed to please Humphrey unless he was with his beloved mistress, she thought bitterly, slanting a surreptitious glance across the aisle to see if Mrs. Hazlett and her family had arrived yet.

They had. She snapped her attention back to her neat rabbit-fur muff.

At least Humphrey had pledged to play the dutiful host and mentor when Cousin Stephen arrived.

The heir apparent.

Not that young Mr. Stephen Cranborne’s imminent arrival was anything to get excited over. It merely reinforced Sybil’s sense of superfluity through her failure to provide Humphrey with an heir. Or rather, a spare, since the death of their darling boy, George, from the measles four years ago.

In those interim four years, Humphrey’s nephew Edgar had been next in line. Humphrey had refused to recognize him. Edgar was a clodpoll, he said, and the mere fact he was Humphrey’s heir was incentive for Humphrey to live to one hundred so he could outlive his cork-brained nephew.

Sybil supposed the bullet that had knocked poor Edgar out of the succession was rather fortunate for everyone, not least this unknown Mr. Cranborne. But really, it changed nothing for her. She was still the unwanted wife and, as far as Araminta was concerned, the superfluous mother.

Thank goodness Hetty still needed and appreciated her.

A rustle went through the congregation. Sybil opened her hymn book and stared unseeingly at the lines designed to bolster her joy in God’s world. Once again she tried telling herself everything would work out. Humphrey would take a liking to young Stephen, young Stephen would be the perfect match for Araminta, and wedding bells would ring out by the end of the year, a lusty son cementing the succession nine months later.

On painful joints, Reverend Bicklefield climbed the steps to the pulpit while old Mrs. Henshaw shuffled in on her handsome nephew’s arm. Sybil glanced up at the whiff of camphor and glimpsed the flare of interest Hetty sent the young man from beneath her sandy lashes as she focused attention upon her hymn book. Poor Hetty, for it was Araminta, sitting beside her, that he was looking at.

Araminta. Sybil sighed. Araminta was, without doubt, the most arresting young woman in the region. She’d turn anyone’s head, however the man who won her would have a tussle on his hands from the outset. Araminta was only happy when she had her own way.

She wondered what kind of man Mr. Stephen Cranborne was. She knew nothing of him and had had little time to prepare for his arrival.

Reverend Bicklefield cleared his throat and hymn book pages rustled. Glancing at her youngest daughter, Sybil did not miss the smile Hetty flashed at Ned Hazlett in the pew almost directly across from them. He nodded briefly in acknowledgement before his stern young countenance refocused on his own hymn book.

As far as Sybil knew, the young people had never spoken, although they crossed paths each Sunday.

A chill of foreboding made her shiver and she touched her knee to Humphrey’s.

Could Hetty…know?

Yet when her husband glanced across at her, she could not put into words her fears.

Ned and his two sisters were Humphrey’s children by his mistress Elizabeth Hazlett. That made Ned Hetty’s half-brother yet surely Hetty had no idea that the Hazletts, who sat quietly and modestly through Rev. Bicklefield’s sermon every Sunday, were her father’s “other” family.

Further study of Hetty reassured Sybil, even after Ned, looking up and locking eyes with the girl, grinned self-consciously.

Ned Hazlett would know, of course. Perhaps he was consumed by impotent rage, knowing Hetty and Araminta, his half-sisters, enjoyed an easy, privileged life while he and his sisters, as Lord Partington’s sideslips, must navigate a hurdle-strewn path, denied social acceptance. How could he not be outraged if he knew—as he presumably did—the reason he was not Lord Partington’s heir?

Sybil sighed again. She’d gladly have given up Humphrey if she’d known what unhappiness would result from their ill-advised union.

She caught young Ned’s eyes upon her and quickly looked away. No doubt, his mother would have told him that his father had buckled under family pressure and reneged on his marriage proposal to his mother, Miss Elizabeth Hazlett, a mere solicitor’s daughter. When Humphrey had unexpectedly inherited the title days before the secret marriage he’d planned with Lizzy, a severe talking to by his father had led to him marrying the more “suitable” Miss Sybil Green.

That was Humphrey. Easily led.

Easily led, yet stubborn and, in his own way, loyal. Though not towards his wife.

Sybil glanced down at her hymn book then across at her nemesis. Lizzy Hazlett had survived the heartbreak and the betrayal and, twenty years later, was still Humphrey’s secret mistress.

Two generations had suffered the unhappy consequences—and always would. It was of no account that Humphrey had regretted his marriage almost immediately, or consolation to Sybil when he’d told her it was not her fault he was unable to  show her the husbandly devotion she deserved.

She glanced at her husband’s impassive profile. Hard to believe they’d been married so long and produced four children, two of whom had died. Both sons. One stillborn, the other, George, only fourteen. It had been four years since that terrible day but the pain still sliced through her with the rawness of lemon in a fresh cut.

She took a trembling breath as she prepared to expound upon her blessings in song with the rest of the congregation who were getting to their feet.

Despite the fact Humphrey had no heir, he’d not come to her bed for a full three years. And then, only after Sybil had pleaded with him and reminded Humphrey that without a direct heir The Grange and the fortune that went with it would go to his nephew Edgar.

Detested Edgar.

She turned the page of her hymn book, aware of Hetty’s concern as Sybil’s voice broke. Damn the memories.

Knowing that Stephen Cranborne was due sometime that day had reminded Sybil of Humphrey’s eventual reluctant visit to her bedchamber three years after they’d buried George.

What a debacle it had been—Humphrey plied with drink, mumbling that he felt like an adulterer as he tried to coax his unresponsive nether regions to perform.

It didn’t work. Nothing did, including Sybil’s extensive efforts to entice him with her dubious charms before she’d resorted to some crass pumping of Humphrey’s flaccid member.

Oh God, this was not a reflection for church, but the embarrassment of being woken by her husband’s drunken snoring just as her maid had come in to draw the curtains still burned.

Sybil glanced at Araminta as they all sat. Perhaps it helped to have no heart, she thought, immediately chastising herself for her uncharitable thoughts. Araminta was still so young. She’d learn.

Besides, Sybil had every comfort she could wish for. Except love. But, wasn’t love a necessary comfort? Didn’t it feed the soul, nourish the mind?

Humphrey didn’t love Sybil but he’d been kind in his way and he’d  tried to spare her discomfort. Not pain, for nothing could erase the hopelessness of knowing one would never know the love of a man.

Nor could Sybil hate Lizzy Hazlett although on more than one occasion she’d wished her dead, wondering if perhaps then Humphrey might be able to form for Sybil some small affection.

It had taken many years before Sybil realized Humphrey would never love anyone but Lizzy Hazlett. Perhaps Sybil ought to have admired the solicitor’s daughter. After all, Miss Hazlett had eschewed the respectable marriage she might have made and, despite Humphry’s betrayal and his promise to make her his wife, she’d become, instead, Humphrey’s mistress.

Didn’t that suggest true love? It must, for she’d have known that social ostracism was her fate and that her actions condemned her children to the opprobrium meted out to bastards.

Sybil glanced at Ned’s two sisters. The older, dark-haired girl was so like Araminta in appearance it made Sybil shiver. Yet perhaps Sybil was the only one to notice, for the girl’s serious, almost grim demeanour made her seem a Puritan in contrast with Araminta’s flirtatiousness.

The younger Hazlett girl — blond, vivacious and with a roving eye — was much more like Araminta in demeanour but nothing like her in looks.

But both girls were bastards. Unlike their half-sisters, Araminta and Hetty, their marital prospects were bleak.

No, Sybil wasn’t the only one to suffer.

A ripple of interest stirred the congregation and Sybil turned her head as the door blew open to admit a new arrival. He was a stranger, she realized, taking in his large bulk. A dark, faceless cut-out against the sun, which lit him from behind.

As he progressed down the aisle, he paused as if suddenly uncertain, and a shaft of sunlight from one of the side stained windows lit up his face.

It was a handsome face, sensitive and finely rendered rather than rugged. Although young, he had creases near his eyes denoting both good humor and experience. Active service perhaps. That turned a boy into a man, and this young man seemed both as his mouth, which had been pressed into a diffident straight line, curved up in recognition upon seeing Humphrey.

She stiffened.

Stephen Cranborne. It could be no other.

The young man bowed, his broad shoulders filling out his sober dark coat nicely; certainly in Araminta’s opinion, it would seem. Sybil registered the girl’s sudden awareness, the flare in her eye as she locked glances with the stranger, who was now looking directly at them, the first family of the district sitting according to their station in the front pew.

And at the expectation in his eye Sybil’s heart began to beat rapidly while her breath caught in her throat. Humphrey was staring, a wary smile of welcome softening his features. It was impossible to determine his thoughts, even though he’d invited the newcomer here.

Stephen Cranborne, Humphrey’s heir, had finally arrived, having been summoned from the other side of the country after much searching.

And on first impressions he did not disappoint.

Sybil released her breath in quiet relief. She didn’t usually worry about Araminta but this was the young man Araminta had pinned her hopes upon. Araminta would marry Stephen and so remain mistress by proxy of the family estate where she’d grown up and which she would have inherited had she been born a boy.

She’d declared it since her twin George’s death and she’d declared it when she’d been hustled home from her first season after the terribly distressing affair that no one spoke of. “If I cannot be Papa’s heir I shall marry Papa’s heir.”

Araminta’s famous saying. Everyone knew it.

Now Araminta was staring into the eyes of the most attractive young man Sybil had seen in a while and the look in his was wary, uncertain, and, yes, very interested.

Sybil heaved another sigh of relief.

All would go well now.

The organ ceased, the shuffle of parishioners settling in to listen to another fire-and-brimstone sermon and the church door was again firmly closed.

Sybil returned her attention to the front, following a sidelong glance to gauge Humphrey’s reaction.

His expression was inscrutable, as usual. Never once in twenty years had Sybil ever intercepted a look between her husband and Lizzy Hazlett that suggested they spent almost every evening and many nights together.

Lizzy’s children were equally well trained.

Sybil lowered her eyes and pretended to pray while she dreamed of sinking into a tub of hot bath suds as soon as they returned. A megrim was coming on and she needed to ease the tension from her limbs. All she’d done since Humphrey had come to her bed three months ago for a repeat performance of the debacle three years after George’s death was worry about the future.


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