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Claiming Lady Brinton -- Tess St. John

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Regency Redemption Series

Two years since the scandal of her marriage, being abandoned by her husband on their wedding day, and shortly thereafter receiving news of his death, the miracle Lady Millicent Brinton prayed for has finally happened. She has become invisible to London society and is set to begin life anew with another man.

The day he married, Lord Tristan Brinton’s carriage overturned and knocked him unconscious. When he woke, he found himself on a hellish convict ship being treated like a prisoner. He finally escapes that nightmare and returns to London in hopes to learn who put him on that ship and seek justice.

But first he must come back from the grave to a wife who would rather he remain dead. Can Tristan persuade Millicent he is a different man and convince her to give their marriage a try? Will he get the chance before his abductors silence him forever?

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Chapter One

London, England ~ Fall 1819

Lady Millicent Brinton held her head high. No one gawked at her, whispered behind their fans as she passed, or ceased their conversations when she was near. The miracle she’d prayed for every day the last two years finally happened. She’d gone from being the focus of endless gossip—to being invisible to London society.

Thank the heavens.

Music from the ballroom became fainter as Mr. Jeremy Winslow led Millicent out the doors and into the fall night. A breeze welcomed her with a cool kiss against her skin. They made their way into the garden and away from the house. Moments ago, they’d stepped off the cramped dance floor, and she requested he escort her outside for a breath of fresh air. Overheated from dancing, she did not need her cape.

They ambled along in silence. The Duke and Duchess of Wells, a distant relative to Jeremy, hosted the ball. Although he held no title, Jeremy received invitations to many ton events because of his relation to the Wells. Fifteen years her senior, he worked for her father. He’d proposed to her three days ago, and she accepted. Their marriage would be one of friendship. Easiness settled inside of her. In her life, all twenty-six years of it, she’d learned if one never had an opportunity to experience love, contentment proved the very best alternative.

People milled about on different paths through the garden filled with hedgerows and statues. The scent of moss filled the air, as did quiet conversations. Gaslights around the paths offered a modicum of illumination.

At the edge of the garden, they stopped and faced each other. Afraid he might try to kiss her, she shivered. While she enjoyed Jeremy’s company well enough, she had a difficult time thinking of him in a passionate way. He must have noticed her shudder and assumed she was cold because he ran his hands up and down her arms.

“Would you please…” a deep voice interrupted from behind her.

That voice.

Merciful heavens.

Her heart dropped to her toes.

“Remove your hands from my wife.”

She whirled around.

A shadowed figure of a man moved toward them. With his every step, her pulse pounded in her ears. He stopped just close enough for the lights to show his face.

Lord have mercy.

It was impossible her husband, Viscount Brinton, stood twenty yards away. Yet there he was. His hair was cut shorter than he used to wear it, his face clean-shaven, and his powerful build impeccable in a black suit. He looked more handsome than the last time she’d seen him two years ago.

Her throat tightened.

“Tristan,” uttered from her lips.

“So, you do recognize me, darling.” A hint of his distinctive sarcasm rang in his words.

Her vision blurred. She closed her eyes and prayed not to swoon.

The pounding in her ears changed to a roar.

She struggled to breathe.

The world spun, and she swayed.

Jeremy grabbed her arm to steady her. He helped her take a few awkward steps and sit on a stone bench. Then he walked forward and held out his hand. “Lord Brinton. I’m glad to know the rumors of your demise were obviously unfounded.”

Tristan shook his hand. “It is good to see you, even if I do take offense to you touching my wife.”

Twice already he’d said my wife, his tone inexplicably possessive.

“Can you excuse us, Winslow?” Tristan asked.

Jeremy glanced at her, his lips in a straight line.

She wished to say something to him, but speech eluded her. She couldn’t possibly find her voice with thousands of questions flooding her mind.

“We will return to the ballroom soon,” her husband said.

“Of course.” Jeremy bowed and marched away.

Being alone with Tristan brought her from her stupor. She stiffened her spine and rose from the bench.

He walked toward her.

She stood her ground, refusing to be intimidated. “How long have you been back? Where were you? Why did I receive news you’d died?”

“I have much to answer for.”

“You certainly do.” Her original shock waned, while alarm still jolted through her.

“We cannot discuss anything here. We need privacy.” He advanced and stared at her as if he feared she would vanish. Each step he took caused her pulse to beat faster. The expression on his face was one she’d not seen previously. He looked sincere. Once near, he reached out and ran the back of his fingers across her cheek. “You are more beautiful than I remembered.” His palm cupped the side of her face. “So lovely.”

The gaslights did not provide enough light for her to make out the extraordinary color of his green eyes. She caught the most alluring scent of his sandalwood and spice cologne. Her husband possessed the mien of an angel, disguised in the body and mind of a devil.

“I missed you, Millicent.”

If only she might believe his words.

She couldn’t.

Tristan had been somewhat charming when they first courted, taking her for rides in the park and dancing with her at balls. But, following their betrothal his true nature had been revealed and until his death—well, clearly he wasn’t dead.

Dear God, he’s not dead!

After their betrothal, he’d declined to be in her presence longer than a few moments and rarely touched her—only to perform the obligatory dances and gift her with one swift kiss at the pronouncement of man and wife.

Now he claims to have missed me. How absurd.

He was definitely up to something.

Carefully, he wrapped his arms about her. One of his hands came to rest on her lower back and the other at her nape. He bent his head and kissed her cheek, then whispered, “Every day I was gone, I thought of returning to you.”

Startled by his words, she gazed up at him.

He smiled and kissed her, a soft, gentle caress on her lips. Liberties any husband had a right to take.

Except this husband.

She pushed at his chest and shuffled backward. He promptly released her.

The distance eased her thrashing heart, while her lips had been sweetly branded forever. “Explain all this to me.”

“I am uncertain I can.” He shrugged. “I will tell you what I know when we are alone.”

“You will tell me now,” she demanded. “Where—”

“Tristan!” A shriek interrupted them. Willowy thin, Lady Posey Dillard ran toward them in a most unladylike fashion. Tristan embraced his aunt as she excitedly threw her arms around him. She had tree-trunk brown hair piled high atop her head, almost black eyes, and a too pointy nose. While her appearance may be considered somewhat plain, her vibrant personality and loving demeanor were not.

“You are alive. Thank God. Thank God.”

His aunt, who lost her husband ten years ago, adored her family and friends. Since the day Millicent became betrothed to Tristan, Posey treated her like a daughter.

“Aunt Posey, at least you are happy to see me.”

“I am overjoyed.” Posey gripped his shoulders and studied him. “You are more handsome if that is possible.”

It is possible and true.

Posey dashed over to hug Millicent and squeezed her tight. “He is home. He is home.”

“Yes, he is.”

The woman hurried back to Tristan, her enthusiasm endearing. “You must tell me everything. Where have you been?”


At hearing her brother’s voice and seeing him rush toward them, Millicent sighed.

“Devan!” Tristan clasped her brother’s outstretched hand and tugged him close, slapping him on the back. “Good to see you, mate.”

Even though they only met a month prior to Tristan’s disappearance, the two men formed a quick and easy bond. They were of a similar age, and her brother had needed the friendship Tristan showed him. Since Father cared solely for business and bettering their family’s position, he’d not spent much time with his only son. Instead, he’d concentrated his efforts on the high-bred match he could arrange, essentially purchase, for Millicent.

Her brother smiled at her. “It is wonderful to have him back.”

She had no response to that.

“Aunt Posey, Devan,” Tristan began. “I hope you will come to our home tomorrow evening for dinner. Right now, I promised my wife a dance.”

He’d done no such thing. Millicent did not wish to dance with him. And she positively loathed the idea of going back into the Wells’ ballroom to be under the scrutiny of everyone inside.

“Actually, I believe I will take my leave,” she said.

In unison, her brother, Tristan, and Aunt Posey quickly turned their heads and regarded her with concern.

“Are you feeling poorly?” her husband asked.

“Do you want me to take you home?” Devan offered.

She could not answer them. A sudden wave of insecurity washed over her. Her heart sank. With Tristan’s return, her long awaited anonymity in London society would vanish. Also, when everyone believed Tristan was dead, she knew her place in the world. She was his widow.

Now, where did she belong?

Tristan addressed his aunt and Devan. “You should go inside, it is cold out.”

Funny, she felt neither cold nor hot. Rather, she was just numb.

“We will be in shortly,” Tristan assured them.

The two looked back and forth between Millicent and Tristan. “Do not be long,” Posey called as she latched on to Devan’s arm. They walked away excitedly chatting.

“What is the matter?” Tristan inquired.

“Oh, I don’t know, my lord. Perchance I am a mite shocked you came back from the dead.”

“I was never dead.”

“I thought you were. Everyone did. How difficult could it have been to send a missive? Two years and I received nothing.”

She expected they would treat each other how they had after their betrothal—like hostile, indifferent strangers. So it surprised her when he patiently replied, “I am afraid someone will overhear us here. I promise to tell you everything when we have privacy.” His voice softened even more. “Please tell me why you do not wish to go inside.”

Please? She’d never heard him use the word, had doubted it was part of his vocabulary.

Her husband had a lot to learn about her, so she may as well let him understand that now. “I try to avoid being the center of attention. I know it is a position you relish. I, on the other hand, abhor it. If we go inside, all eyes will be on us. Everyone will want to know where you’ve been and why I, your wife, didn’t know you were alive.”

“Is that the only reason?”

She shook her head.


After a moment, he prompted a response from her. “What else is troubling you?”

She threw up her hands, her voice louder than she wanted. “How can you even ask? Do you remember the last time we were at a ball together? Our engagement ball?” She looked at him, thinking she would see a smug smirk on his face at his antics that night.

Instead, he grimaced.

“Anyway…” she continued. “I detest, absolutely detest, the thought of being anywhere near the women who will be gushing over you while you choose which one, or ones, you will bed next.”

“There is no need to worry about that, darling.” His words rumbled through her like thunder, making her entire body quake. “I will bed you next.”