Read An Invitation to Seduction Online

Authors: Lorraine Heath

An Invitation to Seduction

LORRAINE HEATH
AN INVITATION TO SEDUCTION

It is the nature and folly of youth not to fully appreciate the gifts we’re given until it is often too late to appropriately thank the giver.

To the teachers who once taught English, Creative Writing, and Journalism at Angleton Senior High School, who gave me an appreciation for the written word, who inspired and encouraged me to reach beyond the limits of my small world, to explore endless possibilities, and to believe in my dreams, I owe a debt that I can never truly repay.

With my sincerest gratitude,
I dedicate this book to:

Marie Adamson

Mrs. Gene Meier

Dan Chaney

Sarah Kelso

Merle Wilson

Linda Winder

CONTENTS

Chapter 1

He had the look of danger about him.

Chapter 2

Crouched on a boulder near the top of the heap…

Chapter 3

Gazing through her bedroom window into the splendid garden of…

Chapter 4

She drew his attention the moment she glided through the…

Chapter 5

With the draperies drawn so none of the glow from…

Chapter 6

Kitty was restless, desperate to prowl. She felt as though…

Chapter 7

She was dreading the evening.

Chapter 8

During the journey home, Kitty stared at her gloved hands,…

Chapter 9

Richard heard the deep laughter echoing into the hallway long…

Chapter 10

Charades. Richard found it ironic that Farthingham was so fond…

Chapter 11

“You don’t mind that I invited everyone to Drummond Manor,…

Chapter 12

The Harrington ball had been lauded as the social event…

Chapter 13

“Oh, look, Farthingham went and did it!” Anne exclaimed.

Chapter 14

“Is Weddington’s home not absolutely magnificent?” Farthingham asked.

Chapter 15

“I do believe Cook has outdone herself this morning,” Richard…

Chapter 16

Kitty couldn’t sleep. She’d lain in bed, staring at the…

Chapter 17

With a heavy heart, Nicholas Glenville stared out at the…

Chapter 18

Kitty’s maid wrapped her in blankets that had been warmed…

Chapter 19

Managing five estates at various locations throughout England might have…

Chapter 20

Why was it that black ink made everything seem so…

Chapter 21

Her wedding day. Kitty could hardly believe the day had…

Chapter 22

It was dark by the time they left the afternoon…

Chapter 23

Kitty awoke to a featherlike touch along her chin that…

Chapter 24

Kitty awoke to find a bit of sunshine peering through…

Chapter 25

Kitty had always known that a good deal of married…

Chapter 26

Kitty stared at the man as though he were quite…

Chapter 27

Richard’s trial before the House of Lords came about much…

Chapter 28

Kitty began to tremble violently following Richard’s impassioned speech. To…

Chapter 29

“Nicky?”

Epilogue

The package was delivered to Kitty in the drawing room.

Chapter 1

The Cornish Coast
May 1881

H
e had the look of danger about him.

Kitty Robertson recognized it the moment she spotted him, standing alone on the rocky shore, gazing out to sea, toward the horizon, as though he were daring the sun to rise.

Or perhaps he was commanding it not to.

Because its brightness would surely reveal what the dawn shadows were presently hiding, what had immediately captured her breath and her attention when she’d clambered over the rocks, hoping for a bit of isolated seashore: his perfect, naked form standing proud as though he had been carved from the very boulders on which he stood.

He was truly magnificent. It took every bit of willpower she possessed to stay rooted exactly where she was when she desperately wanted to cross the short dis
tance that separated them and touch him. Trail her fingers over those sculpted muscles that were burning bronze as the sun pushed back the last remnants of night.

She’d never seen anything so glorious—except in that secret, dark corner of her mind where lustful thoughts tempted her with wickedness, shamed her with their clarity. She knew a lady of her upbringing shouldn’t harbor such vivid, carnal images—much less crave the sight of them. And yet she did. Whenever her mind had occasion to drift, it was lured toward perilous thoughts that threatened her purity.

And that was the very reason that this man was so extremely dangerous. Because he embodied every sinful fantasy that she’d ever dared to dream.

As the morning’s light faded from gray, she could see that the thick, black strands of his hair were too heavy with dampness to move much with the breeze that wafted in across the sea. He’d been swimming no doubt, and she marveled that he wasn’t shivering. The waters off the coast of England were cold, not nearly as welcoming as the warm currents that washed in off the Texas coast in summer.

She’d often swum in the Gulf of Mexico, had actually been contemplating a quick dip into these chilly waters.

Until she’d happened upon Poseidon here. The man did truly resemble a god. From the top of his head, along the entire length of his long torso and longer legs, down to his rounded heels. As unacceptable as it was, she wished he’d turn so she might glimpse a full view of him.

A decent woman would have averted her gaze immediately upon spying him; she wouldn’t have ducked back and prayed that she wouldn’t be sighted while she leisurely took her fill of him, cataloging each dip and curve and flat plane that had come together to create such perfection.

Unexpectedly, he twisted and crouched, to retrieve his clothing she realized at the exact moment that his gaze fell on her, holding her captive as easily as his lean body had only moments before. He seemed slightly startled, not overly alarmed, more curious than anything else. And she realized the sun that had so clearly revealed him was now also exposing her.

She spun on her heel, lifted her skirts, and darted back the way she’d come, scampering over the rocks until they gave way to the pebble-and-sand shore. She broke into a full run, the wind whipping her hair in her face, pressing her skirt against her legs. She ran until she reached the path she’d followed to the shore. Ran until she reached a less desolate area, where her passing would no longer be marked. When the brush thickened, she found a place where she could lie on the cool grass unobserved. She curled into a tight ball, wrapped her arms closely around herself, and wept.

Wept because she was as wicked as the woman who had given birth to her without the benefit of marriage. Wept because no matter how hard she tried, she never was as pure as the woman who had raised her.

Wept because her body was hot with lust, and she feared a time would come when the lust would consume her.

 

Richard Stanbury, the sixth Duke of Weddington, pressed a light kiss to the papery-thin cheek the duchess had turned up toward him as soon as he’d entered the dining room. “Good morning, Mother. You’re up early.”

“Not nearly as early as you apparently.”

Deigning to ignore the tone of chastisement in her voice, he walked to the sideboard and exhibited unparalleled interest in loading his plate with the varied offerings. He was always starving after an early-morning swim. Starving and invigorated.

He was especially invigorated this morning after catching sight of the siren who’d been watching him from behind a massive boulder. He’d wanted to follow her, but he’d hardly been in a state to do so, and by the time he’d thrown on his clothes, she’d disappeared. Not that his damp and rumpled appearance would have impressed her or caused her not to fear him. Still, it might have been worth the effort and the risk. He was trying to determine whether he should be embarrassed, intrigued, or merely amused by the fact he’d been caught—quite unawares and obviously naked—by the young woman.

He sat at his place at the head of the table, set down his plate, and took a sip of the tea that the footman had already prepared and sweetened to his liking.

“I’m not quite certain it’s seemly for you to be going out at dawn,” his mother said.

“It would be more unseemly should I be arriving home at dawn, I should think.”

His mother harrumphed. Deducing that he’d expertly put an end to that avenue of conversation, he enjoyed his first bite of poached egg before opening
The Times,
which his butler had dutifully ironed and set at Richard’s place before his arrival—exactly as it had been prepared for his father when he was alive. More than sixteen years had passed since Richard had easily, albeit guiltily, stepped into his father’s shoes and inherited the daily rituals and traditions as well as the titles.

“Anne and I shall be leaving for London at the end of the week,” his mother said.

“Jolly good for you,” he responded distractedly, more interested in the country’s news than the social gossip. He couldn’t invest wisely if he didn’t keep abreast of the latest inventions and industrial progress.

“You should join us in making the social rounds this year.”

“I have far too many other important matters to attend to.”

“Nothing can be more important than providing an heir to your titles.”

Tightening his jaw, he lifted his gaze and met the challenge in his mother’s eyes. “I am well aware of my responsibilities, Mother.”

She seemed to shrink before him. “Oh, Richard, I’m sorry. I know you are. You’ve always been such a good lad—except in this one area. You are all of four-and-thirty. It’s high time you took a wife.” She leaned forward slightly, hope in her blue eyes. “Don’t you think?”

Ah, the shrewd manipulator. She’d learned long ago that if she told him what to do, his stubborn nature would insist he stand strong in his defiance against her. Ask him politely, and he caved in like a castle built of sand when the waves washed over it.

“I shall consider it—”

“Splendid!”

“—next Season.”

She pursed her lips in annoyance. “And whatever is wrong with considering it
this
Season?”

“I am not in the mood for the hunt.”

“The hunt? Dear God, Richard, there will be no hunting to be done. The unmarried women will flock to you like sheep in need of a shepherd.”

“And I daresay that I shall not find a single one of them suitable. I have devised a standard of specific amenable behaviors that I shall expect my duchess to exhibit, and I assure you, Mother, that
flocking
is not one of them.”

Her mouth twitched, and he knew she was fighting to hold back her smile. She couldn’t properly chastise him if she was laughing.

“By flocking, I simply meant to imply enthusiasm. Surely you want a vibrant woman.”

Vibrant? Most assuredly. He thought of the young lady he’d sighted that morning. She’d been dressed quite plainly, but her attire could have been due to the early hour. Surely she’d not expected to encounter anyone before dawn had welcomed the day.

Her hair had drawn his eyes to her: a brilliant red that rivaled the morning sun with its radiance. The sea breeze had toyed with it, whipping loose strands around her face and shoulders, and an image of her writhing on satin sheets had immediately filled his mind. His lower extremity had quickly hardened. Another reason—besides the lack of clothing—that he’d been unable to give chase. It had been a long while since he’d reacted so strongly to a woman, a reaction more mysterious because he’d been too far away to acquire a distinct impression of her features. A pity that.

He turned his gaze back to the newspaper, but his attention was not drawn to the words, rather it was still trying to make sense of his reaction to the woman. She was petite, slender of form, but he’d gained none of the details he usually required in order to start his blood to boiling. He didn’t know if her breasts would fit snugly within the palm of his hands or overflow. Were her hips and waist as narrow as they appeared, or narrower still, disguised by the drab cut of her dress? Would her eyes draw a man in or hold him at bay? With titian hair and fair skin, would she be powdered with freckles or as unblemished as freshly fallen snow?

Freckles he decided. A ghastly abundance of them since she’d obviously intended to greet the day without benefit of a hat or parasol to shield her face from the sun. Again he thought it a pity. He was not overly fond of freckles, was of the opinion that a woman should take more care with her appearance. Decidedly any woman he took as his duchess would do so. The image one pro
jected to the world held more importance than one’s true self—particularly within the circles in which he walked.

“Good morning, all!” Anne sang out as she strolled into the room, her skirts swishing over the polished wood.

Richard lifted his gaze in time to see his sister bend down and kiss their mother’s cheek much as he had only moments earlier. She’d come late into his parents’ lives, when they’d all but given up hope that another child would grace their family. Anne took great care with her appearance, so she was always a pleasure to behold, a ray of sunshine on the dreariest of days. Her husband would be a fortunate man, a fortunate man indeed.

“You seem in high spirits this morning,” their mother said.

“I have no reason not to be. We shall be off to London in a few days, and it promises to be an extremely interesting Season.”

She fairly skipped over to the sideboard. Even knowing that incessant babbling would soon begin, Richard gave his attention back to his newspaper and the assortment of food on his plate.

“What have you heard?” his mother asked with obvious curiosity.

The two of them could spend hours discussing matters that bored Richard to distraction. While they spoke words, he generally heard only a distant humming. He focused more intently on the article he was reading, as Anne took her place at the table.

“Before I tell you, I have to confess to being terribly upset with Richard.”

“My goodness, what’s he done now?” his mother asked.

“He kept a secret from us. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about Farthingham.”

The humming gave way to clarity, the words on the page blurred, and Richard’s heart beat with such ferocity he heard the pounding between his ears. He slowly lowered his newspaper and looked at his sister. “How did you hear about him?”

“I received a letter from Prissy yesterday, and she told me all.”

Lady Priscilla Norwood, the Earl of Blythemoore’s daughter, and one of Anne’s sillier friends. She had a tendency to begin and end each sentence with a bout of giggling that preyed on the hardiest of men’s nerves.

“Farthingham is your best friend,” Anne continued. “I should have been the one to start the juicy rumors. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”

He shook his head, unable and unwilling to believe the secret was out. “It wasn’t my place to tell anyone anything.”

Then anger took hold. Anger for what his friend would endure, and for the absolute pleasure his sister seemed to be taking in it. Was she so naive that she failed to understand the impact this knowledge would have on his friend’s life? “Besides, gossip is the domain of silly girls who have nothing better to do with their time,” he remonstrated.

“I’m not a silly girl! I’ll have you know that I’m a young lady—”

“Then behave like one for God’s sake!” he roared, coming to his feet. “Can you not comprehend how this knowledge spread throughout England without his consent will ruin his life?”

“Why? Because she’s American?”

Everything within him calmed, his heart slowed, his blood settled. Good God. Was it possible Anne was referring to another secret, a secret Richard had been unaware of,
didn’t
know?

Narrowing his eyes, he gave his throat a sound clearing and demanded of his sister, “What exactly did Lady Priscilla say?”

“That rumors abound that Farthingham will soon announce his betrothal to an American heiress. That’s all really. But you’ve never liked Americans, have you? Is that the reason you kept this bit of news to yourself?”

He’d kept it to himself because he hadn’t known about it. A part of him couldn’t fathom the notion that Farthingham was taking a wife. Another part of him understood that his longtime friend, by virtue of his rank and birth, had no choice. Richard sat, trying to appear calm, fighting not to reveal exactly how upset he’d become.

He slid his gaze to his mother, who was studying him as though he’d suddenly sprouted a second head. He gave his attention back to his sister, who, at nineteen, had not yet achieved the maturity to be aware of such shifting undercurrents.

“I’m not particularly fond of them, no. The ladies appear to be interested only in securing themselves a title without the benefit of a heritage that can ensure they appreciate exactly what it is they are attaining.”

“I find them fascinating. They are so confident. And so beautiful. Have you ever seen an American lady who wasn’t beautiful?”

“Truthfully, Anne, I’ve paid them little notice.”

“That’s because you avoid the social scene. I have heard some of these ladies have as many as two hundred evening gowns. Can you imagine that? I have only four.”

“Then have another sewn,” Richard suggested as he again picked up his newspaper and strove to give the articles his undivided devotion.

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