Authors: Laura Landon
ALSO BY LAURA LANDON
The Most to Lose
A Risk Worth Taking
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Laura Landon
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Anne Cain
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014954304
To my editor, Hai-Yen Mura, who didn’t give up on me, and made this book a reality. Thank you, Hai-Yen!
And to Montlake’s Author Relations Manager, Jessica Poore—I couldn’t ask for anyone better to work with. You’re the best!
Hugs to you both!
Lady Olivia Sheridan knew without a doubt that she was the luckiest person on earth as she stood in the receiving line with her beaming father, the Marquess of Pellingsworth, on one side and her fiancé, Damien Bedford, Earl of Iversley, on the other. Damien’s mother, Lady Iversley, stood blissfully beside her son.
“Are you happy, Liv?” Damien smiled down at her and his midnight-blue eyes sparkled with affection.
Olivia’s heart flipped in her breast. “Oh, yes. It’s not possible for me to be happier.”
Damien reached for her hand and held it, then gave her fingers an affectionate squeeze.
Olivia felt a searing heat spread through her body. It was this way every time she was near him. She knew it must be sinful to feel this way, but she couldn’t help it. Oh, how she wished she and Damien could go somewhere private. Oh, how she wished he’d kiss her like he had the last time they were together.
As if he’d read her thoughts, he smiled and the two creases that dented either side of his mouth deepened. His full lips parted just enough to expose a set of beautiful white teeth, and she felt an even more intense stab of desire. He leaned down and whispered in her ear.
“I love you, Liv.”
A shiver ran the length of her body, warming her in the most surprising places. She gasped. How could he say something so intimate when there was no chance of escaping the nearly five hundred people who’d come for their betrothal celebration? When all she wanted to do was throw her arms around his neck and kiss him?
As if he knew what she was thinking, he tipped back his head and laughed—a deep, rich, caressing sound that wrapped around her heart and held it. The gleam in his eyes made his rugged good looks even more breathtaking.
There wasn’t another man in all of London who was nearly as handsome. There wasn’t another female in all of London who was as blessed as she to be the woman he’d picked to be his bride. Just a few more months and she’d be the Countess of Iversley. A few more months and she’d be Damien’s wife.
Olivia’s father’s voice interrupted her thoughts and forced her to turn her attention back to her guests. She tried to control her exuberance as she accepted the Countess of Pottingjay’s greeting.
“Lady Olivia,” the countess said, reaching for Olivia’s hand and squeezing it tightly. “You look absolutely radiant tonight. The picture of happiness.”
Olivia couldn’t help but blush. “Thank you, my lady.”
The countess turned to Damien. “I assume you are responsible for the glow on Lady Olivia’s face, my lord.”
Damien bowed then looked at Olivia with an expression of extreme satisfaction. “I would like to think so, Lady Pottingjay. Nothing would make me happier.”
The countess smiled. “It’s lovely to see true love in a couple just starting their lives together. It happens so seldom among those of our acquaintance, you know.”
“That’s most unfortunate,” Damien answered, twining his fingers with hers. “I dare say, they don’t know what they are missing.” He lowered his gaze to catch Olivia’s and held it.
Olivia noticed a flash of regret in the countess’s eyes when she glanced at her husband. Olivia wondered if Lady Pottingjay had once had dreams of a love-filled marriage. She wondered if Lady Pottingjay had been as happy as she was tonight, then watched that joy dim until the light died. She wondered how many ladies here tonight lived in loveless marriages and envied her for the love she and Damien shared.
The elegant woman recovered quickly, however, giving them another of her most regal smiles before walking into the crowd with her husband following absently behind her.
“I think it’s time the two of you joined our guests on the dance floor before you can’t find room,” Olivia’s father said, motioning to the crowded ballroom with a proud look on his face. “I don’t think there was an invitation turned down for tonight. The two of you are considered quite the match. Your mother would have been elated, Olivia.”
“I know.” Olivia gave her father a loving kiss on the cheek followed by a quick hug, then went with Damien as his hand wrapped around her waist. He led her onto the crowded dance floor and turned her toward him.
Olivia came to a halt when the music started. “They’re playing a waltz,” she said in surprise.
Damien pulled her into his arms and held her close. “I know.”
“But a quadrille usually follows . . .”
Damien arched his brows in a look of feigned innocence.
Olivia laughed. “It’s not acceptable to bribe the orchestra, Lord Iversley.”
“It would have been infinitely more intolerable to suffer through a quadrille when that particular dance wouldn’t allow me to hold you in my arms.”
“Has anyone ever told you you’re incorrigible?”
“Often, my lady love. I take great pride in such compliments.”
Olivia couldn’t stop her laughter as she twirled with Damien around the room. He held her closer than was probably acceptable, but Olivia didn’t care. Not tonight. Nothing could mar this perfect evening.
The two of them glided across the room in dizzying circles. When they reached the other side of the room, Damien stepped with her out the open French doors and into the cool night air. He didn’t stop until he reached the far side of the terrace.
Her words were cut off when his mouth came down on hers. Olivia was so desperate for the feel of him against her she didn’t even think to protest. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave in to his kisses.
His lips were warm and firm. The feel of him pressed against her stoked the fire burning deep in her belly until she thought she might burst into flames. He opened his mouth atop hers and she followed suit, waiting with anxious expectancy for his tongue to mate with hers.
Carnal thoughts clouded her thinking, driving her to a fevered frenzy. She pressed her fingers firmly against his back and gave in to his pleas. He kissed her again, thoroughly, exquisitely, desperately. She teetered on the brink of uncontrollable desire, and he took her closer to the edge.
He deepened his kisses even more. Olivia moaned as she swept her hands over Damien’s broad shoulders. The feel of him beneath his expensive jacket was hard and muscular. Another wave of passion pulsed through her, one she couldn’t rebuff.
“We have to stop, Liv,” he rasped, lifting his mouth from hers.
Olivia moaned in disappointment. When Damien pulled her against him, she clung tight to him and struggled to catch her breath.
In the silent darkness, his heavy breathing matched her own. Her lips trembled into a smile. “I don’t think I’m going to survive for three more months if you continue to kiss me like this, Damien.”
“Neither am I. But I can’t make myself stop.”
With that, he brought his mouth down to hers and kissed her again. When he broke off their kiss, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and moved with her to a small stone bench angled in the corner of the flagstone terrace.
“Did you ever once think we would end up like this?” he said, his voice soft and thoughtful as if his mind were a thousand miles away.
Olivia smiled. “Of course. I knew it the moment Father brought you to live with us after your father died. I think I fell in love with you that first night at dinner when you announced in such a grownup manner that you appreciated my father’s kindness, but you were old enough to live on your own. You were, after all, nearly grown and were now the Earl of Iversley.”
“I was a terrible brat, wasn’t I?”
“No. You were fifteen years old and trying to cope with your father’s death, and the fact that your mother had given you over for Father to mentor.”
“Do you remember how your father answered me?”
Olivia laughed. “Yes. He laid his fork down and looked at you as if seriously studying your proposal. Then, he nodded his head as if your suggestion had merit and said, ‘Quite admirable, Lord Iversley. A suggestion worth pondering. Would you be willing to wait to discuss it in a few more months, when you turn sixteen?’”
Olivia lifted her head from where it rested against Damien’s shoulder. “Did you? Did you discuss leaving when you turned sixteen?”
“What did father say?”
“He convinced me to postpone leaving until my seventeenth birthday. But by then, I felt so at home, I had no desire to leave.”
“Not until you turned twenty.”
Damien smiled. “It seemed time then.”
“Father said you needed to sow your oats. He may have believed a delicate lady of seventeen would be fooled by such terminology and think you’d gone to your country estates to oversee the planting of the fields. I knew what you were up to, however.”
“You did?” Damien said, tipping her chin upward with a lift of his finger. “How did you know?”
“You were all the talk during my coming-out that season. You and your scandalous behavior. Especially when you took up with that actress with the flowery name.”
Damien looked shocked, which pleased Olivia to no end.
“However did you hear about her?”
“I made it my business to know everything about you, Lord Iversley. I loved you even then, you see. I just had to be patient and wait until you realized you loved me too.”
Damien leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose. “Perhaps if you would have enlightened me to your little secret earlier, I wouldn’t have waited until I was twenty-four years old to ask for your hand.”
Olivia shook her head. “You needed the time.” She paused. “Time to make sure you weren’t in love with Cassandra Morley.”
Damien stiffened beside her. When she looked up at him, her heart skipped a beat. The dark look in his eyes gave her reason to pause. For just a second, Olivia glimpsed a part of Damien she was sure he intended to keep hidden. Although she had promised herself she’d never think of what Cassandra Morley may have meant to Damien, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of wariness.
She brushed her misgivings away, but not quickly enough. Not before Damien saw them.
“I never loved her, Liv.”
“But the two of you were an item for a time. Everyone thought you would ask for her hand. I just needed you to be sure it was me you wanted.”
“It was, Liv. Never doubt that it was.” His expression softened and he held her closer. “How did I ever deserve you?”
“We were meant for each other, Damien. Nothing can change that.” Olivia lifted her head to give him a quick kiss, then pushed away from him. “But if we don’t go back inside soon, we’ll cause a scandal, and father will be forced to move the wedding up to tomorrow.”
Damien laughed, rose to his feet, and pulled her next to him. “Suddenly, that thought is most appealing.”
Olivia knew he’d kiss her again if given the chance, so she took his hand and led him across the terrace. This was her engagement ball, after all. She’d waited a lifetime for this night.
They stepped back across the threshold and the crushing crowd parted to give her a clear view of her father who stood with his lifelong friend, Captain Phineas Durham. With a gleam of wetness in his eyes, her father lifted a glass in a toast.
Every person in the room also held a glass of champagne, which they lifted with her father. Olivia looked to her side as a servant held out a tray with two glasses. Damien took them and handed one to Olivia. She was caught for a moment in the depth of emotion in his eyes. In the honest, open sincerity of his feelings. It was truly the most perfect night of her life.
“My friends,” her father said, pulling her attention away from the man she loved.
“You have been invited here tonight for a very special celebration. Other than the night Olivia’s mother placed my daughter in my arms for the first time, tonight is truly a most joyous occasion.”
Olivia found it hard to stop tears from filling her eyes. Damien’s arm slid around her waist as her father continued.
“It is only once in a father’s lifetime that he has the privilege of making this announcement. And I make it with overwhelming happiness and joy. I proudly announce the betrothal of my daughter, Lady Olivia Sheridan, to Damien Bedford, Earl of Iversley.”
A thunderous vote of approval echoed around the ballroom as guests drank to her and Damien.
Her father silenced them by raising his hands. “I make this announcement with mixed emotions. First, one of elation because of the man standing beside her. The man with whom my daughter has chosen to spend her life.”
All eyes turned to Damien.
“I couldn’t have picked a better man to have as a son if the choice had been mine to make. And sorrow, because another man will now take my place in my daughter’s life. Every father knows the sorrow of losing a daughter, and the joy of gaining a son.”
There was another loud cheer of approval.
“And so, I want you to celebrate with me. This is truly a momentous occasion and—”
At that moment, Olivia heard a commotion in the hallway beyond the ballroom doors. Something was far from right, and she realized Damien felt the same. He stepped in front of her to act as a shield, but not before she saw the concern on her father and Captain Durham’s faces.
A loud, angry voice boomed over the murmurs of the crowd. “Where is he? Where is the bloody murderer!”
The crowd came to a deafening hush. Two men stood at the top of the stairs, one raging uncontrollably, his voice bellowing through the room. Recognition dawned, and she realized who they were. Cassandra Morley’s father, the Earl of Strathern, and her brother, Nathan Morley Viscount Poore. Their taut, demented features were a frightening sight, and the haunted look in their eyes caused her to step even closer to Damien.
Strathern led the way, and his son followed. As the earl staggered down the stairs and into the room, Olivia tried to make sense of what the earl was saying. Tried to understand his garbled words and angry accusations. He was distraught to the point of madness. And from the slurring of his words, more than a little drunk.
“Where is he, Pellingsworth? Where’s the murderer you’re harboring under your roof?”
Olivia’s father rushed to Strathern’s side.
“You’re obviously upset, Strathern. Why don’t you come with me?” Olivia’s father said. “I’m sure we can straighten out this problem.”