Authors: Samantha Holt
2014 ©Samantha Holt
All rights reserved. No part
of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written
permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles
This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or
dead, is entirely coincidental.
Lucian winced as Ellie’s
high-pitched voice grated down his spine. He tucked himself further around the
side of the house and hoped the shadows hid him from her. Unfortunately the
little lanterns scattered around the gardens for the ball destroyed any hopes
of remaining hidden. The warm glow—while romantic—lit most parts of the path
that trailed around the Elizabethan home.
Damn and blast, he should
have asked Lady Clarissa to meet him in the maze or by the gazebo. That would
have been equally romantic, if a little shady. But certainly less chance of
being caught by Miss Eleanor Browning, the seventeen-year-old daughter of the
hosts for the evening, Lord and Lady Browning.
His name echoed into the
night and he shrank around the corner of the building. Here, the glow from the
windows highlighted him, but if he went any farther he would have no chance of
spotting Clarissa as she slipped out of the ballroom to join him for their rendezvous.
Clarissa was softening, he
was sure of it. Tonight, he was certain to get a kiss at the very least. Maybe
even a feel of that divine figure the widow failed to hide under layers of
tulle and silk. Before long, he’d have her stripped down and writhing in his
bed. The elegant woman would be spilling his name from her lips and begging him
He grinned to himself and
curled a fist in anticipation, feeling the warm stirrings of desire as he
pictured her, flushed and naked against his bed sheets. He had been pursuing
her for nigh on a month now. A hard nut to crack that one, but thoroughly worth
it. There was, after all, not a deluge of attractive, experienced widows in the
country, so one had to make the most of the opportunity when one was presented
A flurry of bright pink
skirts and frizzy hair came dashing up to him, and Lucian groaned inwardly.
This was not the sight he’d been hoping for. He had wanted to see the dark,
expressive eyes of Clarissa, not these insipid grey things staring up at him
with all the adoration of a child thanking her father for her latest pony.
“Lucian, here you are. Will
you not return to the ballroom? The next dance is on,” Ellie said breathlessly.
He clenched his jaw. He’d
already taken one dance with her—at his mother’s persuasion—even with the
knowledge one dance would never be enough for Ellie. She had trailed after him
like a lost puppy for several years now. At three and twenty, he had little
interest in a mere child and certainly not an irritating one like Ellie. But
his mother had known she would struggle for dance partners and had pushed him
to lead her out for the first dance in the hopes other men might follow suit.
What a damn fool. He should
have known it would only encourage her. Their families had been close for many
years though even his mother would not wish for him to make a match with Ellie.
His mother had hopes of him marrying higher than his father’s rank. The
daughter of a duke perhaps or...by God, royalty would probably be her preference.
“Well, Lucian?” Ellie
prompted and tugged on his arm.
“I’m taking some air,” he
There, that would frighten
the chit off.
But instead, she looped her
arm through his, near forcing it through, and gazed up at him. “Well, I shall join
you then. It is a might stuffy in there and the evening is so very beautiful.”
It was. Hence why he had
high hopes for breaking through Clarissa’s reserves. Candlelight, the scent of
honeysuckle in the air, stars above...the fates had aligned perfectly to give
him this elegant setting in which to meet the woman he would make his lover and
The damned girl was
determined to ruin everything. She was like a shadow. An ugly shadow. Lucian
glanced down at her and tried to find something attractive in there, something
to lessen his annoyance, but there was nothing. His mother would scold him,
telling him she had taught him better and to look for the beauty within, but
what use was inner beauty when all he wished to do was enjoy the outer.
His father’s health was
declining. Before long, he would be the Viscount Rushbourne and his life as a
rake would be at an end. If he was to enjoy himself before the tireless duties
of a viscount were upon him, then he did not need to be looking for
“You should return to the
ballroom,” he said stiffly. “No doubt there are many gentlemen lacking a
“Oh hardly. Mama says the
balance is not very good this summer. Too many women and not enough men. I have
been sitting out the past two dances. I told her that would never have happened
had you been present and I simply didn’t know where you were, so I came in
search of you.”
He twisted in an attempt to
disengage her arm from his and only managed to draw her close as he turned to
face her. He eyed the riot of curls piled atop her head. With its dull,
straw-like colour, he had never seen her hair look more like a haystack than
today. The pink gown did nothing for her reed like figure—no amount of ruffles
could disguise her lack of breasts—and her small features peeked out from under
those curls like...well, like a damned scarecrow.
Yes, a scarecrow, that’s
what she reminded him of. Perhaps that was uncharitable of him, but at the
present, he didn’t much care. He longed to be touching the glossy dark curls of
Lady Clarissa and slipping his hands around her neck to be breathing in her
fragrance. The only scent that reached him now was an overpowering scent of
“You should not be out here
alone,” he tried again.
“Oh, but I’m not alone. You
She giggled. “I do not think
you would do anything untoward.”
Lucian resisted the urge to
roll his eyes. How she avoided every rumour—true, and not so true—about him, he
did not know. Ellie was in total ignorance of his reputation somehow. But
everyone else knew it well and to be caught outside with him could potentially
mean her ruination. More likely her mother would drag her in and scold her, but
the danger was there. How typical of Ellie not to think. Throughout the years
he’d known her, he had witnessed her impulsive, silly streak over and over.
“It does not matter if I
would actually do anything untoward, you should not be out here alone. Return
now and maybe you can secure yourself a partner for the next dance. My feet are
sore and I’m wearied.”
“Poor Lucian. You are so
much in demand that the ladies have turned you into an old man before your
time,” she teased.
Lucian didn’t respond with
anything but a glare, though it seemed to go unnoticed. “Ellie,” he warned on a
growl, “return to the ballroom.”
A crease appeared between
her brows and she took her arm from his, only to place her hand on his chest.
“Are you not well? You seem terribly out of sorts.”
“I am perfectly well,” he
replied through gritted teeth.
Or at least he would be once
he’d rid himself of this scarecrow and replaced it with an elegant, exotic bird
of paradise who would more than match him in looks. How Ellie ever thought she
would interest him, he had no idea. They were as far apart in looks as... as a
scarecrow and a mannequin in London’s finest clothing emporium. He, dark and
refined, perfectly poised and immaculately dressed, and she, looking as though
she had just been dragged from the nearest field.
Yes, he was being
uncharitable, he admitted, but damnation, the widow could be here at any
moment. Weeks of work were about to be destroyed by this silly little girl.
“Ellie,” he said more
calmly, in the hopes she might see reason, “it is improper for you to be out
here with me. Go inside before either of our mothers catch us.”
“I should not like to leave
you if you’re sickening.”
“Ellie...” This time he
didn’t even manage to hide his growl of frustration. The word came out like a
curse. “Did it not occur to you that you are putting your innocence at risk by
being out here with me?”
“My innocence?” She gaped up
Ah, now he had her
attention. He leaned over her, gradually pressing her back with his mere
presence. She stumbled back—one step, then two.
“The night is dark and
beautiful.” He lowered his voice. “Flowers scent the air and the stars twinkle
overhead. I have indulged in wine and my veins run warm with it.” He urged her
further until she gasped when her back met the outside wall of the building.
She put a hand to his chest to
hold him back. “I am not afraid of you.” Ellie smiled but he saw the nervous
flicker on her lips. “I know you, Lucian. You may act the rake but you’re
honourable at heart.”
“I am nothing of the sort.”
He swiped aside her hand and closed the gap, flattening himself against her. He
felt the sharp intake of breath and the way her body quivered. “You should not
tempt a man like me.”
“If you’re not careful, I
shall have no choice but to kiss you. I suggest you leave now, before I do
something we shall both regret.”
He noted the way her throat
worked. Really he should back off and release her, but something in him wanted
her to wriggle against him and work her way out. Why the devil should he want
that bony body squirming against his? Perhaps he really was a little foxed.
And then he saw the change
in her eyes. They grew smoky. No longer dull. Her lips parted in silent
invitation. Damnation. This was not how this was meant to happen.
Lucian bore over her,
affecting his darkest, most viscount-like look. One that told a person they
were nought more than a speck of dust on his dinner jacket. He’d seen his
father use it to full effect and occasionally used it himself to frighten away
any ladies who thought they might join him in his bed for longer than a few
“Do not mistake me, Ellie.
If I kiss you it would be from mere boredom.” There. The smoky haze had
vanished. She was back to being an annoying child who had insisted on tugging
at his sleeve for too many years. Better she see him for the person he was now
rather than later.
“I am no more attracted to
you than I am to my...my horse,” he declared, getting into the spirit of
things. “I make no habit of kissing or even bedding innocents, particularly not
ones like yourself. So be a good girl and run along. Go find another man to
pester. May I suggest one who is particularly foxed?”
Ellie gasped, pain radiated
from her expression. If he thought about it, the odd sensation pulling at his
gut was too close to guilt. But he was saving her from himself. She saw him as
some sort of hero. A knight in shining armour. Really he was doing her a
favour. Now she would be wary of all rakes and find herself a gentleman who
might appreciate her for whatever redeeming features she had. There had to be
about her someone would like, surely?
Still she stared and still
he hadn’t backed away. Her chest rose and fell against his. He spied dampness
in her eyes before she lowered her lids to try to hide it. Lucian pressed a
hand to the sandstone wall, ready to push away and then...
Then the strangest thing
happened. She lifted her lashes, which were surprisingly thick and curly if he
thought about it, and secured that drab grey gaze of hers on his. But he could
not stare for long. For some inexplicable reason, his gaze fell to her lips.
And he leaned in.
And kissed her.
Ellie drew in a breath as
his lips met hers. He tasted sugar on her lips. They were soft, small, fragile.
His hand came away from the wall and clasped the back of her neck to hold her
in place. Vaguely, he noted her fingers had come up to curl into the lapels of
his dinner jacket. Was she trying to push him away? His mind had shut down.
What was this scarecrow’s lips doing to him?
That skinny body began
squirming, breaking the spell and he heard his name—a muffled protest against
his lips. He had to stop. And he did, but it was too late.
“What the deuce do you think
you are doing?” a gruff, very angry sounding voice rang out.
Lucian lifted his head to
the see the Baron—her father—striding towards him. He swung his gaze to Ellie,
whose cheeks were flushed and whose hands were trembling, and back to her
furious father, whose face was red enough to match the colour of the strawberry
jelly they had been served that evening.
His insides shrivelled a
little. Now he was in big trouble. He was going to be forced to marry a scrawny
scarecrow. Damn his luck.