Read The Perfect Temptation Online

Authors: Leslie LaFoy

The Perfect Temptation

The Perfect Temptation

By Leslie LaFoy

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

London, England

 

Early January, 1864

 

John Aiden Terrell turned his
back to the fire and looked out the

office window, watching the snow
fall and hating winter. Almost

as much as he had lately come to
hate Barrett Stanbridge, a

man who was, to Aiden's recent
way of thinking, an all-around

son of a bitch. The things
Barrett had asked of him in the name

of friendship ... The last three
weeks had been hellish. All the

more so because Barrett had
insisted that he be sober enough

to fully experience every moment
of the heart-aching,

head-pounding misery.
 

 

"Do you mind?" the
object of his disgust said without looking up

from his paperwork.
Aiden
stamped his frozen feet again and blew into his

cupped, blue hands.

 

"Not at all," he
snapped. "I live to meet your every expectation."

 

Barrett snorted and offhandedly
motioned toward the silver

coffee service
on
the far side of the office.
Still reading,

he said, "Pour yourself a
cup and stop your wallowing."

 

Aiden glared first at his friend
and then at the silver pot

sitting primly with a sugar and
creamer on the sideboard. "I

don't want coffee. I want a
brandy."

 

"It's nine-thirty in the
morning and you're not having a

brandy. Not now. Not later,
either. You're reforming."

 

It was actually nine thirty-eight,
but Aiden knew there

was no point in correcting his
friend. There wasn't any point

in protesting the leash Barrett
had put on him, either, but he

still possessed a bit of pride.
Albeit tattered. ''As I've mentioned

several times already, I'm not
the least interested in

reformation, thank you very
much."

 

Barrett reached for a pen and
scribbled in the margins of

the report as he replied,
"And as I counter each and every

time ... Your father has asked me
to put you back on the

straight and narrow. I take the
responsibility seriously."

 

"I've never in my life been
on a straight path and you

know it just as well as he
does," Aiden shot back. "Frankly,

I'd rather be dead than live the
boring existence you find so

comfortable."

 

"Frankly," his friend
retorted calmly, still writing, "when

I first found you, I thought you
were dead. If a lorry had run

over you, you wouldn't have felt
a thing."

 

"Which was precisely my
intent."

 

Barrett finally looked up and met
his gaze. "Had you been

conscious enough to have seen
yourself, you would have

been mortally embarrassed. You
would have made a pig

retch."

 

Such bluntly honest comments had
been constant fare

since he'd first sobered up
enough to comprehend anything

at all. Aiden had had quite
enough of it "I should have known

better than to come to London;'
he snapped.

 

Barrett cocked a brow but said
nothing. He didn't have to.

Aidan heard the unspoken
rejoinder.
"You should have

known better than to go
to Charleston."

 

Abruptly turning on his heel,
Aiden faced the fire and extended

his hands toward the flames,
trying to forget that

day-and failing-yet again.

 

"Hindsight is always
perfect, Aiden," Barrett said quietly.

 

"You can't punish yourself
for what you didn't see at the

time."

 

"Oh, but I can," he
retorted drolly, hating the sympathy,

hating even more the pity.
"Just watch me."

 

A knock on the door spared Aiden
from another lecture

meant to be inspirational.
Instead, Barrett called out, prompting

his secretary entrance.

 

The man pushed open the door,
then stood stiffly on the

threshold to say, "Pardon
the intrusion, sir. There is a Miss

Radford in the anteroom. I
suggested that she make an appointment

for tomorrow but she refuses,
insisting that it is a

matter of considerable
urgency."

 

''Isn't it always?" Barrett
quipped with a dry chuckle. He

looked past his man and his brow
shot up as a smile quirked

one comer of his mouth.
"Please see to the lady's coat and

then show her in, Quincy."

 

''I'll be going," Aiden
declared, seizing the chance and

heading off in Quincy's wake.
''Wouldn't want to intrude on

a private conversation and all
that."

 

"You'll stay right where you
are, John Aiden."

 

It was a command, spoken as only
a former army officer

could issue one. Aiden stopped in
his tracks. Partially out of

habit, but mostly out of
something else that was deep inside

him, nameless but potent
nonetheless. He clenched his teeth

and turned back.

 

''Whatever problem she has,"
Barrett went on crisply, "is

going to land in your lap. You
need to be productive for a

change. It's time."

 

There was one good thing to be
said for Barrett's sanctimonious

pronouncements; they made him mad
enough that

his blood actually heated. Aiden
smiled thinly and made his

way to the desk, saying, ''Then
you should know that I'm going

to tell her that there's nothing
to be done about her goddamn

missing ring until the bloody
snow melts."

 

"We have no idea why she's
here," Barrett countered, rising

and straightening his jacket with
a quick, efficient tug at

the hem. "It might be some
rare and valuable piece of British

'
antiquity. Or a
valuable family member who's gone missing.

 

A wanton niece or a dotty
grandfather. And the finder's fee

could be considerable. It would
be yours, of course, He who

does the work, earns the
money."

 

"I don't care about
money," Aiden supplied, thinking that

all he really wanted was to get
the hell out of Barrett's reach

for a while. And Sawyer's, too.
Between the two of them

there wasn't a single moment in
his day-or night-that

wasn't carefully supervised.

 

"All right," Barrett conceded
with a bare shrug. "So you've

thrown away your self-respect and
don't care about earning

your own way. You might, however,
want to think about the

considerable pleasures to be had
in bathing in the font of

gushing feminine gratitude."

 

Aiden instantly bristled but
Barrett didn't give him a

chance to retort

 

"It's been almost a year,
John Aiden," his friend declared

gently. "You've been
virtuous long enough."

 

It angered him that Barrett not
only didn't understand

how deep the pain went, but that
he'd never even pretended

to care that it existed. Aiden
swallowed down the sudden

lump in his throat to say,
"You're a bastard."

 

"Which is precisely why your
father chose me to salvage

you," the other countered,
coolly shooting his cuffs.

 

"For God's sake, I'm
twenty-six years old. To be treated

like a child in leading strings
is insulting
.
I don't want-or

need-to
be
salvaged. All I need is to be left the hell alone."

 

"You were allowed that
course," Barrett pointed out quietly,

his gaze narrowing past Aiden to
the doorway. He put a

polite smile on his face as he
added, "You didn't do well

with it."

 

"Miss Alexandra Radford,
sir."

 

Quincy stepped to
,
the
side and the woman entered the

room. Glided, actually. In a
cloud of what had to be outrageously

expensive silk. Like the shifting
colors of a peacock

feather, her morning dress was
sometimes green, sometimes

blue, and somehow, sometimes both
colors at
,
once. Actually,

it was a blouse and matching
skirt, he noted. Which strongly

suggested that she didn't have a
lady's maid to assist her in

dressing.

 

The woman herself ... So very
English. Of middling

height, with fairish skin and
raven dark curls peeking from

beneath a stylish bonnet. Her
face was nicely shaped and

finely featured. And even a dead
man would have noticed the

decently corseted and curved
figure. Not that any man would

have dared to openly regard that
particular feast. Miss

Alexandra Radford might well be
deliciously wrapped, but

under it all lay the heart and
soul of a woman who considered

herself the equal of any duchess.
A duchess without a maid.

 

Aiden suppressed a groan and
summoned what he could

of a civil smile. Women of
privilege--and especially those

who simply considered themselves
privileged-were such a

pain in the ass. Well, the vast
majority of them, anyway. There

was always the rare exception.
Alexandra Radford, however,

didn't look to be such an
exception.

 

"Good morning, Miss
Radford," Barrett offered smoothly

as he moved forward to meet her
halfway. She stopped and

extended her hand. He took it and
bowed over it slightly,

adding, "Barrett Stanbridge
at your service."

 

"Good morning to you, Mr.
Stanbridge," she replied on

cue and in perfectly even,
cultured English tones. "I deeply

appreciate your willingness to
see me without the courtesy

of an appointment."

 

"It's no trouble at
all." Barrett smiled broadly and moved

to the side to gesture toward
Aiden. "May I introduce my associate,

Mr. John Aiden Terrell."

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