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A Perilous Temptation
Gillian Dashwood’s wastrel husband wagered away her fortune. His scandalous murder ruined her reputation. Even still, she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her beloved elderly uncle from Lucien Joslyn, the cool-headed gambler whose ...
A Perilous Temptation
Gillian Dashwood’s wastrel husband wagered away her fortune. His scandalous murder ruined her reputation. Even still, she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her beloved elderly uncle from Lucien Joslyn, the cool-headed gambler whose reasons for coming to the country are as mysterious as his newfound fortune. Once Lucien makes it clear he is certain Gillian is herself anything but innocent, she’s determined to reveal the truth about him. But the simmering desire that draws them ever closer is threatening those with vengeful secrets to keep. Now, trusting each other is a hazard Gillian and Lucien never imagined—even as a chance at an enduring love is the one peril they can’t resist…
Praise for Shirlee Busbee and Passion Becomes Her
“A fast plot packed with clever twists keeps the action and passion blazing.” —Publishers Weekly
“Delicious…fast-paced, intriguing.” —Affaire de Coeur
Not for the first time, Luc blessed his own timely escape from France and his unorthodox arrival in England in February. He'd known it was a fool's errand, but ignoring all advice to the contrary, he'd sailed to France from America the previous fall, determined to find if any of his mother's family had survived the savage upheaval that was taking place in the land of his birth. Despite a careful, diligent search, he'd found no trace of his mother's family, and it was only by a stroke of luck that he had not died in France himself.
A crooked smile curled the corners of his mouth. Thank le bon Dieu for Emily's smugglers.
Seated at a table in a quiet corner of The Ram's Head tavern, Luc brooded over Marie Antoinette's fate until his attention was caught by a pair of gentlemen playing cards at a nearby table. Through hooded eyes Luc watched Jeffery Townsend lead Lord Broadfoot's youngest whelp, Harlan, down the path to perdition. In the brief time he watched the pair, by his reckoning Jeffery had won over four thousand pounds from Harlan, and Luc, familiar with the Broadfoot family through his half brother, Viscount Joslyn, knew that Harlan couldn't sustain those kinds of losses. A fashionable family could live for a year on six thousand pounds, and while Lord Broadfoot was known to be warm in the pocket, it was unlikely he would look with favor at his youngest son throwing away a small fortune in one night of gaming.
Convinced that Jeffery was cheating and glad of the distraction from his bleak thoughts, Luc paid close attention to the flash of the cards, but he had yet to catch him at it. His azure eyes narrowed as Jeffery quickly won another hand and he decided that he really didn't like Jeffery Townsend very much—even if he was the local squire and they were related by marriage.
Staring at his sister-in-law's cousin as Jeffery ordered another round of undoubtedly smuggled French brandy and suggested another game to his companion, Luc shook his head. Zut! How Emily, as warm and charming a young woman as one could find, could be related to an egg-sucking weasel like Jeffery puzzled him. Oh, there was a superficial physical re- semblance, the Townsend cousins were blond and tall, but while Emily was as true and honest as the finest English steel, Jeffery ...
Luc's mouth thinned as the two men rose from their table and walked, in Harlan's case unsteadily, in the direction of the private gaming rooms at the side of the tavern. The boy was foxed, and Luc had been aware of the liberal supply of liquor Jeffery had kept coming to their table since he had been watching them.
It wasn't his responsibility to guide the steps of a green boy, Luc admitted, but neither could he sit by and allow Harlan to be plucked naked by the likes of Jeffery Townsend. Unless he missed his guess, once Jeffery had Harlan in one of those private rooms, Harlan would be lucky to stagger home with his boots. Sighing, he rose to his feet.
For many reasons, Luc wouldn't normally be found in the environs of The Ram's Head, and before he had taken more than two steps, one of those reasons stepped directly in his path. He groaned inwardly. Bandying words with Will Nolles, the proprietor and owner of The Ram's Head, was as appealing to him as dancing nude with a copperhead.
Nolles was a diminutive man, his build slender, and wearing a close-fitting dark green jacket, a wide white cravat tied in a bow adorning his throat and striped hose on his legs, his leaning toward dandyism was obvious. His pale green eyes glinting in the smoky candlelight of the inn, Nolles blocked Luc's path. "I couldn't believe my ears," Nolles murmured, "when one of the barmaids came into my office and told me that you were here tonight." His eyes as unblinking as a snake's, he asked, "I don't believe I've seen a Joslyn in my humble tavern in ... months. How is it that we're honored with your presence tonight?"
Luc regarded him, deciding his next move. On the surface, Nolles was an honest tavern owner, but he made his profits, rather large profits, as the leader of a gang of smugglers— Luc had already spotted several known members of the gang scattered about the room. With good reason, none of them had any love for the Joslyns, and Luc was quite certain that there wasn't one of them who wouldn't enjoy putting a knife between his ribs.
Earlier in the year, Barnaby, Luc's half brother, had cost the smugglers a fortune by capturing the huge cache of smuggled goods they'd been hiding in the tunnels beneath Windmere, the ancestral home of the Joslyn family. Not only was the contraband turned over to the Revenuers, access to the tunnels had been destroyed. If Barnaby could have brought Nolles to the hangman's noose he would have, but during the confrontation in the old barn, Nolles had managed to slip free.
The discovery of the contraband had been a nine-day's-wonder, and no one had acted more astonished than Nolles. Publicly, all was polite, but Luc knew that the intervening months had done nothing to lessen the desire for revenge that burned in the breast of Nolles and his gang, and he winced. He could almost hear Lamb's voice in his ear berating him for sticking his head in the lion's mouth.
Standing six feet four and with the muscle to match his imposing height, Luc wasn't the least intimidated by the situation, but conscious that every minute he delayed allowed Jeffery to dip deeper into Harlan's purse, Luc decided to forego the pleasure of inciting a brawl and shrugged. "I felt like a change of pace," he answered with barely a trace of a French accent in his voice. One sleek black brow rose. "Any objections?"
Nolles spread his hands. "Of course not." He smiled tightly. "The Ram's Head is a public tavern after all, open to one and all."
"Precisement," Luc said, noting out of the corner of his eye which room Jeffery ushered Harlan. "And now if you will excuse me ... ?"
Nolles half-bowed and moved out of his way.
Feeling Nolles's gaze on his back like the kiss of a blade, Luc walked toward the door through which Jeffery and Harlan had just disappeared. Reaching the door, he didn't knock; he simply opened the door as if he was expected and entered the room.
It was a pleasant room. A small fire crackled on the brick hearth, keeping the faint chill of the October night at bay, and pairs of candles burned in pewter sconces placed around the room. Beneath a window that faced the front of the tavern was a carved oak lowboy, decanters filled with spirits and glasses neatly set in the middle. On the opposite side of the room, flanked by two brown leather chairs, squatted a small chest, the top littered with several packs of cards, dice and other items used for gaming. In the middle of the room was a large, green baize-covered table; a half-dozen wooden armchairs with padded leather seats were placed around the table.
Harlan was slumped in one of the chairs on the far side of the table, and Jeffery, in the act of tenderly pressing a snifter of brandy into Harlan's hand, glanced up at Luc's entrance. Recognizing Luc, annoyance on his handsome features, Jeffery said, "This is a private room."
Luc smiled, and there were those who would have warned Jeffery not to be misled by that particular smile. "Come now, mon ami," Luc said, "we are practically cousins. Surely you cannot object to my joining you."
Harlan stared happily at him. "It's Luc Joslyn. I like Luc. Luc's a friend of m'family," he said, smiling beatifically at Jeffery. When Jeffery remained unmoved, Harlan added, "He's Joslyn's half brother. Half French, you know. Your cousin Emily married him." He giggled. "Married Barnaby, not Luc."
"I'm aware of that," Jeffery muttered.
Harlan frowned, seeking a thought. "Older than Barnaby. Would have been the viscount," he said finally, "but born on the wrong side of the blanket."
Gritting his teeth, Jeffery said, "I'm quite familiar with Luc's antecedents."
Harlan reared back in the chair and stared at him in astonishment. "You know Luc? His half brother is Lord Joslyn."
"I know that," Jeffery said tersely. "Lord Joslyn married my cousin, remember?"
Harlan nodded cheerfully. "Married your cousin, Emily." He looked at Luc. "I like you. M'father likes you, too." He thought a moment. "My brother, Miles, likes you, too. Says even if your mother was French that you're a good 'un."
"Yes, yes," Jeffery snapped. "Everybody likes Luc." A wheedling note in his voice, he said, "But I don't think we'd like him joining us, do you?"
That Harlan was cup-shot and in no condition to be gambling was obvious, but he was an amiable, well-brought-up young man, and even as drunk as he was, it would never have crossed his mind to deeny another gentlemen his company. "I like Luc. No reason he shouldn't join us." A huge yawn overtook Harlan and he added sleepily, "Think I'll nap. Change my luck."
Before Jeffery could argue with him, Harlan's head dropped to his chest and to Luc's relief, he passed out. Harlan was safe from Jeffery for tonight.
Strolling over to the small chest, Luc picked up several pairs of dice. Taking a chair across from Harlan, he placed the majority of the dice to one side, keeping one pair. Tossing the dice with a careless ease that spoke of experience, he smiled at Jeffery and said, "Hazard? Shall we toss a few? I understand from your cousin that you are a great gambler."
Jeffery hesitated. Passed out, Harlan was of no further use to him tonight, and while he had a pocket plump with Harlan's vowels, the gambler in him wasn't ready to walk away and end the evening so tamely—not when there was a bigger prize to be won. In the seven or eight months that Luc had been on British soil, his reputation, earned in the gaming hells in London, for winning all games of chance, was well established. Besting Lucifer, so called because no one denied that Luc had the devil's own luck, had become the goal of many a foolish young man ... and some older, wiser gentlemen who should have known better.
Jeffery considered himself an expert gamester, and the thought of beating Lucifer was an exciting one, but he was wary. He had confidence in his own skills, but he couldn't dismiss Luc's reputation. Dare he try his hand?
From beneath lowered lids, Luc watched Jeffery struggle with prudence and temptation, betting that temptation would win. Jeffery was, after all, a gambler, and he smiled to himself when Jeffery shrugged and said, "Why not? The evening is young yet."
Luc kept a cool head when gambling, eschewing, except for an occasional glass of wine, any liquor. He ascribed that one trait to his phenomenal luck, that and an instinctive skill with the cards and knowing when to call it quits. Jeffery appeared not to have learned that lesson.
Luc was correct. Jeffery was unlucky and threw crabs again and again while Luc knicked it every time the dice were in his hands. After several tosses of the dice, instead of realizing that luck did not favor him tonight, in a bid to recover his losses, Jeffery kept raising the stakes. Luc did not stop him until boredom set in and, perhaps, a touch of compassion. From Emily he knew that Jeffery had been draining The Birches, the family estate, for years to support his gaming and that if Jeffery did not change his ways, he would lose everything. Luc was a calculated gambler, but he wanted no man's ruination on his conscience, even a weasel like Jeffery, and after a few hours, he ended the game. Rising from the table, Luc had not only Harlan's vowels in front of him, but he had vowels from Jeffery in the amount of two thousand pounds.
His face tight, Jeffery rose from the table and after giving Luc a curt nod barged from the room. Alone with Harlan, Luc shook him awake. Harlan started when Luc said gently, "Come, mon ami, I think it is home for you."
Harlan smiled angelically at him. "Luc. I like you. M'father likes you. Miles does, too."
Luc laughed. "Bon! Now let me stay in everyone's good graces and get you to your horse."
Harlan glanced around and, spying the dice on the table, he blinked. "Did we gamble?"
Luc nodded. "Mais oui! And the Lady Luck, she was with you. You won your vowels back."
Harlan's blue eyes opened very wide. "I did?" he asked, astonished.
Luc smiled and waved the vowels in front of Harlan's face.
"Indeed, you did. Now before the night is much older, I suggest we go home."
Harlan nodded and said confidingly to Luc, "I'm foxed, you know."
Even after his nap, Harlan was quite inebriated, but Luc managed to get him into his greatcoat and maneuvered the staggering young man out of the tavern. Outside in the chilly October night, with no little exertion, Luc hoisted him onto his horse and stuffed the vowels into one pocket of Harlan's greatcoat. When he was certain that Harlan was alert enough not to fall off, he mounted his own horse and, holding the reins to Harlan's horse, began the journey to the Broadfoot estate, Broad View.
By the time they reached the tall iron gates that marked the entrance to the driveway to the house, Luc was more than ready to be relieved of his drunken charge. The journey to Broad View was necessarily slow, and only Luc's quick action had prevented Harlan from falling off his horse numerous times. If Harlan wasn't on the verge of taking a bad spill, he was telling Luc how much he liked him, how much every member of his family liked him and singing at the top of his lungs every ribald ditty he'd ever learned.
A pair of torches burned on either side of a pair of double doors of the mansion, and while Harlan continued to sway and sing, Luc dismounted in front of the brick and stone mansion. Immediately one of the doors opened and Miles stepped out onto the terrace in front of the house.
Miles was an older version of Harlan, a little taller and broader of shoulder, but with the same blue eyes and light brown hair. Smiling, Miles shook his head as he walked toward Luc. "Chirping merry, is he?"
"I'm afraid so."
"When I heard the racket, I assumed as much." Miles hesitated. "Was he at The Ram's Head again?"
Luc nodded. "Gaming with Jeffery Townsend."
Miles's pleasant features stiffened. "Devil take it! Father is going to disown him if he's lost to that rakeshame again."
"You have nothing to worry about tonight.... Harlan showed great skill at Hazard and was able to recover all of his losses and, I think, a few thousand pounds from Monsieur Townsend. You'll find the proof in the pocket of his greatcoat."
Miles's eyes narrowed. "Really."
Luc nodded again. "Indeed, I was there and saw the whole thing."
"And did Harlan display this, er, great skill before or after he was fuddled?"
"During. I believe the liquor allowed him to toss aside his inhibitions and simply throw by instinct," Luc replied with a straight face.
"Really," Miles repeated, the dryness of his tone obvious.
"Truly," Luc said. "And now if you will excuse me, I must be on my way."
Mounting his horse, Luc tipped his head to Miles and swung the animal around. "Bon soir," Luc called over his shoulder as he kicked his horse into motion and the darkness swallowed him up.
Leaving the gates of Broad View behind him, Luc turned his horse in the direction of Windmere. Long after midnight, the night was increasingly chilly and Luc thought he caught the scent of rain in the air: he would be glad to reach Windmere and his bed.
There was no moon, but familiar with the road and the trustworthiness of his mount, he kept his horse at a brisk trot. Rounding a bend in the road, his horse snorted and shied. A short distance ahead, in the light from its lamps, Luc could make out the shape of a wrecked vehicle. The phaeton sat at a drunken angle, the right wheels lodged in the ditch next to the road.
Excerpted from Desire Becomes Her by Shirlee Busbee Copyright © 2012 by Shirlee Busbee. Excerpted by permission of Zebra Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 2, 2012
Always good, and cant wait for the next book from shirlee busbee. I wish that more pages to the story for the cost of the book . There was 305 pages.
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