The Greatest Lover Ever

( 5 )

Overview

THE SWEETEST SCANDAL

Beautiful, exuberant, and stubborn Georgiana Black has more spirit than sense—which she learns when an ultimatum to the Earl of Beckenham at a London ball ends their engagement. Six years later, Georgie is less concerned with impending spinsterhood than with making sure her young sister doesn’t make the same mistakes she did. But soon Georgie stumbles into a scandalous encounter with none ...

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The Greatest Lover Ever

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Overview

THE SWEETEST SCANDAL

Beautiful, exuberant, and stubborn Georgiana Black has more spirit than sense—which she learns when an ultimatum to the Earl of Beckenham at a London ball ends their engagement. Six years later, Georgie is less concerned with impending spinsterhood than with making sure her young sister doesn’t make the same mistakes she did. But soon Georgie stumbles into a scandalous encounter with none other than her former fiancé. Beckenham is still breathtakingly desirable—and as iron-willed as ever...

THE TRUEST TEMPTATION

Beckenham’s brief engagement to Georgie taught him one thing—when it comes to a wife, he wants a woman who will do her duty and cause no trouble. When the fiery Georgie falls unexpectedly into his arms, Beckenham remembers just how lushly delectable she is. Suddenly, the idea of actually marrying Georgie is irresistible. In The Greatest Lover Ever, convincing her will take more than a simple proposal, however. Georgie and Beckenham finally have a second chance at love. But in a battle of wills, can passion conquer pride?

 

Christina Brooke’s novels of historical romance are:

 

“Enchanting.”—RT Book Reviews

 

“Captivating!” Night Owl Romance

“Each…more sensual and passionate than the last.”—Publishers Weekly

 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
11/18/2013
In the second Westruther Regency (after London’s Last True Scoundrel), Brooke packs enough misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and eligible misses to fill a shelf of novels. At the ripe old age of 24, Miss Georgiana Black is “on the shelf,” where she’s been for the six years since the abrupt end of her betrothal to Marcus, Earl of Beckenham. She’s resigned herself to remaining single forever; after all, in a few months she’s set to gain full control of her sizable inheritance and won’t need a man. But during a scandalous impromptu reunion with Beckenham, the ember of her love and lust for the earl once more bursts into flame. The two are thrown together at every turn, and while their mutual errors of communication are quite sufficient to stymie a potential union, Beckenham’s archnemesis also holds a trump card that could ruin the couple. Brooke’s dialogue-driven story is wispy but diverting. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"[Brooke] takes time-honored themes and makes them fresh, funny, charming and sizzling with sexual tension. This tale will brighten the darkest winter's day." —-RT Book Reviews
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250029355
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2013
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 177,338
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Christina Brooke is a former lawyer who staged a brilliant escape from the corporate world and landed squarely in Regency England.

She is a Golden Heart winner and two-time RITA finalist and her books have also been nominated for RT's Reviewer's Choice Award, Bookseller's Best and the Australian Romantic Book of the Year Award. The first two books in her Westruthers series, LONDON'S LAST TRUE SCOUNDREL and THE GREATEST LOVER EVER, have garnered Top Picks from RT Magazine.

Christina makes her home in sunny Queensland, Australia with her husband, two boys and one enormous girl dog called Monty. Monty is the inspiration for Ophelia, the Great Dane in the Ministry of Marriage series. However, the resemblance of any human characters to real life people is purely accidental.

Christina loves to travel, particularly to England for research and most especially to see her dear friends and colleagues in the United States. She also loves walking, window shopping for antiques and enjoying good food, good wine and good times with her friends and family.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

 

Brighton, England, six years later …

Beckenham arrived at his cousin Xavier’s Brighton villa travel-weary and famished. After the journey from his estate in Gloucestershire, he craved a bath and a meal and a glass of wine—not necessarily in that order.

He abhorred the hard gaiety of Brighton in the summertime. That was when the Ton descended on the seaside town. By its nature as a holiday resort, the society here was looser, less structured than the London season. Such a laissez-faire attitude was anathema to him, dangerous in its unpredictability.

He wouldn’t stay longer than he had to. After dealing with his immediate needs, he’d conduct a pressing matter of business with his cousin tonight and leave first thing in the morning.

From the moment his carriage turned into the villa’s drive, he knew that would be impossible.

The flambeaux along the avenue illuminated a scene that caused Beckenham’s hopes of a quiet evening to die a quick death. A throng of guests in fancy ball dress strolled down the drive, threading through a mass of vehicles and sedan chairs. All of them with the same destination as Beckenham.

Xavier, Marquis of Steyne, was hosting one of his infamous parties, damn him.

Beckenham sat back against the velvet squabs of his traveling chaise, closed his eyes in resigned exasperation. For several seconds, he contemplated ordering his coachman to turn around and drive all the way back to Gloucestershire.

He found little to entertain him at Xavier’s parties and much to alarm and disgust. Masquerades thrown by the Marquis of Steyne were everything that was decadent, subversive, outrageous. It amused Xavier to shock people. Particularly his sober cousin Beckenham.

Oh, yes, Beckenham would give odds that this entire show had been laid on for his benefit. Xavier was being difficult because Beckenham had expressed his intention to take a wife and he wanted his cousin’s advice.

An odd choice of counsel when Beckenham’s former guardian was the Duke of Montford, famed for making brilliant matches for the members of his large extended family, the Westruthers.

The duke had certainly engineered alliances for Jane, Rosamund, and Cecily to everyone’s satisfaction. Not only were they advantageous in every material respect, the parties to the matches seemed covered in bliss.

Beckenham was happy for them. But much as he knew it was his duty to wed and create heirs, he did not wish for that kind of marriage. He wanted a countess who would do her duty without fuss, who was prepared to lead her own life without expecting him to dance attendance on her. A wife who would create no dramas. A wife who would leave him in peace.

Strange as it might seem, Xavier was the only one whose advice he desired in the matter of choosing a suitable countess. Beckenham had sworn off society events in London since Georgie ripped his pride to shreds and stomped on it; the one exception had been to attend Cecily’s come-out ball. He did not wish to waste time becoming acquainted with this year’s crop of debutantes.

Xavier was both an excellent judge of character and the font of an astonishing depth of knowledge about the Ton and its members. And Xavier would not have any agenda. It would not occur to him to try to make a love match for Beckenham as their female relatives would undoubtedly do. Nor would he attempt to thrust him into a politically advantageous alliance without considering his personal contentment, as Montford would.

Xavier might not have any interest in the subject of Beckenham’s marriage, and Beckenham didn’t expect him to exert himself unduly. He merely desired Xavier’s opinion on which five or so ladies might be best suited for the role of Beckenham’s countess.

Beckenham had written letter after letter to Xavier on the subject. All his careful missives had been ignored.

The only way to get his cousin to put his mind to the business was to land on his doorstep and refuse to budge until Xavier bent his considerable intellect to the issue.

So Beckenham didn’t turn back. When his vehicle’s pace slowed to a crawl, he rapped on the roof for his coachman to stop. He alighted from the chaise and strode through the carnivale of guests, a black bat cutting through a bright flock of butterflies.

He did not allow any of the revelers to accost him or deflect him from his purpose. He had no time for such ridiculous fripperies. He wondered that Xavier did, with all the wealth and property under his command.

They’d grown up together as wards of the powerful Duke of Montford, and Beckenham knew the Marquis of Steyne as well as anyone did. But of all the six cousins who had shared their unusual upbringing under Montford’s roof, Xavier was the one over whom Beckenham held the least influence. Convincing Xavier to help him would not be easy.

Reaching the circular drive in front of the house, Beckenham weaved his way through the crawling procession of vehicles and guests. Narrowly, he escaped being set alight by some idiot who had appropriated a flaming torch from its sconce. But he sidestepped that disaster only to be splashed by a gaggle of water nymphs cavorting in and around the fountain.

Polite but firm, he resisted their coquettish attempts to pull him in to join them, and removed their grasping hands from his person with a decided shake of his head. Brushing droplets of water from his sleeve, he ascended the villa steps.

As soon as he crossed the threshold, color and sound assaulted his senses. Music and movement, the blaze of candlelight, silks, velvet, feathers and lace, tinkling glasses, shrieks and guffaws. The scent of a hundred warring perfumes, of beeswax and wine and smoke from men’s cheroots.

He glanced about him, wishing very much that he was at home in his library by the fire with a glass of brandy by his side and a book in his hand. The night was young and behavior had yet to reach its inevitable extreme—everyone was still fully clothed, for one thing. Except the nymphs, of course. He suspected those were ladies of the night Xavier had hired for the purpose, so they didn’t count.

Xavier’s redoubtable majordomo—a sober individual who kept his opinions of his master’s habits strictly to himself—greeted Beckenham with an almost imperceptible softening of his black eyes.

“Would you care for refreshment, my lord?”

“Perhaps later, Martin.” Beckenham stripped off his gloves and dropped them into his hat before handing the collection to the majordomo. “I want to see my cousin before he becomes otherwise occupied.”

Even though Xavier had guests, he might be in one of his retiring moods, eschewing the party for the solitude of his library. One never knew. Xavier could be at his most intellectual and ascetic when hosting an orgy.

The majordomo bowed. “You will find Lord Steyne in the drawing room, my lord.”

Not in a retiring mood, then. Beckenham reconsidered. “On second thoughts, would you tell his lordship I’m waiting for him in the library and send some bread and cheese there and a bottle of wine?”

Beckenham preferred not to join the festivities, particularly in Xavier’s company. If Xavier was in one of his difficult tempers—and when was he not?—he would be sure to go out of his way to embarrass his sober cousin. He’d invite Beckenham to eat a grape from a naked lady’s navel or foist on him some elegant whore whom he’d feel obliged to entertain for the evening so as not to hurt her feelings.

Xavier could be quite diabolically irritating in that way.

It wasn’t that Beckenham had no interest in the fair sex. He was a man of strong sexual appetites—and rare skill, if his mistresses were to be believed. Quite how he’d gained the reputation of being an extraordinarily accomplished lover, he didn’t know. Perhaps his lovers had been indiscreet. He preferred, however, to bed women of his own choosing, and to do so in private.

With an understanding gleam in his eye, the majordomo bowed again. “Very good, my lord. I shall inquire.”

*   *   *

Georgiana Black wondered, not for the first time, how she came to be saddled with such an arrant fool for a stepmother. Papa must have been thinking with the contents of his trousers when he’d wed the woman.

Lady Black was very pretty once, but a life of indolence and spite had thickened the widow’s figure and pinched her milkmaid looks. She’d never produced the longed-for male heir, but she had given Sir Donald one more daughter, Violet, who was now seventeen.

Papa had died a little over a year ago, leaving his vast fortune divided equally between his two daughters. Giving in to his wife’s urgings, tantrums, and vapors, he’d altered his will, bequeathing his unentailed property in Gloucestershire to Violet alone. A fitting punishment for Georgie, who’d possessed the unmitigated temerity to jilt the Earl of Beckenham and refused every eligible marriage offer since.

The loss of Cloverleigh Manor had been a knife to Georgie’s heart on top of the grief attending her father’s death. But at least she wouldn’t be obliged to live virtually next door to her erstwhile fiancé. She must be grateful for that.

Papa hadn’t disinherited her. Indeed, he’d been scrupulously fair in the division of his fortune. A large sum invested in the funds would be Georgie’s on her twenty-fifth birthday. Or upon her marriage, whichever came sooner.

While she itched to leave the cloying, vulgar ways of her stepmother behind her, she was inordinately fond of her half sister. She was determined Violet should not suffer through Lady Black’s folly. Georgie’s twenty-fifth birthday was mere months away, but she meant to delay setting up her own household long enough to see her sister settled and happy.

“Violet is but eighteen, ma’am,” said Georgie now, with careful restraint. “You cannot have consented to her jaunting about Brighton with those dreadful Makepeaces. Please tell me you did not.”

Lady Black stiffened, her hand splayed on the chaise longue as if she’d spring up from her supine position. “Those dreadful Makepeaces, as you call them, happen to be dear friends of mine, miss! Yes, and if it weren’t for my poor nerves which have held me prostrate on this couch for weeks, I should have gone with them myself. I could do with a bit of gaiety.”

Georgie did not doubt her stepmother would have gone if she’d felt equal to the outing. Brighton was England’s most fashionable summer resort. The tone of the seaside town was looser, more egalitarian, and certainly more raffish than the rarefied atmosphere of Mayfair. It was the perfect milieu for a wealthy widow who was none too particular about the company she kept.

One thing was certain: Brighton was not a place for a young lady with no one more sensible to guide her than Mrs. Makepeace and her rackety young brother-in-law. Particularly when that young lady was an heiress.

Georgie couldn’t believe her stepmother would show such little sense. “Please, ma’am, you must fetch Violet back again. Do you have any idea what trouble the silly girl will find for herself here in Brighton?”

Lady Black’s face pinked. “Violet is my daughter, and I’ll thank you to remember it! She’s had no amusement at all since her dear papa died, poor pet.”

“Mourning does tend to hamper one’s social life,” muttered Georgie. She tried again. “Violet is not even out yet.”

“All the more reason for her to attend a couple of parties before she makes her debut.”

Georgie paced the floor, gripping her hands together. “If it were a case of a few private parties in Bath under appropriate chaperonage, I’d agree with you. But Brighton, ma’am! She’ll be ruined before she ever gets to London.”

Why couldn’t her stepmother see this? Or was it simply because Georgie was the one to point it out that she remained steadfastly blind?

“Violet has a shrewd head on her shoulders,” said Lady Black. “She won’t do anything she oughtn’t.”

With careful tact, Georgie said, “Of course not, ma’am. I am more concerned that she will fall prey to someone unscrupulous. She is an heiress, after all.”

Her stepmother’s eyes narrowed. “Well! If I may be so bold, you are scarcely one to cast stones, my dear girl!”

Georgie stiffened.

“Don’t think just because you’ve turned into Miss Prunes and Prisms now that anyone forgets what happened when you were that age. Threw over an earl, for Heaven’s sake. And look at you now. Four-and-twenty and still a spinster.”

“At least I still have my reputation, ma’am,” Georgie said quietly.

“By the skin of your teeth!”

“If it becomes known that Violet went to Lord Steyne’s masquerade tonight, you may be sure she’ll need more than the skin of her teeth to save her,” snapped Georgie.

Her stepmother’s accusations stung a wound that was still raw. But whatever mistakes Georgie had made in her ignorant, impulsive youth, she’d paid the price. The Earl of Beckenham would never be hers.

She couldn’t dwell on that now. She had Violet to think of. Meanwhile, Lady Black fingered her lace handkerchief in a manner that threatened hysterics or palpitations or both.

Trying to head off the anticipated tantrum at the pass, Georgie knelt next to the lady. She hesitated, then made herself press her stepmother’s hand. “Please, ma’am. No good can come of this.”

For a scant instant, she thought Lady Black might relent. Then her entire body shuddered, racked by an enormous sob. She buried her face in the scrap of lace she held.

“I told you, my nerves won’t stand it,” she wailed. “You are heartless indeed, expecting me to drag myself from my sickbed to go on a fool’s errand.”

Georgie rose to her feet. “If you do not intend to go, I will.”

Her stepmother threw up her hands. “Go, then! I’m sure I’m not stopping you.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Georgie, dropping a curtsy. “I’ll do my best to bring her home safely.”

As she turned to leave, her stepmother called after her, “Just make sure it’s only Violet that needs rescuing, my girl. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

Georgie raised one eyebrow. “And you would be the angel in that aphorism, I suppose?”

Before her stepmother could fully grasp the irony, Georgie murmured, “Excuse me, ma’am. I must dress.”

*   *   *

Georgie could only be glad that her mask hid her scarlet face. She had run with a fast set of young people during the season that her betrothal to the Earl of Beckenham had ended so spectacularly. But even in those reckless days she’d never attended a party like this.

She knew all about the Westruthers, thanks to her long association with Beckenham. The host of this evening’s affair, Xavier Westruther, Marquis of Steyne, was a notorious member of that family. By reputation, he was a shocking libertine, steeped in dissipation. What she knew of him personally, she did not like.

Her opinion of the marquis was not improved when she slipped into his house uninvited that night.

She’d been forced to mock up a costume from the limited wardrobe she’d brought to Brighton. Absent a mask, she’d managed to fashion one by cutting eyeholes into a black lace scarf. The beauty of the scarf was that it covered her entire face, completely obscuring her features.

Her thick, flame red hair was more difficult to disguise, but by dressing it in the style of a generation earlier and dredging it with powder, she’d managed to conceal its exuberance.

She wore her new jade green evening gown because no one would have seen her in it before. With a pang, she realized she could never wear it again after tonight.

Drat that girl! But of course, what did clothes matter when it came to saving Violet’s reputation? Violet was clever and good-natured, but her mama’s example had given her a somewhat skewed perspective on proper behavior. Heaven only knew what she’d get up to at the Makepeaces’ instigation.

Once inside Lord Steyne’s villa, Georgie realized how utterly daunting a task she’d undertaken. This was no ordinary ball, where the guests were largely confined to a ballroom and refreshment parlor, perhaps a card room, too.

It seemed as if the entire population of Brighton had overtaken every room in the house and the grounds besides. How would she ever find Violet here?

As she moved upstairs to the second floor in search of her half sister, Georgie suffered several lewd propositions from men who lounged against the wall, accosting passersby. Masculine hands strayed over her person in shocking familiarity.

Georgie was wholly unaccustomed to such treatment. Her frigid stares and icy disdain did not succeed as well as they might in a London ballroom. Stripped of her identity, to these men she was just one more tasty morsel in a banquet of loose-moraled loveliness.

As the rowdy voices grew more boisterous and the attempts to halt her progress more determined, she picked up her skirts and fled down the corridor. Her tormentors, scenting sport, pelted after her with a shout that more properly belonged on the hunting field.

Panic gripped her. What would they do to her when they caught her? Oh, dear Heaven, what madness had brought her here? Where was Violet in all of this? At least Violet had the dubious protection of Mrs. Makepeace and her horrible brother-in-law. Georgie, hoping to get in and out of this party with Violet’s and her own reputation intact, had brought no one.

Throwing a glance over her shoulder at the gaining pursuers, Georgie cannoned into a man who had just entered the corridor from a doorway. Aware of a tall figure with a very hard chest, she pressed her palms against him to push away.

It was her host, the Marquis of Steyne.

“Oh, thank goodness,” she murmured between pants.

Unlike his guests, the marquis had not donned a costume for this affair, eschewing flamboyant finery for plain evening dress in black and blinding white. A sapphire pin nestling in his cravat glittered as he moved, but the gem was no more intense than his blue, blue eyes. His black hair hung a little long over his brow, but that was the only soft thing about him. The slashing eyebrows, the angular bones of his face, and the strong jaw, not to mention the hard glitter of those pitiless eyes, signaled that he was not a man to cross.

The marquis regarded the men who followed her. One infinitesimal lift of his slashing black eyebrows was enough to bring them skidding to a halt. The merest inclination of his dark head sent them backtracking hurriedly with stuttered apologies.

Recollecting herself, Georgie realized she might well have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Steyne might have saved her from physical harm, but if anyone at this party was likely to discover her identity, it was he.

With a deep curtsy, she murmured thanks to her savior and made as if to return downstairs.

But his hand on her wrist stayed her. Effortlessly, he drew her back to face him, used finger and thumb to capture her chin and tilt her face to the light.

“Good God, what have we here?” the marquis murmured, lips curling in that cynical, unpleasant smile of his. “A diamond amongst the rough.”

Without a by-your-leave, he drew her arm through his in one languid move and began to lead her farther down the corridor. She tried to pull away from him, but his seemingly negligent grip beneath her elbow was too firm.

He turned his head sharply to her, as if scenting a secret on the wind. “I know you, don’t I?”

Georgie tensed beneath the guiding pressure of his hand. “I don’t think so, my lord.”

Of all the bad luck! Xavier, Marquis of Steyne, was not only the one person clever enough to penetrate her disguise but the one person ruthless enough to make use of it in some devilishly unpleasant manner.

Before she could decide how to get away from him without making herself more intriguing, the marquis had drawn her out of the corridor, into an empty bedchamber.

Georgie cast an apprehensive glance at the opulent bed with its canopy festooned in crimson swags of silk brocade. Were it anyone else but Lord Steyne, she’d kick him in the shin and run. She’d worn sturdy shoes for that very purpose.

But his words suggested he might already have guessed who she was. If she ran now and Steyne spoke of her presence here to anyone … That didn’t bear thinking about. She needed to throw him off the scent.

Adopting her stepmother’s mode of speech with a slightly higher pitch than her usual tone, she said, “Oh, la! Fancy your lordship saying as he knows the likes of me.”

“Faces often elude me,” he mused as if she hadn’t spoken, “but when a woman with a figure like yours crosses my path, I don’t forget.”

His gaze bored into her, as if he might penetrate her mask by the sheer force of his will. Such was the power of his personality, she almost believed he’d succeed.

She thought he might try to remove her disguise by more prosaic methods, but he stepped back the better to scrutinize her body, in the way that one might view a life-sized painting at an art gallery. He did it with a kind of focused attention that made her flush hotly. She could not help suspecting he stripped her naked in his mind.

Georgie dearly wished she could box his ears. Instead, she must play the part of a female who liked being surveyed in such an insolent manner. Why else would a woman come to this place if not to be ogled and groped? Ugh!

With his raven-black hair and vivid blue eyes, Steyne was ridiculously handsome, but she’d always found his style of male beauty cold and unappealing.

Unfortunately, he appeared to like what he saw in her, for he smiled. “I can’t place you, it’s true.” He tapped one finger to his lips. “I don’t think I’ve had you before.”

Casually, he moved to the door. Looking back at her, he added, “Which will make this all the more interesting, won’t it? And here I’d thought to be thoroughly bored tonight.”

He turned the key in the lock, drew the key out, and pocketed it.

Alarm rang through Georgie’s body. She did her best to tamp it down but her voice shook. “I’m not here for the, er, entertainment. I’m looking for someone.”

Again the flashing smile that did not reach his eyes. He bowed. “Well, my lovely, you’ve just found him.”

As Steyne reached out to her, she backed away. There was a steely glint in his eye that told her he would not give up on this seduction easily. Lord, why didn’t she run away when she’d had the chance? She’d always felt safe around Steyne because she’d known Marcus would protect her.

Now, she could not claim such shelter. She realized Steyne’s pursuit had maneuvered her toward the bed when she nearly stumbled over the dais on which the bed stood.

Scrambling to get her footing, she fetched up against the mattress. Before she could regain her balance, he put out his hands on either side of her, trapping her between him and the bed.

Her heart raced as she stared into his face. Even through her panic, she saw that his expression did not convey passion or even desire, but merely cool intent.

Did he mean to rape her? Good God, surely not. That was a line no gentleman would cross. She’d scream her head off if it came to that, reputation or no. But for now, if she could just turn him away without fuss, that would be the better solution.

Steyne reached into her coiffure to finger her powdered curls. “What color is your hair, my glorious girl?”

If he discovered that, the game would be up.

Desperate, she said the one thing that might halt this rake’s progress. “No, you must not, my lord. I … it was Lord Beckenham I sought in your rooms tonight. I’m—” She swallowed hard. “I’m under his protection, you see.”

She knew Beckenham wouldn’t be here, but she could still say she looked for him, couldn’t she? That she’d thought he might attend a party given by his cousin. Never mind that he loathed Brighton and never set foot in the place.

That stopped the marquis in his tracks. His black eyebrows drew together. “Under Beckenham’s protection, you say?” He cocked his head. “How extraordinary.”

He stared at her hard, then pushed away from the bed, watching her through narrowed eyes as he retreated.

She’d taken a huge risk implying she was Beckenham’s mistress, but if it made Steyne let her go, it would be worth it.

Suddenly, his mouth curled into the first genuine smile he’d given her. “Well, well. The sly dog,” he said, laughing softly.

With a courtly bow, Steyne said, “My compliments and my apologies, Miss, er … It seems I have been importunate.”

She simply stared at him, disconcerted at his abrupt change of front, unable to believe it had been so easy to arrest his advances. She couldn’t detect from his demeanor whether he’d recognized her. She thought not. She hoped not.

Georgie rose and shook out her skirts. “Then if you’ve finished importuning me—”

Steyne held out both hands, palms toward her. “Oh, no, my dear,” he said in that soft, hateful voice, “I’m not done with you yet.”

With an ironic bow, he left the bedchamber, shutting the door behind him.

The room seemed to reverberate in time with her heartbeat. Georgie collected her wits, and hurried for the door.

On the other side of the oak panels, the key turned in the lock with a loud click.

Georgie rattled the doorknob, knowing it would be hopeless. What in Heaven’s name was the wretched man up to now? A quick glance around showed no other possible means of escape. She had better search the room for weapons.

She discovered nothing of practical use in the sparsely furnished chamber—not even a fire iron with which to brain her host should he try to ravish her.

The minutes dragged by; she realized how foolish it had been to suppose she could rescue her sister from this kind of peril. Ten to one, Violet enjoyed the festivities, happy as a lark, watched over by her companions. While Georgie was imprisoned in a boudoir by a lecherous marquis with a grossly overblown opinion of his charms.

Fools rush in, indeed. Hadn’t Marcus always complained of her impetuousness? It seemed she still hadn’t learned her lesson.

The key turning in the lock made her stiffen, her heart bounding into her throat.

Georgie moved as far from the bed as she could manage. Not that it would make any difference to Steyne, but it made her feel better. She snatched up the Chinese vase from the mantel, tested its weight. Too delicate to do any damage and probably priceless into the bargain. She set it down again.

But the tall, dark-haired figure who entered was not Lord Steyne.

It was his cousin, her former fiancé. Marcus Westruther, Earl of Beckenham.

He stood there for what seemed an age, silhouetted against the doorway. She couldn’t see his features clearly in the shadows but she didn’t have to. They were as sharp and clear in her mind’s eye as they had ever been in the flesh.

The shock of seeing him again suspended her faculties. Her lips parted but no sound came out.

Emotion flooded her chest, a swirling mass of reactions that could not be separated into constituent parts. The strength and tumult of her feelings made her light-headed.

What could she say to him? She’d avoided a meeting between them for years, and now, to see him in such fantastical circumstances … Could anything be more disastrous? She dreaded to imagine what he’d think if he discovered her identity.

Ought she simply tell him the real reason she was here?

Could she trust him? Instinct told her yes. He was the most solidly dependable person she’d ever known.

But why on earth should he help her, even if she told him her troubles? He’d washed his hands of her years ago.

She’d rejected him as a husband, dealt a severe blow to his pride, made them both the talk of the Ton. As far as Beckenham was concerned, there could not be a more unforgivable crime than that. He was a man who prized honor and loyalty above all other qualities.

So she waited in the silence. She would follow his lead.

Her awareness of him was so heightened that the slight tilt of his head as he studied her made her heart zing about her chest like a firework. She heard nothing but her own breathing. The unruly hitch in it seemed to echo in the silence.

He moved into the room, then closed the door. “I hear you’ve been looking for me.”

His deep voice resonated through her body, stirring the embers of a fire that had long lain dormant. Yes, but never in my wildest dreams did I think you’d be here.

She didn’t answer. Oh, God, it was awful and humiliating and … and wonderful to see him. She hadn’t laid eyes on him since that dreadful night when she released him from the engagement. Almost by tacit agreement, she lived in Town while he’d largely kept to his estate. She’d heard he attended Lady Cecily Westruther’s come-out ball in London last season, but of course she hadn’t been invited to that auspicious event. Most pointedly not invited.

And now here he was, with her. In a quiet bedchamber in the midst of a raucous, licentious party. But it didn’t feel as if they stood in any kind of oasis here. It felt like the eye of a storm.

Her mouth dried as he reached up a hand to loosen his cravat, flick it open, and pull the long strip of linen from around his throat. Then he walked over to the washstand, where a pitcher of water and a basin stood as if ready for guests.

“Take your clothes off,” he said to her over his shoulder. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

 

Copyright © 2014 by Christina Brooke

Excerpt from The Wickedest Lord Alive copyright © 2014 by Christina Brooke

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2014

    Lizzi

    I will be at res 34 waiting okay?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2014

    Not enough romance

    Too much prose . Not enough conversation between the two main characters. Pages upon pages of boring reading before any interaction between the two lovers. I found myself skipping pages,not reading a word, just to see what is happening with the two main characters. Boring, long-winded, and tedious to follow. Skip this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014

    Great

    Great read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2014

    Nyu w

    Sqt

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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