Lord Ashworth keeps himself hidden in the crumbling Silverstone Manor. A night of terror years ago left his face in ruins and his reputation destroyed. Rumors from the village allow everyone to believe he’s a murderous monster. Refusing visitors and all potential brides sent by his mother, Ashworth keeps the world from invading his self-made prison.
The newest woman at his door refuses to be afraid. She’ll not allow his face, his intimidations, or the oddities of the manor to scare her away. Her very presence threatens to reveal his secrets. He cannot have her stay…and yet to have her leave is unthinkable.
Vivian Suttley knows the true meaning of evil. Her desperation has led her to the daunting manor with its reclusive lord. She’ll chance the whispers and rumors if it means an escape. After all, Ashworth saved her once many years before; perhaps he can be her savior once again.
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Lake District, Northern England, 1840
Wind screamed over the cliff, rattling the window panes with a phantom's cold breath. Just the way he liked it.
Charles Hansard, Viscount Ashworth, swirled the brandy in his chipped glass, then swallowed it in a gulp. He'd had more than enough. It no longer held a taste. He waited in the darkened room for the clock to tick off several minutes. Let the girl squirm a bit before he entered, then she could flee in gratitude like the others before her.
He would not return to London this year, nor any other. He'd had enough of the ton's whispers and glances. Nay, he'd not give them something else to discuss over tea or at their dreadful balls.
The cracked leather chair squeaked as he stood. It was time to set this next victim free. Despite his mother's attempts at bribing girls with his wealth, Ashworth knew they feared him. He saw the terrified glaze in their eyes. No well-bred daughter wanted to marry The Monster.
He entered the rarely used parlor through the study's adjoining door, expecting to find the girl trembling in the corner. That's what they usually did. Hell, they all looked alike to him. Whether tall or short, dark or light, all of society's debutantes paled at the sight of his hideous scar.
This one stood with her back to him, head angled up at a faded painting, the subject barely distinguishable. Instead of an expensive silk gown and fancy hat, this girl wore only a simple brown dress. Dark hair twisted down her back in a single braid.
"You may take your leave," Ashworth said. He leaned against a column and waited for her to run.
Her spine stiffened noticeably, but she didn't make a move for the door.
"Go on. Leave. I don't take kindly to strangers."
She wheeled around, her eyes, darker than a moonless night, challenged him. "And I don't take kindly to self-pitying eccentrics. Have the marriage contract drawn up. I'm not going anywhere."
He must not have heard her correctly. No one wanted to stay in this appalling, crumbling house. No one wanted to be near him. "I won't hold you to my mother's bargain. Go."
Her olive skin flushed. "I will not go. I have agreed to marry you. Let us sign the contract so that the wedding can take place."
Ashworth shoved a hand through his hair. Who was this girl and what the hell was wrong with her? None of the others had insisted on marrying him. Nay, they all ran like frightened kittens.
Something was driving her to desperation. Her curvaceous frame, obvious even in the plain clothing, did not appear to carry a bastard child. Her stomach looked flat and her breasts were full but not ripened for a babe's hungry mouth. What brought her to him? Whatever the reason, it did not matter; he wouldn't be the one to absolve her of her troubles.
He cleared his throat. "My mother fancies herself a grandmother. She will get those infants through one of her daughters. I do not wish to wed." He went over and opened the parlor door, its creak echoing in the room. "Go."
The stubborn girl stayed put. "From what I understand, you have no choice."
"No choice? Certainly I do."
She crossed her arms under her breasts, drawing his gaze. Ashworth looked away and focused on the clawed branches swaying outside the window. He wouldn't be tempted by her feminine charms. She would not sway his stance. The Monster lived alone.
The girl lifted her chin. Did he detect a tremble of her lip? "You should have a talk with your mother."
Icy fingers gripped his heart. She couldn't do this to him. Yet, his own mother would use anything for her greediness, even an innocent child. Ashworth sucked in a deep breath of air, but his temples still pounded. "What did she tell you?"
The girl blinked, saying nothing. The clock ticked like a noisy heartbeat. Somewhere in the house a bell rang for a servant. At last, she wiped her hands on her skirt. "I only know that you must marry soon. I do not know why."
Did she truly not know or just know better than to admit it? No matter, he could scare this girl away and then deal with his mother's threat later.
Ashworth pulled himself up to his full height. Intimidation. Eventually this girl would submit to it, just like all the rest. Even the boldest antelope eventually fell to the mighty lion.
He crossed the room in long strides and stood within inches of her. She smelled of wild honeysuckle. He narrowed his eyes and scowled, deepening his scar to its most hideous. "You'll not want to be married to me."
She flinched, but only for the briefest moment. "Do not be so certain. What makes you believe you are different from any other man?"
Had she known another man? Is this what brought her to him? "I am not like other men. I have certain tastes. Odd preferences."
"Living in an old decaying manor? Reclusive from society?" She lifted a rounded shoulder. "They do not bother me."
He would learn what bothered her.
Ashworth brushed a finger along her jaw. The caress startled her, widened her eyes, but she kept her courage and didn't move away. His groin stirred at the soft texture of her skin. "Perhaps I meant in bed."
She swallowed. Her face paled ever so slightly beneath his fingertips. "As ... as your wife, I shall obey."
His pulse leapt. He had not dared to dream. To have a wife, a woman to lie beside him at night. It had been so long since he enjoyed the curves of a woman's body, too long since a woman's delicate fingers trailed over his skin.
"What is your name?" The question came from his lips in a husky whisper.
Ashworth slid his thumb over the small dimple in her chin. He grinned when her red lip trembled. "Have you a surname? Do you come from gentry? Perhaps you are a village girl out to dupe the eccentric viscount."
Ah, that got her temper. Her cheeks flushed to rose-colored circles. "No, my lord. I am a baron's daughter from a day's journey away."
He wanted to ask why she kept her family a secret from him and what caused her to make this trip to be a stranger's wife. But his questions could wait.
Ashworth encircled her fingers in the warm cocoon of his hand. She gasped but still did not flee. "Touch me," he whispered, lifting her hand. "My face. I dare you to touch it."
He brought her fingers to his scar then released them. He knew that at any moment she would recoil in disgust at the deep gash. His heart thumped against his ribs, his mouth dried with the anticipation, but Vivian's gaze softened. No look of revulsion marred her smooth brow as she traced the deep chasm from above his right eye all the way down to his lip. Her finger repeated the trail with an unhurried tenderness, while inside him a fervor blazed.
The man buried inside the monster took over. His flesh throbbed, his lips burned with the need to kiss her. Somewhere, deep inside his chest, an ache swelled with a ferocious possessiveness. He could not let this girl go.
Could he possibly allow her to stay?
Ashworth thrust her hand from his face. "Enough. Why do you not recoil from me? Are you blind?"
Vivian bit her lip, then lowered her eyes so he could only see the black arc of lashes. "No," she murmured. "I am not blind. Nor am I offended by a mark on one's skin."
"Then what does offend you?"
She turned away, then crossed her arms in a self-protective gesture. "A mark on one's soul."
So she revealed a part of her secret. Someone had hurt her, and therein the reason she ran. That's why she agreed to marry him — Lord Ashworth, The Monster of Silverstone Manor.
Vivian listened as the wind screamed and rattled the windows. Only an arm's length away, Lord Ashworth's aroma swirled in her nose, a scent combined of brandy and faint sandalwood.
He did not recognize her. She didn't think he would.
A chime struck from the mantel. It had reached the top of the hour. She had no place to go for supper, no tavern to return to. Every shilling she owned had been spent to bring her to this desolate house. Lord Ashworth could not make her leave.
Martin would kill her if he ever found her.
Hopefully, he would search for her in London. She'd left him a deliberate trail, told just the right people of her supposed plans. Even her mother, hidden away for her own safety, believed her daughter sought a new husband at the soirées of London. Some distant relation provided her with the perfect explanation for where she'd gone. By the time Martin found she'd never arrived, Vivian would be wed to Lord Ashworth. And wed him, she would.
"Are you cold?" Lord Ashworth's deep voice whispered down her spine.
Vivian arranged a brave smile and forced herself to remember the man she met briefly so many years ago instead of the imposing figure of today. She turned to find him staring at her. "No, my lord, but I do beg you to uphold the bargain."
A vein throbbed on his forehead. "It is my mother's bargain," he said through clenched teeth. "Tell me why it is that you want to wed me."
A light gust of air swept through the room. The drafty chill seeped under her skin. "Tell me why you are afraid to wed."
He laughed then spun away from her and weaved his way through the old furniture to the clattering window. His wide shoulders blocked the remaining daylight, leaving only a lone candelabrum to flicker its ghostly shadows on the walls. "Afraid? I am afraid of nothing. It is others who fear me."
She did not believe him. Everyone had something to fear. "I do not fear you."
"Perhaps you should."
Had he truly changed so much from the hero she once knew? Had this scar transformed an angel into a devil? The cut alone was not the reason. Surface wounds were no indicator of the mortal underneath. She'd learned that lesson well enough. Scars marked painful memories, but true evil lurked within the soul.
If Lord Ashworth had changed it was due the incident which gave him the scar, not the mark itself.
She moved closer to him, yet avoided his post by the window, sensing she'd be intruding. Instead, her fingers traced over the worn wood trim of a high-backed chair, disturbing a layer of dust. "Would you cause me pain?"
She knew pain, still felt it.
At her question, Lord Ashworth dropped his head. His shoulders sagged. "I have no desire to hurt you. But there are times ..." He sighed. "I have been here so long."
Wind swept up against the house again, dragging tree branches down the crumbling stones like a witch's nails. Vivian shivered. She wasn't accustomed to this bleak weather, yet it would not chase her away. This marriage would be her salvation.
"I am not afraid," she told him. Dear God, she must make him believe that. She must believe it herself.
He pounded his fist on the window ledge then swung to face her. "You have no idea of this place ... of me!"
"I will accept whatever comes my way."
His eyes blazed. "Will you? Do you dare share my bed, dare live in a house with The Monster?"
"There are no such things as monsters," she replied, and, yet, there were ... only they disguised themselves as ordinary men. Lord Ashworth was not ordinary.
One long stride brought him before her. "You know nothing." Then he swooped down and captured her face in his hands. Before she could blink, his lips possessed hers.
Vivian's heart trembled. Brief memories tumbled in her brain. Memories of Martin's crushing kisses and urgent ones from Thomas, the man she once hoped to marry.
But then she heard a cracked moan. Not a crushing attack on her mouth with either violence or lust, but a warm, velvety softness.
Lord Ashworth circled her tongue with his, his ragged breathing mimicked the frenzy of her pulse. He tasted of brandy, of dark nights, of loneliness. Her stomach pitched, as uncertainty battled with base curiosity.
He drew her in, inhaled her very being. She was swallowed in his warm breath, overtaken by his wet command. Her veins burned with a curious fire.
Suddenly, it was over. He flung her aside into a faded yellow chair and stared at her hungrily, his scar pulsing. "I do not deserve you."
She struggled to catch her breath. She did not deserve a wealthy viscount. Misfits and wounded souls belonged together to keep the nightmares at bay.
He could not make her go, just as Martin could not make her stay. She'd already lost one chance at marriage to avoid a life of horror, she'd not lose another. Vivian sat up straight and smoothed out her skirt. "Please, do not force me to leave."
He shoved a hand through his pecan-colored hair and groaned aloud. "You have no idea what you ask of me."
Vivian pressed on, biding her time. "If I must truly go, let it be tomorrow. I have no money to hire a coach, nor to stay at the tavern in the village. I can sleep here on the sofa. It matters not."
"Nay." His resigned voice set hope free in her heart. "There are beds aplenty here."
"Thank you, my lord. I shall be out of your sight until morning then. Can you have a servant show me the way?"
"Are you hungry?"
Vivian stood. "Could I have food sent to my room, please?"
His gray eyes halted her. "Would you share my bed tonight?"
Her mouth dried. The taste of his kiss lingered on her lips, but she was not a fool. Lord Ashworth merely tested her resolve.
Although no longer a virgin, she'd never willingly brought herself to another man for his taking. To deny the viscount outright could send her back down his long drive. Vivian chose her words carefully. "Have you agreed to our marriage?"
His lips thinned. "No. But I will agree to this. You can have the chamber next to mine tonight. If you wake in the morning without a visit from The Monster, then I will believe no demon lives here to assault you. I will then send for a special license."
"You cannot scare me from here." She lifted her chin.
Lord Ashworth straightened. The flickering candles cast harsh shadows along the length of his scar. A draft whispered about the room.
He held his hand out to her. "I will not be the one to frighten you away. The Monster will see that you do not stay."
The Monster. He spoke as if it were a specter of demonic fright, not a man possessed by tragedy. "As I have said, I do not believe in such things."
"After tonight you will."
Pinkley rattled about the room, picking up strewn clothes. "You've no need to do that," Ashworth told his butler.
"Eh? But ye 'ave no valet." With a full head of white hair and a twisted back, the old man resembled a snow-topped ancient oak at a cliff's edge.
Ashworth yanked a shirt from gnarled hands. "I've had no valet for nearly ten years. Nor do I care what state my room is in. Go."
He opened his bedroom door to the hall. A swift river of air embraced Ashworth's skin. Drafts multiplied in this house, seemingly with each cycle of the moon. They, like the sounds of the wind and shapes of the fog, kept him company within the disintegrating walls of Silverstone Manor.
Pinkley shuffled over with an armful of garments. "Will ye be needing anything else, mi'lord? Mayhap yer nightly potion?"
Ashworth swallowed. His pulse echoed inside his skull, his mouth watered for the drink, but he could forego it tonight. There would be no need, not with someone else in the house.
Immediately, his blood pumped hot. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed the adjoining door.
Pinkley shook his head. "Shouldn't be 'ere, mi'lord. She's a stranger, that one. Not safe 'ere. Think of your —"
"Trust me. I think of no one else."
The old man hobbled from the room while muttering to the pile of clothing in his hands.
Ashworth stared again at the wooden door. The keyhole gleamed with an unnatural light. It beckoned him ... called to him. He could step through that door. He could claim a bride. He could find salvation.
Candles flickered, the light dimmed. Wetting his lips, he took a step closer. He could hear movement. The scraping of a chair, the squeaking of floorboards.
Then, he heard humming. Vivian was singing. Here, in the most dreadful of decaying manors, the girl sang.
Like a common lecher, Ashworth lowered himself to one knee then peered through the keyhole. He caught a glimpse of her meandering by. Dressed in a white nightgown, Vivian paced about the large room, drawing a brush through her long, midnight hair.
Excerpted from "Beauty Tempts the Beast"
Copyright © 2010 Leslie Dicken.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beauty Tempts the Beast is a delicious, thrilling, romance that has the reader falling in love with the hero right along WITH the heroine. You can feel his anger, his inner conflict, as well as her initial fear and curiosity. The tension between to two of them is exquisite and I cheered when they finally found love in each other's arms. It has everything I look for in a well written romance novel and more! This is the second book I have read from this author and I am breathlessly waiting for another.
I'm a huge fan of Gothic romance, reading the likes of Kinley Macgregor, Jennifer St Giles and Karen M Moaning. I was thoroughly surprised to find myself drawn into Leslie's world. E-books are new to me and I wasn't sure what to expect. I finished the story in just two days. It was full of what you would expect: a engaging lead female, dark and mysterious leading man, and twists and turns to keep you interested throughout. The scenes of a sexual nature are so tastefully done that the flow as part of the story and never seem excessive or crude. This is a great book. Well worth the time and money!
I am drawn to retellings of this classic tale, and I understand authors will offer dozens of endings; some great, some not so great. This story begins with a very interesting premise. It hooked me and kept me turning the pages. Unfortunately, after a few to many repeat scenes (the action seems to be exactly what came before), I started to skim through the chapters to get back to the love story. By the time I reached the end, I didn't have the completion I expected. Instead of feeling satisfied, I felt rushed. How the story ends didn't live up to the almost fairytale beginning, which held so much more promise. I do consider this a good story and I would recommend it if only for the promise at the start.
Good book......not one of my favorites. But definetly worth the money...over 500 pages.
Fantastic read. The author kept me enthralled til the end. Just the right amount of sexiness, and sexual tension.
Dark, Gothic romance... excellent
love this book. I just love the whole beauty and the beast theme.
Not the best book I've read but not the worst either
Not my cup of tea
A good book - I liked it....