A golden-haired seducer, Nicholas has been hardened by a painful secret in his past. And now that he has besmirched Reggie's good name, the hot-tempered lady has vowed to wed him. Her fiery beauty stirs Nicholas as no woman ever has—and the rake arouses Reggie's passion to an unendurable level. Such uncontrolled desires can lead only to dangerous misunderstandings . . . and, perhaps, to a love that can live only once in a lifetime.
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Love Only Once
The fingers holding the brandy decanter The long and delicate. Selena Eddington was vain about her hands. She showed them off whenever a chance presented itself, as it did just then. She brought the decanter to Nicholas instead of taking his glass to the brandy. This served another purpose, as well, for she was able to stand in front of him as he reclined on the plush blue sofa, the fire at her back, her figure outlined provocatively through her thin muslin evening dress. Even a hardened rake like Nicholas Eden could still appreciate a lovely body.
A large ruby winked on her left hand as she steadied his glass and poured the brandy. Her wedding ring. She still wore it proudly, though she had been a widow for two years. More rubies circled her throat, but even spectacular rubies did not detract from her decolletage, exceedingly low, which allowed a mere three inches of material before the cinched high waist of the empire gown fell in straight lines to her trim ankles. The gown was a deep, dark magenta, and suited beautifully both the rubies and Selena.
"Are you listening to me, Nicky?"
Nicholas had that irritating pensive look about him that she recognised more and more of late. He was not listening to a word she was saying but was deep in thoughts that surely didn′t include her. He hadn′t even glanced at her while she poured his brandy.
"Honestly, Nicky, it′s not at all flattering the way you go off and leave me when we′re in a room alone together." She stood her ground in front of him until he looked up at her.
"What′s that, my dear?" Her hazel eyes flashed. She would have stomped her foot if she′d dared let him see her vile temper. How provoking he was, how indifferent, how ... impossible! If only he weren′t such a good catch.
Mindful of her deportment, she said evenly, "The ball, Nicky. I have been going on about it, but you′re not paying attention. If you like, I will change the subject, but only if you promise you won′t be late coming for me tomorrow night."
Selena gasped, truly surprised. He was not foxed, and he was not being blase. The infuriating man really had no idea what she was talking about.
"Don′t tease me, Nicky. The Shepford ball. You know how much I have been looking forward to it."
"Ah, yes," he said dryly. "The ball to outdo them all, and this only the beginning of the season."
She pretended not to notice his tone. "You also know how long I have waited for an invitation to one of the Duchess of Shepford′s affairs. This ball promises to be her grandest in years. Simply everyone who is anyone will be there."
Selena counted slowly to five. "So I will die if I am even the tiniest bit late."
His lips turned up in the familiar mocking smile. "You die much too often, my dear. You shouldn′t take the social whirl so seriously."
"I should be like you?"
She would have called that retort back if she′d been able to. Her temper was very close to being unleashed, and that would be disastrous. She knew how he deplored excess of emotion in anyone - though it was all right for him to let loose his temper, which could be quite unpleasant.
Nicholas simply shrugged. "Call me eccentric, my dear, one of the few who doesn′t give a bloody damn for the lot of them."
How true that was. He ignored and even insulted whomever he pleased. He made friends with anyone he pleased, too, even known bastards who were snubbed by society. And he never, ever, pandered to anyone. He was every bit as arrogant as people said he was. But he could also be devastatingly charming -- when he wanted to be.
Miraculously, Selena kept a tight rein on her temper. "Nevertheless, Nicky, you did promise to escort me to the Shepford ball."
"Did I?" he drawled.
"Yes, you did," she managed evenly. "And you will promise not to be late in coming for me, won′t you?"
He shrugged again. "How can I promise such a thing, my dear? I cannot foresee the future. There is no telling what might arise tomorrow to delay me."
She very nearly screamed. There was nothing to delay him except his own perfidious indifference, and they both knew it. It was not to be borne!
Selena made a quick decision and said nonchalantly, "Very well, Nicky. Since this is so important to me and I can′t depend on you, I will find myself another escort and simply hope that you will eventually show up at the ball." Two could play his game.
"On such short notice?" he asked.
"′You doubt I can?" she challenged.
He smiled, his gaze moving over her appreciatively. "No, indeed. I believe you will have very little trouble replacing me."
Selena turned her back on him before he could see how the remark affected her. Had that been a warning? Oh, how sure of himself he was. It would serve him right if she broke off their affair. No mistress of his had ever done so.
He was always the one to end an affair. He was always the one in charge. How would he react if she dropped him? Would it throw him into a rage? Would it force his hand? This merited serious consideration.
Nicholas Eden stretched more comfortably on the sofa and watched Selena pick up her glass of sherry, then lie down on the thick fur rug in front of the fire, her back to him. His lips curled sardonically. How alluring her pose was, but of course she knew that. Selena always knew precisely what she was doing.Love Only Once. Copyright © by Johanna Lindsey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.