Centuries have passed since Gideon Ravel dwelled among humans. Now he must infiltrate the cream of London society to earn the trust of one woman. Simone, Lady Gilbert, possesses an amulet of unimaginable power, and no concept of the threat that surrounds her. The ton's gossip prepared him for her beauty and wit. But he is blindsided by her barely disguised sensuality and his growing need to possess her. . .
None of the idle aristocrats who vie for Simone's attentions know about her past. To them, she is the sophisticated, worldly widow known as the "Wicked Temptress." The truth would ruin her, and she has never been tempted to reveal it until now. Yet beneath Gideon's bold, black-eyed stare is a hunger that demands satisfaction and complete surrender. . .and a secret far more dangerous than her own. . .
Praise for Alexandra Ivy
"Beyond the Darkness kept me riveted! The Guardians of Eternity series is highly addictive." --Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author
"Ivy always packs her books with buckets of action, emotion and sexy sizzle. Another winner!" --Romantic Times on Devoured by Darkness
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My Lord VampireIMMORTAL ROGUES
By Alexandra Ivy
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Debbie Raleigh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSimone, Lady Gilbert, allowed a satisfied smile to curve her lips.
The stuccoed town house in the southern end of Park Lane was a Palladian masterpiece. Although not the largest home in London it was undoubtedly one of the most elegant with its wide marble foyer and double staircase that led to a long picture gallery. There was a clever balcony that overlooked the park that had been transformed into a conservatory and a formal drawing room with a great deal of gilding and masterpieces from Flemish artists. As the crowning glory the ballroom held a hint of Versailles with surrounding mirrors, heavy chandeliers and French furnishings.
It was a home fit for a Countess.
And it was all hers.
The smug satisfaction only deepened as Simone allowed her emerald green gaze to wander over the numerous guests who filled the crimson and gold parlor. Politicians, poets, scholars and aristocrats mingled together in happy harmony. Her salons were famous for assembling only the brightest, most intellectual of London's society, and invitations were battled over more fiercely than any voucher to Almack's. In fact, she had been forced to hire a large butler who had one time been a champion in the boxing ring to guard her door from those who would force their way into her home. It appeared that anyone who wished to be considered all the rage had to make an appearance at a party hosted by the "Wicked Temptress."
Not bad for a woman who had spent the past twenty-three years isolated in a remote part of Devonshire and who had never thought to enter society, let alone become the undoubted leader.
"Another stunning success, my temptress," a low, seductive voice whispered close to her ear.
Simone gave a last glance to ensure all was well before turning to greet the short, portly gentleman who was regarding her like a prospective morsel he longed to have a taste of.
"Good evening, Lord Braceton," she murmured, tilting her head so that her long, shimmering blond hair tumbled over her shoulders left bare by her dark emerald gown. She heard the older gentleman suck in a breath and she hid a satisfied smile. Since her arrival in London she had discovered her beauty was a potent weapon that could not be underestimated. Along with a bold, determined style and cunning elusiveness she had managed to create precisely the image best to tantalize the jaded members of town. "I trust you are enjoying your evening?"
An intelligence that had led him to be one of the most dangerous and powerful politicians in the House of Lords sparkled in his blue eyes.
"As well as could be expected considering I would prefer to damn this lot of insufferable bores to the netherworld so that we could be alone."
"Bores?" She arched a golden brow. "I will have you know that I carefully chose each guest for their ability to charm, tantalize or entertain me."
"Indeed?" The gentleman stepped closer, his gaze sweeping hungrily over her slender curves. "And why was I chosen, my dear? To tantalize, I hope."
"Comic relief, of course," she smoothly parried.
He stiffened briefly at the insult, then a grudging smile curved his thick lips.
"Such cruelty from such beauty," he mourned softly. "Tell me what I must do to win that cold heart of yours."
Simone gently waved her ivory-handled fan, her gaze returning to study the guests that moved through the room.
"I do not believe it is my heart you seek to win, my lord."
"Perhaps not." He gave a chuckle. "A fortunate thing considering that most among society do not believe that you possess the finer sensibilities. The more romantic, of course, presume that you buried your ability to love with your dear, departed husband. The more envious claim you were born heartless."
It was a testament to her sheer strength of will that Simone managed to appear languidly unconcerned at the charge. She briefly wondered what this gentleman would say if she revealed that she had felt nothing but contempt for Lord Gilbert, and that it had been her own sister who had destroyed her youthful heart.
"Ah, and what do you believe?" she drawled with supreme unconcern.
Lord Braceton shifted closer, risking one of Simone's notorious flayings.
"I believe you are simply awaiting the proper gentleman to awaken your slumbering emotions. No matter how cold and aloof you might wish to appear you cannot completely disguise the heat that shimmers in your blood. It is why we poor sods continue to flutter about you like moths drawn to the flame. No matter how often you singe our battered pride we simply cannot resist temptation."
Simone deliberately shifted away from the portly form. Although she was quite willing to indulge in a bit of flirtation, she was always careful to ensure that none of her admirers managed to convince themselves that she would be willing to be seduced.
"How very dramatic you are on this evening intended for frivolous pleasure," she lightly chastised, her emerald eyes darkening with a hint of warning. "The price no doubt of possessing a flamboyant and highly temperamental actress as your current lover."
There was a startled silence at Simone's daring words before his lordship tilted back his head to laugh with rich enjoyment.
"A meaningless distraction until the object of my desire agrees to halt tormenting me," he assured her with a twinkling gaze.
Simone gave a shake of her head at his persistence. "Really, my lord ..." She began only to tense as she felt an odd prickle race over her skin.
A chill inched down her spine as Simone realized that someone from across the room was watching her. Watching her with such intensity that she could physically feel the relentless gaze as it made a lazy survey of her slender form.
It was a sensation she had never experienced before, and she discovered that there was something unnervingly intimate in the warm heat gliding over her skin.
Thrusting aside the strange sense of unease, Simone forced herself to turn and discover the source of that bothersome gaze.
It took a moment to discover the tall gentleman standing alone in a distant corner, but when she at last caught sight of him, her heart stuttered to a sudden halt.
Although he was properly attired in a black coat, pantaloons and a crisply tied cravat, he bore no resemblance to the other gentlemen that lounged about the room.
Well over six feet there was a raw, elegant power in his lean form that Simone could sense even at a distance. It was in the manner he leaned negligently against a marble column and in the arrogant tilt of his head. Her gaze narrowed as she studied the pale, finely chiseled features that were framed by his long, satin hair the shade of polished ebony.
His male beauty was enough to steal her breath.
Against her will she found herself lingering upon the aquiline nose, the high thrust of his cheekbones and sensuous curve of his lips. There was a compelling strength and unrelenting pride etched into those features that sent a rash of warning down her spine.
This was not a gentleman who could be toyed with and kept at a safe distance. He was a conqueror who would stride through the world and take what he desired.
Then, she lifted her head to meet the black, brooding gaze and her knees nearly gave way.
There was a searing heat in those eyes that flared across the room and swept through her body. Simone reeled in startled bewilderment as she was helplessly trapped by that dark regard.
Suddenly she understood precisely how a fly felt when it stumbled into the web of a spider.
"Dear heavens," she whispered softly.
At last realizing that he had lost her attention, Lord Braceton turned to follow her gaze.
"Who is that gentleman?" she demanded as she struggled to regain command of her shattered composure.
The older man heaved a heavy sigh. "Mr. Gideon Ravel. He just arrived in London with his two cousins from the Continent. Seems he's related to some aristocratic family or other. They made quite a stir when they appeared at the Croswell's ball last week."
A shiver raced through her. She could imagine that this man would make a stir wherever he might be. Even now her guests were glancing in the stranger's direction and whispering in low voices. Mr. Ravel remained splendidly unconcerned at the obvious interest in his arrival as he continued to regard her with that unwavering gaze.
Simone unconsciously squared her shoulders as she realized that she was staring at the man like a half-wit.
This was her home.
And no one entered it without her invitation.
"How the devil did he manage to get past Bartson?" she gritted in annoyance.
At her side Lord Braceton gave a shrug. "Perhaps he came with one of your other guests."
"Impossible. Only those with invitations are allowed to enter. Excuse me."
Without awaiting her companion's response, Simone swept through the mingling crowd toward the gentleman watching her with that faintly mocking smile. At the same moment an elderly gentleman stepped to join the stranger, attempting to claim his attention, although that black gaze remained firmly trained upon her flushed countenance.
A rather cowardly urge to wait until he was once again alone swept through Simone before she was swiftly thrusting it aside.
What the blazes was wrong with her? She was no longer a cowering maiden who cringed at the mere hint of a threat. After the death of her sister she had refused to be frightened of anyone ever again.
Regardless if that anyone happened to be a towering, black-haired devil with eyes of midnight.
Keeping that thought firmly in the forefront of her mind, Simone swept to a halt directly in front of the intruder, her smile intact as the elderly gentleman next to him turned to regard her with a mild lift of his brows.
"Good evening, Lord Tydale," she murmured, her gaze never wavering from the midnight eyes.
Simone discovered her throat dangerously dry as she felt the smoldering power of the stranger reach out to wrap about her. Botheration. She had never encountered anyone who unsettled her in such a fashion. The realization only sharpened her temper.
"Ah, our charming hostess." Tydale performed a respectable bow, politely ignoring the fact that his two companions were far too consumed with one another to bother glancing in his direction. "My dear, you are appearing as devilishly delectable as always. You really must confess the name of your modiste. It is unconscionable that the other ladies in the Ton must always pale in comparison."
Simone's smile thinned. No one but her servants knew that she designed and stitched her own gowns. Not only because she truly enjoyed creating the lovely dresses, but because she could not possibly allow a modiste to catch a glimpse of her in a mere shift. Her charade would be over as swiftly as it had begun.
"That is entirely the point of keeping her name secret," she forced herself to say in light tones.
"So wicked," the elderly gentleman chided.
"I do not believe I have been introduced to your companion."
"Actually I am not at all certain I wish to oblige you with an introduction, Simone," Lord Tydale teased, clearly sensing the silent battle of wills that hung heavy in the air. "After only a week this gentleman has managed to wreak havoc among the fairer sex. I daresay there is not a maiden in London who has not tossed her heart at his feet."
She slowly arched her brows as she regarded Mr. Ravel. "Since I have never been foolish enough to toss my heart at any gentleman's feet, I believe you are safe in making the introduction."
Tydale heaved a resigned sigh. "Oh, very well, but do not say I did not attempt to warn you of his dastardly charm. Lady Gilbert, may I make you known to Mr. Ravel?"
Fiercely aware of that haughty black stare, Simone sank into a shallow curtsy.
His bow was even more brief. "Lady Gilbert."
Simone gritted her teeth. "Lord Tydale, would you be kind enough to procure me a glass of champagne?"
There was a moment's pause before the older man gave a reluctant grimace. "But of course. I shall return."
Lord Tydale grudgingly turned to move away, and Mr. Ravel boldly flicked his gaze over her slender form.
"Do all gentlemen leap to your commands so swiftly, Lady Gilbert?"
Simone was startled by the soft, seductively dark tones. There was a faint trace of an accent but it oddly only made his voice more pleasing.
She gave an unwitting shake of her head, attempting to clear her suddenly thick thoughts.
There was something ... something drawing her into a strange sense of lethargy that made it difficult to think of anything beyond the tempting beauty of his ebony eyes.
She swayed forward, nearly lost in the darkness before she was belatedly grasping her elusive anger and gathering it about her like a tattered shroud. She tilted her chin upward.
"Those who wish to please me," she said in an admirably steady voice.
Something that might have been surprise rippled over the pale, elegant features before Mr. Ravel allowed his lips to curl upward.
"Ah, a woman who demands obedience," he mocked. "Tell me, my dear, do you not find admirers with no will of their own rather tedious? There are, after all, faithful hounds if you wish utter submission. A gentleman of genuine strength could provide a great deal more. Anything you could desire."
Her irritation deepened. How dare he sneak into her home, blatantly stare at her as if she were a common tart and then treat her with such aloof amusement?
"I understand that you are relatively new to London."
He shrugged. "I arrived last week."
"From the Continent?"
She glared into the unearthly magnificence of his countenance. "Alone?"
"No. I have two cousins who traveled with me. They were unfortunately unable to join me this evening."
Her lips tightened at the implication that his cousins would have been as arrogant as he in thrusting themselves into a gathering where they were not invited.
"Are you visiting family?"
"No, I have a small commission to be discharged and then I shall return to my home."
"And where precisely is your home?" she persisted, refusing to be daunted by the cool haughtiness etched into his expression.
The pale slender fingers lifted to absently play with a diamond pin in the folds of his cravat. She discovered herself nearly hypnotized by the languid movement. He possessed the hands of an artist, she thought fuzzily. How would it feel to have those fingers stroking her overheated skin ...
Simone shuddered in shock as she hastily thrust the renegade thought away.
"You are very inquisitive," he drawled in those smoky tones.
"Am I?" She forced herself to meet that disturbing gaze squarely. "Well, perhaps that is because I am unaccustomed to having strangers invade my home. I am very select in who receives an invitation."
"Ah." He remained supremely unconcerned at her insult. "A wise precaution, no doubt."
"I think so. It would not do to have a clever encroacher thrusting their way into society."
"An encroacher?" A chiseled ebony brow slowly lifted. "You do not believe anyone would possess the audacity to boldly enter society without the proper bloodlines?"
A near hysterical giggle rose to her throat before she sternly subdued it. What was the matter with her? She would give all away if she were not careful.
"Yes, I do."
The dark eyes seemed to narrow. "An interesting notion."
Realizing she was treading dangerous waters, Simone prepared to take a more direct approach. Clearly the gentleman could not be shamed by more subtle means.
"I believe, sir, you are being deliberately obtuse," she charged in low tones.
The thick brow inched higher. "Deliberately? Could it not be that I am merely unintentionally obtuse? After all, the proper bloodlines have never ensured intelligence."
Her teeth gritted. "How did you enter my home?"
"I assure you I did not materialize from thin air." He appeared amused by her rising irritation. "I walked through the front door as any proper guest would do."
"Impossible," Simone retorted, thinking of the large, barrel-chested Bartson. No matter how dangerous this man might be he could not have bested her servant without a very noisy struggle. "My butler would never have allowed anyone in without an invitation."
He offered an elegant shrug. "He was quite understanding when I revealed that I had only recently arrived in London. I assured him that had you known of my presence you most certainly would have desired me to attend your elegant gathering. We are, after all, destined to be quite intimately acquainted."
Excerpted from My Lord Vampire by Alexandra Ivy Copyright © 2003 by Debbie Raleigh. 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.
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