A lady's desperate choice
When the loathsome Lord Bascomb tries to force her into marriage, Elizabeth Woolcot must appeal to her influential guardian. Nicholas Warring, known as the Wicked Earl, is a darkly handsome charismatic figurewith the power to save Elizabeth but a past that could put her reputation dangerously at risk. A ruthless womanizer, he has also been convicted of murderand barely escaped hanging.
A rogue's tainted honor
Elizabeth can't help her attraction to the man who haunts her dreamsnor he his hunger for her. But she knows it can never be. For Nicholas is a married manor at least appears to be. Then a heinous crime shatters their livesand Nick is the natural suspect. Elizabeth wants to believe in his innocence more than life and love itselfbut can she trust a man who has killed before?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Currently living in Missoula, Montana, Kat Martin is the bestselling author of over sixty historical and romantic suspense novels. More than fifteen million of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries, including Japan, France, Greece, Argentina, China, and Spain. Before she started writing, Kat was a real estate broker. During that time, she met her husband, L. J. Martin, also an author. Kat is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she majored in anthropology and also studied history. "I love anything old," Kat says. "I love to travel and especially like to visit the places where my books are set. My husband and I often stay in out-of-the-way inns and houses built in times past. It's fun and it gives a wonderful sense of a by-gone era."
Read an Excerpt
By Kat Martin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Kat Martin
All rights reserved.
Nicholas trailed a long dark finger down the small indentations that marked the viscountess's spine. Absently he fondled her bottom, admiring the luscious curves, the way her glossy black hair fanned out across his pillow. Perhaps he should take her again, he thought as his body began to harden and press against the sheets.
A glance at the ormolu clock on the marble mantel and reluctantly the notion slid away.
His solicitor was due within the hour, and though Nick rarely gave a damn what other people thought, he respected Sydney Birdsall and considered him a friend. He didn't want to add to the man's already dubious opinion of him.
Leaning over the woman curled contentedly in his bed, Nicholas Warring, fourth Earl of Ravenworth, pressed a kiss against the nape of her neck. "Time to go, sweeting."
She stirred and her head came up from the pillow. Ink-black hair trailed seductively over a rose-tipped breast. "Please, Nicky, not yet. It's still early. I thought we'd have the rest of the afternoon."
He only shook his head. "Sorry, not this time." He toyed with a lock of her thick black hair, watched it trail over his hand. "My solicitor is on his way from London. He's due within the hour."
She languidly turned over, her breasts heavy and inviting, yet already his attention had begun to slip away. She ran her fingers through the curly black hair on his chest, circled a flat copper nipple.
"Tell him you're busy. Tell him he'll have to come back later in the evening."
Nick caught her hand, irritation threading through him, impatience rising with it, replacing the last vestige of his desire. Now that it was time for her to go, he simply wanted her on her way.
"Sidney doesn't come often. Apparently this is important." He rolled her over, slapped her gently on the bottom. "Be a good girl, Miriam. Get dressed and go on home."
Her eyes turned a faint shade darker. She made a huffy little sound in her throat. Displeasure hardened the look she cast his way as she reached for her clothes. She dressed with jerky little motions and took her good sweet time about it. At five and twenty, Miriam Beechcroft, Lady Dandridge, was spoiled and selfish. Most of the time, Nick ignored her outbursts of temper and childish manners, but at times like these, he wondered how much longer he'd be able to put up with them.
"I shan't be back for a while," Miriam called over her shoulder as Nick did up the buttons at the back of her plum silk gown. "Max will be arriving on the morrow. He'll be staying at Westover until the end of next week." Maxwell, Viscount Dandridge, was Miriam's aging husband. Much of the year they resided at Westover, the viscount's country estate just a short ride north of Ravenworth Hall. Convenient. For them both. Since Max was often away.
Nick gave her a mocking half-smile. "I'm sure he'll be eager to see you. Be sure to give him my best."
Her pretty lips thinned but Nick didn't care. Aside from her beauty and skillfulness in bed, Miriam had little to recommend her. Of course Nick didn't say that. Thin as it was, the veneer of a gentleman remained in place, even after the last nine years.
"You're going to miss me," she pouted, turning her face up to his for a kiss, her long black hair coiled once more into a knot at the nape of her neck. "You'll be sorry you sent me away."
A corner of his mouth edged up. "Perhaps I will. I suppose I shall have to console myself with gaming and drink until your return."
She smiled at that, certain that the promise of her charms would be enough to keep him out of another woman's bed. In truth, he would do as he damned well pleased. Just as Miriam did.
They left his bedchamber by the back stairs as they always did, appearing in the downstairs hallway as if they had just left one of the drawing rooms. It was a useless ruse that fooled no one and wasn't necessary among his trusted servants, but if it satisfied Miriam's somewhat tarnished sense of propriety, it was a small concession to make.
When they reached the entry, she turned to face him. "Well, then, I shall see you in a fortnight." She smiled up at him, her lips still slightly bruised from his kisses, her cheeks prettily flushed against the creamy hue of her skin. "Adieu until then, Nicky, my love."
As beautiful as she was, Nick watched her disappear into her carriage with an odd sense of relief. As much as he enjoyed her in bed, Miriam could be tedious at times. Perhaps her absence of the next two weeks would help rekindle the passion for her that seemed to be slipping away.
He turned to the tall, nearly bald butler who stood stiffly in the entry, Edward Pendergass, a longtime Warring retainer, one of the few who had not defected over the last nine years. "I'm expecting a visit from Sydney Birdsall. When he gets here, I'll be in my study."
"As you wish, my lord." He made a slight inclination of his liver-spotted head, his posture as perfectly correct as it had been in the days before, when he had worked for Nick's father, the third Earl of Ravenworth. It was a far different household then, Nick thought, with the earl and his mother still living, doting on him and his younger sister, Maggie.
It was a painful memory Nick let slide away, replaced with thoughts of the upcoming meeting with his solicitor. He wondered what in blazes was important enough to compel Sydney Birdsall to travel from London to Ravenworth, a place his friend referred to as "a fresh-air den of iniquity."
Whatever it was, Nick wouldn't have long to wait before he found out.
* * *
Dressed in a gray kerseymere traveling dress cut in the military style, piped in black with matching brandenburgs across the bodice, Elizabeth Abigail Woolcot perched nervously on a sofa in the Gold Drawing Room at Ravenworth Hall.
Her stomach swirled with nerves and her palms felt damp. She straightened her narrow-brimmed gray bonnet, tucking a strand of dark auburn hair up underneath, and shifted on the gold brocade sofa. Determined to keep her mind off what was happening down the hall, she nervously surveyed her surroundings.
Ravenworth Hall was immense and impressive, the salon where she waited richly decorated with ebony gilt furniture and high carved painted ceilings. Heavy Aubusson carpets covered the black marble floors and the walls were hung with gold flocked paper. Gold damask curtains hung at the windows yet somehow managed not to block out the sun.
In fact, the Gold Room glittered against the light that streamed in, touching on the gilded mirrors, forming rainbows of color in the cut-crystal sconces that lined the walls. It was beautiful beyond belief, but in truth, she didn't want to be there. Didn't want to be in the house at all.
Elizabeth sighed, reached down and smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle from the folds of her traveling gown. She knew more than enough about this place she had come to and the man who lived here — the Wicked Earl, they called him, the villainous Earl of Ravenworth — and spending time in his house — in his company — was the last thing she wanted to do. Unfortunately, it appeared she had no other choice.
Elizabeth flicked a glance toward the doorway she had come in through, remembering the earl as she had first seen him, tall and dark and nothing at all like the man she had imagined.
Not that he wasn't just as daunting. If anything, with his slightly overlong wavy black hair, high carved cheekbones, and silvery blue-gray eyes, he looked even more formidable than she had imagined. He was also younger, perhaps not yet thirty, and he was far more attractive. In truth, the Earl of Ravenworth was possibly the handsomest man Elizabeth had ever seen.
Which made him no less a villain, she reminded herself. Nicholas Warring was a murderer — convicted and imprisoned — a man who had served seven years' indenture in Jamaica. Only his powerful father's intervention and what Mr. Birdsall referred to as "mitigating circumstances" had saved the man from hanging.
She thought of him now, tall and lean, yet his shoulders were broad, and his breeches hugged powerful thighs corded with long, sinewy muscle. Though the earl had been back in England for less than two years, he was a notorious rake with a despicable reputation.
Now that his father had passed away, he was also the fourth Earl of Ravenworth.
Which meant he was her guardian.
Elizabeth shuddered to think of it and her eyes slid away from the open doorway. Even seated as she was in the drawing room, she could hear the sound of men's voices drifting in from the study, and a tight knot formed in her stomach. What were they saying? Sydney had assured her the earl would help her, but the look on his face said he wasn't really that sure. The voices rose and fell. Her heart picked up its tempo. What in heaven's name was going on in there?
Knowing she shouldn't, unable to stand the suspense a moment more, Elizabeth rose from the sofa and crossed to the open door. None of the servants were about. With a quick breath for courage, she crept down the hall, paused in front of the study door, and pressed an ear to the ornately carved surface.
* * *
"Surely you are jesting," Nick said, rising from behind his desk to pace in front of the marble-manteled hearth. "You cannot possibly mean for me to keep the girl here at Ravenworth."
Sydney Birdsall, a slender, white-haired man once. Nick's father's best friend, shifted uncomfortably but didn't look away. "No one knows better than I your sordid reputation, Nicholas. Since your return from the Indies, you have made a point of singularly destroying what little good name you had left."
Nick eyed him coldly. "Then how can you possibly suggest a young girl like Elizabeth Woolcot live under my roof?"
Sydney sighed. "If there were any other way, you may be certain I wouldn't be here. The fact is, the girl is your ward and she is in danger."
"The girl was my father's ward. Until she walked into the house, I had never laid eyes on her."
"No, but you've been sending money for her expenses. You've seen to her education and made certain that she and her aunt are well cared for."
"All of that was done through you."
"Nevertheless, you've stood by your obligations thus far and I am asking you to continue in that vein."
Nick gave up a sigh of frustration. "You know what goes on in this house, Sydney — the sort of life I lead. What you're asking is impossible."
"Elizabeth has no one else to turn to. You know Oliver Hampton. The man is ruthless in the extreme. For whatever reason — her beauty perhaps, or simply because she has refused his suit — Lord Bascomb wants her and he'll go to any lengths, do anything in his power, to have her."
Nick turned away from the slender little man with the intelligent, perceptive eyes. Returning to his rosewood desk, he sat down wearily and leaned back in his chair. He knew Bascomb, all right. The earl was the wealthy owner of Hampton Shipping, a conscienceless bastard who took what he wanted regardless of the consequences. He used people to further his own ends, then ground them up like so much fodder under the heel of his boot.
He was also the lying whoreson who had helped send him to prison. The thought of the Earl of Bascomb with an innocent young girl like Elizabeth Woolcot made the blood turn to ice in his veins.
He fixed his gaze on the man seated across from him. "The girl is obviously in a bad situation," he said. "I presume you have been to the authorities. What does the local justice have to say?"
Sydney made a tight sound in his throat. "The justice is in Bascomb's coat pocket. The earl is the richest man in Surrey — one of the richest in England — and technically he has done nothing wrong. Aside from that, you know as well as I do, even should Bascomb abscond with the girl, his intention is marriage. Considering Elizabeth's circumstances, every magistrate in the country will view her becoming the Countess of Bascomb as the answer to a prayer."
Nick sighed, feeling defeat creeping into his shoulders. "All right, Sydney. The case you've made is a strong one. I'll do whatever I can to help her, but she simply can't stay here."
Sydney leaned forward, his hands nervously fisted on his thighs. "You met her for only a moment. Let me bring her in so that you might talk to her yourself. Surely that isn't too much to ask."
Nick glanced away, uncomfortable with the beseeching look on Sydney's face. Reluctantly he nodded. His friend had come a good long ways. Talking to the girl was the least he could do.
The smaller man hurried to the door and jerked it open. To Nick's amazement, Elizabeth Woolcot, caught off balance, tilted precariously forward then stumbled into the room. Only Sydney's quick reactions kept her from landing in a heap on the inlaid parquet floor. As it was, the ribbon on her hat came loose and her bonnet went sailing into a corner, leaving her head bare, strands of glossy auburn hair floating loose around her cheeks.
For the first time Nick realized why it was Oliver Hampton was so determined to have her.
"I — I'm sorry," she stammered. "I was just ... I was just ..."
Nick came out of his chair. "You were just what, Miss Woolcot? Eavesdropping, I believe it is called. Isn't that the term?"
Soft color rose into her cheeks. They were high and finely carved. "No, not ... not exactly. I was ... I was merely waiting outside in case you wished to see me."
Amusement curved his lips. She was lovely in the extreme, with big green eyes and hair the color of a dark winter fire. It was pulled back in a coil at the nape of her neck, but every time she moved, sparks of copper flashed in the lamplight. Her lashes were thick and dark, her skin as pale as fresh cream. She was slightly taller than average, with an elegant figure, ripe yet not overblown, alluring yet refined, and infinitely tempting.
Sydney Birdsall was frowning, struggling to defend the girl's unorthodox behavior. "Elizabeth is young and at times can be impetuous. She might be a little stubborn and perhaps a bit willful, but she is also keenly intelligent, loyal and caring, and generous to a fault."
Nick's eyes remained fixed on the girl. "I'm certain she is, but as I said, she can't possibly stay here."
"It wouldn't be for long," Sydney pleaded. "Your father made provisions for a sizable dowry. The Season will be starting in a couple of months. Once we find her a suitable husband and she is married, she'll be safe from Oliver Hampton and whatever dubious fate he might have in mind for her."
Nick shook his head. "It wouldn't work. Her reputation would be so blackened living under my roof she would never find a husband."
"She wouldn't come unchaperoned. Her aunt would accompany her. And for all your sins, you're still an earl and one of the wealthiest men in England. With careful planning, a proper match could be made."
"I'm sorry, Sydney. If you were asking anything else —"
A slender foot stomped down. "I wish you would both stop talking about me as if I weren't in the room. It is highly rude and no little discomfiting." Big green eyes locked with his and didn't look away. There was fire in those eyes, Nick saw, and perhaps a hint of desperation.
"At last she speaks." But she said nothing else, just stared straight ahead, her eyes fixed on the wall. Nick approached her, sizing her up from head to foot, admiring the lovely picture she made. He stopped directly in front of her, forcing her to tilt her head to look at him.
"Sydney tells me you are stubborn. That at times you can be willful. What do you say, Miss Woolcot?"
Her chin angled up. There was a tiny cleft at the bottom, he noticed, shadowed by the fullness of her wide bottom lip.
"If stubborn means I refuse to marry a filthy piece of trash like Oliver Hampton, then I must be stubborn. If willful means I have a will of my own, then I am that as well."
Amusement lifted the corner of his mouth. His gaze roamed over her. He didn't miss the tiny tremor that shook her hands. "I presume Sydney has told you about me."
"I am not ignorant of whom you are, if that is what you are asking. I am aware you were convicted of Stephen Hampton's murder nine years ago. I know you were transported for the crime and that you've been returned to England less than two years."
"And you still wish to stay beneath my roof? Surely you are afraid. Surely you would worry your life might be in danger."
Her shoulders subtly squared. "I am in danger from Bascomb. I believe he will force himself on me at the earliest opportunity in order to press me into marriage. I cannot fathom his reasons, since I make no secret of my disgust of him. But I will do anything to keep that from happening. Aside from that, Mr. Birdsall assures me I have nothing to fear from you."
Excerpted from Wicked Promise by Kat Martin. Copyright © 2000 Kat Martin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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
I have read two other novels by Kat Martin in the past year ¿ ¿Innocence Undone¿ (fair) and ¿The Devil¿s Necklace¿ (so-so at best). I found them only to be average and thought about giving up on this author but, I had already bought other books at the same time so¿I read them too. ¿Wicked Promise¿ ended up being a pleasant surprise! I really liked the main characters in this story ¿ Elizabeth and Nick. They had appealing traits that made them believable and likeable. I especially liked that Elizabeth allowed her emotions to come out and she gave to those she cared for with her whole heart and soul. She did not hold back and that allowed her to blossom as a woman. Nick had his naughty ways and clouded past but, even with so many mistakes in his past, he was clearly a kind and loving man. I didn¿t care for Nick¿s drinking and gaming and womanizing in the beginning but, it was understood he was trying to blot out a very difficult and ugly past ¿ the murder, the imprisonment, the loss of friends and the loss of his less than loyal first wife. Plus¿you could tell his heart was never into being truly bad and as Elizabeth came into his life, he started to become the man he was always meant to be. He was a magnificent man in the making. There was a lot going on in this story ¿ Elizabeth coming to stay with him and be his ward, Elizabeth and Nick¿s growing fascination and attraction for one another, Nick¿s need to marry her off to please his family and friends and do what was right, Nick trying to clear his bad past and get a divorce from his first wife and then¿dealing with the murder of his first wife. Busy, busy, busy but, still all interesting. There was also lots of side characters. But¿everyone seemed to have a role to play and it was not so deep and complex that you couldn¿t follow the changing scenes and roles everyone played. The love scenes were tastefully written and powerful. You could feel the blossoming attraction between Nick and Elizabeth from the first. I liked that the author gave time for their interest to grow and the attraction to become intense and powerful. I think fans of Kat Martin will enjoy this book even more than her usual writings. Those who have tried her like me and found other books only so-so should visit this one for sure. It was very appealing and likable and will go on one of my favorites list. This author really drew me into the powerful feelings of these characters and the relationship and developments felt real and never contrived. Very enjoyable. Pick this one up and enjoy it. I certainly did.
Read this book by Kat twice and enjoyed the plot and characters each time! Agree with other positive reviews written here.. LORRAINE
I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!!kat martin has done it again!the characters are absolutely charming and the story felt so real.this book got me emotional,i swear.you can read about the duke of beldon's story in 'perfect sin'.and i promise you,that book won't disappoint you either.
I loved this book! An Excellent story. Elizabeth Woolcot goes to Nicholas Warring for protection against Lord Bascomb who will do ANYTHING to make Elizabeth his bride. Nicholas tries to distance himself from Elizabeth because he's married and a convicted murderer, yet she's all he can think of and can't stay away.The chemistry between Nicholas and Elizabeth is wonderful, and I truly enjoyed their story. I thoroughly enjoyed the murder mystery. Those who read this book can find Rand Clayton, Duke of Beldon in his story Perfect Sin. Must read Kat Martin's Bold Angel, Perfect Sin, Silk and Steel, and Innocence Undone!!!