Release Date - April 29, 2008
by Renee Bernard
Click on Book Cover to Enlarge
Daring Games... Dangerously Delicious Consequences.
Lovely Eve Reynolds plays the role of a naive young debutante, but her demure appearance hides an experienced cardplayer who, at her uncle's instigation, is engaged in fleecing London aristocrats in the high-stakes card games favored by society. Only London's most notorious rake, Julian Clay, the Earl of Westleigh, sees through her wiles, for he recognizes a fellow gambler when he sees one. Lured by the passion in Eve's stormy eyes, so at odds with her reserved elegance, Julian lays impassioned siege to her. And Eve responds with a rising fire of desire that leaves behind all sensible caution, until both Julian and Eve can think of nothing but the searing hours they spend in each other's arms.
But Eve's uncle wants her to play for the highest stakes by making a respectable match with a wealthy lord...and Eve has her own secret reason for following his plan. Although Julian began to play recklessly to seduce a clever young lady, now he wants much more from Eve, and no one will stop him from risking everything on one final game that might win him Eve's heart and soul forever.
READ AN EXCERPT:
"What are you up to, Miss Reynolds?"
"Me? I'm not the one chasing down women in dark gardens!"
Eve stood and moved as if to run from him, but he caught her easily, his fingers grasping her upper arm and drawing her back to him. "I'm not a villain, Miss Reynolds. It seems a simple question for a man to ask, especially after you've fled such a friendly game of piquet."
She stopped pulling away from him. "A friendly game?" Her mesmerizing blue eyes gave none of her thoughts away. "I'm sure you are confused, Lord Westleigh. Too much punch?"
His fingers tightened on her arm, a small flare of anger coming and going like summer lightning. Then Julian smiled at the realization that she was truly a worthy opponent. No show of fluttery nerves, no signs of fear -- if she hadn't lost her composure already in Lady Morrington's presence, he might have questioned his instincts. But hers was the supreme bluff of a truly gifted player. He loosened his grip to the gentlest restraint. He was rapidly gaining new respect for the lively Miss Reynolds. The little minx was good at this.
"I haven’t touched a drop." He smiled before he went on, "Miss Reynolds, perhaps no one has explained the rules of this particular game, but when a lady flees from a table, a gentleman is obliged to "chase her down" to ascertain her state of mind and offer whatever amends he can for the slight, imagined or real. And by running into a dark and secluded garden..."
"I’m not -- I don’t wish to play this game, Lord Westleigh."
"No? Then what game is it you are playing, Miss Reynolds? For I swear, you are not what you appear to be, and I have always loved a good mystery."
"Then how disappointing for you when there are no answers to be found here. I'm sure you'll grow bored soon enough, Lord Westleigh." She met his gaze without flinching.
"I am sure of at least one thing, Miss Reynolds. This keen aversion you have to dancing may prove your undoing." He leaned in, close enough for his breath to move the curls that rested against her ear and send a shiver down her supple spine. "Tell me what you and your uncle are up to, and perhaps I'll even help you."
"You're...imagining things, Lord Westleigh," she whispered.
He pulled back only slightly, enjoying the warmth of her body against his. "Am I really? Come, Miss Reynolds, confess all. Are you aspiring to be a beautiful and wealthy little widow by husband hunting amidst the elderly? Or are you just warming up to pick a few pockets?"
"How dare you!" Eve stepped away from, and Julian knew it was their awkward proximity alone that had spared him from a well-earned slap. "You spot me once in a salon and now tonight, and you dare to accuse me of such things? If I confess anything, Lord Westleigh, it will be an increasing desire to scratch that smug look off your handsome face and see how you explain it to your host!"
He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I overstepped. I was rude and may deserve a scratch or two. But you must admit that you are a curiosity, Miss Reynolds."
"Why? Because I am not flattered by your attentions?"
"Because you don't belong here."
She bristled defensively, but the flash of emotions in her eyes told him he'd struck a nerve. "I have every right to be here."
"I'm not disputing the lettering on your invitation. Just noting that you...are different than any young woman I have ever met."
It was her turn to be curious and most of the anger evaporated from her stance. "In what way am I different?"
"You mean besides your delightful preference for parlor games with crumbling dowagers and dark gardens over glittering ballrooms and polite society?"
A ghost of a smile flitted past her control as her shoulders relaxed, and Julian savored it. "The ladies at Wickett's were under the impression you didn't get out much into good company. Perhaps it is all the rage these days for women to avoid the crush of the dance floor and the suffocating heat of over-lit rooms."
"I don't think I've been gone that long, Miss Reynolds." He shifted his weight, again closing the distance between them, unwilling to remain the focus of their exchange. "But you elude the point of my inquiries. What are you really doing in London, Miss Reynolds?"
"Besides avoiding you?"
"Absolutely besides that."
"I am enjoying an innocent social season."
"Ah!" He smiled, abandoning any pretense of a harmless interview. "But, my dear Miss Reynolds, I suspect that you...are...not...an...innocent."
She gasped, before regaining her composure. "I wasn’t aware that I radiated such an impression, your Lordship. I'll have to cut back on games of piquet if it gives men like you permission to be so insulting!"
"I apologize. Again." His look was pure contrition. "I’ll have you know that's likely the most repentant I think I've ever been -- and that includes a childhood incident involving bees."
She almost smiled, but caught herself just in time. "Then perhaps you should leave off these ridiculous speculations. You -- you know nothing of me after so brief an acquaintance."
"That is not entirely true." He shook his head. "I know you favor strong leads, lose only when you stand to gain, and that Lady Morrington has no idea what a little hunter she's invited into her henhouse." The urge to truly touch her was too strong to suppress. The privacy of their position was delectable -- the curve of a hedge giving him all the advantage he needed. Her eyes widened as the realization came that she'd started a duel for which there would be no one to intervene on her behalf. "I know that your breath quickens and your color changes every time I get close to you."
They were alone.
She opened her mouth to argue or protest, but seemed to be having trouble rallying her thoughts and Julian knew that victory was his. Even so, she put a hand against his chest to slow his progress. "You know nothing of me, Lord Westleigh."
"I know that that will change, Miss Reynolds."
He leaned close, so ready to taste her, so hungry to have her. But Julian balanced his slow encroachment by releasing her arm, giving her the choice to withdraw from him. The fire in his blood demanded that he conquer her, but every fiber of his being wanted her to be willing. He knew from past experience that few kisses were worth a bleeding lip or a scratched face. She was still capable of injuring him, but like any gambler he preferred to hedge his bets.
He held his breath, anticipating her retreat or even a demonstration of a false prudish protest. It never came. Instead, there was a slow sweet exhale and she tipped her head back, an invitation he readily accepted. Her lips were soft and so much warmer than he'd expected, yielding reluctantly at first and then responding to his need, fueling it and moving with him until he was sure he'd forgotten why he'd thought to teach her anything. Her mouth parted, and he tasted her tongue against his own, the wet friction telegraphing raw primal need to every part of his body, and Julian cradled her face in his hands to hold her there, to make sure she didn't pull away and deprive him of the contact he needed.
He'd meant to kiss her -- just that. But then she'd pressed herself against him as if she'd been molded and measured by his frame and for his body alone. The lush lines of her figure beckoned his hands and he moved them, skimming over satin and skin to learn the outlines of the territory he wished to claim. Her waist was trim and indented for his fingers but not in an unnaturally restrained circumference that would allow his fingers to encircle her. She was slender, but not emaciated and he almost growled at the sting of desire that whipped through him as he discovered her curves. Her shape pleased him, his blood firing as his hands pressed along her firm flesh, holding her closer and savoring her responsiveness to his touch. She kissed him without reserve, but without practiced skills -- a wanton who didn't seem to understand the power at her command.
He inhaled her fragrance, an intoxicating hint of honeysuckle and orange blossoms with an undercurrent of feminine sweat and musk. He could smell her arousal, and his core clenched with the lure of it -- he wanted to dip his fingers into the slippery silk of her and taste it on his tongue. Her fingers clutched at his collar and entangled in his hair, and when her teeth gently nipped his lower lip, he lost all control.
That did it. Leverage. A man needs leverage.
His hands deftly ignored the excess material of her skirts and bustle and found the curve of her bottom to lift her against him. It was three long strides and he had the leverage he needed, using the garden wall and Pan’s accommodating pedestal.
She gasped at the shift, her feet kicking out as she lost contact with the ground __ breaking away from his fiery kisses as the reality of his rock hard cock pressed upward between her thighs, even through layers and layers of fabric, its throbbing heat proclaiming that this embrace had officially gone far beyond polite flirtation.
Damn. Every heartbeat roared in his ears, but he knew better than to push his luck. At least, not tonight. Still... Her eyes were coming back into focus, and he knew that Eve Reynolds was mere seconds away from recalling her name and all the reasons why a lady should protest her current position.
He rocked his hips forward, grasping her waist and trailed his tongue in a flickering path down her beautiful white neck towards the edge of her bodice. She moaned, shivering involuntarily, and her thighs parted even as her hands stiffened against his chest -- her fingers splayed out to push weakly against him.
"You...we... must not..." she whispered.
Damn. His cock throbbed, chafing at the confines of his clothes and it took every last ounce of his resolve to relinquish the ground he’d gained. Slowly, deliberately holding her close so that he could feel her body moving along his, the friction of her breasts searing his skin even through his shirt as he lowered her back to her feet, aware that he'd likely crushed the satin of her dress, leaving evidence of his trespass -- but there was nothing to be done and some part of him was glad for it.
Once she was steady, he stepped back to catch his breath and allow her to compose herself for a moment. It wasn't exactly chivalry, but under the circumstances, Julian was sure it was the best he could manage. Careful, Miss Reynolds. One single "come hither" look or word and by God, I'll mount you as you kneel on that bench.
At last, she spoke. "Why are you..." She took another deep breath, "Are you... trying to toy with me, Lord Westleigh?"
He shook his head slowly, savoring the lingering taste of her in his mouth. A thousand smooth lies slipped through his thoughts, but only the truth would do. "No. I do not toy or trifle with you. In fact, I shall tell you honestly -- I intend to have you outright and without one thought of convention. I intend to seduce you, Miss Reynolds. Whatever rules there are in polite society, I have no intention of following any of them. I don't think I could lie to you and say otherwise. I intend to do every wicked thing that comes into my mind and to see that you enjoy every one of them."
"Oh!" Her response was breathless with shock. "And to think I thought you were being forward earlier."
"How was that for a strong lead?"
|< Prev||Next >|