Lorraine Heath is a master storyteller with accolades aplenty. In fact, her RT Top Pick! The Viscount and the Vixen won our December 2016 Seal of Excellence award! Another RT Top Pick!, An Affair with a Notorious Heiress, will join Heath’s catalogue next week. If you’re as impatient as we are, May 30 still feels oh-so-far in the future. Fortunately we have an excerpt to tide us over!
Who among us is strong enough to ignore the undeniable allure of a divorced American heiress? Not Alistair Mabry! When he agrees to escort Tillie’s sister during the season, he never expects to fall under the spell of Tillie’s many charms …
Mathilda Paget, Countess of Landsdowne, couldn’t deny that the marquess had excellent taste in horses. The two chestnut bays pulling the gleaming black open carriage obviously came from good stock. It had taken everything within her not to approach them and give them an affectionate pat when she first spied them. Just as now, it was with great difficulty she didn’t reach across to Rexton, sitting on the seat opposite her sister and herself, to pat that muscular thigh of his outlined so provocatively by his taut breeches.
Damn if the man wasn’t gorgeous with his golden curling locks and his blue eyes the shade of a winter sky promising snow and the need for warm fires. Her heart tripped over itself at the thought of this sensual and sexual man taking her sister to bed. With his heated gaze, he appeared far too wise, too experienced, too knowledgeable in the ways of women. He sat there like some large predatory tiger, considering how tasty a morsel his prey might be. She couldn’t imagine him ordering a woman to simply lie still and endure what was to come. Nor could she imagine a woman being able to remain unaffected if he pressed those firm, full lips against her skin.
Something flickered in his heated gaze, and she was left with the uncomfortable sensation that he was able to read her thoughts, that he knew the errant path they traveled. Her cheeks warmed, and she cursed inwardly, jerking her gaze to the passing buildings as they made their way to the park. What was wrong with her to have such lurid images flashing through her mind? She wanted to spare Gina the shame of the marriage bed, even as she found her own skin tightening and something closely resembling desire coursing through her. She fully understood how any woman might fall at this one’s feet. Or at least she assumed they might. His exploits certainly weren’t reported on in the gossip sheets, so he was no doubt discreet in his affairs, unlike her previous husband. If Downie had been more circumspect, perhaps Tillie wouldn’t have been required to stage an encounter that would force him, along with his obnoxious pride, to divorce her.
“You must have been a child when you married.” The deep voice shimmered through her, her reaction wrong on so many levels. Tilting up her chin, she met Rexton’s gaze, surprised to see true curiosity reflected there. “I married on the day I turned nineteen.”
“You can’t have been married very long.”
“Long enough to lose any semblance of youth.” Three years. The process of obtaining a divorce had been a long, arduous, tortuous affair. Before its completion a little over nine months ago she had marked her twenty-fifth year. Reaching for her sister’s hand, she squeezed it. “I know the trials and tribulations of marriage, which is the reason I will not let anyone who is undeserving of Gina marry her.”
“And you’ve already deemed me underserving.”
To her utter mortification, she had. This man would not do for her sister, would not do at all. He was far too mature, too knowing. She wasn’t going to allow a man of such boldness and daring to have Gina. “To be quite honest, my lord, she is so innocent that I do think a less worldly man might serve her better.”
“And you judge me worldly?” “Are you not?”
A corner of his mouth hitched up slightly. “I’ve never had a woman complain.”
She knew his thoughts were traveling the same path as hers—toward the bedchamber. It was all men really wanted once they had the dowry. Downie hadn’t been able to get her out of her clothes fast enough. But then once he’d had her, he grew bored. Another truth she’d learned about men: they easily wearied of their bedmates. For them it was the lure of the conquest, but they had no desire to hold for long that which they had obtained. Greener pastures and all that.
Gina deserved a man who would stay on his side of the fence. Surely a deep and profound love could keep him there. She forced herself to hold Rexton’s gaze. “You’re not doing much to convince me that you and my sister would suit.”
“It might be helpful if you shared with me the requirements you seek.”
“So you can pretend to possess them?”
He held out his arms as though surrendering. “When it comes to the ladies, I have no reason to pretend. I have always found honesty in relationships to serve me well.”
“Then you should have no fear of being found lacking while courting Gina.”
He chuckled low, provocatively. “Being found lacking has never been a fear.”
Before she could stop it, her gaze dipped to his lap, lower. She jerked her attention back to the passing scenery but not before she saw his satisfied smirk. No, he wouldn’t do at all for Gina. Tillie would always see innuendo in his eyes, read it in his face, hear it in his voice. What did it matter? As soon as Gina was wedded, she suspected she’d never see him again.
“Why didn’t you return to America?” he asked. She hated the inquisition. He should be talking with
Gina, not her. Yet she felt compelled to respond. “Gina adores England. I couldn’t very well leave her here alone.”
But she would leave . . . once Gina was married. Her sister didn’t understand how much she despised it here, how difficult it was to live with the constant shunning and isolation. Another reason she needed to ensure the man who married Gina would be protective of her sister. Even as she had that thought, she couldn’t imagine Rexton not safeguarding what he viewed as his. Perhaps he would make an excellent choice for Gina, after all.
“When I marry a man of position,” Gina said, “everyone will have to welcome you back into Society, Tillie. Then we can attend balls together.”
Reassuringly she patted her sister’s hand. “I’m sure you’re quite right.”
But she saw the truth reflected in Rexton’s blue eyes. Society would never welcome her back. She had moved into their circles only to bring mortification to one of their own. The divorce was bad enough but an affair with a footman . . .
Although, if she hadn’t been seen kissing a footman, she wouldn’t be divorced. Landsdowne had viewed her as property and the law had given him the right to do so. Her father had been too ill to help her get out of the unconscionable situation in which she’d found herself. Miserable didn’t begin to describe it. So she’d taken care of the matter herself.
“I’m afraid I’ve never been one for keeping up with Society gossip. How long were you married?” he asked. She gave him a pointed look. “I’m the chaperone.
You really should be directing your questions toward the lady you’re courting.”
That wicked grin again, the one that said he knew what she was about, striving to deflect his attention away from her. “How long was your sister married?” he asked Gina.
Gina opened her mouth—
“That’s not what I meant,” Tillie responded quickly, with acerbity, not bothering to hide her irritation. “You should be asking Gina questions about herself. Or perhaps you’re not truly interested in her, but in her money. In spite of what you say about not needing it.” He angled his head down slightly in acquiescence although she couldn’t see this man bowing down before anyone. Even if he gave the appearance of giving in, she suspected he’d be working out how to get even, how to regain the upper hand. “You’re quite right. Miss Hammersley—”
“Please, you must call me Gina. I hate formality.” “It can be rather tedious,” he admitted.
“But necessary,” Tillie said insistently. “Gina, you do not give a gentleman leave to call you by your Christian name until you have an understanding between you.”
“The understanding is that he need not be so formal.” “It sends an improper message.”
“And you would know all about improper messages, would you not, my lady?” Rexton asked pointedly.
“I would take care, Lord Rexton, if you wish to impress upon me your favorable merits when it comes to courting Gina.”
He studied her for three full heartbeats during which time she suspected he was striving to determine if what he gained by pushing her was worth the price he would pay for doing so. Finally, he turned away from her. “So, Miss Hammersley, tell me what you value in a husband.”
She’d won. She wondered why she took so little satisfaction in it.
“Someone who is kind, generous. Someone who makes me happy.”
“What makes you happy?”
It was a good question, one Landsdowne had never asked Tillie. Although if he had, she doubted she would have said, “A man who is faithful.” She’d thought it a given. She’d thought a lot of things a given. Devotion, attending affairs together, carrying on conversations during meals, always living in the same residence— not only during the Season when they were in London but throughout the year.
Gina gave a joyful sigh. “Pretty frocks. A generous allowance. Chocolates.”
Tillie wanted to shake her sister. None of those things created happiness. Oh, they might lighten her mood for a few minutes but they didn’t leave one happy for long. Chocolates disappeared, allowance dwindled, and frocks faded. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Rexton gave very little reaction, but he seemed equally unimpressed by her sister’s musings.
“Surely you require more than that,” he said flatly, without judgment or censure.
“I’m relatively easy to please.” “A woman shouldn’t be.”
His words surprised Tillie. Did he truly believe that? Did he not want a biddable female? What was the game he played? She gave up trying to appear as though she wasn’t looking at him and stared at him directly. “Why would you seek to make your courtship more difficult?” she blurted, truly curious.
He shifted his attention to her. “Not more difficult.
More challenging. There is a difference.”
“She’s offering an easy road. Why not take it?” “Because it would bring me no pleasure.”
That was when she knew the Marquess of Rexton was a man who liked to win, who thrived on competition. And who sought pleasure in all aspects of his life. Pleasure, and danger, and gratification. If he hadn’t been born into the aristocracy, if he hadn’t been born into wealth, influence, and privilege, if he’d been born into a hardscrabble life in America, he’d have been the sort to forge an empire, to carry others on his back, to stand his ground, to never back down. She was not at all pleased at the way that knowledge made it difficult for her to draw in breath, made her consider how fortunate any woman would be to stand beside him.
“What should I require, my lord?” Gina asked, obviously oblivious to all the messages the man across from her was sending, to the turmoil wreaking havoc within Tillie.
He said it so simply as though it was easily given, easily received.
“Most men avoid love like the plague,” Tillie felt obligated to point out, hating the resentment lacing through her voice. Liking even less his slow perusal, as though he could see the tiny fissures where her heart had cracked day after day, night after night until she’d feared it would shatter into nothing. If he asked her about Landsdowne, about their marriage, about her relationship with him, she was going to leap from the carriage and march home. Why had she even intruded on the conversation? Her role was one of silence and observation.
“Few men have grown up around the exemplary example I did,” he said quietly.
The breath she didn’t even realize she’d been holding eased out of her when he didn’t take the conversation in the direction she’d been dreading.
“Do your parents love each other?” Gina asked. “Immensely. They taught me to never take it for
granted, that if you are fortunate to possess it, you nurture it. I daresay, my father goes to sleep each night pondering what he can do upon awakening to ensure my mother is grateful he shares her life.”
“Does your mother do the same?”
“Love comes more easily to women, I think. It’s more natural. Men have to work a bit harder at it, especially as we’re not very demonstrative as a whole. So if you can snag a man’s heart, Miss Hammersley, the frocks, chocolates, and allowance will surely follow. You need not insist upon them.”
“Have you any advice for snagging a man’s heart?” Gina asked.
“But beware, sweeting,” Tillie added. “For men seldom are.”
“You haven’t a very favorable opinion of our gender,” Rexton said, his smile rueful.
“Prove me wrong, my lord.”
“I may just do that, Lady Landsdowne.”
She did wish she’d kept her mouth shut as she’d never before had the sense she’d just issued an irrefutable challenge which he had accepted with a challenge of his own—and if she wasn’t careful, she could find herself losing not only her pride but discovering her heart, too, had been part of the wager.
An Affair With a Notorious Heiress will be available in digital and print on May 30. Digital copies start at $6.99, grab yours here: Amazon | BN | Google Play | iBooks | Kobo. And for more romantic reads, be sure to stop by our Everything Romance page!
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