Just Another Viscount in Love

Just Another Viscount in Love by Vivienne Lorret

Blurb
As the toast of the ton, Samuel Wortham, Viscount Ellery, should have no trouble finding a wife. Yet each lady he pursues ends up married to another. As a last hope, Sam plans a house party, intending to choose a bride from one of his guests. But when he encounters a raven-haired beauty by his estate’s pond, he’s captivated by her charm and desperate to see her again.

A quiet trip to the country is just what Gemma Desmond needs to take her mind off marriage. After all, as the daughter of a notorious criminal, her prospects seem quite grim. The last thing she expects is a chance meeting with a handsome lord and an invitation to his lavish house party. Ellery is everything she hoped for in a husband. But can she ever escape the stigma of her father’s misdeeds? When a pair of conniving debutantes frame her for theft, Gemma has her answer. Unwilling to let her scandalous reputation taint the kind, honorable man she adores, she flees. Yet Ellery isn’t about to give her up. He might be just another viscount in love, but he refuses to let this potential bride slip through his fingers…

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Excerpt

“Well, I know my aunt is fond of you.”

Ellery angled toward her, his boots shifting to the outer edges of her slippers. The lapels of his coat were only a breath away from the rise and fall of her breasts. Lifting his hand to her cheek, his fingers glided along the slope of her jaw to her chin and tilted her face up to his. “And what of her niece?” The rapid beat of her heart made it difficult to release a breath. It was locked inside of her like so many recent hopes and dreams. Her lips tingled, plumping under his dark, searching scrutiny. And when the tip of her tongue darted out to wet them, his head dipped toward hers, close enough that she caught the clean, spicy scent of his shaving soap and felt the heat of his breath.

Gemma’s eyes drifted shut of their own volition. “I have it under good authority that she likes you. Very much, indeed.”

His other hand released hers, his fingertips skimming up the length of her bare arm, setting off a shower of tingles. Cupping her face, he drew closer, his nose nuzzling beside hers. His lips brushed one corner of her mouth and then the other. “Enough to permit me to kiss her?”

A soft laugh escaped her. “I believe you already are.”

And it was heaven, these slow, searching nibbles at her lips, the feel of his warm breath against her skin.

“Not yet,” he said with more sampling tastes of the corners of her mouth and a sly sweep along the center. Cradling her face in his hands, he went still, waiting for her answer.

Restraint emanated from him in the small vibrations through his fingertips and in each shuddered breath between her parted lips. He would take only what she was willing to give. He was not selfish. His honor and decency were not merely for show. These qualities were part of him and in his every action.

And she loved him all the more for it.

But this was not the time for hesitation. They’d been patient for long enough. Ages and ages. She wanted him to know that he didn’t need to hold back. Not with her.

Slanting her head, she whispered against his lips, “Then show me.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

USA Today bestselling author, VIVIENNE LORRET transforms copious amounts of tea into words. She is an Avon author of works including: The Wallflower Wedding Series, The Rakes of Fallow Hall Series, The Season’s Original Series, and the upcoming Emma Identity Series. For more information on her books, sign up for her newsletter at www.vivlorret.net.

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LINKS:

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GIVEAWAY:

Vivienne will be awarding a digital copy of Just Another Viscount to 3 randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour.

Win a copy of the book – a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Total Eclipse of the Sun

Today people in the United States get to experience something that comes along only every few decades (the last one being in 1979 I believe).

What is is about such celestial events has everyone acting crazy. True, people want to experience it first hand, but have you seen some of the photos taken in Oregon? Thousands of people have descended into the wilderness for the event. We can hope it isn’t left trashed and ruined once they exit.

Rather than use the rare event as a scientific teaching experience for children, and teach them how to make a viewing box to watch the eclipse (or watch through approved glasses) some schools have opted for a day off. Why? They’re afraid one of the little darlings might dare to try and watch, looking directly into the eclipse and ruin their eyes. Lawsuit…oh the times we live in.

So be smart out there and have fun, while somewhere on a cruise ship, Bonnie Tyler will sing her hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

Things That Make Me Smile

What better way to tackle Monday head on that to make a list of things that make me smile. Even a little bit. Life is tough, but you have to look through the B.S. to find the good. To find what makes you giggle and smile. So here we go…

1) The water…something calming about being near a body of water that makes me sigh.
2) The mountains…there is a peaceful effect being around these majestic beauties.
3) Horses…as a life long equestrian, these magnificent creatures can easily turn a bad day into the best.
4) Roses…my very favorite flower. Nothing makes me more giddy that an English rose garden.
5) A good book…no words needed. A place one can lose themselves even for a little while.

What makes YOU smile?

Independence Day 2017

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July 2017, Independence day. To many people it’s a (in this year’s case) long weekend to get away with family or friends. Others find themselves working.

How do you spend the holiday?

Is it spent remembering those who fought so hard so many years ago to give us the freedom’s we have today or is it all about the fun and sun?

New Edition, New Cover! And Just $0.99!

This past December I began working with a brand new editor (content and line). We set about re-doing Everything About You. It’d been published in October, but hadn’t done as well as I’d anticipated. For two and a half month we re-wrote, re-edited and made this book shine.

Add to the newly edited, better version, new blurbs, and a new cover! THIS is the beginning of my Brighton Cove series!

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***

Audrey Cooper has good memories Brighton Cove, Maine. She just hopes the quiet, coastal village holds enough of them to silence the echoes of the living hell she endured as a captive in the Middle East. Her career as a journalist is over, but maybe—someday—she can convince her terrified muse to come out of hiding.

As she renovates the farmhouse she inherited from her grandparents, with her cat as her sole companion, she learns to live with the loneliness…until the day a handsome stranger with dark, haunted eyes helps her change a flat tire.

As an artist, widower Lincoln Stewart has an eye for detail, and there’s no missing that unmistakable spark of connection. In Audrey’s company, two years of grief ease into bittersweet memory, and he finds himself envisioning a future as colorful as his paintings. A future with Audrey.

Through violent thunderstorms and terrifying flashbacks, Audrey and Linc discover their broken pieces fit perfectly—in and out of the bedroom. But in the shadows, a very real threat lurks. Someone who’ll stop at nothing to burn their rediscovered dreams to the ground.

***

Book Links:

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Hello, 2017!

I think we can all pretty much agree that 2016 sucked and leave it at that.
We’re at the beginning of a brand new year, 365 new days to make things shine. Which is exactly what I intend to do!

My writing “to do” list is ambitious, but not impossible. I haven’t included dates or even months…just a list of six projects I would like to see published in 2017. They include:

1) Burns Travel series (series title still a work in progress): Book 1 – Destination: Great Britain.
Novellas each set in a different location.

2) Brighton Cove Series: Book #2 (Meg’s story) and a surprise!

3) The Duke of Mayhem (Mayfair series) – Regency historical

4) Tudor Series: Angus Tudor will finally get his own book!

5) Chateau Ste. Margaux Series: Book one will debut. A novella is currently in the Liz Crowe Celebrate! anthology. I will rework the novella and it will be the start of what I hope to be a brand new series.

Six projects? But I only see five! That’s because there are two in the Brighton Cove series! More on this later!

 

Here’s the link for the Celebrate! anthology. Sixteen authors, sixteen new stories! Grab your copy now, because the anthology won’t be around forever.

Amazon US – http://a.co/gMRLX0y
Amazon CA – http://a.co/b6Qr3De
Barnes & Noble NOOK: http://bit.ly/2ht2wzX

 

So Happy New Year to one and all! 2017 is going to be epic!

 

 

The Pawn by Skye Warren

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Please welcome Skye Warren’s brand new book The Pawn…be sure to read through the entire post. Skye has a Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of this post.

Happy Reading!

BLURB:

The price of survival…

Gabriel Miller swept into my life like a storm. He tore down my father with cold retribution, leaving him penniless in a hospital bed. I quit my private all-girl’s college to take care of the only family I have left.

There’s one way to save our house, one thing I have left of value.

My virginity.

A forbidden auction…

Gabriel appears at every turn. He seems to take pleasure in watching me fall. Other times he’s the only kindness in a brutal underworld.

Except he’s playing a deeper game than I know. Every move brings us together, every secret rips us apart. And when the final piece is played, only one of us can be left standing.

THE PAWN is a full-length contemporary novel from New York Times bestselling author Skye Warren about revenge and seduction in the game of love.

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EXCERPT:

“Kinky stuff,” Gabriel says, the corner of his mouth turned up. “What do you know about kinky stuff?”

My face feels hot. “I’ve seen the movie, okay? I know about things.”

That’s a lie. I squirmed through the movie, lips parted in shock. How did people think of this stuff? Why would any girl like it? And I’m not just a random face in this city. My picture has appeared in the society papers. People know my father. Maybe some of the men were cheated by him, just like Gabriel. Would they want to hurt me in revenge?

“Tell me what you know,” Gabriel says.

The words are mocking, but something sparks inside me. “I know that some men like to hurt women. I know it makes them feel big and strong to hurt someone weaker.”

“And are you weak, little virgin?”

No, I want to say. Except I’ve lost everything in the past two months. My life, my school. My friends. I’m a shadow of my former self. Little virgin makes me fight back, though. Gabriel makes me fight back. “I’m doing what I have to do. Is that weak?”

His gaze flickers over my body, the yellow of his eyes brighter in the lamp’s glow. When he meets my eyes, there’s a begrudging respect.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Skye Warren is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary romance such as the Chicago Underground series. Her books have been featured in Jezebel, Buzzfeed, USA Today Happily Ever After, Glamour, and Elle Magazine. She makes her home in Texas with her loving family, two sweet dogs, and one evil cat.

SOCIAL MEDIA

– Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/skyewarren

– Twitter  https://twitter.com/skye_warren

– Youtube  https://www.youtube.com/user/SkyeWarrenBooks

– Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/skyewarren

– Instagram  https://instagram.com/skyewarrenbooks

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MCV02X1

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MCV02X1

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-pawn-skye-warren/1124892956;jsessionid=E389EB80B20DC5B63F463C0AF1FB013B.prodny_store01-atgap10?ean=2940156816125

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-pawn/id1166560955?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-pawn-14

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE

 mbb_tourbanner_thepawnSkye will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/28e4345f2078<a href=""“>Enter to win a $20 Amazon/BN GC – a Rafflecopter giveway

 

 

Everything About You Goes Live!

Everything About You, the first novel in the new Brighton Cove series debuts!

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Two souls haunted by their pasts. Separate incidents that took place a world apart have brought Audrey Cooper and Lincoln Stewart to the same place…Brighton Cove.

An international journalist, Audrey is still reeling from her months held captive. Haunted by atrocities no person should be forced to witness, she immerses herself renovating her great-grandfather’s farm house in Brighton Cove where she spent so many memorable summers. Home. A place she feels she can heal and begin again.

Lincoln moved to Brighton Cove with his late wife to pursue his art. With his wife’s sudden and tragic death Lincoln immerses himself into his work and his solitude. When his new neighbor appears, he is drawn out of his solitude with much curiosity and not a little attraction.

Can these two find love in spite of their dark pasts?

Buy Links:

Amazon

B&N

iBooks

Kobo

Everything About You!

The cover reveal to Everything About You, A Brighton Cove Novel is coming October 1st!

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Two souls haunted by their pasts.

Separate incidents that took place a world apart have brought Audrey Cooper and Lincoln Stewart to the same place…Brighton Cove.

An international journalist, Audrey is still reeling from her months held captive. Haunted by atrocities no person should be forced to witness, she immerses herself renovating her great-grandfather’s farm house in Brighton Cove where she spent so many memorable summers. Home. A place she feels she can heal and begin again.

Lincoln moved to Brighton Cove with his late wife to pursue his art. With his wife’s sudden and tragic death Lincoln immerses himself into his work and his solitude. When his new neighbor appears, he is drawn out of his solitude with much curiosity and not a little attraction.

Can these two find love in spite of their dark pasts?

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I can’t wait for you to meet Audrey and Lincoln!

New Release by Victoria Vane!

Title: A Pledge of Passion, Rules of Engagement Book Two

Genre: Historical Romance

Author: Victoria Vane

Release Date: May 16, 2016

Blurb

Only a madman makes a promise in the heat of passion…

During a midnight tryst in a moonlit garden, Nicolas Needham fell in love—only to walk away. As a younger son with few connections, his pride demanded that he better his circumstances before paying his suit to Lady Mariah. When Nicolas is finally given the opportunity he needs to advance—by negotiating a contract of matrimony on his employer’s behalf—he is shocked to learn that the intended bride is the same woman to whom he once pledged himself.

And only a fool believes him….

Mariah Morehaven has lived a quiet, almost reclusive life in the country. While she accepts that marriage is her unavoidable destiny, as a baroness in her own right, and heir to one of the oldest and land-rich estates in England, she fears becoming the target of fortune hunters. After entrusting her cousin, Lydia, to help her find a suitable match, Mariah is devastated to discover that the man sent to negotiate for her hand is the very same who broke her heart.

Buy The Book

Amazon ~ BN ~ iBooks ~ Kobo

Excerpt

NICK FOUND HER on one of the private terraces overlooking the gardens. Alone. Thank God. Dressed in her ivory gown and drenched in soft moonlight, she resembled nothing so much as an ethereal being leaning wistfully over the balustrade.

“Lady Mariah?” he called out softly.

She turned to face him with a look of surprise. “Mr. Needham?”

“I thought to find you with Rochford.”

“Then you were mistaken.”

“Mistaken?” He frowned. “I don’t believe I mistook his interest in you.”

She released a bitter laugh. “His interest is in my estate, perhaps. In my dowry, most certainly. But in me? I assure you not, Mr. Needham.”

“Then he is a fool.”

“No. We are simply from different worlds. That one is his,” she inclined her head to the door, “and this one is mine.”

“Are you not enjoying yourself?”

“To be honest, I feel completely out of my element without Lydia. All too much like a sheep in a cow pasture.”

“You don’t look like a sheep,” he said. “A sprite perhaps, but never a sheep.”

“A sprite?” She laughed. “You told me you weren’t given to false flattery, Mr. Needham.”

His grin instantly faded. “There’s nothing false in my words, Mariah.” Her name slipped all too easily over his tongue. “You have no idea how lovely you are tonight.”

Unable to help himself, he reached out to stroke the curls that lay over her pale shoulder. His gaze followed the cascade of golden-brown locks to where the ends rested just above her milky-white breasts. “In the morning sunshine, I thought you resembled a wood nymph, but by moonlight, you are nothing short of angelic. You should always be out of doors, Mariah.”

“It’s where I prefer to be,” she said. “It’s where I feel most alive—walking, riding, tending the garden. I’ve always despised being stuck inside, but now that’s where I spend most of my waking hours. My only escape is at night when I sit on my own terrace or walk in the gardens.”

“Alone?” he asked, his gaze searching hers. Was he mistaken about her? Did she perhaps have a secret lover?

“Yes,” she whispered softly. “Very much . . . alone.”

She suddenly looked so forlorn, making him ache for what he couldn’t have. It was all he could do not to pull her into his arms.

“It would not be so if you were you to marry . . .” The words were out before he could take them back.

“To whom? Someone like Lord Rochford?” she asked, searching his eyes.

“A woman in your position may have her pick of nearly any eligible bachelor in the realm.”

She released a derisive laugh. “And I would still be very much alone. I don’t seek that kind of marriage, Mr. Needham. ‘Tis too beautiful a night to speak of such unpleasant things as marriage.” She tilted her face up toward the heavens, exposing the full column of her beautiful neck. “Do you ever stargaze? Or is such an activity too frivolous for a man of your serious temperament?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I have always loved astronomy.”

“I have never learned to identify the constellations, but the myths fascinate me. When you look up there tonight, what do you see?”

“The moon is too bright to see much,” he said. “The best time to view stars is during the new moon.”

“Can you find Cassiopeia for me?”

“She doesn’t emerge in the heavens until autumn, but Ursa Major is best viewed in spring. It’s also the easiest to recognize. Do you know the myth?”

“It is the story of Callisto, is it not?”

“Yes. Zeus was smitten by her, and Hera, his jealous wife, transformed Callisto into a bear. While she was in animal form, her son Arcas was going to shoot her, but Zeus intervened and turned Arcas into a bear as well. He then placed mother and son permanently in the heavens.”

“It seems so unfair that Callisto was punished merely for attracting the attention of Zeus, but then again, maybe she’s happier lighting up the nighttime sky than worrying about unwanted propositions from powerful men.”

“Unwanted propositions?” Her words rang a peal in his ears. “Did Rochford importune you?”

“No. He did not, but he hinted at a proposal of marriage.”

“When?”

“Earlier this evening.”

“How did you answer him?”

“I didn’t. Please, Mr. Needham. I don’t wish to talk about it. Why were you looking for me? Did you receive any news from Lord Marcus?”

“Yes. He anticipates he and Miss Trent will arrive late tonight.”

“What has detained him for so long?”

“He didn’t elaborate. He only said it was a matter of urgency.” She shivered. “You are cold.” He immediately stripped off his coat and laid it over her shoulders.

Her eyes met his. “Thank you, Mr. Needham.”

“Nicolas,” he said. “Or Nick would be even better.”

“Nick,” she repeated with a soft smile. “I like the sound of it. It suits you.”

“And why is that?”

“It’s a no-nonsense kind of name, isn’t it? You don’t seem to care for their disingenuous ways any more than I do. Indeed, you are the only one here with whom I am at ease. It’s hard to believe we met only a few short days ago. I feel as if I have known you so very much longer.”

“Perhaps it’s just the wine?” he suggested.

“No,” she murmured, leaning toward him, close enough for him to catch a teasing hint of lilacs. She licked her lips. The gesture drew his gaze to her luscious rose-colored mouth. He couldn’t help wondering if her lips were as sweet and petal soft as they looked. “It has nothing to do with the wine and everything to do with the man.”

Her tone and demeanor were warm and inviting, and innocently seductive. He was surely courting danger to be alone with her any longer. “We should go back inside and join them at cards,” he said.

“Must we?” she asked, soft and pleading.

“Yes, we must,” he replied resolutely. He’d come looking for her to protect her from Rochford, but who would protect her from him? “If you don’t wish to join them at cards, you could always make an excuse to retire early to your chamber.”

“But I won’t be able to sleep. I’m far too restless. What about you? Do you intend to wait for Lord Marcus and Lydia?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will wait with you,” she said. “That is . . . if you would care for some company.”

“No,” he said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to be together. Indeed, if we stay out here much longer, we will surely become an object of speculation.”

“Would that be so terrible?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” He was half afraid of her answer.

“If my reputation were tarnished, perhaps I would not then be troubled by any more unwanted suitors.”

“You are quite mistaken in me if you think I would do such a thing,” he replied tersely.

She had no idea the torture she was putting him through. What she’d just implied, that she was willing to be compromised, was pushing him perilously close to the breaking point. He was an honorable man, but a man nevertheless—made of flesh and blood.

“I’m sorry.” She bit her lip. “It was a foolish thing to say. But I am no one. Why would anyone bother themselves with me?”

“You don’t understand how it is,” he said. “This world is full of malicious people, Mariah. To those who live meaningless lives, spreading gossip and fomenting scandal is the ultimate in entertainment.”

“I have nothing in common with such people,” she said. “I hate falseness and malice. I’m very sorry I came here.”

“Are you?” he asked softly. “I’m not. If you hadn’t come, I never would have had the delight of getting to know you, and that would have been a tragedy for me.”

“But what does it matter? It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see each other again after tomorrow.”

His gaze narrowed. “After tomorrow?”

“Yes. In the morning, I intend to pack my belongings. I’m returning to Morehaven.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes. I am needed at home.”

“But you can’t leave so soon,” he protested. “I promised to teach you about cricket. I could never break my word to a lady. I have my reputation to protect.”

His effort at levity only seemed to annoy her. “Your reputation?” She gave a snort of indignation. “Is that all that matters to you, Mr. Needham? What others think?”

“Not at all,” he replied. “In truth, most of them can go to the devil for all I care.”

“Then why are you afraid to be alone with me?” she asked softly.

“I’m only trying to protect you from those who live to destroy others,” he answered.

His chest squeezed as her gaze grew misty. “I don’t belong here. Don’t you understand? Can you even imagine how it feels to be sought out only because you have property and a fortune? How will I ever know if someone actually cares for me?”

Nick stifled a groan. The anguish in her beautiful blue-green eyes unraveled his last threads of self-restraint. He drew her into his arms, knowing he was making a mistake, maybe the biggest of his life, but the kiss was his fate. It was as inevitable as the rising sun and as unstoppable as the ocean tide.

“How will you know?” He moved in slowly, deliberately, until their faces were mere inches apart, until the sweet sough of her breath caressed his face. He couldn’t hold himself back now if his next breath depended on it. “This is how.”

Cupping her face with both hands, he finally claimed the soft, sweet lips that had tormented him since he’d seen her in Lady Russell’s garden. Her kiss was the tenderest torture. Although unschooled, her lips were indescribably sweet. He wanted to lose himself in the drugging pleasure of them forever. He resisted the urge to probe with his tongue, knowing if he took this any further, he’d never be able to pull away, and he had to. He couldn’t let it go on. One long and lingering kiss was all he would allow himself . . . because anything more could never be enough.

Other Books In The Series

A Breach of Promise (re-releasing soon)

About The Author

Victoria Vane is a selling author of of smart and sexy contemporary romance and an award-winning author of historical romance. Her books have received many accolades to include the 2016 Red Carpet Award for Jewel of the East, 2014 RONE Award for Treacherous Temptations as well as Library Journal Best E-Book romance of 2012 for The Devil DeVere series.

 

 

 

Connect with Victoria

Email: victoria.vane@hotmail.com
Website: www.victoriavane.com
Blog: www.embracingromance.com
Blog:https://wildandwickedcowboys.wordpres…
Facebook: http://on.fb.me/YVeXrf
Twitter: @authorvictoriav
Pinterest: http://bit.ly/1vONQZh
Amazon: http://amzn.to/10QMKT5
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BLOGGER HTML

Title: A Pledge of Passion, Rules of Engagement Book Two
Genre: Historical Romance
Author: Victoria Vane
Release Date: May 16, 2016

Blurb

Only a madman makes a promise in the heat of passion…

During a midnight tryst in a moonlit garden, Nicolas Needham fell in love—only to walk away. As a younger son with few connections, his pride demanded that he better his circumstances before paying his suit to Lady Mariah. When Nicolas is finally given the opportunity he needs to advance—by negotiating a contract of matrimony on his employer’s behalf—he is shocked to learn that the intended bride is the same woman to whom he once pledged himself.

And only a fool believes him….

Mariah Morehaven has lived a quiet, almost reclusive life in the country. While she accepts that marriage is her unavoidable destiny, as a baroness in her own right, and heir to one of the oldest and land-rich estates in England, she fears becoming the target of fortune hunters. After entrusting her cousin, Lydia, to help her find a suitable match, Mariah is devastated to discover that the man sent to negotiate for her hand is the very same who broke her heart.

Buy The Book

Excerpt

NICK FOUND HER on one of the private terraces overlooking the gardens. Alone. Thank God. Dressed in her ivory gown and drenched in soft moonlight, she resembled nothing so much as an ethereal being leaning wistfully over the balustrade.

“Lady Mariah?” he called out softly.

She turned to face him with a look of surprise. “Mr. Needham?”

“I thought to find you with Rochford.”

“Then you were mistaken.”

“Mistaken?” He frowned. “I don’t believe I mistook his interest in you.”

She released a bitter laugh. “His interest is in my estate, perhaps. In my dowry, most certainly. But in me? I assure you not, Mr. Needham.”

“Then he is a fool.”

“No. We are simply from different worlds. That one is his,” she inclined her head to the door, “and this one is mine.”

“Are you not enjoying yourself?”

“To be honest, I feel completely out of my element without Lydia. All too much like a sheep in a cow pasture.”

“You don’t look like a sheep,” he said. “A sprite perhaps, but never a sheep.”

“A sprite?” She laughed. “You told me you weren’t given to false flattery, Mr. Needham.”

His grin instantly faded. “There’s nothing false in my words, Mariah.” Her name slipped all too easily over his tongue. “You have no idea how lovely you are tonight.”

Unable to help himself, he reached out to stroke the curls that lay over her pale shoulder. His gaze followed the cascade of golden-brown locks to where the ends rested just above her milky-white breasts. “In the morning sunshine, I thought you resembled a wood nymph, but by moonlight, you are nothing short of angelic. You should always be out of doors, Mariah.”

“It’s where I prefer to be,” she said. “It’s where I feel most alive—walking, riding, tending the garden. I’ve always despised being stuck inside, but now that’s where I spend most of my waking hours. My only escape is at night when I sit on my own terrace or walk in the gardens.”

“Alone?” he asked, his gaze searching hers. Was he mistaken about her? Did she perhaps have a secret lover?

“Yes,” she whispered softly. “Very much . . . alone.”

She suddenly looked so forlorn, making him ache for what he couldn’t have. It was all he could do not to pull her into his arms.

“It would not be so if you were you to marry . . .” The words were out before he could take them back.

“To whom? Someone like Lord Rochford?” she asked, searching his eyes.

“A woman in your position may have her pick of nearly any eligible bachelor in the realm.”

She released a derisive laugh. “And I would still be very much alone. I don’t seek that kind of marriage, Mr. Needham. ‘Tis too beautiful a night to speak of such unpleasant things as marriage.” She tilted her face up toward the heavens, exposing the full column of her beautiful neck. “Do you ever stargaze? Or is such an activity too frivolous for a man of your serious temperament?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I have always loved astronomy.”

“I have never learned to identify the constellations, but the myths fascinate me. When you look up there tonight, what do you see?”

“The moon is too bright to see much,” he said. “The best time to view stars is during the new moon.”

“Can you find Cassiopeia for me?”

“She doesn’t emerge in the heavens until autumn, but Ursa Major is best viewed in spring. It’s also the easiest to recognize. Do you know the myth?”

“It is the story of Callisto, is it not?”

“Yes. Zeus was smitten by her, and Hera, his jealous wife, transformed Callisto into a bear. While she was in animal form, her son Arcas was going to shoot her, but Zeus intervened and turned Arcas into a bear as well. He then placed mother and son permanently in the heavens.”

“It seems so unfair that Callisto was punished merely for attracting the attention of Zeus, but then again, maybe she’s happier lighting up the nighttime sky than worrying about unwanted propositions from powerful men.”

“Unwanted propositions?” Her words rang a peal in his ears. “Did Rochford importune you?”

“No. He did not, but he hinted at a proposal of marriage.”

“When?”

“Earlier this evening.”

“How did you answer him?”

“I didn’t. Please, Mr. Needham. I don’t wish to talk about it. Why were you looking for me? Did you receive any news from Lord Marcus?”

“Yes. He anticipates he and Miss Trent will arrive late tonight.”

“What has detained him for so long?”

“He didn’t elaborate. He only said it was a matter of urgency.” She shivered. “You are cold.” He immediately stripped off his coat and laid it over her shoulders.

Her eyes met his. “Thank you, Mr. Needham.”

“Nicolas,” he said. “Or Nick would be even better.”

“Nick,” she repeated with a soft smile. “I like the sound of it. It suits you.”

“And why is that?”

“It’s a no-nonsense kind of name, isn’t it? You don’t seem to care for their disingenuous ways any more than I do. Indeed, you are the only one here with whom I am at ease. It’s hard to believe we met only a few short days ago. I feel as if I have known you so very much longer.”

“Perhaps it’s just the wine?” he suggested.

“No,” she murmured, leaning toward him, close enough for him to catch a teasing hint of lilacs. She licked her lips. The gesture drew his gaze to her luscious rose-colored mouth. He couldn’t help wondering if her lips were as sweet and petal soft as they looked. “It has nothing to do with the wine and everything to do with the man.”

Her tone and demeanor were warm and inviting, and innocently seductive. He was surely courting danger to be alone with her any longer. “We should go back inside and join them at cards,” he said.

“Must we?” she asked, soft and pleading.

“Yes, we must,” he replied resolutely. He’d come looking for her to protect her from Rochford, but who would protect her from him? “If you don’t wish to join them at cards, you could always make an excuse to retire early to your chamber.”

“But I won’t be able to sleep. I’m far too restless. What about you? Do you intend to wait for Lord Marcus and Lydia?”

“Yes.”

“Then I will wait with you,” she said. “That is . . . if you would care for some company.”

“No,” he said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to be together. Indeed, if we stay out here much longer, we will surely become an object of speculation.”

“Would that be so terrible?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” He was half afraid of her answer.

“If my reputation were tarnished, perhaps I would not then be troubled by any more unwanted suitors.”

“You are quite mistaken in me if you think I would do such a thing,” he replied tersely.

She had no idea the torture she was putting him through. What she’d just implied, that she was willing to be compromised, was pushing him perilously close to the breaking point. He was an honorable man, but a man nevertheless—made of flesh and blood.

“I’m sorry.” She bit her lip. “It was a foolish thing to say. But I am no one. Why would anyone bother themselves with me?”

“You don’t understand how it is,” he said. “This world is full of malicious people, Mariah. To those who live meaningless lives, spreading gossip and fomenting scandal is the ultimate in entertainment.”

“I have nothing in common with such people,” she said. “I hate falseness and malice. I’m very sorry I came here.”

“Are you?” he asked softly. “I’m not. If you hadn’t come, I never would have had the delight of getting to know you, and that would have been a tragedy for me.”

“But what does it matter? It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see each other again after tomorrow.”

His gaze narrowed. “After tomorrow?”

“Yes. In the morning, I intend to pack my belongings. I’m returning to Morehaven.”

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes. I am needed at home.”

“But you can’t leave so soon,” he protested. “I promised to teach you about cricket. I could never break my word to a lady. I have my reputation to protect.”

His effort at levity only seemed to annoy her. “Your reputation?” She gave a snort of indignation. “Is that all that matters to you, Mr. Needham? What others think?”

“Not at all,” he replied. “In truth, most of them can go to the devil for all I care.”

“Then why are you afraid to be alone with me?” she asked softly.

“I’m only trying to protect you from those who live to destroy others,” he answered.

His chest squeezed as her gaze grew misty. “I don’t belong here. Don’t you understand? Can you even imagine how it feels to be sought out only because you have property and a fortune? How will I ever know if someone actually cares for me?”

Nick stifled a groan. The anguish in her beautiful blue-green eyes unraveled his last threads of self-restraint. He drew her into his arms, knowing he was making a mistake, maybe the biggest of his life, but the kiss was his fate. It was as inevitable as the rising sun and as unstoppable as the ocean tide.

“How will you know?” He moved in slowly, deliberately, until their faces were mere inches apart, until the sweet sough of her breath caressed his face. He couldn’t hold himself back now if his next breath depended on it. “This is how.”

Cupping her face with both hands, he finally claimed the soft, sweet lips that had tormented him since he’d seen her in Lady Russell’s garden. Her kiss was the tenderest torture. Although unschooled, her lips were indescribably sweet. He wanted to lose himself in the drugging pleasure of them forever. He resisted the urge to probe with his tongue, knowing if he took this any further, he’d never be able to pull away, and he had to. He couldn’t let it go on. One long and lingering kiss was all he would allow himself . . . because anything more could never be enough.

Other Books In The Series

A Breach of Promise (re-releasing soon)

About The Author

Victoria Vane is a selling author of of smart and sexy contemporary romance and an award-winning author of historical romance. Her books have received many accolades to include the 2016 Red Carpet Award for Jewel of the East, 2014 RONE Award for Treacherous Temptations as well as Library Journal Best E-Book romance of 2012 for The Devil DeVere series.

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