Her secret lover…
Stella Faulkner has been a despised poor relation in her odious uncle’s house since she was forced to flee Italy ahead of Napoleon’s invasion. In return for a roof over her head, she acts as her cousin’s unpaid governess and companion. Stella knows that if she shows the slightest trace of her disgraced mother’s wildness, she’ll be cast out to face destitution. But after ten years of thankless servitude, Stella encounters a dashing libertine who turns her world to flame. Handsome Lord Halston is irresistible, but every kiss, every caress carries the risk of discovery, and with discovery, disaster.
The rake beguiled…
Grayson Maddox, Earl of Halston, glories in his reputation for charm, seduction, and ruthlessness. His mistresses know that the profligate lord offers them pleasure and luxury, but when he says goodbye, the affair is over. To Halston, love is a sentimental myth and fidelity a trap. One night at a glittering ball, he sees a beautiful woman trying to fade into the crowd of dowdy chaperones and every instinct clamors to make this mysterious lady his. But all bets are off when Stella Faulkner promises to become the lover he’ll never forget.
Halston and Stella start a sizzling affair under the cover of a respectable house party at his country estate. But once this interval of heady delight comes to an end, what will become of the humble governess and the wicked earl? Must they return to being strangers as they originally arranged, or will five days of intoxicating sin turn into forever?
An international e-book release ~ 30th June 2021
Comerford House, Lorimer Square, London, April 1816
Extending her gloved hands over the brazier and breathing in its scented smoke, Stella struggled to decide whether to betray her cousin or look for her somewhere else. With every second, telling her uncle became the obvious choice.
Then someone would have to chase after Imogen, which meant endless ructions and Imogen’s reputation in tatters. Not to mention Stella hauled over the coals because she’d allowed this to happen.
“You’re not who I expected to see,” a drawling baritone said from the shadows. “At least at first.”
Stella started and backed up a few steps on shaky legs. Her eyes darted around the dark space.
A point of red flared from the window seat beneath one of the gazebo’s latticed windows. Whoever shared the space was smoking a cheroot. If the brazier hadn’t been filled with perfumed pastilles, she’d have smelled the tobacco.
“Show yourself,” she said sharply, although a queasy feeling in her stomach told her she knew who this was.
A long-suffering sigh was the response. She had no difficulty in picturing the superior expression on his high-bred face.
A black shape unfolded from the seat and rose with a languid ease that was an insult in itself. Stella could make out enough of the man now to confirm that she was right about his identity.
So she felt no surprise when he stepped into the light. Or what light there was, which wasn’t much. “Lord Halston.”
Her perfunctory curtsy made his long, expressive mouth curl in sardonic appreciation. “Very polite.”
“I’ve been taught to respect my betters,” she said grimly, and knew that neither of them would describe him in those terms.
The earl was tall and lean, and his every movement expressed lazy grace. He was dressed in black, although his white shirt and neckcloth created pale patches in the gloom.
In this light, his saturnine face was all angles and hollows. But she didn’t need illumination to recall those sculpted features and the hooded green eyes that seemed to notice everything. After two weeks of observing him across crowded ballrooms, she was well aware that his indolent air was deceptive.
“I’m waiting for your fair cousin.”
Stella was so flustered to find herself alone with Lord Halston that only now did the true significance of his solitude strike her. She released a gasp of relief. Imogen hadn’t turned up for the rendezvous. “I’m looking for her.”
“If you find her, pray tell her that it’s bad form to invite a gentleman to a tryst, then fail to appear.”
Imogen must have come to her senses before she did anything silly. Thank God. “A pity that she disappointed you,” Stella said with a hint of irony.
As he fixed that unreadable gaze on her, the hand holding the cheroot made a dismissive gesture. A black silk sling supported his left arm. For the last few weeks, London had buzzed with tattle about Halston’s latest mistress shooting him after he handed out her marching orders.
“I wouldn’t exactly say I’m disappointed. I’m sure you can amuse me perfectly well in your cousin’s place. In fact, I might even say I’m delighted with how events have turned out.”
Just like that, threat bristled in the air. Nerves pinged in Stella’s midriff, as she drew herself up to her full height and glared at him. She was a tall woman, but to her regret, she didn’t measure up to Lord Halston who was well over six feet.
“I doubt it, my lord.” Her voice was almost as cold as the air. “How will your reputation as a rake survive, if people find out that you wasted your masculine wiles on me? There’s not much cachet in flirting with a middle-aged governess of no attractions and no distinction.”
“How wrong you are. Anyway I’m amused already.” His low chuckle sent another wave of unease washing through her. This shiver had nothing to do with the perishing cold. “But I’m touched to discover that you have my welfare at heart.”
He stopped as if expecting a reply, but wisdom kept her silent. She needed to bring this discussion to an end, but not just yet. First, she had to discover how far things had progressed between Halston and her cousin.
When she didn’t speak, he went on. “Nor would I precisely say that flirtation is my goal.” He paused again, which gave her time to worry about what he meant. “Or not flirtation for its own sake, at any rate.”
“You wanted to seduce my cousin?”
“Not at all. I want to seduce you.”