This is a huge week for me with TWO new releases!
The first is my contribution to the PASSIONATE PROMISES anthology that just release yesterday. My story is a new Georgian romance that is also a follow up to my 2011 historical romance debut (A BREACH OF PROMISE). A PLEDGE OF PASSION features several secondary characters from that award-nominated story. Lydia's cousin Mariah, and Marcus' best friend, Nicolas are the new protagonists and Lady Russell once more plays a key part in orchestrating the romance. Here's a sneak peek!
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."
"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?"
"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."
"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.
I'm also incredibly excited about the second release today of TWO TO WRANGLE, book #2 in my sassy, sexy HOTEL RODEO SERIES.
Ty slid his key card into the lock of the owner’s suite before it even occurred to him to knock. He almost closed the door again but shook off the idea. He’d told her ten. Who else would she be expecting?
“Monica? You ready?” Ty called out as he entered the living area—and stopped dead in his boots. Willing himself to breathe normally, he took in the suggestive scene.
“Ty?” Monica rose with a guilty look, knocking over her drink and spilling it on the guy beside her. He didn’t need a formal introduction to know it was Evan. Although they’d seen each once or twice in passing, they’d never actually met.
“Omigod, Evan! I’m so sorry,” she said. “Can I get you a towel?”
“No need.” Evan pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from his pocket. He silently sized Ty up, even as he wiped himself off. Ty returned the favor but had the advantage of being on his feet and not wiping a spilled drink from his lap. What kind of pussy carried a monogrammed hankie?
Ty moved into the room in a deceptively calm and deliberate stride and extended his right hand. “Don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.”
“Ty, this is Evan Hirschfeld Davis. Evan is . . . er . . . a good friend of mine.” Monica finished the sentence awkwardly as if unsure how to classify the relationship. He was no longer her boss and they weren’t engaged anymore. Ty’s gaze dropped to her left hand to be certain. Nope. No ring. “Evan, this is Ty Morgan,” she continued the introduction, visibly flustered. “He’s the new CEO of Brandt Morgan Entertainment.”
“Ty,” Evan nodded and stood to clasp his hand. Ty held the height advantage but not by as much as he’d thought. Evan’s gaze was steady and his handshake firm and confident. It said no bullshit. Ty could at least respect that in the man.
“Did I interrupt something?” Ty asked, adding silently, like you making a move on my woman?
“Not at all.” Evan replied just as evenly and with a “Fuck off” smirk. “It seems I’m the gate-crasher here. Monica said she had a business meeting this evening.”
“Is that what she called it?” Ty asked. “I s’pose you could call it business. I hope yours can wait, because mine can’t.”
“I’m sorry, Evan,” Monica interjected with a tight smile. “Maybe later?”
Ty gave him a look that clearly said, Over my dead fucking body . . . or maybe yours.
“Just say the word, Mon.” Evan replied smoothly.
“Do you have some kind of wrap or shawl you could wear with that dress?” Ty asked, wanting a moment to set things straight for the intruding asshole. “You might get cold in such a little bitty dress.”
“Give me a minute and I’ll look for something,” Monica replied.
“Sure thing, sugar.”
Evan scowled at the pet name.
Both men watched her departing ass. Hot damn, that dress was about to give Ty a heart attack. “You’d best stop looking at her like that. And I better never see your hands on her again either,” Ty murmured with a smile.
“She’s way out of your league, cowboy.”
“Is she now?” Ty remarked, stretching his smile.
“Are you actually implying she dumped me for you?” Evan asked with a snort.
“Apparently she knows a good thing when she sees it. You didn’t.” Ty shrugged. “Guess that means I win. You lose.”
“Who says the game’s over?” Evan replied. “I never lose, cowboy. I’ve got more money and more influence than you could ever imagine. I always get what I want.”
“Is that right, Evan?” Monica stood in the doorway, her wrap around her shoulders and bag in hand. “Did I just interrupt some kind of pissing contest? If so, I can end it now.” She looked from one man to the other and then added with a smile, “For the record, Evan, Ty’s is bigger.”
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