Some men are born to make dynasties and some women are born to make trouble.Hellbent on arranging a pardon for her exiled cousin, Madolyn Carver will stop at nothing to achieve her aim, even if it means seducing the mysterious Earl of Swafford. So what if he’s known as “The Beast” and is immensely powerful? Plucky Maddy isn’t frightened off easily. Returned home after too long abroad, The Beast also has a mission. He must remove his younger brother and heir to the vast Swafford estate from the clutches of a most unsuitable woman. When a misunderstanding leads him to mistake Maddy for his brother’s cunning mistress, he takes her captive under the guise of The Beast’s manservant. Now she can longer be a threat to his misguided brother’s future, or so he thinks. And surely, The Beast’s infamous iron will can resist the charms of one particularly disobedient, witty, intriguingly stubborn young woman.But there is a far greater danger. A deadly assassin has come to the Swafford estate, and The Beast’s fear of falling in love might just be his downfall. Maddy, the woman he won’t trust, is the one innocent soul who can save his life–and his heart.
(copyright Jayne Fresina)
“Why are you here?” He held her wrists between her back and the door, his body pressed to hers. “Tell me the truth and perhaps I’ll be merciful. Although my master would not be. Who sent you here? Who put you up to this?” He bent his head again to lick the curve of her ear.
She swallowed an incapacious cry of protest.
“Tell me,” he repeated gruffly, holding her hard against the door, the words partly muffled in her hair.
“You know why I came. I told you my purpose.”
“There must be more to it. You would give yourself away for so little?”
“So little?” she gasped, as his tongue boldly caressed the pulse at the side of her neck.
“Captain Downing means much to you.”
“Yes. Do you have no loyalty, no devotion to anyone except your master?”
His lips ventured lower, traversing the upper curve of her quaking breast. A light touch, little more than a warm, whispering breeze, it still left a mark on her, the tracing of his damp tongue.
“You put yourself in great danger,” he said, planting another kiss to the base of her throat.
“What if the earl decides to keep you here as his prisoner?”
“I’m far too disagreeable for any man to want for long.”
He paused. She thought she heard him laugh. It was an odd, stilted sound she longed to encourage out of hiding. He needed to laugh. She’d sensed that almost from the first.
“My lord?” Someone knocked at the door briskly, breaking through her balmy daydreams.
The loosened bolt rattled, but her captor paid no heed to the noise.
He kissed her hot cheek and then reclaimed her lips. Eyelids fluttering shut, she arched toward him, her body yearning. She wanted to put her arms around his neck again, but his fingers were unrelenting iron cuffs around her wrists.
The visitor at the door knocked harder.
With little kisses he brushed one eyelid, then the other, his breath blowing playfully on her lashes.
She wanted to cry out, beg him not to stop. Instead she whimpered pathetically, “Someone comes for your master.”
“Ignore. I’m not done putting you in your place for slapping me today.”
“You’d best make haste. I haven’t all day.”
“Are you always so irritating?”
“Irritating?” she muttered wryly, “I thought I was on my best behavior.”
“I’d like to see you at your worst.”
“Be careful what you wish for.” Heat radiated from her belly now; lust held her ransom against the door.
He growled gently in her ear. “What is it you want from my master? Say the word and I’ll see that you have it. Anything.”
“Captain Downing’s pardon. How many times must I say it?”
“There must be more.” His tongue swept over her mouth again as if he couldn’t resist, yet when she parted her lips, ready for him, he left her waiting this time. “What could he give you?
What could he do for you, not for Downing?”
A third, insistent knock rattled the door.
“Is there nothing you want? No fine pearl earrings? No purse of gold? No silk petticoat?”
She’d never thought of anything like that for herself. Earrings she would undoubtedly lose, a petticoat she would tear, and a purse of gold would only make her terrified of robbers. Where did one keep a purse of gold safely? She knew spending it all at once would be quite impossible. Even sixpence caused her palpitations, trying to decide what to spend it on.
“I want nothing else,” she mewled, raising her lashes.
His breath was ragged, her own even less steady. In his eyes, pure gold gleamed through layers of dark and shadow, but despite the riches they held, they were the strangest, saddest, neediest two creatures she’d ever seen. She shivered.