Seductive Secrets - the first book in a new trilogy.
To survive, she’ll have to trust him with all her secrets.
Nick is back.
After eight years of facing public scandal and private humiliation with her head held high, Isobel’s courage fails when the man she never stopped loving returns and asks her to marry him. Once he discovers her secret, he won’t visit her bed more than once. And she can’t bear his rejection.
Nicholas, Marquess of Cardington, is confident he can cope with the baggage Isobel carries from her first marriage. It doesn’t matter that the beautiful widow once left him to elope with another man. After all, he was partly to blame for that disaster. All that matters is he has always loved her, and now she’s free to accept his proposal.
Only on their wedding night does Nick learn the terrible secret Isobel has harbored for eight long years. To win his wife’s trust will take every ounce of tenderness he possesses - when what he really wants is to show her the passion he saved for her and her alone.
But just as Isobel begins to believe her heart is safe with Nick, the blackmailers who drove her first husband to suicide reappear. And they want their pound of flesh.
Isobel must finally trust Nick will all her secrets—and her life—or their enemies will destroy them both.
Nick took Isobel straight through the rose garden to a spot a little more distant but
still in sight of the house. A wooden seat stood as if to view the sunset, not straight on to it, so it wouldn’t dazzle them but angled perfectly so they could enjoy it without any glare. Isobel knew better than to ask. Of course, the garden designer had placed it there deliberately.
“I’m not sure I can run this house as well as your mother,” she confessed.
He sat down and stretched his arm over the back of the seat but didn’t touch her. She felt strangely secure now, considering her state of nerves a short time earlier. “It doesn’t matter as long as you bring your own style to it.”
“I suppose I should have spent some time here first, so that your mother could instruct me on my duties.”
He grimaced. “Heaven forbid! You know how to go about things. You need no instruction from my mother.”
Up until then she’d watched the golden sun, sinking lower towards the horizon behind a rosy glow of soft cloud over the lush green park but now she turned to him instead, his fervency pulling her away from the lovely spectacle before them. “The house is perfectly run. The food is hot, the furniture clean, everything beautifully appointed.”
“Precisely.” When he saw her puzzled look, he laughed. “The perfection always made me feel superfluous. Unwanted, unneeded, except as a vessel to carry a name to the next generation. And what’s the point of that? I wanted to do something, make something of myself but my little kingdom always drew me back. This always came first.” He swept his arm wide to include the grounds, the house dominating the landscape, everything as far as the eye could see. “In the olden days I might have been called a king. Now the only battles I fight are the little ones in the law courts. There’s always something going on, the boundary disputes, the prosecutions of poachers, that kind of thing.”
“Would you like to be a warrior?”
He considered it, pursing his lips in thought. She watched, wondering how a man could be so handsome. She’d never been immune to his powerful beauty. That had been half the problem. “Only in my romantic heart. There, the small boy still lives. He fights dragons to win the heart of his fair lady, solves fiendish riddles, lives in a castle. In reality, the dragon would be a slimy lizard, the riddles pointless and the castle cold and dreary. Don’t you think so?” He was smiling now. When he smiled at her, his hauteur fell away; only warmth remained.
“And the lady an old crone, past her first youth?” She smiled back.
He grew solemn. Isobel lowered her lashes, uncomfortable under his intent gaze. “Not in the least. That’s the only real thing about the whole dream. I have the lovely princess here and I’m not letting her go.” He leaned a little closer, and Isobel held her breath, fear rising in her throat. Only for a moment. They were in the open air, fully dressed, within sight of the house. There was no danger here.
She let him kiss her. When he encircled her with his arms, she didn’t feel trapped and not at all panicked. He’d expect such intimacies of her. She steeled herself when his arms tightened, as he lowered his head to kiss her.
His lips met hers and pressed, his breath sweet with the wine he’d drunk at dinner. He didn’t push her, but seemed to be waiting for her response, for her to give him permission to go further.
She gave it. Her lips opened a little when his tongue brushed against them, and with a slight sound at the back of his throat, he gently probed her mouth. Isobel started in shock but didn’t pull away. She’d have to get used to it, that was all.
His tongue entered her mouth with disturbing intimacy, and his lips pressed open against hers. There was nothing more to come, there couldn’t be. She could enjoy this. Isobel fought her panic down and relaxed into the strength of Nick’s body. She began to enjoy his kiss.
He stroked his tongue against the roof of her mouth, soothing and exciting her at the same time. She ventured to touch his tongue with hers, and he rewarded her with a responsive caress. His arms, not holding her still any longer, moved, smoothing her back in a series of gentle strokes. He pulled her closer but not crushingly so, and she didn’t feel trapped at all. Safe even, cradled in his arms.
Isobel ventured to slide one hand over his chest. His waistcoat and shirt lay between her and bare skin, and this somehow gave her sanction. He didn’t appear to object but made another sound, a warm, soft sound. She dared to slip her hand around to his back, to hold him as close as he held her.
He finished the kiss but didn’t release her. Instead, he dropped feather-light kisses on her jaw, the corner of her eyes and her forehead, and then leaned into her, holding her close. She closed her eyes and rested against him, feeling oddly safe. Before tonight men had been her fear, a source of trepidation and sometimes terror but this man radiated security and tranquility.
In a wash of warmth, Isobel knew she’d made the right decision, knew she’d be safe and cared for here. She felt him rest his cheek on her hair, wondered what he was thinking, how he was feeling. She daren’t ask him, not yet. It might break the spell.
“You make me feel like a knight,” he murmured, as though he’d read her mind. “Ready to fight dragons for my lady.”
She gave a shaky laugh. “I’m not your lady yet.”
“Yes you are. You always were.”
Seductive Secrets. Out on June 10th at Samhain Publishing
Lynne Connolly, http://www.lynneconnolly.com/SeductiveSecrets.html