Portrait of Passion
Idyllwild, Book One
What’s a Viscount to do when a mysterious lady with a secret past and a reputation frayed around the edges suddenly appears in London in hot pursuit of his naive young cousin, setting the gossips’ tongues wagging, stirring his family into pandemonium, and driving him mad with her irreverent ways?
If the Viscount in question is Simon Easton, the answer is quite simple. Seduce the beguiling lady. But Miss Beatrice Morgan isn’t your average tarnished lady. She lives a slapdash life wandering the globe like a gypsy, painting fantastical portraits of Duchesses as sirens and landscapes featuring a crumbling old fountain, all the while harboring a secret desire to return to Idyllwild, the only home she’s ever known.
What Simon does not know is that Beatrice just might be willing to sacrifice her honor, her virtue, her very heart to reclaim Idyllwild.
Ellora's cave: http://www.ellorascave.com/portrait-of-passion.html
As they walked side by side up the broad staircase, Bea could feel his curious gaze. She stared straight ahead, afraid of what he might see in her eyes. Sorrow.Bitterness.Deceit.
Beatrice entered her room to find her maid Abby asleep in a chair.
“Abby,” Bea whispered, gently shaking her shoulder.
“Oh miss,” Abby cried sleepily, jumping to her feet. “I am that sorry to have fallen asleep!”
“It is late. Of course you fell asleep.”
“Shall I undress you?” she asked before spotting Simon standing quietly just inside the door. She blushed and bobbed a clumsy curtsy.
“Would you be an angel and find us a bottle of wine?” Beatrice asked the young girl.
“Yes miss, right away,” Abby agreed and fled past Simon and out the door.
“Poor dear,” Bea murmured, staring down at the chair the young maid had abandoned. For some reason she could not explain, she suddenly felt ashamed—angry and ashamed. The sight of the sleeping girl, her eagerness to please, her blushing acceptance of the lord in her mistress’s bedroom, it all combined to make Beatrice feel dirty, dishonest. Shame and rage filled her as she stood there with her back to Simon.
Finally she looked over her shoulder. Simon had not moved, simply stood by the door regarding her silently, his eyes studying her.
“Why are you standing there?” she demanded softly, her voice low and deep. She heard the building rage, felt it course through her blood. She did not understand where it came from. She did not know how to stop it, was not sure that she wanted to. The rage felt safe, necessary. It would drown out the shame, allow her to get through this night and the days to follow.
Simon quirked a brow at her. Bea felt mean laughter rumbling up her throat, hitching her breath. She spun away from his intent gaze, going to the window to stare sightlessly out into the dark night. She heard Simon moving about the room.
“Please make yourself comfortable,” she invited and realized that she could see him reflected in the window glass. She watched him remove his coat, fold it and lay it upon a chair.
A soft knock on the partially open door announced Abby’s return. Bea turned from the window. “Will you set it up on the table by the bed?”
“Yes miss,” the girl replied, again sidling around Simon, who stood before the table Bea had indicated. Simon stepped out of her way then sat in a chair before the empty fireplace.
“Shall I pour for you?” Abby asked and Bea saw that she addressed her question to Simon.
“Please,” he replied with a smile that caused the girl to blush yet again.
She finds him handsome. But of course she does, he is beautiful. Bea studied Abby’s efficient movements, her hands agile and graceful as she poured a measure of wine into each glass. Her gaze wandered over the girl, taking in her soft, blue eyes, the strands of dark-blonde hair that had escaped from her mobcap, the gray dress and white apron she wore.
She was a pretty girl. Bea thought that had Abby been born into a different family, she would be making her debut soon, perhaps next year.
Instead she waited upon a dishonest, lying, scheming woman. A bastard.
Bea could not hold back bitter laughter at the thought. Simon turned his head to look at her in surprise. Abby froze, her gaze flying to Bea’s face.
“You are a very pretty girl,” Bea said and watched the blush deepen on the girl’s cheeks.
“Thank you, miss,” she shyly replied, bobbing another quick curtsy.
When Bea only watched her silently, Abby looked to Simon, who gave her a subtle shrug, before she asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you, miss?”
“You may undress me,” Bea said.
“Beatrice,” Simon protested quietly.
“I would like Abby to undress me and brush out my hair,” Bea insisted. She forced herself to raise her eyes to his, unsure what they would reveal to him. She was confused, an awful feeling of desperation mingled with the banked rage and shame. Would he see?
Simon captured her gaze, his eyes dark, not angry, uncertain perhaps. She knew she was behaving irrationally. She did not care.
“I’ll step outside,” Simon finally replied.
“Do not,” Bea said, waving her hands about in agitation. “Please, stay.”
Simon looked from her face to her hands, suspended in midair. She dropped them to her sides, clenched her fingers in her skirts, grabbing fistfuls of the dark silk.
Bea looked at Abby, standing as still as a statue, her eyes wide as she looked back. Bea realized that it was the first time the timid girl had ever looked her mistress in the eye. As if reading her mind, the maid tore her gaze away and bent her head down.
“You may undress me,” Bea whispered, wishing she had not started down this path, unable to retreat from it.
As Abby approached her, Simon rose to retrieve the two glasses of wine. He handed one to Bea, his fingers brushing against hers as she reached for it. Her gaze flew to his face, to see a small, infinitely sad smile upon his lips. His eyes were sober, steady. Bea was struck with the notion that he understood the rage and shame that had taken hold of her, that he understood her erratic emotions.
He nodded at Abby, as if encouraging her to continue. Bea sensed the stiffening of the girl’s back, though she could no longer see her. She had stepped behind her mistress to unbutton her gown.
Bea sipped her wine, hoping that the cool liquid would somehow soothe the heat racing through her body.
Simon resumed his seat and silently watched as Abby efficiently unbuttoned her lady’s gown and carefully eased it over her shoulders, expertly catching it as it fell to her hips, and easing it down to the floor. She knelt to the side and held up her hand for Bea to hold for balance as she stepped from the pool of deep-blue silk. Bea was left in her thin cotton chemise and light stays over her lacy drawers and silk stockings. She looked down at her feet encased in dainty slippers.
Bea brought her eyes up to find Simon’s gaze fixed upon the swell of her breasts over her stays. He swallowed, his throat working as if to get around a lump wedged there. He clenched his jaw once, relaxed and raised his glass to his lips, his gaze never wavering.
Bea took a long swallow of her own wine, looked down at Abby silently kneeling before her and realized that she still held the girl’s hand. She gave her fingers a gentle squeeze and Abby looked at her questioningly.
“Your slippers?” she asked.
Bea lifted one foot then the other to allow the girl to remove her slippers, placing them on the floor beside her gown.
She felt Abby’s nimble fingers releasing the ribbons that held her stockings in place and closed her eyes in relief. It was almost done. Soon she would be naked before Simon and could send the girl to her bed. Regret for her actions toward her maid left a sour taste in her mouth. She raised her glass to wash it away.
When she opened her eyes, she found Simon watching her, studying the line of her throat, the lift of her chin, the movement of her tongue as she licked the drops of wine from her lips. His eyes lifted to hers and Bea was startled by the naked desire she saw there. His eyes were dark, his lids heavy over them. Sparks seemed to dance and shoot out from their depths, causing a shiver to race through her body.
Abby delicately cleared her throat and Bea looked down at her. The maid lifted one hand and slowly reached up and under her chemise for the ribbon of her drawers. Bea guessed she was giving her time to stop her, time to find a modicum of modesty. Bea did not halt her hand, only waited until the lace and cotton crumpled to the floor to lift her bare feet and allow the maid to add the garment to the growing pile of clothing next to her.
Widow’s Wicked Wish
Idyllwild Series, Book Two
Be careful what you wish for.
The Countess of Palmerton has lived her life by Society’s rules, marrying the right man, bearing the required heir, and guarding her name at all costs. And what has it gotten her? A loveless union, a cold marriage bed and a reputation for perfect propriety.
Fleeing the whispers of her husband’s scandalous demise, Olivia finds a haven at Idyllwild. Away from the gossip and glitter of London, she dares to cast a wicked wish to the winter sky.
Jack Bentley has a wish of his own, one he has no intention of leaving to the fickle fates. He will marry the stubborn widow, even if it means using her awakening passion to force her to the altar.
Ellora's cave: http://www.ellorascave.com/widow-s-wicked-wish.html
“Who is Mrs. Goode?” Jack ushered Olivia into the front parlor, curious to learn what she thought of the large room that was rendered miniscule by an overabundance of gilded furniture and sentimental landscapes.
“The lady from whom you lease this house,” she replied before stopping just beyond the threshold. “My goodness, I’d forgotten this room was so...”
“Hideous,” Jack offered.
“Interesting,” she corrected primly.
“You’ve been here before?”
“I attended school with Rachel Goode,” she explained as she began to wander about the room. “I often called upon her here before my marriage.”
Jack watched her trail her hand along the edge of an ornate table and over the back of a spindly chair he’d never been brave enough to sit upon. “Is there no one of consequence you don’t know?”
Olivia shrugged delicately in answer as she continued about the room, stopping to peer at a vase paying homage to some Chinese dynasty.
“London’s Darling,” he murmured.
Olivia shot a quick look over her shoulder, one Jack couldn’t begin to decipher. Surprise perhaps, maybe chagrin. Before he could place it she turned back to the vase, her hands gliding over the squat base and long neck. “I have it on the highest authority that I am nothing more than the daughter of an earl, the widow of same and the mother of yet another.”
“Is that all?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Funny, that was my question, as well,” she said as she turned to face him across a garish Turkish carpet in shades of purple and yellow. “Somehow I don’t think we meant the same thing by the question.”
At a loss as to how to respond to her words, to the rather surly look upon her face, Jack chose to take the bull by the horns.
“I want to apologize for the other night,” he began as he stepped onto the carpet, one step closer to where he wanted to be.
“Whatever for?” she asked.
“For that ridiculous remark I made about your gown.”
“My gown?” she asked with a laugh that sounded anything but joyous. “You needn’t apologize for finding my gown lovely.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.” Jack ran a hand through his hair. It appeared the lady was not going to graciously accept his contrition.
“How would I know what you meant? I hardly know you.”
“You knew me well enough this winter.”
She shrugged before resuming her promenade about the room.
“I did not mean to imply that you didn’t look lovely,” he continued. “Of course you were lovely. You are always lovely.”
“Lovely,” she murmured more to herself than him. “That’s it? I’m lovely?”
“Beautiful,” he hurried to assure her, surprised that she seemed to want to be flattered. The Olivia he’d known at Idyllwild hadn’t given him to believe she needed to be praised and petted. Nor was he one to spout such blarney, but hell, if she needed pretty words, if she wanted to be courted with poetry and sweet talk, then he would do his best.
“Your skin is like rose petals, your hair like…like the most luxurious silk.”
She spun about and pinned him with a glare down her pretty little nose. If it weren’t for the pulse beating at her throat, and the rise and fall of her breasts with each rapid breath she took, he might have mistaken her renewed temper for haughty disdain.
“That’s it?” she asked. “That’s all you’ve got?”
Caught off guard by the cold fury radiating off her in waves, Jack floundered.
“Go on,” she hissed.
“Your breasts are two pillows,” he began, grimacing as the words tripped from his lips.
“Where did you hear that? London’s Darling?” she interrupted.
“What? Nowhere,” he muttered in confusion.
Olivia advanced on him until she was close enough that he might have reached out and grabbed her.
No sooner had Jack lifted his hands to do just that when she spun around and returned to wandering about the cramped parlor. Jack turned to follow her, to keep her in sight in case she made to stride from the room, from the house, from him.
“This room really is dreadful,” she said after another charged silence, a silence during which Jack attempted to figure out what he’d done to set her against him. It couldn’t be his careless remark the night of her mother’s ball, not entirely.
“Awful,” he replied carefully to her back.
“I seem to remember Mrs. Dumfries having a knack for decorating,” she continued, peering up at a painting of two boys rolling a hoop in Hyde Park. “Likely Miss Dumfries inherited her mother’s talent. Perhaps you should ask her to help you with this room.”
Jack let out a bark of laughter, relief and amazement mingling to make him almost lightheaded.
“Is that what this is about, Livy?” he asked incredulously.
“This what?” Olivia turned to face him, her chin lifted in the air.
“Of Miss Dumfries?” she asked with a sniff. “Don’t be ridiculous. I wouldn’t trade places with that child for all the tea in England.”
“It was just a harmless bit of flirtation,” he said as he stalked toward her.
“It matters not a bit to me if you flirt with every woman in Town.” She stepped back from him until her hip grazed a statue of a blue elephant and she was trapped in the corner between the elephant and a carved wooden screen with butterflies painted in various shades of pink.
“Although I must say it was rather déclassé to do your flirting in my brother’s house, at my mother’s annual ball!” Her voice rose with each word until she was screaming at him as she’d done in the snow all those months ago.
At the time he’d found her behavior shocking, now he found it encouraging, hopeful.
“You’re absolutely right,” he agreed as he stepped into the corner with her. “I apologize. My behavior was beyond boorish.”
“Boorish but effective.” She stepped to the left, clearly intent upon sidling around him.
Jack shifted with her, effectively forcing her farther into the corner.
Undaunted, Olivia tossed back her head. “Although I must admit, I am a bit confused as to why you called upon me day after day, why you accosted me on the street today.”
“I wanted to see you,” he answered, not sure where she was going with this new tangent. Christ, keeping up with Olivia’s agile mind was a lot like following a conversation in Latin. Jack had never been much good with Latin.
Olivia sucked in a breath, all the color leaving her face. “You don’t intend to offer me some bauble, do you?”
“Bauble?” He’d purchased a ring but the large square-cut sapphire hardly classified as a bauble.
“Isn’t that what men do? They give a mistress a piece of gaudy jewelry, something no lady would ever wear, something meant to be sold to hold her over until another man comes along?”
“What are you talking about?” Jack growled as her meaning became clear. “You are not my mistress!”
“Well, I don’t need your tacky jewels,” Olivia growled right back, giving him a shove to his shoulder that didn’t budge him. “Let me by!”
“There won’t be another bloody man,” he snarled low in his throat.
“Don’t you curse at me.” She grabbed him by the lapels of his coat as if to shake him. “I am not some cheap doxy you can curse at whenever you choose. And I am not London’s goddamn Darling!”
The Countess of Palmerton had finally reached the end of her tether. Seething with rage, burning with a lust so powerful she’d been forced to flit about the room in order to refrain from grabbing Jack Bentley and wrestling him to the ground, Olivia did the only thing a lady can do when backed into a corner.
Tightening her hold on Jack’s lapels, she rose onto her toes until they were nearly eye to eye.
“Either put your cock inside me this instant or get out of my way,” she demanded, her voice vibrating.
Lynne Barron always wanted to be a writer, if only she could decide what to write. Everyone told her to write what you know. It wasn’t until she married her extremely romantic and surprisingly sensual husband that she was able to follow that advice. Lynne lives in Florida with her husband, son and a menagerie of rescued pets.
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