Taming Beauty

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Taming Beauty 

Once upon a time, a fairy-tale went terribly awry.

Raised amidst the rubble of the fairy tale that might have been, Miss Lilith Aberdeen has fashioned a life for herself on the fringes of London society. She is the very last lady likely to risk her independence or her heart on anything as fickle and frivolous as love. Or even familial affection, for that matter. So how is it she winds up journeying to the wilds of Cornwall to deliver an earl’s pampered, petulant daughter into the hands of the Beast of Breckenridge?

Blame it on the scandalous, unscrupulous, downright dissolute Earl of Dunaway.

Jasper Grimley, Baron Malleville has spent more than a decade living in self-imposed exile, tending his lands and waiting for his chosen bride to come of age. When his betrothed is plucked from his grasp mere months before the wedding, Jasper sets in motion a plan to turn the licentious earl’s plethora of debts and profusion of daughters to his advantage. But when dealing with the earl, even the best laid plans have a tendency to fall to ruin, and Jasper soon finds himself beguiled by the wrong woman. Lilith is not the sweet, innocent, biddable bride he bargained with the devil to possess, but she just might be…

The lady destined to lead him down the primrose path to happily-ever-after.

 

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Excerpt from Taming Beauty

Never one to back away from a challenge, no matter some challenges resulted in nothing but mayhem, Jasper continued across the terrace and on into the jungle that was his long-neglected garden.

“Good evening, my lord,” the lioness purred, resting her forearms on the iron balustrade and leaning over to expose the long line of her throat and the swell of her bosom. A thin stream of smoke rose from a black cheroot held between two long, pale fingers. “I’ve snuck off for a smoke, seeing as I thought it prudent not to further shock your guests by remaining with the gentleman in the dining room.”

“I suspect you’ve never been accused of an excess of prudence,” Jasper replied even as he headed toward the spiral staircase at one corner of the old, white-washed structure he’d inhabited for the first year of his self-imposed exile.

Laughter, low and sultry, drifted down from the balcony.

He took the stairs at a leisurely pace, never mind the thundering of his heart and the lecherous thoughts racing through his mind. He could not act upon them, could not sweep the woman up in his arms and carry her through the open door into the same bedchamber he’d retreated to in humiliation all those years ago.

He would not go back to that selfish existence, wallowing in his own degradation only to drown in the shame which was certain to follow. He’d learned his lesson–a hard, painful lesson he wouldn’t wish on anyone.

“I do possess my own brand of prudence,” Miss Aberdeen said, watching his approach from the corner of her eye. “Learned by trial and error, as any good lesson ought to be learned.”

Her words so mirrored his thoughts, he nearly stumbled over his own two big, clumsy feet. “Was it prudence that had you airing your family’s dirty linen at my dinner table?”

“It was actually.” She took a slow pull on the cheroot and blew out three perfect little rings, quickly dispersed by the breeze. “And that linen was pristine compared to the stained unmentionables I might have waved about for your family and neighbors to ogle.”

“You might as well share the rest of it with me,” he muttered, stopping an arm span away from her and leaning against the bannister, a wholly contrived negligent pose considering the tumult of lust coursing through him.

“Whatever shall we talk about at dinner over the next twelve days if I don’t dole out the scandal a bit at a time?” she asked, looking out over the gardens, such as they were. “The wedding will take place in twelve days, will it not?”

“It will,” he confirmed.

“Would you care for one?” She lifted her hand to indicate the cheroot. “They are my own particular blend, rolled with my own nimble fingers.”

“No.”

“A nasty habit I only indulge once daily, after dinner. Prudence, and all that.”

“I smoke a pipe on occasion.” Jasper could not have said why he offered up the information.

“One of Gwendolyn’s lovers smoked a pipe,” she said with a smile. “Sir Malcolm used to allow me to pack it and light it for him. Cherry flavored tobacco, it was.”

“How old were you?” What kind of life had she led that she spoke of her mother’s various protectors with fond remembrance.

“Nine, perhaps ten. I suppose it matters not a whit whether Sissy is happy with the match?”

It took Jasper a moment to find his place in the conversation once more. “Not a whit.”

“I might have miscalculated,” she murmured, as if speaking to herself. “I hadn’t any idea you weren’t an exceedingly wealthy man.”

Jasper didn’t need to ask how she’d deduced the sorry state of his finances. It was evident in the garden she couldn’t or wouldn’t look away from, in the worn carpets in every room and the skeletal staff scurrying about in a doomed attempt to see to the comfort of all his guests. “I beggared myself to raise the capital to buy Dunaway’s debts.”

“I’d say you more than beggared yourself,” she countered. “If I am not much mistaken, you’ve well and truly buggered yourself.”

Jasper barked out a laugh, rusty and gravelly from disuse.

“Tell me, my lord, why did you do this foolish thing?”

“I need a bride, seeing as your father stole mine away three months before the wedding.”

“Dunaway only borrowed Rose,” she replied. “To my knowledge he didn’t get a daughter on her so you could have married her still. Or if you insist upon marrying an innocent, surely there are any number of comely country girls who would gladly take you on.”

“A highborn wife with an untarnished reputation.” Jasper’s voice came out harsher than he’d intended, but her refusal to turn away from the garden had his temper sparking.

“It seems you do hear the tittle tattle from Town even way out here. I was beginning to wonder.”

“Because I wasn’t aware Dunaway had fathered an illegitimate daughter, you mean?”

Miss Aberdeen straightened from her elegant slouch against the bannister and rounded on him, her catlike green eyes widening. “You weren’t aware Dun had fathered… But surely…” Whatever words she’d been poised to utter fell away when she frowned, her face going pale but for twin spots of color cresting her cheeks.

“Miss Aberdeen.” Jasper reached for her, his fingertips brushing her upper arm before he realized what he was doing. He jerked his hand back, only belatedly feeling the heat of her flesh from the brief contact.

“That lying, conniving bastard,” she said with a laugh that sounded raw. “Just when I think… But never mind. And please, you might as well call me Lilith.”

“We are soon to be family,” he replied, a much needed reminder that this woman, with her flyaway curls and almost unbearably beautiful face, was forever out of his reach.

“Family? We’ll be nothing of the sort.”

“I hate to contradict a lady-“

“I’m no lady.” Her gaze fell to his hand and he realized he was flexing and shaking his fingers as if he’d touch live flames and the tips had come away singed. “As we both know.”

“All the same, you are my future wife’s sister.”

“Oh for goodness sake,” she exclaimed, flicking the cheroot over the bannister. “Why is it everyone keeps tossing that bloody word about?”

“Wife?”

“Sister,” she huffed. “You will never see so much as a shilling of the interest on Dunaway’s debt, let alone recoup any portion of the principal. You do realize that, don’t you?”

“I hold the mortgages to two of the earl’s un-entailed properties, including the estate on which Lady Dunaway was born and raised. Should his lordship default on his loan, I will simply take possession of the properties and sell them.”

“Goodness, that will make for a felicitous marriage,” she replied with a wry grin. “Both yours and Dunaway’s.”

“Perhaps he ought to have considered the consequences to his actions before he seduced my betrothed.”

“As you considered the consequences before you seduced Lord Morrissey’s mistress?” Lilith shot back, her aim straight and true. “I’ve never quite understood the sequence of events. Did you lay with Mrs. Denton before or after you wagered and lost your fortune to the viscount?”

Jasper raised two fingers to his brow in salute of her marksmanship.

“And how did the duel come about?” she persisted, her gaze tracing the line of raised flesh running along his cheek. “Did you name Morrissey a cheat and challenge him to meet you at dawn?”

“He took exception to his paramour bedding a bankrupt Cornishman.”

“Well, of course he did. Morrissey only turns a blind eye for wealthy earls and dukes who might contribute some bauble or trinket to his coffers. You ought to have chosen pistols as it is common knowledge his lordship is deadly with a sword.”

“I hadn’t the choice of weapons,” Jasper admitted, enjoying himself immensely and wanting only to continue to have all of her considerable wit and wry humor aimed squarely at him for as long as possible. “Seeing as I called him out for the slur against my countrymen.”

“Were you still in Mrs. Denton’s bedchamber when you challenged him?”

“Actually, the lady lay next to me on a narrow bed under the eaves of a run-down rooming house in Cheapside.”

“With the vermin-ridden bedcovers pulled up to her chin no doubt. Morrissey must have been livid. Surely you could have taunted and needled him into issuing the challenge so that you were given the choice of weapons. It isn’t terribly difficult to manipulate a man’s convoluted notions of pride and honor, after all.”

“A female ploy a gentleman does not stoop to utilize.”

“Is it any wonder we women must stoop to such trickery when all about us men invite chaos and lunacy to run rampant?” Lilith asked with a smirk, a quite fetching expression few women could pull off with such aplomb.

“No wonder at all.” Jasper fought the grin forming on his lips. It wouldn’t do to encourage the lady to such trickery.

“You’d do well to remember that in the coming days.”

“As you are waving your family’s soiled undergarments about for my guests to ogle at will?”

Lilith Aberdeen took two small, gliding steps, coming to a stop mere inches from where he’d remained in the shadows, content to allow her to bask alone in the candlelight. Tilting her head back, she captured his gaze and held it. “Mere warning shots, my lord, to test the battlements, so to speak.”

Heat radiated from every inch of her long, lithe form, carrying her scent–anise and cinnamon and a hint of citrus–to him in undulating waves, buffeting his senses.

“Release Sissy from this misalliance,” she continued, her voice a husky whisper. “Or I will be forced to call for reinforcement and lay siege to your impressive battlements until you surrender.”

Jasper swallowed back a groan at her words, his mind addled simply imagining all the ways she might tempt him to surrender. “Do your worst.”

Lilith laughed, her breath fluttering over his neck and jaw. She was so near, so blessedly close, Jasper had only to bend his knees and lower his head to have her lips, those wanton lips even now curling with a mischievous smile, beneath his.

“For you, I think only my best will do.”

 

Taming Beauty

Available Now for Pre-order at Amazon