A Tempting Ruin
by Kristin Vayden
Series: Greenford Waters
Legacy Publisher: Blue Tulip Publishing
He might be a gentleman by title, but he was a rogue at heart... Beatrix Lamont is in hiding. Sequestered at Lady Southridge's country estate, she assumes the identity of a lady's companion: never once expecting her past would catch up with her. It does, however, in the vexing and seducting form of Lord Neville. Determined and far too charming for his own good--after all who simply demands a woman marry him? Not a gentleman. Lucky for Lord Neville, being a gentleman has never been an option, especially when it comes to Beatrix, the woman would try the patient of a saint, and every encounter with her leaves his body yearning for more. Caught between wanting her for himself and needing to protect her from dangers that lurk in the shadows of both their pasts, he must eventually make a choice. Become the gentleman he's never been--or play the seducer she brings out in him, and hope in the end she'll forgive him for using her to catch a killer.
***This is an Interconnected Standalone***
“Good afternoon.” Lord Neville’s voice broke through the serene silence of the orangery, startling Beatrix and causing her heart to practically take flight. Quickly she spun to face the man speaking, a hand covering her heart as she willed the racing cadence to abate. His grey eyes took her in with a calculating glint as he lazily stood from his perch on the alcove bench. There was nothing for it; he knew. It was useless to pretend otherwise. “Hello, Lord Neville. Were the theatrics to your liking?” Beatrix asked with a saucy lilt to her tone as she watched him close the distance. He clapped slowly, drawing out the gesture. “It might have fooled me…” he replied offhandedly as he shrugged. “But?” Beatrix asked. “It was your hands.” “Pardon?” Beatrix asked, confused as she lifted her hands and inspected them. “When you’re nervous, you tend to touch your fingertips to your thumb in succession. It’s a telling habit.” “I do?” Beatrix asked as she studied her hands once more then turned her gaze to the man before her. “Yes.” “How did you know—“ “The library.” Beatrix caught her breath then released it slowly, but she could tell by the spark in his gaze that he hadn’t missed her reaction. Damn the man. The library… it was nothing. Rather, it should have been nothing. “Oh.” She tried to recover. His amused chuckle caused her to narrow her eyes, but, rather than show any remorse, his grin grew. Becoming more devastatingly alluring by the moment. Heaven help her, but she was helpless against the man. She shouldn’t be. There had been just a few stolen moments shared… nothing lasting. Nothing that should create such a draw. But it was there, nonetheless. “You’re doing it again.” He glanced down to her fingers then met her gaze once more. Sure enough, she felt her fingers pause as she realized he was indeed correct. How was it that she had never noticed that about herself, yet he, a… well, not a total stranger… had memorized such a nuance? “Be that as it may…” Beatrix straightened her shoulders and took a few steps to the left, avoiding his direct approach. “…what is it that you want?” she asked in a clipped tone. “The truth,” he replied softly, tilting his head. “Concerning?” Beatrix asked, taking another side step toward a leafy orange tree. “Concerning why you’re here, of course.” “I would think it’s obvious,” Beatrix replied loftily as she wound around the orange tree’s trunk, keeping an eye on the approaching lord. Lord Neville clicked his tongue and shook his head, all the while sending her a mischievous grin that melted her insides. “Miss Lamont, we both know that I’m after far more than the obvious… or, in this case… what you wish for me to believe. I’ll warn you that I’m not so easily deterred.” “Oh, is that so?” Beatrix sent him an arch look. “It would seem that you are quite… easily startled,” she shot back. His gaze narrowed as he paused in his approach. “What made you create such an assumption?” “Why, the library of course.” She bit back a grin at the irritated flash in his gaze upon turning the tables back on him. “The library? Tell me, Miss Lamont, was that before or after I compromised you?” he asked with a dark grin. “You — oh! You know very well that—“ “That if any matron of society had stumbled into our cozy little interlude you would have been ruined… which was why I walked away. Walked… not ran… as you just implied.” Beatrix bit her lip and glanced away, hating that he was right and had used her shortsighted attempt at victory to turn her own wit against her. Miserable man. “You did leave… the next day, that is,” she reminded him, watching his expression as it was fixed upon her. “I did,” he replied then took another step toward her. She placed the tree between them but peeked around the trunk. “Why?” she asked, unable to meet his regard as she spoke. “Why?” he repeated softly. Beatrix swallowed her cursed pride and glanced up, compelled by her curiosity to be brave. “Why did you leave so abruptly?” “For being so expertly compromised—“ “Oh bother.” Beatrix rolled her eyes and stepped away, irritated, and gave her back to the lord. “It was a kiss—“ “Perhaps for you…” Lord Neville’s hand grasped hers and halted her recession. Just as she remembered, his hand was warm, enveloping hers completely. A shiver of delighted expectation ripped through her as she slowly turned to face him. Blinking, she waited as his gaze roamed her features and settled on her lips. “As I was saying… for being so expertly compromised…” Amusement danced in his expression. “…you’re truly innocent. I do believe I will have to remedy that,” he whispered as he leaned in and brushed a whisper of a kiss across her jaw. It was as if a thousand butterflies took wing in her belly as she caught the masculine scent of his skin so close to hers. She should reprimand him for taking such liberties… But she rather liked that he was. He withdrew and studied her, as if asking if he should continue. Reaching up, Beatrix stroked his jaw, memorizing the texture of his slight stubble as it tugged at the fabric of her glove. Without hesitation, he pulled her in, meeting her mouth in a kiss that was as intense as it was powerful. Strong arms enveloped her, drawing her into the lee of his commanding presence. His kiss demanded she return the passion, and, without a thought, she kissed him back, instinctively. His flavor was familiar and igniting, comforting and compelling all at once. The soft scent of the orange grove swirled around her, adding to the magic of the moment. His teeth tugged at her lower lip as he pressed against her, reminding her of the power in his arms. Reaching up, she allowed her fingers the delight of exploring the planes and ridges of his shoulders, adding to the attraction already smoldering within. His fingers traced up her arms, teasing the ribbon at her neckline then lacing behind her head as if removing himself from a sweet temptation. His kiss gentled as he continued to playfully nip at her lips. Beatrix held him close, losing herself in the moment, committing every nuance to memory as she traced his lower lip with her tongue as he lingered. “Come away with me,” he whispered against her mouth. “No,” she replied, nipping his lip impishly. Surely he hadn’t asked in earnest. He pulled her in tighter with a slightly irritated growl before he lowered his head to trail kisses down her neck. “Yes.” “No… you’re mad.” Beatrix spoke far too breathlessly to be taken seriously. His tongue tickled her neck as he whispered, “I prefer persuasive.” “I’d say incessant,” she shot back as she leaned away to meet his gaze. He grinned then reached up to tug on a curl that had fallen near her face. “Incessantly persuasive.” “Fair… but you must know that I cannot go anywhere with you. I’m here with Lady Southridge, and I cannot leave.” “Why?” His grin faded. “It is all but apparent that you were not abducted, as I was led to believe, and, according to my deductions from reason, it is only logical that the duke was at least somehow aware that Lady Southridge took you away. Dear heavens…” He took a step back. “…please tell me she has not deluded herself into thinking she’s your protection!” “I have no idea to what you are referring—“ “You indeed do, so do not insult my intelligence with so weak a lie.” He spoke in clipped tones. Beatrix folded her hands in front of herself and stepped away. “I’m afraid I cannot give to you that which you ask.” “Then I’m afraid I have no other option,” Lord Neville replied and started toward her. “Wh-what do you think you’re doing?” Beatrix asked, not sure how to interpret the determined gleam in his eye. “What I should have done in the library months ago,” he mumbled. Beatrix backed up till she felt the cool stone wall at her back. At his knowing grin, she narrowed her eyes and turned to run. But he was too quick. In one motion, he swept her into his arms and proceeded to walk toward the orangery’s exit. “What are you doing?” Beatrix demanded as she struggled in his arms. One foot was able to get a proper kick to his person, and he grunted in response. “Miss Lamont, I’ll be quite upset if you ruin this jacket,” he replied with far too much control. Irritated by his composed attitude, Beatrix gave another kick just to spite him. “You’ll pay for that later,” he promised. “We shall see about that. Now, let me down! I demand it!” she shrieked as she bucked in his arms again. “What exactly are you planning to do? Waltz up to Breckridge House and knock on the door?” “Waltzing would prove to be difficult at this point… however, walking up to the front door will suffice.” “Why?” “I believe that was my question… to which you fully refused to answer… therefore requiring me to resort to my more assertive measures.” “This is not assertive. This is asinine!” Beatrix glared then gasped as she had a brilliant idea. Without hesitation, she reached up and mussed his hair, causing the dark chocolate curls to go from tame to wild as they erratically stuck from his head. “What—? Did you truly—?” He all but dropped her and ran his fingers through his hair. Beatrix wasted no time and sprinted as fast as her slippered feet could carry her across the grass toward Breckridge House. The sound of Lord Neville pursuing her was enough incentive to give one final burst of speed that would have surely gotten her to the safety of the servants’ entrance, if not for the root of a tree that seemed to spring out of the earth. One moment she was running, cursing her corset as she gasped for breath; the next moment she was flat on her back, unable to breathe at all. Hands at her throat, she tried to gasp, but no air entered her starving lungs. “Damn it all,” Lord Neville swore then hauled her up and, with one hand, felt for the laces of her corset. And the world faded to grey. **** Neville ground out a low oath as he felt the hoyden in his arms go limp. To be honest, in his efforts to restrain her, he hadn’t acted in the most gentlemanly fashion, but that was the way it was with Miss Lamont. He lost his bloody mind around her; all rational thought evaporated like water on a hot stone. He felt for the offending corset then reached down and withdrew a knife from his boot. With one motion, he carefully slid the knife’s edge along the back of her gown, damning himself with each snap of the laces, till the garment hung loosely, exposing the creamy white skin at her back. Glancing away from the temptation, he laid her gently on her back, taking a deep breath when he noticed the soft rise and fall of her chest, signifying the life-giving intake of oxygen. It was hard enough to get the breath knocked out of oneself, let alone while wearing a corset. Another reason to thank the good Lord he was a man. Though he had to give her credit for the speed at which she ran; it was impressive to gain that kind of velocity in skirts. He studied her face, tempted to count the smattering of freckles on her nose, the kind that simply highlighted the softness of her skin. They were a reflection of the caramel tones of her eyes; eyes that were just starting to flutter open. Long lashes blinked as her gaze grew in focus. Damn, but she was beautiful. It was no wonder he lost all reason around her. But it wasn’t her outer beauty that has so captivated him… it was her wit, her inability to take him seriously. Ever since the incident with Mary — heavens above, how he wanted to forget it all — everyone in the ton had done one of two things: feared him or ignored him. Neither of which were boons as far he was concerned. But Miss Lamont, Beatrix, as he thought of her… When everyone else had given him a wide berth, she’d elbowed him in the ribs; when everyone else had deferred to him, she’d put him in his place. In the library at Greenford Waters, it had taken him all but a few seconds to know she was different, that she was, in a word, perfect — for him at least. But, of course that hadn’t given him license to kiss her like he had, regardless of how much he’d wanted to continue kissing her… amongst other things. But that was before, when he’d assumed he’d have time to pay her court, to clear the mystery surrounding his name before approaching the duke with his suit for her hand. Then she had been taken, or so he’d thought, and all the other details had seemed trivial. So here he stood — sat, rather — in the middle of the English countryside with Miss Beatrix flat on her back, gasping as she filled her lungs with air and completely unlaced… without one ounce of pleasure to be had by either of them! How was it possible? Irony at its best. He could do nothing but laugh as he considered the situation. “Why, in heaven’s name, are you laughing?” she ground out between breaths. Her brown eyes were stormy and angry, yet all he felt was a deepening of his attraction, a delight at finding some new nuance about her. “It is of no consequence,” he replied, choking back his mirth as he stood. “I doubt that,” she said a bit easier since her breath was now less labored. She made a movement to sit up, her eyes widening like tea saucers as she reached back to feel her, well… back. “You— How—? I cannot believe—“ “I assure you it was all in efforts to save your life, not ravish you… though I must say the idea does have some merit—“ Her growl cut off his words. “If I could stand, I’d slap that grin right off your handsome face. “Oh, so you think I’m handsome? I always fancied I was quite dashing in grey.” “I loathe you.” “Ah, I’m quite fond of you myself.” He shrugged. “But considering your current state of well… undress, I do think we ought find you a way to remain decent. Wouldn’t want to offend my tender gentlemanly sensibilities.” “You are impossible.” “Not entirely.” “Yes, entirely, completely and unequivocally.” She lay back down and closed her eyes. “What exactly happened to me?” He glanced up as a few servants exited the nearby door and gasped as they saw them then rushed back inside. By his estimation, he had about two minutes before Lady Southridge found them. Which would play into his plan quite nicely… better than his original plan in fact. He took a seat beside Beatrix and patted her hand patronizingly, loving the leap of annoyance in her expression as he did so. “You were overwhelmed with my kissing prowess and fainted in my arms. But don’t worry…” He leaned in. “…your secret is safe with me.” “Liar… I distinctly remember running from you.” “Odd.” He shrugged. “And tripping…” “You are quite clumsy,” he added with a grin. “Am not! Of all my sisters, I’m the most graceful,” she replied with a pout. “Not high praise for your sisters, I’m afraid.” He tugged at his cravat. Surely, the neck cloth was beyond repair, so he tugged at the offense and removed it completely. It would add to the story. “Do not do that! You can’t just remove your neck cloth!” Beatrix scolded in a whisper as she glanced about from her position on her back. “No, no — this won’t do. I must— You must— Turn around!” she demanded as she sat up, holding the back of her dress together as she did so. “Why can I not remove it? After all, I’m still far more presentable than you, my dear,” he shot back as he stood and reached out to help her stand. “Are you stable?” he asked gently as she placed all her weight on her feet. “Yes, no thanks to you,” she spoke with derision. “I do believe I saved your life. A little more gratitude would be appreciated.” “For the last time, I was running from you! You are the reason I’m even in this state!” She took a tentative step and then hissed. “You’re injured. Let me help.” He reached for her. “No, you have helped quite enough,” she bit out and backed away, but her ankle must have been weakened from the fall, and she began to stumble. Lord Neville reached out, grasped her waist, and pulled her in, supporting her. His gloved hands touched the soft skin of her exposed back. Bloody gloves, always in the way! Lilac and rose clung to her skin, and he inhaled deeply, committing the scent to memory. What had started in the library many months ago was about to be finished in only a few seconds, if he had any say in it.
Kristin’s inspiration for the romance she writes comes from her tall, dark and handsome husband with killer blue eyes. With five children to chase, she is never at a loss for someone to kiss, something to cook or some mess to clean but she loves every moment of it! She loves to make soap, sauerkraut, sourdough bread and gluten free muffins. Life is full of blessings and she praises God for the blessed and abundant life He’s given her.
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