When Charm and Persuasion Fail…Only Seduction Remains...
On the night of her betrothal, Lydia Trent receives just a taste of what ecstasy will be at the hands of her fiancé…and then he leaves her wanting. After waiting six years, and tired of being neglected by her exceedingly reluctant husband-to-be, Lydia decides to break it off.
When Marcus, Lord Russell, receives Lydia’s letter requesting a release from their contract, he is stunned by her audacity. Confident he’ll have her eating out of his hand with his usual wit and charm, he’s determined to repair the damage. However, the headstrong woman she’s blossomed into is equally determined to thwart his every effort to win her back.
Marcus discovers, in spite of her conviction to end the union, Lydia is more responsive to his touch than he ever imagined. He just needs to get her alone to unleash the promised passion he sees within his wanton virgin. Marcus will use any tool in his arsenal to exploit her weakness—his kisses, his hands, his mouth…her own body. In short, he’ll just have to ruin her!
PROLOGUE (The Betrothal Party)
Lydia Albinia Trent was giddy with anticipation as her new abigail, Molly slid the fine silk over her petticoat and stays. Lydia ran her fingers over the luxurious fabric with sheer delight. It was a custom-made confection of soft petal pink with white bows and matching pink satin slippers especially ordered for this momentous occasion, and her first silk gown.
Now dressed, Molly put the finishing touches to Lydia’s hair, pinning her customary braids into a ladylike coronet atop her head and ornamenting the coiffeur with pink ribbon and white roses.
A soft tap sounded at the door. “Are you ready, my dear?” her father called softly through the wooden panel. “The guests are nearly all arrived.”
“One, minute more, Papa!” Lydia called. With a deep intake of breath she stood and turned to the pier glass expecting to behold a young lady of sophistication, one who would prove to Marcus she was now a woman grown. To her chagrin, the image that greeted her fell short of expectations. Beribboned and bowed, in pink and white, Lydia was struck by the ludicrous thought that she more closely resembled her birthday cake.
She exited her room and dipped into her well-practiced curtsey. “Do you approved, Papa?” she asked with uncertainty.
His warm dry lips brushed her cheek. “You are the image of your dear Mama.” He pulled her hand to the crook of his elbow. “Shall we, my dearest treasure?”
Lydia had looked forward to her engagement party to Marcus Russell since…well…since as long as she could remember. She had thought herself the happiest girl in the world to know that Marcus Russell would one day be hers. Now with the arrival of her seventeenth birthday, it would become official at last.
Although the event was an intimate gathering with only family and close friends in attendance, Lydia was still a bundle of nerves, descending on her father’s arm with a tremulous smile and a racing pulse. As she reached the bottom of the staircase, Lydia bit her lip and her gaze flickered over the assemblage of well-wishers seeking the one who made her heart race and knees quiver.
“Where is he?”she whispered. “Where is Marcus?” She had expected him to be first to receive her. Seized with trepidation, she looked to her father for reassurance.
Sir Timothy covered her small hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Have no fear, child, he will be here. Any manner of things might have delayed him in London.”
Though her father’s words and manner were confident, she could detect the anxiety behind his eyes. “Of course you are right Papa,” she replied with a serenity she could not feel. In this nightmare daze of distraction, Lydia moved about the room to greet her guests.
“Lord and Lady Russell.” With heat stealing into her cheeks, Lydia made her deepest obeisance to the parents of the elusive groom-to-be. Pasting on a false smile she fought the nervous churning of her stomach and grappled the powerful urge to flee back to her chamber.
“My dear girl, how lovely you look!” Lady Russell kissed both of her cheeks and gushed, “Your mother would have been so very proud.”
“Enchanting, simply enchanting,” Lord Philip Russell agreed, all the while stealing anxious glances to the doorway. In obvious embarrassment, he conjured several possible, if unlikely, scenarios for Marcus’s delay. Lydia murmured an appropriate reply but refused to meet their discomfited gazes.
After waiting nearly two hours for the missing bridegroom, the elaborate dinner proceeded in an awkward but telling silence. Mortified to raise her eyes from her plate, Lydia picked at each course, fighting back tears and wishing with all her heart that the earth would just swallow her up.
At the meal’s conclusion, after all had given up any hope, the antechamber echoed with the sound of raucous laughter. With glazed eyes and drink-induced affability, Marcus Russell burst into the dining room to execute an unsteady and over-flourished bow.
“Marcus!” Lydia’s heart skipped a beat.
Failing to acknowledge her, he announced to the room at large, “I offer my most profuse apologies to our dear host for my unavoidable delay, but I’ve just received news that is truly worthy of celebration.”
The winsome smile froze on Lydia’s face.
“Did you indeed?” Lady Russell asked, directing a sidelong glance to Lydia.
The look only confirmed Lydia’s fears that Marcus’ high spirits were due to an event he deemed far worthier than this long-awaited betrothal party.
Marcus paused for dramatic effect. “You are now looking at a newly appointed under-secretary to the Foreign Ministry. Word is that I’m to be assigned to Lord Sandwich at The Hague.”
“Capital news, my boy!” Lord Russell beamed with paternal pride.
“Congratulations are most certainly in order,” Sir Timothy agreed. “Simpson, bring the port!”
To Lydia’s dismay, even her father seemed now to forgive his tardiness as a venial offense. With the final covers removed, Lydia was forced to retreat while Marcus joined the gentleman for port and political talk with nary a thought to his fiancé.
Darting sporadic glances at the door, Lydia stumbled over the keys of the spinet, fumbling the elegant notes of Scarlatti’s Sonata Number Twelve in B Minor, and then falling off completely once he deigned to appear.
Marcus entered the drawing room with the deliberate gait of one who had over imbibed and survey the occupants with an unfocused stare. “Sh-shampagne,” he cried, when he finally lit upon Lydia, as if he suddenly recalled the evening’s true purpose. “We must have champagne to toast the blushing rose that is now become my betrothed.”
His lingering gaze sent a hot flush creeping from the base of her neck to the tip of her nose, and when Marcus smiled, her breath seized as abruptly in her chest as her fingers on the spinet keyboard. To be the object of his full attention, even for this brief moment was akin to the sun appearing from behind a dark and dismal cloud to blaze its full radiance upon her. And in that moment under the giddy his smile, Lydia thought she could forgive him anything.