A reluctant heiress … A dissolute nobleman …
A dangerous game of seduction and intrigue…
Mary Elizabeth Edwardes has one of the largest fortune’s in England, but has no desire to leave her quiet country existence… and even less to acquire a husband she cannot choose for herself.
Trapped in a duplicitous existence since scandal destroyed his fortune and family name, Lord Hadley Blanchard has spent the better part of a decade posing as a disaffected exile while spying and seducing in the service of the English Crown.
When summoned from abroad by a former lover, Lord Hadley perceives an opportunity for vengeance at last. By employing the full measure of his seductive charm, he woos the ward of the man who destroyed his life, little knowing that winning Mary’s fortune will mean risking his own treacherous heart.
EXCERPT #2 (MATURE CONTENT WARNING)
Republic of Venice – March 1722
Hadley, self-styled, Lord Blanchard fumbled with the key, dropped it, and then groped in the dark, cursing the slothful valet who failed to answer his summons. His ill temper was as much due to his gaming losses as by the clumsiness induced by an over-abundance of alcohol. Although he’d polished off an entire case of Canary wine with his cronies, the countless casks, and plethora of bemasked bedfellows, provided only fleeting succor for his distress.
He had come to Venice to lose himself in the faceless throng of revelers, and the Queen of the Adriatic had welcomed him as warmly as a new mistress. With his letter of introduction from the Duke of Wharton, Hadley had enjoyed the best of accommodations without the inconvenience of having to pay for them. This good fortune had also allowed him to indulge for a time, in a spree of unbridled debauchery, and where better than Venice? For nowhere in Europe boasted such a paradoxical picture of piety and depravity as the Venetian Republic during carnival.
By light of day, she affected a demeanor of respectability. Her ladies, modestly hidden behind filmy black veils, and her gentleman who concealed their nightly dissipations with false facades of refined gentility, seemingly found no greater delight than innocent promenades in the Piazza, samplingfrittola, and perusing shops for silks and pointe-de-venice.
With the arrival of dusk, however, the true Venice awakened. Donning her gilded and bejeweledbauta, sherevealed her soul beneath a thousand torches lighting the canals with sputtering brilliance over shimmering waters. With her countless covered gondolas affording floating places of refuge for sinful delights, she reveled in all of her concupiscent glory.
Hadley had immersed himself in the illicit offerings, passing his days in indolent idleness and his nights in inveterate debauchery…until his luck in the gaming rooms had run dry. He had already replaced his diamond shoe buckles with paste and now his funds continued to diminish at an alarming rate. Would he soon be reduced to begging alms of friends and groveling for his bread? He was the heir to an earldom, for Christ’s sakes!
Nearly ready to kick the door in, he found the key at last and slid it into the lock. When the door gave into the dimly lit chamber, he was assailed by a stream of words spoken in a breathy feminine gush.
“My darling, my dearest love! We are together again at last!” The warm feminine figure flung herself into his arms, melding to him in a ravenous kiss. He was at first stunned by the unidentifiable sensual assault, but what mattered the voice when attached to such a welcome?
Although still enshrouded in a drink-induced fog, his prick readily responded. Without a word of reply, he fisted her hair, backed her to the wall, and tore away the damnable barrier of the dressing gown to find her nude beneath. Hot tongues met and tangled as she yanked at his clothes.
“God, yes!” she groaned deep in her throat, groping for and releasing him. “Magnificent! Just as I remember you.” Her voice was low and weighted with lust. “Now, damn you! I want you now!” she cried between biting kisses that tore at his flesh.
He lifted her, crushing her against the wall. She undulated against him, her legs wrapped about him, squeezing his flanks. He plunged into her, only briefly relishing the initial sensation of glorious wet heat, before partially withdrawing and slamming back into her.
“Yes! Harder. Faster,” she demanded, her nails clawing through layers of silk brocade and linen. Ruthlessly, he pounded into her gasping, writhing body, until sweat beaded his forehead and pieces of plaster flaked from the wall. Tension coiled deep in his groin. He was on the brink. Three more brutal thrusts and he exploded just as she screamed her release.
His name pitched in her throes of ecstasy awoke him to startling recognition.
He withdrew from her so abruptly she had to grasp the wall to keep her legs from failing. “Barbara!What the hell are you doing here? And who let you in? Where the devil is Vincenzo?”
“What kind of greeting is that for your dear step-mama?” she crooned. “As for who let me in? Your valet, of course. I have since sent him off to bed. I told him his presence was de trop – but a bit peevish he seemed.”
“No doubt he was offended by your provincial notions,” Hadley scoffed.
“In England three may be a crowd, but in Venezia, it is simply a cozy ménage.”
“Have you succumbed to the lure of the Venetian catamites, Hadley? How delightfully depraved!” Barbara chortled. “No wonder Vincenzo was put out. You must let me watch. Or better yet…” She gave him a wicked look.
“Why are you here?” he demanded.
“I’ve missed you unbearably, Hadley,” she answered with a petulant look. “And you’ve cut me to the quick by failing to answer my last two letters.”
“You sent no money,” he snapped. “You have a generous jointure from your beloved departedhusband, yet you ignore my requests, though I clearly expressed how dire was my need.”
“But darling, you are unjust,” she protested. “I did receive word, but given your sudden departure from Paris for Venice, I perceived no real urgency.”
His gaze narrowed and his voice took on a frigid overtone. “You think I left Paris under my own volition? Pray let me correct your misapprehension, madam. You see, I’ve traded on my good name a bit too long and was induced to leave before my creditors installed me in the Bastille.”
“Is it truly as you say, Hadley?” She regarded him with overt skepticism. “What of your annuity? Do you mean nothing remains?”
“Latera ecfutut,” he replied darkly.
Her blank look forced him to translate with a mirthless laugh. “Fucked away, my dear. Literally and completely.”
Her frown deepened. “How can you expect to continue living large across the Continent at myexpense, while I’m forced to suffer alone in London playing the mournful widow under the disgrace of a ruined name?”
“Mournful widow, eh?” Hadley raked her with a blood-shot gaze that lingered on the brilliant gems adorning her hands, ears, and neck. He reached out to stroke her collarbone, tracing the diamonds resting above the milky white flesh of her bared breasts. “You don’t appear to have suffered.”
He grasped an erect nipple, indolently rolling it between thumb and forefinger, an act that elicited a convulsive shiver from her body and a low moan from her lips. Remarking the lust-filled glitter in her eyes, Hadley cupped both of her breasts and dipped his head to lick the length of her neck. While his tongue played in the delicate hollow behind her ear, his hands went to work deftly removing her necklace. “Ah,” he pocketed it with a smirk. “This should just about cover tonight’s losses.”
“You bastard!” Barbara shrieked. “You would steal the very jewels from my body?”
“Needs must…” he shrugged. “Right now, I would steal the gold from a dead man’s teeth. There are no depths to which one will not descend when in want.”
“Is that so? Then my arrival is Providential.”
“Unless you intend to leave me a very full purse, I don’t glean your meaning.”
“I have achieved an ally in the office of the Exchequer.”
His heart raced. “Do you mean to say I’ll be restored?”
“No darling.” She pursed her lips. “Sadly, there’s nothing more to be done to that end. However, when I petitioned on your behalf, Sir Richard put forth an ingenious proposition for your ongoing maintenance.”
“Sir Richard?” he balked. “You can’t mean the very same bastard who deprived me of my birthright?”
In actuality, his father’s suicide had provided the needed scapegoat to appease the public accusations of fraud within the South Sea Company. To shelter the truly guilty, his fortune, lands, and even his title had been confiscated by the crown. Whether out of pity, or shame for their misconduct, the Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer had awarded Hadley a lump sum and small annuity. It had been only a temporary balm. And now it was gone.
“But darling, you are unjust! For Sir Richard has pled your case with the new Lord of the Treasury—”
“The hell you say!” Hadley paced the room in a mounting rage. “Pretty damned audacious, considering he was the chief engineer behind the entire scheme, and benefitted most by my loss!”
Hadley’s family had once held a half-dozen estates and one of the largest fortunes in England, but with his title revoked, his lands confiscated, and a once noble name forever besmirched, he’d had little choice but to go abroad. Barbara’s appearance only rekindled his bitterness and re-opened old wounds.
“But darling, you must try to be reasonable. There’s naught to do about the past. We can only look now to safeguard the future. Our future. This proposal is one I believe you will deem eminently acceptable.”
He spun to face her. “What do you mean? What manner of proposition?”
“An undertaking designed only for a man of superior breeding, education, and talents…one for which you are perfectly suited and would be generously compensated.”
His lips twisted in derision. “Generosity is a most subjective term.”
“If you accept the commission, you may expect an annual stipend of two thousand pounds.”
“Two thousand?” He whistled through his teeth. While not a princely sum, it would go far on the Continent. Hadley’s eyes narrowed. “And what precisely will be required of me in return?”
Barbara smiled. “Hadley, my love, have you been to Rome to pay your respects to the Pretender?”
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A lover of history and deeply romantic stories, Victoria Vane combines these elements to craft romantic historical novels and novellas for a mature reading audience. Her writing influences are Georgette Heyer for fabulous witty dialogue and over the top characters, Robin Schone , Sylvia Day, and Charlotte Featherstone for beautifully crafted prose in stories with deep sensuality, and Lila DiPasqua for creative vision in melding history with eroticism.
AWARDS & ACCOLADES 2012:
• LR Café Best Author Nominee 2012
• Swept Away by Romance Favorite Author 2012
A Breach of Promise , December 2011 Ellora’s Cave
• Night Owl Reviews “Top Pick”
• Reading Romances 5 flames and “Pen Award”
• TBR Pile 5stars/Book of the month winner September 2012
• LASR Erotic Reviews 5 STAR/Book of the Month Nominee
• The Romance Studio 5 Sweetheart Nominee
• TRS CAPA Nominee 2012
THE DEVIL DEVERE SERIES- Library Journal Best E-Book Romance 2012
LR Cafe Best Series Nominee 2012
A Wild Night’s Bride
• Night Owl Reviews Top Pick
• Amazon Top 100 Best seller
The Virgin Huntress
• Night Owl Reviews Top Pick
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• Night Owl Reviews Top Pick
• The Romance Reviews Top Pick
• LR Café Best Historical Romance nominee 2012
The Devil’s Match
• Night Owl Reviews Top Pick
• The Romance Reviews Top Pick
• LASR Reviews Book of the Month December 2012
• Swept Away by Romance Best Historical Romance of 2012