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Lukas Hawkins, the second son of the troubled House of Trent, is on a mission: find his missing mother and her alleged kidnapper, a brute named Roger Morton. If bringing the villain to justice means breaking a few laws, then so be it. But when he encounters a mysterious stranger with the face of an angel and a body made for sin, Luke suddenly finds his task-and his heart-in peril.
Emma Curtis knows of Lord Lukas’s rakish reputation-and hopes to use it to her advantage. While most men of honor would never travel alone with an unmarried woman, Luke is quite willing to take Emma on the road . . . and into his bed. As their journey carries them to unexpected places, Luke and Emma indulge their every passion and share their most private fantasies. But just when their deepest desires are finally within reach, a secret is revealed that threatens to end their love forever . . .
Lord Lukas Hawkins wasn't drunk enough. Not yet. He gazed at the glass of ale sitting on the table before him and dragged the pad of his thumb through the drops of condensation on its lip.
He would have preferred something stronger, but the ale was beginning its work. All his sharp edges, those phantom blades that sliced so ruthlessly at him when he was sober, were beginning to dull. The noises of the tavern had faded into an agreeable drone rather than the piercing, headache-inducing racket of when he'd first arrived.
Luke took another generous swallow of the cool amber liquid and leaned back, his eyelids descending to a pleasant half-mast.
He'd asked enough questions for tonight. He'd made no progress in his hunt for Roger Morton, but that didn't surprise him. The villain who'd taken Luke's mother from her home at Ironwood Park was a wily man, slipping through Luke's fingers from Cardiff to Bristol.
Luke wouldn't find Morton here. It was hopeless. What he needed now was to gulp down another three or four tall glasses of ale, unearth some pleasant companionship for the evening, and plummet into a dreamless sleep.
Only to wake up tomorrow and begin the whole fruitless endeavor again.
Taking his ale in two hands, he brought it to his lips, closed his eyes, and tossed back the whole bloody thing.
His eyes reopened as he lowered the empty glass.
Well, well, well.
Straightening his spine, he brought his glass down until it landed with a decided clunk on the worn wooden tabletop. His lips curled into a wicked grin. It seemed his pleasant companionship had unearthed itself.
A vision in black and white had seated herself on the other side of the narrow wood-planked table. She was the loveliest thing he'd seen in a very long time. Brown eyes shot through with polished gold gazed at him, their expression inscrutable. Thick, burnished waves of bronze hair escaped the little annoyance of a prim white cap and framed a heart-shaped and pink-cheeked face. Her lips…hell, just edible. Gazing at those lips aroused Luke's senses—the deep red of cherries in the summertime, their sweet scent, the decadent, juicy burst when he bit into one.
Just one glance at those lips was enough to bring Luke's sluggish body to sudden, alert life.
"Well," he said, infusing his voice with a lazy edge of suggestive slyness. He'd perfected the tone over the years, and it had a dual purpose: It told a lady of loose morals exactly what he wanted, while simultaneously warning an innocent maiden to escape while she still had a chance. "It's about time. I've been waiting for you."
To her credit, her only reaction was a slight widening of her eyes. He wouldn't have seen it if he hadn't been looking carefully. Otherwise, she didn't move.
"Have you, now?" she asked.
Lust jolted through him. God, that voice. Potent and smooth, like the finest brandy. It evoked images of the bedroom, mussed sheets, a rough tumble, erotic pleasure.
His body hardened all over. His cock pressed against the falls of his breeches. Between her lovely face, her calm, unperturbed demeanor, and the husky sensuality of her voice, he was done for. He wanted to take her upstairs. Immediately.
But Luke wasn't one to rush things overmuch, especially when he was so intrigued. He possessed some restraint, some patience. Not much, but some.
He cocked his head at her. "What took you so long?"
"Well…" She took a deep breath. The action drew his eyes to her bosom—her full breasts strained at the top edge of her bodice as if they yearned to be set free. He'd be happy to perform that task for her.
"…I was detained," she finished.
"Oh? By what? Or whom?"
The corner of her lip quirked upward. She was playing with him. He was the one who usually toyed with females. But in this case, they were toying with each other. He liked that.
"By ignorance," she said.
Ignorance. Loose women usually didn't use such words, especially not with such inflection. Her throaty voice had spoken the word as only an educated woman would.
Luke settled back in his seat, pushing past his arousal and drunkenness to study her. He'd only noticed her cap before—when he'd wanted to toss it to the floor and push his hand through that bounty of burnished hair. He hadn't noticed the pearl earrings or the fine silk of her dress, white with black velvet trim.
She was no whore. She was a lady.
He stiffened, quickly scanning the area surrounding them. The tavern was crowded with men and women drinking, eating, conversing. The atmosphere was boisterous, and the smells of charred meat and hops and yeast permeated every inch of the place. No one was watching them—at least not overtly. But, hell, ladies like this didn't just waltz into pubs and plunk down across from the first drunkard they encountered. This woman knew something.
None of these revelations made her less appealing. In fact, they fascinated him. She was brazen, lady or not. Luke liked his women brazen. That kind of woman was fearless, more likely to take risks, in bed and out.
He leaned forward, placing his elbows on the smooth surface of the table. The slab of wood was so narrow his face ended up only a few inches from hers. "And now you're no longer ignorant?" he asked her. "Someone has enlightened you?"
She nodded sagely. "Indeed."
She'd probably heard he'd been asking questions about Roger Morton. "So, then, you've information for me?"
"Hmm," she said. Her fingers drummed on the table, drawing his gaze downward. Her brown kid gloves hugged each long, elegant finger as they tapped the wooden surface. "I thought you might have information for me."
He raised his brows. "Is that so?"
Her brows mirrored his in a haughty reaction. "It is."
He laughed, the rare feeling bubbling up in him and spilling over. His smile widened. This was not how women generally behaved in his presence. They either ran crying to their mamas like abused little kittens or dragged him straight to bed like lionesses on the prowl. This woman was a different kind of creature altogether.
"Therefore, I have a proposal for you, my lord."
Ah, so she knew who he was as well. Or she knew who he spent his life pretending to be.
"And I have a proposal for you. Miss…?"
"Mrs.," he repeated. But he didn't believe for a second that she was married. No, he possessed the skill of sniffing out married women. And this woman—she smelled of lavender soap, but there was more. Something raw and sensual, something in her gaze that spoke of warm, womanly flesh and dark, languid nights.
No, definitely not married.
So that meant she was lying about her marital status…or she was a widow. She was very young to be a widow, though. He narrowed his eyes at her, trying to see beneath that calm surface, to delve underneath and find some clue that would tell him what this woman was about.
"Mrs. Curtis," she told him.
"Mrs. Curtis," he said, "I have a proposal for you."
That corner of her lip quirked again. Her eyes sparkled the most fascinating shade of amber.
He reached up to drag a finger across her lower lip. Softer than the velvet of her dress ribbons. Plump and red as a ripe, sweet cherry. He wanted a taste.
"Come upstairs with me," he whispered.
She didn't react to his touch, or his words. She was very still. Too still. Then she drew back from his touch and gave the slightest of nods. "Very well, my lord."
Terse and businesslike, she rose. He rose instantly, too, out of long-ingrained habit more than anything else. Always rise when a lady is standing, his governess had told him, or you shall be considered the rudest of gentlemen.
These days, he was considered the rudest of gentlemen, but it still didn't prevent him from rising.
"Please"—Mrs. Curtis gestured in the general direction of the exit—"lead the way."
"Of course." He turned away from the table, seeing his empty ale glass from the corner of his eye. How odd—he'd forgotten to hail the serving girl to ask her to refill it for him. But that seemed unimportant now.
They threaded their way in silence through the crowded pub. No one paid them any mind. They left the large room and walked down a long corridor, ascending the narrow stairs at its end.
Night had descended, and with it came a bitter autumn chill. It was cold in the dimly lit stairwell, and Luke had the urge to draw Mrs. Curtis close to warm her. But he was sober enough to realize that that kind of advance in plain, public view might be unwelcome from such a lady.
On the other hand, he was foxed enough to imagine how exuberantly she'd accept his advances behind a closed door.
At the top of the stairs, he paused on the landing to gain his bearings. It was a large inn, and the corridor branched in three directions from here.
She paused beside him, quirking a bronze-tinted brow at him. "I believe it's this way, my lord."
He followed when she turned to the rightmost corridor and began to walk again. So, he mused, she already knew where his room was located. She grew more intriguing by the second.
She stopped at the very last room. "Here?"
"Yes, Mrs. Curtis. Here."
He withdrew the key from a pocket in his coat and unlocked the door, then stepped inside.
The room was Spartan and cold. Unlike his exalted brother, Simon Hawkins, the Duke of Trent, Luke didn't have the means to set aside entire floors of inns for himself and his party and employ maids and other servants to stoke fires and light braziers to keep them pleasantly warm. Besides, he had no party. There was just him. Always had been, always would be. Especially now that he knew he wasn't a true Hawkins.
He opened the door wider, and she stepped inside behind him. She made to move around him, but he shut the door with a firm click, then held up an arm to stop her. She retreated until her back pressed against the door.
He boxed her in, placing a firm arm on either side of her and flattening his palms against the door. "There," he said softly, "now you're my prisoner."
Something flared in her eyes. Heat or fear? Heat, probably. From what he'd seen of her so far, she wasn't a woman who was easily frightened.
He leaned down to whisper in her ear, "You like that idea, don't you? Do you like to be bound, Mrs. Curtis?"
Her reaction was slight—an infinitesimal tremor that ran through her body. It was enough.
He moved his mouth to within a hairsbreadth of hers. The warm wash of her breath fluttered across his cheek. Other than that soft release of air, she didn't move.
His body was an inch from hers. Not touching, but so close he could feel their heat combine and simmer in the narrow gap between them.
Slowly, painstakingly, he touched his mouth to hers in the lightest of kisses. His eyelids sank shut. Her lips were plump and soft, forgiving against his.
He dragged his lips against hers in a back-and-forth motion, a slow, sensual slide. She didn't move, but her flesh yielded beneath his, and he released a low groan. She tasted so good. Sweet. Ripe. He sipped at her unresponsive lips, then touched the tip of his tongue to the corner of her mouth, urging a reaction, but still she didn't move.
God, he wanted this woman. His body screamed at him to haul her against him and take all the wicked pleasure her supple flesh could offer. But he didn't only want her compliance; he wanted her to be an active participant.
He kissed his way from the edge of her lips, across the upper portion of her jaw—such soft, smooth skin—until he nuzzled the tender lobe of her ear.
"Now," he whispered, "are you ready to hear my proposal?"
He feathered his lips over her earlobe, bit down over it gently, then drew back to study her. Her expression didn't change, but her eyelids were lowered. She didn't speak for a long moment.
As she formulated her response, he formulated his own words in his mind. I believe you have information for me, Mrs. Curtis. I believe you might want something from me in return. But those are things that can be saved for later. Right here, right now, I want you. I want your lovely body beneath mine. I want to strip that dress from you and lick every inch of that delectable skin. I want to make you scream my name in pleasure again and again until we're both in such a delirium that there's nothing either of us can do but to sleep. And then, when we wake—
"No," she said, finally looking up at him.
"I don't wish to hear your proposal, my lord."
God, her voice. It scraped his every nerve into a raw, needy thing that only her touch could soothe.
"I think you do."
"I know I don't," she said. "Because I know the essence of it."
"And it's not a proposal you believe you'll accept?"
"Absolutely not," she said.
She looked deliberately down at the arms that caged her, first his right arm, then his left. Then she turned her gaze back to his face, her eyes coming to sparkling golden life, brimming with determination. "Because I've more important things to do."
He laughed, long and loud. "Trust me, Mrs. Curtis. At this hour, there is nothing more important than what I intend to suggest."
"There is," she said simply, and the soft curve of her lips firmed.
He'd humor her, then. "What could it possibly be?"
"The proposition I have for you."
He sighed. "Very well. Tell me what it is."
"You've come to Bristol looking for a man named Roger Morton. Is that correct?"
He gazed steadily at her. This didn't surprise him. She knew who he was. She knew the location of his room. Obviously she'd been watching him since he'd ridden into town yesterday and knew exactly why he was here. He hadn't made a secret of it. He was looking for any information that would lead him to the bastard who'd taken his mother.
"Yes, that's true. I am searching for Roger Morton."
"I can help you find him."
His lips curved. "Can you?"
"And that is my proposition. I will give you the information you shall require to find him if you allow me to come with you."
"Allow you to come with me." He repeated her words slowly, tasting them in his mouth as images washed through him. Taking this lovely specimen of womanhood with him in his hunt across England for Roger Morton. Sampling the beds of different country inns. Long nights of feasting on her pale, curvaceous flesh, of vigorous lovemaking…
He studied her face. The color was high on her cheeks now, and her implacable features had hardened, giving her an expression of iron resolve. He stood close enough to her to feel the thrum of purpose under her skin. Whatever this was about, it meant a great deal to her.
"Why would you wish to travel with me? Alone with me?" He put emphasis on the word alone to remind her of the potential permanent repercussions to her reputation. She was a lady, after all, and ladies simply did not travel alone with gentlemen unless they were married to them.
"Because," she said, her voice throbbing with certainty, "I want to find Roger Morton, too."
He narrowed his eyes at her.
"And then I want to kill him."
* * *
Emma was out of her depth. She knew this. But even though her heart raced, she gazed at Lord Lukas Hawkins steadily, refusing to allow him to intimidate her. He'd come to Bristol now, just in time to save her from an existence certain to drive her mad. She wouldn't let this opportunity pass her by.
He didn't move an inch away from her. He just studied her with those penetrating, devastating icy blue eyes. When she'd come looking for him in the downstairs tavern, she'd no idea he'd be so…compelling.
And…she'd let him kiss her. Good Lord.
Do you like to be bound, Mrs. Curtis? Her stomach had clenched hard in response to those words. It hadn't recovered yet.
"You don't seem to be the murdering kind of woman, Mrs. Curtis." He gave her a wolfish grin. "After all, I'm standing here with you, and I'm not in the least afraid for my life."
She simply continued to stare at him, knowing that if her suspicions proved true, she'd gladly kill Roger Morton.
"Very well," he said after a moment, "I'll play. Why do you wish to murder Roger Morton?"
His arms tightened at her sides. They were strong arms. Masculine and powerful.
"What for? What did the man do that was so terrible you wish to end his life?"
Where to begin? If she was correct in her suspicions, Morton had destroyed nearly every aspect of her life. But she supposed it was best to start with the worst of his crimes. She closed her eyes and pushed the words out one at a time. "He…murdered…my husband."
Silence. Then, "Ah."
Ah? That was all he had to say? She opened her eyes, fury rising. But then he shifted and his hand came to her face, cupping her cheek in his hand, his thumb stroking her cheekbone. It had been so long since a man had touched her…kissed her. And the touches and kisses of her past had been nothing like the ones Lukas Hawkins, a man she'd known for less than an hour, had bestowed upon her. And certainly no one had ever asked her if she liked to be bound.
Heavens. She didn't want to think about any of this right now. She needed to remain focused.
"When?" he asked her softly.
"It's been…a long time." A lifetime. "A year ago."
"How long were you married?" he asked. "You're very young."
"We were married for only three months before Henry died. But I'm not so young. I'm twenty-three."
He looked at her with those smoldering, blue-fire eyes, and something within her melted, even as she admitted to herself that Lord Lukas was dangerous. Rogue, rake, scoundrel—however one wished to label this kind of man, he was its epitome.
And she knew about rogues, rakes, and scoundrels. Henry had been of that category as well, with his approachable visage and penchant for drink and gambling…and women. When he died, she'd promised herself that she'd steer clear of those kinds of men in the future.
And now, here was Lord Lukas Hawkins, handsome and dangerous and radiating something so raw and so appealing that a part of her wanted to fall straight into the nearest bed with him.
She'd allowed him to kiss her.
So very, very dangerous.
She steeled her resolve. Danger or not, he was looking for Roger Morton. And, danger or not, she wanted nothing more than to find that man.
"Pretty Mrs. Curtis," Lord Lukas said in that silky voice that seemed to slide down her spine in a wash of smooth heat, "what's your Christian name?"
"Emma," she told him. There was no reason he shouldn't know it, after all.
"May I call you Emma?"
She hesitated. Only her father, sister, and one or two close acquaintances called her Emma these days.
Still, she couldn't seem to bring herself to tell him no, so she responded with her own challenge. "May I call you Lukas, then?"
"Never." His lips curled into a heart-stopping smile. "But you may call me by the name my mother uses: Luke."
"Luke, then." She realized he'd stepped back and was no longer trapping her against the door. A part of her—that stupid part that had fallen for Henry Curtis—felt bereft.
She clasped her hands in front of her. "I heard the Dowager Duchess of Trent had gone missing. I am sorry."
He gave a slight nod of acknowledgment, but the lightness in his eyes vanished. Clearly, his mother's disappearance, though it had occurred months ago, ate at him.
"Do you believe Roger Morton had something to do with her disappearance?"
Luke sighed. Turning away, he ran a hand through his dark blond hair, making it stick up at odd—and somehow endearing—angles. She tamped down the urge to push her hands through his hair to tame those spikes. Instead she kept very still, her back pressed against the door.
"Morton was definitely involved in my mother's disappearance. She was with him the night she left home. He remained with her for at least a month after that."
She nodded. "Roger Morton is evil," she said in a low voice. He'd killed Henry and stolen her father's fortune; she didn't doubt he had done something horrible to the Dowager Duchess of Trent.
Luke slouched against the window frame. Crossing his arms over his chest, he gazed at her across the tiny room. She stared steadily at him, ignoring the little kick in her chest that the sight of his relaxed masculine form gave her. Tall black leather boots clasped his calves like a second skin. He wore dark breeches that hugged strong thighs, a gray-and-black striped waistcoat with the top cloth button open to reveal a simple white cravat and a high-collared black cutaway coat with gray silk lining that emphasized his broad shoulders.
"If Roger Morton is evil, then it wouldn't be very chivalrous of me to allow a lady to join me in my search for him, now, would it?"
"You'll be happy to hear I've never been accused of chivalry."
"Well, thank God for that."
He didn't smile. "Still, why should I allow you to join me?"
"Because, as I said earlier, I can help you find him."
"I am in possession of certain clues that I am positive will lead us straight to him."
"What kinds of clues?"
"Documents of what nature?"
"Receipts and letters."
His lips twisted. "And how did you come to be in possession of those?"
"You ask too many questions. Until we finalize our agreement, I shan't tell you another thing."
"The agreement in which you reveal the location of Morton, then I take you with me to find him. And when we succeed in locating him, you intend to kill him."
"Yes," she said flatly. "But not before you discover everything you can about what happened to the duchess." And not before she discovered what he'd done with her father's money.
"How generous of you, to give me a few moments to question the villain before he suffers a violent death."
"I think so," she said.
Luke laughed. She liked the sound of his laugh—it was low and soft. It made her want to smile and laugh with him. But she didn't. No, the stakes were too high.
She'd known Luke was dangerous from the moment he'd opened those piercing blue eyes and looked at her over his ale glass. But while he spoke to something intensely carnal within her, Emma had learned her lesson. She wouldn't be dragged into iniquity by the wicked seduction of another man who never saw her beyond her face and the curves of her body. Never again, no matter how she reacted to him on a visceral level.
"So, then," she asked, "are we agreed?"
He stared at her for a long moment, assessing her with those fire-and-ice eyes. She felt exposed. Like he systematically removed every stitch of her clothing, burning each seam away so it fell around her in tatters, leaving her stripped bare.
Then his lips curled into that sensual, knowing smile, and a deep flutter spread from her core and through her limbs in response.
His lips had felt so wickedly good against hers. She'd wanted—badly—to kiss him back. She ought to have pushed him away. But the angel and devil inside her were engaged in such a furious battle that she hadn't been able to move at all.
"Yes," he said. "We're agreed."
Her muscles suddenly went limp, and she had to battle to keep from sagging to the floor. Only now did she realize how worried she'd been that he'd deny her.
Thank you. Thank you. We'll find him. We'll find Papa's money…and maybe, just maybe, she could save her family.
Slowly, the strength returned to her limbs. She gazed steadily at Luke. "There's just one thing, my lord."
He cocked a brow. "What's that, Emma?"
She swallowed against her suddenly dry mouth. She'd never spoken so freely to a gentleman before, not even to Henry. But certain things needed to be said.
"If you want my help, I cannot…" She took a deep breath and continued. "I cannot engage in relations—of any kind—with you."
His brow remained firmly nocked upward. "Why not?"
"I'm not the kind of woman who…bestows her favors easily."
- PRAISE FOR USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR JENNIFER HAYMORE: "4.5 stars, HOT! Readers have been eagerly awaiting this sequel to Confessions of an Improper Bride, in order to finally uncover the truth about Meg Donovan's "death." Haymore creates a highly satisfying answer, drawing the reader in with wonderfully realistic characters, adventure, passion and unexpected plot twists while crafting another delightful entry in the Donovan series."—RT Book Reviews on Pleasures of a Tempted Lady
- "With beautifully rendered characters, lush sensuality, and a riveting story line, this well-told tale puts a refreshing spin on both the hidden identity and classic reunion plots and gets Haymore's new series off to a delightful start."—Library Journal on Confessions of an Improper Bride
- "Jennifer Haymore strikes a good balance of strength, sensuality, drama and intrigue in her characters...With enduring characters that exhibit strong chemistry, I very much enjoyed Ms. Haymore's unique, engaging style and look forward to reading the other books that are a part of this series."—www.fictionvixen.com on A Season of Seduction
- "Each time Ms. Haymore writes a book in this series I think there is no way to top the one I just finished. I started this latest one and realize she has done just that and has proven to me how fresh this series can remain. The characters of Becky and Jack are so full of life and longing just trying to make the right connection between family, relationship and future happiness while figuring out who to trust with all their secrets. This is a wonderful story and while I recommend reading the 1st two it is not imperative as Jennifer Haymore is a magician at connecting the plot from one book to the next-- but trust me you will have to buy the first two, they are that good."—The Reading Reviewer (www.marygramlich.com) on A Season of Seduction
- "Sweep-you-off-your-feet historical romance! Jennifer Haymore sparkles!"—New York Times bestselling author Liz Carlyle
- "Jennifer Haymore's books are sophisticated, deeply sensual, and emotionally complex."—New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt
- " For jaded romance readers, Jennifer Haymore is an author to watch!"—New York Times bestselling author Nicole Jordan
- On Sale
- Nov 19, 2013
- Page Count
- 368 pages