Cover Designer: Fiona Jayde
Helen Banks is going to die. When her twin brother gambles away their fortune, she must save his life and take his place in a duel to satisfy the honor of a man her brother couldn’t pay. Disguised as her brother, Helen faces the one man she’s admired from afar, a widower with a dark past and eyes that scorch her very soul.
Since Gareth Fairfax lost his wife, the darkness in his heart continues to grow. Lashing out at anyone who opposes him, Gareth is stunned to face a lovely young woman opposite his dueling pistol. After discovering Helen’s deception, he offers her a choice: become his mistress or her brother dies.
Their devil’s bargain turns into a slow, sweet, intoxicating seduction. With each passing hour, Helen uncovers Gareth’s secret heartbreak and yet she can’t help but fall for the man who has ruined her. With Helen in his arms, Gareth wonders if he might yet be saved. All it takes is one passionate embrace, a kiss from the depths of his soul and a night of wild abandon.
Gareth looked at her, her blue eyes gazing at him in pity. Did she not know what she was asking of him? Love was hard to find, hard to earn, and hard to keep. He reached up to tug one of her curls playfully, wanting to rid his mind of the thoughts she’d put there. His actions made her wrinkle her nose in disapproval. The urge to hold her was too strong to resist. He tugged her into his arms, relishing the feel of her body flush against his.
She was growing ever more receptive to his kisses. He let her mouth guide his, let her explore his chest, his arms, his back before she locked her hands around his neck. Her fingertips brushed the back of his neck and stroked his hair. He loved how quickly she opened up to him, how she let him instruct her in the ways of seduction.
The feeling of her touch on his skin made him shiver. She was a quick learner. Gareth wanted to part her legs again, like he’d done in the meadow, but the stables were no place for such an activity. Instead he teased her breasts through the fabric of her gown until he felt her grow breathless. He hardened, his groin aching with need, but he could not take her, not until she asked for him. He could have kissed and touched her for hours.
“My apologies, sir!” A groom, who’d walked into the stables, apologized profusely as he scrambled away, overturning a bucket of feed in his haste to depart.
Helen stifled an embarrassed giggle and buried her face in his chest as though to hide herself from the world. Gareth found himself laughing, too. It was a loud, rich laugh, one he hadn’t made in years. What was she doing to him? In a mere matter of a day, she had turned his world upside down. She was open and honest about herself and her life. And brave. He couldn’t forget that, either, the way she’d risked her life to save her brother’s knowing she would die. What woman of his acquaintance would have dared to risk her life? None that he knew. Helen was different. She was real and beautiful and so full of life. Each time he looked at her, something inside him seemed to shake off a century’s worth of dust and awaken. Being around her made him feel alive.
“Let’s get the horses ready. We should get a ride in while the day is young.” Gareth reluctantly pried her away from his chest and set about saddling the horses.
They rode at a nice canter for nearly an hour, over the meadow, down the hill, and through the neighboring lands. Gareth chuckled as Helen rode her mare through a flock of panicked sheep. They both nearly fell out of their saddles with laughter as they watched the wooly creatures bolt in all directions to avoid being trampled by her horse. The sheep gathered rebelliously into a flock several yards away, bleating melodramatically at having been attacked.
“Heavens! That was quite a ride,” Helen said as she watched the sheep shifting restlessly as her horse stomped and huffed.
“I daresay, the farmer, Mr. Pennysworth, won’t be pleased to find we’ve been scaring his beasts. Come, let’s away, Helen,” He chuckled and lightly tugged the reins of his horse, guiding it to turn around.
Gareth watched Helen the entire time they were out riding. He could not keep his eyes off the halo of her golden hair or the mischievous grin as she drove towards the sheep. Her little laugh was music to him, music he’d been missing for years.
Sing my little thrush, please sing to me. She was beautiful, she was perfect, and he would have to let her go. That brother of hers would eventually show up, and Gareth would have to deal with him when the time came. Damned if he knew what to do with Martin Banks. The fool might still insist on the duel, now over Helen’s honor. What a mess he was in. His eyes strayed to Helen, and her easy smile made all of the problems with his choice to have her fade. She was worth the trouble. He knew he could not keep her for long. Ambrose’s words came back to him. He was ruining her for her brother’s debts. Debts she shouldn’t have to pay, and he’d destroyed all chances of her making a good match. On the field after the duel that hadn’t mattered to him, in fact he’d relished the thought of hurting Banks by saddling him with a sister who would never make a match. But now…now he saw he was only hurting Helen, a brave, innocent woman who didn’t deserve any of this. Yet there was no way to undo the damage he’d done.
Marriage was out of the question. He had nothing to offer her besides his name and his body, and he knew only too well that a woman like Helen would need his heart to survive a marriage. For him, it was seduction, plain and simple. He had no right to anything else. He’d lost his right to love a long time ago. God would not give him a second chance, not after blessing him with Clarissa. That sort of love, he was sure, came only once. He had his turn and lost. Helen was nothing more than a cruel reminder of what he could never have.
Lauren Smith is an attorney by day, author by night, who pens adventurous and edgy romance stories by the light of her smart phone flashlight app. She’s a native Oklahoman who lives with her three pets: a feisty chinchilla, sophisticated cat and dapper little schnauzer. She’s won multiple awards in several romance subgenres including being an Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Award Quarter-Finalist and a Semi-Finalist for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award. Lauren loves hearing from readers and can be reached through her website www.laurensmithbooks.com.