to tame a highland earl

To Tame a Highland Earl

 

Tarah Scott

Broken Arm Publishing

 

Copyright © 2014 by Tarah Scott

 

Smashwords Edition

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written
permission of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form
of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and
without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent
purchaser.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or
locales, is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover Art Design by Erin Dameron Hill

Photo: HotDamnDesigns

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

I’m lucky beyond measure to begin by thanking
the same two people who have contributed to all my previous novels.
Kimberly Comeau, who reads my manuscripts tirelessly and looks for
every jot and tittle that will make the book shine. You go far
above the call of duty. I will never be able to thank you enough.
Evan Trevane, my friend and critique partner, who threatens me upon
pain of death if I don’t let him read my manuscripts. I couldn’t
write these books without you. I know you don’t believe me, but
it’s true.

Many thanks to Erin Dameron-Hill for creating
exactly the cover I wanted.

And, of course, my undying gratitude to
Tracey Reid, beta reader extraordinaire, who not only read this
book in record time, but pushed me to be just that much better.

Chapter One

March 1807

Manchester, England

 

If ever a woman deserved to be shot, it was
Miss Crenshaw. But dawn appointments weren’t meant for the weaker
sex.
Weaker sex.
The lady was anything but weak, which is
why Erroll intended to throttle her.

Erroll laid a shilling in the innkeeper’s
palm. “You understand the need for discretion.”


Indeed, I do, my lord,”
the man replied. “Your betrothed’s reputation is safe with
me.”

Erroll managed to maintain a bland expression
as the innkeeper handed him the key to the lady’s room. So news of
his impending nuptials had sped from Coventry to Manchester even
quicker than he had—which meant London society would hear the news
by morning light and the story would cross the border to Edinburgh
just as quickly.

Which of the gossipmongers had he to thank
for that? He was grateful to the heavenly powers that his mother
had remained in Scotland and had not accompanied his father to
England this month. God help him if she got wind of this
entanglement before he had a chance to extricate himself from the
tenacious claw of the husband-hunting wench.


A beautiful woman is hard
to resist,” the innkeeper said.


Indeed,” Erroll murmured,
glad the man had interrupted the mental picture of his mother
outfitting the deceitful huntress in her wedding dress. No
bachelor’s mother was more determined to see her son wed than
Erroll’s own dear mamma, and since his return from the navy, his
father had put his considerable weight behind her
efforts.

He whirled toward the stairs, climbed to the
second floor and made a left down the hall. At the third door on
the left, he stopped. Erroll had endured his father’s hour-long
diatribe that ended with the command to marry the woman who had
accused him of compromising her—a woman he’d never laid eyes
on—before he finally broke away to discover his accuser had fled
Coventry. The hard five hour ride to catch her before she reached
her father’s estate would have been in vain if not for the fact a
wheel on her carriage broke forty miles distance from
Manchester.

This experience would teach him to dally with
the women outside of London. Had he satisfied himself with the
eligible ladies in
Town
—if those females could be called
ladies—he wouldn’t have gone to Coventry and attended the damn
house party that had gotten him into trouble. The fact he’d spent a
pleasurable hour with a lady in the hostess’ gardens had only
served to put him in the very place his accuser said he’d been.
Erroll felt sure the cunning creature was well aware he’d been in
the gardens, and therefore claimed to be the object of his
attentions.

Erroll quietly unlocked the door, slipped
into the darkened room, then eased the door shut and slipped the
key into his pocket. Faint moonlight filtered in through thin
curtains and outlined the sleeping figure in the bed. Erroll crept
forward until he reached the bed. He braced a knee against the side
of the mattress, then placed a hand on each side of the woman and
brought his face to within an inch of hers.

She shifted in her sleep and lush breasts
grazed his chest. He wondered how long it would be before she
became aware a man was in her bed, then concluded that since she
hadn’t awoken with a shriek she must be accustomed to having a man
in her bed. He should ravish her as she’d said he had just for good
measure. The thought froze at the pressure of a pistol jammed
against his abdomen.


I am a crack shot.” The
feminine voice was steady—as was the hand holding the gun. “But
even the worst shot in Great Britain couldn’t miss.” The gun dug
deeper into his belly. “Move away.”

Erroll considered. Her calm response to his
presence almost made him think she’d expected him. “If I’m to be
shot, I should at least commit the crime for which I’m accused.”
The click of the pistol’s hammer being pulled back was his answer.
“I see you do not agree.” He straightened off the bed.


Step back,” she
ordered.

He retreated two paces.


More.”

He moved back another two paces.


I promise you, sir, my aim
is as true at such short a distance as it was when you were an inch
from my face. Back against the door.”

Erroll complied. A light click indicated she
had released the hammer back into place. She rose, a small figure
in the shadows, and picked up something from the night table. The
clink of glass was followed by the scrape of a match on wood, then
light flared and he got his first look at the woman who claimed he
had ravished away her innocence. Dark brown eyes pinned him with a
hard stare. Honey-brown hair tumbled down her shoulders. The top of
her head was no higher than his chest.

The muff pistol remained pointed at him as
her attention shifted to the lamp on the nightstand. She bent
slightly and her full breasts strained against the nightgown as she
lit the wick. His cock jerked and he couldn’t deny his good fortune
in not having met her at Lady Baldwin’s party. He very well might
have fallen prey to her charms and been guilty of her
accusations.

She blew out the match and tossed it onto a
metal tray, then took a step toward him. The lamplight illuminated
the outline of her body through the nightgown. The curves he
discerned were fuller than were fashionable and the kind he’d
sought without success. His cock began to lift. He might end up
shot after all.


You are no common
housebreaker,” she said. “Who are you?”

Erroll’s mind snapped to attention. The wench
didn’t recognize him. Fury doused his lust. He gave a mocking smile
and bowed. “Lord Erroll Rushton, at your service.”

Shock registered on her face, then an
answering fire appeared in her eyes. “I see we shall have to break
you of the habit of entering a lady’s room uninvited.”


You use the term lady too
loosely.”


That is the pot calling
the kettle black.”

He nearly laughed.


One would think a
prospective groom could keep his cock in his pants with his wedding
but two days hence,” she said.


Three days,” Erroll
corrected. That was how long it would take him to get the special
license his father ordered him to procure. “Pray tell, what sort of
lady carries a gun?” He didn’t ask
what lady used the word
‘cock’ as easily as the word ‘groom?
’ That was perhaps too
obvious.


The sort who knows what to
expect of a man,” she replied.


The very sort who
understands a man might object to being forced into marriage?” he
said.

She gave a derisive laugh. “You are a
rakehell, sir.”


I never denied being a
rake, madam, but I am no liar.”

She wasn't what he’d expected. He’d been told
this was to be her second season, but this woman was no debutante
and, given the way she unabashedly stood before him in her
nightclothes, he would wager she was no virgin.


Surely, you’re a little
old for this game?” he drawled.

Her brow knit, but he detected no shame. She
was too collected. But a level head—along with a liberal dose of
nerve—is exactly what it took to accuse a complete stranger of
compromising her.


Did you really think you
could get away with it?” she asked.

The question startled him.


Now who is the pot calling
the kettle black?” he said. She shifted and Erroll could have sworn
he discerned a dark patch between her legs. “A shame we met under
these circumstances.” He flicked a glance at her breasts. “We could
have been friends.”

Her mouth thinned. “By God, I really should
shoot you.”


Tut tut, love, not until
the vows are said and I claim what is left of your
virtue.”

She drew in a sharp breath.


Your righteous anger is
completely undone by the fact that you’re nearly naked.”

Her mouth twisted in a derisive smile.
“Forgive me, my lord. Had I known you were coming, I would have
dressed for the occasion.”


You are impeccably dressed
for the occasion.”

Did she have any idea how visible the
contours of her body were with the lamplight behind her…or how her
nipples pressed against her nightgown? She shifted, widening her
stance slightly and his cock jerked harder. Oh yes, the witch
knew.


I should send you to hell
this instant,” she said.

He lifted a brow. “The marriage vows will
take care of that—had I any intentions of marrying.”


My father will ensure that
you do not escape this time.”


That sounds as though you
think I am getting what I deserve.”


You do not deserve such a
good and innocent wife.”

Erroll laughed. “Innocent? A woman who puts
herself in such a position is no innocent.”


How dare you?” she
hissed.


How dare I? I understand
there were several suitors for the honorable Miss Crenshaw’s
attentions at Lady Baldwin’s party. I wager none of them were as
good a prospect as I, which is why you gambled that no one would
notice if I was included on that list.”

He didn’t miss the way her fingers flexed on
the gun.


Everything I’ve heard
about you is true,” she said. “You have no conscience.”


In that we are alike.
Should my father succeed in coercing me into marriage, I will make
the worst sort of husband you can imagine. I will not settle down
and sire an heir as he expects. Instead, I will send my wife to the
family estate in Scotland while I go about my pleasures in
London.”


So the choice is desertion
or ruination?”


Be honest, the ruination
was done long before you concocted this plan.”


Plan?” she repeated. “I
feel certain I can convince the magistrate of self-defense. After
all, you broke into my room.”


Think again.” Erroll
reached into his pocket.


Beware,” she
said.

He slowly withdrew the key from his pocket
and held it up. “The innkeeper was very obliging. He feels nothing
should stand in the way of true love.”

She frowned, then comprehension cleared her
expression. “I should have guessed. You think you can browbeat me
into helping you avoid the marriage vows. You, sir, are the worst
sort of knave.”


So we do understand one
another.”


You are a fool,” she
muttered.

He’d had enough. “You are the fool if you
believe I will marry you.”


Marry me?
What—”

Erroll started toward her.

She took a faltering step backwards and he
lunged. She gave a startled cry. He seized the hand holding the gun
and shoved it upward in their tumble backwards. They landed on the
bed, him on top of her. Her lush body yielded beneath his hard
planes—his stiffening cock in particular. To his surprise, she
didn’t struggle, but released the pistol. The weapon bounced off
the mattress and struck the carpet with a thud.


Is this how you described
my having ravished you?” he demanded.

Shock registered on her face. He blew out a
frustrated breath. He’d come ready to battle the vixen and she was
already crumbling. Moisture appeared in her eyes. Ah, there it was.
She was simply moving onto another tactic.


Lies, pistols, tears,
and…” He moved suggestively against her breasts and felt the rigid
nipples beneath his shirt. “Your arsenal of weapons is impressive,
madam.”


I tell you, mamma, I heard
a scream.”

A woman’s voice penetrated the door on the
right wall. Erroll jerked his gaze in that direction as the door
swung open. Two women stood in the doorway staring, one young—in
her second season, he would guess—the other, the mamma the girl had
addressed.

Erroll looked at the woman lying beneath him.
“I thought that was a closet.”

*****

Panic streaked through Eve and she struggled
to push Lord Rushton off her, but he continued to stare in shock as
her mother fainted dead away.

Her sister’s wail split the deadly silence.
“He’s mine!”

The earl looked at Eve, a strange sense of
understanding in his eyes. “She’s Miss Crenshaw?”

Eve wasn’t sure if his confusion was due to
the fact he’d accosted the wrong woman, or that the woman he was
supposed to have compromised was beautiful enough to rival
Aphrodite. He wouldn’t be the first man struck dumb at first sight
of Grace.


He’s mine!” This time
Grace’s wail became a banshee cry.

She hurled herself at them and landed on the
earl’s back with a force that seemed impossible given her small
stature. Eve winced when his hardened shaft dug into her pelvis. He
grunted and she fleetingly wondered if it was Grace’s weight
landing on top of him or the fact that even a steel rod could be
crushed by the force of such an assault. It would serve him right
if he never sired an heir.

Eve caught sight of his jaw tightening and
realized he’d broken from the spell. Grace seized his head and
shoved. His face mashed into Eve’s breasts. Her breath caught and
she clutched at his shoulders. Muscle bunched beneath her fingers
as he tried to push upward in unison with her shove, but Grace was
like a rogue elephant pounding them with all her weight and might.
The hall door flew open and Eve glimpsed their father in the
doorway.

Lord Rushton jerked his head in an obvious
attempt to look up, but Grace shoved harder, slamming his head
deeper into Eve’s soft flesh.


What the bloody hell?”
their father roared.

An instant later, the weight lifted. Eve
vaguely understood her father had pulled Grace off them, then she
suddenly felt light as a feather and realized the earl had shoved
off of her. He whirled, swinging a large fist that cracked against
her father’s jaw. Eve jumped from the bed and tripped. She hit the
floor shoulder first. Pain radiated up her arm. Her father rammed a
fist into the earl’s stomach. Lord Rushton stumbled back a step,
but jerked straight and sent a hard jab to her father’s ribs.


Stop!” she shouted, but
the earl struck again.

Her father blocked the blow, but the younger
man was too fast and pounded a fist into his stomach. Eve spotted
the pistol lying on the carpet and grabbed it. She aimed and pulled
the trigger.

*****

For an instant, Erroll was sure the roar he’d
heard wasn’t a pistol shot, and the pain that seared across his
left calf wasn’t a bullet wound. A yank to his boot sent him
sprawling onto his backside, with the pistol now inches from his
face.

He looked at the woman who knelt beside him,
pointing a gun at him for the second time that night, and said,
“You used your one shot.”

She blinked in confusion, then dropped her
arm and fell onto her rump beside him. “This, sir, is a prime
example of why a man does not enter a lady’s bedroom
uninvited.”

Erroll scanned the room. The mamma still lay
on the floor where she’d fainted. The other lady stood, perfect
breasts heaving beneath the white cotton of her nightgown, and
green eyes blazing. The older man stood, hand braced against the
wardrobe, drawing in deep breaths. And, glory be, the innkeeper and
two maids stood in the doorway, mouths agape. His father would hear
of this escapade before the doctor finished tending his gunshot
wound.

Erroll looked at the lady. “For once, madam,
I would have to agree.”

*****


Have you lost your mind?”
Eve asked her sister for the dozenth time after their arrival home
in Manchester early that morning.

Grace reclined beside her on the couch in the
parlor. Their mother sat in a nearby chair, and the two sipped tea
as serenely as if they entertained visitors on a Sunday afternoon.
Eve couldn’t help a glance at the closed door. Her father and Lord
Rushton had been sequestered in the study for over an hour. What
could be taking so long?

Eve cast Grace a thin-lipped look. “How could
you possibly think you would get away with such a lie?”

Grace gave a careless shrug. “He is a rake of
the first order. The only thing stopping him from being guilty of
the crime is opportunity.”


For heaven’s sake, Grace,
he hasn’t married a one of the women who claimed he compromised
them. Why would he marry you, the daughter of a baron with no
fortune to speak of—and sight unseen, no less?”

Grace’s eyes narrowed on her. “But if he were
caught in bed with you he would have no choice but to marry
you?”


Grace,” their mother
admonished.

Ire flared through Eve. “He mistook me for
you.”


No one could possibly
mistake you for me.”

Before last night Eve would have agreed.
Grace’s raven black hair and emerald green eyes alone separated
them by miles. “
He
did,” Eve said. “All because he never
laid eyes on you before today. My God, even a rakehell such as Lord
Rushton doesn’t deserve to be trapped so deceitfully.”


He will do well with me,”
Grace replied. “I’ll give him an heir, then he will go about his
business as any man in his position would.”

Eve eyed her sister critically “The perfect
Society
wife?”


Of course.”


And if his father won’t
let him marry you?”


Why wouldn’t he?” Grace
asked.


Don’t pretend ignorance,”
Eve said. “You know full well we do not run in their circles. A man
of his station will not marry a baron’s daughter.”


That is ridiculous,” their
mother said. “Grace is as good as any other girl—better, in
fact.”


That makes no difference,
as you know well, Mother,” Eve said.

Grace waved a dismissive hand. “Just because
that’s what happened to you, doesn’t mean it will happen to
me.”

Eve should have felt pain at the reminder
that the man she eloped with allowed himself to be paid off not to
marry her—along with anger that Grace was so unfeeling as to point
it out. But Eve had long ago come to terms with the nature of the
man she had made the mistake of falling in love with.


It is because it happened
to me that I can speak with certainty,” Eve said. “I would not wish
the same fate for you.”


News already reached
Manchester that we are to wed,” Grace said. “That means his father
must have commanded him to marry me. Just as I planned.”

Despite her cavalier tone, Eve detected what
she felt certain was a hint of doubt. Grace, even with her
exceptional beauty, had no better chance of marrying into the
circle in which Lord Rushton moved than did Eve. Had Grace captured
the eye of an earl, their parents would have been ecstatic. But a
very rich earl next in line as a marquess wasn’t something to have
dared hope for. Grace, however, had obviously harbored hopes that
such a family would overlook her lower birth.


Grace,” Eve said more
gently, “even if the marquess allowed it, you failed to take into
account Lord Rushton’s nature. He told me that if he is forced to
marry you, he will abandon you in Scotland while he goes about his
pleasures as he always has.”


Rubbish.”

Eve shook her head. “Lord Rushton isn’t
English. He will exile you to Scotland and no one could stop him.
He isn’t the sort of man you are accustomed to.”

Grace laughed. “His mother is English, if you
recall. I daresay, he is more English than Scottish. What do you
know of men, anyway, Eve?”


Enough to know this one
will not give into your whims like other men.”


Of course he will. I will
make certain of it by giving him everything he wants.”


Men want more than an heir
from a wife.”


For a time,” Grace agreed.
“And he shall have it to his heart’s content.”

Eve gave a disgusted snort. “You’re a fool.
He will take what he wants, then discard you as he has all the
others—wife or not.”


Girls,” their mother
reprimanded, “you shouldn’t speak of such things. Your father will
deal with the earl. Really, sneaking into a lady’s room in the
middle of the night. What is this world coming to?”

Eve agreed, but couldn’t half blame him. She
could only imagine her own desperation should she find herself
trapped into marriage by a man she’d never met.

The door opened and their father entered with
Lord Rushton behind. Eve noted that the earl favored his injured
leg. His wrinkled coat and cravat bore testament to the hurried
ride from the inn to Manchester. Guilt washed over her. The long
ride couldn’t have helped his wound. She glimpsed the shadow of a
bruise on her father’s jaw and the guilt vanished.


Father,” Grace
began.


Not a word,” he cut her
off.


But—”


I warn you, Grace, be
silent.”


My lord,” their mother
said in a horrified voice as Grace’s eyes widened.

Eve, too, was surprised. She couldn’t recall
the last time her father had censured Grace for anything.

He halted a few feet from the couch and
clasped his hands behind his back. Lord Rushton stopped beside him.
The drawn look in the earl’s dark eyes startled Eve.


Your actions—both your
actions—leave me in a quandary,” her father said.

Eve snapped her gaze onto him. “I suppose I
should allow a man who breaks into my room to have his way with
me?”

He gave her a thin-lipped scowl. “What you
should do is not sleep with a pistol under your pillow. But you
have no more need of a gun. Lord Rushton will obtain a special
license and the wedding will take place three days hence.”

The earl’s startled gaze jerked onto her
father—then his glare turned onto her.

She flashed a sweet smile. “You should have
left well enough alone, my lord. Grace’s deception would have come
to light. As it is, you sealed your fate.” If his father agreed, of
which she had her doubts.


Indeed, he has,” her
father said. “As have you. Eve, you will marry Lord
Rushton.”

Shock rolled across her.

Lord Rushton lifted a brow. “Not so smug now,
are we, madam?”


This is wrong,” Grace
cried. “He is to marry me!”

Her father turned his narrow-eyed stare onto
her. “Madam, your actions in this matter are reprehensible. I have
yet to decide how to deal with you, but I warn you, commit any
further mischief, and I will send you to a convent.” Eve gasped
along with Grace and their mother, but he ignored them and said to
the earl. “Three witnesses saw you lying on top of my eldest
daughter—in her bed.” The deadly chill in her father’s voice sent a
shiver of apprehension down her spine. “By now, they have alerted
all of England that you compromised another Crenshaw woman in the
worst way possible.”


I have no doubt you are
correct,” the earl said.


But Lord Rushton didn’t
compromise either of us.” Eve’s head spun. It never occurred to her
that she was in danger of a forced marriage.


He compromised you by
entering your bedchambers,” her father said. “The fact he obtained
the key from the innkeeper is enough to ruin you beyond
redemption.”


Lord Rushton’s father is
unlikely to take that into consideration,” she blurted. “The
marquess must have his sights set on a daughter-in-law of a more
elevated position than mine.”

Her father shifted his attention to Lord
Rushton. “As to that, thwart me and I will have my father contact
your father. He may be a mere viscount, but he holds some sway as a
member of the House of Lords.”

Tension cut like a knife. Eve had never heard
her father threaten to use her grandfather’s influence. The
viscount had surprised everyone by continuing to live despite his
advanced age of eighty-four years. So her father, at age
fifty-five, had yet to inherit the title.


If these inducements are
not enough,” he went on, “I shall dismember you.”

Lord Rushton kept his gaze locked with his.
“I was under the impression you didn’t hold me responsible for last
night’s…unfortunate events, and thought your daughter and I could
perhaps spend time together in the country before the
marriage.”

A hard glint shone in her father’s eyes.
“Only a fool would tell himself he wasn’t responsible.”


I am no fool.”

Her father gave a nod. “I did not think
so.”

And I will not marry him, Eve privately
added.
Even if it means shooting higher than his leg.

 

 

Chapter Two


Eve,” her father said to
her back, “in less than a day, the news that you shot Lord Rushton
has spread across England like wildfire.” Eve paused in leaning
over the conservatory’s roses she was watering and released a sigh
before moving to the next rosebush, as he added, “The story has set
Society
on its ear. A fact evidenced by these.”

She twisted and looked across the camellias
at him. He held up a silver tray piled with cards and
invitations.

Eve shrugged. “My mother and sister have
always enjoyed an active social life.”


Indeed?” He picked up an
invitation. “Lady Hamilton.” He dropped it and picked up another.
“Lady Roxeburgh.” He tossed the card beside the others and pulled
another from the pile. “Lady Morton—she was, last I heard, in
London.”


Manchester is a favorite
of London
Society
,” Eve replied. “Especially this time of
year, before the height of the London Season.”

He dropped the card onto the mound and set
the tray on the small worktable to his right. “These invitations,
one and all, include your name.”

Eve grimaced and once again faced the roses.
“The gossipmongers are looking for fodder. The fact I shot the earl
will silence any gossip that I was fraternizing with him.”


You are damned fortunate
the magistrate has not demanded your arrest,” he snapped. “I cannot
hush things up as I did last time.”


You will never forgive me,
will you?”


You ran away with the one
man I forbade you to marry, and will not marry the one I command
you to wed.”

She inhaled the roses’ scent. “Lord Rushton
has no wish to marry me and I have no wish to marry him. Why should
we do something we both hate?”


Because you have no
choice.”


Rubbish,” she said. “My
choice is to not marry him.”


That is not a choice, Eve.
Unless…”

She knew that unless. “The answer is no, just
as it was last month.”


His calling card is among
the others,” her father said. “He will forgive you, even believing
you compromised yourself with Lord Rushton.”

Eve had no idea why her father thought Lord
Somerset held her in such affection, but kept silent.


You have not told me why
you will not consider his suit.”


I do not love him,” she
replied.


You are too old to be
choosy.”

She turned. “Thank you, Father.”


It will be one or the
other. Your involvement with Lord Blane pales in comparison to this
escapade.”

Of that, Eve wasn’t so sure.

In the five years since her connection with
him ended, Lord Blane had proven himself to be a gambler—and a bad
one at that. His father had paid his debts in the sum of eight
thousand pounds, and yet Lord Blane continued to gamble. All those
years ago, when he’d presented himself to her father as her lover
and the father of the child he swore she carried, her father wrote
him a bank draft with the agreement that he disappear into Scotland
or France for at least a year. Eve fully expected to one day read
in the paper that his body had been pulled from the Thames. The
dull ache that had once been sorrow at a love lost was now sorrow
for a life wasted. Despite his deceit, Blane wasn’t a bad man. The
compulsion, the disease, was consuming him. He would eventually
succumb completely and make a wager even his father couldn’t, or
wouldn’t, cover.


Do you not want
children?”

Her father’s tone and the question jarred
her. “What am I teaching my children if their father doesn’t love
their mother?”


Respect.”


That is not enough of a
reason to marry, even for the sake of bearing children.”

A knowing light entered his eyes. “You forget
to whom you are speaking. You are a strong woman, but you are a
natural woman.”


Some would
disagree.”

He nodded. “And with good reason.”


My point
exactly.”


They do not know you as I
do. I remember you with your nieces.”

She warmed despite her effort to remember the
two little girls.


You begged me to raise
them when their father died.”

Eve set the watering can on the floor. “No
child should be without a father, which only serves to make my
point. Lord Rushton will make a terrible father.”


You could not be more
wrong. He will be a very good father—as good as his father was to
him.” She snorted, but her father cut her off. “Do not pretend to
be one of those females who insists a man must coddle a boy as a
mother would. A man’s world is hard. A boy must learn that early
on.”


Perhaps you are right, and
Lord Rushton will make an exemplary father,” she said. “But he will
make an abominable husband. He told me so himself. I do not intend
to marry a man who will not only live his life as if I do not
exist, but who will most certainly grow to hate me.”


If he comes to hate you
that will be your doing.”

Eve held her father’s gaze. “Just as you
hating my mother is her doing?”


Hate is too strong a word.
That aside, you know nothing of your mother when I met
her.”


Did you?”


No,” he said, startling
her. “I was young and reckless. But that is beside the point. You
will marry the earl.”


Lord Rushton is the
paradigm of recklessness. He broke into my room for pity’s
sake.”


But he is not blind to a
woman’s nature.”

Eve stiffened. “And, therefore, could not
possibly fall in love with me.”


His feelings for you will
be honest. That is more than most women get.”


He has, indeed, made his
intentions abundantly clear.”


He will not lie to you and
he will provide for you and your children.”


A fine picture you
paint.”


Which way will you have
it, Eve? You don’t want a man who sees you for the woman you are,
and you do not want a man who adores you.”


Adoration is overrated,
sir.”


Indeed, it is,” he said,
and she knew he was thinking of her mother. “But you feel you can
reject both. What of your sister?”

Anger welled up. “This is her doing. Yet she
has not suffered one wit.”


She will. Should you flout
convention, the scandal will place her outside of polite
society.”


Then let her marry him.
She wants him.”


Eve—”


No one knows Grace lied
about his seduction,” Eve cut in. “They can still marry, as you
first commanded. Surely, you must be pleased for her marry a man of
stature. Mother is thrilled.”


She has no common sense in
such matters,” he muttered.


What?”


Never mind,” he said so
abruptly it startled her. “I will not be gainsaid in this, Eve. You
have refused Somerset’s offer. Therefore, your marriage to Rushton
is a mere technicality.”


Even the worst scandal
does not mean I am obligated to marry him.”


In fact, it means just
that. I have an appointment with Philips after lunch.”


Your solicitor?” Fury
swept through her. “Cast me off into the wilds of Northumberland,
for I will not be coerced into signing a marriage
contract.”


Northumberland?” He gave
her a deprecating look. “You fail to grasp the situation. Even in
Northumberland, a respectable man will not marry a woman with the
reputation you will have if you don’t marry. No, I will not leave
you to marry a country bumpkin who sires ten children on you while
he whittles away your money—or worse, an out and out fortune
hunter. You are to appear at a dozen parties tonight.”


A dozen parties?” she
blurted. “I will be out until the sun rises.”


Not quite,” he said. “This
is not London.”


No one can make that many
appearances in one night.”


And you will dance at each
soiree where there is an orchestra.”

She stared. “I will be incapacitated
tomorrow. Even Mother and Grace could not keep up.”


Do not concern yourself
with them. You will make it plain that the future Countess of
Rushton is not to be toyed with.”


I am not the—” Her gaze
caught on the mound of invitations and she realized her father was
right. The future Countess of Rushton must put an end to this
miserable business. Eve acquiesced with a cant of her head. “I will
make every appearance.”

*****

Erroll’s hotel room door opened in the small
salon beyond the bedroom, but he didn’t bother to lift his head
from the edge of the tub to call out. He was in no mood to be civil
to anyone, not even the maid delivering his dinner. He did shift to
ease the ache in his back and the angle of his wounded leg, which
hung over the edge of the tub. It had been years since he’d ridden
as hard as he had yesterday—or gotten into a damned fist fight as
he had with Miss Crenshaw’s father—and he was paying the price.
Today, he was paying the price for many a sin.

He picked up a glass of whisky from the table
beside the tub and drank the contents in one long swallow. The
liquid burned a velvety path down his throat and landed in the pit
of his stomach where lay the other two glasses he’d already downed
with just as much gusto. Erroll poured another glass from the
decanter sitting on the table, then cradled the tumbler on his
belly and closed his eyes.

What a grand joke that he should be snared by
a woman who didn’t want marriage any more than he did. They would
make quite a pair—threesome, he remembered with a groan. The
younger Miss Crenshaw was not about to give up the chase without a
blood-letting battle.

Erroll had replayed last night’s events over
and over in his mind. He had thanked fortune that his accuser
stopped before reaching her father’s estate, and he thought himself
clever for cornering her alone in her room. But had the wheel on
their wagon not broken, he wouldn’t have caught them, and her lie
would have been exposed under the scrutiny of evidence that might
damn his soul, but not his body. Instead—he downed the whisky, then
poured another glass, sloshing half the liquid over the side of the
glass before slamming the decanter back onto the table. He wrapped
his fingers around the glass as the rest of his body began to
loosen.

Too bad he hadn’t actually compromised the
elder sister. Even an unrelenting hunter like Miss Grace Crenshaw
would relinquish her prey if it mated with her kin. Sliding between
Eve Crenshaw’s thighs would be all too easy. Her nipples had
pressed against his chest just hard enough to give away her desire.
Desire? He chuckled. Her only desire had been to put a bullet in
him. And she had, the vixen.

His cock throbbed and began to rise in
response to the memory of her body silhouetted by candlelight and
the dark patch he’d glimpsed between her legs. Erroll drank the
whisky in a flourish, intended to pour another, but the glass
slipped from his fingers onto the floor as his eyes closed. His
cock would fit snuggly inside her tight warmth. But what how to
induce her to wrap her fingers around him beforehand?

He startled, the erotic vision suddenly so
real he could feel her delicate hand closing around him. Erroll
jammed his eyes more firmly shut and allowed his mind to sink
deeper into the murky fantasy. Her fingers tightened and he lifted
his hips, then slowly lowered back into the water. Her grip firm,
she slid her hand up, then down, pulling his skin so tight he
hissed a breath in pleasure.

Her hand pistoned down then up, faster.
Erroll gripped the edges of the tub. He could smell her faint
fragrance. She slowed the motion and a feathery light caress
brushed his bollocks. Erroll shivered. His release was near and he
had yet to touch the apparition. Dared he try? Would she vanish if
he reached for her? He growled when the hand caressing his bollocks
cradled them and gently squeezed. His release rose toward the
surface. Soft lips brushed against his.