ruse was going to be the death of her.
Hannah Lawson fought to take in a breath as the world spun, and
finally succeeded in filling her empty lungs. She was on her back
in an undignified position considering she was half-buried in a
pile of leaves, and when a lean hand reached down to touch her arm,
she could only barely manage a shaky smile.
Thank you, my lord.”
Hannah, my dear, are you quite all right?” Beau Fallon, Earl
of Auberville, kneeled at her side, looking at her with what seemed
to be genuine concern in his pale blue eyes. “Perhaps you
should not move yet.”
outrageously, he slid his hands under her skirts and ran them up
her legs, checking no doubt for broken bones. In truth, even with
the shock of having the wind knocked from her, Hannah had to stifle
a startled protest.
much as she enjoyed him touching her, the gaping audience begged
for a more secluded venue. At least three ladies and several fine
gentlemen sat on their horses around the small copse of trees, clearly
fascinated by the tableau.
I’m fine.” She went to sit up, but maybe fine was not
quite accurate. There was a decided twinge in her right knee and
she evidently did not manage to conceal it very well.
I was afraid you were injured. That was quite a fall.”
It’s nothing.” She braced a hand on the ground and winced.
then picked her up with a muttered imprecation. The gesture was
so effortless that when he rose with her in his arms and strode
toward his horse, she felt a flicker of affirmation that his pose
as a dandified rake was false. There was no doubt that he carried
her with athletic ease.
the man beneath the façade was hardly easy, but a twisted
knee might just be worth the knowledge.
the injury did rather hurt.
You’ll ride back with me.” His voice was crisp, his
profile clear in the slanting afternoon sun. “A groom can
be sent at once to the village for the physician.”
That’s not necessary.” She did her best to look detached
as he set her in the saddle and put a foot in the stirrup. “I
just told you—”
swung up behind her in one smooth motion. “Nonsense. Stop
all played in, actually, to the pretense of their romantic relationship.
He was doing his part by acting the devoted lover, and as the injured
damsel, she needed to accept the gallantry.
much nicer if it were all true, but after all, she’d asked
him to participate in the deception.
as a result, she’d agreed in polite company to the cross country
gallop and been thrown from her horse because, while she was competent
at many things, she was not an exemplary rider. It had made her
decidedly nervous when they’d given her a spirited horse.
Of course, as they do, the animal had sensed it.
was all rather humiliating, really.
the situation, of course, was not helped because Beau came to that
conclusion very easily. “Hannah, if you are not comfortable
on horseback that would have been valuable information.”
All Englishwomen are comfortable riding,” she argued, hoping
he didn’t see the flush of embarrassment in her cheeks. “I
just fell off. It happens.”
It does.” His tone was agreeable. “But I do not ever
want you hurt in an effort to supposedly please me. I wish to exact
a promise right now from you that there should be no more pretense
tall body was warm and masculine, and she was cradled across his
thighs, his arm around her waist.
felt nice. Well, better than nice. It felt quite right except for
the throbbing in her knee.
her head, she gazed into his face. “It seems to me, my lord,
our entire relationship is based on pretense. I am not quite sure
what you wish for me to say.”
one hand was competently on the reins and the other came up to briefly
touch her cheek. “Entire? I think that is an exaggeration.”
was true they had seemed to form a friendship without much effort,
but that had been the season of her debut, the one when she declined
all offers of marriage, hoping perhaps to receive one from him.
A year and a half later there was still no offer forthcoming. She
was beginning to despair of there ever being one.
I don’t know how else to put it.”
Then perhaps you should let me declare this conversation is over.”
it wasn’t. She didn’t like being dismissed, and truthfully,
it was out of character for him to do so. “A conversation
involves two people, I’m afraid.”
My point exactly. Should one decide not to participate any longer,
then it is by default, quite finished.”
adjusted her position so she could study his profile. It was handsome,
of course, the line of his jaw both masculine and clean, the sculpted
planes of his face framed by dark blond hair that was at the moment
a little windblown from their ride. His eyes were a clear azure
shade that she had found fascinating from the moment they met, not
just because of the color, but the keen intelligence she saw in
those depths no matter how jaded he tried to appear.
was an enigma she was still trying to understand, but had not yet
You are pretending to court me.”
At your request if I recall correctly.”
was accurate, but the situation was much more complicated. He knew
quite well how she felt about him. She had not the slightest idea
how he felt about her except they had once shared a passionate embrace
and several heated kisses. Since that unguarded moment though, Lord
Auberville had done his best to make sure they were never alone.
himself, or protecting her? She wasn’t sure. Hannah murmured,
Hannah…I am leaving England for quite some time.” The
neutral tone of his voice made it hard to tell if he was simply
telling her, or if he had any real feelings on the subject. “I
have a business venture that requires my attention in the tropical
seas near the Americas.”
I see.” She didn’t actually, but his frequent absences
had not escaped her attention. Her knee really was hurting now,
so she shifted just a fraction, her response subdued. “How
long will you be gone?”
* * *
expression on the face of the beautiful woman in his arms did not
escape him. Hannah was so delightfully transparent in direct contrast
to his deceptive nature. Beau Fallon felt the stiffening of her
lissome body and reminded himself, not for the first time, he was
not deserving of her affections.
begin with, he led a double life: that of the earl, with his estates
and fortune and social influence, and that of the spy, with the
penchant for intrigue and political machinations. Both personas
fit quite well, and he normally could seamlessly exchange one for
not when it came to Lady Hannah Lawson. There was another facet
of himself he hadn’t known existed until he met her. That
of the hopeful lover, the idealistic young man he had been at one
time, the fool who believed in passion and laughter.
was why he had decided to distance himself from England for a while.
The woman who even at the moment sat in front of him, her luscious
bottom resting against his groin in such a way he was growing hard
even though he tried to quell the reaction, had an unfortunate effect
on his usual detachment.
losing the battle, a practical man fled the field to regroup and
decide upon a new strategy.
I am not sure.” He feigned a sincere smile. Her golden hair,
he noticed, held a faint floral fragrance that made him wish to
lean in closer. She also had the most unusual eyes, almost a violet
color, not quite blue and not quite purple…indescribable and
lovely. The way she was looking at him now, so poignantly, made
him want to utter a very colorful curse.
elaborated. “The weather is uncertain there at this time of
year. Sometimes there are horrific typhoons. Traveling by sea is
the only option, so should the weather prove unruly, I might be
there until spring.”
eyes widened. “My lord, a half a year? Surely not.”
I’ve traveled there before.” He shrugged. “It
is quite a beautiful place, actually.”
as beautiful as you. He didn’t say it out loud. Often enough
he had to chide himself with a reminder that, for her own good,
she had to get past her infatuation with him and move on to choose
a staid stable husband who did not have his past or his inclinations.
Hannah might be deliciously tempting with her curvaceous body and
delicate features, but she was also undeniably intelligent. If she
knew everything about him, she might even agree he was not the best
choice for her.
though he had fought Napoleon’s troops in his own convoluted
way and still continued to serve the Crown, he found he did not
have the courage to see that disillusionment in her eyes.
to potentially put her in danger.
tempestuous seas or not, he was leaving.
her credit, Hannah didn’t try to dissuade him, but he could
swear there was a glimmer of tears in her eyes that had nothing
to do with her injury. “Of course, you must tend to your business
affairs. I completely understand. It is only responsible for you
to do so.”
I’ll come back.”
he decided. Her hair smelled like lilacs when they first started
to bloom in the spring, fresh and sweet.
Of course.” Her smile wavered.
what the devil do I do about you then?
a very difficult question to answer.
estate where the weekend party was being given was set in a particularly
picturesque park, with the remnants of a ruined abbey visible from
the grounds and the drive curved up to the Elizabethan manor house.
A footman spied them approaching, Beau carrying Hannah instead of
how they departed with her on her own mount, and descended the steps
with visible alarm.
My lord? Is something amiss?”
We need the physician from the village.” Beau slid off and
then reached for his beautiful companion. “I will take Lady
Hannah to her room.”
Yes, of course.” The young man hurried away.
It is only a bruise or two, and perhaps a sprain,” she protested
as he lifted her from the horse, but she sweetly looped an arm around
his neck for balance. “I am quite sure I could walk.”
Then you would deprive me of the pleasure of carrying you.”
Beau essayed his finest cheeky grin. “I am rather hoping you’ll
be generous enough to grant me that privilege. Besides,” he
added as he went up the steps to the elegant front door, “just
think of my upcoming journey this way, my dear. If our purpose in
the pretense of our courtship is to convince your father you have
a serious suitor so you do not have to marry a man not of your choice,
my absence will just purchase you more time to choose.”
There is a logic to that, I suppose.” Hannah looked at him
with clear uncertainty. Her lips trembled just enough to bring his
attention to their lush fullness. Then she confessed with endearing
shyness, “I still cannot forget the night you kissed me.”
the woman think he could forget it either? Why the devil else was
he willing to climb on board a ship and travel to another hemisphere?
she didn’t know that, and it was unconscionable for him to
say it out loud. He was not in the least the romantic hero she envisioned
and he was doing her a very great favor by not fostering that illusion.
it been anyone else, he would have just married her and be done
with it. After all, there was a duty owed to his title and he needed
an heir, and lust was a suitable reason for choosing one woman over
another; but Hannah was not some brainless debutante he could wed
and dismiss. Relegating her to the role of a wife he had to acquire
to fulfill an obligation he’d never asked for in the first
place just to ensure his family lineage was not an option. He valued
her friendship far too much to do that to her.
would never be why he married her. She wanted more than just a lover,
she wanted to be loved.
I shouldn’t have touched you.” He headed for the stairs
with grim determination. The sooner he could put her in the custody
of her maid, the better. He might even leave this very afternoon
for London and eschew the rest of the weekend. The Sappho was at
dock and could be readied quickly.
was a decision to be made.
he had determined her injury was as superficial as she claimed it
to be. He refused to leave the country and spend the next six months
worrying over her.
Shouldn’t have kissed me?” She rested her head against
his shoulder and to his chagrin it seemed to fit there perfectly.
“Perhaps not, but I am quite glad you did.”
It was a somewhat reckless impulse and I am rarely impulsive.”
He knew which door led to the bedroom she had been given by their
hostess, which was yet again another reason it was prudent for him
to leave. The fact alone that he had made certain to obtain that
information told him that he was entirely too involved.
thrived on danger but the lady was a menace to his peace of mind.
room was feminine and framed in pastels and he deposited her on
a bed that was draped in a very pale shade of yellow from bed curtains
to coverlet. In contrast, Hannah wore a dark blue habit, and even
though she’d promised him she wasn’t hurt severely,
her skin was unusually pale and her eyes looked enormous.
You’re leaving right now, aren’t you?”
straightened. Oh, that was just perfect. Not only was she disquieting
to his ordered world, but now apparently she could read his mind.
“I never intended to stay the entire visit.”
I find it unusual you, of all people, would run away.”
Your lordship.” To his relief, the housekeeper came into the
room, obviously upset, her dark hair drawn severely back, her hands
wringing her apron. “Where is her injury? What can we do to
make her comfortable until the physician arrives?”
three strides he was in the doorway. “I feel confident she
can give you the particulars.”
he exited, he could swear the very refined Lady Hannah muttered,
HERE TO BUY