A fellow author from Ellora's Cave has stopped in today to share her new release with you. It sounds yummy! And don't you just love the book cover?
Seven years ago, the Marquis of Thornton broke Cleo’s heart. He’s the last man she wants to see at the country house party she’s attending with her sisters. However, fate has a different plan when she finds Thornton standing before her, as devastatingly handsome as ever.
Thornton’s resolve is tempted by Cleo’s reappearance in his life. He’ll stop at nothing to have her back in his arms. Now a respected politician, he jeopardizes his career and reputation with each secret moment he spends with her.
A steamy interlude in a darkened chamber, the crackling tension of a shared Shakespeare scene before the rest of the house guests, and one too many secret kisses prove to Cleo and Thornton that despite their scarred hearts, their feelings for one another may never have changed. But neither is free to pursue the other. Cleo remains hopelessly trapped in a loveless marriage, and Thornton is on the cusp of making an advantageous match. Together they must battle against ruin and swirling scandal to discover if their mad passion is worth the price.
“You have changed little, Lady Scarbrough,” Thornton offered at last when they were well away from the others, en route to Wilton House’s imposing façade. “Lovely as ever.”
“You are remarkably civil, my lord,” she returned, not patient enough for a meaningless, pleasant exchange. She didn’t wish to cry friends with him. There was too much between them.
His jaw stiffened and she knew she’d finally irked him. “Did you think to find me otherwise?”
“Our last parting was an ugly one.” Perverse, perhaps, but she wanted to remind him, couldn’t bridle her tongue. She longed to grab handfuls of his fine coat and shake him. What right did he have to appear so smug, so handsome? To be so self-assured, refined, magnetic?
“I had forgotten.” Thornton’s tone, like the sky above them, remained light, nonchalant.
“Forgotten?” The nerve of the man! He had acted the part of lovelorn suitor well enough back then.
“It was, what, all of ten years past, no?”
“Seven,” she corrected in her haughtiest countess tone.
He smiled down at her as if he were a kindly uncle regarding a pitiable orphaned niece. “Remarkable memory, Lady Scarbrough.”
“One would think your memory too would recall such an occasion, even given your advanced age.”
“How so?” He sounded bored, deliberately overlooking her jibe at his age which was, if she were honest, only thirty to her five and twenty. “We never would have suited.” His gray eyes melted into hers, his grim mouth tipping upward in what would have been a grin on any other man. Thornton didn’t grin. He smoldered.
Drat her stays. Too tight, too tight. She couldn’t catch a breath. Did he mean to be cruel? Cleo knew a great deal about not suiting. She and Scarbrough had been at it nearly since the first night they’d spent as man and wife. He had crushed her, hurt her, grunted over her and gone to his mistress.
“Of course we wouldn’t suit,” she agreed. Still, inwardly she had to admit there had been many nights in her early marriage where she had lain awake, listening for Scarbrough’s footfalls, wondering if she hadn’t chosen a Sisyphean fate.
They entered Wilton House and began the lengthy tromp to its Tudor revival styled wing where many of the guests had been situated. Thornton placed a warm, disconcertingly large hand over hers. He gazed down at her with a solemn expression, some of the arrogance gone from his features. “I had not realized you would be in attendance, Lady Scarbrough.”
“Nor I you.” She decided to say, uncertain of what, if any, portent hid in his words. Was he suggesting he was not as immune as he pretended? She wished he had not insisted upon escorting her.
As they drew near the main hall, a great commotion arose. Previously invisible servants sprang forth, bustling with activity. A new guest had arrived and she recognized the strident voice calling out orders. Thornton’s hand stiffened over hers and his strides increased. She swore she overheard him mumble something like ‘not yet, damn it’, but couldn’t be sure. To test him, she stopped. Her heavy skirts swished front then back, pulling her so she swayed into him. Cleo cast him a sidelong glance. “My lord, I do believe your mother is about to grace us with her rarified presence.”
He growled, losing some of his polish like a candlestick too long overlooked by the rag. “Nonsense. We mustn’t tarry. You’ve the headache.” He punctuated his words with a sharp, insolent yank on her arm to get her moving.
She beamed. “I find it begins to dissipate.”
The dowager Marchioness of Thornton had a certain reputation. She was a lioness with an iron spine, an undeterred sense of her own importance and enough consequence to cut anyone she liked. Cleo knew the dowager despised her. She wouldn’t dare linger to incur her wrath were it not so painfully obvious the good woman’s own son was desperate to avoid her. And deuce it, she wanted to see Thornton squirm.
“Truly, I would not importune you by forcing you to wait in the hall amidst the chill air,” he said, quite stuffy now, no longer bothering to tug her but pulling her down the hall as if he were a mule and she his plow.
The shrill voice of her ladyship could be heard admonishing the staff for their posture. Thornton’s pace increased, directing them into the wrong wing. She was about to protest when the dowager began calling after him. It seemed the saint still feared his mother.
“Goddamn.” Without a moment of hesitation, he opened the nearest door, stepped inside and pulled her through with him.
Cleo let out a disgruntled “oof” as she sank into the confines of whatever chamber Thornton had chosen as their hiding place. The door clicked closed and darkness descended.
“Thornton,” trilled the marchioness, her voice growing closer.
“Your—” Cleo began speaking, but Thornton’s hand over her mouth muffled the remainder of her words. She inhaled, startled by the solid presence of his large body so close behind her. Her bustle crushed against him.
“Hush, please. I haven’t the patience for my mother today.”
He meant to avoid the dragon for the entire day? Did he really think it possible? She shifted, discomfited by his nearness. Goodness, the little room was stifling. Her stays pinched her again. Did he need to smell so divine?
“Argnnnthhwt,” she replied.
She needed air. The cramped quarters dizzied her. Certainly it wasn’t the proximity of her person to Thornton that played mayhem with her senses. Absolutely not. The ridiculous man simply had to take his hand from her mouth. Why, he was nearly cutting off her air. She could scarcely breathe.
Thornton didn’t seem likely to oblige her, so she resorted to tactics learned from growing up with a handful of sisters who were each more than a handful themselves. She decided not to play fair and licked his palm. It was a mistake, a terrible one and not just because it was unladylike but because he tasted salty and sweet. He tasted rather like something she might want to nibble. So she did the unpardonable. She licked him again.
“Christ.” To her mingled relief and dismay, he removed his hand. “Say a word and I’ll throttle you.”
Footsteps sounded in the hall just beyond the closed door. If Cleo had been tempted to end their ruse before, her sudden reaction to Thornton rattled her too much to do so now. She kept mum.
“Perhaps you are mistaken?” Thornton’s sister, Lady Bella ventured, sounding meek.
“Don’t be an idiot, Bella,” the dowager snapped. “I know my own son when I see him. All your novels are making you addlepated. How many times must I implore you to assert yourself at more improving endeavors like needlepoint? Women should not be burdened by knowledge. Our constitutions are too delicate.”
Cleo couldn’t quite stifle a snicker. The situation had all the elements of a comedy. All that yet remained was for the dowager to yank open the door so Cleo and Thornton would come tumbling out.
“You smell of lavender,” he muttered in her ear, an accusation.
So what if she did? It was a lovely, heady scent blended specifically for her. Lavender and rose geranium, to be precise. “Hold your breath,” she retorted, “if you find it so objectionable.”
“Then what is the problem, Thornton?”
“I find it delicious.”
Scarlett Scott has loved romance novels ever since she was eleven and swiped her older sister’s books to read by flashlight in her closet. Her mother caught her, but she remained undeterred. A self-described promiscuous writer, she dabbles in all sorts of genres but loves erotic romance best. She lives with her hero and their adorable but occasionally evil puppy and spends too much time lurking on her blog.