Tempted All Night

Pocket Star Books, February 2009
ISBN 1-4165-9313-6

Even the most careful lady can be swayed by a scoundrel . . .

Lady Phaedra Northampton is a proper English miss—but burdened by a dark secret.  She's buried her shame in running her wealthy brother, Lord Nash’s, households while hiding behind a sharp wit and dull wardrobe . . . until a reckless village maid's disappearance pulls her into London's seedy underworld.

A former mercenary and jaded spy-for-hire, Tristan Talbot, Lord Avoncliffe, now does little, and manages to do it scandalously.  Though Tristan’s an out and out rogue, when his dying father begs him to delve into the secrets behind a notorious brothel—a perfect task for his talents!—Tristan can’t refuse.  Is the brothel a front for a notorious Russian spy ring?  Tristan is on the hunt—until his path collides with the oh-so-tempting Lady Phae.

Soon what should be a simple assignment becomes deliciously complicated . . . when deception and desire lead to an explosive passion—and deadly foes!

Tempted All Night

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Excerpt from the novel Tempted All Night

Phaedra set her palms flat against the sturdy wooden column which supported Mrs. Weyden’s pergola, then let her spine settle back against it.  Forcing her shoulders to relax, Phaedra drew in the scent of blossoming trees and freshly turned earth while she watched the garden shadows dance to the sway of the lanterns behind her. 

Mrs. Weyden’s drawing room had grown unbearably hot, and despite the chill of the evening, Phaedra had seized the first moment to escape the stifling air—and the awkward expectations.  She was in no mood for the lively exertions of a country dance, and the waltz . . . well, she simply did not dance the waltz, though that was precisely what Zoë had ordered the pianist to strike up. 

This one was a light, lovely piece.  Schubert, she thought.  Fleetingly, Phaedra closed her eyes and allowed herself the pleasure of mentally swaying to the soft, tinkling notes which drifted through the drawing room doors. 

“I must confess,” said the quiet voice through the gloom, “that I did not much care for the way Lord Robert Rowland kept ogling your bodice tonight.”

Eyes flying open, Phaedra gasped. 

Tristan Talbot surveyed her from the opposite column, his arms thrown casually over one another, his long legs crossed at the ankles, the picture of perfect masculine repose.  How long he had been relaxing there—still as death itself, apparently—was anyone’s guess.  His elegant black evening clothes blended into the darkness—as did he. 

Talbot’s skin was like warm honey, his hair a dark mass of unruly waves which would have looked unfashionable and far too long on any other man.  Above his sinfully full lips, his cheeks were smooth and lean, giving over to high, perfect cheekbones, putting Phaedra in mind of some sleek, sensuous Sicilian prince—not that she’d ever seen such a creature. 

“Really, Mr. Talbot.”  Phaedra’s whisper was sharp.  “Must you lurk about like that, frightening people?”

“I beg your pardon,” he murmured, coming away from the column toward her.  “I did not mean to startle you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she returned.  “You meant precisely that.  Otherwise you would have made your presence known when I came out here five minutes ago.”

“I beg your pardon,” he said again, his voice a soothing rumble.  “But I was not here five minutes ago.”

“What nonsense,” she said tartly.  “You could not possibly have walked past me.”

“Could I not?” he murmured.  “Perhaps, then, it was magic?”

But distressed by his comment earlier in the evening, Phaedra had grown wary.  “Indeed, I think I should go inside.”

“Wait.”  He caught her gently, his broad, long-fingered hand surprisingly warm upon her arm.  “I am sorry, Phae.  Have I really upset you?”

He had, but she was not about to tell him so.  Inside the drawing room behind her, the music fell away.  The dancers parted amidst light applause and laughter. 

“I merely wish to be alone,” she finally said, turning to go.

“No, you don’t,” he said, drawing her incrementally nearer.  “Not if you go in there, at any rate.  It’s turned into rather a madhouse.”

Phaedra glanced over her shoulder to see that indeed, the crowd appeared to have swollen, and that couples were now crowding the floor as they attempted to square up for a quadrille.  She returned her gaze to Talbot and saw nothing but kindness in his face. 

But handsome men, she knew, were not to be trusted—and kindness could be but a treacherous façade.  She shook him off, and stepped back.  “Very well,” she retorted.  “Let us remain, sir.  There was something I wished to say to you.”

Talbot stood very near her now, his eyes assessing as they drifted over her face, and then perhaps lower.  “My, my,” he said dryly.  “We really aren’t flirting anymore, are we?”

“No, we are not.”  Phaedra tilted her head, attempting to catch his gaze.  “Up, up, if you please, Mr. Talbot!  Kindly look at me, not my bosom.  You and Lord Robert are scoundrels cut from the same cloth, I fear.”

His head did jerk up then, his eyes wide with shock.  But the lazy grin soon slid back into place.  “I can scarce deny the truth,” he agreed.  “I take exception to him, I suppose, because I’ve a pretty fair notion what the cad is thinking—and after all, Phae, I did see you first.” 

The words were seductive.  Possessive.  They flowed over her, warm as molten honey.  Phae shook them off.  “You have no claim to me, sir,” she answered.  “Nor am I fool enough to believe you wish one.  Now, let us concern ourselves with the crisis at hand.  I demand to know why you have been asking questions about my elder brother.”

With a nonchalance she knew was feigned, Talbot scrubbed the toe of his evening slipper across a mossy vein in the flagstone.  “Oh, just curious, I daresay,” he answered.  “The coincidence, you see, struck me.”

“What coincidence?” she demanded.

Casually, Talbot rocked back onto his heels, his gaze focused somewhere in the depths of the garden.  “Well, this dead chap—Gorsky—he was Russian, you know.”

Something cold washed over Phaedra.  “So you have said.”

“Actually, my dear, you said it.”  Talbot’s gaze snapped to hers, dark and penetrating, the speed of it leaving her breathless.  “And your brother—he is part Russian, is he not?” 

“A quarter, perhaps,” Phaedra retorted.  “But he knows nothing of Russia—hasn’t been there for twenty years or more.  Nash is decent man, Talbot.  You leave him out of your tawdry pokings-about.   Do you hear me?  He does not deserve the trouble you would cause.  He had nothing to do with this mess.  Nothing.”

She had said too much, she realized.  And too angrily. 

Talbot was watching her warily, like a lion in the sun, wondering if he should bestir himself to take down his prey.  “You seem awfully certain of that,” he said noncommittally.  “And perhaps that’s one of the reasons, Lady Phaedra, I keep getting the oddest notion there’s something you aren’t telling me.”

“How dare you,” she returned, her voice low and tremulous.  “I do not have to tell you anything.”

She spun about to go, but again, Talbot caught her arm.  This time his grip was unrelenting as he jerked her to him.  His eyes bore down on her, narrow and dark.  For an instant they stood there, toe-to-toe, his fingers digging into her arm, their breath coming harder than was wise.  Suddenly, something like surrender—but not surrender at all—softened his visage, and Talbot cursed softly.  Then his lips came down upon hers. 

It was a kiss almost artless in its simplicity, his lips opening hungrily over hers.  Phaedra’s head seemed to spin.  All rational thought left her.  Instead of cracking him a sound blow across the cheek, she rose onto her tiptoes.  Something like a groan escaped her lips.  Against her will, her palms skated up the front of his coat, then her fingers curled into the soft black wool of his lapels. 

In an instant, Talbot had one hand at the back of her head, and an arm banded about her waist.  He drew her to him in a crush of pink silk, then, somehow, Phaedra’s spine was against the pergola column again.  His mouth was insistent, driving her head back.  Relentless. 

His lips molded over hers again and again, seductive and irresistible.  And when his tongue teased lightly across her lips, Phaedra melted against him, a liquescent cascade of womanhood pooling at Talbot’s feet.  Weak.  Willing.  Just as she had always been.  She opened without the merest hint of protest, inviting his tongue to slide silkily along hers. 

The house, the music, the thirty-odd people just beyond the terrace; all of it spun away.  For long, mindless moments, they deepened the contact, his fingers plunging into her hair as his tongue plundered her mouth. 

His leg was between hers now, his groin throbbing urgently against hers.  Dimly, Phaedra recognized the hard bulge for what it was—for what it meant—and yet she urged herself against it, twining her body around his like the most amoral of cats. The kiss was endless.  Drugging.  Phaedra swam in sensation and yearning, aching desire.   A dream—a fevered, sleep-tossed fantasy of Talbot naked in her bed—came to her, vivid as the morning’s sun.

And then somehow, his lips were torn from hers, and Phaedra was left swaying in his embrace, blinking her eyes as if dazed.

Talbot cursed again, this time more vehemently.  He drew away.  “This has to stop.” 

“Must it?” asked Phaedra, disoriented.

He gave a soft, rueful smile.  “My dear, you are on the verge of ruination here,” he murmured, letting his hand drop.  “And I am on the verge of losing my notoriously unreliable self-control.  Where is that sharp tongue of yours, Lady Phaedra, when I really deserve it?”

Phaedra collapsed a little inside.  The sounds of the night returned to her, and the tinkle of Mrs. Weyden’s pianoforte again wafted from the drawing room.  The chink of crystal, and the trill of distant laughter.  All of it brought her back to what she’d just done. 

“I do beg your pardon,” she whispered, taking a step back.  “You must think that I am . . . ”

He gave a choked little laugh.  “What I think, my dear, is that it is I who should beg pardon,” he answered.  “And the only thing I am imagining is how beautiful you would be with your clothes off and that glorious chestnut hair down about your waist.  So you’d be wise not to tempt me further.”

Phaedra’s blush deepened.

Suddenly, he grabbed her hand, and pulled her toward a towering tree in the center of the garden.  In the full glow of one of the lanterns, a pair of swings hung from a low, crooked branch.  Talbot urged her to sit down, then joined her.

“Well, that was not easy to do.”  His grin was back.  “But at least we are in view of the French windows now.  No harm, I pray, has been done.”

But great harm had been done, Phaedra acknowledged.  Tristan Talbot had kissed her again, lessening her precious control, and inside she still trembled.  He had awakened the thing within her—that tempestuous creature she did not know and could scarce restrain.  And with him it was worse—far worse—than it had ever been.  Phaedra looked away, and blinked her eyes rapidly.

When she turned around, he was looking at her quite intently.  “Now,” he said softly, “my moral lapse aside, Phae, don’t you think you’d best confide in me?”

Phaedra misunderstood.  “Confide in you?” she asked, horrified.

Though he looked charmingly incongruous in the swing, Talbot had begun to move with that languid, cat-like grace which laced his every motion.  “About Gorsky,” he clarified, pushing absently back and forth with one heel.  “You need to tell me everything you know, Phae.  It might be important to the Government, but more troubling to me is that you could be in danger.”

Phaedra kept her visage emotionless, and shook her head.  “I don’t know anything about Mr. Gorsky,” she replied.  “The man fell dead at my feet whilst I was minding my own business.”

“Liar,” said Talbot.  His voice was soft but certain.

“How dare you!”  Phaedra moved as if to leap from the swing, but he stopped her.

“Phae, you knew his name,” said Tristan, his voice gently accusing.  “You knew his name.” 

Suddenly, she understood.  “I-I explained that,” she protested.  “My brother mentioned it.”

Tristan shook his head. “No, love, he didn’t,” he answered.  “Lord Nash couldn’t have known it.  Not unless he was somehow involved.  I checked with my father.  Gorsky’s name had been provided to no one outside the Foreign Office.”

Phaedra closed her eyes, and let the horror wash over her.  She was caught out in a lie of her own doing.  Caught out with no way to explain it—and no way to keep Stefan out of it—unless she dared tell Talbot the truth.