LIZ CARLYLE

 

A Woman Scorned
Sonnet Books, May 2000                                    
ISBN 0-671-03826-5

Jonet Rowland, the Marchioness of Mercer is lovely, rich, and—it is rumored—an unrepentant adulteress. And when her philandering husband is murdered in his own bed, it's whispered that Jonet is a femme fatale in more ways than one. It will take a dashing and honorable soldier to get Jonet out of this one.

When his scheming uncle begs Captain Cole Amherst to investigate the death of his brother, Lord Mercer, Cole flatly refuses. But it is soon apparent that treachery stalks Lady Mercer’s two innocent children. A man of God and a scholar, Cole reluctantly plunges into the viper’s pit that is Jonet Rowland’s life, and finds that nothing could have prepared him for the lust she inspires...or the danger which surrounds them.

A Woman Scorned

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Excerpt from the novel A Woman Scorned

In which Captain Amherst Awakens to the Truth

The squall of newly-tightened door hinges slowly stirred Cole to a hazy wakefulness. He had no notion what was wrong, just the vague sensation that something was not . . . right. How long had he slept? And where the devil was he? Silently, he listened, trying to bring his senses to full alert.

Ah, yes. The schoolroom. Hinges shrieked again. Cole’s body jerked taut. Was it Stuart? Or had an intruder slipped past Donaldson? Outside, the rain beat down relentlessly, suppressing all sound, swathing his senses in cotton. But someone was in the room.

His thoughts still disjointed, Cole spun to a seated position and stood. In the windows behind the sofa, lightning flared. Too late, Cole realized he had been silhouetted against the glass. Thunder rolled ominously. Cole darted toward the door. A sharp, powerful shoulder caught him low in the spine, sending him facedown into the floor with a breathless grunt.

Coming fully awake, Cole moved to throw off his attacker, but the sharp prick of a blade beneath his chin forestalled all resistance. He froze. Something was very wrong. Suddenly, it occurred to him—just as a bead of warm blood rolled down his throat. The attacker splayed half across his back felt taut and powerful—but absurdly light. Far too small to be either Donaldson or one of the footmen.

"Aye, don’t even twitch, you bloody bastard," rasped a cold, feminine voice against his ear, "or I swear, I’ll slit your throat from ear to elbow." As if to reinforce the threat, she shoved his face hard against the floor.

"Oh my God," whispered Cole, his cheek pressed to the cold planks, his words unsteady. He could feel the point of the blade quiver against his skin. "Have you utterly lost your wits?"

The shapely feminine form atop him stiffened for a long moment, and then collapsed, her mouth slack and panting against his ear. "Oh . . . shite," came her tremulous whisper.

The blade fell to the floor.

Smoothly, Cole twisted about until he could pitch his attacker to one side. He did not need light to know that it was Jonet he held in his arms. He could smell the deep, sweet scent of her, feel her breasts and belly pressed to his. Judiciously, he reached for the knife, tossing it from her reach.

"Jonet?" he said softly, squeezing shut his eyes despite the dark.

Against his chest, he felt her begin to tremble like a green soldier who has just survived his first brush with death. "W-What?" she finally answered.

"Jonet, where did you learn that disgustingly vulgar word?"

Her breath came out on a wispy little sigh. "F-f-from Charlie Donaldson, I think."

"I see," he said with utter calm. "I wish you would not use it again. I find it offensive."

"Just let me go, Cole," she whispered, but she made no move to roll away from him.

Vaguely, Cole wondered if he would ever be able to do what she asked. He knew he had no business touching her. She felt too good, smelled too enticing. But by God, the woman had jumped him in the dark, and he damned well ought to teach her a lesson.

Just then, another bolt of lightning split the night, lighting up the schoolroom. Good Lord—Jonet was wearing nothing but a plain cotton nightshift!

"Oh, Cole—!" As if the sight of his face had somehow unleashed her tension, Jonet collapsed in his embrace. Her trembling intensified to a bone-deep shudder. "I—I hurt you . . . I’m sorry."

Cole made no move to let her go, telling himself that it would be wrong to do so when she was so obviously distraught. "Jonet," he said, folding her tightly to his chest and speaking softly into her hair. "What do you mean by behaving so rashly? For God’s sake, you’re shaking all over."

She said nothing, and after a long moment, Cole looked down. In the gloom, he could not see her face. But he could sense that her breathing was still shallow, and he could hear the little hitch of fear in it. "A noise," she said, her voice muffled by his shirtfront. "I was checking on the boys, and then . . . I thought I heard a noise in the schoolroom. Did you? Did you hear anything at all?"

"No." Uneasily, Cole tried to shift his weight incrementally away from her. Relief was obviously flooding through Jonet, but he was far from relieved. Feeling rather like the word he had just ordered her not to say, Cole tightened his embrace, feeling his arousal leap to full flame.

Good Lord, what a prince he was! Jonet had been scared witless, and now his cock felt like an axe handle shoved up against the softness of her thigh. Cole prayed to heaven she would not notice, but he couldn’t make himself move away.

"It’s just a storm, Jonet," he said softly against her hair. She smelled surprisingly innocent; warm and inviting, like apple blossoms and spring grass under a cloudless sky. Like a woman a man could lie down and sleep with. But not him, of course.

Cole lifted his head away. "Jonet, the weather worsened rather quickly. Perhaps a rumble of thunder awakened you?"

"I . . . yes, perhaps," she said uncertainly. Slowly, her characteristic composure returned and she pushed him away a little. Cole levered himself up onto one elbow, trying to bestir some shame. A gentleman would have been on his feet by now, helping her up from the floor, and warning her not to be so heedless. But Cole was doing neither, and Jonet did not seem to expect it.

"Jonet," he finally whispered, "perhaps we oughtn’t be . . . on the floor like this?" Lightning flashed again, more muted this time, and he glimpsed her face. Her eyes were wide and luminescent now, the lines of her mouth soft and suddenly inviting.

"Perhaps not," she replied. Long black hair cascaded over Jonet’s shoulder, heavier and more wavy than Cole had expected. He began to be painfully aware of just where all their body parts were pressed together. Absolute lust—hotter and more intense than anything he had ever known—surged through him, pulling him toward her.

Nearly sightless in the gloom, Jonet looked up at the man whose body half covered her own. Even in the dark, he was huge and overpowering. The relief she had felt upon realizing it was Cole whom she had tackled had been quickly—too quickly—replaced by the sensations of deep, shuddering need. She knew that she should be ashamed of what she was thinking. Of what she wanted.

A bitter smile curved her lips. Perhaps she was not, strictly speaking, the type of woman Cole Amherst would ordinarily consort with, but it was rather obvious that his lofty morals had failed to inform his nether regions. Pressed against her thigh, Cole’s rod was as hard as his heart. And at the moment, Jonet wanted them both. With a calculated deliberation, she reached up and drew Cole’s lips to hers.

It was as if someone had sent a blazing oil lamp crashing to the floor. This time, heat and flame rolled over them with a fierce intensity, burning up every shred of resistance, every scrap of dislike, and every grain of suspicion. On a slow moan, Cole dragged his mouth over hers, then surged inside. Hotly, harshly, he plunged into her, again and again, giving her no chance to respond in kind. Fleetingly, Jonet wondered just what she had unleashed, and then carelessly pitched herself headlong into the fire.

Her mouth open hungrily against his, Jonet listened in feminine satisfaction as a second groan—deeper, far more urgent—rumbled through Cole’s chest. She felt his erection grow even harder against her leg. She felt the stubble of his beard rake across her face. Willfully, she skimmed both her hands along his sides, feeling the ripple of big ribs and taut muscle. And then, she felt his hands come up to roughly shove her shoulders hard against the floor.

In one smooth motion, Cole rolled her fully onto her back and dragged himself over her with powerful arms, rucking up the hem of her nightdress with his knee. Jonet felt a second moment of alarm, and then inexplicably relaxed again when she remembered that it was Cole whose hardness was now pressed between her thighs.

She let her fingers come up to slide through his hair, but Cole mistook the motion. He captured her hand in his own, and dragging it up over her head, held it knuckles-down against the wood for a long moment, still kissing her.

Cole. Oh, yes! Jonet let herself move suggestively against him. She wanted and wanted. Oh God, how she wanted him. She yearned to forget her troubles in the shelter of Cole Amherst’s arms. It was weak and wrong—even sinful—to want anything in such a desperate way. Tomorrow she would no doubt feel humiliated. Tonight, she simply did not care. In that instant, Jonet would have given up everything she possessed just to have this man slide deep inside her. The need was fierce, frightening, and wholly unlike anything she had ever known. Her mouth still under assault, Jonet tilted up her hips and pressed herself eagerly against his shaft.

Arms braced wide above her shoulders, Cole jerked his mouth from hers just as light flickered through the room again. His wild, golden mane fell forward, and Cole froze, his eyes glassy, his face stark with unleashed need.

"Jonet—" he whispered, his voice thick with desire. "This is wrong."