Title: To Tempt an Earl (Greenford Waters Legacy, #2)
Author: Kristin Vayden
Series: Greenford Waters Legacy
Publisher: Blue Tulip Publishing
Tempting an Earl is not for the faint of heart.
Thank heavens Bethanny is anything but faint!Now, honest, perhaps--too honest, but never faint!After all, why flirt when you can tempt? And why the devil would a woman choose to swoon, when she could be kissed?Of course, she'd never try something so...honest, on anyone but Lord Graham.He's the only one she wants.He alone has her heart.He hadn’t a clue.So it was only polite that she tell him.Now, if only her blasted guardian, the Duke of Clairmont, would see Graham as more of a suitor than his old friend.Because Graham is anything but old and most certainly not just a friend, not after that kiss, or that touch.Though, if she were to lay all her cards on the table--which any gently bred woman ought--he wasn't completely aware it was her mouth, her lips, or her touch.But that's beside the point now, isn't it?
Loving her was betrayal, resisting her was impossible.
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“I wasn’t aware that this part of the house was open to the guests.” A rich masculine voice startled her from her musing.
“Pardon?” Bethanny immediately stood, straightened her posture, and felt the wild gallop of her heart.
This couldn’t be good.
She was alone, with a stranger, on a secluded balcony.
The duke was going to murder her.
If she made it out without being ruined.
“It is not. What, might I ask, are you doing here?” she asked in her firmest tone.
“I only just arrived, and, after the evening I’ve had, found I needed a moment to regain my composure. I’m a friend of the duke and am quite certain I’m allowed on his private balcony. What about you?” he asked, a slightly teasing tone to his voice.
Bethanny narrowed her eyes. They had adjusted to the dim light, and as recognition dawned, her heart hammered in her chest.
“I’m quite certain I’m permitted to be here as well,” she responded, not quite knowing what to say. Did he recognize her? Was he simply teasing because he already had figured out who she was?
“Ah, a friend of the duchess then?” he asked lightly as he made his way toward her.
He definitely did not recognize her.
However, she couldn’t determine if this was a bad thing or a good one. And it was rather dark. After a moment’s deliberating, she decided to play along.
What could it hurt?
“You could say that.” She shrugged. Then, feeling mischievous, she lowered her gaze and offered her most flirtations smile, hoping his eyes had adjusted to the dark, and he could perhaps notice it.
At least she hoped it was flirtatious.
After a moment, she risked a glance up to his shadowed features; a playful grin was tipping his lips and showed off the fairest hint of those beloved dimples she so fondly remembered.
She sighed… inwardly, of course.
“It’s quite a nice view, peaceful, if I may say so.” He came to stand beside her.
He was taller than she remembered, and possibly broader as well, but she couldn’t be sure with the faint light.
“Exactly why I came to this very place.”
“Is it quite the crush inside then?” he asked. There was a slight lilt to his voice, not quite a brogue, but not the crisp English she was accustomed to hearing. He must spend quite a bit of time at his estate in Edinburgh to have taken on the faint accent.
She would have to thank Lady Southridge later for all the helpful information regarding her brother.
“Crush would be an understatement,” she replied too quickly, her tone a bit wry.
“Not a fan of the crowds?” he asked, his tone light. “Or were there far too many gentlemen seeking the attentions of so beautiful a lady?”
Even in the darkness, his gaze was powerful, spearing right through her causing a myriad of strange sensations to swirl around in her belly.
“Or perhaps I simply wanted a moment to myself.” she answered, her tone far more breathless than she would have liked.
“Perhaps.” He shrugged.
“You don’t believe me.” She narrowed her eyes.
“No,” he replied, unfazed.
“Why ever not?” Bethanny asked, turning to face him fully.
“In my experience, ladies do not visit deserted balconies unless they wish to be found.”
Slightly shaking her head, Bethanny replied, “Which is exactly why I choose to use the private balcony? The one closed off from the party?” she asked in a disbelieving tone.
“I thought not.” She shrugged her shoulder, a smile teasing her lips at besting him.
“You’re a cheeky one,” he replied, his tone holding a hint of awe.
“I prefer intelligent.”
“Yes, I believe you would.” He nodded, his grin widening.
“That sounded dangerously like an insult, my lord,” she teased.
“No, no insult… simply… delayed respect.”
“Respect?” Bethanny asked with a dubious tone.
“Indeed. Certainly a lovely lady such as yourself has to be aware that social functions can be quite… tedious.”
“I’m sure the duke will be thrilled you think so highly of his party,” she replied, a smile tugging at her lips.
“You mistake my meaning. People can be tedious. Petty even. It’s simply… refreshing to speak with a woman who doesn’t fall into those categories.”
“I do believe that was a compliment.”
“It was, and you should take it as such.”
“Why, thank you.” Bethanny stepped back and performed a deep curtsey, as if being presented at court.
“And a sense of humor to boot. I might have to actually find out your name.” Graham chuckled, his dimples in full view.
“And ruin the mystery? I think not.” Bethanny rose from her curtsey, her heart pounding.
“I do love a good mystery.”
“Avid reader?” Bethanny asked.
“Yes… but that’s not what I was referring to.”
His posture changed, as did his expression, and at once, Bethanny’s heart took flight because some instinct, some feminine awareness told her with all certainty that he was no longer simply teasing an innocent.
He was pursuing.
“Oh?” Her tone was breathless to her own ears, and she silently scolded herself for the betrayal of weakness.
“So, mysterious miss of the duke’s balcony…” he teased, offering her a dramatic nickname.
“Is that the best you can come up with? Mysterious miss of the duke’s balcony?” she asked, a laugh escaping her restraint.
“I thought it was quite clever myself.” Graham paused his pursuit, his smile widening.
“It sounds like a Gothic novel.”
“You know, you’re quite right. I could have a future there if I ever so desire.”
“Gad, no. Offering my service for creating titles.”
“I’m not sure that’s a lucrative endeavor.”
“Perhaps.” He shrugged and took another step forward. “But you must admit, you’d be curious hearing that title. I know my curiosity is quite piqued.”
Bethanny took a deep breath, as deep as her corset allowed, and drew up all her courage. “Perhaps. I might be curious… but there would have to be something more than a catchy title, my lord.” She knew she was playing a dangerous game, but it was a game she had dreamed of playing since she’d first seen Lord Graham.
The memory of him trading banter with Berty over dinner one night flashed to her memory. Most lords wouldn’t give a little girl the time of day, yet Lord Graham had traded wit with her, enjoying himself even. Bethanny had been envious of her little sister’s ability to bait him. She’d sworn that someday she’d have her turn.
That day had finally come.
It didn’t matter that he didn’t recognize her. Regardless, he was still there speaking with her.
And for now, that was enough.
She opened her mouth to speak, but her nerves got the best of her and, rather than speak, she dropped her fan.
Likely because she had forgotten she had brought it in the first place.
It clattered to the floor lightly, and she closed her eyes in embarrassment at her own clumsiness.
“Allow me,” Lord Graham spoke.
“No I’ve—” Bethanny’s eyes flew open as she knelt down to retrieve her fan.
As luck would have it, her elbow soundly clocked Lord Graham’s head as he rose from retrieving the offending object.
“Ow!” He reached up to rub the surely sore area.
“I’m so sorry!” Bethanny spoke, horrified.
“Blo—er… ah, that... is fine, miss.” He closed his eyes a moment, likely from the dull pain her elbow had needlessly inflicted on his person.
“I’m ever so sorry, my lord!” Bethanny felt her face heat with a scarlet blush that had to make her practically glow. She certainly felt like it. Without thinking, she reached up to his scalp and felt for the knot, her thumb grazing slightly over the skin as to not cause him discomfort, much like she had done a million times to her sisters.
But Lord Graham was most definitely not her sister…
Her hands stilled as she realized just what she was doing. “Forgive me, my lord.” She quickly withdrew her hands and took a step back, belatedly realizing just how close she had been to him. The scent of cinnamon and cedar hung in the air, wrapping a spell of enticement around her, beckoning her to come closer. She started to take a step back, away from the temptation, but his hand at her back stopped her.
Practically burned through her, or so it felt.
“I’m quite well. However, I thank you for your concern,” he whispered, his voice intimate.
“I—I’m usually not quite so… graceless,” Bethanny answered, her thoughts muddled by the intense gaze with which he captivated her. In the moonlight, his amber eyes were silver, his golden-hued skin a soft buttery gold. He was beautiful.
“I’m quite thankful you are… you see, I was trying to find some excuse to hold you, and you neatly provided me with the perfect opportunity,” he murmured, his gaze leaving hers and traveling down the line of her jaw and the curve of her nose before resting on her lips.
Dear Lord, he is going to kiss me.
“I do think you could have done without the knot I gave you at the top of your head,” she replied, her words teasing but her tone far from it.
“A small price to pay.” He shrugged. “However, I do believe there is a custom, when one gets an injury.”
“Indeed, usually, the injured party is given a kiss.”
“Is that so? Silly me. I thought that was only practiced in the nursery.” Bethanny raised a challenging eyebrow as her heart raced, beating an excited rhythm that hoped he would make good on his word and, indeed, kiss her. However, it would never do to appear too eager.
“I have it on good authority that it is still practiced outside of the nursery as well… so, being with tradition and all, I would appreciate a kiss.” His dimples deepened as his smile widened then relaxed as his gaze once again became deep and soulful, searching hers.
“I cannot see the harm in upholding tradition. If you’ll simply bow your head—” Bethanny began, knowing full well that was not his intention.
And before Bethanny could even close her eyes, his lips caressed hers. The touch was soft, lingering and velvety. His warm breath tickled as he drew back slightly. Her eyes, which hadn’t closed, gazed directly at his. As if spoken out loud, his gaze asked for permission to kiss her again. At her slight nod, his lips met hers once more; however, this time, Bethanny closed her eyes, not wanting anything to distract from her first kiss, and as she had always hoped, it was from Lord Graham.
Prequel Novella to What the Duke Wants