Authors: Anthea Lawson
Tags: #regency romance, #regency short story, #enemies to lovers, #sexy regency
Five Wicked Kisses
A Tasty Regency Tidbit
Copyright 2012 Anthea Lawson
Cover image Lev Olka, via fotolia. Used with licensed permission. Design by AL.
Anthea also writes Young Adult fantasy as Anthea Sharp -
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
by Anthea Lawson
“He’s watching you.”
Juliana Tate did not need to turn around to know who her friend Henrietta was referring to. There was, and had only ever been, one
Waves of heat raced just under her skin, and her heart tumbled abruptly in her chest. Their corner of the ballroom, chosen for its seclusion, was suddenly crowded with the hum of conversation and bright spikes of laughter.
She flipped open her lace-edged fan and wafted air across her cheeks. There could be no hint of reaction, no sign that the arrival of Robert Pembroke, the new Earl of Eastbrook, affected her.
Since she had come up to London, she had seen him on precisely three occasions - and each time had done her utmost stay as far away as possible.
“You told me he was not invited.” Her voice wavered, only the tiniest bit, but she knew her friend heard. “Hen, I depend upon you completely. You’re the only one who knows.”
Henrietta made an apologetic face. “He wasn’t supposed to be here. But it’s hardly the first time the Earl of Eastbrook has paid no heed to the social niceties. You know what they say about him.”
Since ascending to the title six months ago, Robert had taken to life in London with a vengeance. According to the gossips, he had cut a wide swath through the ladies, leaving words like
in his wake. Juliana could well believe it.
Robert had always been handsome enough to break hearts, with his strong jaw, keen amber eyes, and dark hair shot through with glints of fire. Not to mention a sharp mind and stubborn temper.
Once, she would have ascribed kindness and a thoughtful heart to him as well - but it seemed all traces of that man were gone. No doubt he was pleased to bring so many ladies of the
to their knees, after years of being treated as unworthy - a shabby country cousin.
And Juliana had been the worst offender.
She plied her fan harder, trying to wave away the bitter memory. The past was done. All she could do now was move forward into an increasingly precarious future.
“Is he still looking?” she asked. It would be safe to turn around if that penetrating amber gaze were focused elsewhere.
“His attention seems to have moved to Miss Snelling’s bosoms. And there is so very much there to admire.” Henrietta gave a disapproving sniff. “If her gown were any lower she might as well proclaim herself a melon-seller and be done.”
“At least she
something to reveal.”
Juliana could not help a quick glance down at her own, modest, blue gown. She had turned the seams and added new ribbons, but feared it was sadly evident she was at least two seasons out of date.
“Tsk.” Henrietta took her by the arm. “It’s hardly your fault you don’t have the newest fashions. You cut a lovely enough figure despite it. Heavens knows I’ve envied your hair for simply ages. It’s pure gold.”
“A pity it’s not actual gold. Though I suppose I could sell it.” Things were certainly becoming desperate enough.
“No!” Henrietta gasped. “Promise me you won’t.”
Juliana raised a hand to her hair, a gently curling wealth of honey-colored locks that fell to her hips when unbound. It was her one vanity, though dark hair was currently in fashion. As were voluptuous figures - which made her quest to find a wealthy husband more difficult. But Henrietta had assured her that she could snare a suitor within a fortnight, if she applied herself.
“Look, there’s my aunt peering into the corners,” Henrietta said, “No doubt she’s wondering where her changes have gone off to. Come along—but keep a watch out for Viscount Wrenforth. He’s a likely prospect for you.”
“The viscount was very pleasant to me at the Cotteridge’s musicale,” Juliana said.
“Excellent! He has a fine fortune, and is not
ill-favored to look upon. If one disregards the nose.”
Juliana nodded. She had no time to lose. The debts were mounting, and there was almost nothing left for her to sell, her hair notwithstanding. Her jewelry now consisted of the strand of pearls about her neck and a single bracelet. The walls of her suite were entirely bare of paintings, though she could not bring herself to sell her books. Yet.
The silver would have to be next, and it would become obvious that she wasn’t simply selling her own belongings for a bit of extra pin money.
Once Society heard of her family’s utter destitution, no one would want to marry her. She must be firmly engaged before that happened.
Letting out a quiet breath, she went with Henrietta, careful not to glance toward the ballroom doors. She could not bear to see Robert surrounded by the shimmer of colorful gowns and even more brilliant smiles, knowing she had long ago forfeited her place there.
Robert Pembroke watched as the slender figure in the blue gown moved out of sight - not that any of the ladies buzzing around him could tell where his attention was fixed. To all but the keenest observer, his interest appeared to be upon their laughing flirtations.
He could have his pick of the dashing widows and adventurous females. Since becoming the Earl of Eastbrook, he had never wanted for company in his bed. But tonight he would not choose any of the lovelies to dally with, despite their obviously-displayed charms.
No. His thoughts were on one woman alone - a woman with hair like sunlight and the lithe body of a nymph. A woman he had once thought he loved, until she had so cruelly broken his heart.
He had waited four long years to claim revenge on Juliana Tate. Tomorrow, his retribution would begin.
“Miss Juliana, you have a caller. I have put him in the salon.” The butler bowed and presented her the salver with a thick vellum card centered upon it.
Oh no. She did not need to pick it up to read the broad script.
Robert Pembroke, Earl of Eastbrook
Her lungs tightened and a tingle of nerves coursed up her spine. Robert. Here. In the parlor downstairs.
“Did he give you a reason for his visit? Is he here to see father?”
“He specifically asked for you, mistress.”
Juliana drew in a steadying breath. “Well, then.”
She raised a hand to her hair, and quashed the foolish urge to change into a better gown. There
no better gowns, not since father had gambled away all of their money.
It was fashionable to keep callers waiting, but she preferred to face her problems head-on. She went downstairs, passing the silent study where Father sequestered himself. He emerged only at suppertime, and sometimes not even then. It was how he had always dealt with problems, by ignoring them - though the nature of their troubles was more severe, of late.
Pausing before the parlor, Juliana smoothed her hair one last time, then pushed open the door.
The room seemed suddenly very small with Robert in it, a tall, dark-haired force of nature. She could not help but stare at him, the face she kept in her memory - chiseled cheekbones and mobile lips, hair on the long side of fashionable, and eyes lit with golden fire.
“Miss Tate.” He was before her in two steps.
Before she could think to move away, he took her hand and bowed. His grip was firm and insistent.
She felt her pulse race as his attention traveled slowly over her body. His gaze lingered at her legs, her chest, her throat - where she could feel her pulse beating wildly - before he lifted his eyes to her face again.
“You are looking well.” The dark promise in his voice shot a tingle up her spine.
. The words echoed through her body and she felt reckless heat rise in her cheeks. Was this truly the same Robert she had stolen kisses with in the apple orchard, four spring-times ago? Had becoming an earl changed him that much?
She pulled her hand out of his grasp. “Why are you here?”
It was altogether blunt of her, but she could not maintain her composure long enough to play the formal hostess with him. The only thing to do was discover what he wanted, quickly, and send him on his way.
She felt as though she were balanced on a swaying bridge over a chasm. To either side lay dangerous emotions - love, despair. One misstep and she would plunge over the edge.
“So abrupt, Juliana.”
The sound of her name on his tongue made her dizzy with longing, with regret. She swallowed. “Would you prefer I call you
and offer you tea? I’m afraid I cannot.”
He gave her a hard look. “I’m glad to see the years haven’t changed how you feel about me.”
“They have not.”
She let her gaze slip from his. He would think she meant disdain, but she had never hated him. Never.
“My condolences on the loss of your mother.” His voice was not particularly sympathetic. “You were in mourning for her a rather long time.”
Did he suspect her mother’s hand in what had happened? He had never liked Lady Tate - and the dislike had been mutual. In truth, her mother had detested young Robert Pembroke. Nearly as much as she had hated her own children.
“Yes,” Juliana said. “Father insisted on two years of the black.”
Two years of formal mourning. At least the terrible misery of living with her mother had ended. Coming up to London this last month had been almost worse, however, once she had realized the desperate state of their affairs.
“Now you’re out of mourning,” Robert said, “and enjoying life in Town, I see.”
“Not as much as you seem to be.”
He leaned forward, with a twist to his lips - those sensuous lips that sent the ladies of the
swooning. Juliana resolved not to think of his mouth.
“Indeed, I’m enjoying London,” he said. “Being an earl has its advantages. In fact, I’m here to discuss one of those advantages with you.”
Her breath caught in her throat. Was he here to suggest something scandalous?
“I’m sure I don’t grasp your meaning,” she said.
“Don’t you?” He tilted one eyebrow up. “Your father seems to have gotten himself into a bit of trouble at the gaming tables. However, as we’re such long-standing acquaintances, I took it upon myself to help.”
“What has father done now?” She reached for the back of the settee, hoping Robert could not see her hands tremble. “What have
“You’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve bought up his notes and paid off the creditors.” He smiled, without a trace of warmth. “Your father’s debts now belong to me.”
“What?” Shock rippled through her.
This was dreadful. To have Robert holding such power over them, after what she had done…
He captured her eyes with his own, and his expression sharpened to something predatory. Juliana felt like a wild doe cornered by a hunter. The beating of her heart threatened to drown out all other sound.
“I’ve spoken with your father,” Robert said. “He has agreed that
can redeem the debt from me. For a small consideration.”
“And what might that consideration be?” Juliana’s chest tightened.
She would be ruined, utterly, if she became his mistress. It was a terrifying, exhilarating thought, and she thrust it to the back of her mind.
“I will hand over your father’s notes, to dispose of as you like,” he said. “After I take payment from you… of five kisses.”
She drew in a sharp breath. It was not, after all what she had feared. What she had secretly hoped for. But of course, her father would never have consented to such a thing. Thank goodness her brother was safely away at school. She did not want him to know anything of this situation. He would only do something foolish, like challenge Robert to a duel.