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Authors: Julia London

Tags: #Historical romance, #Fiction

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BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
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He responded by lifting his hand to her face, pressing his palm lightly against her cheek and running his thumb across her bottom lip. That simple touch of her skin stirred his blood to a simmer. He could feel himself warming, wanting.

“Shall I say it plainly?” he murmured. “I propose to
have your virtue . . . or I will have Ashwood. The choice is yours.”

Her lovely eyes widened, but she did not faint or cry out with alarm. Once again, she surprised him by holding her ground. “Get your hands off me,” she said low.

Tobin removed his hand from her face. But he put it on her waist and pulled her close. Lily’s hands flew up between them, but he ignored them. The scent of flowers on this cold, wet day filled his senses; her body felt warm and lithe in his arms. Tobin could not resist her—he bent his head and touched his lips to hers, his tongue teasing the seam of them. He hardened more and would have carried on, but Lily twisted away from him and pressed her hand to her mouth, wiping his kiss from her lips in outrage.

“Then I suppose it will be Ashwood,” he said.

“You sir, are no gentleman,” she said, her voice shaking.

“I never claimed to be. But have you considered that might make me the most exciting lover of all?”

“I’ve had enough of your boorish behavior,” she said and turned to leave, but Tobin suddenly caught her by the waist and pulled her back into his chest before she could stop him. He brushed his lips against the top of her ear. “Think about it, Lily,” he murmured. “Think long . . . and hard,” he whispered, and touched his lips to her neck.

He could feel her body tense, could feel her skin
heat beneath his mouth. But she peeled his arm from her waist and stepped away. “I do not wish to bed you, Tobin. I wish to bury you.”

Tobin remained impassive, as if it meant nothing to him, belying the desire raging in his blood. “Those are my terms, Lily. The choice is yours.”

She turned about, her cloak sweeping a wide circle as she walked determinedly to the door, starting when she saw MacKenzie standing just inside, looking half drowned. But she swept past him and went out into the rain.

Tobin had not heard MacKenzie enter; he walked to his friend’s side and they both watched Lily run out across the paving stones to her carriage, and the carriage pull away from the house quickly. Only then did Tobin glance at MacKenzie, who was standing with one hand in the pocket of his buckskins, the queue of his long hair wet and dripping, his gray eyes hooded. “Always had a way with the lassies, did ye no’ Scottie?”

Tobin smiled.

MacKenzie squinted out the door as the carriage pulled away. “But I think you play with fire there, lad.”

“Yes,” Tobin agreed. “I enjoy the feel of the flames licking at my body.”

MacKenzie laughed heartily and clapped him on the shoulder. “Have you whiskey for me, then? I’m chilled to the bloody bone.”

SIX

 

T
he storm continued to rage outside while Lily paced in front of the hearth in her suite, her long braid draped over her shoulder, her dressing gown dragging on the floor behind her.

She was appalled at Tobin, shocked by the casual way he’d proposed such a vile thing . . . but at the same time, she was entirely, imprudently, aroused by it. That was perhaps what made her the angriest—that something about him had the capacity to arouse her deepest senses. God in heaven! She’d never known another man like him, someone who just took what he wanted. He’d kissed her without invitation—no request or apology, had just
kissed
her.

She should be furious with him, irate! And she was, she
was
. . . but she kept thinking about the boy she’d known. She could see that boy in his face now, although his complexion was a bit darker from the sun, with faint white lines fanning out from the corners
of his eyes. She couldn’t help but be curious about his life, and how his father’s death must have affected him.

A jolt of memory, another flash incongruent with what she thought she knew. She suddenly remembered a day when she and Tobin had been in the gardens playing—pirates, she thought, one of her favorite childhood games of make-believe. She’d made him be the marauding pirate, and she the heroic captain who jumped off the quarterdeck to slay him. Tobin had been very good at falling and playing dead. But on that particular day, they’d both been startled by the sound of a man and woman arguing. Had it been Aunt Althea and Mr. Scott? More likely it had been Aunt Althea and the earl, for they’d seemed to be in a constant state of battle. But Tobin had made her go down to the lake so they would not be able to hear it. He’d protected her from it.

Lily shook the memory away. He was not the same person as that boy had been. The man he had become had no right to treat her as he had today, and she wanted to hate him. But she kept thinking of his breath warm on her ear, and the feel of his body so close, so firmly against her, almost dwarfing her. She kept seeing that ruggedly handsome face above her, his mouth as arousing as it had been today on her skin—


Stop!
” she chided herself, covering her ears with her hands. “God forgive you, Lily Boudine, for what you are thinking!” She lowered her hands and stared
into the fire. She had best think of what to do with Tobin if she wanted to save Ashwood. She could not appeal to him on the grounds of decency. Nothing moved him, nothing seemed to sway him, other than lust.

“Then what in blazes am I to do?” she murmured.

Once, when Lily had just arrived in Ireland, and the news had come that her beloved aunt Althea had drowned, Lily had been despondent. She’d taken to her bed, mourning her deep loss. But after a day of it, Aunt Lenore had sat on her bed, had picked Lily up and hugged her, and told Lily she was so very sorry that she’d lost her dearest aunt, but that now was the time she must get up and get on with life. “Althea wouldn’t have it any other way,” she’d said. “She would want you to get up, gather all your wits about you, and do what you must to survive without her. Think of that, Lily darling. Think of what you must do to survive—and not how very sad you are.”

Survive.
Lily had to do that now: think of what she must do to survive without Althea, without Lenore, without even Keira to help her. There were so many souls depending on her that she did not have the luxury or time to be sad or bewildered. But what could she
do
?

Think.

Tobin obviously enjoyed her discomfit. He seemed to believe that he could intimidate her with his brazen talk. Why did men always believe a look, or a kiss,
would entice a woman to abandon her virtue? They all thought themselves grand lovers, capable of seducing the gown off any woman—

An idea suddenly came to her. An awful, impractical, ill-advised, imprudent idea. Lily suddenly paused in her pacing.

What she was thinking was so bold that she could scarcely believe she was considering it. Tobin had given her what he believed was an impossible bargain. And she would
never
give in to such an immoral demand, for she was a woman of proper morals, a countess with a reputation to uphold.

But that did not mean she couldn’t use his debauchery to her advantage. Mr. Fish had said they needed six months to turn the fields to make up for the loss of the hundred acres, and that it was imperative that they keep their tenants to help sow and harvest those fields. And in six months, their mill would be operating before Tobin’s was even completed. So somehow, Lily had to make Tobin believe that for six months, he’d won.

What if . . . what if she allowed him to believe she had taken his offer and was giving herself in exchange for Ashwood? But how could she do that without actually sacrificing her virtue? And more importantly, draw it out for six long months?

Lily pondered this idea. Six months seemed an awfully long time to play a dangerous game with a dangerous man, and she had no doubts that he could
be quite dangerous in this regard. But she also recalled what Mr. Fish had said to her—that any man worth his salt would fall in love with her, given the slightest bit of encouragement. It was heady praise, but was it fair? If it
was
fair, then what if . . . what if Tobin fell in love with her?

Lily slowly sank down on her chaise.
Am I capable of such trickery?
She was not Keira, who enjoyed toying with men. Yet she wasn’t unpracticed in the art of holding a gentleman’s attention, either. She and Keira had made a sport of it in Ireland, and Lily had perfected the skill in Italy. She had the sort of physical attributes men generally admired, and it would be disingenuous to feign ignorance of her ability to draw men to her. Why, in Italy alone, in addition to Mr. Canavan, she’d had two gentlemen who had been keen to court her, and she’d juggled them all expertly across the Italian countryside. Was Tobin so different from them?

He was unlike any other man she’d ever known. Yet she knew him in a way that she did not know any other gentleman. She’d known Tobin when he’d been a guileless, thoughtful boy. Surely that boy was still present in some part of him.

And Lily had felt his desire simmering in the way he had stood so close to her, had touched his lips to her skin, had kissed her mouth. “Lord,” she murmured and restlessly put her hand to her nape, recalling the tension between them.

Was she overestimating her appeal? Did she truly have the power to beguile him? Lily tried to imagine flirting with Tobin and groaned softly. “What do you think, that he will crumble at your feet?” She snorted and stared up at the painted garlands and trees and birds on the ceiling.

She was completely mad to even imagine it, but yet again, she had everything to lose if she didn’t try. She had to at least
try
to avert her destruction without losing herself completely. Perhaps she could win. Perhaps, at the very least, she could rekindle their friendship. Surely that childhood attachment still existed within him. Surely all things were possible.

With a sigh, Lily closed her eyes. “Lord save me—if not from my enemies, then at least from myself,” she whispered.

 

The problem chased Lily through that night and into the following day. She was reviewing the books, looking for anything that might help them, when she heard the sound of gunfire. She glanced toward the window. “What is that?” she asked Preston, the footman who attended her.

“Hunters, I should think, mu’um.”

But . . . Mr. Bevers was in Hadley Green today. There was no one who would be hunting without him. “Oh, no,” she said and abruptly stood. “No, no,
no.

“Madam?” Preston said, looking alarmed.

“Can you shoot?”

“Shoot?” He seemed puzzled by the question, but nodded. “Aye, mu’um.”

“Splendid. You and Louis shall meet me at the stables with guns and any men who can be spared,” she said as she strode from the room. “We are going to put and end to some poaching!”

A quarter of an hour later she marched across the lawn to the stables, dressed in a riding habit. Preston, Louis, and a stable boy were present, busily saddling horses. It was not precisely the army Lily had hoped for, but it would have to do. She was not going to allow Tobin to poach her grouse.

She picked up a flintlock pistol from a table where the guns had been laid and held it up, giving it a look.

“Beg your pardon, mu’um, but do you know how to shoot?” Louis asked her.

“No.”

“May I?” he asked, holding his hand out for the gun. Lily obliged him, and Louis emptied the gun of any lead. At Lily’s look of surprise, he said, “Most times, showing is enough. Any shooting needs to be done, I’ll do it, milady.” He handed her the gun.

Armed with a useless gun, Lily and her little army rode west into the forest, following the sound of the shots they’d heard fired. When they reached the top of the path where the forest broke, they paused to listen. The distant sound of voices reached them. “To the right,” Preston said.

BOOK: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin
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