A Taste of Seduction, by Mary Campisi
Description: Love & Betrayal…Regency Style…
A young woman of noble blood, raised as a peasant girl…
An orphaned stable boy, now grown and the surrogate son of a powerful earl – the same earl who just so happens to be the young woman’s father…
Meriel and Anthony have nothing in common–she runs barefoot and talks to animals, he won’t loosen his cravat unless the bedroom door is firmly closed. Meriel believes in love, hope, and happily ever after. Anthony believes in keeping a safe distance from anything resembling an emotion. They have nothing in common but an undeniable, burning desire for one another they can’t ignore or understand, and an ailing “father” who will do anything to see them together. Unfortunately, there are others, cunning and manipulative, working behind the scenes. Others who will stop at nothing, willing even to kill, to keep them apart.
How much longer was she going to have to wait? Meriel scanned the spacious room for the fifth time, taking in the grandeur surrounding her. So this was how nobility lived, comforted with luxuriant brocades and Aubusson rugs. She pictured George burying his nails in the tan rug. It matched his coat, almost to the exact shade.
Gold and burgundy damask draperies filtered the sun, washing the room in a warm rose-colored glow. Not anything like the white and yellow curtains in her humble abode that welcomed the first rays of bright light through the last fading fingers of day. And the accessories. Her gaze settled once again on the three oriental vases sitting on the mantel. Brought over from a trip to the Far East, no doubt. Her home also boasted three vases on an old pine mantel, but they were simple pottery with a rose design. One even had a rather large chip in it which Meriel turned toward the wall.
How could Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Bernard consider Drakemoor as a home for her? Even if Lord Montrose accepted her, she didn’t belong here. Ladies in this society wore fine silks and diamonds, their delicate skin protected from the sun and wind. Meriel doubted they’d ever buried their fingers in the rich soil of the earth. Or walked barefoot in a field of clover. And certainly they’d never rolled on the ground with a one hundred ninety pound mastiff.
No, she didn’t belong at Drakemoor and the sooner she concluded her business here, the sooner she could return to the rented carriage, rattling back to her simple life. Hopefully, minus the intrusion of one, Lord Jared Crayton.
Then her life would be perfect.
A light rap at the door disturbed her thoughts. The butler, a little man with a twitching nose, entered the room.
“Follow me, Miss Linton.” He nodded and held the door for her.
Meriel grabbed her bonnet and rose from the burgundy sofa. “Thank you,” she murmured, watching the little man twitch his nose and tap his feet. He reminded her of one of the little mice at home who roamed in the lavender fields.
She pretended the opulence surrounding her was something she saw every day as she clicked down the black and marble hallway behind the butler: gilt-encrusted mirrors, more Chinese vases of varying sizes and shapes, a huge gold chandelier of ornate design. But in truth, she’d never seen, or even read about a house as elegant as Drakemoor.
They stopped before one of the oak doors and Meriel knew a moment of panic. What if Lord Montrose rejected her outright? Refused to listen to her? Refused to help her rid Amberden of Jared Crayton? She drew in a deep breath, pushing her nervousness aside. Aunt Eleanor said he loved her mother very much. Certainly, even after all these years that should count for something, if only a few minutes of his undivided attention.
The butler opened the door ushering her into Lord Montrose’s study.
“Miss Meriel Linton, sir,” he announced.
“Thank you, James,” a deep voice boomed from across the room. “That will be all.”
The door clicked behind her and Meriel forced her gaze in the direction of the voice. A man sat behind a large desk, writing. He was somewhere in his thirties, with closely clipped black hair, save an errant cowlick above his left brow. He had rough, hard features: thick, bushy eyebrows, a straight, firm nose with a slight crook to the left, high cheekbones and a jaw that was too square. Nothing soft about him, except perhaps his mouth which boasted a pair of well-formed lips.
But when he looked up, the frown on his face pulled his lips into a thin straight line and Meriel changed her initial opinion. There was nothing soft about the man. She met his stormy silver gaze, cold as a winter’s chill, and just as biting.
And then there was the scar. It ran down the right side of his face in a jagged path, from the edge of his bushy brow trailing halfway down his cheekbone.
She swallowed. This man was most definitely not Lord Montrose. Besides being much too young, Uncle Bernard told her Lord Montrose loved her mother beyond reason. She doubted this man ever loved anything in his life.
“Sit down, Miss Linton.”
He spoke with such commanding presence Meriel could do little else than slide into one of the deep green chairs angled in front of his desk.
“Thank you…sir,” she managed. Who was this man? Lord Montrose’s son, perhaps? Or nephew?
He gave a slight nod, cocked his head to one side, and stared at her as though she were a curious bug and he was trying to decide how to get rid of her.
“I’ve come to see Lord Montrose,” she said, fingering the small locket in her pocket.
The man sat back, steepling his long fingers under his chin. “That’s not possible.”
“Not possible?” She thought she’d at least get an audience with the earl.
He shook his head. “No. Lord Montrose hasn’t had visitors in over three months.”
There was a slight hesitation before the man gave a quick, almost imperceptible nod.
“Well, I hadn’t quite considered this,” Meriel said, as much to herself as the man seated across from her. The sharp edges of the locket bit into the flesh of her palm. “I don’t mean to intrude upon Lord Montrose, but I need his help.”
The man raised a black brow but said nothing.
“You see,” she rushed on, determined to tell her story, “the village I come from, Amberden, is being assaulted by a nobleman. A duke’s son. Actually, it’s not the village, but rather, the young women residing in the village who are being,” heat rushed to her cheeks, “taken advantage of.”
“Miss Linton.” The man held up a tanned hand.
“No. Hear me out.” Her voice rose with passion and desperation. “Please.”
When he said nothing, she continued, “This scoundrel seduces the young girls in our village, filling their heads with fairy tales, promising marriage in order to have his way with them.” She leaned forward, eager to share her disgust. “Then when he gets them with child, he casts them aside, leaving them to face disgrace and humiliation on their own.”
Silver eyes burned into her. “And you, Miss Linton, are you one of those young innocents?”
“No! Absolutely not!”
“I’m not.” Heat spread to the rest of her face.
“Then I fail to see why it is your concern,” he said, as though he were discussing a flock of sheep. “And I am most perplexed as to why you seek Lord Montrose’s assistance.”
“Don’t you see?” She rose from her chair to stand before his desk. “These girls are young and innocent. They trust this man. They want to believe his lies. He’s taking advantage of them. Don’t you feel any responsibility, as part of the noble class, to put a stop to his incorrigible behavior?”
“That depends,” he said, his voice cool and void of emotion.
“What could it possibly depend upon?” How could this man be so unfeeling? So disinterested?
“On why you seek out Lord Montrose, when there is a veritable list of other earls and the like, who might be more willing and able to handle this situation.”
“Because he might be the only one who would help us.”
“Pray tell, Miss Linton, why should he help you?”
She pulled the locket from her pocket and thrust it at him. “Because I am his daughter.”
Meriel thought she saw him falter, just a slight clench of his jaw as the meaning of her words sank in, before he recovered and then retrieved the locket from her outstretched palm. It looked small and fragile in his big hand. He turned it over several times, his eyes narrowed on the tiny picture of Lord Montrose.
“I fail to see the resemblance.” He thrust the locket back at her, his voice chilling her more than the wind seeping through the rented carriage had.
“But don’t you see?” Her gaze darted from the red-haired man in the locket to the dark, formidable one seated before her. “We’ve got the same red hair, curls as well. And our eyes…they’re the same blue. Surely you can see that.”
She may as well have spoken to a stone statue. “I see no resemblance,” he repeated.
She hesitated a second, wondering if she should try another tactic to see the earl. Perhaps pleading or tears. No. She would not beg or cry in front of this man who watched her with such arrogance and disinterest. Meriel stuffed the locket in her pocket and grabbed her bonnet. She would leave with dignity. Without saying a word, she pulled on her gloves.
“Good luck with your search for your father.”
Insincerity filtered his voice. He didn’t believe her story. He probably thought she was trying to cheat the earl out of a piece of his vast wealth. As though money or the like mattered to her.
It had been a mistake to come. A mistake to hope the embers of a long lost love might still flicker. If the earl were anything like the uncaring man before her, she should count herself lucky to have been spared another humiliation.
Somehow, she’d find a way to help the women of Amberden wage a battle against Jared Crayton. As for the father she never knew, well, one couldn’t miss what one never had. She clutched the locket, squeezing so hard the broken hinges dug into her palm once again.
Meriel squared her shoulders and met the man’s hard gaze across his desk. He’d been studying her those few seconds she’d given up to thought and disappointment. Had he detected her intense dislike of him? A tiny part of her hoped he had because good breeding forced her to bid him a proper farewell, despite his rudeness toward her.
“Thank you for your time, Mr….” She floundered, searching for a name. But there was none. They hadn’t even been properly introduced.
“Weston,” he supplied.
“Weston,” she repeated, nodding her head. “Good day.”
And then, before she suffered any other manner of insolence or deviation from proper comportment at the hands of the man called Weston, she turned on her heel and left.
A Taste of Seduction, by Mary Campisi