Sparks fly in the finale of the Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James Place series, as the last wicked rogue meets his match.
When Rosalind Sharpe gains the attention of the deliciously wicked Duke of Avendale, she’s torn between her distracting attraction to the notorious rogue and the knowledge that he—rich as Croesus—is the perfect target for a deception that will put her swindling days behind her.
However, Avendale is no fool. After he discovers the tantalizing lady packing up to leave London with his coins in tow, he confronts her with a scandalous proposition: she can have all the money she requires…for a week in his bed.
Desperate for the funds, Rose agrees, but on one condition: he must never question her motives. Avendale quickly sees beneath her mask and discovers she is more than passion and pleasure—she is everything he has ever desired. But claiming her requires he unveil her secrets and lose her forever. Unless he can put his own dark past aside and risk everything for a chance at love.
She shouldn’t have been surprised that he took advantages of the shadows. She knew she’d been toying with a man who was far more dangerous than his civilized veneer let on.
She was, however, surprised by her reaction to his generous mouth blanketing hers. She welcomed it.
Acutely aware of his arms banding around her and pressing her flat against the hard planes of his body, she should have protested. Instead she indulged her curiosity and her own flagrant desires that she had held at bay for so very long. She couldn’t remember the last time that she’d taken something she wanted, that she had done something for herself.
She was certainly indulging now.
Scraping her fingers up into his thick hair, she regretted that she wore gloves. Tasting the richness of brandy on his tongue, she regretted they’d not had more to drink. As the pleasure coursed through her, she regretted that she was not free.
With that thought, guilt speared her. She did not resent that she was not untethered. Freedom came at a terrible price she was not yet ready to pay.
She forced all those thoughts back and concentrated instead on the moment. It was always best to focus on the moment. The sweep of his determined tongue. His large hand caressing her back, her backside, coming up along her hip, dipping in at her waist, and resting just below her breast. She felt the stroke of his thumb along the underside. She should have been appalled. She should have struck him.
But a woman did not reach her years without yearning for things that eluded her. She was certainly no stranger to kissing, but this man was doing far more than pressing his lips to hers. He was claiming her, branding her. She would forever remember his taste, his strength, his fragrance.
Sandalwood and bergamot. Dark and rich.
She would remember rising up on her toes to welcome his mouth. His deep groan rumbling within the small confines of the balcony. The dizziness. The sensations swirling around her.
He dragged his mouth from hers, along her neck to the sensitive spot just below her ear. “We’ll never make it to my residence,” he rasped. “There is a room only a few steps down the hallway.”
“No.” She said it too softly. He must not have heard because he began worrying her lobe between his teeth. She nearly sank to the floor with the absolute pleasure of it. He could have her here. “No,” she stated more firmly.
Breathing harshly, he drew back, his dark eyes pinning her. “Just as you require no chaperone, you have no innocence to protect.”
“I am not a woman with no morals. I don’t fall into bed with a man simply because he wishes me to do so.”
“You wish to do so. Your moans and sighs are proof of that.”
“Unfortunately, life is such that we are not always granted our wishes. I have been absent from the gaiety too long. I must return to it lest rumors begin.”
He curled his hand around her neck, stroked the underside of her jaw. “You do not strike me as a woman who cares about rumors.”
“I care about the opportunities that tonight affords me.” She could not have spoken truer words. “I am here to meet people, to become part of Society. To be accepted and welcomed. It would be reckless of me to risk all that I might gain for one night of pleasure.”
“I promise it would be worth your while.”
Of that, she had absolutely no doubt, but the price was too high—to her plans, quite possibly to her esteem. To have him walk away afterward…she was always the one who walked away, who decided when it was time to move on. Swallowing hard, she pushed back the temptation plaguing her. “Good night, Your Grace.”
She had taken a mere two steps, when he wrapped his large hand around her arm, turned her back to him, and again took her mouth. His was lush and hot and so very skilled at making her forget her responsibilities, her duties. What would it hurt if just once in life she did something for herself? If she took something she craved?
Tearing her mouth from his, she shoved on his massive shoulders, frustrated when she couldn’t even make him stagger back a step. “No.”
His eyes were as heated as his mouth. “You’ve been teasing me all night, Mrs. Sharpe. You can’t possibly think I’m going to let you walk away without doing my damnedest to convince you to stay.”
Another kiss would probably do the trick, damn him. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a man. I’m not ready for what you’re proposing.” Reaching up, she combed her fingers through his hair, straightening the strands she had mussed. “Please let me go.”
Slowly, agonizingly slowly, he released his hold. “At least allow me the honor of escorting you home.”
“We both know that would be most dangerous. Alone, in a small space, in the dark. I do not believe I would arrive home unscathed. Besides I have a carriage. So again, goodnight.”
“I won’t give up.”
She’d barely turned when his words froze her on the spot.
“I will have you,” he said, his voice a whispered promise that caused a shiver of foreboding, a quiver of pleasure to ripple through her. “Because you want it as much as I do.”
She nearly denied the words, but she feared if she delayed, she’d find herself back in his arms, this time without the wherewithal to deny him, to deny them both what she thought might be a glorious night. She wanted to flee, to run, but she kept her pace slow and measured as she left the balcony, surprised her trembling legs managed to carry her down the stairs. Twisting the lock in the door, she opened it and strode into the main salon. She had planned to continue with the rounds, to be seen, perhaps to make a few other acquaintances, but he had unsettled her. She was not accustomed to being unsettled.
As calmly as possible, she walked to the entrance, acutely aware of his gaze following her the entire way. She’d made a mistake tonight, misjudged. She would have to be more careful in the future. The Duke of Avendale had the power to destroy her.
LORRAINE HEATH always dreamed of being a writer. After graduating from the University of Texas, she wrote training manuals and computer code, but something was always missing. After reading a romance novel, she not only became hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She’s been writing about them ever since. Her work has been recognized with numerous industry awards, including RWA’s RITA® and a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Her novels have appeared on the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists.