Monday, May 4, 2015
Release Date: October 6, 2014
Lady Belinda Clayton grappled with the creaking iron gate, which led to the back garden of her family’s London townhouse. It was not the first time she had used the unconventional route to make her way back home in the predawn hours. Nor was it the first time her dress had been ruined or her hair tousled in her rush to make her way through the streets without becoming a number on the death toll in the city’s records.
Pushing the gate closed, the rough, cold metal scratched her gloved palm. Once the latch was secured she ran her finger along the jagged tear in her left glove. “Too bad,” she said. She shook her head at the ruined garment. “I really did like this pair.”
“What pair is that, Lady Belinda?” Gabriel’s deep, seductive voice cut through the still night.
His blue eyes were the color of the sea just before a storm and their depths burned into her.
Her stomach did a flip before she had time to control herself. She was sure she looked flustered and she could have kicked herself for not steeling her nerves before facing Lord Gabriel Thurston, the Earl of Tullering.
She was pleased with the sound of cold detachment in her voice. “Tullering, what on earth are you doing in my garden in the middle of the night?”
“One might ask you the same question, Lady Belinda.” He ran his hand through his dark hair, loosening it from the ribbon. His cravat had come loose and his evening clothes were crushed. There was something dangerous about an unkempt Gabriel.
The gesture was a sign of frustration from the earl. She’d seen it many times.
Her heart raced and she swallowed the panic welling in her gut. “This is my home, my lord. You do not live here. If I am not mistaken you have a home in London where you should be at this late hour.”
“You are my fiancée.” Even in the moonlight, his face and neck burned red.
“There is no need to remind me.”
He stepped from the terrace onto the cobbled path where she stood. He loomed over her and filled the air with a mixture of soap, spice and something else male and formidable. The scent was intrinsically Gabriel and entirely delicious.
She was tempted to back away, but forced herself to hold her ground. Her stubbornness did not stop her heart from racing or her skin from tingling at his nearness.
“Oh, but I think there is a need.” He circled behind her, his mouth inches from her ear.
She set her teeth. “I am well aware of the contract signed between you and my father four years ago, my lord. I was there when it was signed and I was also there when you left for the continent.”
The day he left for the war came flooding back, and so did the memories of her unanswered letters, and the tears she had cried over him. Well, there would be no tears tonight.
“You are angry with me for fighting for our country?” He took a step back.
“But you are angry.”
“You might have written since your concern for our relationship is so evident.”
She’d wanted to sound flippant, but she sounded brooding. She’d been hurt by his silence, and had little hope of hiding the fact.
“I wrote,” he said.
She was pleased the subject had changed to something more defensible. “Three letters in four years can hardly be considered correspondence, my lord.”
“You use to call me Gabriel.” He murmured.
She stepped away in spite of the pleasant shiver his voice produced. “That was a long time ago.” She made to climb the terrace steps away from him.
“There is still the question of why my fiancée is sneaking through the garden at four in the morning.”
She turned ready to blast him about having no right to ask her anything.
Her words stuck in her throat.
In the full moonlight, he took her breath away. He was tall and broad and his hair hung loose around his face.
In spite of her anger, she wanted desperately to touch his hair and see if it was still as soft as it looked. “I come and go as I please.”
“So I see,” he said. “Perhaps then, you would be willing to explain why your dress is six inches deep with mud, why your hair looks as if you’ve been tossing in the sheets, how you got that smudge of dirt on your lovely face, or the hole in those gloves you were just lamenting?”
She wiped some dried mud from her cheek. The resulting dull pain told her she had revealed a bruise beneath.
His eyes widened and he flew up the steps.
She stepped back. She couldn’t harm Gabriel so she lifted one arm as if to dull a blow.
He froze, staring down at her.
It had been instinct. The last few years had taught her that no one is immune to violence. A woman must learn to defend herself. If he had been anyone else, she’d have struck him rather than shield herself against an angry fist. She lowered her arm and looked into his piercing eyes. Her heart pounded. She had made an error.
“Do you truly think I would strike you?”
Now that she was thinking clearly again, she hardly knew why she had defended herself. It was foolish. Gabriel would never strike her. Her environment had tainted her. She attempted to remain cold in her explanation. “I hardly know what to think, my lord. We no longer know each other.”
When he touched the tender bruise, she winced, but did not back away.
“And this, Bella, would you care to explain this to me?” His voice was soft and his touch feather-like, but his eyes narrowed and his posture remained unyielding.
She brushed his touch aside. “Do not call me that.”
“You use to like that name.”
“That was also a long time ago.”
“Not so long,” he whispered. He gazed out into the garden as if lost in some distant memory. His attention returned to her. “I am waiting for some kind of response from you, Lady Belinda.”
In spite of her need to keep him at a distance, her heart ached when he used the formal address. Her first instinct was to tell him to go to hell and leave her alone, but that would only provoke him. She lied instead. “I have been at a ball. There was some problem with the carriage, and I was required to walk part of the way. I fell in the mud and some of it must have splattered my face when my dress was ruined.”
He frowned. “And the bruise?”
Deep creases around his full lips drew her in. Desire to tell him everything bubbled in her gut. She shrugged. “I’m sure it is only dirt. The moonlight makes it seem more dire, and you are exaggerating the situation greatly.”
“I see. Is this all the explanation I can expect?”
“It is what I am willing to say, my lord.” She turned and walked to the house. The door opened just as she arrived and she slipped inside before her fiancé could say more.
A.S. Fenichel gave up a successful career in New York City to follow her husband to Texas and pursue her lifelong dream of being a professional writer. She’s never looked back.
A.S. adores writing stories filled with love, passion, desire, magic and maybe a little mayhem tossed in for good measure. Books have always been her perfect escape and she still relishes diving into one and staying up all night to finish a good story.
Multi-published in historical, paranormal, erotic and contemporary romance, A.S. is the author of The Demon Hunters series, the Psychic Mates series, and more. With several books currently contracted to multiple publishers, A.S. will be bringing you her brand of edgy romance for years to come.
Originally from New York, she grew up in New Jersey, and now lives in the East Texas with her real life hero, her wonderful husband. When not reading or writing she enjoys cooking, travel, history, and puttering in her garden. Her babies are both rescues and include a demanding dog and a temperamental cat both of which bring constant joy and laughter.