She never wanted him . . .
Ruined by scandal, Claudia Akford survived years of marriage to a cruel brute. Widowed, she is determined to regain her standing in society, but Lord Shillington personifies temptation. Kind and gentle, yet masculine and sinfully handsome, he would make the perfect lover, but he wants more than she is willing to give.
He needed her . . .
While Henry Shillington knows a little of the beautiful but notorious Lady Claudia Akford, he is struck by her kindhearted, accomplished, and witty demeanor. The more time he spends in her company, the more he dreams of a future with her. But the lady resists his honorable overtures, and a mistress will never do for him.
Can two wary people overcome past hurts, an old scandal, and social strictures to embrace true love?
“Might we sit, Lord…what is your name?” Lady Akford’s exhilarating laughter floated through the empty space.
Henry had never heard a sweeter sound. The whimsical tinkle of it tugged at his heart, endearing the strange woman to him. “Lord Shillington. And yours?” He stopped in front of a cast iron bench. He could not take his eyes off her as she lowered herself onto the seat in a flutter of skirts and auburn curls. Her gaze reflected sorrow, but her lips held a breathtaking smile. She was a mystery he wished to solve.
“Do sit with me, Lord Shillington.” She patted the bench next to her.
Henry positioned himself near her, but not too close. Being out here with an unchaperoned lady was scandalous enough. It was not his desire to compromise her–or himself. Given her state, he had no choice but to remove her from the gathering. However, he also had a responsibility to control the propriety of his own behavior.
A cool breeze ruffled her elegant skirts, drawing his attention to her body. Heat fanned through him as he studied her. She was tall and lean, yet she possessed ample curves in all the places a man liked to see them. He met her eyes, offering a polite smile. “Your name, my lady?”
She looked at him through hooded lashes, her eyes sparkling. “Lady Claudia Akford.”
His heart skipped a beat as his throat tightened. The notorious Lady Claudia Akford. The very lady who had caused trouble for his friends, Lord and Lady Luvington? He should not be anywhere near her, least of all attempting to aid her. This scandalous lady brought on her own troubles. He should simply leave her to them.
He shot up from the bench. “I will not be a party to your scheming. Lord and Lady Luvington are my friends, but I suppose you already knew that.”
She stood and reached out, taking hold of his arm. A crestfallen expression came across her lovely features. “Indeed I knew nothing of the sort, nor am I scheming. Go if you must, but know you are mistaken about my motivations.”
He jerked his coat sleeve free and walked away. A soft sniff made him freeze. Do not turn around. After another step, a small cry rent the air. He glanced over his shoulder unable to stop himself. Bloody hell. Lady Akford sat upon the bench, head hung low, shoulders trembling. With a deep inhale, he moved back to her side.
At least the risk of compromising her no longer existed. It was perfectly fine for a widow to be unchaperoned. Regardless, he was too much of a gentleman to leave her alone in such a delicate state. He would see her sober, or at the very least safe in her chambers, before abandoning her. Surely, no trouble could come of assisting her this one time.
She lifted her head, her eyes large and sad. “I am not the heartless harlot they make me out to be.”
He held his silk handkerchief out to her, not trusting himself to speak.
She shook her head, and he tucked the silk square back into his pocket. “I know what the ton says about me, but they have it all wrong.”
Somehow, he doubted they did. Lady Sarah Luvington would never make up a tale to injure another person’s reputation. She had told him all about Lady Akford after the vixen traipsed into Lord Luvington’s townhouse stirring up trouble. She had thrown herself at Luvington. Then when she discovered he had married, the chit went so far as to beg him to keep her as a mistress. The ton did not have knowledge of that particular incident, but he had firsthand accounts. In light of it he could only assume her previous scandal with Luvington and Akford to be accurate. He would see her sobered then be done with her.
“You believe me, Lord Shillington?” Her gaze locked with his.
The pain in her expression compelled him to reach out and pat her gloved hand. He could not give her the cut direct regardless of what he believed. She appeared to be in a fragile state and he had no wish to shatter her. “Tell me why you are so deep in your cups at this early hour? Do you continue to grieve your late husband?”
She shook her head. A hiccup escaped. “Some men are monsters. Lord Akford was such a man.” Her sullen stare penetrated him. “Do people not celebrate when monsters are slain?”
Henry swallowed past the lump in his throat. “You are…celebrating?”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bestselling, Amazon All Star author Amanda Mariel dreams of days gone by when life moved at a slower pace. She enjoys taking pen to paper and exploring historical time periods through her imagination and the written word. When she is not writing she can be found reading, crocheting, traveling, practicing her photography skills, or spending time with her family.
Amanda lives along the Lake Huron shoreline in northern Michigan with her husband and two kids. She holds a Master of Liberal Arts Degree with a concentration in literature and has a long-standing love affair with sugary junk food.