Leo Roberts is next in line for an earldom and the power and fortune that come with it, but he is uncultured, unrefined—and completely untamed…until governess Ella Finch arrives upon the scene. Can so young and inexperienced a woman tutor him in the manners and mores of his class? Leo’s mysterious past has rendered him an outsider, too wild for polite society. But he finds her innocence most intriguing…
What manner of man he may be, Ella does not know. Yet he fascinates her and she must know more. Capturing Leo’s reckless heart is about to free her in ways she never dreamed of…and his sensual touch releases the deepest yearnings of her body and soul …
“My grandson is the next in line. I need him to be as well educated as possible when the time comes for him to take his place.”
“Of course,” Ella replied.
But the lanterns on the rock walls cast wavering shadows against the floor, demanding her attention and increasing her anxiety.
“Still, I feel I must warn you. My grandson,” Lord Roberts said, “has had a difficult life. He’s not exactly...normal.”
Ella tore her gaze from the dark hall to focus on Lord Roberts. His face was passive, but his eyes still held a sense of sadness that worried her. Against her will, her heart skipped a beat and she had to force her feet to continue forward, wondering over his ominous words.
“But I promise you, if you persevere, the reward will be well worth the effort.”
She parted her lips to question him further when he stopped outside double wooden doors carved with mystical beasts. Unicorns, dragons, elves all fought for attention like a children’s fairy tale come to life.
“Any family will hire you, Ella, upon learning you worked for me,” Lord Roberts said. “Just think, even royalty.” Before his words of promise could sink in, he reached out and pushed the doors wide.
A rush of apprehension washed over her like a chilly breeze. That feeling she’d had when she first arrived...that same feeling that had seeped in through her bedroom window. Her heart raced but her mind stilled. Her entire body focused on the hum that started vibrating in her core. A beast, a beast in dire need, a beast confused, angry, hurt.
“Do not be afraid, my dear,” Lord Roberts said, slipping her arm through the crook of his elbow and leading her into the room.
Afraid? Afraid! Why should she be afraid?
A crash made her jump. Even Lord Roberts tightened his hold. Blimey, is that where the noise had come from, Lord Roberts’ grandson?
“My lord, I do not have great experience with children.” Her face heated at the lie. “I mean, of boys, in particular.”
“Oh, that won’t matter much, my dear.”
He pulled her further into the gold room, her slippered feet whispering their resistance against the cold, marble floor.
“W—where is he?” Her gaze swept the pastel landscape murals on the walls, up to the ceiling where fat cherubs grinned down at her, demented sprites mocking her plight.
Her mind buzzed as a rush of emotion swept into her, then back out, like waves at sea. She couldn’t seem to catch hold of anything, merely hints of anger, frustration, sorrow and resentment. Another crash resounded from beside her. Ella spun around. An empty easel was propped in the corner of the room, under the glow of wall sconces. Movement near the windows caught her attention.
A man. The man from the garden.
Blond hair glistened in the low candlelight, his broad back to her. Her body froze, her thoughts spinning.
“I thought I’d created him in my mind,” she whispered.
“You’ve met?” Lord Roberts turned to her, confusion in his eyes.
“No, I saw him this evening. He seemed to be...” What was the right word? “Overwrought about something.”
With what could only be called a growl, he tossed a paint-splattered canvas outside.
“Oh my,” she gasped. “He seems rather upset now, too. Who is he?”
“My grandson, Leo.”
Ella’s stomach sank. “I see. And your other grandson, the one I will be teaching, is he here?” She pulled away and studied the room. It was empty.
The old man’s face flushed a telling shade of red. “Ah, yes. Well, you see-”
“My lord,” a servant whispered from the hall. He darted a glance at Lord Roberts’ grandson and scampered back, cowering behind the doors.
“Yes? What is it?” Lord Roberts strolled toward the hall. Ella resisted the urge to cling to the man, to beg him not to leave her alone, to beg him to send a rider for Lady Buckley.
As if sensing her vulnerability, Leo spun away from the window and faced her. Ella’s heart jumped into her throat. The set of his square jaw made him appear fierce, yet she could not ignore the handsome features that pulled together in a face that would inspire Michelangelo. His attention swept over her form, leaving behind a trail of heat that pulsed unwanted through her body.
Dear lord, he wore only trousers and a white shirt spattered in paint and completely unbuttoned. She couldn’t stop her gaze from traveling the trail of golden hair that swept down his muscled chest. Her body tingled and her gaze jumped back to his face. His wavy locks hung wildly about his shoulders. His body was tight, tense; a beast prepared for an attack. Surely he wouldn’t harm her.
With long, purposeful strides, he shortened the distance between them. And she couldn’t move, couldn’t move a bloody step, fear and something else holding her captive. Nearer...nearer. Would he stop or knock her over?
Then their gazes met and any thought of escape fled. Suddenly nothing existed. Ella fell into a warm pool of gold. An eerie gold that glowed from his eyes, pulling her under, drowning in emotion and leaving her gasping for breath. It was coming from him...the emotion...the need...the pain.
Birds, rabbits, even a fox, but never had she been able to read a person’s emotions. Mesmerized, she didn’t move a muscle when he stopped only a foot away, looming over her like some archangel come to take her soul. Was the floor still beneath her feet or was she falling? The room seemed to spin as his scent swirled around her; sea salt, pine and male; him.
“It is nice to meet you,” she somehow managed to get past her lips.
His eyes narrowed into slits and his nostrils flared, his breath a soft whisper as he inhaled deeply. Slowly, he moved around her as if she were prey and he the hunter. He stepped close, too close. With his chest hot to her back, his essence seeped into her skin. His fingers brushed her nape, wrapped around a loose lock and the fine hairs on her neck stood on end. She heard the distinct intake of breath, as if he smelled the strands. Paralyzed from fright and from another foreign emotion, Ella couldn’t move. Her heart hammered in her ears, drowning out every sound but her own harsh breathing.
He leaned forward, and the side of his face, rough with a day’s growth of whiskers, brushed against the sensitive skin of her neck. She closed her eyes, feeling every muscled contour of his body, every heated limb, every soft breath he took. Strange physical sensations pulsed through her veins, a deep aching need for only God knew what. Want, desire, anger so intense, her knees quivered and she feared she would sink to the ground in a dead faint.
“Leo,” Lord Roberts called out. The tap of the old man’s cane sounded muddled through the fog of her exotic reality. Part of her was weak with relief when Lord Roberts appeared, yet a small part, deep down inside, was strangely eager to see what this Leo would do next.
“I see you have met your new governess,” Lord Roberts said.
Governess? As if Leo were a boy when in fact he was a man, a very grown man.
His hold on her hair tightened and she resisted the urge to squeak.
The old man’s eyes flickered uneasily from her face to his grandson. “I believe Miss Finch would like to rest.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Ella studied her ward. His jaw clenched but he released his hold on her hair. With a curl of his lips and a stiff jerk of his arm, he pointed toward the hall.
“Right, of course, you would like some time alone. Well then, shall we?” Lord Roberts tugged her toward the open doors.
Her shoulder brushed against Leo’s hard chest and shivers raced all the way to her toes. Confused by her strange reaction, she stole a glance back as Lord Roberts led her from the room. Leo stood there, his hands on his slim hips as if sizing her up for the kill. As Lady Buckley had promised, she was indeed being punished by God.
Lord Roberts closed the doors and shut the man from view. The surge of emotion and heat receded, leaving her trembling and cold.
I want to thank Ms. Lori for coming hang out at the Lair for the past few days!!! Thank you.
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