Excerpt from Saved by Scandal’s Heir by Janice Preston
(Harriet has travelled to Kent where she meets, for the first time in 11 years, her former childhood sweetheart, Benedict Poole. In this excerpt, they have just eaten dinner together)
‘Goodnight.’ With a swish of skirts she passed him by and headed for the door.
He grasped the handle but then hesitated. Slowly, his hand slipped from the handle and he turned to face Harriet, his back against the door.
Harriet had halted a few feet away.
‘Please let me pass.’
Her voice was low. She searched his face, her gaze uncertain.
But what could he say that would not risk unleashing all that anger and bitterness that scoured his insides? The past had happened. No amount of wishful thinking could change it and no good could come of stirring up all those raw emotions.
He spoke from the heart, but he spoke only of the present. ‘You are a very beautiful woman, Harriet.’
His voice had grown husky; blood surged to his groin; he took a pace towards her and breathed deep of her scent. She was close. So close. He reached out and fingered that errant curl and revelled in the whispered sigh that escaped those full pink lips. He narrowed still further the gap between them, relishing the flush that suffused her skin. Molten-hot currents burned deep within him, making his skin tighten and his breath grow short.
He opened his fingers and released her curl, lowering his hand to his side.
He would not detain her. Her escape was clear, if she wanted it. She had only to step away—walk around him to the door. She did not. Her eyelids fluttered and lowered as her lips parted. He tilted his head, feathered his lips at the side of her neck, savouring her quiet moan, satisfied by the leap of her pulse as he laved that sensitive spot.
‘No,’ she whispered. ‘Please… I…’
‘Tell me to stop, and I will,’ he murmured as he licked at her lobe.
He blew gently across the moistened skin and she shuddered, swaying, her full breasts and pebbled nipples pressing into his chest for one brief, glorious moment before she jerked away.
Benedict, grown hard with desire, reined in his urge to grab her and kiss her anyway. He forced himself to remain still.
‘I do not need to give you a reason.’
Head high, she met his gaze. He recognised the flash of vulnerability in her eyes…and something else. Fear? Of him?
‘What are you afraid of?’
With his attention fully upon her, he sensedthe shift under her skin as she drew her defences in place. ‘I am not afraid.’
He wanted to doubt her. He wanted to believe her lips were saying ‘No’ when she meant ‘Yes’. But he could not. She—for whatever reason—really did mean ‘No’.
He moved aside and watched as she left the room. His feet moved of their own volition, following her out of the door into the hall, to watch as she climbed the stairs.
He had no wish to revisit the past, but he could not help but be intrigued by the present-day Harriet. Her outer shell was well-crafted: sophisticated, ladylike, at ease. And yet she had revealed some of her true spirit in that snowstorm, after he dismissed the post-chaise. Benedict suspected her calm exterior concealed hidden turbulence, much as the smooth surface of the ocean might conceal treacherous currents.
He wandered back into the drawing room to stand and stare into the fire, his mind whirling. He wanted to dig deeper, to find out more about her. Curiosity. It was dangerous, but that was no reason to retreat. She would be here for a few days yet—time enough to find out more. Perhaps testing those suspected undercurrents was risky but he had never yet backed down from a challenge. And he wasn’t about to start now.