After the Abduction
From The Swanlea Spinsters
After the Abduction
After two London seasons—and a score of resoundingly dull society suitors—lovely Juliet Laverick still longs for only one man: Morgan Pryce, the dashing scoundrel who kidnapped her two years ago. But her determination to bring him to justice hasn’t waned—not even when the man she mistakes for Morgan, his twin brother Sebastian, tells her some shocking news: Her mysterious paramour has disappeared.
Sebastian Blakely, the Baron Templemore, dares not admit that he is the one Juliet seeks—much less that it is for his kiss that she still yearns. Confessing to the abduction would only bring disaster and scandal upon them both. Yet how can he convince Juliet to forsake her pursuit of her dream lover when all he dreams of is holding her in his arms again?
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book spent a week on the USA Today bestseller list!
- Winner of the Scarlett Letter Award for the Best Historical of 2002
- Nominated for Best Long Historical of 2002 for the Booksellers Best Award
“Ms. Jeffries has created a delightful, light-hearted tale with winning characters and sparkling romance.”
“I would recommend After the Abduction to anyone, but those who love Regency type historicals definitely won’t want to pass this one by.” —The Word on Romance
“Ah, Lady Juliet. You must be lost. The guest bedchambers are in the east wing.”
Judging from the sooty ceiling and the faltering fire, his servants were afraid to enter his workshop for designing pistols. How very sensible of them. She began to regret not being equally sensible.
“I’m not lost, as you well know. I’ve come to make you tell me the truth. Because no matter what name you use—Morgan or Lord Templemore—you’re still the man who kidnapped me.”
With those precise motions she remembered so well, he set down his metalwork and slid around on the leather-upholstered stool to face her. “My lady, you’re distraught, and that has made you irrational.” Full of false concern, he started to rise from the stool.
“Stay where you are! I’m more rational than I’ve been in my entire life.”
Eyes black as his soul assessed her. “I see. Do you regularly accuse lords of the realm of kidnapping young women?”
“You’re my first. Though I dearly hope you’re my last.”
“So do I. I’d hate to see another man wrongfully accused.”
“I only wish for justice.” She paused. “As for how I can be sure who you are, I have more than enough proof of that.”
“Oh?” He rose from his stool, straightening to his full height.
Tall men had always intimidated her, and he was awfully tall. Still, the thought that he might use that against her merely firmed her resolve. “Your brother was educated abroad, didn’t you say?”
A wary nod was her answer.
“And not even in an English colony, but in Geneva, where they speak French.”
“His education was given in English, madam. He had the best tutors.”
“Not until he was thirteen. By your own admission, he spent his early years without such advantages. And with the sort of mother you’ve described, he might have been left to run wild in the streets. At the very least, he would speak with an accent; at the most, he’d lack breeding and refinement as well.”
His lips thinned. “Is there a point to all these insults to members of my family?”
“My kidnapper had a refined English accent and a polished manner. Like yours.”
“Did he indeed?” He strolled closer, stopping only a foot away. “But two years can alter one’s memory greatly, especially when memory tells us lies to soothe our feelings. Perhaps remembering him that way makes it easier for you to …excuse your bad judgment in eloping with him.”
Her eyes narrowed to slits. How dared he even insinuate such a thing? “That isn’t my only proof, sir. I’ve found more since you spun your tale this morning. First, there was my kidnapper’s manner of dress—as sober as yours. And the lie he chose to tell—that he was in the army. Your brother was a navy man, so why didn’t my kidnapper say he was in the navy?”
His gaze flicked over her. “From what you and your family said, convincing you didn’t prove terribly difficult.”
She flushed. It was true; how readily she’d believed his lies. He’d said what she’d wanted to hear, made her feel what she’d wanted to feel.
“Besides,” he went on, “if Morgan had revealed that he’d been in the navy, it would have made it easier for him to be tracked afterward, wouldn’t it?”
“Yet he used his real name with the smugglers,” she countered triumphantly. “Obviously he wasn’t too concerned about being tracked.”
A muscle ticked in Lord Templemore’s jaw. “I’m afraid I can’t explain that. Just as I can’t explain why he kidnapped you to learn some spurious information about the Oceana, or why he went aboard. If you’d care to enlighten me with some theories, I’d vastly appreciate it.”
That was the trouble—she had none. Indeed, it was the primary reason he’d dismissed her concerns so cavalierly.
“Have we come to the end of all your ‘proofs’? Or are there more?”
His patronizing tone grated on her, but all she had left was the argument he’d find least persuasive. “There is…one more. His scent. And yours. They’re the same.”
He burst into laughter. “Now that’s rich. We smell alike? I dare say many men do. If that’s your most compelling evidence, you don’t have a nose to sniff on.”
She stamped her foot. “How dare you laugh at me, you…you scoundrel! After what you did—”
“I did nothing, Lady Juliet.” Pushing away from the table, he strode up to hover over her, forcing her to crane her head back to look into his forbidding features. “Forgive me for laughing, but this notion of yours is madness. I understand why you’re eager for vengeance, but you wish to visit it upon the wrong person.” He spoke patiently, as if correcting a child.
“This isn’t about revenge! I want to know the truth, that’s all. I want to know why you did it, what purpose was served by it.”
For a moment, they stood eye to eye, neither one willing to give an inch. But as her temper cooled, she acknowledged that straightforward accusations did her no good.
Unless she tricked him into it.
Dropping her head, she began to sniffle. “You’re right, of course. I’m grasping at straws. But it’s only because I’m frustrated that your brother is beyond my power. I can hardly believe I’ll never have the chance to make him pay for what he did.”
“Was it really so very awful?” The tone of false concern had vanished. Now he sounded earnest, almost gentle. “You said he didn’t…assault your honor.”
She gave an exaggerated sigh and wiped away an imaginary tear. “What else could I say, with my family listening? I’m too ashamed to tell them what really happened—how that beast mistreated me, debauched me, and took my innocence.”
He swore a low oath. “You’re not claiming that he—”
“Yes.” She lifted her face in great distress. “That’s exactly what I’m claiming.”
She waited for him to explode, to deny it loudly and thus reveal himself.
He searched her face; then his look turned calculating, as if he’d guessed precisely what she was about. “So my brother deflowered you, did he?”
Swallowing hard, she nodded. She’d never told such a monstrous falsehood in all her life.
Her pulse quickened. Success at last. “And how would you know?”
“Because my brother was a gentleman. He’d never have mistreated a woman.”
Disappointment knifed through her at his deft parry. “You said you barely knew him, so how could you possibly know his character?”
That flustered him. “I just do, that’s all.” He stepped closer, and the sudden glint in his eyes made her back up. “But I have a way to prove he didn’t debauch you.”
He advanced again, and her heart dropped into her stomach. She could think of only one way he could prove such a thing. “Surely you can’t mean to—”
“No, nothing so dramatic as that.” His arm snaked about her waist, tugging her flush against his lean body. “But if my brother introduced you to the seductive arts, then you probably know something about kissing. Let’s see, shall we?” And before she could even protest, his mouth covered hers.
She froze, swamped by memory. The last time he’d held her. The last time he’d kissed her.
This was the same, but different. His lips were softer now, more coaxing, sliding over hers with a heat and familiarity that startled a trembling in her belly. She tried the tactic that generally worked on her most impertinent suitors and went rigid in his arms. But how could she stay stiff as a poker with him? It was too much to ask.
Especially when his hands roamed her ribs, his thighs pressed into her skirts, and his mouth caressed hers. He stirred to life the attraction that she’d truly thought buried, the craving for his touch that had once tormented her.
Suddenly, his tongue swept her lips, and she jerked back in shock.
His breath came raggedly, but triumph glittered in his eyes. “You don’t even know how to kiss intimately. How can you claim you’ve known the greater intimacies shared between a man and woman in bed?”
She hated the blush flooding her cheeks and giving her away.
“It’s all right,” he whispered. “I never believed you anyway.”
That stung. “I didn’t kiss you intimately because I don’t like you, that’s all.”
Amusement glinted in his eyes. “Is that so? Then tell me, Lady Juliet, what do I mean by intimate kissing?”
Drat it all, she had no idea. She’d only kissed a few men, polite little presses of lips to lips.
Chuckling, he skimmed his thumb over her chin, then pressed down until she opened her mouth slightly. “Here, I’ll show you.”
Then he kissed her again. Except this time his tongue pressed between her teeth. Intrigued, she opened her mouth further, and he groaned low in his throat as he plunged his tongue inside.
My oh my, that was interesting. It made her quiver in the oddest places, burned through her like flame devours wick.
Curving his hands around her face, he kissed her more thoroughly than any man had ever dared. He did the most wicked things with his tongue
She could hardly breathe, yet she wasn’t about to stop him, not when he made her feel so utterly delicious. His fingers snagged her curls, then pressed into her scalp to hold her still as a man clutches a brandy glass in his hour of need. He drank his fill in hearty, deep kisses that made her knees buckle.
An ache thrummed between her legs, unfamiliar and surely scandalous. Though she tried not to react, she couldn’t stop herself from swaying into him. Apparently that inflamed him further, for he grasped her hard about the waist, settling her against him belly to belly as he plundered her mouth like a reckless adventurer.
She liked it, liked how intense and uncontrolled he was. Two years ago, she’d yearned to have Morgan want her like this, and at last he did!
It reminded her of running away with him, and later, escaping the smugglers with him. The burst of heat and excitement mocking her silly girlish dreams. The wild, fiery need scorching her innocence.
What was wrong with her? How could she repeat her mistake of two years ago? She was supposed to be unmasking him, not throwing herself at him, for goodness sake!
But this felt so right …
Besides, after this, he could hardly deny their previous connection. That thought tipped the balance from uncertainty into surrender, and she flung her arms about his neck, crushing the velvety waves of hair at his nape. The scent of iron and neat’s-foot oil engulfed her, made her dizzy.
He tore his mouth from her eager lips to whisper, “Juliet…ah, sweeting . . .”
Only he had ever called her sweeting. “Morgan…” she whispered back.
He froze. Jerking back from her, he stared uncomprehending into her eyes. Then his face drained of heat as suddenly as hot iron dunked in water and he dropped his hands from her. “What the devil am I doing? I must be mad…”
Pivoting away, he leaned over to brace his fists on the table. His shoulders shook from the force of his sharp, heavy breaths.
“Morgan?” She stepped forward to lay her hand on his back.
He flinched at her touch. “Don’t ever call me that again. Call me Sebastian or Lord Templemore, but never Morgan. I’m not him!” He whirled to face her once more.
His denial struck a dagger to her heart, and she began to tremble. Surely he didn’t mean to continue in his lies after what they’d just shared. “Please, Morgan, don’t—”
“I’m not Morgan!” He glanced away. Only his shaky hand shoving his beautiful, thick hair from his face belied his seeming control. “And another thing: no woman ruined by a man waits two years to hunt him down when her family is spoiling for vengeance. She doesn’t hide the truth from them, and she doesn’t come in secret to accuse her supposed debaucher.”
His gaze swung back to her as he dropped his voice. “She certainly doesn’t let him kiss her intimately. Your encounter with my brother wasn’t ‘wicked’ at all, was it? This was merely another of your little tests.”
He did mean to deny it all! Of all the infernal, dastardly—
“But now you should realize,” he went on, twisting the dagger, “that your attempts to paint me the villain are pointless. I’m not the man you seek. You’ll never prove I am.”
If she’d had one of his horrible weapons in her hand right now, he’d be dead for certain. That he could stand here and kiss her with such passion, then deny that it meant anything, deny their entire past together, while she still tasted him on her lips . . .
Very well, she could play that game. If that’s what it took to make him confess the truth. “You’re right. It was a test. But you passed. You kiss nothing like him.”
“You mean because he didn’t kiss you intimately.”
“No. Because he put more feeling into it. Like the rogue he was, Morgan kissed with great abandon.” She’d die before she admitted that his lordship had done the same. If he could deceive her without remorse, he deserved this. “Of course, that’s to be expected of a reckless adventurer. His sort excel at inflaming women’s passions. Whereas you . . .” She broke off, as if the rest were perfectly obvious.
He gazed at her mulishly. “Whereas I what?”
“You’re a gentleman, of course. You’re much too proper to kiss recklessly, and certainly you’d never attempt to inflame a woman’s passion.”
“You can’t tell me that my brother kissed you with more passion, for I know otherwise. His kiss was—” He broke off, realizing his error too late. “You’ve already said that his kisses were perfectly chaste.”
Aha! Finally she’d pierced his infernal armor. She hadn’t told him there’d been only one kiss; he’d slipped up already. Let him believe she’d given up her suspicions—it would lull him into lowering his guard. She’d use his own arrogance against him, batter his pride at every opportunity with perfectly innocent comments about the past.
She shrugged. “Chaste? Well, that’s a different matter entirely. His kiss may have been ‘chaste,’ as you put it, but it was still thrilling.” She could hardly suppress her smile at the lovely effect her words had on Lord Templemore. He looked positively offended. “I mean, your kisses are perfectly adequate, but—”
“Adequate!” he thundered.
“But it’s understandable,” she hastened on, warming to this new tactic. “Morgan was a man of the world, whereas you’ve preferred to remain out of it. You can’t have had too many encounters with the fair sex while isolated on this estate. For all I know, you may not even like women—”
“What the devil—” he roared. “I am not of that persuasion, madam!”
She blinked, unsure what he meant. “What persuasion?”
The outrage in his face faded a little. “Never mind. Just rest assured that I like women well enough.”
She forced concern into her voice. “Dear me, I think you’ve misunderstood. I was merely saying—”
“I know what you were saying,” he clipped out. “My ‘reckless adventurer’ of a brother swept you off your feet with his romantic kissing. No doubt that’s why you wish to find him—so you can punish him for not marrying you as he’d sworn to do.”
He would put that construction on it, since it preserved his pride. “Not at all. I only want to find him to learn the truth. It would have been disastrous if he’d married me as promised.”
His eyes widened. “You didn’t fancy yourself in love with him?”
“Of course I did at the time, or I wouldn’t have run off with him. But I came to my senses when I realized he was kidnapping me. No sensible woman wants to marry a man of Morgan’s sort, even if he does make her heart race and her bones melt and…” She trailed off with a condescending smile. “Whereas even if you don’t have the most thrilling kisses, you are still a respectable—”
“—gentleman,” he finished, his tone dripping sarcasm.
“I’ve insulted you. I’m so sorry.” Sorry she hadn’t started this sooner. It was awful of her, but she was enjoying herself enormously. “I mean it as a compliment, you know. A naive girl might fall madly in love with a scoundrel, but a rational, grown woman knows that proper gentlemen—like yourself—are infinitely preferable to dashing rogues, even if the proper gentlemen’s kisses don’t exactly…” She purposely trailed off.
“‘Make her heart race and her bones melt.’” He sounded as if he were squeezing words through the small end of a bellows.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. As I tried to—”
“Enough, madam,” he growled. “I’ve heard more than I care to hear about how ‘proper gentlemen’ kiss.”
“I was merely trying to explain why you’ve convinced me you’re not Morgan.”
“You’ve explained it deuced well.” He looked apoplectic.
Good. She hoped he choked on her words. Maybe next time he wouldn’t leap to deny who he was.
And she dearly wanted a next time, now that she’d stumbled upon the way to strike at him. He’d lost some of his cursed arrogance, and perhaps if she hammered enough at it, he’d tire of having his pride assaulted and scream out that he was Morgan, he was the man who’d kissed her with passion.