The Pleasures of Passion
The Pleasures of Passion
Complete with the signature charm, “delectably witty dialogue…and scorching sexual chemistry” (Booklist) she is known for, New York Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries returns with the fourth romance in the Sinful Suitors series!
When Niall Lindsey, the Earl of Margrave, is forced to flee after killing a man in a duel, he expects his secret love, Brilliana Trevor, to go with him, or at the very least wait for him. To his shock, she does neither and sends him off with no promise for the future. Seven years and one pardon later, Niall returns to England disillusioned and cynical. And being blackmailed by the government into working with his former love to help catch a counterfeiter connected to her father doesn’t improve his mood any. But as his role as Brilliana’s fake fiancé brings his long-buried feelings to the surface once again, he wonders who is more dangerous—the counterfeiter or the woman rapidly stealing his heart.
Forced to marry another man after Niall was exiled, the now widowed Brilliana wants nothing to do with the reckless rogue who she believes abandoned her to a dreary, loveless life. So having to rely on him to save her father is the last thing she wants, much less trusts him with….But as their scheme strips away the lies and secrets of their shared past, can she let go of the old hurt and put her pride aside? Or will the pleasures of their renewed passion finally enable them both to rediscover love?
Seventeen-year-old Brilliana Payne shoved the note from Lord Margrave’s heir—Niall Lindsey—into her pocket. Then she slipped into her mother’s bedchamber. “Mama,” she whispered. “Are you awake?”
Her mother jerked her head up from amid the satin covers and feather pillows like a startled deer. Brilliana winced to see her mother’s lips drawn with pain and her eyes dulled by laudanum, even in mid-afternoon.
“What do you need, love?” Mama asked in her usual gentle voice.
Oh, how she loathed deceiving Mama. But until her suitor spoke to his parents about their marrying, she had to keep the association secret.
“I’m going for my walk in Green Park.” Where Niall, my love, will join me. “Do you need anything?”
Despite her pain, Mama smiled. “Not now, my dear. You go enjoy yourself. And tell Gilly to make sure you don’t stray near the woods.”
What a lie. The woods were where she would meet Niall, where Gilly would keep watch to make sure no one saw him and Brilliana together. Thank heaven her maid was utterly loyal to her.
Brilliana started to leave, then paused. “Um. Papa said he won’t be home until evening.” Which meant he wouldn’t be home until he’d lost all his money at whatever game he was playing tonight. “Are you sure you don’t need me?”
She dearly hoped not. Niall’s note had struck her with dread, partly because he rarely wrote to her. Usually he just met her at Green Park for her daily stroll when he could get away from friends or family. Something must be wrong.
Still, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to find out what. And perhaps let him steal a kiss or two.
She blushed. Niall was very good at that.
Then again, he ought to be. He was rumored to be a rogue with the ladies, although Brilliana was convinced it was merely because of his wild cousin, Lord Knightford, with whom he spent far too much time. Or so her maid had told her.
“I’ll be fine,” Mama said tightly. “I have my medicine right here.”
Medicine, ha! It made Mama almost as ill as whatever mysterious disease had gripped her. The doctors still couldn’t figure out what Mama had, but they continued to try everything—bleeding her, cupping her, giving her assorted potions. And every time a new treatment was attempted, Brilliana hoped it would work, would be worth Mama’s pain.
Guilt swamped Brilliana. “If you’re sure . . .”
“Go, dear girl! I’m just planning to sleep, anyway.”
That was all the encouragement Brilliana needed to hurry out.
A short while later, she and Gilly were in Green Park waiting at the big oak for Niall.
“Did he say why he wanted to meet, miss?” Gilly asked.
“No. Just that it was urgent. And it had to be today.”
“Perhaps he means to propose at last.”
Her breath caught. “I doubt it. He would have approached Papa if that were the case.”
Gilly’s face fell. “Then you’d best take care. ’Cause if he spends as much time with the soiled doves as I’ve heard—”
“He’s not like that,” Brilliana said. “Not with me.”
Except for those lovely kisses. But he was respectful otherwise. Besides, the gossips always painted a scandalous picture—that’s why they were called gossips—but through weeks of secret meetings, she’d seen his character, and it was a good one. She was sure of it.
“Well, I daresay you’re right about him then,” Gilly said soothingly. “And he still might be proposing, you know. He might just have wanted your consent before he approached your papa.” A hopeful expression crossed her face. “That’s how all the gentlemen is doing things these days, I’m told. And just think what your mama will say when she hears you’ve snagged an heir to an earl!”
“I haven’t snagged anyone yet.” Besides, the word snag was too coarse for what she wanted from Niall—his mind, his heart, his soul. Since hers already belonged to him.
“There you are,” said a masculine voice behind them. “Thank God you came.”
Her heart leapt as she turned to see Niall striding up to them. At twenty-three, he was quite the handsomest man she’d ever known—lean-hipped and tall and possessed of the most gorgeous hazel eyes, which changed color from cedar-brown to olive-green depending on the light. And his unruly mop of gold-streaked walnut-hued hair made her itch to set it to rights.
Though she didn’t dare be so forward in front of Gilly. Not until she and Niall were formally betrothed. Assuming that ever happened.
Offering Brilliana his arm, he cast Gilly a pointed glance. “I’ll need a few minutes alone with your mistress. Will you keep watch?”
Gilly curtsied deeply. “Of course, my lord.”
Normally, her maid balked a little at that, though she gave in at the end, but she was obviously eager to give Niall a chance to propose.
Indeed, his behavior did signal that today wasn’t like their usual meetings. Without any of his usual pleasantries, he led Brilliana into the woods to the little clearing where they usually talked.
All her joy in the meeting vanished. “You do realize how fortunate we are that Gilly is a romantic. Otherwise, she would never let us do these things.”
“I know, Bree.” Though he was the only one to call her that, she rather liked the nickname. It made her sound carefree when she felt anything but.
He halted well out of earshot of Gilly. “And then I wouldn’t get the chance to do this.”
He drew her into his arms for a long, ardent kiss, and she melted. If he was kissing her, he obviously didn’t mean to break with her. As long as they had this between them . . .
But it was over far too soon. And when he drew back to stare at her with a haunted look, her earlier dread returned.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered.
Glancing away, he mumbled a decidedly ungentlemanly oath. “You are going to be furious with me.”
She fought to ignore the alarm knotting her belly. “I could never be furious with you. What has happened? Just tell me.”
“This morning I fought a duel.”
“What?” Her heart dropped into her stomach. Good Lord. How could that be? “I-I don’t understand.” She must have heard him wrong. Surely the man she’d fallen in love with wasn’t the violent sort.
“I killed a man, Bree. In a duel.”
She hadn’t misheard him, then. Still scarcely able to believe it, she roamed the little clearing, her blood like sludge in her veins. “What on earth would even make you do such a thing?”
“It doesn’t matter.” He threaded his fingers through his sun-kissed hair. “It’s done, and now I risk being hanged.”
Hanged? Why would he be—
Of course. Dueling was considered murder. Her heart stilled. Her love was a murderer. And now he could die, too!
“So I’m leaving England tonight,” he went on. “For good.”
The full ramifications of all he’d told her hit her. “You . . . you’re leaving England,” she echoed hollowly. And me.
His gaze met hers. “Yes. And I want you to go with me.”
That arrested her. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“I’m asking you to marry me.” He seized her hands. “Well, to elope with me. We’ll go by ship to Spain, and we’ll wed there. Then my friends in Valencia will help us settle in.”
She gaped at him. He was serious. He actually meant for her to leave her family and home and run away with him now that he’d gone off and killed a man.
But in a duel. Might it not have been done with good reason?
“Do you have to go abroad?” she asked. “Sometimes the courts will acquit a gentleman of the charges, assuming the duel was a just one—”
“It was.” His face clouded over. “But I can’t risk defending myself in court.”
“What do you mean? Why not?”
His expression grew shuttered. “I can’t say. It’s . . . complicated.”
“It can’t be more complicated than running away to the Continent, for pity’s sake.”
A muscle worked in his jaw. “Look, I’ve made a vow to keep the reasons for the duel quiet. And I have to keep that vow.”
“Even from me?” She couldn’t hide the hurt in her voice. “Why? Who demanded such a thing of you?”
“I can’t say, damn it!” When she flinched, he said, “It isn’t important.”
“It certainly is to me. You want me to run off with you, but you won’t even explain why you fought or even with whom you dueled?”
Letting out an oath, he stared past her into the woods. “I suppose I can reveal the other party in the duel, since that will get around soon enough. The man’s name is Joseph Whiting.”
She didn’t know any Joseph Whiting, so that information wasn’t terribly helpful.
“But that’s all I can reveal.” He fixed her with a hard look. “You’re simply going to have to trust me. Go with me, and I will take care of you.”
“What about passports? How can you even be sure we can marry in Spain?”
“There’s no reason we can’t. And I have a passport—we’ll arrange for yours once we arrive.”
She didn’t know anything about international travel, but his plan sounded awfully havey-cavey. “If you’re wanted for murder here, surely no British consulate—”
“I promise you, it will all turn out well in the end.”
“You can’t promise that.”
“Deuce take it, I love you,” he said, desperation in his tone. “Isn’t that enough?”
“No! You’re asking me to risk my entire future to go with you. To leave my family and my home, possibly never to see either again. So, no, it is not enough, drat you!”
He squeezed her hands. “Are you saying you don’t share my feelings?”
“You know I do.” Her heart lurched in her chest. “I’d follow you to the ends of the earth if I could, but I can’t right now.” Certainly not without some assurance that he truly meant to marry her and not just . . . well . . . carry her off to have his way with her.
Oh, Lord, that was absurd. Just because he was heir to an earl and she the daughter of an impoverished knight didn’t mean that Niall would stoop so low. Granted, he’d become known for his roguish ways, but that was all in the past. She was sure of it. And yes, she’d heard of women being fooled into thinking they were eloping when really they weren’t, women who were discarded after they’d served their usefulness to some randy lord.
But Niall would never do such a thing. He was an honorable man.
Except for the fact that he fought a duel he won’t tell me about.
She winced. It didn’t matter. He would never hurt her that way. She couldn’t believe it.
And for a moment, the idea of being his forever, of traveling abroad and seeing the world without their families to make trouble—
Families. That brought reality crashing in. “You know I can’t leave Mama.” Regretfully, she tugged her hands from his. “She needs me.”
“I need you.” His lovely eyes were dark with entreaty. “Your mother has your father.”
“The man who spends every waking moment at his club or in the hells, gambling away my future and Mama’s,” she said bitterly. “She could die, and he wouldn’t even notice.”
All right, so that was an exaggeration, but not much of one. Papa had never met a card game he didn’t like. Unfortunately, he’d never met one he could win either. But he certainly spent all his time and money trying to find one.
And consequently, Mama spent much of her time alone with Brilliana or servants. Brilliana had hoped that when—if— Niall proposed marriage, she could persuade him to let her take Mama to live with them. But that was impossible if he meant to carry her off to the Continent.
“What about your family?” she asked.
He tensed. “What about them?”
“Do your parents know that you mean to flee London? Have you spoken to your father about . . . well . . . us?”
The stricken look on his face told her that answer. “He knows I’m leaving England. But no, he doesn’t know about us because I wanted to speak to you first. In case you . . . refused to go.”
His reluctance to tell his parents about their courtship before approaching her parents had long been a topic of discussion between them.
She’d understood—really, she had. She probably wasn’t lofty enough to suit his family, and Niall had been waiting until she had her come out and his parents could meet her in a natural setting. Then he could ease them into the idea of his wanting to wed her.
But now . . . “You could still speak to my parents, gain their blessing and agreement to the marriage. Then you . . . you could get a special license, and we could marry before we leave here.”
Though that didn’t solve the problem of Mama.
“There’s no time for that! Besides, it takes at least two days to acquire any kind of license. And my ship leaves tonight.” He drew her close. “For once in your life, sweeting, throw caution to the wind. You love me. I love you. We belong together. I don’t know how I’ll bear it if you don’t flee with me.”
His words tore at her. She wanted desperately to go.
And apparently he could read the hesitation in her face, for he took advantage, clasping her head in his hands so he could seal his mouth to hers with a breathtaking ardor.
Oh, Lord, but the man could kiss. He made her heart soar, and her blood run fast and hot. Looping her arms about his neck, she gave herself up to the foretaste of what their lives could be like . . . if she would just give in.
But how could she? Reluctantly, she broke the kiss, even knowing it might be their last.
His eyes glittered with triumph, for he could always tell how easily he tempted her. “I know this isn’t the ideal way for us to start out, Bree, but I’ll make it up to you. Father will continue to send my allowance, and my friends will take care of us until we’re settled. I might even find work in Spain.”
She wavered. It sounded wonderful and exciting and oh so tempting.
He cupped her cheek. “All we have to do is go. Tonight, with the tide. You and I, together for the rest of our lives. Trust me, you won’t regret going.”
Ah, but she would.
She could handle travel to a strange country and everything that such an upheaval entailed. She could live on a pittance. And yes, she would even risk ruin if it meant being with him.
But she couldn’t leave Mama. Papa would never manage the doctors or sit wiping Mama’s brow when she was feverish. Papa could hardly bear to be in the sickroom. He’d rather run off to his club. And with money short because of his gambling, they couldn’t afford an extra servant to tend mother night and day. Besides, she could never entrust Mama’s care to a servant.
She pushed away from him. “I can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
His expression turned to stone. “You mean, you won’t.”
“If we could bring Mama with us, I’d go, but that’s impossible. She’s too ill to travel.”
“Don’t pretend that this is about your mother,” he said harshly. “It’s about your blasted caution. How many weeks did it take me to convince you to start meeting me in the park? To tempt you into a kiss? You’re a coward at heart, and you know it.”
The bitter words stabbed her through the heart. “Well, at least I don’t recklessly fight duels and then run off to avoid the consequences!”
She regretted the words the instant he drew himself up, every inch a lord. “So that’s how you see me, is it? Fine.” He started to walk off.
“Wait!” she cried. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I suppose you must . . . have had your reasons for dueling.”
He let out an oath, then turned back to her. “I’m sorry, too. I don’t think you a coward.”
She stifled a sharp retort. That wasn’t true. Men always wanted women to throw caution to the winds, but that was only because they had less to lose. A woman lost everything when she trusted the wrong man. Just look at Mama.
“Bree,” he said softly, “I don’t want things to end this way.”
“Neither do I, but . . .” Frantically, she tried to think of another solution. “I-I could write to you once Mama gets better.” Though she feared that wasn’t going to happen. “Then you could send for me. Somehow.”
“You would travel alone to meet me?” he asked skeptically.
“I’d find a way to get there.” Tears filled her eyes.
“Don’t cry, sweeting. Please, I can’t bear it.” Thumbing a tear away, he said, “I’m not giving up on you, on us. If you need to reach me—when you need to reach me—let my father know. I’ll tell him to expect to hear from you. He can get a letter to me, and we’ll arrange matters.”
“I will, I promise.” She gazed into the face she loved so well and fought back more tears. “But I can’t go yet.”
He nodded, as if he couldn’t trust himself to speak.
“So I suppose this is farewell,” she choked out.
“Au revoir,” he said fiercely. “Not farewell. Never farewell.” He brushed a kiss to her lips, then stared into her eyes so longingly it made her ache. “If you change your mind about going with me today, I’ll be on the Cordovan. It sets sail shortly after sundown. Ask for Mr. Lindsey—that’s the name I’m using abroad—and they’ll direct you to me.”
“Be careful,” she whispered.
Then, before she fell apart completely, she walked out to where Gilly stood. But as she hurried to leave the park while Gilly peppered her with questions, all she could think was, Will I ever see him again?
Despite his insistence on Au revoir, she very much feared that she would not. And that realization shattered her heart.