Tempted By a Rake’s Smile – Meghan Sloan

“I never thought I’d see you becoming a gardener, Gabe.” Gabriel Tattershall looked up from the rose bush he had been attempting to dead-head, and groaned. A beautiful dark-haired woman in a pale green dress was walking across the grass, a dark green shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She did look a pretty picture, but Gabriel only felt his heart sinking. What on earth was she doing here? After everything that had happened six months ago, Gabriel had told her that he didn’t want to associate with her any longer. It had only been a temporary fling between them, and he had made that point several times in their three steamy months together. From the way she had been behaving, she had conveniently forgotten about that. Gabriel didn’t want to deal with her right now, but Allen had gone on an errand into the village. He would have to deal with her himself. Dropping the dead rose into the basket at his feet, Gabriel put his secateurs into his pocket before turning to face her. He was in a state of undress with his coat draped over a nearby chair and his sleeves rolled up, but he wasn’t going to adjust his appearance on what little property he was allowed to own. “What are you doing here, Jessica?” “I was out for a walk.” Jessica Gibson tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and gave him a pretty smile. “I was passing and saw you out here, so I thought I’d say good morning.” “Right.

You were going for a walk.” Gabriel looked over her shoulder. “Without a chaperone.” “I have a chaperone. They’re still looking for me,” Jessica giggled. “I gave them the slip back on the main road. I’m good at that.” Gabriel knew she was good at it. She had done it many times before to sneak up to his father’s house to see him, or to the local hotel where Gabriel had a room for ‘privacy’. But that had been several months ago.

Gabriel didn’t appreciate it now, not when he wasn’t interested. He had broken things off, and it was like Jessica was following her own song sheet. A song sheet that wasn’t even anywhere close to his. “Right. You were simply passing by my cottage.” Gabriel folded his arms and scowled. “On my father’s land.” “It’s a public right of way over here. You know that.” “And Father expressly forbade you from coming onto his land.

” Jessica blinked, and a look of bewilderment finally passed over her face. Now she was beginning to realise that her decision to come here to see him was not such a good one after all. Hopefully, Gabriel could send her away with a flea in her ear. Stubborn women, he found attractive. Stupid women, however, he didn’t have time for. Jessica had proven herself stubborn, but even stubborn women knew when to back down. But then the bewilderment was gone and Jessica looked around the garden. Which was a bit of a mess, Gabriel had to admit, but it was a nice morning and the weather had been good over the last week. For the first time in his life, he felt like he could be productive in the six months since being thrown out of his family home. And the garden would be nice once it was finished.

He just needed to get used to the fact he was working hard for the first time in…however long it had been. It had been an hour since Gabriel had brought the gardening tools out into the garden, and he was beginning to think he had bitten off more than he could chew. But it was by his own hand, and Gabriel was happy with that. “I don’t understand why you don’t have a gardener of your own,” Jessica sniffed, kicking at the uncut grass. “Your father is wealthy enough to have two. Surely, you could have one to look after this.” “You know perfectly well why I don’t have a gardener,” Gabriel narrowed his eyes. “And you know why I’m living out here and not in the family home.” Mainly because Jessica was there when his father Derek Tattershall, Viscount Tattershall, had told him that he wasn’t funding anymore of Gabriel’s extravagant lifestyle. That included his gambling, which Gabriel did every day, and his love of women.

Gabriel did love women. At least, he had done. Now, after being thrown out of the family, the lure of women wasn’t as strong as before. They still wanted something to do with him, but Gabriel’s lust had all but disappeared. He couldn’t bring himself to find any interest in them beyond that they were attractive and would still happily entertain him. They had petered off lately, mostly because Gabriel had withdrawn from all of that. He had turned them away so much that all the ladies had got the message. Just not Jessica. And she kept coming back. The woman was infuriating.

“I never thought they would actually disown you,” Jessica shook her head. “That seemed…over the top.” “They were right. I had done too much for them to forgive and forget.” Gabriel had had a lot of time to think about it. He wasn’t angry anymore. Just accepting. “I made mistakes, and I’m accepting the consequences. Nice to see you’re not accepting them, though.” “Accepting what?” “You know perfectly well.

I’ve told you often enough.” Jessica sighed. She moved towards him, almost knocking over the basket with the dead parts of the rose bush. “My parents are still angry that you took advantage of me, Gabe.” She put a hand on his arm. “You think that’s going to stop me when I want something?” “Good to know you’re on my side when you said you would never desert me,” Gabriel pulled his arm away. “You didn’t tell them who it was who did the pursuing, did you?” Jessica pouted. “I didn’t realise things would get this bad.” “Well, it did.” Even if Jessica had said that she had started their fling, it wouldn’t have made a difference; Gabriel would still be out of the family.

He turned away, bringing out the secateurs. “Go home, Jessica. I’ve got some work to do. If this is going to be my home now, I would like it to look somewhat presentable.” “Don’t you want help?” “What do you know about gardening?” “I can learn.” There was a rustling of clothes and Jessica then pressed against his back. “And I want to spend time with you. I miss you.” Gabriel stiffened. She should not have touched him.

He wanted to throttle her, tell her to get it into her head that he wanted nothing to do with her. She had promised to be there for him always, but when questioned about their affair, Jessica had claimed Gabriel had seduced her. Everyone believed her. When push came to shove, her reputation came first rather than her supposed feelings. He was a fool to think that someone would stand by him when something bad happened. Gabriel had gotover it a while ago. Jessica just made it worse by coming back all the time. “I’m done with you.” Gabriel shrugged her away and stepped out of reach. He wasn’t about to put his hands on her and have claims made against him.

“Get off my property.” “Gabriel?” Jessica blinked, momentarily startled. Did she really think if she plastered herself up against him that he would want her again? Gabriel glared at her. “I don’t desire you anymore, Jessica. You betrayed me as much as my parents did when they disowned me. I was left on my own. The fact I’m still allowed to live on their land is nothing short of a miracle. I don’t even have an allowance, so I’m scrimping with whatever money I’ve got. I’m not going to mess it up by having a woman who isn’t my wife in my bed.” Jessica arched an eyebrow.

“You weren’t bothered by it before. And who said we had to be in a bed?” She had a point. They had made love outside before, right where anyone could have seen them. Gabriel had always felt a rush at the thought of being caught like that. Now it just made his stomach churn. “Your shameless behaviour was attractive before, Jessica. Now, it’s just horrific.” “Come on, Gabriel,” Jessica reached for him again, “why don’t we go inside and talk?” “And why don’t you get it into your head that I don’t want you near me?” Gabriel shot back. “Go! Now!” That did have Jessica pulling up. He had never spoken to her like that before, and it had clearly startled her.

Jessica blinked a few times, and then she pulled herself together. “We were meant to be together. You know that.” “No, I don’t.” Now Gabriel was beginning to realise that Jessica was just not going to listen. “I didn’t do relationships back when you and I were fooling around, and I’m not going to start now because you keep pestering me.” At some point in their fling, Jessica had ignored the fact that their affair was only short-term a bit of fun for both of them. She had let her feelings get involved. A few women had experienced this before, but they understood not to push the issue. Gabriel was somehow on decent terms with the other women he had seduced over the years.

He never lied to them, and they were not looking for anything permanent. They understood everything. Except Jessica. She was the type who believed love conquered all. If only he had noticed that before he finally gave in to Jessica following him around and offering him flirtations. Now it was coming back to haunt him. There was a movement at the gate behind Jessica, and Gabriel heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the middle-aged man coming through the gate and up the path. Finally, his valet was home. “Allen!” The older man slowed, his eyes catching Gabriel’s across the garden. “Get Miss Gibson out of here.

She shouldn’t be here alone.” “Yes, Mr. Gabriel.” Allen changed direction and headed towards Jessica with a blank expression. He reached for her arm. “If you’ll follow me, Miss Gibson?” “Get away from me,” Jessica smacked at his hand. “I want to talk to Mr. Tattershall.” “And he doesn’t wish to speak to you.” Allen barely batted an eyelid.

“Let’s get you home, Miss Gibson, before your parents wonder where you are.” For a moment, Gabriel thought that Jessica was going to argue. But then she huffed and drew herself up to her full height. “All right. I’ll go. I’ll be back in a few days when you’ve calmed down.” She lifted her chin defiantly at Gabriel. “I still want to talk.” Gabriel didn’t respond. He simply turned his back on her, concentrating on the rose bush.

There was no need to give Jessica what she wanted and look at her as she left. She would want him pining for her, wishing that he could swallow his pride again. Gabriel had swallowed his pride a long time ago when he’d realised he was going to be out on his own. He had also counted his blessings that he was allowed to live on the estate, but as far away from the main house as possible. If he was honest, the place wasn’t too bad once the mould had been scrubbed away and the cobwebs had been cleaned off the furniture. It was just Gabriel and his valet – that was it – so just one living room, a kitchen and two small bedrooms was enough. Their garden was surprisingly spacious, once it was cleared up properly, and they were right on the edge of the countryside. The view just beyond the fence was spectacular. Gabriel had come to appreciate such a wonderful view when he woke up in the morning. He still wished he was back in his father’s home.

The place he had been born in; had grown up in. That was his home, not this cottage. But Gabriel knew he had done too many bad things, and this was the punishment he had to accept.

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