Tempting a Devil – Samantha Kane

“Let go of me!” Roger Templeton slowed his pace as he heard the woman’s angry voice coming through the trees on his right. He couldn’t see anything in the darkness. If he remembered correctly from past experience, there was a clearing of sorts over there, a favorite trysting spot at Crumleyʼs entertainments. Perhaps this was a lovers’ quarrel? In which case he ought to just move on. He’d slipped out of the ballroom to take a walk through the garden and get some fresh air. He wished he had his own tryst awaiting him, since he hadn’t had a woman in over two months. There wasn’t anyone to his taste here this evening, either, in spite of the interest of several women of questionable character. He’d actually had to sneak out of the house to avoid their pursuit. This party was fiendishly boring despite the crush and he was seriously contemplating leaving altogether to simply get drunk in his room back at his friend Sir Hilary St. John’s house. Hil was probably out enjoying one of his numerous, mysterious lovers, so he’d have to drink alone, which was so damned sad. “I said let go,” the same woman demanded in a loud, angry voice. Roger stopped walking. There was something vaguely familiar about it. She certainly wasn’t trying to be discreet.

“Madam, perhaps you have forgotten why we came out here.” The man’s voice was a harsh whisper. He was clearly attempting discretion. “The why matters not,” she said coolly. “What matters is that I now find your company unappealing and wish it removed.” “I will remove my presence when it suits me. And it will not suit me until I get what you so blatantly offered inside.” He was clearly angry. Roger had just let out a deep sigh of resignation at the inevitability of having to interfere when she let out a sharp cry. He swiftly cut through the light brush in the stand of trees off the path and headed toward the sounds of struggle.

When he emerged through the trees into the clearing, lit by the pale moonlight, he saw a tall, voluptuous woman grappling with a man of equal size. The battle was even, but rather than leave them to it, Roger stepped forward so they would see him. He hated to leave the woman’s safety to chance. She saw him first. “Well, don’t just stand there,” she admonished. “Get this cretin off me.” Roger laughed out loud as the other man quickly stepped away from the woman, smoothing the front of his jacket. “It would seem my services are not required after all,” Roger commented. He made a shooing motion with his hands. “Go on, then.

The lady has made her wishes known.” “You shall regret your interference, Templeton,” the man said in an unsteady voice. “Good God, Dumphrees?” Roger said incredulously. “You actually found a woman who would agree to an assignation? It’s no wonder she changed her mind after she got a good look at you.” “What’s wrong with him?” the woman asked suspiciously. “Shall I have to see a doctor?” This made Roger laugh even harder. “Not that I am aware, but I shall make discreet inquiries if you desire.” “How dare you?” Dumphrees demanded. “I’ll have you know that women adore me.” “For a steep price,” Roger said with amusement.

“Enough,” the woman said in a strong, no-nonsense voice. “Dumphrees, you are dismissed. Be gone.” She raised both arms as she repinned her hair and for the first time Roger noticed how outrageously attractive she was. She was incredibly voluptuous, her curves accentuated by her clearly expensive and well-cut dress of some indeterminate color, which highlighted her hourglass figure against the dark trees behind her. Her hair appeared to be a rich, burnished dark gold, a riot of unruly curls barely contained by the pins she shoved in randomly. While she seemed familiar, Roger was quite sure he’d never enjoyed the pleasure of this particular lady’s company before. He would definitely remember her. “Why…” Dumphrees was speechless. “I’ve never…that is impossibly rude.

” “Hardly. I found it entirely possible.” She lowered her arms and treated Dumphrees to a glare from the largest almond-shaped, long-lashed eyes Roger had ever seen. He knew those eyes, yet try as he might, he couldn’t place her. Her sharp, slanting cheekbones highlighted those amazing eyes and drew attention to her luscious, full-lipped mouth. She had the body of Venus, and the face to match. The result was an exotic mix. If not for her proper British accent, he’d have thought her Italian, or perhaps Greek. Her heavy, dark blond hair was barely contained by those flimsy pins in an entirely too suggestive style. She looked like she’d been well and truly tousled.

Her beauty was almost ludicrous. No woman should look like that. Particularly not one who had been in Dumphreesʼs arms. Roger shuddered in revulsion at the thought. “Slut,” Dumphrees threw at her caustically. Roger took a menacing step forward, but she only laughed. “Really? If that were so, the fact that I find you entirely disgusting says more about you than it does about me, I’m afraid.” She shook her head. “Honestly, I must have been confused by the heat and press of the company inside when I agreed to this. What could I possibly have seen in you? Whatever it was, rest assured I have regained my wits.

” She snapped her teeth at him like a tigress suddenly, and Dumphrees leapt back in alarm. She laughed harder. “Be gone, toad.” Dumphrees stalked off in a huff. Roger watched as his damsel in distress adjusted her clothing. She didn’t seem to be too perturbed by her encounter with Dumphrees. There was a curious sort of satisfaction in her expression and her movements. “Are you going to stand there staring at me all evening?” she said archly, putting her hands on her hips as she regarded him. He saw the moment her regard went from amusement to calculation. “You could do more than stare, you know.

” She turned and showed him her back. Her dress was partially undone. “You could do something with this.” Roger met her look with calculated regard of his own. Apparently there had been a tryst awaiting him in the woods. “I might be tempted.” AND THERE IT WAS. The opening Harry needed. She couldn’t tolerate Dumphreesʼs touch, but this man reminded her of her childhood hero, a shadowy version of the knight of her dreams when she’d grown to adulthood. Those fantasies were long gone now, but surely she’d find his touch inoffensive? It was imperative she find a man she could stomach if her plan was to succeed.

And it must. Faircloth was becoming more and more insistent. She pasted on a smile, her insincerity causing a burning in her stomach and an increasingly insistent pounding in her temples. “Well,” she murmured delightedly. “What a handsome devil you are.” She put every ounce of mummery she could in that smile as she waved him closer. She didn’t trust her feet to carry her the few steps across the clearing. His smile never wavered as he walked over and bowed before her. “And you, my lady, are exquisite. What shall I call you?” She held out her hand and nearly cried out with relief when he took it in his and kissed her wrist and she felt none of the revulsion she usually did at that type of familiarity from men.

“Why, friend, of course,” she replied, hanging on to his hand longer than was proper. He raised a brow as he regarded her in surprise. Surely he could see her interest was more than friendly? Most men fell all over themselves for even that simple contact with her. She had every intention of offering him far more. “It’s always nice to make a new friend,” he said softly, and for the first time in years she felt the sharp bite of attraction. She ruthlessly tamped it down. Tears sprang to her eyes, but she blinked them back. She didn’t have the luxury of genuine desire or emotional attachments anymore. She had a son and her independence, and she wasn’t going to give up either one of them. She’d earned them over the last seven years.

If she had to ruin herself to keep them, then by God that’s just what she’d do. This was about survival, not lust and certainly not love. Those useless emotions had gotten her nowhere in the past. Although, with this handsome lothario her plan seemed much more palatable than it had yesterday when she’d had no candidates in mind for her ruination. “Yes, it is,” she was able to say honestly, her voice a little husky from emotion. She delicately cleared her throat. “And how shall we celebrate our new friendship?” She smiled again, letting him believe it was desire that prompted it, narrowing her eyes and licking her lips. He was no different from other men. His eyes tracked her tongue as she glided it along her upper lip slowly. “I was wrong,” she said, lowering her voice just a little bit more, adding a breathless quality that had his eyes dilating.

“You are even more handsome than the devil.” And he was. His hair was black as a raven’s wing and worn in the latest style. She’d always preferred dark-haired men. The short cut emphasized his classical features. He looked like Adonis. He was tall and broad, carrying his masculinity like a standard announcing his arrival. The size and strength of him made her quite, quite nervous. His gorgeous eyes and the dimples in his cheeks gave her pause. She’d known someone once who looked like him.

“And a bit smarter than Old Nick, too,” he added, taking a step closer to her, then turning her hand and kissing her palm. Her heart was suddenly beating too fast, her breathlessness no longer an act. But it wasn’t distaste. It was the thrill of attraction again, the excitement of having a man like this clearly desire her. She fervently wished she’d taken her gloves off so she could feel his kiss on her skin. “Which means,” he said so quietly she had to lean her head closer to his, until she smelled the liquor on his breath and the clean, linen scent of him, “that I’m not falling for your consummate acting skills.” Her mouth dropped open in astonishment and he laughed as he enthusiastically kissed her palm again before dropping her hand and leaning against the nearest tree. He crossed his arms. “What are you up to?” “What?” she asked, pretending confusion. “Friend, you are too suspicious for your own good.

” She hoped she appeared affectionately chiding rather than desperate. When he merely raised a brow, his disbelief clear, she sighed deeply, as if giving in to his demands. “Fine. I thought that since Dumphrees was such an abysmal failure, I might convince you to take his place.” In a strange twist, that was actually the truth. “Take his place?” he asked, his voice thick with suspicion. “What exactly does that mean?” Harry wandered over, putting a bit more swish in her skirts than was absolutely necessary when going from one point to another. “Exactly what you think it does,” she said flirtatiously. She crowded him against the tree trunk, finding genuine amusement in the way he backed away from her, skittish as a virgin. Very deliberately she raised her arm and rested her hand on the tree just above his shoulder, effectively blocking him in and forcing him to spread his legs to make room for her.

“I need a lover.” She snuggled against him shamelessly. “And you are a perfect fit.” HER KISS WAS delicate and inviting, almost innocent in its appeal. Roger couldn’t resist the lure of her, and opened his mouth just enough to steal a taste of her, a swipe along the silk of the softest lips he’d ever felt. He gripped her upper arms as her hands slid down to rest against his chest. When she pressed those curves against him, they were indeed a perfect fit. The cradle of her hips rocked into his nascent arousal and her breasts flattened against his chest as he pulled her closer. Then she opened her mouth and the tip of her tongue met his in a soft, slick, shy advance. She was absolutely perfect, all soft skin and rounded curves, warm, willing, and here.

Roger wrapped both arms around her, opened his mouth, and tried to devour her. He hadn’t wanted a woman this much in ages. When she made a small sound of protest, he loosened his hold. She seemed to retreat from the ferocity of his kiss, as well, so he forced himself to pull back, placing small kisses along her jaw. At that, her arms went around his neck and she relaxed in his embrace. She smelled divine, like flowers and fresh air. He was suddenly so hard it was an ache between his legs. Without crushing her as he had a moment ago, he moved his hips closer to her and rubbed against her. The silk of her dress slid against the material of his pantaloons sensuously, the slick sound melding with the little moan that she made when he moved his mouth down and kissed the pulse pounding in her neck. He’d rutted like this before, outside, spontaneously, rough and tumble, neither partner caring about convention or consequences.

But he knew that wasn’t going to happen tonight. There was nowhere in the little clearing that wouldn’t result in complete destruction of their clothes, and they were at a well-attended ball. It wouldn’t be fair to the lady to leave her open to the ridicule that would follow her should she go back inside in such a condition. But he had to have her. Tonight. “Your name,” he murmured. “Tell me your name, and where we can go.” “Harriet,” she murmured, arching her neck, encouraging his kisses. The shock of a long-ago memory from his youth, so brief it was more a glimpse of colors and sounds than a clear picture, set off alarms in his head and common sense returned with cruel vengeance. Roger froze.

It couldn’t be. But she’d seemed so familiar, hadn’t she? Please, God, he prayed, let it be some other blond, reckless hoyden. “Harriet?” he choked out. “Harry?” She froze in a ludicrous imitation of Roger. “Who are you?” she demanded. Her inaction lasted only a moment before she was pushing against him, trying to break out of his embrace. He hadn’t heard that voice in years, but now it was so obvious it was Harry. What on earth was she doing here? And how had he missed her? Although, to be fair, she looked nothing like she had the last time he’d seen her, when she was nine. Back then she’d been scrawny and her hair had been so blond it was almost white. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined she’d be this beautiful.

Suddenly furious at her, Roger spun around and pushed her so that she faced the tree. She cried out in confusion and stumbled forward, but froze again when Roger boxed her in as she’d done to him earlier, with one forearm on the tree trunk beside her head. “Looking for a lover, are you?” he murmured, nuzzling the back of her neck. How dare the foolish girl take a risk like this, encouraging the sexual advances of a stranger in such a secluded place? What if it hadn’t been Roger? What if it had been some unscrupulous bastard who wouldn’t have stopped, no matter what? He glanced down and began to rapidly close up the back of her dress. “Yes,” she said, but she was so rigid against him that he thought he might be able to break her into tiny pieces, like a little porcelain shepherdess. She kept her hands on the tree trunk in front of her chest, pressing so hard her nails were white with the effort to remain still. It was quite obvious she was uncomfortable in this position, and no longer in charge of the situation. She should be frightened. The very idea that Dumphrees had managed to get her half unclothed made his blood boil. “God dammit, Harriet Stanley, what the hell were you thinking?” She spun around and he let her, taking a step back.

“Do I—” The horror on her face was almost comical as she realized who he was. “Templeton. He said Templeton. My God, Roger, is that you?”

.

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