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BLURB: The Wager
Amorica Hepburn was sent to London to find a husband. However, finding a man was the last item on her agenda. With her two cousins, Amorica wagers she can dissuade her suitor before the others. Despite her efforts she discovers a chemistry that cannot be denied. Suddenly she is the arrogant man's wife, pledged to a marriage neither desire. But swept off to his ancestral home above the Dover cliffs and into his strong embrace, Amorica is soon possessed by a raging passion for the husband she had vowed to despise…
Damian Andrews couldn't afford to trust the emerald-eyed spitfire who happened upon his secret. Amorica's hatred of all men of his kind only inflames the war that rages between them. Still, he can not control the intense desire his stubborn bride inspires, or make her surrender to his will until he has conquered the headstrong beauty on the battlefield of love…
EXCERPT: Amorica's Wager
The very essence of Amorica filled his head.
She turned to him, smiling, then gazed toward the fire once again. For a moment, he watched the flames dance in the grate. Her hair smelled of roses. His gut tightened. He swore softly beneath his breath, suddenly realizing this would be the longest night of his life.
Amorica leaned into him. His hands followed the comb's path. She sighed, and he was sure she had no idea what she did and how her slightest gesture affected him. Her eyes closed. Dark lashes swept across alabaster flesh. The storm had not been planned, and yet the isolation, the night alone, all served the sinister purpose he was destined to fulfill. Silence her. Bind her so thoroughly to him she could never leave. After tonight, no matter what he did or did not do, she was his. She would be ostracized by those with influence--and shamed.
His heart wrenched into two pieces.
Her cheek touched upon his chest. Her hand rested on his abdomen.
He sucked air.
She pushed away from him, her eyes open now and shining with trust.
Her innocence and courage always unmanned him.
"You have so many secrets," she said. "And I have the feeling you distrust me."
Trust was so very elusive.
Now, he trusted her to betray him.
"I trust few people." He pulled her close, letting her rest against him and reveling in the feel of her so close, yet so very distant. He could not have her, he reminded himself.
Because he did not want to hurt her.
Bloody hell, he had already hurt her irreparably. She would have to go home.
Unless he wed her.
He could not. He could never put her in danger or condemn her to a life of misery with a man she loathed. Damaging her reputation was nothing compared to her life--which would be in jeopardy everyday if they wed.
Her fingertips lightly traced his collarbone. His body shuddered at the sensation. She followed her fingertips with her lips, kissing him lightly.
She set a blaze within him, her every touch mercuric. She seduced him with every gesture, every look. Her hands ran across his chest, touching him everywhere.
"Amorica," his voice rasped. He could barely breathe, could not think. "This is not wise."
She stopped, her fingertip resting on his chest and gazed at him wide eyed. Then she touched him--with her lips--her tongue.
With one finger, he touched her beneath her chin, lifting her face gently. He needed to see into her eyes. Then he framed her face with his hands. For the longest time, he watched her.
"Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?" How very treacherous you would be if you knew the truth of my mission.
She started to shake her head, but his lips met hers, melded sweetly with her warmth. He traced the seam of her lips, and she opened for him.
Her nails bit into his skin. She made a low sound in the back of her throat.
Her urgency amazed him.
"Did you know you appear the braw handsome highlander?" she asked in return, pushing away from him then moistening her lips, her eyes wide, the centers dark with passion.
He kissed her again and pushed her back on the fur in front of the fire.
Embers crackled and then he heard nothing but the roar of his blood pounding in his veins.
He rolled so she lay atop him, straddling his hips. "You should tell me to stop."
She settled her hair behind her. "I don't want you to stop," she sighed, her smile lighting his heart.
"It does not matter. Tell me to act the gentleman and walk away."
"I like you the way you are." She bent low, her breasts softly pushing against his chest, her lips seeking his own.
He groaned, knowing he was damned.
Lord, but he could not stop himself and she made no effort to tell him no. He kissed her again, running his hands down her legs. They were long and soft. He turned her again, his leg resting between her thighs, his hands smoothing her cascading hair from her face. One fingertip traced the seam of her lips. His mind fantasized in directions it should not wander.
He had to stop.
Excerpt: The Wager
Coast of England 1816
"It's a bloody cursed day." Damian Andrews swept the child into his arms and waded through the pounding surf to the beach. He braced himself against the out-going current then sloshed through the crashing waves. Salt spray clung to the wind, stinging his nostrils.
Damian turned. Beneath his ribs, his heart pounded the cadence hard and fast. He swore again as he watched the captain shout orders to his crew. The French brandy that was supposed to have arrived this night would have to wait.
Standing in the longboat, the captain of the ship that brought the brandy as well as the political refugees from the Germanies held a torch aloft--the only light in the vast darkness. "Hurry, laddie. We have human cargo tonight and the tide is changing."
A little girl whimpered.
Damian pulled her into his arms, bent on protecting her at all cost.
"It's all right. You will all be together soon." The smuggling of French brandy was a cover for the cause that meant so much to him. Religious and political refugees--at times it seemed they came in droves. All were seeking a better life. A life of freedom. "Your mother is coming as well as your baby brother. You will all be safe."
Damian looked to the captain. "The father?" he queried.
"He didn't come with his family. He said he had one more thing to do. You must hurry."
The child leaned into Damian, her little face nuzzling his shoulder, her silent sobs gut-wrenching. He pulled her closer, cursing at the elements as well as mankind and wishing he could find a way to shield the tiny child from all harm. He knew the feat to be impossible. The little girl touched a place in his heart and for a moment filled that broken space with light. Yes, the mother would be with her children, but why had the father stayed where his life was in peril? He had learned long ago one could come to regret rash actions. And he'd also learned one could lose all chance at love in one instant.
Lord, but he'd lost his concentration and in losing that, he could well lose his edge.
No secrets-- no lies. The thought haunted him.
His life was a lie, but he would change nothing until his penance was paid. A constant drizzle soaked him to the skin. The wind sent goose bumps rising on his arms. He reached shore and handed the girl over to Aric Lakeland, a trusted friend and accomplice in this night's work, then turned and walked back to the longboat. Her baby brother as well as her mother waited.
He had never meant to get involved. It was the greatest of ironies that he was here now. He'd been a man who loved his family and his home.
He'd been content but that seemed years ago--a life time.
It felt like centuries.
The captain spoke, his voice hushed. "Hurry, now, Master Damian.
It's the watch. They are due to ride by here any time now. The patrols have doubled these last few weeks. I fear it's not as safe as it used to be." The captain handed over the baby wrapped in blankets. Damian stared at the child. The babe couldn't be a year old. The child didn't make a sound, not even a whimper.
This was injustice, a travesty. He looked at the mother. "Can you make it on your own?" He prayed the fragile lady standing before him had more courage than she appeared to have. She nodded and with the captain's help, she stepped into the ocean, struggling for balance. Yet her shoulders were squared and her spine stiff.
As soon as the captain placed the babe in Damian's arms and the three of them were headed for land, he gave orders. Two sailors rowed out to sea, moving toward the black ship that rose and fell on the distant waves.
On a cliff above, the dark silhouette of a third man, Ryder McClaren, could be seen for a brief moment. He waved his arms then disappeared into the shadows once more.
"Hurry," Damian bade the mother, his hand resting on the small of her back, urging her forward.