Which were more dangerous–his secret desires…or her own?
Cruel false gossip and scandal follow Velvet Campbell everywhere she goes in London—and for the sake of her sanity she must get away. Accepting a position as a governess at an estate in remote Cornwall, Velvet hopes to start over, untainted by rumor. But she finds to her dismay that her new employer—the darkly handsome Lucian Pendar—is, himself, the subject of whispered insinuations…that he hurled his wife to her death from nearby treacherous cliffs.
But angel or demon, Lucian affects Velvet in ways she never dreamed possible, causing her heart to race, stealing the breath from her body with a look. As their mutual attraction grows, there is no resisting the passion thta flares between them. Yet, as secrets from both their pasts rise to the surface, Velvet is haunted by one inescapable question: has she found a kindred spirit, her destined love…or placed herself in dire peril?
Read an except below:
“That’s where Mr. Pendar threw his wife off the cliff,” the housemaid pointed out to her traveling companion in the mail coach. “See, there’s his house.”
Threw his wife off a cliff? Shock jolted through Velvet Campbell.
Her fellow occupants crowded against Velvet to see the jutting spike of land. An imposing square-built hall of dark gray stone perched on the outcropping like a demonic gryphon. Below the sinister house, a rocky cliff dropped down and down to jagged teethlike boulders. Waves gnawed hungrily against the rocks waiting for any scraps the gryphon might drop—or to devour the beast itself, should he fall.
That house contained her new living quarters. Mr. Pendar had employed her. What kind of man threw his wife over a cliff? A wave of dizziness assaulted Velvet.
“They found her broken, bloody body on those rocks,” added the maid. “Not three years gone.”
Velvet’s stomach roiled. She wished she could plug her ears or cover the mouth of the young woman spewing the local lore. He’d written his wife had passed, but he hadn’t spoken of the violence of her death.
Velvet shook her head. Gossip was often exaggerated, or just plain wrong, but a shiver slithered down her spine and moisture beaded her upper lip.
“That must be a hundred foot drop,” murmured a rotund cleric. “May God have mercy.”
The idea of falling so revolted her, she retched. She swallowed repeatedly, fighting against the bile rising in her throat. She fumbled in her reticule for her handkerchief. Her fingers brushed the letter from her employer, and her heart thumped erratically. With the limp lawn, she dabbed at the perspiration and wished for an end to this journey.
Velvet wanted to look away, but the sight of her future home mesmerized her, though the darkness of it repelled her. It was as if the house had been built to defy God and nature.
The thin young man who had tried for the last twenty miles to engage Velvet in conversation pressed closer. “Beautiful view, is it not?”
Beautiful was not the word she would have chosen. Daunting. Menacing. Those were the words that jumped to mind. “Quite,” she answered dryly.
“Can’t say I like that house there disrupting the vista.” He pushed his thigh against hers. She turned away, lest her refusal to look out the window give him encouragement.
Velvet forced her gaze beyond the crashing waves pummeling the jagged rocks. Under the threatening skies, the ocean eased into white-capped swells that did not look as hungry, but dark and murky and every bit as dangerous. But if she had her druthers, death by drowning was a thousand times more preferable than death by falling.
She leaned back in her seat wishing she could think of anything other than the plummet and Mrs. Pendar’s violent death. She closed her eyes reminiscing about the easy green roll of the hills and dales of Dorset where she’d grown up. But instead her mind’s eye recalled the last sight she’d had of her brother: his face twisted in terror. Her eyes jerked open.
“’Tis said her ghost wanders the cliffs at night,” whispered the girl. Not that a whisper was effective in the cramped coach.
“What happened to him?” asked the friend.
“Nothing?” repeated the girl with the appropriate amount of horror and fascination.
The girls’ conversation interested Velvet more than she wanted to let on. He wasn’t in prison. Surely that meant he hadn’t murdered his wife.
“He had scratches on his face, but he said she fell.”
“And they believed him?”
“No one saw him do it.” The storyteller shrugged, her expression smug. “At the inquest his servants gave testimony that he hadn’t left the house.”
“Then he couldn’t have done it.”
The former housemaid gave her companion a look that suggested the girl was far too naive. “A lot of them heard her screaming at him. I was to start work there a fortnight later, but no decent woman will work for him now.”
“Oh my,” said the country girl.
Velvet pressed her lips together. She had been called much worse than “less than decent.”
“Fitting house for Lucifer.”
The name Lucian formed on Velvet’s lips. His name was Lucian Pendar, not Lucifer, but she resisted the urge to blurt it out. The young man pressed his leg harder against hers.
She rearranged her skirts, piling as much of the excess material between the encroaching young man and her limbs as she could.
The road finally began to curl away from the cliffs, moving farther inland. Velvet unclenched her fist.
“His fortune comes from smuggling, you know,” said the informed maid. “My grandda told me the Pendars smuggled French brandy when good Englishmen were dying fighting the French.”
Another quarter hour of swaying and mumbled conversation about brutal deaths and how there were those who misused their authority dragged by. Velvet resisted the urge to voice her opinion. In her experience men in power could get away with anything—or at least they believed they could. But as her father had always said, God would be the final judge.
The coach drew to a halt. Velvet clutched her reticule to her bosom and made her way to the door.
The storyteller stared. Her smugness was gone. “You aren’t getting out here.”
“Yes, I believe this is my stop.” Velvet lifted her chin.
An hour away from the inn where they stopped for lunch, the coachman had said. She no longer had her father’s watch to check the time, but it felt like a year since she’d paced the yard while the others ate.
You’ll see the house afore we reach it, the coachman had told her. Then he’d given her a look. Iffen you’d don’t want let out there, it’ll be the inn at Lands End.
Of course, I shall get out there, she’d answered. She had no choice. She was expected, and her new employer had paid her fare. If she didn’t arrive, she could add theft to the accusations leveled against her.
The coachman opened the door. “Here you go, miss.”
Relieved to be free of the close confines and the five other passengers, Velvet descended the stairs. “It was good to meet you,” she said generally. Even better to take her leave of them and the gossip making her dread her new position.
The young housemaid paled. She reached her hand out as if to call Velvet back…
I never read your books before but I found your book Tainted By Temptation on another site and I wnat to get it. I’m looking forward to reading it.
Happy New Year!
The site where I found your book on is the Romantic crush junkies site
This is my debut with Avon. I hope you enjoy Tainted by Temptation. It is a book that was knocking around in my head for a long time and a bit of a throwback to the old Gothics, albeit with a bit of a modern edge to it.