BLURB:Olivia has one goal upon returning to London: Find Lord Langley and seduce him.
It was no secret that her stepsister was a miserable excuse for a human being and the secrets shrouding her demise only added confirmation that even in death---she wasn't worthy of the handsome Lord.
According to rumors, Lord Langley is after revenge, but she's after something far more dangerous.
One masquerade aligns their paths in ways neither of them could have imagined.
Will he succumb to the fair beauty? Or forever allow his heart to be entrenched by the beastly claws of her dead sister?
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Only when the fruit's forbidden are you tempted to take one. Small. Bite.
Edward Ashley, the Viscount Langley swirled his brandy and stared into the glowing fire that was burning low in his darkened study. He knew this day would come, he felt it in his gut even as he had said the words four—though it felt more like forty—years earlier to his deceased wife’s father.
Stepfather actually, if one was being particular.
And Edward was one to be particular, which was why he still called himself ten kinds of fool for falling for such a treacherous woman. How had he deluded himself to thinking he loved Marybelle? That she loved him? Ha! That was truly the rub. Marybelle; love someone else other than herself? Impossible.
Yet hadn’t he thought that love made the impossible, possible? Yes. He had. Back when he was young, naive and foolish.
But no more.
No, he had learned his lesson and paid for another person’s sins, over and over. Everything he had loved about Marybelle had been a lie—an elaborate game. One she had won till the night it had all come back to seek it’s bloody vengeance. That night more than one kind of poetic justice was served. It was too bad it was far to late to offer any redemption to his jaded heart.
Or perhaps it was a blessing.
If one cannot love, then one cannot hurt.
Rather they are the lifeless, breathing shell he knew he had become. But the pain was less, the self-loathing, diminished in the balm of time…but he’d never heal.
He didn’t want to.
Notwithstanding, the Pierce family was back in London, Marybelle’s young sister in tow. The once young girl was now twenty. Surely they were hoping to give her a season. He scoffed at the idea. Marriage mart, love; all words that held a bitter taste in his mouth; like over steeped tea that had grown cold. Miserable.
He detested cold tea, part of his particular nature.
Well, he’d keep his part of the bargain as well. He’d not say a word to the ton about the truth of that night he found Marybelle.
He’d not say what was lost.
He’d not whisper a word of what was found.
He’d turn and walk away the moment they walked into view, because everything they represented, he wanted to forget.
And that was the very thing he was unable to ever do.
“I take it you’ve heard the news, then?”
Edward startled slightly at the sound of his friend’s voice. With an irritated glare, he turned to watch as Curtis Sheppard entered the room.
“I take it you’ve forgotten how to knock again.” Edward shot back.
“My, my we’re surly tonight. I’ll take your glower as a yes to my question.” His friend strode in with easy steps, a devil-may-care-grin on his face.
Edward felt the uncharacteristic urge to beat it off of him.
“You know…with all the venom coming from your expression one might get the impression that they weren’t welcome.” Curtis replied offhandedly as he helped himself to a crystal glass of brandy and sauntered over to a chair.
“Then I’d have to change my original impression.” Edward replied, a slight grin bending his lips.
“Of?” Curtis asked as he set the crystal glass of brandy down softly.
“Your intelligence. I think you’re finally catching on.”
“You wound me, old man. I know for a fact that I’m about the only one that bothers to stop by and at least attempt to cheer you up. Lord knows you’ve scared everyone else away.”
“They were quicker to get the hint.”
“They were cowards.” Curtis shot back, his eyebrows raised, daring him to refute his claim.
Edward glanced down at the Abussion carpet, studying it but not seeing it. Damn the man, he had a point. But Curtis always did. He was one of the only friends that continued to endure Edward’s surly nature. Always cheerful, it was damn annoying as hell, but he broke up the monotony. He was one of the only people in the world who knew the truth, and Edward trusted him to keep it. That type of loyalty was rare as hen’s teeth. For that, Curtis had his loyalty as well, though he had, through the years, forgotten how to display any other emotion other than anger…or remorse.
Edward’s gaze lifted as he watched Curtis approach him. “Yes?”
Curtis’ eyes were narrowed slightly and he took a position just to the side of Edward and began to study the ground. “Just wondering what you found so damn interesting about the carpet that’s been in this study since you were in short pants.”
Edward shoved his friend good-naturedly, a grin breaking through.
“And here I had thought you’d lost the ability to smile. My hope in your black soul is restored.” Curtis shrugged and sipped his brandy.
“I’d not place so much faith in me.”
“I’ll be sure to under estimate.” Curtis shot back and returned to his chair. “So, back to my original reason for gracing you with my company—“
“I’d rather not talk about it.” Edward cut in, spearing his friend with a glare.
“I’m sure you’d rather rot. However, that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be seeing them at some point or another. What is your plan? After all, you’re Edward Ashley, Viscount Langley.” He raised his eyebrows. “You plan your life down to what you’ll dream about.”
“Bloody business. Best served cold, eh? You’re above that. I’ll not let you delude yourself.”
“I know enough. Leave it. It will only blacken your heart more, old friend. Besides, if you ruin the family, you’ll be going back on your word…which we both know will not happen. As much of a old stick you’ve become, you’re not dishonorable.”
“Blast you, Curtis.”
“Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment simply assuring myself that you see my brilliant point.”
“You are vexing beyond words.” Edward muttered.
“I’ve been told I’m many things beyond words…however most of those comments from the lady population.” He grinned.
“Only you could find some way to make me actually want to discuss your sordid love life in efforts to escape the previous topic of conversation. How do you do it?” Edward asked in a wry tone.
“I’m far more brilliant than you give me credit for. It’s the looks. Most people take one look at me and think ‘ah! All beauty, no brains.’ For honestly, it isn’t fair that I have a lions share of both.” Curtis sighed as if pained by it.
“And humility, scads of that as well.” Edward shook his head.
“I’m quite proud of that particular virtue, yes.” Curtis laughed. “Now, I’m going to attend the Bridgeton route tomorrow. Alaine will be there…” He let the name linger.
Edward glanced heavenward, praying for deliverance to a God he wasn’t sure cared about him anymore.
At one time he had been so sure.
Now he was quite the opposite.
“Alaine?” Edward repeated.
“Yes, goddess of beauty herself.”
“And voice of a minion.”
“Do not say such things! Her voice is delightful…unique.” He added with a flourish of his hand.
“Annoying, not unique…annoying. I swear I would rather listen to the screeching of fighting tom cats rather than hear her speak in that high pitched, nasal tone.”
“You hide your true opinions so well.” Curtis replied dryly.
“At least I know I’ll have no competition from you, she’ll be mine for taking.” He rubbed his hands together.
“I’d not dare stand in the way of true love.” Edward mocked.
Curtis shook his head and chuckled. “ At least love for the moment.”
“One day, you’ll find some lady that will turn your head in such a way you’ll not even be enticed by another…and I predict that very lady will not give you the time of day. God’s way of punishing you for your many sins.” Edward spoke clearly as he strode to the wide chair behind his desk.
“Love advice? From you? My, it is a night of miracles.” Curtis replied with a mocking grin.
“Don’t be irritated at my keen observation and ability to articulate it so clearly. Now, back to the Bridgeton route. You’ll attend, of course.” Curtis brushed some lint from his fine coat.
“I’ll not repeat myself.”
“Yes, you’ll attend! You gave your word two weeks ago. I knew you’d try to back out of our agreement since the arrival of Pierce family, but I shall not let you. I’ve been working on sweet Alaina for some time now, this is my chance.” He smacked his knee and stood. “You know I need you to attend if I’m to be allowed entrance.”
“Bloody hell, why in the world do you wish to be part of the ton? Have you met any of them? Vipers, the lot of them.”
“I’ve met you…” Curtis shot back.
Edward rolled his eyes in exasperation.
“You attended the Blackwood party without me—“
“But that was far less exclusive than the Bridgton event. You know this.” Curtis all but whined.
He hated that his friend had a point. While Curtis was wealthier than Croesus, his money was made in trade.
Not inherited from an age-old title.
And his father, being the independent type, had refused to try and purchase a title on the sly, so their family was, while wealthy, still part of the blue-collar variety. And being part of that class eliminated them from receiving invitations from the exclusive parties of the ton.
So unless Edward brought him along, he’d not be able to attend. And as much as he wished it weren’t true, he had said he’d attend.
“I loath you.” Edward ground out in defeat.
“Its perfectly alright. I adore you enough for the both of us.” Curtis fanned himself like a lady.
Curtis grinned. “The lengths you push me to in order to lift your spirits. I’d think you be wise to thank the Good Lord for such a friend as I.” Curtis nodded and stood, draining his brandy. He sighed in satisfaction. “I’ll see you on the morrow. And…do try to smile. We wouldn’t want to frighten anyone.” He replied with an easy smile and left.
Edward shook his head and stood to go and study the fire once more.
But even for the warm heat from the fire’s soft glow, his heart will chilled knowing that tomorrow, he’d have to face the very people he never want to see again.
Damn it all.