Book 1 in the Taming the Tudor Male in Three Easy Lessons Series
Maddy Carver is on a mission to save her cousin from exile. She will stop at nothing to clear his name, even if it means seducing the notorious Earl of Swafford. So what if he's known as "The Beast"? Maddy isn't frightened off easily. Tired of being lectured about the rules, she's ready to bend every one of them until they break.
Returned home after too long abroad, The Beast has problems of his own. His younger brother has fallen into the clutches of a most unsuitable woman. When a misunderstanding leads him to mistake Maddy for his brother's cunning mistress, he takes her captive, letting her believe that he is The Beast's manservant. Now she can longer be a threat to his misguided brother's future, or so he thinks. And surely, The Beast's infamous iron will can resist the charms of one particularly disobedient, witty, intriguingly stubborn young woman
But a deadly assassin is stalking the Swafford estate. The Beast's fear of love might just be his downfall. Can he learn to trust Maddy, the woman who has knocked him off his feet? Or will she be too late to save his life, and his heart.
NOTE: This is a previously published work. The publisher has changed.
Cursing, he strode into the annex, and found a jug of hippocras waiting there on a tray. Wickes must have prepared it before going out. He’d better have a damned good excuse for leaving so abruptly, or he’d find himself out on his ear already.
He poured some wine into a goblet, moved back to the fire, dropped into his chair and put his heels up on a tapestry footstool, relishing a rare moment of peace.
Before he could take his first sip, there was a knock at the door. Since he’d forgotten to bolt the latch, and this new arrival was too impatient to wait for any reply, the door opened and they came in, bold as brass. Immediately he was on the alert, fingers tight around the wine goblet.
It was a woman. He knew it from the faint, chalky scent of lavender, the whisper of her skirt against the floor.
“Pardon me, sir,” she said, so politely it had to be trouble. “Is the Earl of Swafford here?”
“What do you want?” he grunted, weary and sour.
“I come to speak on behalf of Captain Nathaniel Downing.”
“Downing? The pirate?”
“He is no pirate, sir. Captain Downing was commissioned to attack that Spanish galleon. Only when the Spanish ambassador protested did the queen deny knowing anything of it. The distinction between privateer and pirate is too often distorted, depending on whoever the changeable queen decides is her latest enemy.”
“Madam, you speak treason,” he warned. “Tread with care if you come here for the earl’s help.”
Behind him, the woman sighed, releasing a shattered breath of frustration. “I did not mean any ill of her majesty. I confess, when I’m nervous or my temper is up, my tongue does run on.”
There was a familiar note in her voice. He swiveled around to look, and almost dropped his goblet.
She wore no elaborate headdress, just a simple caul for her midnight black hair. Her gown was rich, crimson damask, the sleeves a little too long, the bodice too tight. He stood swiftly, spilling wine from his goblet.
“Oh.” Her eyes were wide and clear blue, the color of a robin’s egg. “You? Once again? It must be providential.” She was flustered, her cheeks tinted pink.
He bit down on his tongue, tasting his own blood. Damn. Where was Wickes? Where was the guard outside his door? He never dealt with women petitioners. Now, left entirely alone and at her mercy, he was tongue-tied, fumbling for the words to chase her out again. She was even lovelier than he remembered from earlier. Who the devil … Someone had put her up to this. It was some sort of scheme to make a fool of him perhaps, to verify the rumors of his “great incapability”.
Was it possible one of those devious courtiers, Dudley for instance, sent this creature here out of mischief? He made a sudden, whimsical decision. “The earl isn’t here.”
And so it was done. Like that, the burden was shifted. For a while.
Aware of his hand trembling, he set his wine on the stack of books by his chair. “Still hoping to seduce him, eh? No luck yet?” “The man is elusive as a unicorn.” Her lips parted to expel a quick, irritated sigh. “I was assured he’d be here tonight.”
“Alas, you find only me.”
“And who are you exactly?”
He couldn’t even be annoyed with her, although he knew he should. “I am, exactly, Griff, his manservant.” Pausing, he looked her up and down. “And this is your big plan? You came to seduce him for Downing’s pardon?” He chortled with dour amusement, couldn’t help it.
“I take offense at your tone, sir.” Even her netted hair bristled, as she squared her shoulders.
“It’s certainly a different approach, madam. No one has ever tried to sweeten their case before the earl quite so…candidly.” He pondered her peevish face, betaken with an unexpected, incandescent desire to claim what she offered. Oddly enough, his wife had just offered him the same thing, but for two hundred pounds a month, a proposition that left him cold. Not the case with this young lady. He cleared his throat. “Why not seduce me instead? Save yourself the trouble of hunting him down again. And he’s an old man. You’d enjoy yourself far more with me.” The wit spilled out of him suddenly, fluid and easy. Of course, he could talk to her, since she thought he was someone else.
“Is he very old? As old as thirty?”
He winced. “Ancient.”
Pressing a finger to her lips, she weighed her choices. “And ugly?”
“Why do you suppose they call him the Beast, madam?”
A curious glint warmed her dangerously blue eyes.
“Why not share my company instead? Suppose I can spare the time, save my master the inconvenience.”
A dimple appeared in her cheek. “While I appreciate your sacrifice on the Earl’s behalf, I’m saving myself for a good cause. Unfortunately.”
The woman must be an unscrupulous strumpet. He ought to send her out of his chambers before another word was said. Yet her polite rejection, delivered with a degree of bold humor, had a mollifying effect on his temper. The twitch of an almost extinct smile pulled at his reluctant mouth.
Good cause? He could think of no better cause than himself.
She read his expression, evidently. “Don’t be tiresome, there’s a good fellow,” she said genially, cheeks tinted pink as the underskirt of a daisy. “I came here on serious business.”
He frowned, scratching his nose again. “What makes you think you have anything special to offer him? What makes you different to any other wench?” Perhaps she had some fancy skill, he mused, a trick she thought no other woman could do for the Earl of Swafford. But she faltered, lashes sweeping her cheeks, teeth nibbling her lower lip. Clearly, she hadn’t thought her plan through quite well enough. Watching her fingers tighten around the pleats of her skirt, he noted a few chewed fingernails.
“Give your message to me, wench, and I’ll deliver it. I’ll save you from the fate worse than death at my master’s fumbling, grotesque claws.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” She raised her haughty chin. “You have shifty eyes and low set ears, signs of a criminal mind. Not to mention, groping hands and lips that take without asking.”
“You have my word on it, madam. As a gentleman.” He bowed, one hand to his heart.
“Hmm.” She wrinkled her nose. “I know what the word of most men is worth. And I never trust one who feels the need to tell me he is a gentleman, because I might not think it from his shabby appearance. And especially after the way he treated me already.”
She shouldn’t trust him, he mused. Should turn her funny little tail and flee and he, if he possessed any good conscience, would tell her so. He didn’t, however.