Henry St. Giles, the Earl of Cravenswood, longs to find his soul mate. Now that his two best friends, both reformed rakes, are happily married, the need becomes an obsession. When they challenge him to find a wife by the end of the season or marry his neighbor, the innocently alluring Lady Amy Shipton, he can’t believe his luck. He wins, either way. But a darkened garden, a case of mistaken identity, a drunken kiss, and a dropped emerald earring, leads Henry on a Cinderella hunt. He knows the woman he held in his arms could be the one he’s searched for all his life. He just has to find her.
Lady Amy Shipton is determined to marry for love instead of sharing her husband like her mother did. So why did she let her handsome neighbor and romantic fantasy, the Sinful Saint as he’s called for his bedroom prowess, seduce her in his garden? And what can she do when in the middle of their passionate encounter; he whispers another woman’s name. Now Henry is hunting the owner of the earring Amy left behind, and she’s determined to retrieve it before her identity is revealed. She’s not about to give her father the ammunition he desperately wants to force her down the aisle.
The following afternoon bloomed into a glorious sunny day, and yet even though the sun shone, Henry had no idea how he was going to woo Amy. However, God must have listened to his prayers because Henry found himself partnered with Amy for Sabine’s torturous treasure hunt. They had ten items to collect, with some of the clues more like a foreign language than Queen’s English. Still, he was determined to make the most of the opportunity Sabine had gifted him. An afternoon in Amy’s company.
Unfortunately, Amy didn’t look so happy about the situation. For the life of him he couldn’t fathom why she bristled every time he came near. It seemed logical to deduce her heart favored another. It must be Le Comte. Bloody damn Frenchman.
The guests, in their pairs, were sent out in different directions. The two of them had been sent toward the formal gardens near the back of the property. The manicured grounds overflowed with rose bushes, citrus trees and Sabine’s favorite flowers. The centre piece of the large expansive hedged-row gardens was a bubbling fountain, very similar to the smaller version of his fountain in his garden in London, and in the distance was the summer house.
“The first clue says, ‘Look in the green where water meets the Gods’. Whatever can Sabine mean?” Amy stood at the top of the garden stairs and surveyed the acreage before her.
He put his hand up to his brow to shade the sun. “The fountain looks very familiar.” Amy’s face flushed a pretty pink color. She could hardly admit she recognized the fountain’s design or she’d be admitting to him that she’d been in his garden. “The fountain in my garden is similar, although much smaller, but I do believe the focal point is Aphrodite.”
Amy clapped her hands. “Oh, yes. Water meets the Gods must be the fountain, and the look in the green is,” she spread her arms wide, “the garden.”
Clever girl. He offered her his arm. “Shall we?”
She slipped her hand over his arm and smiled, her joy in puzzling out the clues touched him. If she was determined to win, he’d help her.
“What is the prize if we win,” he asked her.
“Apparently the winner gets to choose whatever prize they wish.”
“As a gentleman, I insist that if we win you may choose. What will you choose?”
She smiled at him and said, “That’s easy. I’d like to name Orsini Rose’s foal.”
His heart thudded in his chest at such a simple request. Orsini Rose was Marcus’s prime breeding mare and his wedding gift to Sabine.
At his silence she said, “You think my prize strange.”
“No. Not at all.” He cleared his throat. “I hope the birth goes well. Foaling sometimes ends in tragedy, especially if it’s the mare’s first foal. Are you aware of that?”
She plucked a rose and twirled it under her nose. “Death is part of life isn’t it? Life is not all roses, there are also thorns.”
“True. Sometimes you don’t appreciate the rose because of the thorns.” He added wistfully, “I didn’t really appreciate all my brother did for me, and our family, until he was gone.”
“I’m sorry, that was a stupid thing to say. To make light of life and death…”
He plucked the rose from between her fingers and tapped her nose with it. “The day is too beautiful to be morbid. We have a prize to win.”
She laughed gaily and the mood lifted. “Come on, we should hurry. Games are played to win, Lord Cravenswood. It might be the only time I ever get to name a thorough-bred.”
He couldn’t agree more with her sentiments. Games were played to win and he meant to win their private game. More pointedly he meant to win her heart.
They reached the fountain and both had to shield their eyes from the water’s glare. They stood staring around them trying to ascertain where the next clue could be found.
“I see it,” Amy cried. She pointed at the statue in the middle of the fountain, “there’s a piece of paper tied around Aphrodite.”
She looked at Henry expectantly and he gallantly offered, “I’ll retrieve the clue, shall I?”
“That would be super, thank you.”
With a sigh he sat on the edge of the fountain. “You’re going to have to help me remove my boots.” She chewed her bottom lip, looking adorable. “I’m not ruining my best boots for a silly treasure hunt.”
She nodded in agreement. “I’ll do it instead.” She sat beside him and said, “Look away.” She shooed him with her hand. “Hurry, we don’t have time to get those boots off. I’ll get the clue.” Amy stared pointedly until he turned his head away. He heard her slippers plop to the ground and the rustle of skirts as she removed her stockings. Then a squeal as her feet hit the cool water.
Unable to help himself, Henry turned at the excited sound. The sight of creamy skin greeted him and made his throat dry and his groin heat.
Amy waded determinedly toward Aphrodite her skirts hiked up and her long, slender limbs on display. The sun gave her white skin a sparkling glow. She looked like a pagan goddess. His own flesh and blood Aphrodite. She was exquisite.
She glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Are you peaking? Stop it.”
He could no more stop drinking in the arousing sight of her than he could stop breathing. “Amy,” he said, his voice raw with need. “Do you know what a stirring sight you are? You’re a water nymph.”
He couldn’t look away. She grabbed the clue from the statue and turned to wade back.
She would not look at him. It was scandalous the amount of flesh she was displaying but she liked to win and it was not only a test of brain-power but of speed. They had to beat the other teams. When she reached the edge of the fountain she risked at quick glance at him.
His hand was extended to help her from the water but that would mean letting her skirts get wet. He saw her predicament and swept her into his arms, lifting her clear of the water.
Amy should shout, protest, tell him to put her down but the words died on her lips. She could only watch dazed as he carried her to the grass and gently slid her down his body until her bare feet touch the fresh earth. All thoughts of winning the treasure hunt vanished like a ghost racing the dawn.
Her breath came in short, rasps.
She couldn’t look away from the blatant desire etched on Henry’s handsome features. They stood looking at each other, heat and need rising with each blink of their eyelashes.
Henry’s eyes darkened as he cupped her face. “So, beautiful,” he whispered.
The look in his eyes was one she would never forget. Such longing. More and more she wished she knew his heart.”
FEATURED AUTHOR: Bronwen Evans
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