Lady Sophia has long been estranged from her husband, Lord Vane Barwick, the Marquess of Claxton, whose rumored list of amorous conquests includes almost every beautiful woman of the ton. Yet a shocking encounter with him in a crowded ballroom—and a single touch—are all it takes to reawaken her furious passion for him. But how can she trust the man who crushed her dreams and took away the one thing she wanted most?
Lord Claxton has never forgiven himself for the youthful mistake that ruined his marriage to Lady Sophia. Now, after nearly a year abroad, the reformed rogue vows to win back the only woman he’s ever truly loved. He’ll do whatever it takes to prove he can be the honorable husband she deserves—and the passionate lover she desires. As the snowdrifts deepen outside their ancestral home, can they rekindle the flame that burned so bright and find a new path to forever?
As the carriage rumbled away, Vane pivoted on his heel and returned to the house, only to find the door locked. A blast of wind cut through his coat, chilling his spine.
He gripped the handle. “Sophia.”
“Go away,” she cried, her voice muffled by three inches of wood.
Carved into the spandrels at the upper corners of the door, two cherubs crouched above him, peering down with the most vexatious expressions of mirth. He glared back, which, admittedly, accomplished nothing.
“Please open the door.”
In return she bellowed, “Take. The carriage. And leave.”
“Not until we talk.”
He could only interpret the responsive tangle of unintelligible nonsense as a rejection of his request. Turning, he stared out into the night, clenched fists resting on his hips.
From this elevated vantage point, he could not see even the slightest evidence of Lacenfleet in the vale below. A thickening, frost-laden fog made the darkness impenetrable. Old memories tugged at the corner of his mind, but he commanded himself to the present, returning his gloves to his quickly numbing hands.
For a moment, his spirit wavered. Perhaps, after all, he owned too twisted, too tangled a soul to justify claim to Sophia’s respect and love. Perhaps, as Wolverton had said, his efforts came too late.
As if in answer, a vision came into his mind of Sophia on their wedding day, peering up at him during the service from beneath her headdress of feathers and lace, wearing the most astounding expression of unadulterated joy. Then another from their honeymoon in Scotland. Her eyes vivid green, her hair wet, and her chemise plastered transparent against her nymphlike body, as they’d frolicked near naked in the loch. But best of all, the look of shock on her face the moment they’d realized the visiting parson had just discovered them.
Arriving at his decision, Claxton strode toward the remaining carriage.
Sophia rubbed at the frosted pane and squinted, watching the carriage disappear into the fog and snow. Astonishingly, Claxton had actually done exactly as she demanded, which only made her feel more wretched.
Now she was alone, with only her misery and the very recent memory of finding her husband in Lady Meltenbourne’s arms. Turning from the window, she faced the silent vestibule. There was nothing to do but have a good, miserable cry.
All at once, the emotion she’d held inside all evening crowded her throat, enormous and unstoppable. Hiccuping through tears, she pressed her hand to her mouth and returned to the scene of her recent trauma. Only to freeze on the threshold.
Claxton sat in a chair beside the fire, staring at her over gloved, steepled fingertips, his hat perched on his knee. Ice crystals sparkled on the shoulders of his coat and in his raven’s wing dark hair.
“Hello, darling,” he said, with a dangerous gleam in his eyes.
His chest rose and fell as if he’d exerted himself in executing whatever trick it had taken to get inside the locked house and into his present position. If he had sent the carriage off, that left her alone with him for the night. A bubble of hysteria rose up inside her.
“Oh, you.” From a nearby table she snatched a figurine and raised it above her head—
“Don’t.” He stood, a vision of dark wool, flashing blue eyes, and utter calm. “That belonged to my great-grandmother.”
Sophia almost hurled the stated heirloom, just to see if its destruction would cause a break in his dispassionate façade. It was no wonder why he had been chosen by the Crown to represent England’s interests abroad. Everything about him screamed of control. But she returned the figurine to its place. After all, she bore no ill will toward Claxton’s great-grandmother, only Claxton. Finding nothing else within arm’s reach suitable for hurling, she rounded the settee to confront him.
“Don’t call me your darling,” she raged, barely able to contain the impulse to leap on him and pummel him with her fists. Even now, the scent of Lady Meltenbourne’s perfume clung to him. It clouded her nostrils, driving her toward the most uncontrolled madness. “You forfeited the right long ago. Why are you even here?”
He muttered something that sounded like “because of Scotland.”
“What did you say?” Sophia demanded.
“I said, because I’m a deuced selfish bastard,” he growled.
“How did you even get inside?” She glared up from beneath the brim of her velvet cap, which she still wore, in addition to her redingote and gloves.
He smiled rather like a wolf, stripping the gloves from his hands, which unnerved her further because it indicated his intention to stay. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
She taught English at the middle and high school level off and on for eleven years. Most of those years were spent working in Houston’s inner city. Now she writes full time. She’s happily married and has a daughter who is most definitely a romance heroine in the making.