Sophia Baneham has lived in the poison of her dead father’s shadow for longer than she cares to admit. Now she exists outside of polite society’s influence, holding gambling parties for London’s most dangerous men. When a man walks into one of her soirees, a compelling mix of charisma and icy control, he offers the lady of sin a wager she can’t refuse…
Lord Randolph is a spy in the service of His Majesty, but he’s given an oath to protect the daughter of his mentor. Even as his gamble of marriage starts to spiral out of control and his passions ignite, Randolph is determined that he’ll handle things his way…
But when danger closes in, Randolph won’t just have to protect Sophia from an intended killer. He’ll have to protect her from himself…
She only considered grabbing her weapon. Her wrist was in his grip before she saw him move. He wedged himself between her and her only physical defense, pinning her arm against the mantel as he kicked aside the poker.
“I will not let you go.” He kept hold of her wrist and rested his other hand on the mirror, just beside her shoulder. “Bet against me and you will lose.”
“Will I?” She would win because she had to win. “Men have placed bets in the thousands when we faced each other over cards. I have beaten you before. With odds against me.”
“I am not your enemy,” he said. “Trust, at least, in that.”
She laughed, dry and brittle. “You cannot honestly expect me to trust you.”
“Perhaps not,” he said, nostrils flaring, “not yet. But mark me well, Sophia. I expect you to honor your wedding vows—or, if you wish to think of our arrangement in less personal terms, pay the debt you accrued when you lost our wager.”
Flesh to flesh, his hand burned where he held her wrist. He radiated feudal-like dominance. Of course, obedience was what he expected. Compliance. Deference. So far, she had been an easy mark.
“I should have seen it in your eyes,” she said. “That little spark of fury. The thrill that leads you from chase to chase, never caring who is crushed.”
“All is fair in love,” he started.
“And war,” she finished, squaring her shoulders and ignoring the pain that shot up her arm. “Mark me, Randolph. I would never have agreed to your pitiful wager if I had known the truth. You presented yourself as a man of leisure. A rake without a care in the world but for seduction and gambling.”
“Deep inside, you knew who and what I was.”
No. She had been utterly blinded by a silken-voiced seducer who had stirred needs she had not indulged since her husband’s death.
“When I agreed to our wager,” she said, “I expected to win.”
“Only a fool gambles what they cannot afford to lose.” His hard-edged gaze softened, as if she had come into focus in a different way. “You are no fool.”
A fool she must have been.
During the Furies’ scandalous and illegal gambling soirees, Randolph had begun a campaign of small, seemingly innocuous contact. He had, however, laced each touch with suggestive intent—his palm lingering at the small of her back, his fingers flitting briefly against her shoulder and then “accidentally” brushing her neck, his hand covering hers, hot and firm, whenever she had been obliged to take his arm.
…The same hand he would later use to hold her still while, against her ear, he described shocking carnal intentions in thrillingly wicked detail.
The night he had issued the wager, she had thought him exactly like her first husband: a rake with weaknesses she understood. A rake who would leave her secrets—and her heart—untouched, while bringing a permanent and passionate end to her celibacy.
The ghost of his kiss pulsed against her turncoat mouth.
“Tell me truthfully,” he said, as if sensing her thoughts, “you never once imagined how intimacy would be between us.”
The skin at the base of her throat quivered as the air between them heated. Such fine lips. Firm and dry and, she wagered, expert in coaxing a woman to heights of abandon. When he had won, she had not felt as if she had lost. She had been eager to join him in bed and learn which of his imaginative intentions he would first indulge.
“I am not your enemy,” he repeated softly. He placed his cheek against hers and whispered, “What I am, my dear wife, is potent and primed to satisfy all your erotic desires.”
With languid skill, he drew is knuckles up and down her arm. He had stripped her bare using her bone-deep fear, and now he flayed her using her lust. The back of her throat dried as, conversely, her mouth watered. She should push him away and slap the arrogant assurance she imagined in his cursed grey eyes, but her free hand remained limp and heavy at her side, warmed by his finely-muscled thigh.
“So-phi-a,” he whispered her name in a blasphemous incantation. “You hunger for me the same way I hunger for you.”
His breath tickled her cheek, heightening his magnetism—the irresistible draw she had felt from the moment they’d met. He placed a kiss on the outer corner of her ear, another on her jaw, and a third on her mouth’s trembling edge.
She strove to remain still. “Are you so expert a lover you can tell the depth of my attachment from a few careless kisses?”
Slow, as if he were painting a delicate line, he ran his thumb across her bottom lip.
“Careless kisses?” he questioned, voice smooth and gentle. “Is that all they were?”
AUTHOR BIO: Wendy LaCapra has been reading romance since she sneaked into the adult section at the library and discovered Victoria Holt & Jane Aiken Hodge. From that point on, she dreamed of creating fictional worlds with as much richness, intrigue and passion as she found within those books. Her stories have placed in several contests, including the 2012 Golden Heart®. She lives in NYC with her husband and loves to hear from readers.
Awards: Lady Vice (also titled A Dangerous Desire) took first place in the 2013 Laurie and finaled in the 2013 Marlene and 2013 Royal Ascot. An earlier version took first place in the OK RWA Finally a Bride Contest and finaled in the Great Beginnings Contest.
Scandal in Spades finaled in RWA’s 2012 Golden Heart® & finaled in the 2012 Emily Contest.
Devil’s Heartache finaled in the Toronto Chapter’s 2010 Toronto Golden Opportunity Contest and took first place in the Northwest Houston Chapter’s 2010 Lone Star Writing Contest.