by Lauren Smith
Genre: Historical/ Regency Romance
Cover Designer: Aleta Rafton
Cover Designer: Aleta Rafton
Release Date: September 21, 2015
The rogue’s temptation would be her undoing…
Gemma Haverford knows exactly who she will marry: James Randolph, the man she’s had a secret understanding with for the last eleven years. With every letter written between them while he's been off at sea, their love has grown. Now they will be reunited with his return to England.
There’s just one problem. The man whose words she'd fallen in love with isn’t James at all…
Jasper Holland, a gentleman rogue of the first order, is trapped. Talked into a scheme by his best friend, he pretended to be James for eleven years as he wrote to Gemma, even though he'd promised James he’d break it off. But now with his return to England, his secret will come out—and he’ll lose the one woman he can’t live without.
What began as a game of words, now becomes a game of hearts, and Jasper will pay any price to call Gemma his.
Turn around James, I want to see you, she silently begged. Let me put a face to the dreams I’ve had for years. Let me see the lips that brought forth such passion last night.
Lady Greenley’s screech jerked Gemma out of her thoughts.
“You, Haverford! Come here at once!” Lady Edith Greenley’s bonneted head bobbed up and down when she waved at Gemma and demanded she come to her like a general in His Majesty’s army. The ancient yet formidable Lady Greenley stood near the two men, who both turned at Lady Greenley’s shout, in order to see Gemma.
Her heart stopped and she sucked air into her burning lungs after what seemed like ages of being frozen in time. Funny, she’d never had this happen before in her life, but seeing the faces of James Randolph and Jasper Holland after eleven years… Her world spun on its axis, as though she were a celestial planet shifting in its orbit, thrown into a spin by seeing these men. Side by side, they stood, almost an equal height, proud and strong in looks and demeanor. And both of them stared directly at her, equally curious to see her as she was to see them.
The resemblance of the two men to each other was startling. Only her childhood memories dared to find differences between the manly faces turned toward her. James had a fuller mouth, quicker to smile, but Jasper, quiet, calm, Jasper had eyes like liquid caramel that smoldered so powerfully when he stared at her that her mind simply blanked of all thought.
A rapid play of inscrutable emotions danced across his eyes, touched lightly upon his mouth as though he nearly smiled, but caught himself. Why on earth would Jasper smile at her? When he’d been a boy he’d always avoided her and had shouted rudely at her more than once that she was a nuisance and ought to go home and practice her needlepoint and sketching rather than gallivant off into the wooded glens after him and James.
Not that I ever listened to him. She almost smiled back at Jasper. She had the strangest urge to needle him, challenge him for daring to smile at her.
“Now Haverford! I could keel over and die waiting for you to grace me with your presence,” Lady Greenley snapped, prodding the ground with the tip of her closed parasol. Gemma excused herself from Lily and Arabella and walked quickly toward Lady Greenley. She tried not to stare at the men when she reached them.
“What can I do for you, Lady Greenley?” Gemma asked.
“Can I depend upon you to rescue me from these unruly young bucks? Take them about the garden, and see that they don’t scandalize my party, won’t you?” Lady Greenley demanded of Gemma, a wicked glint in the older lady’s gray eyes. With her crafty mannerisms and being rather boisterous for her age, no one dared to cross her.
“Of course, Lady Greenley,” Gemma answered politely.
Both men grinned at her. The direct attention from both James and Jasper heated her skin with an embarrassing blush. There was nothing decent in either of their gazes. She could understand a look like that from James, after what they had shared, but Jasper? He should not be eyeing her form with such a bold look of appreciation like he did at that exact moment.
Lady Greenley watched this odd triangle of looks with an arched brow of interest, and Gemma thought she saw the old woman hide the beginnings of a smile beneath her ridiculously foppish bonnet. Where James’s gaze seemed to outline every curve of her body with speculation, Jasper’s gaze had the deep sensual sweep of such force that she almost felt his hands stroking her rather than his eyes…it was a knowing gaze, like he knew just how the flesh of her breasts would tighten, her legs tremble and her breath quicken beneath his touch…
“Why, is that really you, Miss Haverford?” James exclaimed with a broad smile and a deep bow. It did little to dispel the ensnaring enchantment of Jasper’s heated gaze which distracted her from James.
Gemma forced a soft laugh, letting James take her hand and kiss it, but the tingling rush of contact she expected did not come. His voice did not seem quite the same as the night before, perhaps because it was disguised by his whispering tone…
“Mr. Randolph, Mr. Holland, I’m so glad to see you both returned to Midhurst in good health.” Her gaze was strangely drawn back to Jasper, who watched her in deep concentration and she didn’t know what to make of his scrutiny. She nibbled her bottom lip, studying Jasper intensely. His shoulders were wide…a little wider than James’s now that she compared them so diligently.
James dropped her hand and glanced between her and Jasper, one brow raised.
“Er…we’re quite glad to be home, Miss Haverford,” James added, trying to draw her attention again. “I see Midhurst has treated you well over the years, Gemma.” His voice deepened, but still Gemma didn’t tear her gaze away from Jasper.
Was it possible to have a battle between a man and woman based on eye contact alone? She did feel as though she were battling this man, what she couldn’t understand was why. His lips twitched, her eyes narrowed and her heart gave a strange little flip in her chest when his gaze lowered, inch by inch to focus on her lips.
We’re strangers, after all these years. I should not be fascinated by him.
When he spoke to her, however, her body responded with a terrifying thrill of recognition.
“You are looking well, Gemma.” The way he caressed her name…she went suddenly pale. That voice! Jasper’s voice was the voice in the garden, the voice that belonged to the body which had…
No, no! He could not be the man I… Gemma wavered on her feet when a cloud seemed to cover her mind and she couldn’t quite control her legs enough to stay standing.