Read An Accidental Seduction Online

Authors: Lois Greiman

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

An Accidental Seduction (10 page)

t was as dark as sin beneath the towering walnut trees. No moon yet brightened the blue velvet sky, but Sean remained staring at Clarette’s window nevertheless. He planned to breach her chambers. But not in the hopes of finding her there. In fact, it was quite the opposite, for he’d had some time to consider the situation, to calm down after speaking with Emily.

Indeed, he’d found himself sleepless and restive, with too little to do and too much time to dwell on his peculiar circumstances. Just past full dark he had fired up the old forge that stood in a three-sided shed just east of the byre. Midnight found him pouring the boiling liquid into a cast he’d carved out on another restless night. ’Twas what he had long done when sleep eluded him. But that hallowed time did little to clear his thoughts, for the situation was too muddled. Too uncertain.

On the one hand, the lady in yonder, thatched manse looked all but identical to the portrait of one Milicent Hennessey, the woman who had broken his brother’s
heart, broken her word, broken their father’s will to live. Likewise, all evidence he’d garnered from the man sent to investigate the woman suggested that she and Clarette were one and the same.

When Sean had met Lord Tilmont some weeks earlier, all the pieces of the devious puzzle seemed to have fallen neatly into place. Careful inquiry had led him to one of London’s infamous gambling hells. He’d intentionally taken a seat next to the table where Tilmont was playing a hand of piquet. After buying the baron a drink, he’d taken his departed opponent’s seat and proceeded to lose money with conscientious regularity. By the time the second bottle of gin had arrived, the baron had divulged a dozen little details that matched the description of Alastar’s supposed wife-to-be.

But on the other hand…

Memories of his time with Clarette crept in on Sean with quiet feet, softening his thoughts, hardening his body. It wasn’t her beauty that called to him. Well, perhaps that had a wee bit to do with the situation. But there was more. Her wit. Her boldness. Her softness. Her…

He drew a slow breath. In truth, he was no longer certain she was the woman for whom he searched, for whom he planned revenge. But there was one way to be sure. Alastar had given Milicent their mother’s ruby, the ring their grandfather crafted in his ancient forge near a hundred years before. Even without the sentimental value, it
was a precious jewel and not something a woman with Milicent’s grasping ways would easily be rid of.

No, if Clarette and Milicent were one and the same, the ring would be in her bedchamber even now.

But he could hardly search her rooms with her watching from the settee. Could not rifle through her jewelry case while she lounged on her divan. He had come here every night since his arrival to watch her window and debate the best time to ransack her property. To attempt to—

His roiling thoughts stopped abruptly. What was that? He leaned forward, peering into the darkness. Had something moved on the tree outside her balcony? He stood, keeping to the shadows of the ancient walnut. Was someone trying to reach her chambers? he wondered. Perhaps she had a lover. The thought pierced him like an arrow to the heart, but then he caught himself. What would it matter to him? It would only confirm what he had come here to prove: that she was poison.

Nevertheless, his fists clenched at the images that raged through his mind.

If she wished for a lover, why not him? He had employed all his best banter, his most winsome smiles, his most charming—

But his thoughts stopped again, for suddenly he realized that the shadow was not ascending the tree. It was
Whoever was there was already
the house.

Merciful saints, it was barely past midnight. Whoever was there couldn’t have spent much time. If it were himself—

But now he stopped the thought intentionally. What the devil was he thinking? This was his chance to prove what a conniving vixen she was. All he had to do was inform Gregors about her philandering and he could leave this place.

He was moving in a moment, edging through the deepest shadows, hurrying toward the house. But by the time he reached the horse chestnuts that skirted the yard, the dark figure was already gone. He remained as he was, frozen, thinking. Had he imagined it? Or—

But no. There! A movement on the ground. He peered into the blackness, watched the figure rise to his full height. Bloody hell! The bastard wasn’t even tall. At least she could have chosen a manly lover. Someone with dark Celtic looks and—He gritted his teeth, driving the idiotic thoughts from his head as he stepped forward, but in that second the other disappeared. Like a wraith, like a dream. He was there, and then he was gone.

Sean hurried across the yard as silently as he could, searching the shadows that surrounded the house but finding nothing out of the ordinary. Thus he backtracked and tried another direction. But there was no one.

He stood in the exact spot where her lover had, trying to divine how he had disappeared. Then a new thought
struck him. Maybe the silent wraith wasn’t a lover at all. Maybe he was a miscreant of some sort. If Lord Tilmont was coldhearted enough to hire someone to
her, what was to say he wouldn’t hire someone else to do her harm? Perhaps he hoped to be rid of her by even more nefarious means in case the seduction plan failed.

Sean was already heading toward the tree that towered over the balcony. He had no great affinity for heights and was no master at climbing, but he could hardly go through the front door to inquire about her health at this hour of the night. All kinds of ridiculous questions were apt to follow.

Thus he pried off his boots, set his bare feet against the rough bark, and ascended with painful slowness. By the time he reached the bough that grew parallel to the balcony, his arms ached and his lungs felt scoured. Glancing down, the earth seemed a lifetime below. Strengthening his flagging resolve, he inched onto the branch. No noise came from the darkened bedchamber before him, but he would have answers.

It was a leap of six feet to the balcony. He made it without an inch to spare, clung to the stone railing like a discombobulated spider monkey, and finally wrestled himself over.

By the time he reached her door, he was certain he must have awakened the dead. But not a sound was heard from inside the manse. That realization brought relief
and trepidation all in one hard rush. What if she
inside? What if she was injured…or worse?

Able to wait no longer, he opened the door as quietly as humanly possible.

“My lady,” he whispered. No one answered. He stepped forward, impressed by his own silence. “Clarette, are you well?”

There was a lump under the covers but it remained absolutely still.

“Clarette!” Panic was rising. He reached out, touching the coverlet, and in that movement realized, even in the darkness, that there was no head on the pillow. He scowled and tugged the blankets aside. The bed was empty.

What the hell was going on? Straightening, he glanced toward the door as a dozen unlikely thoughts screamed through his buzzing brain. She’d been abducted. She was hiding in her wardrobe. She—

Bloody hell! The truth came suddenly: it had been Clarette herself whom he’d seen climbing down. It must have been.

But that was ridiculous. It had taken all his skill and strength to breach her chambers. Surely she could never have managed such a feat. But then, where was she? Certainly not in this room. He glanced about again, as if she might magically appear in a puff of smoke. But she was gone. Absolutely absent. If she was wandering through the house, she would have had no reason to close her
door. And she would have taken a light. There had been no light in any of the windows. The entire house was as black as pitch.

What did it all mean?

The truth dawned on him with harsh certainty: Her lover hadn’t come to her. She had gone to meet him!

Anger squeezed through him, followed by frustration and foolish righteous ness and a few other emotions he refused to admit, but he pushed them all aside, for obviously he had been afforded a great opportunity. Her rooms were empty. No one knew he was there. ’Twas the perfect time to search for his mother’s ring. To prove for once and for all that she was the woman who had ruined his brother’s life.

Feeling his way silently along a wall, he found a lamp on the bedstead and carried it to the window. Once there, he pulled the heavy drapes across the thick panes. It was darker still now, but in a moment he had a tiny flame burning beneath the curved globe. And by that flame he saw the jewelry box atop her bedstead.

In a moment he was skimming the contents. Pearl ear bobs, a pair of hat pins, and a half dozen rough stones strung on a leather thong. For a woman of Lady Tilmont’s wealth it seemed a paltry collection. He glanced around the chamber again. Surely she had more. Perhaps she kept his mother’s ruby hidden from her husband, not wanting to explain it. Or maybe she was even more heartless than
he believed and had pawned it off as if it was of no more consequence than a bauble won at the fair.

The thought tore his heart, but suddenly the door to the hall shifted. He jerked toward it.

Clarette stood in the opening. Her gaze leapt to his. Her lips parted. Water sloshed from the glass she held in her hand.

“I can explain,” he said. “Don’t scream.”

For a moment he thought she would, but finally she pursed her lips, stepped inside and closed the door behind her. They stared at each other. No more than four feet separating them.

“Very well. You may begin,” she said, but for the life of him he could think of nothing to say. It wasn’t as if he had never been found in a woman’s bedchamber before. It was simply that the lady in question was generally well aware of his presence at the outset. Seconds ticked away. “Wickerdoodle?” She raised her left brow the slightest degree. “Are you going to explain or shall I have you removed from this property?”

“Ahh, yes, explanations.” He cleared his throat and wondered how exactly she would have him removed. Piece by piece or all in one dead lump? “I thought I saw someone climb up to your…” He tilted his head toward the balcony. “…to your room.”

The second brow joined the first near her hairline. “Was it you?”

He managed a low laugh. “No, Lady Tilmont.” It seemed a good time to use her title. Familiarity was likely to encourage that piece by piece removal he had contemplated earlier. “No. I was watching your—” He stopped, saw the trap, and tried to back away. “I was outside, enjoying the night air, when I saw someone in the chestnut beside your window. I attempted to ascertain—”

“What were you doing watching my window?”

“I wasn’t ‘watching’ your window, my lady. I simply—”

“It just happened to be in your line of vision?”

A hundred ridiculous explanations zipped through his brain, but he squelched them all, trying to catch his balance. “Have you a wish to hear this or not?”

Taking a careful breath, she set the water on her bedstead and seated herself on the mattress. “I’ve always enjoyed a good yarn.”

He scowled at her. “How did you get so jaded?”

She tilted her head a little, as if asking if he really intended to try that tact, and he lifted a hand in concession.

“Very well, then. I admit this looks…Well…one might think…” He cleared his throat. “This isn’t what it seems.”

“And how does it seem, Lowwick?”

Suffering saints. “Well, one might believe…” He shrugged, not quite able to control his grin. “…that I hoped to seduce you.”

She delayed several heartbeats before she spoke. “And you don’t.”

He opened his mouth to assure her that he did not. But he was trying to convince her of his innocence, not his stupidity. “Well…” He chuckled a little. “…any man with a pair of…” Wrong strategy. He smiled. Her eyes were very steady, as if she had not a fear in the world. Should she not be afraid to find a man in her private chambers? At least a little? “I don’t deny that I am drawn to you.”

The slightest hint of a smile tilted her summer raspberry lips. As if she had no desire to be flattered but could not quite help herself.

He took a careful breath. “You are not exactly beastly to look upon, after all.”

“Go on.”

He found his stride carefully. “I am certain you’re aware of your comely countenance, my lady.”

She shrugged one shoulder and suddenly seemed like nothing more than a timid girl softly blossoming to womanhood. Lovely, kind, innocent. “If I am such a rare beauty, why does everyone leave me?” There was sadness in her tone now, uncertainty in her eyes.


There was a beat of silence, then, “My husband for one.”

“He must be mad,” Sean said, and found that he almost believed it to be true.

She smiled forlornly. “He is not mad.”

“Foolish he is, then,” he said. “For you are beauty itself.”

She glanced away. “I’m passing fair, I suppose. But…well…” She paused. “Perhaps you have noticed that I can be a bit…a bit
at times.”

The understatement somehow tickled him. He chuckled quietly. “The sharpness only makes the softness more appealing.”

She flickered her eyes to his. They were as big as the walnuts that grew near the byre. Soft and lovely and deep with hope. “Do you mean that?”

“Certainly I do. Look at you. You have…” He paused, finding he had somehow lost his breath as his gaze settled on her lush mouth. “You’ve the most kissable lips I’ve yet to see.”

“I do?”

“Aye,” he said, and taking the few steps between them, slipped a hand behind her supple back. “Your lips beckon—” he began, but in that moment she lifted a dagger from some unknown location and poked his belly with the tip.

“What the devil are you doing in my room, Wickson?” she asked.

ense came slowly back to Sean’s feverish brain. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. How the fook had he possibly forgotten who he was dealing with? She was the woman who had stolen his brother’s dreams, who had promised his family a future, only to abscond with their past.

“Ahh, well,” he said, glancing carefully at the dagger she held in one competent hand. “As I’ve said, a body should never be—”

“Without a
blade.” She mimicked his brogue with disturbing accuracy. “But that’s not what I asked, is it, lad?” she said, and pressed the tip of the dagger a little harder into his shirt. He stifled a grimace.

“There was someone in the tree outside your window,” he said, easing back a half an inch.

“So I’m told.”

“I feared for your life.”

She shifted the blade the slightest degree and almost smiled. “Did you?”


“And where do you suppose we might find the miscreant now?”

Here’s where it got tricky. “I don’t know.”

“Perhaps you should have followed him instead of coming here.”

“I feared he might have done you harm.”

She arched a dubious brow at him. “And it never occurred to you to come through the front door to check?”

She held the dagger like one who knew how to use it. He, too, was fairly well schooled in the use of blades, but where the bloody hell had she been keeping this one? “I had no wish to frighten anyone.”

Her lips twitched a little. “So you slithered through my window.”

“Irishman rarely slither,” he said. “Sometimes we slink. Occasionally we—”

She pressured him further with the dagger tip. “Why are you here?”

“As I’ve told you, lass—”

“I’d like the truth.”

Her eyes were as steady as the steel. Indeed, she rather looked as if she might actually pierce him. “As I said…” he began, but then something clicked in his head. He scowled. “Tell me, my lady, have you an aversion to cotton?”

“What are you talking about?”

“This…” He raised a hand, indicating her ensemble. It was entirely black. Except for her feet. They were bare. And, oh…she had rather enchanting toes. He brought his mind back to the moment at hand. “Not that I would have any way of knowing, being a confirmed bachelor as I am, but aren’t most nightgowns made of cotton?
cotton? And isn’t the belt a bit uncomfortable while you’re abed?”

For a moment something flashed in her eyes. It might have been fear, but it was more likely irritation. The knife disappeared with the slightest flick of her wrist. How the bloody hell did she manage that?

“I have no wish to cause problems,” she said.

He watched her, waiting for more.

But she only sniffed as if he were entirely daft. Which might or might not have been true. “You said yourself that I am irresistible.”

“Comely,” he corrected. “I said you were comely.”

“You said I was beauty…” She paused, all but rolling her eyes with impatience. “I don’t want to tempt the servants beyond their endurance.”

He stared at her, finally raised his brows and hoped to hell she would go on. She didn’t. “And?”

“And so I dare not wander out unless I am fully clothed. Even to fetch a glass of water.”

He waited, fascinated, for her to continue, but she
refrained. “So you’re a’feared of arousing Gregors’s baser nature should he see you in less than your full regalia.”

She paused a moment, as if trying to think of others whose base natures might be aroused. “Yes.”

He managed to keep a straight face. “What of your feet?”

She scowled.

“Your feet,” he said. “They’re naked.”

“I think he can probably—”

“And quite adorable,” he added.

Curling her toes, she made them disappear beneath her dark hem. Sean could no longer resist a grin as he lifted his gaze to hers.

“He’s a hundred years old, you ken.”


“Gregors. He’s a hundred if he’s a day.”

She pursed her lips. “I doubt he’s far past eighty. Besides, I’ve little reason to believe men become more disciplined with age.”

“What of rustier?”

She raised a brow.

“Perhaps he’d like to…” He waved a hand at her darkly attired form, including her tiny toes. “I simply don’t believe he could,” he said, and damned if it didn’t almost seem as if she blushed.

“Who are you?” he asked, and watched irritation flash again in her eyes. It wasn’t until that instant that he
realized she’d
looked frightened. Not even when she first opened the door. She’d managed surprised, perhaps, but not fear. “You knew I was here,” he breathed.

“What are you talking about?”

“When you came in…” He motioned toward the door. “You were expecting me.”

She laughed softly, as if he were predictably foolish. “Perhaps I am as irresistible as you—”

“‘Comely,’” he corrected.

She gave him a curved smile. “Perhaps I am as irresistible as you think, but that doesn’t mean I often find strange men in my boudoir.”

“But it does happen.” His tone sounded strange. Jealous almost.


you find strange men in your…” he began, but when her eyes flickered with amusement, he managed to return to the matter at hand. “Why the devil are you fully dressed?”

She was all but laughing out loud now. “Hoping to find me otherwise, Wickerhammer?”

“No. I—”


“I…Fook it!” he said, and pushed splayed fingers through his hair. “Aye, I was.”

She was staring at him.

He laughed at her expression. “Suffering saints,
woman, you’ve the tongue of an adder, but the body of a goddess.”

She blinked, actually blinked, perhaps taken aback for the first time since he’d met her.

“So…” He shrugged expansively, taking advantage of her silence. “Do you wish to lie with me or nay?”

Her mouth formed a perfect O. Her eyes were just as round. “Are you…Is that really why you came here?”

He’d considered a couple other reasons. They had sounded ridiculously unbelievable. Even if they were true. “Why else?”

“I…” She shrugged. “I don’t know. To rob me, perhaps?”

He drew a deep breath. “I’m not much of…” He shook his head, thinking. “Thievery…me da would be sore disappointed.”

She plopped down on her bed. “But he wouldn’t mind if he knew you were trying to seduce a married woman?”

“I wasn’t jesting when I said you were irresistible.”

She looked at him askance. “I thought you’d only said I was comely.”

He grinned. “You must drive your husband mad.”

She scowled a little. “Do you think that’s why he left?”

Her voice was soft again, but there was no way of telling if she was sincere or conniving. He was going
to have to assume conniving. “’Tis as good a guess as any,” he said.

She shifted her gaze slowly to the jewelry box. “She
rather abrasive isn’t—” she began, then snapped her gaze back to his.

He stared at her in bewilderment. “‘She’?”

“I meant—Oooh!” she sobbed, and pulling her feet onto the bed, dropped her head into her palms. “You’re right. Absolutely right. Sometimes it seems as if I
two different people.”

All right then, this was rather surreal. “How so, lass?”

“I have to be…” She pulled her head out of her hands. There were tears in her eyes. He reminded himself that she was the devil, but holy saints, there were
! “I have to be so strong.” The words were whispered.

He stepped a little closer to hear her.


She waved to her surroundings. “You think I want to live like this? Alone? Surrounded by servants who hate me? Who know—” She stopped, swallowed, lowered her voice. “Who know my husband wants nothing to do with me.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” he said, though in fact her husband had said just that. Nevertheless, he sat on the edge of the mattress and reached for her hand.

“He wasn’t here a full day before he fled.”

“Well…” Her skin was marvelously soft beneath his thumb. “He was called away on business, most like.”

She blinked up at him. Her lashes were wet. “He doesn’t love me.”

No. He didn’t. And suddenly that truth seemed oddly sad. “Maybe he just hasn’t had time to come to know you,” he said.

She shook her head, cleared her throat. “His father had to pay him to marry me.”

That, he hadn’t heard. “Come again,” he said.

“The old duke.” She managed a smile. It was weak at best. “He wants an heir. Apparently he thought I’d make good breeding stock.”

“I’m certain you’re wrong.”

She blinked, lashes heavy with silver droplets. “You’re certain he doesn’t think I’ll be good breeding stock or—”

“I’m certain your husband finds you as enchanting as I do.”

“The duke said that if my lord could produce a child in a year’s time, he wouldn’t disown him. But even with that, Richard wants nothing to do—” She cleared her throat and shrugged.

He canted a brow.

“Well…” She used her free hand to sweep the far side of the mattress. It was notably empty. “He’s not here, is he?”

“But surely he…” He paused, trying to think how to say it. “The two of you have—”

She blushed brighter. The autumn apples of her cheeks bloomed with color. If she wasn’t honestly embarrassed, she was a damned fine actress. “Yes, of course.” She wouldn’t look at him. “And I had hoped…” She paused, then shook her head. “But I’m not with child.”

She looked so sad, so beautiful and fragile and brave, it all but broke his heart. He squeezed her hand.

“Might you want help with that?”

Her gaze smacked into his.

“Me apologies. I don’t—” he began, but in that instant she leaned closer to him. He felt his desire tighten painfully as she gazed up through dewy lashes.

“You, ummm…you
want help with that, do you, lass?”

For one wild moment he almost thought she would answer in the affirmative, but finally she glanced down and pulled her hand from his. “I was a courtesan, Mr. Gallagher. Did you know that?”

“A—” He’d run out of words. Alastar hadn’t mentioned that fact, and it seemed fairly significant. “A…” He shook his head.

She drew a deep breath. “You can’t even say the word.”

“You were a courtesan?”

“It sounds so much better than whore, doesn’t it?”

“And your husband, lass, does he know?”

She nodded. “As does his father. Perhaps that was why he thought I could be so easily bought.”

He could think of nothing to say. So she was a prostitute. And yet, looking at her now, he couldn’t blame his brother for being besotted. She was enchanting, mesmerizing.

“In actuality, I’m the daughter of Count von Racowitza and a peasant woman named Luiza.”

“A count and a peasant.”

She smiled disarmingly. “I am told Luiza was quite beautiful.”

“So you’ve noble blood.” His tone was dubious.

“’Tis not a story easily believed, I know.”

“If you’re aware of your heritage, why not petition your father for funds instead of becoming…” He shook his head again.

“A prostitute?” She shrugged. “The countess has been known to hold a grudge.” The corners of her mouth lifted a little. “And a gun.”

He drew a deep breath and scowled.

She chuckled at his obvious doubts. “’Tis just as well you don’t believe me.” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “If you were to repeat it, I would deny everything.”


“We’ve done what we could to become lost in this
country. Taken various names, kept moving.” She scowled, immersed in thought, drowning in years far past. “But they might yet find us.”

“I suppose…” he began, then, “…‘us’?”

It took her a moment to find his gaze again, but when she did, her eyes were as steady as steel. “I don’t actually know if my sister yet lives.”

“You had a sister?”

She pursed her lips, watching him but seeing something else. “Yes.”

“Did she look like you?”

“She was but a child when last I saw her.”

“’Tis safe to guess that she lacked your enchanting curves, then,” he said.

She came back to the present, and he smiled, lost in her eyes. But he couldn’t afford to be such a fool.

“I have no idea if you’re telling the truth,” he admitted.

Her lips twisted the slightest degree. They were very close to his. “I know.”

“And you don’t care?”

“In truth, I quite prefer it that way.”

“You’re a complicated woman,” he said, and couldn’t help but lean toward her.


He felt his body tighten. “A complicated woman who needs to produce a child.”

child.” He could feel her breath against his lips. It felt hopelessly erotic.

“Maybe we could simply practice then, lass.”

Her lips twitched again, as though an actual smile might break the careful facade she had built around her. “You forget my former occupation.”

Prostitution. Ah yes. But was it all a lie? he wondered, and found, oddly, that he could not quite care. “One can never get too much practice,” he said, and kissed her.

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