Read The Temptress Online

Authors: Jude Deveraux

The Temptress

Critical acclaim for the marvelous romances of
Jude Deveraux
TEMPTATION

“An exciting historical romance that centers on the early twentieth-century women's rights movement…. Filled with excitement, action, and insight…. A nonstop thriller.”

—Harriet Klausner, Barnesandnoble.com

“A satisfying story.”

—
Booklist

“Deveraux['s] lively pace and happy endings…will keep readers turning pages.”

—
Publishers Weekly

HIGH TIDE

A
Romantic Times
Top Pick


High Tide
is packed full of warmth, humor, sensual tension, and exciting adventure. What more could you ask of a book?”

—
Romantic Times

“Fast-paced, suspenseful…. A sassy love story.”

—
Publishers Weekly

Prologue

The tall, lean, dark-haired man left Del Mathison's office, shutting the door behind him. He stood there, muscles in his jaw working, as if he were contemplating what he'd just heard. After a moment, he left the hallway and went into Mathison's richly furnished parlor.

In that room a man was leaning against the mantel of the empty fireplace. He was also tall, but he had the soft, cared-for look of a man who'd lived inside a house all his life. His blond hair was perfectly trimmed, his suit of clothes perfectly cut.

“Ah,” the blond man said, “you must be the man Del hired to take me to his daughter.”

The dark man merely nodded. He looked a little uncomfortable and his eyes constantly strayed to corners of the room, as if he thought someone might be hiding there.

“I'm Asher Prescott,” the blond man said. “Did Del tell you about my part in this mission?”

“No,” the dark man said in a voice that was felt as much as heard.

Prescott removed a cigar from a box on the mantel and lit it before he spoke. “Del's daughter has a penchant,”—he stopped and gave the dark man a quick look up and down—“I mean, she has the capacity for getting herself in trouble. For the last few years, Del's allowed her to have her head and she's been in one scrape after another. I guess you've heard of Nola Dallas the reporter.” He paused. “But then maybe you haven't.”

He took a draw on the cigar, waiting, but the dark man didn't answer. “Well, her father is tired of it and he's decided to force her to come to her senses. She's north of here now, staying with some friends of friends.” He made a grimace of disgust. “Poor girl is convinced that Hugh Lanier, the man whose family she's visiting, is inciting Indians to massacre missionaries. The charge is ridiculous and Del's right that it's time she ended this folly.”

Prescott studied the dark man as he stood looking out the window. Del had said this man could guide them through any part of Washington Territory. In fact, Del had said he even knew how to get through the rain forest—a place that was said to be impenetrable.

“The plan,” Prescott continued, “is to take Mathison's daughter from Lanier's house, by force if necessary, and return her to her father. You're to lead us through the rain forest so it'll give me time alone with Miss Mathison. I plan to be engaged to her by the time we return.”

The dark man turned to stare at Prescott. “I don't force women.”

“Force her?” Prescott gasped. “She's a twenty-eight-year-old old maid. She's traveled all over the world writing those ridiculous bleeding-heart stories of hers and no man has ever wanted her.”

“But you do.”

Prescott clamped the cigar between his teeth. “I want this,” he said, looking about the room. “Del Mathison is a rich and powerful man and all he has to leave it to is one horse-faced, sexless daughter who thinks she can save the world from all its evils. Now, I want it straight between us from the beginning. Are you going to help me or fight me?”

The dark man took a while answering. “She's yours if she wants you.”

Prescott smiled around his cigar. “Oh, she'll want me all right. At her age, she'll be glad to get any man she can.”

Chapter One

Christiana Montgomery Mathison put her hand in the tub of water to check the temperature and then began to disrobe. It was going to feel good to bathe after a day of hard riding and hours of sitting huddled over a desk writing. She had her story finished now and tomorrow she'd start the arduous journey back home.

When she was nude, she realized that she didn't have her dressing gown and went to the big double-doored wardrobe to get it.

When she opened the right hand door, her heart seemed to skip a beat, for there was a man standing inside the cabinet, his eyes wide, his mouth open as he looked at Chris's pretty little body in its unclad state. Chris, alert from years as a reporter, slammed the door shut and turned the key in the lock. Softly, obviously not wanting to be discovered, the man began to pound on the inside of the cabinet door. Chris had one foot toward the bed where she planned to take the spread off and cover herself, but then things happened too quickly for her to react.

The left side of the wardrobe opened behind her and out stepped another man, and he had her in his arms before she could even take a breath or see his face. Her face was buried in his chest, his arms around the back of her, one hand on her bare shoulders, the other resting just above the curve of her buttocks.

“Who are you? What do you want?” she asked and was appalled at the fear in her voice. The man was large and she knew she'd have no chance of success if she tried to escape him. “If it's money you want—” she began but his arms tightened on her and she didn't finish the sentence.

His left hand began to stroke her hair as it hung halfway down her back, gently tangling his fingers in its soft blondness, and even through her fear she found herself relaxing somewhat. She managed to turn her head sideways so she could breathe more easily, but he didn't allow her to move the rest of her body as he kept her pinned close and intimately to him.

“Let me out of here,” hissed the man locked in the wardrobe.

The man holding Chris didn't react, he just kept stroking her hair, his right hand inching down her back toward her buttocks. She'd never had a man touch her bare skin before and his rough, calloused hands felt good.

She recovered herself and began to struggle against him, trying to get free, but he held her firmly, not hurting her, but showing no signs that he ever intended to release her.

“Who are you?” she repeated. “Tell me what you want and I'll see if I can get it for you. I don't have much money, but I do have a bracelet that's worth something. Release me and I'll get it.” When she again tried to move, he held her fast.

With a sigh of frustration, she relaxed against him again. “If you plan to take me by force, I warn you that I'll put up a struggle such as you've never seen before. I'll take some of your skin to replace what you take from me.” She tried to twist her head to look up at him but he didn't allow her to see his face. Am I saying the wrong thing? she thought, wondering if what she'd just said were words that were inflammatory to a…a rapist, she finally said the word to herself. In spite of her brave words, she began to shiver and his arms tightened around her in a way that, had the circumstances been different, Chris might have found protective.

“We've come from your father,” he said in a voice that Chris felt through her cheek. It was a very deep, very rich voice. “There are two of us and we've come to take you home.”

“Yes, I'm ready to go home. But first I have to—”

“Ssssh,” he whispered, snuggling her against him as if they were lovers and familiar with each other's bodies. “You have to go home now whether you want to or not,” he said, obviously not listening to her. “You can fight it out with your father later, but now we take you home to him. Do you understand?”

“But there's a story that I—”

“Chris,” he said and the way he said her name made her try to look up at him, but he still wouldn't allow her to see his face. “Chris, you have to return to your father. I'm going to release you and I want you to get dressed, then I'll let Prescott out of the wardrobe. I'll meet you outside with the horses. Pack only what you'll need for the trip. We'll be going through the rain forest and it'll take a few days so take rain gear if you have it.”

“Through the rain forest! But no one can travel through that.”

“There's a way and I know how. Don't worry your lovely little self about that, just get ready to leave.”

“I have to take my story to John Anderson,” Chris said. She didn't seem to be in all that much of a hurry to move away from him and sometime during the past few minutes, her hands had moved to his waist. She wasn't exactly hugging him but she wasn't pushing him away either.

“Who is John Anderson?”

“My friend and the editor of a newspaper. He's the one who first suspected Hugh of selling rifles to the Indians.”

He moved his head so that his face was buried in her hair and she could have sworn she felt his lips against her scalp. “We'll talk about that later, but now we have to go. We've taken too long as it is. You'll have to get dressed so we can leave.”

Chris waited, but he just held her, his hand now stroking gently across her shoulder blades. “Are you going to release me or not?”

“You aren't cold, are you?”

“I am not in the least cold. What I am is being kidnapped by a man who may or may not be from my father, but knowing him, you probably are, and I am standing here in my birthday suit being smothered by a man I've never even seen, much less been introduced to. Now, will you please let me go so I can put on some clothes?”

“Yes,” he said in that voice of his, but he made no effort to release her.

Chris made a sound that was half a cry of rage and half a scream of protest.

“If you hurt her, Tynan, you'll answer to me,” came the voice of the man in the wardrobe who had been surprisingly quiet for the last several minutes.

The man called Tynan held her for a few more minutes, then with what seemed to be a heartfelt sigh, he released her and turned away toward her bureau all in one motion.

Chris grabbed the corner of the spread on the bed but she didn't need it since he stood with his back to her, toying with the items on the bureau top. With the spread wrapped around her, she edged toward the wardrobe, opened the left side and withdrew a clean riding habit.

“I need my other garments from inside the chest,” she said to the back of him. From what she could see of him she could tell that he was big, broad-shouldered, had dark hair and that his clothes were completely new. From his boots to the gun and holster slung low on his hip, to his brown leather vest and his blue chambray shirt, all of it was new. He hadn't spoken since he'd released her and now he merely stepped aside, staring at the wall as if it were of great interest.

Chris withdrew undergarments from a drawer, all the while trying to see his face but she couldn't, and when she moved back into the room to put on her clothes, he went back to the dresser. She dressed as quickly as possible, tightening her corset strings with such speed that she knotted them and had to spend extra minutes untangling the laces.

“All right,” she said when she was dressed, expecting him to turn around.

But he didn't turn toward her, going instead to the wardrobe and unlocking it. Out stepped a tall blond man who did nothing but look at Chris.

“Help her get packed. I'll meet you outside,” Tynan said and before Chris realized what he was doing, he was out the window and she was alone with the blond man.

It was an awkward moment, but the blond man stepped forward, smiling. He was very good-looking, with bright blue eyes that looked as if they were accustomed to laughing and a smile that Chris was sure had melted the hearts of many women.

“I'm Asher Prescott. I'm sorry about what happened there,” he said, motioning toward the wardrobe, but he didn't look sorry at all. In fact, he looked quite happy about everything. “We really are from your father and our assignment is to bring you back no matter what excuse you give. He is very worried about you.”

She gave him a weak smile. “That sounds just like my father. I'll go, I was ready to leave, but I do need to pack a few things,” she said as she walked in front of Mr. Prescott to pick up the toilet articles on the bureau top. As she did so, she saw that one of the items Tynan had been toying with was her hand mirror. And, as she looked from the mirror to where she had been dressing, she realized that Tynan had been watching her while she dressed.

A quick surge of anger ran through her but then she smiled, dropped the mirror into the carpet bag she'd taken from the bottom of the wardrobe, and went to the desk to take the papers of her story on Hugh Lanier.

After a second's thought, she sat down and wrote a quick letter to Hugh, explaining the purpose of her visit, and telling him why she had to do what she must.

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