Never Seduce a Scoundrel
Lady Amelia Plume has many admirers; too bad they’re all fortune hunters and fops who can’t provide the exotic adventures she seeks. The ballrooms of Mayfair have become more appealing, though, since the arrival of Major Lucas Winter—an American major with a dangerous past and a brooding air.
Lucas came to London to find the cad who embezzled money from a naval contractor. The captivating Lady Amelia could be the key to his quest, but what started as a simple flirtation has suddenly become a delicious dance of seduction. So when a rival jeopardizes Amelia’s reputation, Lucas must choose between a chance to avenge his past or a future of fiery passion.
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book hit the following bestseller lists:
- #23 New York Times Extended
- #15 Publishers Weekly
- Three weeks on USA Today
- Three weeks on Waldenbooks Romance
- Three weeks on Waldenbooks Mass Market
- #12 Borders Mass Market
- #14 Barnes & Noble Mass Market
- Also a Romantic Times Top Pick
- Winner of the Best Historical of 2006 in the More than Magic contest
- Winner of the 2007 Winter Rose Award for Excellence in Romantic Fiction (tied with another book)
- Nominated for the Maggie Award for Best Historical of 2006
- Nominated for the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence for Best Historical of 2006
- Nominated for the Best Regency-Set Historical of 2006 Award from Romantic Times
- Nominated for the Write Touch Readers award for Best Historical of 2006
“Jeffries carries off this cat-and-mouse game of mutual seduction so cleverly that you’ll be turning the pages at lightning speed just to keep up with Lucas and Amelia’s shenanigans. Warm, wickedly witty and brilliantly plotted, this is a must for anyone who just wants a fast, intelligent read.” —Romantic Times
“Jeffries delivers lively lovers in an entertaining, sensual historical romance.” —Booklist
Lady Amelia Plume swept toward the nearest glass door that led out onto the gallery. Thoughts of eliciting information from the American major vanished in the wake of her need for self-preservation. “Pardon me.” She released his arm. “I have to go.”
He hurried after her. “Go where?”
“Away from the marquess,” she hissed. “And please don’t follow me. You’re hard to miss, Major Winter. You’ll lead him right to me.”
Once outside, she peered back through the door. Major Winter had vanished but the Marquess of Pomeroy had halted to scan the area.
Spotting a nearby pillar, she slid behind it.
“What did I miss?” came a voice at her elbow.
She jumped, whirling to find the major standing there, she cried, “You beast! You gave me the most horrid fright! What are you doing?”
“Joining you. I came through another door.” His eyes gleamed at her.
“Shh,” she hissed.
Just in time, too, for they both heard the glass door opening. She tensed as a voice called out, “Lady Amelia?”
Her gaze shot to Major Winter. As if to protect her, he edged closer. A smile touched her lips. It was rather thrilling, hiding out here with the major.
A long silence ensued, during which she envisioned Lord Pomeroy surveying the area around the gallery with his supercilious stare. When she heard the click of his heels on the stone, she flattened herself against the cold marble, struggling to keep her breathing quiet.
That was no small feat with the major standing inches away. His hand had found her waist, and he stroked it enticingly. She swallowed hard.
His gaze fixed on her throat, and again there was that delicious flicker in his eyes. But Lord Pomeroy’s muttered curse broke the moment. As Amelia held her breath, the footsteps receded and the door closed.
“Do you mind telling me what that was about?” Major Winter asked.
“I don’t wish to speak to Lord Pompous…I mean, Pomeroy,” she breathed, still worried that the man might come bounding out and find them. “He wants to marry me. Me and my fortune.”
“Doesn’t he have his own?”
“Not really. They gave him lands and the title, but he has to maintain it.”
His gaze probed hers. “And you don’t want to marry a fortune hunter.”
His hand still rested on her waist. She knew she should move away, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so. “Who does?”
He leaned his forearm against the pillar, his expression turning calculating. “I guess that means I don’t have a chance with you.”
“Don’t you have money?”
“I did once.” His voice now held an icy edge. “But it vanished years ago.”
“You should have been more careful,” she said lightly, though her blood pounded in her ears. Had his money “vanished” because of her stepmother?
Anger flashed in his eyes, then was gone. “Care had nothing to do with it.” Dropping his hand from her waist, he pivoted on his heel and marched off.
She followed him down the gallery. Time to play her flirty flibbertigibbet role again. She had to know more, which meant not antagonizing him. “You have other advantages that make up for your lack of fortune.”
“Do I?” he growled.
She slanted her gaze up at him. “What woman could resist a handsome Marine like you, who’s had such exciting adventures? Hearing your tales would keep a woman entertained when other duller husbands would not.”
He paused to regard her with obvious skepticism. “And you would marry a man because he’d had adventures?”
“Certainly!” With a flirtatious smile, she continued down the gallery. “Especially if my husband took me on adventures, too.”
“So why not marry Lord Pomeroy?”
“He’s old, for goodness sake!” she said in her best flighty manner.
“Well then, why not one of the other English officers?”
“Most of them only want my fortune to fund their retirement.” Sadly enough, that was true. “And the few adventurous officers either don’t want wives or are already married.” She turned to him with a dramatic pout. “Even the married ones expect their wives to stay home like good little girls and never see the world while they sail to the West Indies and beyond.”
“Trust me, Lady Amelia, you wouldn’t enjoy seeing the world if it meant spending your days in a cramped ship’s cabin or long hours on a camel’s back.”
“You’ve ridden a camel, too?” She could barely contain her excitement. “What’s it like? Can they run like horses or is it more like a trot? Do they really go for hours without water?”
He stared at her closely. “Camels are smelly and cantankerous. You wouldn’t like riding one.”
Goodness, she was giving away her true nature again. An interest in camels was decidedly not a flibbertigibbet attribute. “Of course not,” she said primly.
He shifted his gaze to the gardens below. “I suppose you got this interest in adventure from your stepmother.”
She caught her breath. He kept turning the conversation back to Dolly. He must suspect her somehow. “Why do you say that?”
“I’m sure she told you all about her own travels to France and…”
“Not France, Major Winter.” Her blood pounded in her ears. “It was Spain, remember?”
“Right, during the war. I forgot.” He searched her face. “You must be very close to your stepmother if you adopted her love of travel.”
“I can’t imagine what you mean,” she hedged. It became clearer by the moment that he was after her Dolly. But until she knew why, she didn’t know how to answer his questions safely.
“Well, I gather she and your father haven’t been married long, yet you seem to have her same interests. How long have they been married, anyway?”
“Major Winter,” she said, desperate to change the subject. “Are you going to just stand there babbling about my relations? Or are you going to kiss me?”
He frowned. “Beg pardon?”
Turn his head, she reminded herself. Away from Dolly. Her heart thundering wildly, she walked her fingers up the gold braid of his coat. “When a man follows a young lady onto a gallery and talks to her of suitors and such, he generally has something other than conversation in mind.” She tugged his hand to her waist.
Every muscle in Lucas’s body went taut as a full sail. The flirt actually rose up on tiptoe to press her lips to his. Hell, she was young enough to be…well, at least a younger sister.
But she didn’t kiss like a younger sister, that was for damned sure. She had the most tempting lips he’d ever tasted.
Before he even got the chance to enjoy himself, however, she broke the kiss, drawing back with a knowing smile.
His temper flared. She was just like her countrymen, baiting and tormenting him, thinking she could escape unscathed because he was a crass American and she was the high-falutin’ English. But she’d been the one to start this, so now she was damned well going to finish it.
He snared her around the waist and dragged her against him. “If that’s your idea of a kiss, it’s no wonder you crave adventure.” Seizing her chin, he growled, “This, Lady Amelia, is a kiss.” Then he covered her mouth with his.
Although she froze, she didn’t fight him, so he took advantage. He moved his lips on hers, testing, tasting, enjoying. Then splaying his fingers over her silk-clad back, he thrust his tongue inside
She jerked back, but didn’t pull out of his embrace, just stared up at him with those luminous, chocolate-hued eyes. “What are you doing?”
She colored. “Yes, but you…that is…your…”
“That’s how we savage Americans kiss.” Her reaction irritated him. Given her flirting and boldness, she had to know what he was doing. “But I suppose you don’t like a plain soldier daring to kiss you with his whole mouth.”
“I-I didn’t say that,” she protested.
“Good. Then you won’t mind if I continue where I left off.”
Without giving her a chance to resist, he kissed her again. He didn’t know which drove him harder, her obvious shock at his insolence or the fact that she’d meant only to tease him, but he wasn’t letting some lofty English lady get the better of him.
So he took her mouth as insolently as any marauding army, half-expecting her to fight off the attack with the same ferocity. To his shock, she not only refused to fight, but when he probed between her lips, she even let him in.
Hellfire and damnation. It was like sinking into warm molasses. Intoxicated, he plunged his tongue deeply inside her mouth. With every thrust, she melted a little more until she was as soft as freshly churned butter in his arms.
It would drive any hot-blooded soldier crazy. What luscious lips she had, tender as a Virginia peach. And the honeysuckle smell of her was so like home that for a second, he forgot she was English, forgot whose stepdaughter she was.
So when she looped her arms about his neck, crushing her soft breasts against his chest, he took it for an invitation and let his hands roam… up her back, then down over her shapely hips, then up along her ribs until his thumbs brushed the undersides of her…
“We must stop this,” she drew back to murmur, her face flushed and her breath coming quickly. “Someone will soon notice that we’re both gone from the ballroom, and if anyone catches us here together, I’ll be called ‘fast’ or worse.”
His mind struggled to assimilate her words. Then he scowled. “That’s the price you pay for adventure, darlin’,” he rasped, still fighting the powerful urge to throw her over his shoulder and carry her down into the bushes.
“You wouldn’t be so flippant if you knew the price they’d try to make you pay if we were caught together.”
“Exactly what price do you think ‘they’ would try to make me pay?” he asked as he fought to rein in his reckless lust.
“Marriage, of course. A gentlemen isn’t supposed to kiss an unmarried lady unless he’s courting her. And you aren’t, are you?”
The words “hell, no,” rose to his lips before he caught himself. He had let himself get carried away by her honeyed mouth, but now he reminded himself why he was here. It wasn’t to annoy some slip of an Englishwoman. He was here for justice. Which he couldn’t get without dealing with her.
And how better to deal with her than to court her? Courtship was the perfect disguise for his purpose. If he played his cards right, she might even bring him home to meet her parents.
Lowering his gaze to her reddened lips, he said, “I could be.”
She blinked. “Could be what?”
Nothing would come of it. Kirkwood had already said the lady wasn’t interested in marrying, and she’d as much as admitted it herself. Besides, she wouldn’t want anything to do with him after he apprehended her stepmother and Theodore Frier. Which he meant to do once he was sure he had the right woman.
She watched him uneasily. “You ‘could be’ courting me? After one kiss?”
Deliberately, he lifted his hand to cup her cheek, running his thumb over her sulky lower lip. “More than one kiss. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
“Really?” Her voice was oddly brittle. “I thought you were here on business.”
“Business?” he said warily.
“The treaty with the Algerians.”
“Oh. Right.” It was at least partly true. He and his superiors had agreed that it would provide him with a suitable cover while he tracked down the Friers. “Doesn’t mean I can’t look for a wife while I’m going about my business.”
He’d swear he saw anger flash in her eyes. But then it was gone, and he figured he’d imagined it. Why would she be angry? Females like her collected suitors like so many jewels. She wouldn’t care if one more hung around.
“So now you’re looking for a wife.” She slid her hands down to his waist, then froze as she felt his dagger. “What’s this?” Without waiting for him to answer, she thrust her hand inside his sash, then pulled out the knife and held it up with an arch glance. “Do you always carry a dagger when you’re courting?”
“Do you always check your suitors for weapons?” he countered, snatching it from her and shoving it back in his sash.
She hesitated, then cast him a vacant smile more in keeping with the flighty flirt she’d seemed earlier than the woman he’d just been kissing. “Of course not, you silly man. It was accidental. But this is exactly the problem with your courting me. You don’t know the rules.”
“What rules?” he clipped out, annoyed by her abrupt change in personality.
“Of proper English society.” She flashed him a teasing smile. “In England, arming oneself for a ball is considered terribly rude, Major.”
“Lucas,” he said tightly, bothered by her propriety after all their kissing. “Call me Lucas. It’s my Christian name.”
She lowered her lashes demurely. “We aren’t engaged yet, sir. And we aren’t likely to be if you continue to flout the rules of proper society.”
To hell with the rules of proper society. He just wanted the chance to find out what he needed to know.
Then again…“You could teach me not to. Flout the rules, I mean.” He couldn’t continue his investigation if she wouldn’t see him because of his “rude” behavior. “You could give me society lessons.” Unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice, he added, “Make me worthy to be your suitor.”
An oddly calculating gleam appeared in her eyes. “That’s a brilliant idea.”
He sure hoped so. “Who can teach me better than you?” The one woman who might lead him to Dorothy Frier, and from there to Theodore Frier.
“Who indeed?” She fluttered her lashes at him. “Although I’m not sure it’s worth my effort when plenty of other gentlemen court me who already know the rules of English society.”
He gritted his teeth. If she thought to make him beg for the “privilege” of courting her, she was in for a surprise. But he did have something she wanted. “Ah, but none of those other fellows can feed you the tales of adventure you crave.”
She stared at him. “You have a point.”
“I can even give you adventures of your own, if you want.”
Her gaze grew steely. “What sort of adventures? Your kisses?”
His blood ran high. That would certainly make up for his having to endure “society lessons.” “If that’s what you want, darlin’.”
Her expression turned coy. “We’ll see. If you prove yourself ‘worthy’ to be my suitor, then perhaps a few of those adventures might be in order.”
So the little English tease meant to practice her wiles on him, did she? Fine. As long as she eventually told him what he needed to know, let her practice all she wanted. “Then we have a bargain. You give me society lessons, and I give you adventures. Of whatever kind you want.”
She hesitated, then flashed him an arch smile. “Very well. Now I’d best go in before someone comes looking for me.”
When she walked off, he started to follow. She stopped short. “We can’t enter together or people will assume…”
“That we were out here doing something we shouldn’t?”
“Exactly.” She gazed at him from beneath seductively lowered lashes. “And let this be your first lesson—no one ever lets on to other people that they’ve been doing something they shouldn’t.”
“In that case…” He brushed his hand down the back of her dress.
She leaped back with a blush. “What are you doing?”
“There’s dirt from the railing on your gown. And if you don’t want anybody knowing what we were doing…”
“Oh.” She backed away, dusting off her gown. “In future, you really should tell me what to do, not take it upon yourself.”
“All right. Next time I’ll let you touch your own backside.” Her shapely, fits-perfectly-in-a-man’s-hands backside.
A laugh bubbled out of her. “And you certainly shouldn’t say the word ‘backside’ in society.”
He bristled at the instruction. “You’d rather I said ‘ass’?”
She cast him a reproachful glance. “You’re not supposed to refer to any part of a person’s body at all.”
“So I can’t offer to give you a hand? Or take your arm? Or lend you an ear?”
“You know very well what I mean.”
“Don’t be too sure. According to you English, I’m a savage.”
“Even savages can learn to behave.”
“If that’s what they want.”
She raised one eyebrow. “I thought you did.”
He forced a smile. “Sure. As long as you don’t try to turn me into one of your fancy milkfed gentlemen.”
“Oh, I doubt there’s any danger of that,” she said in a voice that could only be called sarcastic. But just as he wondered about that glimpse of another side to her, she gave him an inane little wave, and added, “I hope to see you sometime soon…Lucas. I can’t wait until our next adventure.”
Then she sashayed down the gallery with her hips swinging, leaving him to stare after her with blood afire. Oh, he’d give the little flirt an adventure all right. Just let him alone with her somewhere he could lay her down and…
He cursed under his breath. Don’t be a fool. This courtship was meant to elicit information, nothing more. Let her tease and bat her eyelashes. But while she played at taming the American savage, he’d be interrogating her, not making love to her. Because no matter what, he meant to get answers.