Victorian England c. 1870
Operating as a British spy, Tristan St.James, the new Marquis of Wrenworth, barely escapes Afghanistan with his life in the spring of 1869. He plans to seek vengeance against the traitor who exposed him and for the agent he’s forced to kill. Returning to England, as a lord, he must marry. Haunted by guilt from the horrors of war, he avoids love at all costs, but finds himself drawn to the only woman who is disinterested in him.
Lady Evelyn Hurstine has waited over two years for the return of her love, a man who left for war in the East. But during that time, she suffered a brutal assault, resulting in a child and fear of any man touching her except for the man she once knew. The pursuit by the marquis scares her but her excuses against his proposal dwindle.
Their marriage strengthens into love until she discovers her husband isn’t the safety she believed but the one who killed the man she once loved. Caught in a world of intrigue and mayhem, Tristan must prove his love to her before the traitor destroys them both.
What made him say that, of all things? Fiancée? Engaged to the ice queen? Tristan noticed how pale Evelyn turned, and part of him tightened. When that fop moved away so quickly, it was obvious the man wasn’t really interested in Evelyn. But Tristan’s interest surely could have been expressed less dramatically.
“Tris.” Harry stood behind him. “What are you doing?” It was a low whisper.
Tristan forced a smile, concentrating to make it more of a devil-may-care grin. “It wasn’t to be announced just yet,” he replied, his gaze on Evelyn. She still looked a bit shocked. “Come, my sweet.” He held his hand up for her to take.
Her eyes still wide, but her mouth now shut, Evelyn gently laid her hand on his, like a butterfly landing on a flower, fragile as spun glass. She blinked and managed to return a timid smile as he led her away.
Several feet from the croquet game, she stopped, withdrawing her hand, as if he had stung her.
“Do you care to explain yourself, captain? Wait, no, my lord?”
He wanted to laugh at her attempt to guess his rank but heard the anger in her tone. Ah, so his ice queen wasn’t entirely frozen. Her anger melted that lovely aloof façade. Pity.
“I’ve come to a conclusion, my dear…”
“I am not your ‘dear’,” she snapped.
He snorted at her reaction. “But for all intents and purposes, you are. Now hear me out.” Tristan directed her to the oak tree near the edge of the grounds. They were in full view of everyone, so he figured she’d be calmer there than in the house. Evelyn reminded him of a skittish colt, on the verge of darting off if threatened.
“I need a wife. You are searching for a husband. That braggart there was too close for comfort. Therefore, I rescued you.” He chuckled. “And he won’t be bothering you again.”
Her gaze narrowed. Ah, the fire in her eyes lit to blazing. “Whose comfort?”
That question made his skin prickle, like being stabbed with a million pins. Surely she knew that fop’s “familiarity” with her was the stuff of scandal…right? Or was it really that it made Tristan uncomfortable? As if the man had tried to take what was his? And if so, when had that feeling formed?
“You had no right,” she continued, still fuming.
Oh, how he wanted to burn in her fire. “We suit each other perfectly.”
“I will not marry you,” she hissed.
His attraction to her, now his fire and ice queen, grew. As her breathing deepened in anger, he noticed her breasts swelling in the confines of the corset, barely contained. Her illusion tulle fiche was more decorative than concealing, and his cock hardened with each rise of her bosom. Blood racing through him, he struggled to maintain his composure. Despite the warning inside his head to give her sufficient space, he leaned toward her, his hand taking hers again. Evelyn hardened and tried to withdraw it, but he wouldn’t let her go.
To everyone else, they looked like a couple, enraptured with each other. Exactly what he wanted them to think.
She noticed it too. “And what will my father say?” She glared at him, challenging. “Andrew is his best friend’s son. Lord Huntington, I believe, has had an understanding with his ‘highness’ that a match was made for me and the ‘braggart.’”
Tristan wanted to howl out loud. He heard her snarl, especially when she uttered the royal title for the Baron. He understood that dislike of a parent. Heaven knows, he and his own sire rarely spoke civilly. Particularly when Tristan was caught with the servant girl and a half empty bottle of the man’s best brandy.
“I shall talk to him shortly.”
Evelyn raised her brows, eyeing over his shoulder. “Shortly may be now, my lord.”
Tristan turned. Barreling down the lawn, creating a wake in in his path, Evelyn’s father stormed toward them. Not far behind him was Huntington and his son. Tristan gauged their pace and the distance. He had a few seconds and could hear Evelyn’s foot tapping against the grass. Frankly, he was surprised she hadn’t crossed her arms in anger or left him. With every second, her behavior and decision to stay put only made him more interested in her. Damn! Her dowry and position made her exactly what he needed his English bride to be like, with a ramrod backbone and a defiance of societal rules. As Evelyn’s father got closer, there was only one thing Tristan could think of to ensure she become his. In one swift move, he turned, pulled her close, bent her backward, and pressed his cheek to hers. She gasped.
“Considering the situation, you need me as much as I need you. We are the perfect match,” he whispered, smiling and gesturing as if to kiss her.
They both knew in that moment she became his forever. The compromising position between two single people in a public setting was shocking to the ton.
Tristan heard the grass crunching under the footsteps of the Baron and his party. He didn’t look in their direction but eased back from Evelyn, watching her reaction. Suppressed fury blazed in her eyes, and her body was rigid.
“Naught, naught, naught,” he murmured. “To slap me would be appropriate but would serve you no purpose.”
Despite the fire in her gaze, she relaxed a little within his arms. “But it would give me satisfaction nevertheless,” she whispered defiantly, although she didn’t move.
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A USA Today Bestselling author, Gina Danna was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and has spent the better part of her life reading. History has always been her love and she spent numerous hours devouring historical romance stories, always dreaming of writing one of her own. After years of writing historical academic papers to achieve her undergraduate and graduate degrees in History, and then for museum programs and exhibits, she has found the time to write her own historical romantic fiction novels. Now, under the supervision of her three dogs and two cats, she writes amid a library of research books, with her only true break away is to spend time with her other life long dream —her Arabian horse—With him, her muse can play.
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