by Beverley Oakley
Salon of Sin Series, book 1
A sweet yet spicy love story between a long-married couple
A woman who fears her husband is being unfaithful takes an extraordinary and sensual journey to discover an unexpected truth-and helps unravel the mystery of a lost child. Eight years of marriage has not dimmed Cressida-Lady Lovett’s-love for her husband, but the birth of five children has cooled her ardor. Now rumors are circulating that the kind, dashing and seemingly ever-patient Justin, Lord Lovett, has returned to the arms of his former mistress, and Cressida believes her choices are stark-welcome her husband back to the marital bed and risk a sixth pregnancy she fears will kill her, or lose him forever. With the astonishing discovery that methods exist to enable the innocent Cressida to transform herself into the vixen of her husband’s dreams without expanding her nursery, she seeks to repay the woman responsible for her empowerment…only to discover her unlikely benefactress was, and perhaps still is, her husband’s mistress.
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Publish Date: June 23, 2015
Publisher: Totally Bound
Print ISBN: 9781784306403
Print Length: 192 pages
Heat Rating: Sizzling Romance
The sight of the man slowly raising his head, warm brown eyes regarding her with unmistakable interest, sucked the air from her lungs, a reaction as piercing now as it was a whole eight years and so much history ago.
“Oh!” she gasped as she raked her gaze over the familiar masculine form. His relaxed and pleasant smile lent him an air of calm and dignified authority. And safety.
Then terror washed over Cressida, that all her wickedness was about to be revealed.
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“The Earl of Lovett has taken a mistress?”
The breathy shock of pretty newlywed, Mrs. Rupert Browne, sliced through the buzz of conversation, lancing its unsuspecting target three feet away and causing a deaf colonel to ask the duchess solicitously if she required a glass of water.
Still choking on her champagne, Cressida, Lady Lovett, strained to hear the response of her cousin, Catherine, who had obviously disseminated this latest shocking on dit while she smilingly assured deaf Colonel Horvitt she was quite all right, as if her happiness were not suddenly hanging by a gossamer thread.
She could only hope she was making the right responses to the colonel’s monologue. All her concentration was focused on the nearby conversation as she waited desperately for a rejection of the outrageous claim.
“Surely not?” gasped the generally well-intentioned but oblivious Mrs. Browne to Cousin Catherine’s whispered reply. “But the earl made a love match. Mama told me he scandalized society by marrying a nobody.”
Cressida had to use two hands to keep her champagne coupe steady. The indignity of being described as a ‘nobody’ was nothing compared with the pain of hearing her husband’s amours—real or otherwise—discussed in the middle of a ballroom. She forced her trembling mouth into her best attempt at a smile as the colonel leaned forward and wagged his finger at her, his stentorian tone precluding further eavesdropping. “Your husband ruffled more than a few feathers with his speech in the House of Lords last night, Lady Lovett.”
Cressida had once giggled with her ferociously forceful cousin, Catherine, that the colonel used his deafness as an excuse to peer down the cleavage of every pretty lady he addressed. She was in no mood for giggling now. Clearly, Cousin Catherine was disclosing details about the state of Cressida’s marriage, of which Cressida, apparently, was the last to know. She straightened and pushed her shoulders back, suddenly self-conscious of appearing the sagging, lacking creature the several hundred guests crowded into Lady Belton’s newly renovated ballroom must imagine her, if they were already privy to what she was hearing for the first time. Before her last sip of champagne, she’d considered herself happily married. It was all she could do to remain standing and dry-eyed.
Adjusting the lace of her masquerade costume, she managed, faintly, “Ah, Colonel, you know Lord Lovett and his good causes.” She tried to make it sound like an endearment, but the axis of her world had become centered on ascertaining what other titbits about her marriage Catherine was divulging to Mrs. Browne.
The music swelled to a crashing crescendo, the end of which was punctuated by Mrs. Browne’s shocked squeak, “Who is the woman? Madame Zirelli? Was she not once Lord Grainger’s mistress? No! His wife? He divorced her? And now she and Lord Lovett—?”
Cressida hadn’t wanted to come to Lady Belton’s masquerade. Little Thomas was teething, but Justin had been especially persuasive, reminding her that it had been a long time since they’d been out in public, and that, yes, he knew Thomas was cutting a tooth, but there was nothing Cressida could do that Nurse Flora couldn’t, just for a few hours that evening.
Searching the ballroom for her husband, she spied him talking to her friend, Annabelle Luscombe, near the supper table. Justin’s look was inquiring, as if he were hanging on her every word. Cressida knew he would take equal interest if Annabelle were talking about her latest bonnet or about the Sedleywich Home for Orphans, of which Justin was patron and Annabelle on the committee.
A frisson of longing speared her. Justin had looked at her like that when she’d first met him. So handsome, so determined, so interested and sincere.
The thought that he’d made a special plea for her presence tonight purely in the interest of stilling wagging tongues was almost too terrible to consider.
A mistress? Her kind, beloved, faithful Justin?
As if he were conscious of her from across the room, Justin turned, his dark brown eyes kindling at the sight of her, the warmth of his smile spreading comfort like a woolen mantle. It radiated across the heated, perfumed distance that separated them. Dear Lord, he looked like a handsome prince taken right out of the pages of a storybook, his brown, wavy hair brushed fashionably forward, topped with the laurel wreath required by his costume, his sideburns contouring his elegantly chiseled, high cheekbones. Dressed like a stately Roman senator, he was the stuff of every girl’s dreams, yet it was she, insignificant Miss Cressida Honeywell, daughter of a poor country parson, who had won his heart all those years ago.
She’d thought she still had it—had vowed she’d always keep it.
Rallying, she took a step forward, responding to the invitation implicit in her husband’s eye, but the colonel began counseling Cressida on the dangers of Justin making speeches about orphans and sanitation when he could better rouse his audience in the Lords if he concerned himself with more important matters.
The look she’d just exchanged with her husband was enough to all but dismiss her fears. Exhaling with relief, Cressida smiled at the colonel who, obviously regarding this as encouragement, closed the distance between them as he pursued his argument. She retained her smile as Justin, from the other side of the room, focused another very warm glance in her direction before attending to the hunchbacked Dowager Duchess of Trentham, whose eightieth birthday celebration this was. Justin had the gift of making every woman feel the center of his especial interest. Clearly something must have been misconstrued…
Awareness prickled through her—that she had for some time sensed all was not quite right. Taking a step back, she swallowed past the lump in her throat while making, she hoped, the appropriate responses for the benefit of the colonel. Justin, lately, had not been the contented husband of old. The recent bolstering she’d silently received from him faded upon this acknowledgement and her eyes stung. She knew her behavior had not been beyond reproach—that she had withdrawn and that understandably, he was confused. Some months ago, he’d tried to raise the subject, yet she’d brushed it aside, incapable of putting her feelings into words, unable to entertain that unmentionable aspect of their marriage at the heart of all their problems.