I am thrilled to share Scandalous Redemption, book three in my Ladies and Scoundrels series with you!
She never wanted him…
Ruined by scandal, Claudia Akford survived years of marriage to a cruel brute. Widowed, she is determined to regain her standing in society, but Lord Shillington personifies temptation. Kind and gentle, yet masculine and sinfully handsome, he would make the perfect lover, but he wants more than she is willing to give.
He needed her…
While Henry Shillington knows a little of the beautiful but notorious Lady Claudia Akford, he is struck by her kindhearted, accomplished, and witty demeanor. The more time he spends in her company, the more he dreams of a future with her. But the lady resists his honorable overtures, and a mistress will never do for him.
Can two wary people overcome past hurts, an old scandal, and social strictures to embrace true love?
Lord Henry Shillington strode across the music room of Lord and Lady Morse’s country estate. The force of someone bumping into him sent him stumbling backward. “Excuse me.” He whorled around, auburn curls catching his gaze as he reached out to steady her.
“You should watch your step.” The lady peered at him through narrowed fierce green eyes. “Unhand me at once.”
Henry met her icy glare. She radiated the sweet fruity scent of champagne. “You’re foxed.”
Her earbobs danced and sparkled as she leaned in close, the fire in her eyes growing more intense. “It is not your concern.” She jerked free of his hold, pivoted, and took a step. Her blue jewel-toned gown snapped with the sudden movement.
He reached out and wrapped his hand around her arm, halting her. His pulse raced. “You cannot stay here in your condition. You will cause a scandal for yourself and our hosts.”
“What concern is it of yours?” She rounded on him, her emerald eyes flashing.
His heart beat faster. He had to prevent her from causing a scene. “Allow me to escort you outside. We can stroll through the garden.” Part of him worried for their guests, but, if he were being honest, he would have to admit he wished to know more about this beauty. Something about her captivated him. Perhaps her unusual eyes or the misery he saw in her gaze.
A slow smile spread across her full lips. “Very well.”
She swayed and clung to his arm as he led her out through the veranda doors into the open country air. He slanted a look at her. What would compel a lady to become foxed so early in the evening? The sun had yet to give way to the moons glow. And who was she? Surely, they had never met before.
He turned her down a path lined with various flowers and green foliage. The details did not signify. She was clearly in distress, and he intended to help if he could. He slanted his gaze at her, studying the profile of her delicate face.
“Might we sit, Lord…what is your name?” Her intoxicating laughter floated through the empty space.
He had never heard a sweeter sound. It tugged at his heart, endearing the strange woman to him. “Lord Shillington. And yours?” He stopped in front of a cast iron bench. He could not take his eyes off her as she lowered herself onto the seat in a flutter of skirts and auburn curls. Her gaze reflected sorrow, but her lips held a breathtaking smile.
“Do sit with me, Lord Shillington.” She patted the bench next to her.
Henry positioned himself near her, but not too close. Being out here with an unchaperoned lady was scandalous enough. It was not his desire to compromise her–or himself. Given her state, he had no choice but to remove her from the gathering. However, he also had a responsibility to control the propriety of his behavior.
A cool breeze ruffled her elegant skirts, drawing his gaze over her form. Heat climbed into his cheeks as he studied her. Tall and lean, yet she possessed ample curves in all the places a man liked to see them. He trailed his gaze back to hers, offering a grin. “Your name, my lady?”
She looked at him through hooded lashes, her eyes sparkling. “Lady Claudia Akford.”
His heart skipped a beat as his throat tightened. The notorious Lady Claudia Akford. The very lady who had caused trouble for his friends, Lord and Lady Luvington? He should not be anywhere near her, least of all attempting to aid her. The scandalous lady brought on her own troubles.
He shot up from the bench. “I will not be a party to your scheming. Lord and Lady Luvington are my friends, but I suppose you already knew that.”
She stood and reached out, taking hold of his arm. A crestfallen expression came across her lovely features. “Indeed I knew nothing of the sort, nor am I scheming. Go if you must, but know you are mistaken about my motivations.”
He jerked his arm free and walked away. A soft sniff made him freeze. Do not turn around. After another step, he glanced over his shoulder. Blast it. Lady Akford sat upon the bench head hung low, shoulders trembling. With a deep inhale, he moved back to her side.
At least the risk of compromising her no longer existed. It was perfectly fine for a widow to be unchaperoned. Regardless, he was too much of a gentleman to leave her alone in such a delicate state. He would see her sober or at the very least safe in her chambers before abandoning her.
She lifted her head, her emerald eyes large and sad. “I am not the heartless harlot they make me out to be.”
He held his silk handkerchief out to her, not trusting himself to speak.
She shook her head, and he tucked the silk square back into his pocket. “I know what the ton says about me, but they have it all wrong.”
Somehow, he doubted they did. Lady Sarah Luvington would never make up a tale to injure another person’s reputation. She had told him all about Lady Akford after the vixen traipsed into Lord Luvington’s townhouse stirring up trouble. He would see her sobered then be done with her.
“You believe me, Lord Shillington?” Her gaze locked with his.
The pain in her expression compelled him to reach out and pat her gloved hand. He could not give her the cut direct regardless of what he believed. “Tell me why you are so deep in your cups at this early hour? Do you continue to grieve for your late husband?”
She shook her head. A hiccup escaped. “Some men are monsters. Lord Akford was such a man.” Her gaze penetrated him. “Do people not celebrate when monsters are slain?”
Henry swallowed past the lump in his throat. “You are…celebrating?” Her words concerned him and confused him at the same time. Perhaps the lady was mad.
She laughed and waved her fan. “No, but nor do I grieve his loss. On the contrary, I was pleased to see him gone. I never fancied Akford. He tricked me into marriage, then mistreated me for years. May his soul burn in Hell for eternity.”
“I…” Henry had never heard a lady use such strong language. Words escaped him.
“You need not say anything. Just hear me out.” She squared her shoulders and angled her body toward his.
Gads, her alabaster cheeks were far too pale. He took a deep breath and steeled himself for her story.
“Lord Akford knew I intended to marry Lord Luvington and ruined me on purpose. He set us up, then went to my father and arranged for his own marriage to me. I had little choice other than to accept. Father threatened to disown me if I refused, and all of London already saw me as a fallen woman.” She wrapped her arms across her midsection. “I will not share the details, they are too painful, but Lord Akford was a brute. There was no love lost between us.”
Henry rubbed the back of one hand across her warm cheek. “You need not go on. I have heard enough.” Did she speak the truth? He could not fathom the idea of her inventing such a tale. If Lady Akford were being honest, she had been through Hell. He owed it to her to help. But what could he do?
She stood, turning away from him. “I require another flute of champagne. Do join me.”
“That is the last thing you need. Let us speak of something more pleasant instead.” He challenged her with his gaze.
“Very well.” She plumped back down in an unladylike fashion. “Shall I tell you how memories of Lord Luvington kept me sane during my years under Lord Akford’s hand? Or would you like to hear how Lord Luvington cast me aside when I came back to him?”
A look of mortification crossed her features as the last word she uttered left her lips. She must have realized she had said too much. Henry closed his eyes and exhaled. She would not be the first person he had met whose pain drove her into a bottle, or who said things when inebriated she would never say under normal circumstances. Her awareness of her mistake somehow softened him.
“Lord Luvington married Lady Sarah. They are in love and expecting a babe. He could not very well toss her aside.”
Lady Akford peered at him. “But I deserved to be tossed aside?”
“You have misconstrued what I said. Did you listen to my words? He married another before you returned.” Henry rubbed a hand across his jaw. The lady frustrated him beyond belief.
“Yes, I am not bird-witted. I have come to accept his choice, but it does nothing to ease my heartache.” She leaned in, stopping inches from his face. “Perchance you could ease my pain.”
He met her gaze once more. “I am afraid I do not follow.”
She brought her lips to his. A jolt of warmth coursed through him as she scooted closer to rest her hand on his thigh. When she ran her tongue across his lower lip, he jerked away. “I am a gentleman, Lady Akford. Not a toy and surely not a rake.” Making mistakes when one was hurting was one thing, but this…
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Bestselling, Amazon All Star author Amanda Mariel dreams of days gone by when life moved at a slower pace. She enjoys taking pen to paper and exploring historical time periods through her imagination and the written word. When she is not writing she can be found reading, crocheting, traveling, practicing her photography skills, or spending time with her family.
Amanda lives along the Lake Huron shoreline in northern Michigan with her husband and two kids. She holds a Master of Liberal Arts Degree with a concentration in literature and has a long-standing love affair with sugary junk food.