Authors: Charlotte Featherstone
SEDUCTION & SCANDAL
“One can become addicted to Featherstone’s sexually charged
romances. The quick pace and wonderfully dark and dangerous
heroes are what readers dream about. Secrets, passions and
conflicts abound as readers are led through a labyrinth of plot
twists, séances, supernatural revelations, visions and love scenes
that take their breath away and leave them panting for more.”
RT Book Reviews,
“An incredible read… I literally could not put this book down.
solid 5/5 stars, and highly recommended.”
“This was the first time I have read a Charlotte Featherstone
book; I can safely say that it will not be the last…. Now I just
have to be patient and wait for the next Sin to find his Virtue….”
“A steamy voyage into the world of Fae where nothing is as it
seems…. An interesting story that held my attention throughout.”
The Romance Readers Connection
is decadence at its best. I had no choice but to read it
cover to cover—the story is just that good. Charlotte
Featherstone is now on my list of authors to watch!”
“Pairing a tortured hero and a strong-minded heroine
creates a dynamic conflict and off-the-charts sexual tension.
Throw in lots of witty dialogue and a nontraditional
happy ending, and you’ve got a keeper.”
RT Book Reviews
(Top Pick, 4.5 stars)
“A wonderful old-fashioned love story is at the very heart of this
novel. Agreeably outside of the norm with its damaged hero, it
also has plenty of sizzle and emotional clout.”
RT Book Reviews,
SEDUCTION & SCANDAL
Be sure to watch for
TEMPTATION & TWILIGHT
coming soon from HQN Books.
To all the readers who fell in love with Sussex—
here’s your man! Hope his story doesn’t disappoint!
EYOND THE MIST
, the darkness and shadow, he waits, reaching out through a veil of gossamer threads—‘your future,’ he whispers, ‘your destiny.’”
Heart fluttering like a trapped bird, Lucy swallowed hard as she focused on the swaying piece of silver.
“He has been there all along, waiting for you. Now is the time to reach out to him, to pull him out of the depths and into the light.”
Slowly Lucy nodded, understanding the words, hoping with every beat of her heart and pulse of her blood that the mystic’s words were true.
Occultism, spiritualism, mysticism…whatever one chose to call it, one fact remained true—it was sweeping through Victorian England, a dark presence that resided over soirees and salons, spirit meetings and private clubs.
The dark arts were an invitation to evil. Or so many a mere mortal believed. But Lucy Ashton knew them to be a door to another world—a world of darkness and mystery, a realm where demons and angels—the fallen—roamed free, selling their secrets for the price of a soul in need.
As she sat surrounded by golden candelabra, coated with layers of dripping, drying wax, with nothing but the sound of the autumn wind howling and the crack
ling of a log being engulfed by flame, Lucy knew she was that soul. One who needed—deeply.
The woman who sat opposite her held a silver pendulum in her hand. She knew how to find what Lucy so desperately searched for.
“Your lover,” the woman said in a voice that seemed so far away the longer Lucy followed the swaying pendulum with unblinking eyes. “He will come—
She dearly hoped so. Eight months it had been since she had last seen him—gone without a trace, taking with him any warmth, any feeling she possessed. The heady sensation of that warmth had been too brief—much too brief.
“You were right ’ta come to me, m’ lady,” the woman whispered. “I can find ’im. Bring ’im to you. Keep watching,” she encouraged. “Follow the pendulum and let yer thoughts drift ’ta him, the man who shall fix yer future.”
Lucy’s lids were heavy, and the flickering candlelight made shadows leap on the wall, a macabre dance. The mystic’s heavily wrinkled face grew shadowed, half of her cast in darkness, the other half yellowed in the candles’ glow.
“Yes, yes…” she murmured excitedly. “That’s the way, lass.”
The room narrowed and rippled; the absinthe Lucy had taken moments before the mystic produced the pendulum had found its way into her bloodstream, filling her veins with a strange sensation—one of heightened awareness meshed with a dreamy quality.
Like floating on water,
she thought as her body relaxed and sunk
deep into the velvet chair. Watching that swaying pendulum, Lucy felt her spirit and inhibitions leave her.
“Where are ye now?”
As if in a trance, Lucy answered, “A room. It’s dark, with only bits of light filtering through gauze curtains.”
“Yes? Go on.”
“I am not alone,” Lucy whispered. “I can sense another.”
“Close yer eyes, and see ’im with yer mind, luv.”
Obeying, Lucy allowed her lids to close fully. Immediately she saw herself, masked, her back pressed against the filmy gauze that separated her from the other person. Sliding her hand out, she slid her palm along the curtain, feeling an answering slide from the other side.
“He is there,” the mystic whispered. “The premonition of yer future.”
She sensed the heat, the passion. Her body remembered it—
At last she had found him. He had come to her. His touch was hot, warming her instantly. She pressed back, felt the hard, solid body of a man.
“Now tell me what ye see.”
Opening her eyes, Lucy jumped up from the chair she occupied, a suffocating scream lodged in her throat. The mystic followed her, snapping her fingers before Lucy’s eyes, breaking the spell that held her.
Perplexed, Lucy stared at the woman who claimed she could show Lucy what awaited her future. The Scot
tish Witch, with her fading red hair and wild golden eyes stood before her.
“You, madam, are a fraud.”
Snatching her reticule, Lucy left the coins on the table she had given to the crone when they had begun. The woman’s expression was stricken, and Lucy curled her lip in disdain. “You may enjoy fleecing others, but I will not be fooled. This is the last time we will meet. You needn’t attend me next week.”
“But…” The woman, just Mrs. Fraser now, no longer the Scottish Witch, or the occult mystic Lucy had once believed her to be, followed anxiously behind her. “What did ye see, lass?”
Lucy whirled on her.
“Not my future!”
Mrs. Fraser’s gaze narrowed, replaced by a knowing look. “Oh, aye, yer future indeed, lassie. Just no’ the one ye desire.”
“Good day, madam,” she answered in a clipped tone. Thrusting her hands into her soft leather gloves, Lucy left the drafty parlor and took the rickety steps down the three flights of stairs, out to the back of the building where her carriage awaited.
That is what she got for visiting a charlatan in the theater district, she thought mulishly. A first rate performance in fraudulence.
she scoffed as the carriage jolted forward, leaving Mrs. Fraser’s rental flats and her occult babblings far behind.
Gazing out the window, Lucy hardly saw the scenery passing her by, for the images of that trance would not leave her in peace.
Yes, the dark arts were an invitation to a mysterious
and dark realm. One of secrets and danger, and forbidden yearnings. A world of sensual pleasure and hedonistic pastimes.
She had seen that world in the vision, felt the heaving pulse surrounding her. She heard the words, whispering to her, wrapping around her like a lover’s touch.
Why did you forsake me?
His answer had been soft, a mere whisper. Their palms had touched through the gauze, his heat singing her just as his words did.
I have been here all along, waiting for you to see me beyond the veil that separates us.
She had turned then, breathless with anticipation. She saw her pale hand reach for the curtain, its trembling strength barely able to grasp the filmy material between her fingers. But with one tug, the fabric that separated them fell, pooling between them. She had looked up from the black mound, up along a body that hers recalled with such visceral pleasure. To a set of eyes that were so…wrong.
There was something about those eyes that pulled at her memory—a different time; a past that caused pain when it was recalled. No, the possessor of those eyes was definitely not her future!
Y DEAR, YOU
have been looking forlornly out that window for half an hour now. Why do you not go and call on Lady Black?”
Lucy tucked the bit of lace she held in her hand between the voluminous folds of her rose-colored silk and velvet skirts, as she gazed over her shoulder at her father. It was early November, and the day was gray with drizzle that promised to turn to sleet. She pulled the fur shawl a little tighter about her shoulders. The fire that had been laid was crackling, the amber flames flickering with warmth, filling the room with the comfort that only a roaring fire in late autumn could bring. But still Lucy was cold. She had been for months. Nothing seemed to warm her.
“It is early yet, Papa,” she answered. “Too early for calls.”
“Nonsense, the new Lady Black is your cousin—I daresay almost your sister. It’s never too early to call on family. Besides, I’ll be leaving now for my club, and I would like to know that you’re not at home, hanging about at loose ends.”
A wry smile escaped her as she cast her gaze once more out the window, to the mammoth black iron gates that stood across the street. How strange it was, that after all these years—decades, actually—her father
cared about what she might—or might not—be doing. Her loneliness, and it had been substantial, had never mattered to him before.
The Marquis of Stonebrook was neither a heartless nor an intentionally cruel man. Lucy could not say that about her father. Only that he wasn’t mindful of others and their needs. He was emotionally absent—not mean or quarrelsome. Just…absent. There was no other word for what her father, and her mother, had been. Although, perhaps
might be a close second. The long-held adage of “seen and not heard” did not pertain to her upbringing. For her parents had seen very little of her, and heard her? Not at all.
Her parents had been more concerned with their own lives than that of their child. She had been of little consequence to them, bringing to them little enjoyment. Her conception had been an obligation to further the title, and when she had turned out to be a girl, and no other children followed her, her parents had resigned themselves to the fact that their legacy would live on through the husband they would choose for her.
And Lucy knew without a doubt who her father wanted her to take for a husband. The passionless and priggish Duke of Sussex.
The duke was a sedate, dull and frightfully proper man—nothing like the man she dreamt of when she imagined a husband. Nothing like those dreams she had entertained when she was younger, when the butcher’s boy would come round with his master and keep her company in the kitchen while the butcher haggled with Mrs. Brown, their old housekeeper. Those had been silly, girlish fantasies of what it might be like to follow
one’s heart and dreams; those fantasies had swiftly been dashed by her father, and she soon learned what being a marriageable woman in her world truly meant.
And such was the essence of her life. Until eight months ago when she had taken her future into her own hands, seeking out what she felt her life lacked in the arms of an artist. The warmth and acceptance she had found with him would not exist with the duke. Their union would be an alliance, not a relationship.
“Come, my dear, I’ve been watching you for a while now, sitting on that window box, lost in thought. Surely whatever it is you’re hiding there beneath your skirts isn’t so serious for one as young as you?”
A bit of Brussels lace, that’s what she had buried beneath the folds of her skirts. It was embroidered with her initials, and given to her lover on the night she had offered herself to him. And then he had died. Or at least, she had believed he’d died in the fire that had consumed his rented rooms.
She had grieved, wept and despaired over never feeling alive again, until a fortnight ago, when the lace had been resurrected and delivered to her hand. That it had been his grace, the Duke of Sussex, who had delivered the handkerchief to her never ceased to perturb her. Why he had been the one to return it to her was still something she mulled over during the long, lonely nights spent alone in her father’s town house. She did not care for the notion that Sussex knew of her dalliance with another man. She didn’t care what he thought of her, or what he made of the handkerchief—or if he thought her fast and immoral, and so far beneath him for indulging in base pleasures.
It did not matter what his grace made of it all, for Lucy cared about only one thing: Thomas was alive, she was sure of it. He had made her promises. He’d spoken to her of their future together. She had believed that future burned to ashes in the fire, but the lace that she rubbed between her fingers told her that everything she believed was about to change.
“You’re frowning. Your mama always said it would give you creases about your eyes.”
Lucy found herself smiling. “Yes, she did say that. But I haven’t gotten the wrinkles yet.”
It was her father’s turn to frown. “Dare I hope the reason for your deep rumination might be the subject of marriage, especially after you have witnessed the marital felicity between your cousin and her new husband?”
“I am afraid not, Papa.”
“I thought not, but one can hope, and I haven’t given up yet.”
Her father would never give up. It was his desire to see her wed to the duke, and nothing less would do.
“And that is all that you intend to say on the matter, is it? Well, then I shall let it rest for now. Come then, Lucy, I must be off. I shall escort you across the street.”
“Really, Papa, there is no need for concern. I am quite all right at home.”
“Alone?” he guffawed. “Absolutely not, you’re still recovering from your illness.”
There was no fighting him on this. A fortnight ago she had been gravely ill—her own stupidity, which she refused to think on—and ever since, her father made certain that she was never left alone, although it was not
him who was a constant presence, but Isabella, whose task it now seemed was to hover about and mind Lucy’s activities.
Lucy thought back to those months ago, when, in an attempt to appease the loneliness left behind by the imagined loss of her lover, she had turned down many a dark and dangerous path, one of séances and scribing, and bargaining in her dreams if only she could find her lover once again. There had been that awful sense of incompleteness, having never had a chance to say goodbye. To see him one last time before he faded forever onto the other side, where breathing mortals could not follow.
Dabbling in the occult had been a way of idling her time away—and perhaps a somewhat foolish and desperate measure to find him in the ethers of the spiritual realm—it was then that she had come across the mysterious Brethren Guardians and their sacred relics—a relic she had stolen and used for her own purposes. The result had been disastrous, and nearly deadly.
It had terrified her father, and now he was hovering about, foisting her onto her cousin, and generally distrusting her, treating her like a child.
“Come, Lucy. I insist,” her father muttered in that voice that would brook no refusal. “There is no moving me on this. You will join Lady Black today and attend to those things that ladies do during morning calls.”
“I will just change,” Lucy sighed, quite resigned in the matter.
“Balderdash! You are quite appropriately attired. There is no need to waste time on changing your wardrobe.”
Her father wouldn’t hear of it. He was in something of a hurry to get to his club, and therefore, she was escorted out of the salon, and into the hall, where Jennings, their butler, assisted her with her cloak and umbrella.
“Damn this weather,” her father grumbled as he reached for her elbow and ushered her down the stone steps to the waiting carriage. “We’ll drive across the street, for there is no telling how long it will take Black’s footman to open the gates. I have no desire to wait in the rain for the gates to open. Don’t know why he needs them, anyway.”
Because he was a Brethren Guardian.
But she couldn’t very well inform her father of such a fact. She herself should know nothing of it. Lucy barely understood this strange Brethren that Sussex and Lord Black belonged to, but it didn’t matter. During her study of the occult, she had stumbled across it, discovering not only who the Brethren were, but the relics they kept hidden. She had sworn an oath of silence, promising never to speak of their little group to anyone. And in return, her own shocking secret would be kept from her father, and the microcosm that was their world—the ton.
She knew only bits and pieces of the Brethren Guardians’ secrets; it was an esoteric society made up of three influential peers: Black, Sussex and the Marquis of Alynwick.
Their business was mysterious and secretive, and dangerous. From what she knew of their secrets, there existed an onyx pendant, which was the very essence of evil, and some sort of chalice that they protected. But
what they represented, she could not say, and could not find out.
Black, who had recently become the husband of Isabella, Lucy’s cousin, had been shot a fortnight ago during what was termed
. Well on the mend, Black pretended that naught had happened, and Isabella, a true and honorable wife, would not speak of it. Lucy had tried, but Isabella had remained stubbornly tight-lipped. And the pendant…it had belonged to Black and his family, and purportedly contained seeds with magical powers. Lucy had taken it, ingested a seed inside the pendant and wished with everything inside her in the hopes she might once more see her lover and say her tearful goodbyes.
Of course, the rash action had caused her days of vomiting, and a strange feeling of possession, not to mention the fact that her actions had both alarmed and angered not only Black but Sussex. But in the end, her goal had been achieved. Thomas was alive…
And the Brethren Guardians were not only looking for him, but watching her as well to see if Thomas would come to her. When Sussex had delivered the lace to her he had also informed her that the man who had dropped it was a man he and the Brethren were hunting. He was their enemy, Sussex had claimed, and that man, Lucy knew, was Thomas. Her lover from the past. And Lucy knew with every cell of her being that she must protect him from the duke and his two fellow Guardians, for they were powerful and influential men, while her lover was an artist, without influence of a title or the power that both peerage and money could wield.
Yes, those iron gates that surrounded his lordship’s
home, standing sentry like a castle drawbridge against marauding knights, was a security measure—one Black would never abolish.
Her father cleared his throat several times, while glancing sidelong at her, all indications that something was weighing on him, something he felt compelled to speak of. “I’m afraid I cannot allow our previous conservation to lay fallow. I must speak plainly, Lucy. I’ve noticed, my dear, that Sussex hasn’t been by for some time. Two weeks, at least, I believe.”
Lucy refused to take her gaze from the rain-streaked carriage window. She would not talk of his grace, and she would not have this conversation with her father.
“I hope you have not had a falling-out.”
“I wasn’t aware that we had a falling-in.”
That quip made her father glare at her. “You don’t make it easy on the poor fellow. You hold him at arm’s length. He’s trying to court you, but you’re too obstinate to see it.”
“I am well aware of the fact, Father. You have made it too blatant for me to misunderstand. You wish me to marry the duke.”
“You say it with such disdain, as though he were a common laborer, when he is the furthest thing from it.”
She thought back to her young friend Gabriel, the butcher’s boy, and realized that they had shared something remarkable—the same sadness, the same loneliness, despite their stations being so opposite. “I am not at all opposed to a common man, if he were to feel a genuine sense of affection for me.”
“Affection!” Her father’s thick mutton chops twitched in irritation. “Good God, child, are we back to that?
Those fairy-tale thoughts were amusing when you were twelve, now they are downright mortifying. Marriage is an institution—”
“Rather like one of those asylums for lunatics,” she mumbled, unable to help herself. She didn’t want an institution. She wanted a marriage. A friendship. A loving partner.
Her father sighed deeply, but did not bother to address her thoughts and instead began to talk to her as he had so many years ago, as she lay on her bed, sobbing into her pillow after he had turned away the only friend she had ever had—Gabriel. Depriving her of that friendship had destroyed her, frozen part of her heart and soul. How wretched her father had been—how horrid it was to see her friend leave, and never, ever return. Internally she had railed against the injustice of it all, but she had been powerless then to take charge of her life, and her future. And now, here she was years later, still just as powerless, still enduring the same lectures on duty and the responsibilities of a female of her class.
“Now, Lucy, must I remind you that every station in life has its obligations, and the daughter of a marquis’s obligation is to marry well, furthering their nobility, and riches. You were put on this earth, girl, to marry a duke.”
How many times had she heard that particular lecture? Her entire existence in the world was based on matrimony and breeding. A harrowing thought, one that made her feel pity for all the other unborn daughters of the peerage.
“You won’t find a better man than Sussex. His repu
tation is impeccable. His bloodlines impeccable. He is well-respected, connected, titled and as rich as Croesus—”
“And as cold as the Arctic.”
“The man is conscious of propriety is all. As all gentlemen should be,” he reminded her.
“He only looks at me to pick me apart and draw attention to my flaws.”
“The man is a paragon, he can’t help it.”
“No, he cannot, but I don’t have to marry him. After all, I would not suit his ideas of an ideal wife.”
“Of course you would. You come with an enormous dowry, from a long and noble title. Your son will inherit not only a dukedom, but my title as well. Not to mention the fact you are a very lovely young woman. What more can a man want in the way of a recommendation for marriage?”