Two independent thinkers find themselves attracted to each other despite family obligations in this fun and flirty romance full of heartwarming encounters and tough decisions. Keep reading to get a tempting taste of Summer of Scandal by Syrie James, then add it to your bookshelf. In honor of this second installment in the Dare to Defy series make sure to visit the link below for US readers to have the chance to win a paperback copy of the first book in this series too!
Madeleine Atherton is no typical American heiress, sent to England to marry an English lord. A brilliant college graduate who secretly dreams of becoming a published author, she wants to marry for love. After receiving a proposal from a future duke, Madeleine flees the London Season for Cornwall to seek her sister’s advice, never expecting her decision to be complicated by a charming, handsome earl she’s certain she dislikes—even though his every touch sets her blood on fire.
Charles Grayson, the Earl of Saunders, has secrets and ambitions of his own. Although under pressure from his mother and gravely ill father to marry his cousin, Charles cannot find the words to propose. But this fascinating American visitor does not figure into his plans, either.
Thrown together unexpectedly at Trevelyan Manor, Madeleine and Charles struggle to rise above their intense attraction. But as things heat up between them over a summer that becomes increasingly scandalous, Madeleine and Charles will both be forced to make a difficult choice. Can two dreamers dare to defy convention and find their own happily ever after?
Charles’s heart began drumming to a different cadence as he made his way across the golden expanse of sand. The ocean setting in all its fresh, morning glory was a fitting backdrop for the woman who, in a peach-colored dress that clung to her perfect figure like a second skin, resembled a goddess newly risen from the sea.
Charles wasn’t certain if his voice had carried over the crash of the waves and the raucous calls of the gulls. He tried again.
This time, she turned in surprise. Good lord, she was beautiful. The wind brought out the roses in her cheeks and whipped through her skirts and the loose tendrils of her upswept hair.
He ventured closer and tipped his hat. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” Her eyes and voice held a note of reluctance, as if undecided as to whether or not she was pleased to see him.
“I am.” She held up a small cloth bag. “And stones. For Julia and Lillie. They are fond of them.”
“What a nice gesture.” Standing this close, looking down at her lovely face, he realized he had been wrong about the color of her eyes. Under the bright morning sun, they were more cobalt than indigo.
Stop waxing poetic about her eyes.
He drew a line in the sand with the toe of his boot. “I understand you are leaving us today?” Despite himself, he couldn’t disguise the remorse he felt at the prospect.
She hesitated, as if surprised by his tone and what it implied; yet her guard was still visibly in place. “A carriage is coming for me in a little over an hour.”
“I am glad, then, that I caught you before you left. I wanted to make sure I had an opportunity to say farewell.”
“That was thoughtful of you.”
He gestured for them to walk on together. As they strode across the hard-packed sand, he groped for words. “I hope you did not suffer a chill from our little adventure in the rain the other day?”
He darted a glance at her. Their eyes briefly met and held. He saw her cheeks grow rosy. Was she thinking about the horseback ride? The near-kiss? Or both? She looked away without further comment.
“I know you felt uneasy about riding astride,” he commented. “I hope you have not berated yourself for that.”
“I haven’t. It was the sensible thing to do at the time.”
“I hope, as well, that you will forgive me for joining you on Tesla’s back. It was not, perhaps, the most gentlemanly thing I have ever done . . .” He broke off.
“It’s all right. It was pouring cats and dogs. We had to get back to the house as quickly as possible.”
“And so we did.”
“And so we did,” she repeated.
Her eyes met his again, now visibly and unexpectedly on the edge of mirth. They both let out a laugh, relieving the tension between them. A seagull squawked overhead, then swooped down to collect some unseen tidbit from the wet sand nearby.
“If it helps, I promise to never breathe a word of it to anyone,” he told her.
“Well. Just so you know: I saw a curtain fluttering when you rode off. I’m pretty sure Woodson saw us.”
“How do you know? Did he say something?”
“Just that he understood why we had both missed tea. And he gave me . . . a look.”
“Ah. A look from Woodson can speak volumes.”
“He didn’t seem to be passing judgment, though.”
“As well he shouldn’t. We were the bedraggled survivors of a downpour, returning to home and hearth.”
“Indeed we were.” Miss Atherton laughed again. “He also mentioned that he is married. To Martin! I had no idea.”
“They are the heart and soul of our household, and have been these many years. I cannot imagine what we should do without them.” The morning sun was growing hotter. Charles lifted his hat, running his fingers through his hair to cool his head, wishing this moment could last forever.
“They are certainly devoted to your family,” Miss Atherton agreed. “I have been meaning to ask. Is there any news about your father? He has been indisposed almost the entire time I have been here. I worry about him.”
“I worry, too. Dr. Hancock has apparently been here every day. All we can do, I am told, is to pray for my father.”
“I have been, and will continue to do so. I wish with all my heart that he will soon be well.”
“You and me both, Miss Atherton. We should probably make a wish on that at the wishing pool.”
“The wishing pool? What is that?”
“It’s a pool of freshwater which, according to legend, is magical. If you drink the water and make a wish, it will come true.” He pointed to the nearby cliffs with a smile. “We have our own local wishing pool just around that bend.”
“Is that so? I would love to see it.”
“Would you?” He paused. “It is in a cave.”
“I love caves almost as much as I love legends.”
“Well, then. Come with me.” Charles led the way down the beach to the mouth of the cave, which was so hidden by the enclave of craggy black rocks surrounding it as to be imperceptible to anyone casually strolling by.
“What a charming spot,” Miss Atherton commented. “I would never have found it on my own.”
“All part of its magic.” Charles hesitated, uncertain of her intention. “If you prefer to go in on your own, I would understand. I can try to tell you how to reach the magic pool. But it is a bit tricky.”
“I see. I suppose it would be most improper for us to venture in at the same time, without a chaperone.” As she said it, her lips curved up mischievously.
He found himself staring at those lips. Imagining what it would be like to taste them.
It was no wonder she was talking about chaperones. Charles gave himself a mental shake.
“I was just teasing.” She laughed lightly, and in a more determined tone went on, “Please, lead the way.”
He wasn’t sure if it was the best idea in the world to go into such a secluded place with her alone. But any further protest would only make clear his own secret longings. So he did as bidden, determined to be a gentleman. Inside the cool interior, the cave opened up into a space the size of a small bedroom, its dark granite walls carved by water and time.
“Follow me,” Charles told her. The profusion of small stones which infused the sandy floor crunched beneath their feet as they advanced, the light growing dimmer with each step. “Can you see?”
“Not very well,” she admitted.
“If you will allow me to take your hand,” he offered, “I can better guide you from here.”
She paused only the briefest of seconds, then complied. Neither of them were wearing gloves. He felt a spark ignite as his hand clasped hers and sensed, from her small intake of breath, that she felt it as well. His heart began to patter in his chest.
“It gets darker as we go,” he said, “but our eyes will adjust. At the pool itself, there is a fissure that lets in a bit of natural light.”
She nodded and they moved forward, hand in hand. It was such a casual contact, this hand-holding, yet his pulse was pounding as strongly as if he were brushing his fingers over her naked form.
There you go again. Envisioning her naked.
Stop it stop it stop it.
The sound of dripping echoed in the distance, increasing in volume as they moved deeper into the cave. He guided her through a series of channels in the rock, past columns, stalagmites, and stalactites. After one final turn through a narrow passage, they entered an open chamber at the end of the cave and stopped.
“Oh!” Miss Atherton said in wonder.
They stood in a roundish chamber, enclosed by rock walls that stretched to a high ceiling. The air felt cool and damp. A narrow fracture above connected somehow to the outer cliff, because it let in a shaft of sunlight that illuminated the interior and sparkled on the surface of the small blue-green pool before them.
“Is it really freshwater?” Miss Atherton asked, her voice echoing slightly inside the chamber. As if suddenly aware that she no longer needed guidance, she let go of his hand.
He regretted the loss of her touch. “Yes, it filters down from the bluffs above.” In confirmation, a drop of water could be seen and heard as it plinked into the pool. “There are many caves with freshwater pools all along the Cornwall coast. I am told they all come with legends, some hundreds of years old.”
She gazed about in fascination. “It is a rather magical place.”
Charles turned to gaze at her. She made such a lovely picture standing there, just a foot or two away. The damp air had caused a few of her curls to frizz becomingly into ringlets around her face. Her peach gown fit so snugly that it showed off her every curve. Her rhythmic breathing was doing its own kind of magic, drawing his attention to her bosom, which was rising and falling and making it impossible to look away.
“How does the magic work, again?” she asked.
He blinked twice, yanking his gaze back up where it belonged, on her face. “You drink the water and at the same time, make a wish.”
“I see. Shall we?”
He nodded. “You first.”
“All right.” She set her bag of shells on the damp rocky outcropping fronting the pool and bent down. After pausing in thought, she scooped up a handful of water. “I wish that Lord Trevelyan will get well soon.” She sipped from her palm.
The simple act looked so wanton to his errant brain, he struggled to regain his wits.
“Can I make another wish?” she asked, looking up at him.
“There is no limit on the number of wishes, as far as I know.”
“All right.” She dipped her hand again, this time closing her eyes and, apparently, making a silent wish before drinking. With a smile, she stood. “The water tastes delicious.”
Staring at her, Charles could think of a few other things that would also taste delicious. He cleared his throat. “What was your second wish?”
“I cannot tell you,” she answered in a tone of mock-mystery, “or it might not come true.”
“Is that an American superstition?”
“I believe it’s a commonly held superstition, where wishes are concerned.”
“It is the first I have heard of it in Cornwall.”
“Well, even an earl can learn new things.” She gestured toward the pool with a smile. “Your turn.”
Charles removed his hat and rested it on a ledge. He bent down, dipped a cupped hand into the pool, and drank, dashing off the following: “May my father live to a ripe old age.”
He stood. Silence stretched between them, slow and catlike. There was no sound other than the intermittent drip of the water and the pounding of Charles’s heart, which was so loud in his ears now, he worried that she could hear it.
“I wonder,” she said softly, “how many people have come here over the centuries, and what they wished for.”
“I suppose some were fishermen and their wives from the village,” he suggested. “Wishing for a good catch.”
“Some might have been women wishing for their husbands’ safe return from sea.”
“Or farmers wishing for a good harvest.”
“Or men and women wishing for a loved one to return to health.”
“Or lovers making a wish for their future.” His breath caught. He had not planned to say that. The words seemed to hang in the air like a live thing between them. Lovers.
Their eyes met, and for a long moment neither of them moved. Tension coiled within his body and vibrated in the air between them. He was so aware of her nearness, he couldn’t speak. From the expression on her face, she was equally aware of him.
In the small, intimate chamber, Charles could hear her every intake of breath, which was coming as fast and unsteady as his own. He felt as if he were suspended in time. They were alone in this quiet spot. In an hour or so, she would be gone. This opportunity would never come again.
Desire came over him, hot and heavy. Charles knew it was wrong. Reckless. Irresponsible. But if he did not kiss her, he would spend the rest of his life replaying this moment in his mind, wishing that he had.
His arms were out before he could stop himself. Sweeping around her waist. Drawing her to him. One hand cradling the back of her neck, angling her head so that her lips were just inches from his.
Through the layers of their clothing, he could feel the thud of her heart against his chest, a rapid pounding that matched his own. He drank in the vivid blueness of her gaze that seemed to say, Yes. Yes. Yes.
And then he kissed her.
Syrie James is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Nocturne; Dracula, My Love; The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte (Great Group Read, Women's National Book Association; Audie Romance Award, 2011), and the international bestseller The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (Best First Novel 2008, Library Journal.) An admitted Anglophile, Syrie loves paranormal romance and all things 19th century. She lives in Los Angeles and is a member of the Writer's Guild of America.
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