A passion neither of them wanted…and neither can deny.
Anna Locke was once young, naïve and infatuated with the handsome Jude Sinclair. Until the charismatic “gentleman” showed his true colors by abandoning her on their wedding day.
In the years since, she has transformed herself into a confident, successful woman, independent of her errant husband’s aristocratic family in every way but name. When Jude unexpectedly returns demanding a divorce, she quashes the butterflies he still elicits, and resolves to show him she won’t be so easily cast aside.
Jude has come home to assume the responsibilities left to him upon his father’s death, and to finally end the marriage into which he was tricked. To his surprise, Anna is no longer an awkward, skinny girl with a furtive gaze. She has become a lush, enigmatic vixen with dark eyes that shield secrets she seems determined to keep.
In their intimate war of wills, the heat of bold desire flares into passion—and casts light on a shared past tangled in lies and blackmail. But until Jude can win her trust and learn the truth, there will be no destroying the obstacles that loom darkly between them…and the love that should have been theirs.
Product WarningsThis title contains a shockingly revealing sapphire gown, highly improper behavior at a masquerade, a tangled web of deception, and perhaps most scandalous of all, a fiery passion that flares to life between a husband and wife who have been estranged since their wedding day.
Copyright © 2012 Amy Sandas
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
He hadn’t worn a mask. She wasn’t surprised. And she needn’t have worried about not recognizing him. She had never known another man to enter a room in a manner equal to Jude Montgomery Sinclair, now the Earl of Blackbourne. He had a natural self-possession and a distinct lack of concern for the inevitable attention he drew.
She had once thought him to be more beautiful than most, a young man full of life and charm. A golden prince. He wore his pale, curling hair a bit longer now. The ends looped over the tips of his ears, along the back of his neck and over his brow. His lightly bronzed skin stood out in opposition to his classic aristocratic features. And though he was turned away from her, she didn’t need to see his face to recall his wide forehead, straight nose and strong jaw, or his striking sapphire-blue eyes.
Her heart thumped against her ribs. Just imagining those eyes created a rush through her blood and weakened her knees.
She had been so enamored of him once. The blue of his gaze and the hint of his smile used to send her young heart into quiet, but deep, little raptures. That she seemed to be having a similar reaction now was surely a habitual response. Ancient residue left over in her psyche from when she had so zealously protected her childish infatuation. But that had been before their marriage, before he had proven himself to be unworthy of her tender regard.
Now she knew better.
Eight years had lent her husband a certain refined maturity. At thirty years old, he was as fit as he had ever been. Actually, he looked even stronger and more imposing. No longer a carefree youth, the layers of Jude’s experiences had made him appear harder somehow, and darker.
Anna’s stomach clenched with trepidation and a delicate shiver chased across her skin. She ignored it and studied him more intently through the slits in her mask. It was more than maturity, she acknowledged. It was something intrinsic in his person, in his entire way of being. His demeanor was stiff, as if he were discomfited by his surroundings.
As if he didn’t want to be here.
The iron bands of foreboding that had cinched around her chest when she had heard news of his return tightened mercilessly. It had taken her years to squirm out from beneath the oppressive and humiliating yoke of her disastrous marriage. But she had done it with a stubborn determination she hadn’t known she possessed before she had been challenged to find her own bliss. And now, she looked upon the one person in the world who had the full power to take away everything she had strived to attain.
Her hands curled into tight fists and she swallowed past the hard lump in her throat.
Why had he decided to come back now? An honorable son would have returned more than a year ago upon the death of his father. Did he ever consider the young bride he had left behind? The scandalous details of his travels that had filtered back to England over the years suggested otherwise.
Anger burned hot in her blood as Anna recalled all the reasons she had to hate him. But stronger than the anger was the compulsion to prove she was not the woeful woman-child he’d left behind. Eight years ago, she had been a shadow of the woman she was now, a wraith trapped by her own insecurities. She had been so easy to bully, to toss aside, to forget.
But no longer. She would not stand idle in the face of Jude’s mysterious return. Before he left England again, and of course he would, he would know the manner of the woman he had abandoned.
The distress and awe that had claimed her upon seeing her husband again was slowly replaced by stern resolve. She had come to the masquerade with a purpose. She would see it through.
Even standing partially in the shadow as she was, it was not long before Jude’s jewel-colored gaze found her. His casual survey of the ballroom came to an abrupt and noticeable halt when his sweeping glance passed over her small corner of the ballroom.
She didn’t worry that he would recognize her. She had changed a great deal in the last eight years even if he had not, and the feathered creation over her face gave her the added confidence of assured anonymity.
She would reveal herself as his wife when she chose.
The air of distraction dropped away from his manner and he focused intently in her direction. He was too far away for her to see the deep blue of his eyes, but she felt it. His gaze was sharp and studied, cutting through the interference of the crowd flowing endlessly between them. In an instant, Anna felt like the most fascinating creature in the room. She had never seen such an intensity in his manner, even years ago, and certainly never directed at her.
A spark of breathless exhilaration mingled with the anxiety in her swiftly pulsing blood. Her stomach fluttered and she had to remind herself of all she had at stake. She hadn’t anticipated that the heavy weight of past emotions would tug so acutely at her awareness and she couldn’t allow them to alter her course.
She had intended for him to see her, had carefully chosen a costume with an uplifting corset that deepened the shadows of her cleavage and accented every curve of her figure. The vivid blue shade of the gown contrasted sharply with her golden skin tone and the bright colors of her feathered mask emphasized the inky black depth of her hair. Anna had never before felt any desire to use her womanly assets to her advantage, but that didn’t mean she didn’t know how. And if ever there was a time to display her more feminine attributes, tonight was it.
Steeling herself against the feelings of anger and betrayal swirling within her, she pulled herself solidly into the role of temptress. She tilted her head to the side, boldly returning his stare, and smiled, knowing that her reddened lips were brightly visible beneath the bottom edge of her turquoise and magenta mask.
He lowered his chin and gave a short nod a brief and subtle acknowledgment. So minimal, yet viscerally effective. Delicate chills chased down the back of her neck and Anna was at a loss as to what she should do next.
He continued to watch her.
The intense focus of his regard made her jittery and warm. She returned his stare, trying to mimic his self-possessed calm though her breath was shallow and quick as she fought to retain her composure. And still he watched her, making no move to approach, appearing fully content to study her from a distance.
Then the man at his side, Lord Rutherford, called his attention to a pair of gentlemen approaching them. Jude looked away from her, effectively breaking the binds that had been constricting her chest.
She drew in a sharp and audible breath.
With his focus elsewhere, Anna turned and set her glass on the marble table at her side. Her hand lifted to cover the fierce thumping of her heart against her ribs. Such a small thing, a tiny flirting gesture, a too long glance, yet those seconds of silent communication had been the first with her husband in nearly a decade. He didn’t know who she was. She was certain of it. But she knew him, and that moment of connection nearly undid her.