Title: The Lie and the Lady (Winner Takes All, #2)
Author: Kate Noble
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: December 29, 2015
He once posed as a lord and fell for a lady.
John Turner was thinking only of winning a bet when he swapped identities with his friend, the Earl of Ashby. He didn’t wager on winning the fiery Countess of Churzy’s heart with his lies, or on falling for her in return.
Leticia, impoverished Countess of Churzy, was publicly humiliated when it came out that she had fallen for the man, not the master. She fled when she learned of his betrayal. But fate throws them together again, and some things are too intoxicating to be denied.
John is determined to regain her trust—and her love—this time as himself. Letty knows what choice she must make to survive, but if she turns her back on her dashing rogue – again – will she loose her chance at love forever?
The Lie and the Lady ~ Excerpt
The last time he had laid eyes on Leticia, she had told him she never wanted to see him again.
And he’d believed her.
They had not been on a ballroom floor, or in a bedroom, or in any of those more intimate spaces that allow for touches and whispers and persuasion. Instead, they were on a wind-whipped dock, and she was shivering against the December cold.
“Letty,” he’d said.
Her shoulders tensed at his voice, then her head whipped around, eyes searching for the source of her name.
Shock flew across her face. Then fear. Both gutted him.
“Hello.” He stepped forward, raising his gloved hand in a small wave, a gesture of peace. Still, she took a half step back before she remembered herself. She straightened. Her expression turned cool. She forced herself to stop shivering.
“Hello,” she answered in her haughtiest voice.
He almost smiled. To hell with it, he did smile. She tried to hide herself under the cloak of a countess, but it had never fooled him. Not once.
And finally—finally—he had found her.
“What are you doing in Dover?” she asked, as casual as if they had just been introduced.
“I was waiting.”
“For a ship?” she asked.
She blushed against the raw wind. Not out of compliment, or womanly charm. But out of awkwardness and . . . embarrassment.
He’d seen her cool, seen her clever, seen her overcome with passion. He’d even seen her shocked speechless, when she’d found out . . . But he’d never thought he’d live to see her embarrassed.
In retrospect, that should have been his first clue.
“Of course,” she’d replied. “You force me here, and are lying in wait when I arrive.”
“Don’t be foolish. I didn’t chase you here.”
“No.” Her eyes narrowed to slits. “You didn’t chase me—your lie did.”
He’d hoped that when he found her she would see there was nothing to fear from him. That her body would ache for him the way he’d been aching for her, and she’d give up this foolishness. Because Lady Churzy was many things, but foolish was not among them.
But what she was, he was quickly realizing, was blazing mad.
“Don’t call me that.” She held his gaze—and her ground.
“My apologies. Leticia, then?”
“If you are to address me at all, it should be as Countess.”
“Not long ago you let me call you many other things. Darling. Love.”
“Not long ago you went by a different name entirely.” She whirled on him. Advancing like a guard dog on an intruder. “Do you have any idea how I’ve had to live—if you can call it living? Everywhere I go, I have maybe two weeks, often less, before the rumors reach people. London first—I thought I might have a good month there, they have enough gossip of their own. But no—a countess being tricked by a . . . a secretary is too juicy an on-dit to pass up.”
“I did not—”
“And then of course I tried Brighton. Then Manchester, York—I even went to Edinburgh, but everywhere, everywhere, I found myself shut out of polite society.”
“They are all fools.”
“They are all that is!” she’d cried. “Not even my sister, Fanny, will have me back in her house—at least not until it ‘all blows over,’ she says. How is a woman without funds, friends, or reputation supposed to live?”
“With me,” he’d said immediately.
But she’d turned steely, her voice ice in the wind. “Wouldn’t that work out just perfectly for you, then? You pretend to be the Earl of Ashby, pretend to be a man of substance . . . and used me as a pawn in your game with the real earl.”
“I had to—we . . . oh hell, it’s tough to explain, but we made a wager and I needed money to repair my family’s business, and—”
“Yes, I’m sure your cause was ever so noble,” she said, waving away his explanation. “You win your wager with him, but meanwhile you kiss me on a dance floor and make love to me—”
“That was never a lie,” he said harshly, his hand coming up to her arm without thinking.
“What does it signify?” she asked, tensing beneath his fingers. “When you lied about everything else?” Her voice was a whisper against the wind now. “You lied. And you still think you can get everything you want.”
“Yes, Letty, I lied,” he finally said. “I lied about my name. That was all. But don’t pretend you weren’t lying too. You wanted me to believe you had solid ground beneath your feet, and were not desperate. That you were pursuing me for myself, and not because you thought I was an earl with money.”
“I make no apologies for trying to secure my future. And a countess and an earl are natural together. A countess and a secretary”—she practically spat the word—“are not.”
“Weren’t we?” He stepped forward, his hand loosening on her arm, but not letting go. He let his hand trail down that arm, coming to the elbow, his fingers lightly dancing there, almost as if there were not gloves and cloaks between them. As if there were nothing between them. “The way I remember it, together we were the most natural thing in the world.”
Suddenly, she was shaking again. He prayed it wasn’t from the cold.
“Letty,” he whispered, letting his warm breath fall against her cheek. She was close enough to taste. “I can’t undo what I did. Nor would I want to. Because you would have never looked twice at me if I was plain Mr. Turner.”
“We’ll never know the answer to that, will we?” Her voice made his heart crack.
“We are meant for each other.”
The last time they had stood this close together—in public—he had used it to stake his claim. To declare to the world that the Countess of Churzy was his. Now he would renew that claim, the only way he knew how.
“Come with me. Put this foolish running to an end. Where can you go that you think I will not follow?”
“I did not run to be chased, you idiot. I run because it is the only choice I have left!” She pulled away from him, but his hand was still on her elbow and he caught her, pulled her back. Her body slammed into his.
“Not the only choice,” he said, and his mouth crushed against hers.
As cold as it was outside, as cool and reserved as she pretended to be, the warmth of her lips shocked him. Heat volleyed between them with every breath, every shiver. His hand snaked around her back, folding her against him. She gasped for air and burrowed closer. The small moan that escaped from the back of her throat sent a thrill down his spine.
And he knew he had her.
All he had to do now was get her to agree.
“Tell me to go and I will.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “Tell me now and I’ll go away forever, you’ll never see me again. We’ll be nothing more than a bittersweet memory to each other.”
Her dazed eyes met his.
“But”—his voice came out a gravelly rumble—“if you want me to stay, if you want me at all . . . you don’t have to say anything.”
His thumb brushed over her cheek. His heart beat faster than he knew it could go. And he watched those dark eyes as she debated. As she argued against herself.
As she . . . remembered the rest of the world. And where she stood in it. Not on a dock in Dover. No, she stood wearing the title of countess, lifting her well out of his reach.
It happened in a blink. Her face shifted back from flushed and open to icy and shuttered. “You think you can stir my blood and make me forget myself?”
“I think I can stir your blood, that’s for damn certain.” He felt himself getting angry . . . No, it was worse. Not anger—desperation. Because she was slipping away from him.
“That . . . is nothing,” she said. “Something left over—a residue of when I could trust you. But I will never again put myself in the care of someone who lies to me.”
“Letty, you can trust me—”
“No, Mr. Turner. I cannot.”
Something broke over him, made his breath hitch. Because watching her in that moment, he saw the truth. The very truth at the core of his Letty.
What she said was real.
She would never let herself be with him. No amount of cajoling, no kisses or touches or heated looks was ever going to change that. And he had been the world’s biggest fool to think that she would.
“Excuse me, milady?” a voice came from behind them, forcing them back outside of themselves.
A boy stood behind them, and judging by his thick oilskin coat and lack of shivering against the cold, his age belied his experience at sea. “Your trunk’s been loaded, milady. Beg pardon, but Captain says we can’t miss this tide.”
“Thank you, I’m coming,” Letty had replied before turning back to face Turner.
He held his breath.
“Go,” she’d said. “I never want to see you again.”
Tell me to go and I will. He’d spent the past six months ruing those words.
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