Release date: 12 May 2014
When Lord Alec Carstairs returns from the Peninsular Wars, hailed as a hero in the midst of the London Season, only Annabelle Layton knows the sort of man that he really is, that the honor everyone praises is illusory.
They’d been close friends once, before a passionate kiss changed everything. But if she’d secretly loved him, those feelings had died one bright summer morning, when a reckless wager left Annabelle with terrifying injuries. Alec had abandoned her without a backwards glance.
Hardly the actions of a hero.
But Alec has never forgotten her, despite his vow to stay away. There is more to that long-ago day than Annabelle knows, and shocking lies have distorted the past. Can he uncover its painful truths, and still keep his distance from the stunning beauty? Can he deny his forbidden desire, even as it flares again between them, hotter than ever?
by Julie LeMense
Sensuality Level: Sensual
Julie lives in Pennsylvania in a grand old Gilded Age home, where history surrounds her, and ghosts from the past sneak their way into her stories.
An excerpt from Once Upon a Wager:
Annabelle was thrilled to see the familiar handwriting on the back of her note, but she was less thrilled reading it. In fact, only the most rigid self-control kept her from stomping one of her darling green half boots on the stone floor of the terrace. Could he not be done with it? Did he not remember the heat of that morning? The very air had simmered, like a pot set to boil. She’d been unable to sleep. Astley Castle’s fountain, hidden from view in the formal gardens, had beckoned like the wellspring of salvation.
She’d known full well that her behavior was scandalous. Ladies did not swim in fountains after all, but the water had felt so wonderful. And she had been wearing clothes: a linen shift, even though the water made it rather revealing. Certainly, she’d not expected Alec to be out wandering the castle grounds at dawn, a witness to her shameless display. He had gone utterly still at the sight of her, like a pillar of salt caught between Sodom and Gomorrah.
Even now, she could remember his eyes. Something had burned in them, and she’d hoped, despite her embarrassment, that he’d finally understood she was no longer a child. That she could be more to him than a friend. But the past two years had laid waste to those notions. The only thing burning that day had been his indignation.
Later—after she’d been trussed back up in a suffocating corset and a long-sleeved gown—he’d warned her about the dangers a young woman could face, sounding just like Parson Withersby at a Sunday service. Not that the parson had ever been so breathtakingly handsome.
Since then, however, Alec had come up with an astonishing array of excuses to avoid her. The amusing letters they’d once exchanged with great regularity were now limited, on his part, to polite inquiries about her well being. He was too busy in London being molded into the man his father thought he should be. A man who was hidebound and self-important.
Startled from her pique by the sound of laughter, Annabelle leaned over the terrace balustrade, looking out onto the back lawn. Her parents were chasing butterflies—her mother’s hair unbound and floating behind her, her father’s shirttails flying like flags in the breeze, both of them swinging their nets with wild abandon. Their plan was to catch dozens of the colorful insects, so they could be released in the Great Hall during Gareth’s party. However, she’d have to speak with Mother about that. Those plans had to be changed. Annabelle wanted this party to be remembered for its decorum. If only to shock Alec.