Heat, desire, lust and something more, much more tamed Amelia’s struggles. Her limbs turned to jelly when Lord Ambry pulled her so close she could feel the hard, warm beat of his heart. Her own heart pounded against her ribs as though seeking a way to join with his.
As his lips warmed, softened, and claimed her so completely, she moaned. Or was it him? Amelia didn’t know. Didn’t care. Lifting her hands to the back of his neck, to the soft silken strands, she tangled her fingers in his hair and held on as the kiss deepened between them, bursting into full bloom like a wall of jasmine, sending its heady scent and taste outward to lure and trap. Common sense along with reason fled. When his hands stroked upward, his palms flat and heated against her back, Amelia tipped her own head back, inviting him to sample the taste of her skin.
Lord Ambry couldn’t get enough. He trailed kisses along her jaw and down the smooth column of her throat. His hunger so great, he feared he would never get enough of the deceiving wench. Her taste, her scent and the feel of her against him felt –right. As though she was meant for him, and him only.
The thought that there could be more between them than lies and deceit was enough to make him pull away from the woman with her soft breathy cries of desire. She’d tricked him. Humiliated him in front of his peers. He’d only been trying to protect her and look where that had gotten him!
Holding Amelia out from him, feeling her tremors, recognising her desire for him, Lord Ambry hardened his heart against her. "Wed you I must. But you will never mean anything to me." He spun on his heel and left Amelia leaning weakly against a wall. As he strode down the passage and out into the snow-covered gardens, he felt bereft, as though he’d left something of himself behind.
Amelia ran after Lord Ambry. She couldn’t go through with the plan to ruin him. It mattered not that he’d seduced Lady Smallwood and left her with child or that Thomas would stop loving her for she’d only just realised that she’d fallen and fallen hard for Lord Ambry.
What she felt for Thomas paled in comparison to the desire and the need to be held by Lord Ambry. Guilt gave her the flutters. She stopped at the closed door leading out into the night and pressed her clenched hands into her stomach. Amelia was very much afraid that Lord Ambry had stormed off with her heart. She reached out and opened the door.
A hand on her shoulder stopped her from going outside. Behind her, Thomas spoke.
"Nice show. Luring him in just as planned. Just don’t get too caught up in our little game." He reached out and grabbed her arm and held tight.
Amelia felt torn. She yearned to go after Lord Ambry and explain. She tugged her arm free and grimaced with her back toward Thomas. "Watch yourself, Thomas." She stared out into the frozen night, wondering where Lord Ambry had gone and wishing she could go after him.
She hugged herself. The chill she felt came not just from the air seeping into the passage. It came from knowing that there was no way for her to explain how he’d fallen into her trap in a far better way than the one she and Thomas had devised. The man had simply, and most graciously ensnared himself into their plan of revenge by a simple kind act and an innocent slip on the ice.
"You did it, Amelia," Thomas whispered from behind, his voice a low rasp in the quiet darkness. "Mother will be pleased."
Amelia turned toward Thomas. "Oh Thomas. This isn’t right. I cannot marry him. Amelia once again felt the warmth of Lord Ambry's embrace, the hard feel of his body against hers and the strong beat of his heart that had somehow bound itself to her own heart.
Thomas grabbed her by both arms. His touch felt cold. Icy. And his features were twisted with anger. "It is too late, Amelia. We finish what we started. You will insist that the wedding take place at my mother’s village. "You finish this. He must pay for what he did to my mother."
Amelia stared out into the cold, frozen night. "How does tricking him into marriage make what he did to your mother right? What’s in it for her? It was so long ago. They were both young. And as Lady Smallwood, she is respectable. Everyone believes her husband died at war, leaving her a widow expecting their first child. There is no point to this." Amelia knew she couldn’t go through with their plan to force the Lord to marry her. Somehow, she had to convince everyone that what they’d witnessed had been an accident.
Thomas paced, his hands behind his military-straight back. When he turned, his features were twisted into hate. "You will marry him as planned. My mother was left with nothing but shame. Her own family turned against her. Besides, Lord Ambry is not an Honourable man. He must pay."
In his wild youth the young rake had taken advantage of Lady Smallworld, known back then as Lady Olivia Havenscourt when she’d fallen and injured her ankle. When she’d learnt that she was with child, she’d written to Ambry, begged him to return and do right by her. But Lord Ambry had refused. Instead, he’d set her up in a small estate with enough money to keep them from becoming impoverished but he’d refused to give her the one thing in the world that mattered: legitimacy.
Amelia felt a sudden chill that had nothing to do with the night air as the full extent of this plot unfolded. "Oh Thomas. You can’t. She can’t." She lifted her hands to her face in horror.
Thomas took one step closer to Amelia and grabbed her by the wrists and yanked her close. "The man stole my mother’s rightful life. And mine. It is the way it must be. A life for a life."
"No. I won’t. I won’t." Frightened, unaware of the true nature of the deception she’d agreed to, Amelia twisted free and ran out into the night and back into the arms of Lord Ambry.
Ambry was furious. He’d decided to make it clear to Amelia that they would leave in the morning and had been standing in the shadows beside the cracked door and had heard the devious plot. He patted the pocket inside his coat, felt the crumple of paper. The very man he'd spent nearly a year searching for stood before him. He shifted his gaze from one to the other.
"So, this is what you planned." He glared down at the woman. Tears ran unchecked down her pale cheeks.
"I didn’t know," she said, trying to pull away.
He held tight, his gaze shifting to the man she called Thomas. In the faint pool of candlelight, he saw for the first time the unmistakable family resemblance. "So, you’re the bastard son of my brother." He spoke softly, his voice dangerously low.
Thomas recoiled as though struck then jutted out his chin. "Spare the lies, Lord Richard Ambry. You cannot deny the truth any longer. You will die by the hand of your bastard son." Thomas pulled a blade from his boot. "I’ll tell everyone I caught you forcing yourself on Amelia."
"My dear nephew. I have never had to force myself on any woman. Put that knife away before you get hurt." When Thomas lunged, Lord Ambry stepped neatly aside, reached out and twisted Thomas’s wrist until the blade fell to the floor. He stepped on it to keep it from posing any further threat.
"What is going on here?" Lord Dernflook asked as he joined them with Lady Louisa at his side. He lifted a brow and stared pointedly at the knife.
Ambry motioned to the room at the end of the hall. "I suggest we all take a seat and I will explain."
Thomas spun around. "I refuse to listen to your lies."
Lord Dernflook blocked his path. "You will listen." He led the way into a small, dark study. There has been quite enough drama and excitement tonight.
Amelia sat beside Louisa, ashamed of her own role in the events that would have led to murder. She watched as Dernflook shoved Thomas into a chair then moved to stand behind him as though to be sure Thomas didn’t try to leave. She turned her attention to Lord Ambry who had taken a folded piece of paper from his breast pocket.
"I received this missive a year ago from my brother before he died," he began.
"That’s convenient," Thomas sneered.
Dernflook rapped Thomas smartly on the shoulder with his fancy walking stick.
Ambry ignored the comment. "In it, he details the birth of a son. One our family knew nothing about." He stared hard at Thomas. "I knew your mother only by her maiden name and no one could tell me where to find her. I had heard of a woman, Lady Smallwood who might know where to find her. I came here to learn her whereabouts so that I could locate you and your mother.
Amelia leaned forward. "But sir, you are Lord Richard Ambry, are you not?"
Ambry paced to the fireplace and leaned his elbow on the mantle. "I, Miss Slockholme, am Lord Richard Harry Ambry. My brother, named after our father, is Lord Richard William Ambry."
"Why are you searching for us?" Thomas asked, his voice tight with suspicion and doubt.
Ambry strode over and towered over Thomas. "To inform you of your inheritance. As my brother’s son, you inherit what was his. Including his name if you so desire."
The room fell silent. Amelia could not believe her own ears. To think Thomas had planned to kill the man he’d believed to be his father but was not. And to learn that his father, the father who’d refused to acknowledge him had finally, in death given Thomas and his mother what they’d bitterly yearned for all these years. Why, it was—astonishing!
"Why now? Why didn’t you–he return and marry my mother when she begged him to come."
Ambry pinched his nose and sighed. "Forgive me, ladies, for being blunt, but by then, my brother had decided he preferred men for his sleeping partners. He did not want to expose you or your mother to his–ways"
Thomas sank back in the chair. "You’re serious. You are my uncle. Not my father."
Ambry sighed, then smiled. "William was barely 18 when he came upon your mother. I believe I was a bit young to have fathered a child at thirteen." He stepped back. "We will discuss the details come morning." He handed Thomas a card. "This is our solicitor in London. We leave come morning."
Ambry then walked over to Amelia. "I believe we still have a wedding to plan."
"No buts. Unlike my brother I will not be accused of ruining a young lady’s reputation." He pulled her up. "Besides, if you think I could not have kept my feet when you pretended to slip, then you are truly innocent, Lady Slockholme."
"Amelia gasped. "You do not mind?"
Richard Ambry let out a bark of laughter. "No, my dear. I do not mind."
Three Months Later
"Are you happy, my Lady?"
Amelia sighed and leaned into her husband . "Absolutely, my Lord. Very happy." She smiled up at Richard. "I cannot believe how happy I am." She cocked her head when she heard the sound of a carriage making its way to the stable. "Do you hear what I hear?"
"Ah, our guests have arrived." Richard put his arm around his wife’s shoulders. "Lord Dernflook tells me you received a letter from Thomas. How is my nephew adjusting?
Amelia grinned. "Well, he’s not plotting your demise any longer. Managing your brother’s estate is keeping him busy."
Arm in arm, the couple entered their home and made their way to the parlour where Lord Dernflook and his wife, Louisa waited. The house was as grand as any Amelia had ever seen or stepped foot inside. And it was hers. "I can’t believe you told me you’d lost your fortune!"
"And here I thought you were a rich heiress."
They laughed. Fate, on a cold winter night, had brought them together in the most devious way possible.