Adrienne Basso's INTIMATE BETRAYAL
Adrienne Basso's INTIMATE BETRAYAL
An independent noblewoman is torn between the allure of illicit passion and her dreams of wedded bliss...
Publisher: Zebra Books
Publication Date: January 1, 2013 (ebook)
Publisher: Leisure Books
Publication Date: December 1, 1995 (mass market paperback)
Fiercely independent Alyssa Carrington deftly ran her father's English estate for years. But before his death, he auctioned Westgate Manor to the highest bidder, leaving her penniless. Now there was a new lord of the manor—and Alyssa found herself at his mercy. . .
A charismatic ladies' man, the Duke of Gillingham is more than happy to welcome lovely Alyssa into rooms that were once hers—especially the master bedroom. Never before has he met a woman who so attracts him body and mind. But it is exactly Alyssa's mind that concerns her. Much as she enjoys the Duke's attentions, she does not enjoy the longing he inspires. Nor will she become another of his conquests. Yet the Duke has powers of persuasion Alyssa never dreamed possible. Now she must decide whether to risk her sensibly planned future—and her sensibly guarded heart. . .
Hampshire, England 1813
Alyssa Carrington sat back in the tall wooden chair clasping a lukewarm cup of tea in her hand. She had been trying to enjoy the fragrant brew for the past half hour, but thus far had been interrupted twice to attend to estate business. Listening with half an ear as the cook, Mrs. Stratton, repeated various pieces of local gossip, Alyssa now absently sipped the beverage, hoping for a few quiet moments.
"Lady Alyssa," Mrs. Stratton admonished in a stern voice, "you have barely touched my apple tart. I made it especially the way you prefer, with extra cinnamon."
"It looks wonderful," Alyssa instantly replied. Hoping to avoid a long discourse on how she must eat more because she was too thin, Alyssa broke off a small portion of the art and began vigorously chewing.
Satisfied that he mistress would comply with her wishes, Mrs. Stratton returned to the large stockpot simmering on the stove. Deftly she chopped onions and carrots, adding them to the broth. The pungent aroma drifted through the air, giving the kitchen a feeling of comfort and warmth completely separate from the heat radiating from the iron stove.
Alyssa closed her eyes and savored the warmth of the cluttered kitchen. She always tried spending at least an hour of her busy day here; partially to escape the endless flood of difficulties encountered in running Westgate Manor, but mostly because she enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.
Mrs. Stratton could always be counted upon to know the very latest gossip from the neighboring estates, and even though Alyssa knew she shouldn't encourage it, she was frankly curious about this strange world of the aristocracy that was virtually cut off to her. For years Alyssa was concerned about her neighbors' impression of her unorthodox life, but after hearing about the local gentry's reckless and occasionally shocking behavior, she doubted her eccentricities would be of much interest to them.
Her father, Viscount Mulgrave, was a man who detested country life and spent the majority of his time in the clubs and gambling dens of London, leaving his young motherless daughter to be raised by servants and a succession of governesses. It was an unconventional and oftentimes lonely upbringing, but not an unhappy one. The servants at the manor soon adopted the somber little girl into their hearts and Alyssa grew to maturity surrounded by love.
By the time she reached an age to be introduced into society, her father was too far in debt to consider wasting money on a lavish coming-out season in London. Consequently, at 24 Alyssa was unmarried, with no prospects and a realistic acceptance of her life as a spinster. She never let on if this upset her, because she had taken on a far more formidable task than marriage—the running of the estate.
It was an unlikely occupation for a young woman, but Alyssa embraced her role in her usual forthright manner. She did not hesitate to ask for help from those she trusted, the men who worked and live on the tenant farms for generations. Her knowledge increased steadily over the years and in some instance surpassed those men who taught her. The estate flourished under her guidance, and her tenants, skeptical at first, embraced her heartily for her fairness and genuine feeling for the land and its people.
Alyssa was pleased with her success, and although the burdens became almost overwhelming at times, she felt useful and accomplished. The only dark clouds appeared when her father would make an unexpected visit. Lord Carrington was constantly looking for funds, indulging in too much drink, insulting the servants, and generally making a nuisance of himself. Thankfully his visits were short and well-spaced.
Alyssa was taking another bite of the scrumptious apple tart when the butler, Perkins, suddenly appeared in the doorway. She immediately noticed he was wearing his coat and gloves. The piece of pastry fell to her stomach like a stone. Perkins only wore formal attire when there was a stranger at the manor. And strangers only came to collect on gambling debts.
"He is in the front salon, Lady Alyssa," Perkins informed her quietly, reading the stricken look on her face.
At the butler's announcement, Mrs. Stratton turned sharply, watch Alyssa with anxious eyes. It is always the same, Alyssa thought miserably, feeling the tension building in the room.
"Did this gentleman give his name?" she questioned, slowly rising to her feet.
"He claims to be the Duke of Gillingham."
A duke! Alyssa was momentarily stunned. This was very unusual. Only the truly desperate men came themselves; most sent a secretary or lawyer to collect on the maker Jeremy Carrington wagered when he ran short of funds but refused to leave the gaming tables. She silently prayed there was another, less costly reason for this man's appearance.
"Do you think he really is a duke?" Alyssa asked, trusting Perkin's opinion.
Perkins thoughtfully considered the question before responding. "he is expensively dressed and carries himself with a duke's arrogance. He gave the impression we were expecting him, yet he arrived alone, without servants."
This was odd, Alyssa thought. "Thank you, Perkins. I shall attend our duke at once."
Alyssa quietly followed the butler though the kitchen and up to the main entrance hall. Pausing a brief moment outside the salon door, she successfully conquered an almost uncontrollable urge to turn and flee. Taking several deep breaths to steady her nerves, Alyssa finally nodded slightly, and Perkins opened the door.
She entered the room soundlessly and stood in the doorway. She remained unobserved until the door closed behind her. At the sound, the duke turned expectantly. She saw surprise register briefly in his face before his features took on a questioning look.
Alyssa nearly gasped aloud as she got her first good look at him. The elegant man standing before her was unlike anyone she had ever seen, or even imagined. His hard masculine presence seemed to fill the room, and Alyssa found herself unwittingly staring at his bronzed face, admiring the finely chiseled features.
The duke was a tall an, powerfully built, with broad shoulders and muscular legs. He was dressed impeccably in a slate-blue double-breasted coat, fitted snugly over a high-collared white waistcoat and accented with a faultlessly tied cravat. His fawn colored leather breeches clung tightly to his legs and fitted expertly into his polished black knee-high Hessian boots. His hair was jet black in color, cut close to his head and curling slight at the ends. He took several steps closer, and Alyssa became captivated by his hypnotic silver-gray eyes.
Beautiful. The word echoed through Alyssa's mind. He was positively beautiful. This stranger was such a cut above the usual men her father associated with, Alyssa felt certain she misjudged his reason for visiting Westgate Manor.
Forcefully shaking herself out of her admiring stupor, Alyssa spoke. "Good afternoon, Your Grace. I see Perkins has provided you with some refreshment." She gracefully inclined her head toward the half-empty glass of brandy he held. "Is there anything further we may bring you?"
"I was expecting Viscount Mulgrave," the duke replied in confusion. "Or if he is unavailable, perhaps the estate agent can be summoned."
Alyssa's heart sank at his works. If this beautiful stranger wanted to see the estate agent, he wanted a gambling debt settled. Unconsciously she let out a sigh of disappointment, but regained her composure quickly when she noticed the duke watching her closely.
"Please follow me." Alyssa turned on her heel and swept out of the room with regal disdain, wanting very much to conclude this unpleasant task. The duke barely had time to catch his breath before she disappeared.
"What the devil is going on?" he shouted. Temper rising, the duke slammed his brandy glass down on the mantel and raced after Alyssa's retreating figure.
He crossed the vast entrance hall in several long strides, catching up with Alyssa as she reached the heavy paneled doors of the drawing. She swung to doors open in a dramatic manner and strode purposefully into the room, never one glancing bac to see if the duke was following.
Alyssa headed directly for a mahogany leather-topped desk from which she produced an account ledger and a pair of small, round, gold-rimmed reading glasses. Perching the glasses on the edge of her nose, she spoke to him in a cool tone. "Shall we conclude your business as swiftly as possible, Your Grace?"
The duke stood in the doorway carefully scrutinizing the room, not quite sure if his eyes were deceiving him. the last remaining rays of sunlight streamed through the open drapes, casting a golden hue on the roman's contents. It was an amazing sight. Long wooden tables joined together against the wall were filled with gold, silver, and bronze plate. Running through the center of the room were six rows of additional tables that held magnificent objects of beauty and art collected from previous centuries and various parts of the world. Unusual Chinese vases stood on one table, a set of early Byzantine chalices on another.
Venetian glass sculptures stood side by side with crystal goblets and porcelain figurines. A spectacular jade collection filled a large glass curio cabinet in the corner, and the walls were hung with countless paintings, from the Italian Renaissance to seventeenth-century Dutch. Even the regent's most lavish rooms in Carlton House paled in comparison to the treasures housed in this room.
Alyssa observed the duke's reaction carefully. Finally, he sent a questioning glace her way, surprising her. There were always different reactions upon first entering this room, but in Alyssa's experience a face struck with awe eventually turned to one of greed. Puzzled, Alyssa questioned the duke.
"Am I not correct in thinking you have come to Westgate Manor to collect on a debt owed you by Viscount Mulgrave?"
Morgan favored Alyssa with a long stare, his patience giving out.
"Madam, if you harbor any hope of retaining your position in this household you shall immediately produce the viscount, or his agent, or some person in authority so I may conduct my business," Morgan declared in a tight voice.
"I run the estate, Your Grace," Alyssa replied, matching the curtness of his tone.
"And who the devil are you?" he shouted.
"Alyssa Carrington," she answered, her voice also rising in volume.
"His daughter," she corrected.
Her answer stunned him. She was dressed like a servant. Nay, worse than a servant. The duke's eyes raked her in puzzled appraisal, taking in every aspect of her appearance with a critical eye. She was tall, taller than most women he was acquainted with, and she held herself erect, almost rigid. Her face was angular, with high cheekbones, a straight, defined nose, and a full, wide mouth. Her complexion was fair, with just a hint of color in her cheeks. It was, however, her eyes that drew him. Even behind the lenses of her glasses he could see they were almond shaped, deep green in color, accented by lashes that were long, dark, and full. They gave her an exotic, almost mysterious look.
Her hair was pulled back in a most unbecoming manner, making it difficult to determine the color. Her gown was a drab-brown garment, very plain and hopelessly out of fashion. It was too loose and too short and completely hid her figure. Still, her lovely face held Morgan's attention against his will. She was not beautiful in the conventional sense, but her features were classic and she radiated an aura of confident and refinement he found utterly intriguing.
"I was unaware Jeremy Carrington had any family living at Westgate Manor."
"Well, he does." Alyssa directed a withering look at the duke. He ignored it.
"You run the estate, Lady Carrington?"
"Miss Carrington," she corrected in a tight voice.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Lady Carrington was my mother. I prefer to be addressed as Miss Carrington."
"Very well, Miss Carrington," the duke replied in a deep voice, punctuating each syllable. "Do you run the estate?"
"Yes, I am in charge."
"What then, may I ask, is all of this?" Morgan queried sarcastically, sweeping his arm about the room. "Your private study where you conduct estate business?" "Not exactly." Alyssa responded with a distinctly challenging note in her voice and a decidedly stubborn look in her rich green eyes.
She could see he was having difficulty controlling his anger, yet she refused to volunteer any additional information. She knew she was being rude, but she honestly did not care. After all, the duke had not explained the purpose of his sudden unannounced appearance even though she understood all too well why he was at the manor. Feeling completely justified, Alyssa stood her ground.
"Start at the beginning, Miss Carrington," he commanded softly.
"Beginning of what, Your Grace?"
That remark brought Morgan swiftly into the room and up to the edge of the desk. The dark scowl on his handsome face told Alyssa she had pushed him too far.
"Do not play games with me, Miss Carrington. I warn you, I am in no mood for them," he threatened softly.
Alyssa's composure slipped slightly as the duke leaned menacingly across the desk to emphasize his point. He was so close she could feel his warm breath on her face. Her heart thumped wildly. Wisely, she decided to comply with his demands for answers.
"Lord Carrington, as you have already discovered, is not in residence at the moment. In his absence I take responsibility for these…umm…matters of business. I assume he owes you a sum of money?"
The duke's scowl darkened and Alyssa hurriedly continued.
"I have inventoried and cataloged the various items in this room. As you can plainly see, all are of great value; some are considered priceless. You any select any item or items that are equal in value to the sum owned you by Lord Carrington. If you prefer your debt to be settled in coin, I respectfully request you grant me 2 hours to procure the necessary funds. May I inquire how much you are owed?"
"A well-rehearsed speech. I can only surmise you have done this before."
Alyssa glanced at Morgan sternly, but refused to answer his taunt. "May I have the marker, Your Grace?" she asked, extending her hand gracefully.
For a split second Morgan was tempted to give her the deed of ownership in his possession, but even he could not be so cruel. Clearly Alyssa Carrington did not have any idea what her father had done. Glance at her thoughtfully, it struck him suddenly what an absurd picture she made standing amid the glitter and splendor of this room in her drab gown.
"Is there something you do not understand, Your Grace?"
No, he thought, it is all perfectly clear. Characteristically deciding that straight-out was the only way both to dispense and receive bad news, Morgan spoke.
"I regret having to be the one to inform you, Miss Carrington, but I am now the owner of Westgate Manor."
Having purchased Westgate Manor at an impromptu auction from Lord Jeremy Carrington, Morgan Ashton, Duke of Gillingham, has come to claim ownership. He wants to give the manor to his brother as a wedding present. He doesn't expect to find Lord Carrington's daughter running the place—and completely unaware that her father has sold the manor out from under her. Enchanted by the beguiling Alyssa, Morgan is appalled to discover she has no place to go and no money thanks to her father's gambling debts. After an evening of shared desire, Morgan makes her an offer—to protect her and take care of her as long as she remains his mistress. Losing her home to the Duke of Gillingham is horrifying—even though Alyssa knew her father would someday gamble it away. It doesn't take long for Alyssa to become wildly infatuated with the charming, handsome duke. She has led a quiet, sheltered life, resigned to being a spinster. But Morgan sweeps her off her feet, taking her to heights of passion she never dreamed possible. She mistakenly assumes Morgan's offer of the protection of his name is a marriage proposal. When she discovers that his intentions are quite different, Alyssa is offended and humiliated. How can he tell her how special their relationship is and then expect her to remain hidden in the shadows of his life? Broken hearted, Alyssa refuses to become Morgan's mistress. The consequences of their brief affair pull Alyssa and Morgan back together. Morgan had once vowed never to marry again after a disastrous first marriage, but he finds himself proposing to Alyssa and deluding himself as to the real reason. Alyssa accepts, hoping that Morgan won't some day regret his decision. She loves him, but will he ever love her? The passion that brought them together will be the foundation for a love neither of them expected.Passion and a hint of intrigue make Intimate Betrayal an absolute must-read! Adrienne Basso builds sexual tension to a satisfying crescendo! This book sizzles with desire! Fast paced and emotionally gripping, Intimate Betrayal is spectacular! Ms. Basso's writing is flawless! Hot! Fiery! A book to keep you warm on a cold winter night!Kristina Wright—Copyright © 1994-97 Literary Times, Inc. All rights reserved—Literary Times