Waking up in a stranger's bed, Henrietta Markham encounters the most darkly sensual man she has ever met. The last thing she remembers is being attacked by a housebreaker--yet being rescued by the notorious Earl of Pentland feels much more dangerous!
Since the cataclysmic failure of his marriage, ice has flowed in Rafe St. Alban's veins. But meeting impetuous, all-too-distracting governess Henrietta heats his blood to the boiling point.
When she's accused of theft, Rafe finds himself offering to clear her name. Can Henrietta's innocence bring this hardened rake to his knees?
The early morning mist was just beginning to clear as he turned Thor, his magnificent black stallion, towards home, taking the shortcut through the long yew-tree walk that bordered the formal gardens of Woodfield Manor. The bright sunlight of an early English summer shafted down through the tall trees, causing the dew on the grass to sparkle as if strewn with a myriad of tiny diamonds. The earthy scent of freshly disturbed soil and roots churned up by Thor's prancing hooves mingled with the heady perfume of the honeysuckle, which roamed untrained around the trunks of the stately yews. It was a perfect morning, the prelude to what would undoubtedly be a beautiful day.
The Right Honourable Rafe St Alban, Earl of Pent-land, Baron of Gyle and master of all he surveyed was, however, completely oblivious to the glories of nature, which assailed him from all sides. Mentally drained after another sleepless night, physically exhausted after his strenuous early morning gallop, his only interest was in falling into the welcoming arms of Morpheus.
Reining his horse in, Rafe dismounted to unlatch the wrought-iron gates, which opened on to the gravelled side path leading directly to his stables. The tall, perfectly proportioned man and the huge ebony horse made a striking pair, each in their own way glorious examples of blue-blooded pedigree, perfect specimens of toned and honed muscle and sinew at the peak of physical perfection. Rafe's skin glowed with a healthy lustre. His raven-black hair shone in the sunlight, the severe lines of his Stanhope crop emphasising his faultless profile, the angle of his cheekbones highlighted by the flush of exertion from the break-neck gallop across the downs. The bluish hue of stubble only served to accentuate a strong jaw and very white teeth.
Byronic, is how one infatuated young lady had breathlessly described him, a compliment that Rafe dismissed with his customary crack of sardonic laughter. Though his handsome countenance and fabulous wealth made him one of society's most eligible bachelors, even the most determined ladies on the catch wilted under his aloof stare and acerbic wit--which suited Rafe very well, since he had no interest at all in leg-shackling himself for a second time. He'd had enough of marriage to last him a lifetime. Several lifetimes, in fact.
'Nearly home now, old friend,' he murmured, patting the horse's sweating flank. Thor tossed his massive head, expelling a cloud of warm air from his nostrils, as anxious as his owner for the warmth of his sleeping quarters. Deciding to walk the short distance to the house rather than remount, Rafe shrugged off his riding coat and slung it casually over his shoulder. Having no expectations of meeting anyone this early, he had come out wearing neither hat, waistcoat nor neckcloth. The clean white folds of his linen shirt clung to the perspiration on his back, the open neck at the front revealing a sprinkling of hair on a muscled chest.
The gate swung soundlessly back on its well-oiled springs and Rafe urged his horse forwards, but Thor pawed at the grass and snorted. In no mood for playfulness, Rafe tugged on the reins again, more sharply this time, but the stallion refused to move, giving a high whinny.
'What's spooked you?' Scanning their immediate surrounds in the expectation of seeing a rabbit or a fox peering out from the deep ditch that ran parallel to the path, instead he saw a shoe. A lady's shoe. A small leather pump, slightly scuffed at the toe, attached to a very shapely ankle clad in eminently practical wool. With a muffled exclamation, which expressed more annoyance than concern, Rafe looped his...