The Infidelity Curse
Perilous Secrets Book 3
by Barbara Monajem
Genre: Historical Romance
The death of her cruel husband means freedom at last for Lucretia Tifton—until she learns that the guardian he chose for her longed-for baby is the latest in a line of earls known for separating their children from unfaithful wives. The elusive new earl is certain to hear the gossip about Lucretia. Will he believe it and prove to be as heartless as his ancestors?
Giles, the Earl of Netherbroke, wants nothing more than to work in his London shop, building furniture with beautiful marquetry finishes. If unexpectedly inheriting the earldom isn’t bad enough, now he’s saddled with an unwanted guardianship. What’s worse, the baby’s mother is the loveliest woman he’s ever seen.
Giles is almost certain Lucretia is an adulteress—and the more he learns about her, the more he understands why she might have betrayed her husband. Nevertheless, he is determined not to succumb, like his ancestors, to the Infidelity Curse.
But then Lucretia is suddenly in danger, and the only way to protect her is to make her his.
Setup: The broadsheets have published scandalous lies about both Giles and Lucretia. When a horde of newsmen hover outside Lucretia’s house, looking for more scandal, Lucretia tries to protect Giles’ reputation, while he at the same time tries to protect hers…
Lucretia was too angry to cringe, or to care that a footman hovered and a maidservant was curtseying on her way to the stairs. “You are not to sacrifice your reputation for me!”
Giles said through his teeth, “Might we continue this discussion somewhere more private?”
Lucretia put her nose in the air and preceded him to the drawing room. The short walk down the corridor, with his menacing step behind her, sapped her courage. He shut the door and faced her.
She had to explain quickly, before she lost heart. Her voice shook. “I merely wished to show that I am not a temptress, merely a widow in mourning, and that you are merely the guardian of my child.”
He glared. “With your hair uncovered, a rose in your bosom, and that alluring smile?” She quaked at the fury in his eyes. Before she could muster a retort, he snapped, “They will tear your character to shreds.”
Tears stung her eyes and she turned away. A wave of mortification swept through her, suffocating her anger, replacing it with shame, and the fear that always hovered, that he would do his worst.
No. Her voice still trembled, but at least she could still speak her mind. “Oh, so it is perfectly fine for you to protect my reputation, but I may not do the same for you?”
~ ~ ~
“Certainly not.” If he had not been so angry, Giles would have laughed at such an absurdity. “My dear Lady Tifton, I would be dastardly indeed to let you do such a thing.”
“You are being portrayed in the broadsheets as a seducer.” She dashed a tear away. “It’s preposterous!”
Through the gradual draining of his anger seeped a whisper of chagrin. He wished she weren’t so fervent about his inability to seduce. “Yes, but scandal helps the broadsheets sell a great many copies. And while I appreciate your confidence in my integrity—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” She no longer seemed cowed, thank God. “You did a great deal to prejudice me against you. If you wanted to seduce me, you would not have taken such a bacon-brained approach.”
“Hopefully not, but—” He would probably do something equally sloppy and inconsiderate, like sweeping her willy-nilly into his arms and plastering her with kisses. She had regained her shapely figure. The sway of her hips as he followed her into the drawing room had done nothing to help him suppress his suddenly ravenous desire. Deep down, or perhaps not so deep at all, he was indeed the lecher he had just pretended to be.
And she had responded in kind. It terrified him, and it aroused him beyond belief.
Not only that, but she wanted to protect his reputation. His mind still boggled.
He took a breath and composed himself. “Lady Tifton, please try to see things from my point of view. It is a far greater stain on my honor to allow you to make a figure of yourself in my defense, than to suffer the injustice myself.”
“In that case, you fully understand my position. You men think females have no notion of honor.” A tiny spasm crossed her features. “But we do.”
“Of course,” he said gently.
Tears sparkled in those blue eyes, and her lip quivered ever so slightly. If only he could pull her to him, hold her, kiss those tears away.
She fingered the rose at her bosom as if steeling herself to throw it away. “I suppose I must have my clothing repacked, leaving the colors behind and bringing only my blacks,” she said bitterly.
Was that how she saw him? Not only unskilled at seduction, but an ogre to boot. “What you wear is none of my business. I might have advised discretion, but once we leave London, people will lose interest in our affairs.”
He did his best not to leer in earnest. The black mourning gown hugged her curves. The rose emphasized her beautiful breasts. A crimson flounce peeped from beneath her black skirts. He flexed his fingers to dispel the itch to finger that flounce, to ease it up, to explore and caress.
Clearly, he was out of his mind. She was struggling to keep from weeping, for God’s sake, while he was consumed with lust. Ruefully, he said, “In any event, colors become you better.”
She took a black handkerchief bordered with lace from her sleeve and wiped away a tear. “I am so sick of wearing black and grey, and even lavender. I am so sick of—of—”
“Of pretending to mourn?”
Mutely, she nodded.
“With me, you need not pretend about that or anything else,” Giles said.
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Barbara Monajem grew up in western Canada. She wrote her first story in third grade about apple tree gnomes. After dabbling in neighborhood musicals and teen melodrama, she published a middle-grade fantasy when her children were young. Now her kids are adults, and she writes historical and paranormal romance and mystery for grownups. She lives in Georgia, USA , with an ever-shifting population of relatives, friends, and mostly feline strays.