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Desire Becomes Her

Shirlee Busbee

ISBN 9781420118445
Publish Date 6/26/2012
Format Trade Paperback
Categories Zebra, Historical, Romance
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New York Times bestselling author Shirlee Busbee delivers an irresistibly enthralling romance as a determined lady and a daring gambler stake everything to win passion’s most dangerous game …

A Perilous Temptation

Gillian Dashwood’s wastrel husband wagered away her fortune. His scandalous murder ruined her reputation. Even still, she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her beloved elderly uncle from Lucien Joslyn, the cool-headed gambler whose reasons for coming to the country are as mysterious as his newfound fortune. Once Lucien makes it clear he is certain Gillian is herself anything but innocent, she’s determined to reveal the truth about him. But the simmering desire that draws them ever closer is threatening those with vengeful secrets to keep. Now, trusting each other is a hazard Gillian and Lucien never imagined—even as a chance at an enduring love is the one peril they can’t resist…

Praise for Shirlee Busbee and Passion Becomes Her

“A fast plot packed with clever twists keeps the action and passion blazing.” —Publishers Weekly

“Delicious…fast-paced, intriguing.” —Affaire de Coeur


Gillian Dashwood glanced around the dining room in the Duke of Welbourne’s palatial hunting lodge in Hampshire and wondered, not for the first time, what she was doing here. Her gaze took in the huge stone fireplace, the bronze silk-hung walls adorned with the glassy-eyed heads of fox, boar and roebuck no doubt killed by his grace, before her eyes considered the guests seated around the long crystal- and silver-laden table.

Gillian recognized several of the men—all friends of her husband, Charles. Lord Padgett, Miles St. John, William Stanton and, not surprising, the duke’s youngest son, Lord George Can- field, were seated around the long table. All of them, at one time or another, had been guests in her home, but she couldn’t say their presence gave her any comfort. Being friends of her husband, they were all dissolute gamblers and heavy drinkers and beyond presiding over the dining table at her home, she avoided them, retreating upstairs with her companion and cousin, Mrs. Easley, as soon as politeness allowed.

Her gaze happened to meet Canfield’s and a chill swept through her. Averting her eyes, her chin lifted. What a detestable creature—staring at her bosom that way.

Once again, she glanced around the table. It wasn’t a large party, but that she was here was puzzling. From what she could discern, she and Charles were the only married couple in attendance. She’d assumed that the duchess would be attending, as well as the wives of the other gentlemen, but of the duke’s wife—or anybody else’s wife—there was no sign.

Several of the gentlemen, including her host, were married, but all the women present, with the exception of herself, were either widowed or unattached and none with any chaperone in attendance. The ladies, while young and attractive, were not in the first blush of youth either, but it was astonishing that they would be mingling so freely with the gentlemen.

Gillian told herself not to be judgmental, but the bold mannerisms and forward behavior of the women made her uncomfortable. The clinging hands, the too-loud laughter and the assessing, avid eyes . . . And the gowns! Nervously, she glanced down at her own self. Helped by a diamond and topaz brooch she’d used to alter the neckline and a bronze gauze wrap worn like a shawl and crisscrossed in front of the brooch, her breasts were decently covered—even if it didn’t prevent Canfield from ogling.

When Charles had presented her with the gown, she’d taken one look at the amber silk confection he’d bought for her to wear tonight and had known immediately that it was far too dashing for her. They’d argued over the gown, Gillian refusing to wear a garment cut so low that the bodice barely covered her nipples. Mrs. Easley agreed with her. Furious, Charles stalked around the room, berating them for being a pair of country mice and unaware of the ways of the world. His words fell on deaf ears. Looking from one set feminine face to the other, shaking a finger at Gillian, he snarled, “By God, you’ll not defy me! You will wear the gown at Welbourne’s party, if I have to put it on you myself,” and stormed from the room.

Gillian and Mrs. Easley looked at each other and then at the silk and lace gown spread across Gillian’s bed. Fingering the offending neckline, Gillian sighed. “I suppose we can find some way to make it respectable.”

Mrs. Easley nodded. Taking the gown from Gillian, she studied it. “Perhaps I can do something with that diamond and topaz brooch he recently bought for you. See here? The brooch is certainly large enough and if we center it and use the clasp to hold the edges of either side . . .”

Between the two of them, they managed to weave the fabric onto the pin of the large brooch and raise the neckline to some degree. The addition of a wide swathe of bronze gauze gave even more concealment.

While he amused himself in London, Charles determined that Gillian should remain home in their pleasant cottage in Surrey, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t aware of society ways. Her parents had been members of the gentry and she’d been raised with all the benefits and rules pertaining to proper young ladies; if she’d been so inclined she could boast of titled ancestry a few generations back. Glancing around the table again, she suspected that there was nothing proper about this evening.

She looked at her husband seated down a few seats and across from her and frowned. He had been exceptionally kind to her in the time leading up to the duke’s dinner party and that alone should have made her suspicious. Once he’d gambled away the respectable fortune she’d brought to the marriage, he’d had little use for her except to run his household and see to it that his friends, like Padgett and Stanton and the others, were made comfortable when staying with them in Surrey.

Her golden-brown eyes resting on Charles’s dark face as he beguiled the woman sitting next to him, Gillian could still see signs of the handsome and charming man she had fallen in love with and married nearly nine years ago. He was a month away from his thirty-fifth birthday, and while the ravages of an indulgent and rakish life were increasingly evident, there was no denying that when he entered a room women noticed him.

Watching the woman, a widow, flower under Charles’s warm look, Gillian wanted to warn her not to believe the honeyed words that fell from those chiseled lips and the promise that gleamed in those striking blue eyes. Unable to bear watching him work his charms on yet another foolish woman, her gaze dropped.

Wondering how different her life would have been if she’d listened to her uncle and heeded his words, she sighed. Except for her older half brother, Stanley Ordway, her only other male relative had been her uncle, and since she and Stanley were often at odds with each other, she’d had only her uncle to look to for approval when Charles had asked her to marry him. Uncle Silas had chosen his words with care. Smiling fondly at her, he’d said, “He’s a handsome bit of goods, I’ll grant you that, but I worry, my dear, that he might make you an uncomfortable sort of husband.” She’d brushed his comment aside, at eighteen so besotted by Charles Dash- wood that no one could have prevented her from marrying him.

Thinking back to that time, she grimaced. The fact that she and Stanley had been in agreement about something should have warned her. Shaking her head, she realized that Stanley’s friendship with Charles had been an obvious clue to his nature: her half brother was addicted to all games of chance and his friends were known gamesters. If only—

“Some more wine, my dear,” purred a voice in her ear, breaking into her thoughts. “Your glass is nearly empty.”

Gillian started and glanced at Lord Winthrop, the gentleman seated next to her. She knew him slightly, he was one of Charles’s friends, but she did not like him—or the assessing gleam in his gray eyes. Like the others, Winthrop had visited them a few times in Surrey and he always made her uneasy, staring too long at her bosom, his hands holding hers longer than necessary. She sensed if she were ever foolish enough to be alone with him that he could not be trusted not to make unwanted advances.

Easily a decade or two older than most of Charles’s friends and like her husband and her half brother, Winthrop was a gambler. Unlike Charles and Stanley, he was also wealthy and a close crony of Welbourne’s; she suspected it was Charles’s association with Winthrop and Canfield that explained their presence here tonight.

Forcing a smile, Gillian replied, “No, thank you.”

His eyes traveled over her, lingering on the soft swell of her breasts hidden beneath the bronze gauze, and she flushed and picked up her wineglass. Bringing the glass to her lips, she used her arm to shield herself from his bold gaze.

“It’s a warm night . . . surely you don’t need that bit of gauzy nonsense hiding your charms,” he murmured.

A spurt of temper shot through her, and with ice in her voice, Gillian said, “You are too forward, my lord. I would thank you to keep your opinions to yourself.”

He laughed, not at all abashed. “Ah, I like a lady with spirit.” When Gillian glared at him, he murmured, “Forgive me, I was too bold, indeed.”

Gillian shrugged, wishing he’d turn his attention to his neighbor and leave her alone. Would this interminable meal ever be over?

“You’ve not attended one of the duke’s, ah, parties previously, have you?” asked Winthrop, not the least put off by her manner.

Stiffly, she replied. “No, this is my first time.”

He smiled. “Your first time . . . well, let us hope you find it memorable . . . I will certainly do my best to see that it is quite, quite pleasurable for you.”

His words and smile only increased her discomfort, and she glanced around for a distraction, but seeing that everyone was busy with their own conversations, she turned back to Winthrop and asked brightly, “Have you attended many of these, these parties?”

“Oh, yes. Frequently. One never knows what . . . delights Welbourne will have arranged for us.”

Feeling as if they were talking about two different things, Gillian babbled, “And the duchess, does she attend?”

Winthrop threw back his silver-streaked dark head and laughed. “Oh, my sweet, you are adorable. Wherever did Charles find you?”

Her fingers tightened on the wineglass and she decided she really didn’t like his lordship very much . . . or the duke’s party. She wanted to go home. Now.

Perhaps, she thought unhappily, Charles was right and she was a country mouse. Certainly this glittering, sophisticated group made her feel out of her league.

As if guessing she was ready to bolt from the room, Winthrop said, “Forgive me—I see that I was too free in my comments. I apologize.” When Gillian nodded and kept her gaze averted, he murmured, “Come now, I’ve apologized. Won’t you relent, fair lady, and favor me with some conversation?”

“I doubt my conversation would interest you,” she muttered.

“How do you know unless you try me?”

She glanced sharply at him, wondering if there was a double meaning behind his words, but there was only polite inquiry on his face.

“Let us see, what topic would you like to discuss?” he asked. “Fashion? The latest gossip circling the ton? Or are you a bluestocking and prefer to talk about books and music? Ah, perhaps, the plight of poor King Louis and his beautiful queen, Marie Antoinette?”

Seated on Gillian’s other side and hearing Winthrop’s question, a florid-faced gentleman, one of the few men present with powdered hair, exclaimed, “Indeed, the situation in France should concern us all.” He looked around the table. “Everyone knows that since Mirabeau’s death in April the French assembly has been in utter disarray—why, even the royal family tried to flee the country. It is a shame they were caught before they could escape.” Shaking his head gloomily, he added, “You mark my words, there are dangerous days ahead.”

A blond-haired beauty nearby leaned forward and murmured, “Poor Marie Antoinette! Imagine being dragged back to Paris like a common criminal. Shameful!”

“At least the king and queen are still alive,” said another gentleman. “Not like several other unfortunates. It’s no wonder that London is being flooded with aristocratic émigrés. No one knows what will happen next.”

Winthrop yawned. “Dear me, I feel as if I have wandered into the House of Lords.” Plaintively he asked, “Must we discuss politics?”

The gentleman on Gillian’s other side flushed, but a ripple of laughter went around the table and the situation in France was dropped.

A gentlemen on the other side of the table asked, “Speaking of tragedies, has anyone heard anything new about the widowed Mrs. Soule?”

“Wasn’t it shocking?” exclaimed one of the women. “You’d have expected it in London, but who’d have thought such a thing would occur here in the tranquility of the country.”

“Yes, it was shocking,” agreed Miles St. John.

An awkward silence fell, everyone suddenly remembering that one of the latest on-dits had been that St. John had been snared at last and that an engagement had been in the offing.

Self-consciously St. John cleared his throat and murmured, “Elizabeth was a dear friend. As many of you know I often escorted her around London.” His handsome mouth thinned. “It’s appalling to think that someone broke into her home and murdered her in her bed and if I ever . . .” He broke off, flashed a wry smile and said, “Forgive me. I allow my emotions to run away with me.”

Not at all happy to be usurped by a rehashing of the tragic event that had ignited the neighborhood two months ago, Winthrop murmured, “First politics and now something that would provide the plot of a Minerva Press Novel.” Sending a pained look around the table, he asked, “Must we discuss these things?”

Charles laughed and said, “Come now, Winthrop, you like gossip as well as the rest of us.”

“Yes, but not,” he said, “when I am in the presence of a beautiful lady like your wife.”

“Point taken,” Charles murmured and turned his attention back to the lady next to him.

Smiling at Gillian, Winthrop murmured, “Ah, and now where were we? Was I admiring your eyes? Or perhaps, it was that delicious mouth of yours?”

“Actually,” she said with a bite, “you were the one who introduced the topic of King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette.”

He shuddered. “How gauche of me.” His gaze moved over her, lingering once again on the swell of her breasts. “I would much rather dwell on your beautiful self.”

Wishing this interminable evening would end and that Lord Winthrop would turn his attention elsewhere, she dredged up a smile and replied, “Surely, talking about oneself is as boring as politics.”

“Not when someone is as lovely as you are, my sweet.”

Gillian never took credit for the beauty that fate had bestowed upon her. Without being vain, she knew she was beautiful, her mirror as well as many admirers had told her so, and at twenty-seven she was at the height of her stunning loveliness, but Winthrop’s comments increased her discomfort. She wasn’t unaccustomed to compliments—during her sole Season in London she had been much sought after, not only her tidy fortune drawing the gentlemen to her, but her smiling golden-brown eyes, sable locks and ethereal form adding to the appeal. There had been much chagrin amongst the gentlemen of the ton when her fancy had settled on Charles Dashwood.

She’d taken pains with her appearance tonight—not wishing to appear a frump in front of Charles’s friends—as much to avoid another heated argument as any other reason. She knew the gown complemented her slender body, and the handiwork of Nan Burton, her longtime maid, was not to be discounted. Earlier this evening, lips pursed, Nan had arranged the lustrous dark brown locks into ringlets that framed her face and brushed a bit of rice powder across her face and rubbed a tiny amount of rouge into her cheeks.

Stepping back to admire her work, Nan said, “It’s a pity that the wearing of patches has gone out of style because I think a tiny patch near the corner of your lips would be perfect.” Tucking in one wayward ringlet near Gillian’s ear, she added, “But I’m happy that powdering the hair has gone out of fashion except for a few diehards.” Smiling fondly at her mistress, Nan said, “I must say, Madame, that I have not seen you in such looks in a long time.”

Rising to her feet from behind the dressing table, Gillian had shaken out the folds of the amber silk and lace gown and smiling asked, “Does that mean I go around looking dowdy?”

Nan laughed and shook her head. “As if you could! Garbed in rags you’d turn the head of any man without ice water in his veins. Now go on with you and join the guests and have a jolly good time.”

Nan’s remark, while meant to cheer her up, only reminded Gillian that she was married to a man who did indeed have ice water in his veins, but she quickly pushed that thought away. Winthrop’s determined flirting and compliments should have made her feel attractive, but they had the opposite effect and she sighed, wishing that she was at home reading quietly in the front parlor with Mrs. Easley.

Hearing her sigh, Winthrop said, “I see that my much vaunted charm is having no effect on you. Tell me, lovely lady, is it just me or men in general?”

Gillian flushed. Forcing a smile, she looked at her companion and murmured, “I apologize, my lord. I’m afraid that I am not used to hearing such extravagant compliments.”

“Oh no,” he said, “don’t go all starchy and formal on me now. I much preferred the shy rose.” His gaze caressed her. “I wonder if you’ll be so charmingly shy in the morning?”

She looked sharply at him, but he only smiled and, apparently having grown bored, began to work his wiles on the young woman seated on the other side of him. Grateful Winthrop’s attention was fixed elsewhere, she finished the meal in relative comfort.

As the hour grew later, some of the gentlemen, Charles, Welbourne, Padgett, Canfield and Winthrop amongst them, disappeared into the nether regions of the house to drink and gamble, leaving the other guests to fend for themselves. Deserted among strangers in the gilt and cream salon where the other guests had assembled after dinner, Gillian tried her best to mingle, but the ladies were far more interested in the gentlemen than in talking to her, and the gentlemen . . . After repulsing a drunken viscount’s attempts to kiss her for the third time, Gillian fled.

Entering her bedroom, she leaned back against the door and took her first easy breath since she had descended the stairs that evening. She might be somewhat naïve and out of the social whirl, but only a fool wouldn’t have realized that this party was one that no respectable woman would have attended. What in the world had Charles been thinking bringing her to such an affair? Did he value her so little? Or was it his way of punishing her for refusing to play hostess to just the sort of party that was taking place downstairs at this very minute?

Angry and puzzled, she walked across the room and sat down at her dressing table. Staring at herself in the mirror, Gillian considered ringing for Nan, but decided against it. Nan would be agog to hear about the party and at the moment, she wasn’t up to relating an expurgated version of the evening. Morning would be soon enough and perhaps by then, she thought wearily, she would have made sense of the evening.

About Shirlee Busbee:

Shirlee Busbee has written seven New York Times bestselling novels and has over nine million copies of her books in print. She is the recipient of numerous awards for excellence in writing, including the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award and Affaire de Coeur’s Silver and Bronze Pen Awards. She lives in California with her husband Howard, and is working on her next historical romance for Zebra.

Photo credit is ©Kimarie

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