Mar 10 2013 1:00pm
When Mary Smith’s corrupt, debt-ridden brother drags her to a seedy pub to sell her virtue to the highest bidder, Alasdair Thornham leaps to the rescue. Of course the marquess is far from perfect husband material. Although he is exceedingly handsome, with a perfect, strong body, chiseled jaw, and piercing green eyes, Alasdair is also too fond of opium, preferring delirium to reality. Still, he has come to Mary’s aid, and now she intends to return the favor. She will show him that he is not evil, just troubled.
Mary was a damsel in need of a hero, but Alasdair’s plan is shortsighted. He never foresaw her desire to save him from himself. Alasdair is quite at home in his private torment, until this angel proves that a heart still beats in his broken soul. The devil may have kept her from hell, but will Mary’s good intentions lead them back to the brink—or to heaven in each other’s arms?
Get a sneak peek of Megan Frampton's Hero of My Heart (available April 8, 2013) with this selected scene.
(Full disclosure: Megan Frampton is the community manager of Heroes and Heartbreakers.)
The inn looked just about as disreputable as the Lion’s Head. At least her betrothed was consistent. The innkeeper, who had a few more teeth than the last innkeeper, recognized Alasdair as Quality as soon as they entered the small main room, where a few other patrons were hunched over their ale.
“Needing a room are you, milord?” the man said, bowing so low Mary thought his nose might hit his knees.
“Two rooms,” she said quickly. Alasdair clamped a hand on her arm.
“My wife is a bit upset with me, sir, and thinks she’d like to sleep by herself,” he said in a condescending tone—as though he had any other. “One room, please.” The man bowed, and headed toward the stairs, motioning for them to follow.
“Two rooms, my lord,” Mary said, insisting. He’d promised!
His grip grew tighter. “One room. I spent all my emergency money on you, my love, so unless we want to sleep out-of-doors in a few nights, we’ll be sharing a room.”
“Oh,” she said in a subdued tone, shaking his hand off her arm. “I didn’t—that is, I didn’t realize.”
“Of course not,” he drawled. “You were too busy thinking I had designs on your luscious body.”
Put that way, it sounded ridiculously vain. And she’d been ridiculous before, but never vain. That her father—and her mirror—had made certain of.
She opened her mouth to utter an apology, when she saw his face drain of color. He clutched his stomach.
“Are you all right, my lord?” He staggered, then bent and placed his arm across her shoulders.
His voice was rough and ragged. “Will be fine. Just get me up to the room.”
She stood frozen for a moment, feeling the weight of his body leaning against her. “Quickly!” he commanded, stronger now.
“Yes, my lord,” she replied through gritted teeth. She and Alasdair moved toward the dark stairwell at the other end of the room. His left arm was draped over her shoulders, and his right hand was clutching his stomach. If she weren’t supporting him, she knew he would already have collapsed.
All thoughts of her own predicament fled as they moved toward the stairs.
Mary saw droplets of sweat beading on his forehead. “This way,” she said, her knees buckling a little under his weight.
They mounted the stairs together, barely fitting in the narrow passage. Alasdair’s weight was almost entirely on Mary, and her back and leg muscles began to protest at the unaccustomed work. “Almost there, my lord,” she said, hoping it was true.
They made it to the top of the stairs and stopped, Mary looking around anxiously for the landlord. He bustled out of the farthest door and gestured for them to enter.
“It’s our best room, my lord, my lady,” he said. “Just ‘ad a duke ‘ere the other week.”
Mary didn’t spare a breath to challenge his boast, although she thought the man’s patron was likely the Duke of Disorder, if he was the duke of anything. Alasdair was breathing heavily, and he wobbled against her. They negotiated the final steps into the room.
She helped him over to the bed, where he flopped on top of it, the movement producing a spray of dust.
Mary and the landlord watched the dust for a moment, and then she turned to face him. “We will need supper, water, and fresh linens. These”—she gestured toward the bed, where Alasdair lay completely still—”are not acceptable. And send someone up to mop the floor,” she ordered.
The landlord looked as though he wished to argue with her, but he just glanced over at Alasdair and nodded. He walked quickly from the room, calling out orders as he left.
Mary sat on the bed alongside Alasdair, nudging him to his side so she could feel his forehead. It was hot, and his face was sweaty.
As she looked at him, his eyes opened suddenly and he stared at her, unseeing. “Judith?” he said in the gentlest tone Mary had heard him use yet.
She stroked his forehead and smoothed his hair. “Everything is all right, my lord,” she said in a soft voice. “You will be fine. You are just ill.”
“Why don’t you ever call me Alasdair?” he asked in a plaintive tone. He dragged his arm out from under his body and toppled her over so she was lying on the bed. His arm lay on her stomach, and when she tried to squirm away, he curled his hand around her waist and held her still.
“A—Alasdair,” she said quietly. “Now settle down and try to rest.”
He nodded, his eyes still closed, and pulled her closer to him so the length of their bodies was touching.
Mary watched his face, her eyes traveling from the rumpled hair to the strong brows, the commanding nose, and his full, sensual mouth. All that and a marquess, too.
No wonder he was accustomed to getting his way—people probably just sensed his autocratic authority and did whatever he wanted them to.
And she was no different.
She reached out and touched his hair, pushing the long, disheveled strands behind his ear. His scent tickled her nose, and she sniffed, leaning in a little closer to him, inhaling the mingled odors of leather, sweat, and musk.
He gave a crooked smile in his sleep, and gathered her closer still.
Mary gave a gasp of surprise when he suddenly opened his eyes. The green depths were just inches from her face, surrounded by long, black lashes. Many women would have given their left arm to have eyelashes like that.
“You’re beautiful,” he murmured, moving forward to kiss her on her jawline. She closed her eyes for a moment.
It felt appallingly right to be there, in his arms, caressed by him, even though he seemed to think she was this mysterious Judith. Mary envied her, whoever she was. Because Mary knew she herself was not beautiful; Judith must have been.
“My lord, stop,” she said at last after he had finished kissing her jawline and was making his way down her neck. His only reply was to shake his head. Strands of his dark, silky hair spilled onto her face.
She pushed at his arms, which were now clasped around her, and shoved him away from her, meeting his eyes. “My lord. I am Mary Smith, and you are ill. We need to make you better.”
He grinned an irresistibly charming smile, one that reached his eyes and made them crinkle in the corners. “I know who you are, Miss Mary Smith. You’re my betrothed, we’re on our way to Scotland, and you’re the only one who can make me feel better.”
And with that, he rolled onto his back and pulled her completely on top of him, clasping his hands around her at the back of her waist. Every part of her body was scandalously, disgracefully, deliciously touching his.
And then he reached one of his hands up her back and pulled her head down to his, giving her a meltingly seductive kiss.
This one was even better than the first.
Mary lifted her head. “You promised,” she said in a breathy sigh.
He smiled, and pulled her down to him again. Mary opened her lips without even thinking about it, felt his tongue enter her mouth. It was like the night before, only not; now she knew him, was aggravated by him, but also, even though she hated to admit it, charmed by him.
Alasdair held her head still so he could devour her with his lips, slanting his mouth on hers and capturing her tongue.
She heard a growl coming from one of them, and was startled when she realized it was her. He let go of her head as he flipped her over.
She was under him now. He ran his hands down her body, from her breasts to her hips. She could feel his hardness pressed up against the apex of her thighs, and she rocked her pelvis against him.
Apparently he was feeling better.
Amelia had talked about this, but Mary hadn’t realized just how good it would feel.
He growled, and reached between them with one hand, to where she was already aching with need. He stroked gently, caressing in exactly the right place, even though Mary herself hadn’t known it was exactly right. Until now.
He moved his mouth to her neck, licking and sucking on her skin. He was still gently rubbing down below, causing her to writhe and twist underneath him. “Steady, love, steady,” he soothed, bringing his other hand up to tangle in her hair.
He left soft, gentle kisses from her neck down to her chest, then made another inarticulate noise and began to lick her breast. She hadn’t even realized he’d slid her gown down off her shoulders, but now she felt the fabric bunched around her waist. He’d pulled up the bottom of her gown also, so the bulk of it was right in the middle of her body. If she thought about it at all, she’d imagine just how ridiculous she looked.
But she couldn’t think. Not now, not when he was nibbling on her tender flesh, his tongue flicking out to tantalize her, making her want...“Aah,” she moaned, when his mouth finally fastened on her nipple and sucked gently, the warm, tugging action sending waves of sensation all over her body.
She didn’t know she could feel this good. Hadn’t known, until now. She ran her hand through his hair, and then slid it gingerly across his shoulders, feeling the breadth and strength of them underneath her hand. He might be an aristocrat, but he certainly wasn’t soft. The opposite, in fact; everything about him was hard, his muscles, his body, his demeanor, his—well, everything.
Mary squeezed her eyes shut as she moved her hand lower down his back, feeling the muscles flex as he responded to her touch. He was still hot, the fabric of his shirt damp from perspiration. Did he have a fever? And if he did, could she find—but no, she didn’t want to think too much, she just wanted to feel, feel desired, and wanted, and—
“Damn,” he said, raising his head and burying it in her neck. She could feel his body start to shake.
“What is it?” she asked, her voice muffled by his shoulders.
He shook his head as though he were brushing off her question. She felt his fingers start their clever movement again between her legs, and she was lost, forgetting completely about what might be wrong.
Because everything was wrong, and yet it was also right.
Right to be here, with him, in this bed, with him touching her. Suddenly, he yanked at her gown and tried to pull it over her head. “Get this off, will you? I want to see you, all of you.” He raised himself to his knees and rested his hands on his thighs, waiting with an impatient look on his face. People do what I say, that look said.
Why did it now feel as if she should do everything he demanded, when half an hour ago she’d argued with everything he said? Never mind; she would deal with her lack of gumption later, when her body wasn’t clamoring for more. She lifted up onto her elbows, and tugged the gown over her head. A few of the buttons stuck, and she undid them quickly, twisting her hands behind her back as she unfastened each small circle. At last, it was off, and she tossed it to the floor.
“Good,” he said in satisfaction, his green eyes devouring her as much as his mouth had. He lifted his own shirt off, still staring at her, and tossed it into the corner of the room.
Mary gasped when she saw him. His chest was broad, strong, and muscled, but had an ugly mass of scar tissue running from just above his nipple to his collarbone.
“Were you injured?” she asked, then shook her head in annoyance. “Of course you were, I can see that. How did it happen?”
“Someone shot me,” he said, still gazing into her eyes.
“I’m not surprised,” she said with a smile. She reached her fingers out and touched the gnarled skin; it was ridged with scars, and he flinched when she trailed her fingers down to his nipple.
And then took a deep, satisfied breath as she kept working her way down.
What are you doing? her mind screamed. Feeling pleasure, she yelled back.
His chest was broad, and well muscled, with a sprinkling of dark hair on the upper part. The hair ended just where his abdomen began, and Mary could see the definition of the muscles in his stomach.
His breeches began just where another line of hair began, a tantalizing trail down toward the part that Mary had felt pressed up against her. His erection was making a tent of his trousers, and she swallowed a little as she thought about what Amelia had told her.
She’d been horrified at the time, but now she was grateful to her friend for disclosing so much.
“Stop thinking,” he commanded, lowering his body back onto hers. He reached his fingers up to play with one of the curls in her hair, apparently engrossed in watching it spring back to its spiral shape. “This is good. Doesn’t it feel good, love?” His voice was a seductive caress in her ear.
Mary stroked his back, his smooth, warm flesh, then turned her head away from him and lay still.
“You can’t stop thinking,” he said in a quiet voice. Her heart ached at how weary he sounded. He pulled himself off her and leaned his hands on his thighs again. “You’re right. I did promise, didn’t I? Well,” he said with a sardonic smile, “you can see just how much faith you can put in my promises.”
He eased off the bed and went and sat in a chair by the window. The chair was narrow, barely wide enough to fit him. He was as still as a statue, his head bowed. A casual glance might make someone believe he was staring out the window, but Mary knew he wasn’t seeing anything.
She got up slowly and walked over to where her gown lay crumpled on the floor. She raised it over her head and dropped it down, attempting to smooth the wrinkles, an impossible task. “What now?” she asked. The gown gaped open behind her, and the air was cool against her heated skin. She slowly buttoned it up, feeling a twinge of regret.
She missed his touch.
He shrugged, still not looking at her. “We go to Scotland. We forget this. It won’t happen again.” He sounded again like the bored aristocrat who’d decided they would get married without even consulting her.
“Fine,” she said, giving her gown one last pat. “And if you’ll excuse me, I am going downstairs to see what is happening with our supper.”
Almost before she stopped speaking, he leapt up from the chair and grabbed her arm. His hands were shaking again. “Not without me,” he said in a strained voice. Mary started to glare at him, but then noticed that he was clutching his stomach, and his skin looked ashen.
“You are ill,” she said. “You are going back to bed. Alone.” She lifted his arm and twisted it gently, spinning him around so that he was facing the bed.
“Go,” she added, giving him a small shove in the back.
He stumbled to the bed and flopped down on it. As he rolled onto his back, he began to cough; not a polite clearing of the throat, but a deep, heaving cough. It lasted at least a minute, and Mary saw his stomach muscles clench from the strain.
“Are you all right?” she asked, kneeling down on the floor next to him. His eyes were glazed and unseeing, sweat pouring off his body onto the coverlet. How could he be ravishing her one minute, then so ill the next? He seemed to go into a spasm, and his stomach convulsed as more dry, laborious coughs took over his body.
“Just...a minute,” he said, shaking his head as if to clear it. She put her hand on his forehead. It was burning. She’d never encountered such a rapid onset of illness.
Perhaps it was something exclusive to Quality, she thought to herself.
“I’ll get a wet cloth,” she said, beginning to rise.
“No,” he said. “Just...touch me. Like you were.” He stretched his hands out to her and entwined his fingers in her skirts.
It was scarily easy to shake his hands off. Not so easy to deny that she wanted to touch him. She turned and walked to the washstand in the corner of the room. “You have to eat.” She yanked a not-so-clean towel off it and looked helplessly around for water. That landlord needed to return quickly. “If you have a fever, you will be too weak if you don’t eat something.”
“Stop being a damn schoolteacher for once and come here.” While he had likely intended to sound authoritative, his voice sounded pleading instead. It made her turn around faster than an order would have.
She sat back down on the bed and lifted her hand to his forehead, smoothing the thick, black strands away from the damp skin. As she stroked his skin, the lines of anguish cleared from his face and his eyes closed.
After a few moments, he gave a sigh of relief and his eyes opened wide, seeming to finally take her in. “Thank you.”
Mary kept stroking his forehead, smoothing the hair back against his head. He rolled his head around and she saw his jaw clench. Then the stomach convulsions started again, and he twisted and cried out.
She shifted away to give him room, but he shook his head. “No. Please. Don’t stop,” he said in a pleading tone.
She touched him again, drawing her hand down his cheek. She curled her hand into a loose fist and grazed her knuckles across his cheek, his stubble rough against her skin. He turned his face into her hand like a kitten yearning for her touch, his lips warm against her palm.
She trailed her fingers down the side of his face, onto his neck, feeling his pulse beating rapidly against her hand. “Shh,” she whispered nonsensically; he wasn’t speaking, but she felt the need to soothe him nonetheless.
His skin was hot, sticky with sweat, and a few drops of perspiration dotted his chest.
For a moment, Mary thought about bending her head down to lick it off his skin. She could almost taste the saltiness of him, his musky essence swirling around her nose.
He was ill. Ill, and she wanted nothing more than to reach down and lick him. What had happened to her?
Just a few days ago, she’d been a vicar’s spinster daughter, teaching school and doing good works. She’d never thought about anything in the least bit salacious, not even when Mr. Hardesty, her father’s assistant, had admired her apple cobbler with enough enthusiasm as to make his point perfectly clear.
It must be the events of the last two days. Why should she be denied pleasure or gratification?
In essence, she was a good, modest person. But a person who relished life, and wanted to be happy. This made her happy, and she didn’t see the point of denying herself any longer.
And she wanted this, wanted it with a desperate urge she’d never felt before.
She shook her head at herself, but continued to slide her fingers down his skin, trying to bring some peace to his body through her hands. He was arching his back off the bed now, his hair damp with sweat. There was a line of sweat at the waistband of his breeches, and Mary wondered if she should try to get them off him so he would be more comfortable. But his comfort would be directly proportional to her discomfort, so she just pulled the linens up over his body instead.
“Please,” he begged. His eyes had the same haunted look they’d had that morning, when he’d woken from his nightmare.
“What do you want, Alasdair?” She spoke in a whisper.
“I want you,” he replied, his eyes shuttering closed.
She was opening her mouth to reply—not that she knew what she’d say—when the door flew open with a crash.
Copyright © 2013 by Megan Frampton
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Hero of My Heart by Megan Frampton before its April 8, 2013 release:
Megan Frampton grew up in a remote town in New Hampshire where she devoured every book of fiction in her well-read parents' library. An English literature major at Barnard College with double minors in political science and religion, Megan wrote and edited reviews for a music industry magazine for fifteen years. Eventually, she became editor-in-chief and went on to develop conference programs for the industry. Now she is the community manager for Heroes and Heartbreakers, a romance novel website, where she blogs daily about the fiction she reads. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.