The Seductive Temptress
The Fate of the Worthingtons #2
A fate already set in motion may hold unexpected surprises.
A lady betrayed by her betrothed. A gentleman set out for destruction. Would his scandalous proposition entice her to surrender to the passion swirling around them?
Noel Worthington’s happily ever after was only weeks away. She had finally secured herself a match with a divine earl who doted on her at every opportunity. However, Noel questioned if she should give her heart to him after he betrayed her with his deception. When her groom stays absent, she does what any lady in her position would do and confronts him, stating her demands. Noel flees when he responds with his own sinful suggestions. Soon Noel finds herself kidnapped in proximity with her scoundrel of a fiancé and she was powerless to deny the desire surrounding them. Would Noel ever trust her true love enough to give him her heart?
Gregory Ravencroft allowed his shame to keep him from securing his bride-to-be’s safety. When he arrived in London, it was to seek help to destroy his enemy. Instead, he fell for a proper lady who portrayed every character he desired in a wife. However, he couldn’t be more mistaken. When Noel declared what she expected of him, he realized his meek fiancée was a passionate lady who had kept her desires at bay. After he seduced her with his scandalous propositions, he discovered how he wasn’t the only one who had kept secrets. Can Gregory convince Noel that the love he holds for her is true?
A couple who navigates their engagement with polite indifference learn their fate entwined them for eternity with their undying love for one another. Can they defy the odds and allow trust to enter their hearts? Or would their deception keep them apart?
The Seductive Temptress is the second book in Laura A. Barnes’s Fate of the Worthingtons Series. If you love a romance filled with passionate intrigue, then you’ll love Noel and Gregory’s love story.
Read The Seductive Temptress to continue your journey with the Fate of the Worthingtons.
Noel Worthington felt the first crack of her face breaking into a hundred tiny pieces when she smiled serenely at another well-wisher. With each smile, the dreaded emotion of sorrow stabbed her in the heart. She fought back a fresh wave of tears that hovered behind her eyelids, ready to drop at a moment’s notice. She wished to steal away to her bedchamber. However, she refused to abandon her sister during her blush of happiness.
Even when it should have been hers.
Her younger sister had married before her and with undo haste. It had set the gossip mill swapping rumors on the reason for Maggie’s wedding—and to a gentleman few had heard of, no less. The rumors floated from one ear to the next, because it should have been Noel’s wedding to Lord Ravencroft they attended. However, her intended had disappeared, abandoning her to the masses and with not a single explanation as to why.
Oh, the obvious deception of his involvement with Lady Langdale and her threat to destroy Noel’s family was enough to cause her brother Reese to withdraw his support of their engagement. However, Reese had never withdrawn his support. He was furious with how the circumstances had played out, but he wanted to keep Ravencroft close. So he had agreed they could still marry. After all, Ravencroft was Maggie’s new husband’s half-brother.
Noel refused to listen to the story of how the gentlemen had infiltrated themselves into their family. She didn’t want to believe the bond they held was false. Noel’s heart had already committed itself to a lifetime of loving Gregory Ravencroft.
However, the proof of his deception proved true with each passing day he remained absent. Why did he stay away? Did he not love her as he had declared? If so, he would’ve arrived for the wedding. The longer he stayed away, the more difficult it would be for him to admit to his wrongdoings, and her love would slowly wither away.
Noel watched Maggie and her husband, Crispin Dracott, dance to a waltz across the ballroom floor. The love shining from her sister’s eyes helped warm the cold seeping into Noel’s heart. When the corner of her lips lifted this time, it was genuine. Her only shining happiness was for her sister. Dracott was the perfect match for Maggie. He complemented her curious sense of adventure with a patience none of them had been able to achieve.
With one last glance at the happy couple, Noel moved to stand behind a set of columns. She needed a moment to herself from all the glances of pity. As much as she longed to retire to her bedchamber, she wouldn’t ruin Maggie’s day with her sadness. She wished Ravencroft were here, not only to ease the burden of the meddlesome questions but to hold her hand while she shared in the joy with their family and friends. Instead, loneliness wrapped her in a cloak of despair.
“Why in the hell did he not show?” Reese growled.
“Dracott said it was for the best he stayed away,” Graham explained.
Graham was Noel’s other brother who owned a detective agency that Dracott worked for. It was how Dracott had become acquainted with their family. Graham had assigned Dracott to watch over Maggie at the functions they attended because their sister had the dreadful habit of wandering where she shouldn’t. He had faked a title to deceive their family. But Noel held no ill feelings for him because of the love he held for Maggie.
Reese continued with his irritation for the missing lord. “Best for whom? Himself? I thought he cared for Noel, but his actions have proven otherwise.”
“He is in a drunken stupor. His presence today would’ve given more room for gossip. Not to mention the effect it would have on Noel,” Graham stated.
“Can you not see the effect it is having on Noel already?” Reese asked.
Noel pressed closer to the columns to overhear her brothers’ conversation. As usual, Graham was oblivious to how Ravencroft’s behavior affected her. And Reese was only aware because his wife, Evelyn, had confided in him. She shook her head at the misguided way her brothers regarded her feelings, but at least they cared. It was more than some people had. Ravencroft’s actions were proof of that.
Graham appeared confused. “She seems well. I have seen her smiling and visiting with the guests all day.”
Reese glared at Graham. “Only because our mother has instilled in her how to keep up appearances. Stare into her eyes and you will see the sadness deep within. Our dear sister holds herself together with dignity but is falling apart inside.”
Any other time, Noel would smirk at her brother’s insight into her emotions. But he hit too close to the target for her to find humor in his words. Perhaps she sold Reese short on the attention he paid her. She understood Graham’s distraction. Usually, he was the first one to tease a smile onto her face, but now he faced tremendous pressure to secure the capture of Lady Langdale and her thievery ring. Now, with the risk placed on their family, it only added to his drive to destroy Lady Langdale.
“How can I help her?” Graham asked.
“Tomorrow morning, you and I will pay Lord Ravencroft a visit and make him understand his obligation to our sister. I will not allow him to leave Noel at the altar. Since he started this game, we will make sure he finishes it,” Reese threatened.
“Is that fair to Noel?”
“Sometimes life is not about fairness. It is about fulfilling a promise made. He made a promise to marry Noel and spent the season portraying a doting fiancé. Also, he tricked Noel into believing he loved her. Therefore, he will spend a lifetime proving the truth of his declarations,” Reese explained.
Graham shook his head. “I thought after the length of your marriage to Evelyn, you would’ve gained a better perspective on emotions. But you remain as clueless as ever. You cannot force matters as sensitive as this. You must coerce them with a gentleness they are unaware of being subjected to.”
Reese scoffed. “As always, you talk nonsense.”
Graham laughed. “Once again, I must prove you wrong.”
Her brothers moved away, preventing Noel from hearing the rest of their conversation. However, she had heard enough. While she loved her brothers dearly, she didn’t want their interference. If Reese went to Ravencroft and issued his demands, it would only send Ravencroft fleeing. While her fiancé kept her in the dark about his true character, she understood how much he valued his pride. He wouldn’t allow another gentleman to threaten him. Nor did Noel want Ravencroft to return on those terms. If he didn’t return on his own accord, then she had no use for him. No matter how much her heart cried otherwise.
Noel was more determined than ever to confront Ravencroft before her brothers did. Her gaze swept the ballroom for anyone to help her sneak away to Ravencroft’s home. But she couldn’t trust anyone not to inform Reese of her plans. He had stated how unsafe it was for them outside their home and only to leave under the protection of the guards assigned to them. Noel racked her mind for ways to leave undetected. When her gaze landed on Maggie, the perfect solution sprang her into action.
She inched out of the drawing room, glancing over her shoulder to see if anyone noticed her escape. The guests mingled with each other, while the servants bustled around, carrying trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Noel hurried up the stairs and snuck into Maggie’s bedchamber. She opened the sewing chest and dug to the bottom of her sister’s hiding spot. When her fingers brushed across the fabric, she gave a yank. A pair of trousers and an old shirt of Graham’s appeared. Noel’s face lit up at how easily her plan fell into place.
She gathered the clothing and stepped across the hall into her bedchamber. After locking the door behind her, she tossed the clothes onto the bed. Noel’s heartbeat quickened when someone knocked on the door. She hurried to the bed and slid the clothes under the pillow. She couldn’t afford to get caught so early with her plan.
“Yes,” she called out.
“It’s Mama, dear.”
Noel took a deep breath to calm her nerves. She opened the door, pasting on her last smile for the evening. “I am sorry for leaving so early.”
Her mother drew her into a hug, and Noel wanted to cling to her and cry out her injustice. However, she wanted Mama to enjoy Maggie’s special day. She must hurry if she wanted to escape before the celebration ended.
“It is understandable, my dear. I only wanted to check on you. If you like, I can sit with you for a spell.”
“I have not slept well lately and wish to retire for the evening. You must return and enjoy the celebration,” Noel fibbed.
“I can stay until you fall asleep,” Mama offered.
Noel’s gaze drifted toward the bed. “No. I wish to be alone with my thoughts.”
Mama looked disappointed, and Noel feared she might overrule her wishes and stay. Her family thought she needed to be coddled during this time. She grew weary of pretending her problems would resolve themselves when she really wanted to scream from the rafters. But it wasn’t her mother’s fault and she wouldn’t take out her frustration on her.
“But you can help me get ready for bed.”
Mama smiled. Her mother only wanted to feel needed, and Noel needed her mother’s comfort now more than ever. Mama turned her around and unbuttoned her gown, helping her into a nightdress. Noel picked out the simplest one to pull off when her mother left. Mama settled them on the divan and brushed out Noel’s hair. With each stroke of the brush, Noel fought with her guilty conscience for what she planned to do.
“Sometimes love must undergo a traumatic event to test the strength of its bond,” Mama murmured.
“What if it breaks the bond?” Noel whispered.
Mama laid the hairbrush to the side and pulled Noel back into her embrace. “Then one of two things will happen.”
“And those are?”
“Either you will realize it was never love to begin with or you will fight to repair the tear in that bond.” Mama placed a kiss on Noel’s head before rising. She set the brush on the vanity, picked up Noel’s clothes, and placed them on a chair for the maid to clear in the morning.
“Good night, my dear.”
Her mother paused at the door and focused her gaze on the pillows. She stared at them before smiling wistfully at Noel. Then she left, making no comment on what she had observed. Noel glanced at the bed in panic. Had her mother seen the garments? However, nothing looked out of place. An eerie sense settled over Noel that her mother had figured out her plans. Noel shook her head. Her only explanation was that her guilt had led her to imagine it.
What other explanation could there be?