A Private Collection
When Adam Blackwood first lays eyes on the woman of his lusty fantasies, he’s a young man with too much arrogance and not enough self-control. She rejects his clumsy advances and deeply wounds his pride. Six years later the wound remains, but other things have changed. He’s grown up. She’s widowed and alone. And this time, she wants something from him.
Evangeline always knew Adam was dangerous. He aroused emotions and desires she’d learned to suppress. But now he’s back with a proposition and a secret from her past. A little blackmail is hardly a gentlemanly method of getting her into bed, but what else can she expect from a Blackwood?
Perhaps, for just one night, she’ll give him what he wants and indulge her own secret passion. Providing they never see one another again, what harm can it do?
Evangeline raised her lashes and looked at him, trying to figure out what was so different. Had he grown a few more inches? Were his shoulders broader than she remembered? Perhaps she’d never looked at him for too long before today.
The arrogant cub strolled around her small parlor, picking up books and china ornaments, examining each in a casual, proprietary manner, much the same way he assessed her.
“Very well. How much?” She lifted her chin. “I’ll pay your dratted ransom.”
“Yes.” He put his hands behind his back and swiveled on his heels to face her. “You will. If I can be persuaded to part with it, of course. I’ve acquired a considerable fondness for it already.”
Now he was making her angry. “How much?” she repeated.
“I’m afraid it will be very expensive.”
He walked away from her, turning his back. “When did you stop seeing my father?”
Nervously touching her hair, she worried it might come undone. He had an unfortunate capability of loosening her parts merely by looking at her. “You have it all wrong. It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t ever like that.” She could barely get her words straight, too irritated by his brash impudence.
In the back of the house she heard Mary humming as she pottered about. It must be almost luncheon.
Adam Blackwood heard her too and went very still. “You have a house maid?”
“Yes.” How inconvenient for him, she thought gladly, to find she wasn’t alone after all.
But his manner was flippant. “Get rid of her for an hour or two.”
Rage kindled, tone sickly sweet, Evangeline replied, “I most certainly will not.”
“Unless you want me to show that portrait to everyone in this village. I think the church hall would be the ideal venue, don’t you?”
Her heart almost stopped. “You wouldn’t.”
“I would.” He paused, swept one hand across his lips. “Now get rid of the maid.”
Control being wrenched from her hands, she was furious. “No!”
“Then I will.” He strode to the door.
She was there before him. “Stop.”
He did. Surprisingly.
“I would rather she not know you’re here.” Shaking her head, she tried to catch her breath. He had her trapped. Suddenly, his hand was under her chin, strong fingers cupped around it, he lifted her face.
“Give her the rest of the day off.” His cadence softened, but it was no less menacing. “She’s not to come back until the morning.”
Her body tensed. “I thought you said an hour or two.”
“Changed my mind. These price negotiations could take a while.” He lowered his head until his lips touched her brow, then her nose, then her trembling mouth. “You do want that painting back, don’t you?”
“We can’t. You can’t,” she whined. “Your carriage…”
“Returned to The Grange after it dropped me at the crossroads. I walked from there.”
“But Peter, he’ll return with my winnings later.”
He laughed huskily. “So sure you’ll win?”
“Yes,” she said simply. Those kind of visions didn’t come to her often, but when they did, she took advantage. Why not? Someone would win the money. Better it be in her pocket than in theirs. Dr. Phillips was a frugal gentleman, one might even say he was a skinflint, and had saved a tidy amount in the bank. But, having been destitute once before, Lina liked to make her own money by telling fortunes and reading cards. Occasionally that income was supplemented with a little illicit dabbling in the races. She considered it her only vice and surely every soul had one. That was what made them human, rather than saint.
“What will he do if you don’t answer the door?”
“I…I suppose he’ll come back tomorrow.”
“There. Problem solved.”
She groaned softly. “But I can’t trust him all night with my money in his hands, especially if he has a few pint pots at his father’s tavern.”
“Trust me, if he cheats you out of a penny, he’ll answer to me.”
Desperate, she sought for some other reason why he couldn’t stay, but he wouldn’t even let her think. Leaning over her, his hand still around her chin, his breath cooling her brow, he said, “Let me be plain, Mrs. Phillips. I want to spend the night in bed with you.”
Want, want, want! Like any other spoiled child, she thought irritably. “But if someone should see you leaving in the morning…”
“They won’t. I know what I’m doing.”
Lashes lowered, she watched his lips. “Oh? You’ve had much practice at this?” Blackmail must come second nature to a man like him, she thought churlishly. Not that he could need it often for matters like this. Most women probably fell at his feet the moment he crooked his finger in their direction. Why he bothered pursuing her so intently when he might, with far less effort and suffering fewer thorns in his prideful skin, have any other woman to whom he took a fancy remained a mystery to her.
“Don’t ask me about my lovers,” he laid down his words as if each one was heavy, straining his shoulders, “and I won’t ask about all yours.”
She never should have let him in. The moment she saw it in the cards, she should have packed her things and left. But where would she go? She was tired, angry, confused. And she was lonely.
He didn’t kiss her. His mouth brushed hers, his breath moistening her anxious lips. Leaving her waiting, knowing what was to come.
It was inevitable. Five years ago she’d sent him away and he’d gone tail between his legs. But this time it was different. Adam Blackwood was in charge, in control of himself. He was no more a boy rushing in like a bull, and he wasn’t going anywhere at her command.