When Savannah Dawson married the second son of an English earl, she never dreamed she’d have to leave her beloved America, let alone enter the aristocracy at her son’s side. Yet when the earl dies and her husband disappears at sea, Savannah’s life is upended. Bringing her young son to England to meet her shrewish mother-in-law is only the beginning of her trials. The dowager countess has asked a duke to assist in the new earl’s education—a man whose power and position could define the course of Savannah’s life. Proud and stubborn, Savannah refuses to be intimidated. And yet neither can she resist the attraction that catches fire between them.Reformed rakehell Gabriel Armstrong, Duke of Clevedon, has no room in his life for a woman. Especially an American commoner, the widow of his childhood friend. Beautiful and bold, Savannah nevertheless captivates his imagination. Unlike her English counterparts, she speaks her mind and demands to be heard. Something that does not endear her to the dowager countess, yet which Gabriel finds fascinating. Troubles follow her from America, however. Her husband’s business was in debt, his money invested in illicit trade, and his ship was not the first to be lost at sea.Rumors abound that Savannah’s husband is still alive. Forces are at work to deny her son his title. And when an interloper arrives demanding repayment or revenge, the life of Savannah’s young son is in jeopardy. Savannah and Gabriel must work together to escape the shadows that could blot out the light of their future.
He rode at a quick pace, with the stable boy following to the Dawson estate.
Slowly after he arrived, he felt his heart in his throat as he caught a glimpse of Savannah. She wore a dark green riding outfit, which made her light blonde hair sparkle. Her deep blue eyes reminded him of two sapphires. He wanted nothing more than to kiss her, but now wasn’t the time. Not only did he want their next kiss to be private, he didn’t want to chance the dowager countess witnessing it, whether she hid in the shadows or not.
It had been a long time since he’d wanted to kiss a woman like he did Savannah. He’d thought he’d loved Marie, but what he felt when he held Savannah in his arms far surpassed any passion he’d known before.
“Good afternoon, Your Grace,” Savannah said as she got closer. The lilt of her voice soothed him.
“Mrs. Dawson, you look radiant.”
“Are you ready? I picked out a mare specifically for you. I think you’ll like her.” Gabriel motioned for the stable boy to bring the mare around to the mounting block. She patted the mare on the neck before mounting. She gave him an odd look.
“What? Did I do something wrong?” he inquired.
“I don’t require a side-saddle. I’m a good enough rider I can ride astride. These are dangerous, you know.” She smiled.
He swung his leg over the back of the gelding. “I’ll make sure my staff remembers that in the future. If you’d like I can have the mare resaddled. It would only take a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Your Grace. I would appreciate that.”
Not twenty minutes later, they rode quietly, side by side until they were out of sight of the house. Gabriel gathered his reins.
“I thought we’d ride out to the tower.”
“Wonderful. Can we go up to the roof?”
He nodded. “Yes, it’s been cleaned since our last visit.”
She shortened the mare’s reins and, in an instant, urged the horse into a gallop, leaving Gabriel in a cloud of dust. He galloped behind her, content to let her enjoy herself. She was an accomplished horsewoman, better than most women he knew. So many barely rode, preferring to be seen in a carriage. He couldn’t recall ever riding like this with a woman besides his sister, Frannie. Henrietta had always been prim and proper, preferring painting and needlework to galloping across a field on horseback.
Finally, he caught up with her, and they slowed down. Coming upon a fork in the path, Gabriel led her down to the left. In a few more minutes, they’d be able to see the top of the tower. The tower had always been a fascinating place. The real reason for its construction was lost to history, given there were so many stories. One tale was it had been built to serve as a sort of prison of a home for a long-gone duke’s mistress. Another was that the tower was built as a lookout for trespassers. The third was it was where his great-great-grandfather kept his wife, the duchess, who turned mad after a fever.
Gabriel liked to believe the second story. The idea of this structure being used for anything dark didn’t sit well with him.
“You’re being rather quiet,” Savannah said, joining him as they slowed their horses to a walk.
“I was trying to recall the stories I was told about the tower growing up.” He shared the three tales with her. She was amused as he went into detail.
“I think more than likely, the tower was built as a lookout. Unless, of course, you have well-founded evidence of one of the others.”
“If there is, it’s hidden in one of the books in the library. Dusty and forgotten.”
She gazed ahead to where the top of the tower now appeared before them. “It would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose. I never gave it much thought.”
“Has it just sat there empty?”
He nodded and stopped the gelding. “As far as I can remember, though I think my father did come here to be alone to think.”
“I imagine the view would be a perfect deterrent from any troubles one might have.”
He arched a brow. “You’re about to find out.”
She smiled back at him. “You’re a strange man at times, Your Grace.”
He sighed and shrugged. “I’ve been told worse.”
Gabriel helped her down and found a tree to tie the horses. Opening the door, he followed her inside. Coming to the staircase leading to the roof, Gabriel continued to follow Savannah, watching the gentle sway of her hips as she took each stair. Something stirred within him, and he thought about the first time his father had brought him to the tower, how exciting it was to climb these exact same stairs for the very first time as a young boy. Now, all these years later, he was sharing the view with someone new.
“It’s beautiful,” Savannah exclaimed as they came through the door at the top of the stairs. She was right, the view was splendid, but he always loved to see the expression on another’s face when they looked out and saw the land, which seemed to go on forever.
“It is, isn’t it?” Gabriel replied, not knowing if he were asking her or simply making a statement.
She walked around to another side, the one facing south. The scenery was slightly different, lush green everywhere. The top of the castle was visible from this vantage point. “I can see why your ancestors built the tower here. You can see anyone approaching the castle.”
He nodded, amazed by her grasp of the situation. Most woman wouldn’t figure it out. “Yes, especially anyone approaching from London. You can see from all vantage points, but London would always have been where most came from, whether invited or not.”
“It just sits unused now? Pity.”
“I believe my parents and possibly grandparents used the tower. My mother and father used to take a meal up here in the summer, and my mother would sometimes come and read.”
“I can see her attraction to the place. Has anyone ever lived here?”
“Yes, there have been what I suppose you’d call keepers. There’s a small sitting area and kitchen with a separate place to sleep.”
She smoothed her already smooth skirts and gazed at him through the sunlight. “Thank you for showing it to me.”
He neared. “You’re welcome. It’s one of my favorite spots on the entire estate.”
“I can see why,” she replied breathlessly.
He closed the gap between them. He inhaled her scent of oranges and vanilla. At that moment, he thought it was the most intoxicating smell. She was so close, he could see the vein on her long, fine neck pulsing. Was she nervous? She didn’t appear to be, but he knew she could keep her feelings bottled up inside for no one to see. He tucked his hand under her chin and bent his head.
And then he kissed her.
To his relief, she didn’t pull back in shock. Instead, she stood there quietly, allowing him to take the lead. Her lips tasted of honey and tea as he ran his tongue along them. The urge for more consumed him as he parted her lips with his tongue. She opened to him, their kiss becoming more passionate and needy. Her arms wrapped around his neck, her fingers running through his hair.
Reluctantly, he broke the kiss, his breathing ragged. His cock was hard with need. The one thing he swore he’d never do was happening, and he didn’t want it to end. He stared down at her, her lips swollen from his kiss. How long had it been since she’d kissed a man? Was he the first since her husband died?
Cupping her chin with his hand, he kissed her again. Again, she opened and responded to him. What started out as a simple kiss was now greedy and passionate. He wanted her like no other. Certainly, he’d kissed many a woman, but none of them aroused him the way Savannah did. He wanted to make love to her and claim her for his own.
“We must stop,” he growled as he tore himself away.
“You brought me here to take advantage of me, Your Grace?”
“No, not at all. I’ve dreamt of kissing you. I merely got caught up in the moment. Forgive me.”
She nodded, one hand absentmindedly touching her hair. “There is nothing to forgive. It was as much my fault as it was yours, Your Grace.”
“Gabriel. I asked you to call me Gabriel.”
“Very well, Gabriel.” She smiled. “What do we do now?”
“What do you want to do? We can either pretend that kiss never happened, or we can pursue our feelings.”
The color rose in her cheeks. He wondered if they would flush when he finally bedded her. There was no doubt in his mind he was going to bed her and make her his, but then what?
“There is no way we can undo that kiss. I wouldn’t want to, but there are others we have to think of.”
“Vincent, yes. I understand.” He smiled. “As far as Lady Dorset, I don’t care what she thinks.”
“She’s still my mother-in-law.”
“True, but she surely can’t expect you to live out your days alone and unloved.”
“I have Vincent,” she whispered.
“Yes, and he always will love you. You must face the fact his life will be changing in the next few years. He will go off to school. Eventually university. He’ll marry, have children of his own.”
“But he’ll always love me.”
He ran his fingers along her cheek. “Is that enough? Are you willing to forsake a life of your own?”
“I would do anything for my son. Anything.”
He leaned over and kissed her once again. Savannah sighed as he did. “If we’re going to do this, we must be discreet and go slowly. Can you do that for me?”
He arched a brow and nipped her lower lip with his teeth. “For you, I can do anything. I would move heaven and earth if it meant having you by my side.”