WHY WAS LEO here? Rebecca had followed his pursuits in the newspapers. He never came to Langmere. Ever.
She pushed her back against the wall of the stables. A little brick dust rained down upon her. She wrinkled her nose and held her breath. The lamplight only offered her a hint of his features as he ducked into the building that was shrouded in darkness by the late hour.
He still made her heart skip. Even after all these years. It shouldn’t have surprised her that it did. He always did that to her, and the years had been kind to him, hardening his jaw and filling out his shoulders.
He wore a shirt, slightly untucked and rolled up at the sleeves, revealing muscular forearms dusted with hair. He murmured something to the horse, and her stomach did a tumble. If she closed her eyes, she would be six and ten again, listening to him speak to his horses whilst perched on a milking stool and watching him with such admiration. Their love of animals had brought them together but that had swiftly turned into something else.
Sometimes, she suspected Leonard Moncrieff would be the only man she ever loved.
However, just because he was still kind to animals did not mean he was the same man. It pained her to read every column devoted to him and his dalliances, yet she could not help herself. They had not spoken in nearly ten years and she could not help but want to know every element to his life, even while it stabbed at her heart to read of the rake he had become.
He stilled and turned, the golden light dappling over his face. She sucked in a breath. No wonder women swarmed to him. The attractive young man she had known had grown into the most handsome man she had ever seen.
She clapped a hand over her mouth when his brow furrowed. He lifted the lamp and peered at the shadows. She waited, her heart pounding against her chest so loudly that she feared he would hear it.
Then he shook his head, returned the lamp to the plinth and turned back to the horse, smoothing strong hands down the animal’s flanks.
Rebecca inhaled a shaky breath through her nostrils. And regretted it. Instantly. The brick dust and hay combined made her nose tickle and her eyes water. She pressed a finger under her nose but to no avail. A sneeze burst from her, cracking through the stillness.
She jolted away from the wall with the intention of escaping but too late. Leo descended upon her and grabbed her arm. “Who are you?” he demanded.
She tried to wriggle free of his strong grip, but he grabbed her other arm. When she went to push past him, he shoved back, and she lost her footing and tumbled onto a pile of hay. He fell with her, the sudden tumble dragging him down. The breath left her lungs at the impact of his body atop hers, his strength and height utterly apparent.
“Get off me,” she grunted, struggling against his hold.
“What are you doing here, boy?”
She stilled at the word. He hadn’t recognized her. She supposed the shadows were too dark. And that meant her disguise had worked. With any luck, she could make her excuses, leave, and he would be none the wiser of her presence here.
“Just seeking shelter,” she murmured, keeping her voice low.
He kept her pinned, fingers curled around both wrists. The awareness of his hard body atop hers sizzled through her despite herself. She squirmed once more and he cocked his head, releasing her arms suddenly. “You’re no boy.”
“You do not have to stay,” she murmured between forkfuls of lukewarm but beautifully spiced duck.
“I told Alexander I was taking a stroll about the parkland.” He lingered by the window, his hands clasped behind his back, despite there being nothing for him to view from such a position.
She sighed and gestured to the chair opposite. “You had better sit then. It feels mightily odd eating with you towering over me.”
He lowered himself onto the chair, his frame seeming too big for a piece of furniture that had likely been designed for a woman.
She forced her attention to the food. Tomorrow she had intended to hunt down a woman with whom her father had been connected, and it would likely involve walking into Grasmere so she would need her strength.
“How are your brothers?” she finally asked when the silence stretched too long.
Not that it was uncomfortable, at least not in the traditional manner. It left her feeling oddly achy and desperate for the days when they had been able to talk and touch freely.
“Well enough, though I cannot say they would confide in me were they not.”
She frowned, gesturing with her fork. “But you used to be so close, especially to Adam.”
“We are all busy these days.” He lifted both shoulders. “Alexander is forever hunting out his next adventure, probably determined to kill himself so he does not have to worry about siring an heir, and Adam still enjoys cards.”
“And you, what do you do?”
“I thought you knew all about me.” He smirked. “You have read all about me in the gossip columns after all.”
“Well, yes.” Warmth spread into her face, and she eyed the glossy table top until she could get the heat under control. “But only briefly,” she lied.
Leo leaned back and laced his hands behind his head. “Then I am sure you know it all.”
“The horses,” she blurted, motioning so fast with her fork that a few remnants of meat flung off it and splattered against the curtains. She grimaced and gently lowered the fork.
His lips curved but he said nothing of her disastrous manners.
“What I was trying to say was there are so many horses. Are they yours?”
He nodded. “We are so seldom here that Alexander does not mind me using the park land for the horses.”
“No. They are too old. I purchase those who are at the end of their racing or working careers and they live out their retirement here.”
“Of course you do.”
Rebecca should not have been surprised really, but she almost wished there was some selfish reason. It would make it all the easier to ignore this pull toward him as though he had lassoed a rope around her and was slowly hauling her in with his every word and action.
He lifted both brows. “You sound almost disappointed.”
“Well, it does rather ruin your image as the seductive rake.”
“And that disappoints you?” His gaze clashed with hers, making her chest feel tight.
“No, it is just—”
“You want to know why I bedded all those women over the years?”
“Because of you, Rebecca.” His jaw twitched. “To forget you.” He shoved a hand through his hair, leaving it in disarray. “I needed to get you out from under my skin, but I’ll be damned if I succeeded.”
She inhaled a sharp breath that seemed to sear her lungs. It all could be a lie, she supposed, but she did not think so. His confession had the loop tightening, drawing her closer still until she could fight him no longer.
Perhaps, just for now, she did not want to fight him.
“I never forgot you either,” she confessed.
The words escaped without thought and she should have regretted them, but when his gaze darkened and she knew precisely what his next move would be, she could not bring herself to.
She held herself still and waited.
USA Today Bestselling author Samantha Holt lives in a small village in England with her twin girls and a dachshund called Duke. If you’re not sure where to start why not try…
▶ Amelia and the Viscount (Bluestocking Brides #1) for a fun, slightly hot shorter length read. Meet the Chadwick sisters and follow their adventures in each of their standalone stories.
▶ You’re the Rogue That I Want (Rogues of Redmere #1) is a longer read with heat, witty dialogue, a feisty heroine and adventure. All books in the series are standalone.
▶ Sinful Confessions is the first in the Cynfell Brothers Series. These are all novella length and standalone–ideal for a quick dip into the world of the sexy Cynfell brothers.
▶ Wake Me With a Kiss is a sweet, fairytale romance. Twists on Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella are also available if you love a clean, fun read.
▶ To Steal a Highlander’s Heart is a full length dive into the world of sexy highlanders. For those who love braw Scots, some steamy scenes, and medieval romance, this series is a perfect escape.