Title: The Duelist’s Seduction
Author: Lauren Smith
Series: The Seduction Series, Book 1
Release Date: May 12th 2015
Genre: Regency/Historical Romance
Length: novella (89 pages)
Helen Banks is going to die. When her twin brother gambles away their fortune, she must save his life and take his place in a duel to satisfy the honor of a man her brother couldn’t pay. Disguised as her brother, Helen faces the one man she’s admired from afar, a widower with a dark past and eyes that scorch her very soul.
Since Gareth Fairfax lost his wife, the darkness in his heart continues to grow. Lashing out at anyone who opposes him, Gareth is stunned to face a lovely young woman opposite his dueling pistol. After discovering Helen’s deception, he offers her a choice: become his mistress or her brother dies.
Their devil’s bargain turns into a slow, sweet, intoxicating seduction. With each passing hour, Helen uncovers Gareth’s secret heartbreak and yet she can’t help but fall for the man who has ruined her. With Helen in his arms, Gareth wonders if he might yet be saved. All it takes is one passionate embrace, a kiss from the depths of his soul and a night of wild abandon.
Author Bio: Amazon Best Selling author, Lauren Smith is an attorney by day, author by night, who pens adventurous and edgy romance stories by the light of her smart phone flashlight app. She’s a native Oklahoman who lives with her three pets: a feisty chinchilla, sophisticated cat and dapper little schnauzer. She’s won multiple awards in several romance subgenres including being an Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Award Quarter-Finalist and a Semi-Finalist for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award.
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The predawn sky shone brightly with flickering stars as Helen Banks readied herself for the duel. Her hair was coiled and pinned tightly against her head, concealing its thick mass and giving her a boyish look—a disguise she prayed would last. Checking the black mask covering her face, she resumed walking. She took a deep, steadying breath as she adjusted her breeches and the black coat she’d pinched from her brother’s wardrobe.
The open field near the spa city of Bath was quiet. Two coaches waited in the distance along the roadside, and ahead of her, two men waited, watching her approach. Not even a breeze dared rustle the knee-high grass as Helen walked up to her enemy and his second. Both men also wore masks to conceal their identities should someone witness the illegal duel. The paling skies played with the retreating shadows of night, lending a melancholy air to the moment she stopped inches from the men.
“You are late, Mr. Banks,” the taller of the two men announced coldly.
With his broad shoulders and muscular body, Gareth Fairfax cut an imposing figure. He seemed perpetually tense, as though ready to strike out at anyone who might offend him. Dark hair framed his chiseled features, and the eyes that glowered from between the spaces of his mask were a fathomless blue. They were the sort of eyes a woman lost herself in, like gazing into a dark pool of water that seemed to sink endlessly, drawing her in until she can’t find her way back to the surface. She recognized the sensual, full lips, now thinned by anger, and the gleam of his eyes on her. She was never more thankful that the early morning’s pale light did not expose her as being a woman.
Helen hated knowing that even now, faced with possible death at his hands, she still desired him. Having seen him from afar over the past few months, she’d been enchanted. Gareth—for that was the way she’d dreamt about him, not as Mr. Fairfax—had a way about him, an animal magnetism that drew her in, with his smoky gaze and relaxed movements. Sin personified—she’d once heard a woman describe him thus at a dance and it was true. Even angels would be tempted to stray to hell for one glance, one lingering, seductive look. He smiled so rarely, she’d glimpsed it but twice in the months she’d seen him. Both times it had fairly knocked her off her feet with the sheer force of its power.
He’d never noticed her at the social engagements. She had stood close to the wall, quiet and lost in dreams as she watched him through her heavy lashes. Foolish, too, she knew, to look at him and feel such hunger for the things his brooding demeanor promised. He had passed her by on numerous occasions, but his head never turned and his eyes never alighted on her. Even now, as she stood before him, ready to die at his hands, she knew he thought her to be her twin brother, Martin.
If he ever discovered she was a woman, he would be appalled and furious. Especially given that she was only dueling him to save her brother’s life.
She briefly studied her opponent’s second. He was just as tall, his features nearly as striking as Gareth’s.
Helen choked down a shaky breath. “I was waylaid.” She prayed her voice sounded gruff and masculine.
Gareth’s eyes were dark orbs, burning with thinly controlled anger. He shifted restlessly on his feet, his imposing form momentarily revealed by the dark blue coat that contoured to his shape.
“Is this your second?” His growl sent shivers down her spine as his glaze flicked to the squat man in his mid-thirties standing behind her. She glanced over her shoulder, widening her eyes in silent encouragement for her second to come closer.
“I am,” Mr. Rodney Bennett replied and bowed.
“Mr. Banks, I am Mr. Ambrose Worthing,” Gareth’s second announced politely.
Well, finally someone was acting like a gentleman. “Mr. Worthing,” Helen said, making sure to keep her voice low. “Allow me to introduce my second, Mr. Rodney Bennett.”
Bennett passed by Helen, and he and Worthing shook hands. Bennett offered the pistols to Worthing for inspection. Since Gareth and Worthing had not brought the weapons, that duty fell to her as the challenged party. As the two men drew apart from her and Gareth, she tried not to stare at him. He was impossibly handsome, in that dark, mysterious sort of way that a woman simply couldn’t ignore. Like gazing upon a visage of an angry god, all fire and might, ready to burn her to ash with passion.
Her opponent glowered at her. “I suppose I should trust that you’ve not tampered with my pistol?”
His icy tone made her bristle with indignation. “You have my word it shoots fair,” Helen snapped. The nerve of the man to accuse her of cheating!
“Your word? We would not be here if I could trust your word. A man who does not honor his debts may not find it necessary to honor the rules of a duel,” Gareth retorted.
She wanted to scream. Her fists clenched at her sides. Her nails dug painfully into her palms as she struggled to calm down. She wanted to throttle her brother, whose rash and inconsiderate behavior had gotten her into this mess.
Helen blinked. Go home with Gareth Fairfax? She may have been an innocent, but she knew that if he were to take her to his home, she would be compromised—ruined for marriage. Certainly ruined for any other man. A blush warmed her whole body just thinking of what he would do to her if she agreed. Ruined. Part of her was filled with a secret, dark curiosity. Would he seduce her? She should have been more frightened by the fact that she was curious enough to wonder what it would be like to be with him. Women seemed to like seduction under the right circumstances. A spark of heat shot through her body at the thought of Gareth willfully seducing her.
“If I agree to go with you, what would you do with me?” The words came out thick, her tongue seemingly unable to form the words as she dared to ask about his intentions.
He didn’t speak for a long moment. Instead he rubbed his thumb and forefinger against the lock of her hair. Finally, he let the loose curl drop and settled his hand back on his thigh, shifting his hips slightly. It pressed him harder against her and her own body flashed with a strange, queer sort of fire.
“You can settle your brother’s debts to me one way or another.” His tone was black as midnight, dark as sin, and rather than frighten her, it made her tremble with longing. She had heard enough women speak behind closed doors at the balls to know that what could happen between a man and woman in bed could be pleasurable for both parties.
Worthing stood up and eyed his friend. “Fairfax, you can’t just take her home.”
Gareth’s eyes searched her face and settled on her lips. “She’s already said that Banks is her only relative, Worthing. No one will miss her. It’s her choice. She’s free to leave, or she can come with me and save her brother’s life.”
“You can’t be serious. The young woman was only defending her brother. You cannot ruin a lady over that.”
She watched the exchange, wondering why Worthing was so ready to defend her.
“Well, Miss Banks?” He continued to study her, his body keeping hers trapped as though there really was no option but to accept him. “Make your choice. Dawn is chasing us, and I, for one, don’t wish to be here when the sun fully rises.” He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “I promise to take good care of you and give you so much pleasure you might feel you’ll die from it.” The feel of his warm breath against the sensitive shell of her ear sent sparks shooting down her spine and she tensed.
Helen gazed up at him, desire running riotously through her body, and her mind whispered dark suggestions, borne of long years of need for things she barely understood. This was a chance to taste temptation, to be with a handsome man and know passion. There would never be love, she knew that, but passion might prove a memory worth having, especially with a man like him. Did she dare, though? Any chance of marrying, having children, would be at an end, and if anyone discovered where she was, her reputation would be ruined. Even obtaining employment as a maid would become difficult. Yet Martin would be safe, and he may yet find a way to make a living and support himself and her. It was a feeble hope, but that would be the only future she could hope for. Gareth had said he’d treat her well. Really, what choice did she have?
“Yes, Mr. Fairfax. I’ll go with you.”
The finality behind her words was heavy, and Gareth tensed above her, eyes widening. He hadn’t expected her to agree? A ripple of power flowed through her. She liked surprising him. He scanned her face again, his eyes darkening, but not with anger. This time it was something else that gleamed in their depths.
Worthing moved towards them, one hand raised. “Now, hold on Fairfax. I must insist you think this through.”
Gareth slid off Helen and grabbed her arms, pulling her onto her feet. She barely heard the men arguing. All she was aware of was Gareth’s hands on her body as he lifted her up and into him, letting her lean against his arm, as though aware she needed help to stand. The muscles beneath his shirt were taut and large. Heat emanated against her palms when she rested them briefly against his chest as she finally pushed away to stand on her own. He kept hold of her wrists, though, despite the tentative tug she gave to be released.
“I’m not in the mood for a lecture, Worthing. You take care of that…fellow. I will bring Miss Banks to my house. After you’ve seen to him, you can come and rescue the woman if you feel you must.” There was a mixture of amusement and warning in Gareth’s tone that confused Helen. “Provided you can convince her to go.”
Gareth looked at her, her blue eyes gazing at him in pity. Did she not know what she was asking of him? Love was hard to find, hard to earn, and hard to keep. He reached up to tug one of her curls playfully, wanting to rid his mind of the thoughts she’d put there. His actions made her wrinkle her nose in disapproval. The urge to hold her was too strong to resist. He tugged her into his arms, relishing the feel of her body flush against his.
She was growing ever more receptive to his kisses. He let her mouth guide his, let her explore his chest, his arms, his back before she locked her hands around his neck. Her fingertips brushed the back of his neck and stroked his hair. He loved how quickly she opened up to him, how she let him instruct her in the ways of seduction.
The feeling of her touch on his skin made him shiver. She was a quick learner. Gareth wanted to part her legs again, like he’d done in the meadow, but the stables were no place for such an activity. Instead he teased her breasts through the fabric of her gown until he felt her grow breathless. He hardened, his groin aching with need, but he could not take her, not until she asked for him. He could have kissed and touched her for hours.
“My apologies, sir!” A groom, who’d walked into the stables, apologized profusely as he scrambled away, overturning a bucket of feed in his haste to depart.
Helen stifled an embarrassed giggle and buried her face in his chest as though to hide herself from the world. Gareth found himself laughing, too. It was a loud, rich laugh, one he hadn’t made in years. What was she doing to him? In a mere matter of a day, she had turned his world upside down. She was open and honest about herself and her life. And brave. He couldn’t forget that, either, the way she’d risked her life to save her brother’s knowing she would die. What woman of his acquaintance would have dared to risk her life? None that he knew. Helen was different. She was real and beautiful and so full of life. Each time he looked at her, something inside him seemed to shake off a century’s worth of dust and awaken. Being around her made him feel alive.
“Let’s get the horses ready. We should get a ride in while the day is young.” Gareth reluctantly pried her away from his chest and set about saddling the horses.
They rode at a nice canter for nearly an hour, over the meadow, down the hill, and through the neighboring lands. Gareth chuckled as Helen rode her mare through a flock of panicked sheep. They both nearly fell out of their saddles with laughter as they watched the wooly creatures bolt in all directions to avoid being trampled by her horse. The sheep gathered rebelliously into a flock several yards away, bleating melodramatically at having been attacked.
“Heavens! That was quite a ride,” Helen said as she watched the sheep shifting restlessly as her horse stomped and huffed.
“I daresay, the farmer, Mr. Pennysworth, won’t be pleased to find we’ve been scaring his beasts. Come, let’s away, Helen,” He chuckled and lightly tugged the reins of his horse, guiding it to turn around.
Gareth watched Helen the entire time they were out riding. He could not keep his eyes off the halo of her golden hair or the mischievous grin as she drove towards the sheep. Her little laugh was music to him, music he’d been missing for years.
Sing my little thrush, please sing to me. She was beautiful, she was perfect, and he would have to let her go. That brother of hers would eventually show up, and Gareth would have to deal with him when the time came. Damned if he knew what to do with Martin Banks. The fool might still insist on the duel, now over Helen’s honor. What a mess he was in. His eyes strayed to Helen, and her easy smile made all of the problems with his choice to have her fade. She was worth the trouble. He knew he could not keep her for long. Ambrose’s words came back to him. He was ruining her for her brother’s debts. Debts she shouldn’t have to pay, and he’d destroyed all chances of her making a good match. On the field after the duel that hadn’t mattered to him, in fact he’d relished the thought of hurting Banks by saddling him with a sister who would never make a match. But now…now he saw he was only hurting Helen, a brave, innocent woman who didn’t deserve any of this. Yet there was no way to undo the damage he’d done.
Marriage was out of the question. He had nothing to offer her besides his name and his body, and he knew only too well that a woman like Helen would need his heart to survive a marriage. For him, it was seduction, plain and simple. He had no right to anything else. He’d lost his right to love a long time ago. God would not give him a second chance, not after blessing him with Clarissa. That sort of love, he was sure, came only once. He had his turn and lost. Helen was nothing more than a cruel reminder of what he could never have.