Title: The Duelist's Seduction
Author: Lauren Smith
Series: Seduction #1
Genre: Historical Regency Romance
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Cover Designer: Fiona JaydeSummary:
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.
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.
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. Lauren loves hearing from readers and can be reached through her website.