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The Irresistible Miss Peppiwell

Scandalous House of Calydon Series

Can he melt the Ice Maiden’s heart?
Victorian Era England…

With a longing for adventure, the last thing Phillipa Peppiwell wants is to marry. After a painful betrayal by a man she trusted, she is wary when she unwittingly catches the attention of roguishly handsome – and sinfully tempting – Lord Anthony Thornton. Forbidden desires she secretly yearns for threaten to crumble her icy facade and reveal a past scandal best kept buried.

Dissatisfied with his empty life, Lord Anthony seeks a deep and lasting connection… and finds himself intrigued by the Ice Maiden of the haute monde. Undaunted by Phillipa’s aloof nature and her distaste for the idea of matrimony, he sets out to thaw the bewitching beauty by enticing her with adventures of the most sensual type. But he, too, hides a scandalous secret… and if it’s discovered it could rip them apart.

Chapter One

London October 1882

The Honorable Lord Anthony Thornton had never before seen such vivid golden-red hair. It shone iridescently under the candlelight of the crystal chandeliers in the glittering ballroom, the glorious hue of sunset. It belonged to a stunning jewel standing aloof amongst the dandies who were fluttering about vying for her attention, a cold, serene beauty. The lady was magnificent, with elegant carriage, fine cheekbones, slightly slanted eyes, and the most exotic full lips Anthony had ever seen.

His gaze traced the graceful length of her throat down to the gentle swell of her breasts, encircled her tiny waist, curved out toward hips that flared enticingly. As he moved to approach her, he realized why she stood out from all the other women. It was not her startling beauty. There were, indeed, more dazzling women laughing and twirling, soaking up the decadence of the ballroom, titillated by the vociferous nature of society that could chew them up like the sleeping monster it was.

No. It was her eyes. They stared blankly, devoid of enjoyment. Her lips curved in a smile of pure frost as she accepted a glass of punch from one of her many admirers. They seemed anxious to please her, though she remained uncaring.

Waylaid by his host, Anthony paused without taking his gaze from her.

“It seems the ice maiden has made another conquest,” Jason Fullerton, the Earl of Calvert, murmured.

Anthony finally shifted his focus from her and met the eyes of his friend. Humor kicked up the corners of Calvert’s lips, twitching his moustache.

“Ice maiden?” Anthony queried.

“Colder than the Arctic itself, enough to freeze a man’s vitals with thought alone. The fops are wasting their time. She has not deigned to show favor to anyone, and I, for one, am puzzled, since she has nothing to tempt a man with, save her fortune.”

Anthony thought Jason wrong as he watched her tuck away a tendril that teased her forehead. The raising of her arm stretched her gown across her breasts. Her cool feminine sensuality lured him. He did not think it deliberate, the way she arched her neck as she captured another loose wisp and tucked it behind her ear.

Her hair was pinned in some sort of knot, with tendrils cascading in loose spirals down to kiss her shoulders. The cut of her ball gown was mouthwateringly exquisite. The deep blue silken dress clung alluringly to her frame, hugging her curves. It bared the creamy expanse of her shoulders and drew his eyes to her barely there décolletage. His gaze lingered over the gentle swell of her breasts. She was not full-figured by any means, her silhouette more subtle and elegant. He decided the most glorious thing about the ice beauty was her hair, and he tried not to focus too much on the lush ripeness of her lips. She really had the most inviting mouth.

“Introduce us,” Anthony quietly demanded.

“Are you foxed?” Calvert retorted. “I was sure you were here for Lady Galveston. The on dit is that you are searching for a new mistress.”

Anthony ignored the laughter that taunted him from Calvert’s pale blue eyes. But on that point, the earl was correct. Anthony had attended the ball because he sought a distraction with whom he could sate himself. He wished to leave the cares of the world behind for the night—but he did not seek it from a new mistress.

“Look at the delightful curves of Lady Galveston,” Calvert urged. “She, my friend, is where your efforts would be more productively directed.”

He dismissed the earl’s sly whisper and stalked toward the ice beauty. He ignored those who tried to capture his attention, moving through the crowded ballroom without pause. As he drew closer he noted her eyes were golden brown, amber liquid with cold flashes of gold, the color of chilled Irish whiskey. They lingered on him for a moment and then flicked away dismissively.

He was intrigued.

He knew the effect his face normally had on debutantes and women of society. The married ones issued fawning salacious propositions, while the virginal misses behaved like complete swooning nitwits. He hated it, and did everything in his power to make his appearance more severe. He’d actually been well pleased with the scar over his left eyebrow he had recently been dealt from boxing.

“I am telling you, she will unman you with a mere glance,” Calvert drawled, strolling along beside him.

Anthony did not acknowledge the earl’s crude chuckle as they stopped in front of her. She glanced at them, her mien unreadable. She had freckles. They dashed over her nose and sprinkled her cheeks.

“Miss Peppiwell, may I present, Lord Anthony Thornton.”

She dipped into a shallow curtsy. “My lord.” Her murmur was flat, uninterested.

After making his swift introductions, Calvert departed with a smirk on his lips.

With a single imperious glance from Anthony, the dandies fluttering around her faded into the glittering crowd. From the cool arch of her brows, he surmised she noticed.

“May I have the next dance on your card, Miss Peppiwell?”

“I do not dance.” She pronounced her vowels with a lilt, and her voice was husky with a musical twang. American. From Boston, if he was not mistaken.

He was undaunted by her aloofness. Instead, interest stirred within. It had been weeks since he’d felt desire for any woman. “If not a dance, will you honor me with a twirl in the garden?”

“It seems I have caught the attention of the bored and dissolute Lord Anthony.” Her sonorous voice washed over him. She did not sound pleased.

“Dissolute? You wound me.”

“So you admit to being bored and seeking out the ice princess?” She stared at him chillingly.

He tipped his head as he slowly regarded her. The buzz of the room faded, and he met her gaze without expression. He concluded she could beat him at poker, though he was revered for his game play. “I sought out a lady for a dance, that is all.”

“I am not a lady. I do not hold the lofty title you desire. Will you still want a dance if I am only a miss?” Her lips pursed as she stared at him with something akin to acerbity.

“Ah, I see the dilemma now. You are judging me unjustly.” He was gratified to see her spine snap taut. He had begun to think her a sculpture.

“I have done nothing of the sort.”

“It was you, Miss Peppiwell, who deemed a woman can only be a lady by virtue of a title, and that I would have a similar opinion.”

She flushed, and he gritted his teeth in chagrin as arousal teased at him, hardening his length. He was at a bloody ball, hardly the place to be stirred even slightly.

“I concede, sir, I have been rude. Please accept my apologies.” She gracefully bowed her head, then smiled at him.

Though she sounded sincere her smile did not quite reach her eyes. They remained distant. The flush in her cheeks had already receded, giving her that cold look once more. He did not like it. He should not have cared, having only just met the chit, but he preferred her with the heat that colored her skin and quickened the pulse at her throat. He found it curious that she was aware of the gossip about her. Most young ladies remained oblivious until the cruel jaws of society devoured them.

He made another stab at eliciting a reaction from her. “My lord,” he stated.

“I beg your pardon?”

“You referred to me as ‘sir.’ The proper mode of address is ‘my lord,’ or ‘Lord Anthony.’”

Anger flared in her eyes. They shot sparks, which dampened immediately as if they had been doused with the chilliest of waters. He was riveted. She opened her mouth as if to form a scathing reply, but froze. He had not thought her capable of an even deeper stillness. And yet, a look of panic chased across her features before she slammed the shutters down completely. He turned with an air of casual indifference, curious to know who had the ability to induce panic in this paragon of indifference.

“Lord Anthony.” The grating voice of Lord Orwell trumpeted, and Anthony dipped his head in acknowledgement. He smoothed his features into polite blankness, noting the salacious leer Orwell directed at Miss Peppiwell.

“My dear, I trust you saved a dance for me,” Orwell said. His smile was so toadying that it sickened Anthony. As a waltz started, Orwell held out his arm, clearly expecting her obedience.

“I fear, Lord Orwell, I promised Lord Anthony the last dance on my card.” She subtly shifted closer to Anthony.

A smile curved his lips at the slight inflection of disdain in her pronunciation of their titles.

“I insist I have this dance, Phillipa,” Orwell snapped.

Anthony found it curious that the lady did not correct Orwell’s intimate use of her name. However, she drew herself more upright and seemed to generate a deeper chill around her. Anthony’s chuckle drew the other man’s gaze.

He looked arrogantly down his nose at Orwell’s shorter, stockier frame. “As you see, I have the honor of escorting Miss Peppiwell.”

“Are you still here?” Orwell said, genuinely surprised.

Anthony went stiff with anger, and Orwell flushed, belatedly registering his error. “Thornton…I had not realized.” He fidgeted with his cravat as if feeling a noose tightening around his neck.

Anthony’s intrigue deepened. Orwell had been so obsessed with the sensual Miss Peppiwell, it seemed that he had no issue being rude and dismissive, forgetting Anthony was the financial genius behind the Calydon Holdings. His brother might be the Duke of Calydon, but Anthony’s financial power was so vast he could crush a man with a mere lift of his brow.

The cords of a waltz struck up. Anthony inclined his head in scant acknowledgment as he led Miss Peppiwell onto the dance floor, sweeping her into the rousing steps. A tingle of unease stirred through him at the avaricious way Orwell stared after them. Something glittered in his gaze—malice tinged with greed and obvious lust.

Anthony glanced down at her as she stared stonily at his shoulder. “Orwell is not a man any young lady should be involved with.”

“I did not ask, nor do I require, your remonstrance.” There was a slight pause and then a gusty expulsion that surprised him. “However, I thank you for going along with my ruse.”

“A small thing to have you in my arms.”

“It is futile to try your wiles on me, Lord Anthony. I am immune to such devices.” The watchful frostiness had returned.

“I have no desire to try wiles or anything else on you,” he said in a deliberately disinterested tone.

“So your reputation as one of the most licentious rakes in society is false, I presume?”

“Undeserved, I assure you.” He twirled, spinning her with graceful ease around the dance floor. “I do not prey on the innocent.”

He felt the slight stiffening of her body and he followed the lashes that swooped down obscuring her eyes. He was not sure, but he thought he had seen a flare of anger. Interesting.

“And yet, here you are.” The affront in her tone was unmistakable. “Have you presumed to refer to me as impure?”

“As I am not preying on you, the matter of your innocence is moot.”

The longest of lashes flickered, and she peered up at him. He wished there was some nuance of expression to give an inkling of her thoughts. His gaze slashed to Orwell, who waited, foot tapping impatiently at the edge of the dance floor. She glanced to Orwell as Anthony spun her past in a swirl and he assessed the flash of distaste in her expression.

“I fear you will not be able to refuse him without causing some gossip. He appears most insistent.”

She directed her scorn toward Anthony. He was not sure which he preferred, the coldness or the disdain.

“I desire to avoid a lecher from pawing at me, yet to do so, your polite society would deem I am behaving inappropriately.”

“Society is fickle, indeed. However, if you wish for his attentions to be directed elsewhere, I will see to it.”

He was pleased to note that she could not disguise her surprise. Her eyes widened, and their dark gold glittered. “And why would you render such assistance to someone you do not know? Or about a situation you do not comprehend?” she asked, sounding genuinely curious.

He shrugged, then spun her into several dizzying spins before replying, “I have been accused of being gentlemanly several times. It might be that my duty was drilled into me from birth to respond to a damsel in distress.”

Her chin tilted haughtily, and he found himself counting the freckles on her nose. She had eleven.

“I am not in distress, and I am certainly not a damsel.”

He smiled, titillated by her hauteur. “Nevertheless, my offer stands.”

“How kind of you,” she said acidly. “And how would you achieve such a feat? A duel, perhaps, like our forefathers? Pistols at dawn?”

“The mere sign of my displeasure would be sufficient,” he stated ignoring her sarcasm.

“It must be convenient to have your impeccable bloodlines and be as rich as Croesus. It must make you feel like a king among people whom you deem lower than yourself.”

“You have not been acquainted with me long enough to classify me as either boorish or arrogant as you suggest, Miss Peppiwell.”

Full, pouty lips thinned, and she lowered her gaze. “You are correct, my lord. Forgive me.” She appeared genuinely chastened.

He studied her assessingly. Up close, he couldn’t call her beautiful in the classical sense. Yet, he felt a definite niggle of need tightening inside him. He had not been involved with his mistress for several weeks now, having committed himself to the pursuit of a proper wife. He had a lady in mind, but she resided in the country and it wasn’t exactly working out as he’d hoped. Restless and edgy, he had decided to attend Lady Calvert’s midnight ball, wanting a distraction.

By all rights, he should be concentrating on the stunning widow Lady Galveston, who had been throwing him sultry looks since his arrival, but he had to admit the slender redhead with her cold, golden eyes interested him far more. Well, she had at least made his cock stir for the first time in ages.

“Orwell is trying to find you in the crowd. I am taller than most, so he will find us shortly,” he observed.

Her lips parted as he whirled her several paces away, out of Orwell’s view. “The oaf is distressingly persistent,” she agreed.

Anthony watched Orwell slicing through the crowd, almost frantic in his attempt to keep Miss Peppiwell in his sight.

“Shall I rescue you?” Anthony questioned, twirling her with powerful movements.

“A crushing of his ego or wealth is not necessary. If you could deposit me in the library, I will be fine.”

Anthony wasted no time deftly whisking her through the throng and down the corridor to the library on the first floor. He hesitated briefly, then ushered her inside.

She withdrew and turned a pointed gaze on him that again had gone arctic. “I thank you, Lord Anthony, and I bid you good night.”

He scanned the room, spying a game of chess resting on a massive oak desk. “Do you play?” He indicated the chessboard as he sauntered toward the drinks table to pour sherry into two glasses.

“I had planned on reading, my lord. I am familiar with Lady Prescott’s library and there is a particular book of Henry James I am eager to read.”

He smiled, as at last some sort of animation entered her features. “Ah.”

“I suppose you are repulsed by females who engage in intellectual discourse, as Lord Hoyt so thoughtfully enlightened me earlier?” The curve of her lips was sardonic.

“Of course not. A woman who reads has much to recommend her.” He frowned, observing the deep wariness that darkened her gaze.

With a single glance, she dismissed him.

He’d never had a female show such immunity to his physique. He fleetingly wondered if her attractions lay with the same sex. It was not vanity, more an awareness of his own sensuality. “Are you deliberately trying to be elusive?”

“Me?” She blinked at him rapidly, the only sign of her surprise. “On the contrary, I am not interested in your charms. I am actually trying to be rid of you.”

His laughter seemed to bemuse her. “Are all Boston ladies as candid as you are?” he asked, appreciating the forthrightness of speech that had not been wrapped in innuendo or sweet evasiveness.

“Shouldn’t I be? I suppose I must acclimate myself to the idea that honesty is frowned upon,” she retorted, her steady gaze challenging him.

He liked it. And was gratified that his guess as to her hometown had proved correct.

“In that case, Miss Peppiwell…” He downed his drink in a single swallow, sauntered forward and lifted her hand, brushing his lips fleetingly over it. He wished the glove did not separate her skin from his.

She graced him with one of those smiles that did not reach her eyes. “Good evening, sir…Lord Anthony.”

He did not release her hand. Some temptations should not be resisted.

With that thought, he dipped his head and captured her lips. He told himself he only did it to see if she could be rattled, but knew it for a lie. The berry ripeness of her lips had been tantalizing him since he first saw them.

He drew her closer and pillowed her breasts to his chest.

He chuckled against the lips she pressed together so primly, but he was not disappointed, for the contours of those lips were soft and luscious. He lifted his head slowly, and smiled at what he saw. No affront, not even a slap to his cheek for his audacity. Just an aloofness and condescending hauteur as she looked down her nose at him, despite the fact he stood much taller. But behind her studied iciness, he swore he detected a spark of heat, a curl of unwilling want in those amber eyes.

His intrigue deepened. He did not believe he had to look any closer.

It was quite possible he had found his future bride in the ice maiden.

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Copyright © 2014 by Stacy Reid. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

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