Title: The Untouchable Earl
Author: Amy Sandas
Series: Fallen Ladies, #2
Pubdate: November 1, 2016
Genre: Historical Romance
“Are you afraid?”
“Yes,” she replied in a soft voice. “But I love the way you frighten me.”
Lily Chadwick has spent her life playing by society’s rules. But when an unscrupulous moneylender snatches her off the street and puts her up for auction at a pleasure house, she finds herself in the possession of a man who makes her breathless with terror and impossible yearning…
Though the reclusive Earl of Harte claimed Lily with the highest bid, he hides a painful secret—one that has kept him from knowing the pleasure of a lover’s touch. Even the barest brush of skin brings him physical pain, and he’s spent his life keeping the world at arms’ length. But there’s something about Lily that maddens him, bewitches him, compels him…and drives him toward the one woman brave and kind enough to seek to heal his troubled heart.
As his hungry gaze soaked up every detail of the woman who had been haunting his thoughts, he noticed something odd in her manner.
Her lovely gray eyes were lowered, and with her hair shielding much of her face, she presented a perfect example of shy modesty. The posture struck Avenell as wrong. Despite Miss Chadwick’s innocence and quiet manner, she was not one to avert her gaze. He had observed her enough in the preceding weeks to know she had an unnerving tendency to view her surroundings with direct, consuming attention.
The girls on either side of her were clearly meant to highlight Miss Chadwick’s virginal appearance by contrasting it against their more obvious sexual lures. But Avenell noted they served another purpose as well. Keeping their arms linked with the young woman, they were able to subtly keep her in place as she swayed on her feet.
An icy chill swept through his blood.
Miss Chadwick had been drugged. Laudanum perhaps. Enough to relax her muscles and dull her brain. The girl was not there of her own free will. She was a virgin sacrifice being offered to the debauchery of the men before her.
A sickening dread rushed through him with such force that he thought he might be physically ill. His hands froze into fists, and his head throbbed.
Avenell looked away from the gross display at the front of the room and set his snifter of brandy on the table beside him as he rose abruptly from his chair.
His cool gaze swept over the other men in the room who had already started to shout their bids for the privilege of claiming Miss Chadwick for their own. It was difficult to tell if anyone else had recognized her, but it was obvious that no one intended to step forward and stop the proceedings.
Avenell stood locked in place, knowing that if he made a scene by dashing forward to interrupt, he would only provide more cause for scandal and her ruination should she be recognized. His body tensed to granite as he considered the best way to intervene.
Madam Pendragon laughed at the enthusiasm of some while teasing others to go higher in their bids. Avenell scowled in her direction and noticed that she sent him a sly glance in return.
As if waiting for—no, imploring—him to join in on the bidding war.
He looked away from the madam, for the first time not trusting the woman’s direction. He sent his gaze out over the other patrons.
The gentlemen were practically salivating as they competed for the opportunity to purchase the hapless Miss Chadwick. On any other night, these men may have faced the same girl in their own drawing rooms and would have been compelled to treat her with the highest degree of respect. But here, she deserved nothing but their lust.
Another wave of disgust rolled through him.
He turned a hard glare toward Madam Pendragon as he heard the bid spike into an astronomical range. Anger clawed at him, along with an unexpected sense of betrayal. She should have known he would not be able to stand for this type of diversion, that he would be compelled to find a way to act and save the young girl from a ruinous fate.
Of course, she would be pleased by the income she would garner from the spectacle, but as he watched her, he noticed signs of tension in the supremely self-possessed woman. At that moment, the madam glanced his way again. Her brows lifted a minute fraction of an inch as she subtly tipped her head toward the prize.
Avenell clenched his jaw tight but finally looked back to Miss Chadwick. There was the expected twist in his gut, the stumbling in his chest, the thudding in his ears he had been experiencing the last couple of weeks whenever he looked upon this particular woman.
The laudanum appeared to be wearing off. She had managed to lift her chin, and she stared out at the room with confusion and wariness in her eyes. She tried ineffectually to pull her arms away from the girls on either side of her, but they held fast, making a play of rubbing their bodies against her to disguise their forceful detainment.
Their ploy was effective, and the other men in the room reacted to the show.
But Avenell was not fooled. He saw the fear in Miss Chadwick’s unfocused eyes and the bright spark of rebellion.
In the next moment, Miss Chadwick’s wavering gray gaze found him in the far reaches of the room. And when her eyes locked with his, she refused to let go. He could no more look away from her than he could unleash the moon from its orbit.
There was only one thing he could do.
Speaking in a loud, clear tone, he entered the fray with a firmly stated offer that nearly tripled the last bid.
His competition turned to glare at him for how suddenly he had brought an end to the entertainment. No one was willing to top such an exorbitant price.
Avenell ignored them all.
He was far too busy battling an intense internal war between disgust at what she had been subjected to and an alarming thread of triumph.
Because no matter how they had both ended up here, no matter how wrong this all was…the woman who had been tormenting him for weeks now belonged to him.
Amy Sandas' love of romance began one summer when she stumbled across one of her mother's Barbara Cartland books. Her affinity for writing began with sappy pre-teen poems and led to a Bachelor's degree with an emphasis on Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She lives with her husband and children in Wisconsin.
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