Okay, back to business.
As you know, my two solo boxed sets are now out and thanks to YOU guys, both are doing quite well! :) Actually, they're doing a lot better than I've hoped for, with Eternally Seduced in Amazon's Top 800 and To Love a Shifter in Amazon's Top 500. Not bad! :)
One thing that did NOT make it to the boxed set was the excerpt I prepared for the second half of Rathe and Mary's story. You didn't really think How Not to be Seduced by Dukes was the end of it, did you? :)
However, what was supposed to be a secret romantic holiday explodes into a dirty scandal when the Ton, London’s centuries-old clique of aristocrats, challenge their still-fragile feelings for each other.
He is thirty-four years old, a man in his prime and with a wealth of experience behind him. She is eighteen years old, a girl who has just blossomed into womanhood and whose innocence cannot be completely concealed.
Is he really too old for her…and is she really too young for him? And if everyone say it’s so, should that be enough for them to turn their backs on each other?
“What are you doing here?” His voice was colder than what she had been used to in the past few weeks, reminding her that he had not always been just Rathe, the man she loved and the man who loved her back.
Rathe was also a Wellesley, the present Duke of Flanders, a descendant of Wellington, the Iron Duke himself.
He came to his feet in one lithe graceful motion, and just seeing him move so beautifully was enough to have her heart beating madly. Since she had fallen in love with him, he only had to look at her and she felt like she was flying.
But now when their gazes met, she realized that the feelings were no longer mutual.
Somewhere along the way, something had changed.
“Are you not going to answer me?”
She flinched at the cutting edge of his British accent, a duke reprimanding a servant. That was how it sounded to her, but Mary willed herself not to lose her rarely roused temper. He loved her. He loved her. He had told her so. He would not be acting like this if something wasn’t badly wrong.
She said haltingly, “I just wanted to surprise you.”
The words in itself were a surprise, Rathe sucking in his breath at hearing them. An unbidden image came to him, of him surprising her by teaching her to waltz on a snow-covered ground and of her, surprising him with a poem she wrote and read for him alone.
It felt like those things had happened an eternity ago, like they happened to another couple or at least in a world where they were not judged.
He said harshly, “It’s not a good time.”
She stumbled back at his words, the stricken look on her face making him feel like he had stabbed her in the heart.
“What’s wrong?” Mary whispered. “Tell me, please.”
“Nothing is wrong except you being too hard-headed and acting like a child.”
She flinched again, knowing that the barb had been deliberate. She was perhaps acting like a child, acting like her age, but it was also as if he was driving her to it. “Rathe, we need to talk about this.”
He was silent.
The pain in her voice reached him and he shuddered, the blackness lifting from his shoulders for a second – long enough for him to tell her hoarsely, “Just go back to our home, Mary.”
“It’s not home when you’re no longer there.”
“I will visit you---”
“When?” She didn’t want to cry but it was impossible and she ended up sniffing her tears back, just like the dreaded child she mustn’t be.
The hurt on her face was too much. He never wanted to hurt her. She was his bloody life. But things had become so complicated he was no longer sure if their love was worth it. So many lives were now being ruined simply because they loved.
He said wearily, “Mary---”
His tone terrified her and she shook her head jerkily, retreating from his office.
“I’ll come back some other time,” she babbled. “I won’t bother you again like this.”
He took a step back and she cried out.
Rathe stilled, his face white. “Mary---”
She looked at him, unshed tears shining in her eyes. “Please just don’t keep pushing me away, Rathe,” she whispered brokenly before swiftly turning around and walking away.
And he was letting her.
She started to cry.
He had let her walk away a long time ago, and she had to accept that.