Last Chance, My Love
© 2007 Lynne Connolly
Available Now from Samhain Publishing
Book One of the Triple Countess series.
Miranda and Daniel, Earl and Countess of Rosington, are in love, but for the past five years their love has been purely platonic. Because if Miranda has another child, she will die.
Daniel resolves to take a mistress, one who will understand the purely physical business arrangement, but when Miranda discovers his plan, she can’t bear it. So Daniel’s brothers scheme, and Daniel finds himself on the losing end of a wager.
Daniel and Miranda must pose as a simple innkeeper and his wife, forced to work together to save a failing business. Their masquerade brings them into temptation, their searing desire for each other threatening to ruin their good intentions, but it also brings danger, in the presence of the brutal father of a young girl who turns for them for help.
Can Daniel and Miranda save themselves, their protégée and their marriage?
Enjoy the following excerpt for Last Chance, My Love:
Daniel closed his eyes, and then opened them again to see Miranda, calm now, watching him. “I have needs. I thought I could do it, but I could never have gone through with it. I couldn’t hurt you any more than I had already. I thought you would understand. I didn’t know you hadn’t realised just how serious your illness was. There is no doubt, Miranda. I spoke to another doctor, and he said the same. With your history, another child would be your death.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That you had two boys, and the second birth was worse than the first. About the bleeding, and the fever.”
They stared at each other, remembering the horror of that time. Then she said the bravest thing he’d ever heard. “I’d do it again, go through the birth and the illness. If it meant you would love me again, I’d go through it all without a qualm.”
Now it was his turn to weep. Tears sprang to his eyes, and he blinked them away. “I couldn’t let you.” His voice came out hoarse and thin. “I don’t want to lose you.”
Miranda studied him, her head tilted slightly to one side. “You should want to lose me. You could marry again, and continue your family.” When he would have responded, she laid a gentle finger across his lips. “No, there’s no need. I know you would not, but there are many that would. Is that why you won’t touch me? The whole reason? Please, Daniel, the truth. If you can’t want me, I’d like to know. You did seek out a mistress, after all, and she did look most unlike me.”
Lifting a hand, he moved her finger from his lips and tugged on her hand, forcing her to lie down once more. He pulled her close, so she lay with her head pillowed on his shoulder, looking up at him. “No. If I took a mistress it would be someone like her, someone who didn’t remind me of you in the least. She is dark where you are fair, dainty and small where you are tall and elegant. I want only one Miranda.” He kissed her temple. “And in any case, I didn’t choose her. She came looking for me.”
“She had her own reasons. She isn’t a hardened courtesan, although her mother is. She wants Blyth, and thought she could make him jealous.”
“Did she succeed?”
“She must have. After all, it’s Blyth’s doing that we’re here, isn’t it?”
He wondered at her frown, but thought no more of it until she sighed and said; “I confess, it was partly me.” He stared down at her, unsure of her meaning. “I saw you with the girl, and I was jealous. Jealous, Daniel. I thought I was over such things, I was convinced you didn’t want me any more, not in bed at any rate, and so it didn’t come as a surprise to hear the rumours and then see you with her. Blyth was with me that day, and he saw my distress. He promised to do something about it.”
A chuckle rumbled through his chest. “Properly gulled I’ve been. You and Blyth made hay with me, didn’t you?”
His free hand slid over her waist. “Don’t be. I think it’s done us good. At least we both know now.” She moved closer, snuggling in. The movement made him gasp. “Miranda, be careful. You know I won’t make love to you, don’t tempt me anymore. It’s not fair.”
She lifted her hand to his chest, covered with fine lawn, but he felt her fingers gently tracing patterns on it. “I know you’ve taken the entire responsibility on yourself. I know you want to preserve me. What if I don’t want to?”
He caught her hand with his own, and curled it inside the warmth of his. “Miranda, if you get with child again, you will die. I can’t do that to you. If I think of it, it fills me with terror. How could I face the boys?” He paused. “How could I live without you?”
She stared at him, her mouth slightly open, moist and inviting, even though he didn’t think she meant it that way. With a groan of submission, he bent his head and kissed her, dragging her close with both arms, holding her as though he would never let her go.
Since that day he escorted her to the house, after their visit to the farmer, Daniel had longed to kiss her again, but known he couldn’t trust himself not to go further. Now he couldn’t help himself. Her body, so warm, nestled against his, her lips opening softly for him, inviting him to slide his tongue inside. It was more than a man could stand.
Daniel caressed her mouth, warm and sweet, and felt her response with joy, a slow burn starting somewhere deep inside. He leaned over her, revelling in the feel of her body under his.
An impulse he had learned how to control. While enjoying the kiss Daniel drew part of himself back, tucked it away again. The wild part, the part that urged him to take her now and never mind the consequences. That part must stay hidden inside.
Finally he drew back. He reached up to smooth her hair, soft caresses replacing the abandon he longed to release. She smiled. “That felt good. It won’t come all at once, Daniel.”
“Restraint. What you don’t want us to do. I still want to, I don’t care, but the risk isn’t all mine, is it?” He shook his head. “I have to think of the children, and of what it would do to you. But I’m not giving up. There must be a way, Daniel, there must. There are times every month—”
“I’ve thought of that. It won’t do, Miranda. There are ways to make conception less likely, but none to stop it completely. If there was a way, believe me, I wouldn’t let you leave this bed for a fortnight.”
“You want me?”
This was no time for half truths. “I never stopped wanting you. When I withdrew from your bedroom, I persuaded myself it was for your own good. Perhaps, if you thought desire had left me, you might find it easier to bear. I know your nature, you see. You hate to see anyone suffer.”
She lifted a hand and caressed his cheek in the age-old caress of lovers. “But you did, and so did I. I mean it, Daniel. We’ll find a way, I’m determined on it.”
“I’ve thought about it for years. Years, sweetheart.”
“Have you ever asked anyone else about the problem other than the doctors?”
His eyes widened. “No, of course not. It’s no one else’s business.”
“Just for advice? Blyth is very experienced—”
He couldn’t suppress a slight shudder. “How could I ask my brother something like that? And Blyth is so volatile still, there’s no saying what he might do.”
Her hand still rested on his cheek, as though it belonged there. Which, in a way, it did. “He’s not as volatile as you think. Oh, I’m sure he was as a boy, but he’s turned the fortunes of his estate around. You don’t do that without clear thinking and planning.”
He touched his lips to her palm, lapping it gently with his tongue before turning back to her. “You might be right. But I don’t think I want to ask him.”
“I shall find something out,” she said firmly, then smiled. “But not tonight. Enough, I think, to know we both want the same thing. You’ve brought me joy with the sadness tonight, Daniel. It was agony thinking you didn’t want me anymore. How could you think anything else?”
He closed his eyes against the loving understanding in hers Understanding he didn’t deserve. He’d thought he was acting for the best, and it seemed to be the other way about. “I don’t know. I thought you wouldn’t want to any more, when the result cost you so much pain. I didn’t want you to see I suffered, so I didn’t let you see.”
“It doesn’t matter. I have you back, and that’s enough for now.” She leaned up and touched her mouth to his. He responded to the tender caress in the gentle spell she wove around him. He could trust her not to push him over the edge. The only danger now was if they both succumbed at the same time. He relaxed his hold on her and leaned back. “I’m very tired suddenly.”
She snuggled close and lifted her leg over him, but only as far as the knee. “Revelations can make you tired. We should sleep. We have another busy day in the morning, running the inn.”
He smiled. “So we do.”