The Accidental MistressBy: Tracy Anne Warren
“Tell me your name,” the marquis demanded gently.
Heart throbbing in the base of her throat, Lily shook her head.
“Is it Diana? Anna? Am I even close?”
His jaw tightened. “Well, then, since you insist upon leaving me with nothing more of yourself than a memory, I suppose I had best make that memory one neither of us shall ever forget.”
Before she could draw her next breath, his lips claimed hers, moving over her own with a skill and passion that sent her thoughts whirling away at the speed of a shooting star. Dark and demanding, his kiss sizzled through her, firing her blood and leaving her dizzy and trembling in his arms …
For my sister, Victoria.
Talented chef, avid romance reader,
and devoted lover of dogs
My sincere gratitude to the entire team at Ballantine—I appreciate everything you do!
A special mention to my friends at DCAA—thanks for your warm wishes and support.
And hugs to Lannette and Gus Moutos,
who knew me years ago when being an author was nothing but a far-off dream.
Only a few more yards, Lily Bainbridge told herself. Only a little while longer and I will be safe. I will be free.
An icy wave struck her dead in the face. Gasping for breath, she pushed on, arm over arm, as she fought the unrelenting drag of the rough, rolling sea. Above her, lightning flashed against a viscous gray sky, slashes of rain hurtling downward to sting her skin like a barrage of tiny needles.
Arms quivering from the strain, she put the discomfort out of her mind and kept swimming, knowing it was either that or drown. And despite the suicide note she’d left back in her bedroom at the house, she had no intention of dying, certainly not today.
Many would call her insane to plunge into the sea during a storm, but regardless of the danger, she’d known she had to act without fear or hesitation. Delay would mean marriage to Squire Edgar Faylor, and as she’d told her stepfather, she would rather be dead than bound for life to such a loathsome brute. But her stepfather cared naught for her wishes, since marriage to Faylor would mean a profitable business deal for him.
Slowing, she scanned the jagged shoreline, and the waves that crashed in thunderous percussion against the rocks and shoals. Although she’d swum these waters for nearly the whole of her twenty years, she’d never done so during such a seething tempest. Alarmingly, nothing looked quite the same, familiar vantage points distorted by the dim light and the churning spray of the surf.
Treading fast, she fought the clinging weight of her gown, the sodden muslin coiling around her legs like iron shackles. Doubtless she would have been better off stripping down to her shift before taking to the sea, but her “death” had to look convincing, enough so that her stepfather would not suspect the truth. If she lived through this and he discovered she was still alive, he would hunt her down without an ounce of mercy.
With her heart drumming in her chest, she swam harder, knowing she dare not let herself drift and be swept out to sea. A knot formed in the base of her throat at the disquieting thought, a shiver rippling through her tired limbs. What if I’ve miscalculated? she worried. What if the storm has already carried me out too far?
Her apprehensions evaporated when a familiar sight came into view: a narrow fissure, black as coal, that cut its way into the towering cliffs that lined the shore. To the casual eye, the opening appeared no different from any of the other sea caves in the area, but Lily knew otherwise. For beyond its foreboding exterior lay protection and escape.
Giving an exuberant pair of kicks, she continued forward, crossing at an angle through the waves. With the tide now at her back, the surf pushed her fast. For a moment, she feared she might be dashed to pieces against the rocks, but at the last second the current shifted and washed her inside with a gentle, guiding hand.
Darkness engulfed her. Tamping down a momentary sense of disorientation, she swam ahead, knowing better than to be afraid. The cave was an old smuggler’s pass that had fallen into disuse, a secret retreat that had once provided a perfect hideaway for inquisitive children, and now for a truant would-be bride.
With seawater eddying around her at a placid lap, she glided forward until she brushed up against the cave’s perimeter wall. A small search soon revealed a ledge that told her she was in the right place. Dripping and shivering, she hoisted herself up onto its surface, then paused for a moment to gain her breath before rising to her feet. Careful of each step, she followed the cave’s gentle bell shape until the interior gradually widened to provide a pocket of natural warmth and dryness. When her foot struck a large, solid object, she knew she had arrived at her ultimate destination.
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