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After the death of her father, Leanna Bradley's family in England is facing financial ruin. When Trevor Grayson offers to save them in exchange for marriage, it seems like the answer to her prayers. He is everything she always dreamed of in a husband, and she would gladly give him her heart. But he makes it clear that theirs will be a marriage of convenience, and he warns her not to expect love.
He moves her to his home in Virginia, taking her away from the world she knows. The civil war had taken its toll and his beautiful plantation has now been restored to its luxurious beauty.
Leanna could be very happy there, if not for a certain person from her new husband's past.
Trevor has found the ideal wife in Leanna but he has never recovered after his fiancée left him to elope with another man. He has no intention of allowing a woman to hurt him again. But he soon finds that he cannot resist Leanna's unselfish devotion, and he discovers that his heart is more at risk than ever before.
As they struggle to build trust and lay the foundation for a happy future, his past comes back to haunt them. Trevor must find the courage to show Leanna how much he loves her or he may lose her forever.
Publisher's Note: An action filled, steamy romance, this book contains explicit scenes and the stern disciplining of an adult female.
Leanna Bradley paced restlessly from the fireplace to the settee. She must have crossed the room at least a hundred times, as she chewed her lip in nervous agitation. The clock on the mantle began to chime, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. Three o'clock in the morning! She took a deep breath to steady her racing heart.
It wasn't necessarily a bad thing that her brother, Jeremy, was out so late. It could indicate that he was having some success at the gaming tables. She sincerely hoped that was the case. A frown marred her forehead, as she thought once more about the chain of events that had landed them in their current plight.
It had been exactly three weeks before, when she and Jeremy had sat in their father's study, still reeling from the shock of their sire's sudden death. They had been summoned there to meet with Mr. Allen, their late father's attorney, for the reading of their father's will. Sitting side by side, their fingers clutched in mutual commiseration, they had listened as Mr. Allen had imparted his grim news.
Both Leanna and Jeremy had known their father was having financial difficulties. That fact had been made painstakingly clear during the past several months, when they had been forced to let all but the cook and housekeeper go, since they could no longer afford to keep a full staff of servants. However, while neither of them had been expecting a large inheritance, they had been shocked to learn that their father's estate was, in fact, entirely insolvent. Apparently, their father had borrowed a great deal of money, ten thousand pounds to be exact, from his business partner, Michael Billingsley. They were told they had one month to pay the debt in full or forfeit all of their father's meager holdings, including their family home.
Within a matter of minutes, their secure, protected existence had shattered around them, and they were faced with the prospect of becoming penniless, homeless paupers. Leanna shuddered as she thought about the implications that would entail.
At the age of nineteen, she had been on the verge of assuring her happy future, and the timing of these events could not have been worse. Leanna had been betrothed to a handsome and wealthy young man, the Honorable Edward Hatfield, second son of the Earl of Silverton. Being the second son, he was given the freedom to marry Leanna, an untitled daughter of a seemingly wealthy businessman. Their wedding would have taken place a mere three weeks hence.
Unfortunately, once it became known that her father wasn't actually wealthy, Edward had hastily called off their wedding. Edward had offered to bail her family out of trouble if she would consent to becoming his mistress, but Leanna had sent him away with her handprint burning his cheek and her refusal burning his ears. She would rather be homeless than to stoop to being someone's whore.
Leanna wasn't broken hearted over the way her engagement had ended. While she had been attracted to Edward, she had not been in love with him. Now, Leanna wondered whether any man would want to marry her, but the gloomy thought of becoming a spinster was overshadowed by her more pressing worries.
She and Jeremy had sold their mother's jewels, the few pieces of artwork they owned, and most of their belongings, trying to raise enough money to pay off their debt. They had managed to come up with almost five thousand pounds. Jeremy had used the money to bargain with Mr. Billingsley, promising that if he would accept partial payment, Jeremy would pay him the remainder in regular installments. However, Mr. Billingsley had scoffed at their offer, saying that he had waited long enough to collect on their father's debt, and he wanted his money right away. He gave them four weeks to come up with the full amount, or he would take possession of their home, leaving Leanna, Jeremy, and his pregnant wife, Christina, homeless.
After trying everything else they could think of, they came up with the plan for Jeremy to try and win enough money for them to pay the debt. In his younger days, Jeremy had been lucky at gaming, and they figured they had very little to lose by trying. Leanna thought she would pull her hair out wondering how he was faring.
Just then, Jeremy walked through the door. She could tell by the dejected slump of his shoulders that he hadn't been successful, and she felt her knees nearly buckling beneath her. She took a deep, steadying breath and waited until he had closed the door behind him.
"What happened?" she asked anxiously.
The look Jeremy gave her was wretched, and he reached to place an arm protectively over her shoulders. "I lost," he stated simply. He slumped down beside her on the settee. "It looked promising at one point, but luck wasn't with me."
Leanna had carefully rehearsed what she would say in this instance. She had to do something to ease the burden of responsibility that unfairly rested on her brother's shoulders, and she patted his hand comfortingly. "Don't worry, Jeremy. Everything will be all right. Losing this house isn't the end of the world. With the money we raised, you should be able to buy a modest house and we can make a new start. Our lifestyle won't be as comfortable, but—"
Jeremy was already shaking his head, and he released a deep sigh. "Leanna, you don't understand. I lost it all," he mumbled, ignoring her gasp of surprise. "I only have three hundred pounds left from the money we raised, and we owe most of that to our other creditors. What's left will only be enough for room and board for a few weeks. What are we supposed to do afterwards?"
Leanna frowned in confusion. "You lost all the money?" she asked in a breathless whisper. When Jeremy nodded, the color drained out of her cheeks. "Perhaps you had better tell me exactly what happened."
Jeremy recounted the events of the evening. "I had won several times, and I had almost eight thousand pounds before Trevor Grayson joined the game." Jeremy released a rueful sigh. "Then, my luck started to change. I should have known better than to gamble against Mr. Grayson. He has quite a reputation at the gaming tables, but like a fool, I thought I could best him. I finally got what I thought was a winning hand, but his was better. I lost everything to him."
Leanna frowned thoughtfully. "Who exactly is Trevor Grayson? His name is vaguely familiar to me."
"You don't know him. He's an American. He owns a transcontinental shipping company, and he spends several months of the year in London, brokering very profitable deals from what I've heard."
"That's where I've heard of him," Leanna mused. "I remember Edward saying that he thought he might invest in Mr. Grayson's company because it was a sure way to make huge profits."
Jeremy nodded. "Apparently, his business is flourishing. He's equally successful at cards. It's just my rotten luck that he's still in London. I should've known better than to go up against him tonight. I might have had a chance if he hadn't been in the game." Jeremy hung his head dejectedly.
"It's not your fault, Jeremy. We agreed that it was worth the risk."
Jeremy snorted and shook his head. "I should have let Mr. Billingsley have the house and used the money we raised to start a new business. We could have made a fresh start. I'm such a fool."
Leanna studied Jeremy. He looked at least five years older than he had just three weeks before. His usual exuberance and joy were gone, replaced by oppressive worry.
Word had already spread among members of polite society that they were nearly penniless, and rumors like that would make it hard for Jeremy to convince anyone to invest in his business. Leanna racked her brain trying to find some way to reassure her brother.
A sudden idea struck her, and she nibbled her bottom lip. There was only one man she knew of who had enough money to help them, and he probably wouldn't be willing to lend it to them. Still, it was worth asking. Perhaps, with some effort, she could persuade him to help. Jeremy would never approve, and she didn't want to get his hopes up if it didn't work out.
Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and laid a comforting hand on Jeremy's slumped shoulder. "There's nothing else we can do tonight, dear. Try to get some rest, and we'll talk more tomorrow."
Jeremy squeezed his sister's shoulders and placed a tender kiss on her brow. "Good night, Leanna. Thank you for being so strong and brave through all of this. You deserve much better."
Leanna smiled and touched his cheek tenderly. "Don't worry. We'll get through this together. Now go get some sleep."
She gave him a gentle push toward the stairs. When Jeremy was out of sight, Leanna slumped onto the settee and stared for a long time into the glowing coals. She shivered slightly and hugged herself to ward off the chill. Tomorrow, she would speak to Trevor Grayson.
* * *
Trevor Grayson stood on the deck of his ship, the Sea Spirit, and watched his men as they scurried about, preparing for their departure the following day. They had been in port for several weeks, and he was anxious to get back to his home in Virginia. Although he loved sailing, he was ready to settle down. By the time they made their crossing, it would almost be time for spring planting, and he wanted to be there to oversee the whole procedure.
A grim smile tugged at his lips. This was the first year for a long time that he was actually looking forward to being home. As it was, it had been almost two years since he had set foot on his beloved plantation. For six years, he had spent most of his time running his shipping business and cultivating trading partnerships in various ports. He knew he had avoided spending time at home because of the painful memories it evoked. However, he finally felt ready to face his past and move on. He wanted to settle down and start a family.
He stood with legs spread wide apart and his hands clasped behind his back as he mused on the past. He had been only twenty-years-old when the civil war broke out in 1861, splitting America in two. Like almost all the young men of the South, he had rallied to the call and had gone off to fight for the cause. He had no way of knowing what a profound change the war would have on his own life.
Just one month before war was declared, Trevor had proposed to Eliza Taylor, the daughter of one of his neighbors, and she had enthusiastically accepted. She had been seventeen. They had known each other their entire lives, having grown up on adjacent plantations. Both of their families had been thrilled by the match, and they had all been looking forward to a Christmas wedding. However, the war had forced them to place their plans on hold.
Trevor and his younger brother, Steven, had ridden off to join the Confederate forces, pledging to return in a few weeks. After all, the loyal citizens of the Confederacy had been convinced that their speedy victory was virtually guaranteed. Instead, Trevor had spent the next three years engaged in one battle after another. He had proven his courage and commitment repeatedly on the battlefield, and for a while, it had appeared as if the Confederacy might win.
Eventually, Trevor had been wounded and captured, and during that battle he got separated from Steven. Trevor spent the last year of the war in a Yankee prison. He would lie awake at night, envisioning Eliza's pale beauty, with her blonde hair and large expressive brown eyes. He longed to hold her and keep her safe from the horrors and deprivation of the war.
When the Confederacy finally collapsed and General Lee surrendered, the prisoners were released to return to their homes. Trevor had joined the thousands of other defeated Confederate soldiers making their way back to their loved ones. The journey had been long and heartbreaking, as he passed countless plantations that were completely destroyed, all the inhabitants either killed or chased away. Entire regions had been devastated, with every home having been torched by invading Union troops, and Trevor dreaded what he might find at home.
Finally, he had made it home to find that his plantation was still intact, though it was in shambles from years of neglect. His parents had died from typhoid fever mere weeks before his return, and he could only wonder about the fate of his brother, Steven, though Trevor prayed that he had survived. The former slaves had disappeared. Only the buildings remained standing, in bad need of repair, and all the possessions had been stolen or destroyed by raiding Union troops and scavengers. His home was a deserted, empty shell, and Trevor had felt hopeless and defeated.
The only thing that kept him going was the hope that Eliza was still waiting for him, and he wasted no time in seeking her out. Her family's plantation had fared no better than his, but he had been thrilled to learn that she and her family had survived the war. While she was glad to see him, her manner was somewhat reserved. He attributed her lack of enthusiasm to their long separation and set out on a vigorous campaign to rekindle their romance, urging her to set a wedding date as soon as possible.
He worked day and night to rebuild his plantation while courting Eliza at the same time. He found ex-slaves who were willing to work his land for him in return for a share of the crops. There were a surprising number of them who remained loyal due to his family's kind treatment of them over the years, and he had managed to gather enough laborers to cultivate a good crop his first season.
His wise father had hidden a small stash of gold underneath the floorboards of the kitchen, and with the money, Trevor had been able to pay the exorbitant taxes on his land and buy seed and tools for the coming year. All things considered, he was better off than most of his neighbors.
Eliza had completely surprised him the night she showed up on his doorstep, three weeks after his return from the war. She looked absolutely delectable in a new gown. He hadn't thought to question where she had gotten the money for such a luxurious purchase, simply assuming that her family had somehow managed. She had given him a smile that was at once both shy and direct.
"Trevor, I don't want to wait any longer. I love you and I want to be with you tonight."
Trevor's pulse leaped in anticipation as he looked at her with surprise and longing. "You've decided on a wedding date then?"
She reached up to touch his cheek, surprising him with a sultry smile while molding her body against the length of his. "We can talk about that later. Tonight is just for us."
Stretching up, she had kissed him on the lips and twined her arms around his neck. Having missed her for so long, he wasn't capable of refusing her offer. Their lovemaking had been tender but passionate, with him taking great care to be gentle with her as he introduced her to the joys of intimacy. Trevor had undressed her with reverence, unveiling her perfect body like the most precious of gifts. He had tasted every inch of her delectable flesh, stroking her virgin body into frenzied passion. When he buried himself inside her, he felt truly happy for the first time in years.
Despite her inexperience, Eliza had proven to be an enthusiastic lover, and they had made love repeatedly until dawn. When Trevor took her home, she gave him a lingering farewell kiss and slipped into her house before anyone woke up.
Two days later, Trevor had been working on one of the outbuildings, when Eliza's older brother, Tom, rode up to speak with him. Trevor could tell immediately that something was wrong from the way Tom shifted uncomfortably in the saddle and refused to meet his eye. They had grown up together as boys, and they were almost as close as brothers.
"What's wrong, Tom? I can tell you didn't drop by for a social visit."
Tom cleared his throat and shook his head. "I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but Eliza has eloped with a Yankee officer."
Trevor's face registered his shock, and he sat down quickly on a nearby stump. "What are you talking about? Eliza would never do such a thing!"
Tom looked down at his hands as they fiddled with the reins. "I assure you, she did. She left a note saying that they were traveling to New Orleans for their honeymoon, and then she'll be moving north with her husband. It seems the man she married is quite well off. He is from Boston. He's been stationed down here for the last few months." Tom looked at Trevor grimly. "You know, the war changed Eliza. She is not the sweet young girl you remember. Seeing her family and friends stripped of their wealth and their entire way of life hardened her. Now, she is obsessed with becoming wealthy again, and she has stooped to wedding a damn Yankee to attain that goal."
Trevor felt as if the wind had been knocked from him, and he sat for a long time, merely staring off into the distance. He couldn't believe she had come to him and given her body to him, knowing all the while that she would be leaving the next day to marry another man. He thought back on the previous few weeks and remembered all the times he had pressed her to set a date for their wedding and how she had avoided the issue. She must have known all along that she was going to marry her Yankee suitor.
Trevor had spent so many years envisioning Eliza as his wife and the mother of his children that he didn't know how he would ever live without her. She was the only anchor he had known in his turbulent life. He felt like he was merely drifting with no purpose or goal.
"Thank you for telling me, Tom."
Tom's eyes were full of sympathy. "I'm so sorry, Trevor. Of course, Ma and Pa have always considered you to be part of the family, and they are absolutely prostrate with grief over Eliza's actions."
If there was one thing Trevor didn't want, it was sympathy. He took a deep breath and rose from the stump to face Tom.
"There's no need to worry about me, I'll be fine." He waved his hand in farewell and turned to walk away, making a conscious effort to keep his shoulders straight and proud.
Trevor had thrown himself tirelessly into his work. He managed to plant every acre of the fertile land that had lain dormant during the war, driving himself to exhaustion in the process. Two months after he learned of Eliza's betrayal, his younger brother, Steven, came straggling home. They ran to meet each other and Trevor hugged him fiercely against his chest, tears of joy burning his eyes.
"I had almost given you up for dead!"
Steven was crying, and he self-consciously wiped at the tears. "I very nearly was dead. They finally released me from prison, and I almost starved trying to make it back here."
The two brothers worked together, and they managed to raise a record-breaking crop that first year. Despite their success, Trevor had been restless, needing to get away from his painful memories. With the money from the harvest, he purchased a steamship and turned over the management of their plantation to Steven.
While Steven ran the estate, Trevor started a shipping business, plying cargo all along the eastern seaboard. He came home periodically to check on his holdings and to monitor the progress his brother was making. However, for the most part, Trevor stayed away, not wishing to hear any news of Eliza or her new husband.
Trevor's wealth had steadily increased, and he purchased three more ships within a year. He soon expanded his trade, bringing goods from Europe and the Caribbean, and he spent a small fortune restoring their plantation to its former grandeur. He admitted only to himself that he was driven to make Eliza regret the day she had rejected him in favor of another, richer man. He was determined to gain more wealth than her husband even dreamed of, and that goal influenced all of his actions.
Five years had passed, and Trevor achieved his financial goal. Their plantation was the most profitable in the entire region. Trevor often wondered bitterly whether Eliza ever regretted her decision. If she had just been patient, he would have given her everything she desired. Though he tried to avoid hearing any news of her, he inevitably did learn that she had moved to Boston with her husband and they had a small daughter. Whenever he thought about her, Trevor's heart would wrench with pain, and he wondered if he would ever get over her.
He had recently started thinking of marrying. He was tired of sailing from port to port, and he wanted to settle down on his plantation and start a family of his own. Steven had married the previous year, and Trevor couldn't deny that he was envious of his brother's happiness. He wanted that for himself, but he despaired of ever finding a woman he would find acceptable. He wanted a woman who wouldn't bore him or be too demanding. She had to be someone who wasn't looking for love. He would never make the mistake of giving his heart to her. He refused to give another woman the chance to hurt him the way Eliza had.
Trevor was startled by the sound of someone clearing her throat nearby, and he turned to see a young woman standing behind him. Her face was hidden beneath the hood of her cloak.
"Excuse me, sir. Are you Mr. Trevor Grayson?"
He frowned but nodded slowly. He could only see the glitter of her eyes as she stared at him. "Yes, I am. And who might you be?"
The woman darted a glance to either side and looked up at him once more. Her heavy hood denied him any hint of her facial features, but her voice was as smooth as warm honey.
"I would be happy to tell you, if you would please speak with me for a few moments, in private."
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. It was evident from her modulated speech and the quality of her cloak that she wasn't a commoner. He couldn't imagine why a well-bred lady would request a scandalous private meeting with a sea captain. His curiosity was thoroughly aroused, and he turned aside, motioning for her to precede him to the companionway that led below deck.
Trevor caught the eye of his first mate and signaled to him that he was leaving him in charge. Seeing the young woman pause, Trevor gestured again and said politely, "After you, ma'am."
He followed close behind the mysterious visitor, admiring the gentle sway of her hips as she descended the steps. He reached around her to open the door to his cabin and he caught a whiff of her delicate scent. She smelled of wildflowers, mixed with her own warm, womanly essence, and he was surprised to feel a sudden tightness in his loins. Trevor wasn't usually so quickly or easily affected by women, and he could only attribute his eagerness to his long bouts of celibacy. He tamped down his own reactions and followed her inside before closing the door behind him.
It was early afternoon, but the sky was overcast with dark grey clouds that contributed to the thick gloom in the tiny cabin. The woman ducked her head, and Trevor noticed her discomfort. It was wildly inappropriate for her to be alone with a strange man in his cabin. Trevor took a moment to light a pair of candles which stood on his desk before turning back with a curious tilt to his brow.
"You have my undivided attention, ma'am. What was it you wished to discuss with me?"
The young woman reached to push her hood back, and his breath caught in his throat. She was exceptionally beautiful, with wide set eyes of sparkling green and a full, generous mouth. Her hair was burnished auburn, and wisps of it had escaped the neat chignon to curl winsomely around her flawlessly creamy neck and jaw. Her uncertainty was evident, but as he watched, she squared her shoulders and looked directly at him, lifting her chin to meet his eye.
"My name is Leanna Bradley, and I believe you met Jeremy last night."
Trevor couldn't keep the surprise from showing on his face as his mind raced with conjectures. Was this the wife of the man he had bested at cards the night before, and if so, what was her business in coming here?
"Yes, I remember Mr. Bradley," he replied carefully. "Are you his wife?"
Leanna blinked before answering quickly. "No, I'm his sister," she murmured.
Immensely relieved by her answer, Trevor indicated a chair on the opposite side of his desk, as his mind raced to process that tidbit. If she was Jeremy's sister and used the same last name, then she must not be married. He wasn't sure why that thought should please him, but it did.
"Please, have a seat, Mrs. Bradley. But first, let me take your cloak."
Leanna chewed her bottom lip. She didn't want to relinquish her cloak, but neither did she wish to offend his hospitality. She reluctantly undid the fastening beneath her chin and let him remove her cloak. She sank gracefully down on the chair he had indicated, conscious of him assessing her figure. She couldn't resist looking over his muscular frame when he turned and walked toward the door. He was exceedingly tall, with wide shoulders and slender hips, and Leanna felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight of such a magnificent male.
He had gleaming black hair and deep blue eyes that looked out from underneath long sooty lashes. His nose and cheekbones were finely chiseled, and he had full lips above a firm square chin. He wore snug fitting trousers that molded to his muscular thighs, and his long-sleeved shirt looked impossibly white against his tanned skin.
He was the most handsome man she had ever met, and she flushed as deliciously wicked thoughts flitted through her mind. She didn't know exactly what she had been expecting when she came here, but she certainly hadn't expected to meet the man of her dreams.
Trevor took a moment to hang her cloak from a nearby hook before taking the seat across from her. His heart was beating a bit faster, as well. This woman's figure was just as appealing as her face, and he was suffused with the excitement of the hunt. His eyes lingered for a brief moment on the shadowed valley between her breasts, and his imagination went wild trying to picture her without her clothes. In her very fetching mint gown trimmed with white lace, she reminded him of a delectable bonbon. He would definitely not mind getting to know her much better.
Reluctantly, Trevor forced his thoughts back to the business at hand, whatever that might be. "What is it that you wished to speak to me about, Mrs. Bradley?"
Leanna took a deep breath and began, "I was hoping that you might be persuaded to invest some money in a business venture with my brother. He is in need of fifteen thousand pounds to start his own manufacturing plant, and I know that you won at least that much at cards just last night."
Somewhat shocked by her boldness, Trevor eyed her thoughtfully, placing the tips of his fingers together in front of his chin. "Is that why he was at the club last night? He was trying to raise the money for a business venture?"
Leanna nodded but shifted uneasily. It was never easy for her to lie convincingly. "Yes, he was trying to win enough to get started."
Trevor's eyes narrowed as he noticed her slight flush. He had developed keen instincts, and he sensed there was a lot this woman was hiding from him.
"Fifteen thousand pounds is an awful lot of money to start a business, and playing poker isn't the most reliable way to raise that kind of money. Is there anything you are not telling me, Mrs. Bradley?"
Leanna's flush grew darker, and she looked down at her hands in her lap, making a conscious effort to keep from wringing them. "Well, he doesn't need the money just for his business." She hesitated, unsure how much to reveal but finally deciding that she had best be honest. "He needs ten thousand pounds of that money to pay off a debt my father incurred before his recent death."
For several moments, the silence in the room was broken only by the ticking of a nearby clock. "I'm sorry to hear of your father's death," Trevor murmured sincerely. "However, I still don't quite understand why you have come to me."
Leanna released a deep sigh, but she raised her gaze to meet his stare directly. "My father owed ten thousand pounds to his business partner, and after his death, the man demanded full payment. Unfortunately, father used our home as collateral for the loan, and we are now faced with the prospect of being evicted for failure to pay. We only have a few more days to raise the money. We've tried every other avenue short of stealing to raise the funds. Jeremy's attempt to win at cards last night was the only remaining chance we had, and now, even that is gone." Leanna paused and looked down at her hands. "I'm embarrassed to say that you are my last hope."
Trevor could certainly understand her predicament. Many southerners had lost their homes because of debt, and he knew it was a gut-wrenching ordeal for anyone to endure.
"Surely, the man would accept partial payment of the debt and let your brother work off the remainder," Trevor murmured.
Leanna shook her head sadly. "No, we tried that approach. He is insistent that we pay him the entire sum immediately. He's really a greedy little toad of a man." She chewed her bottom lip again as she blinked back tears, unaware of what a charming image of vulnerability she presented to Trevor. "There is something else you should know. My brother's wife is expecting their first child, and she's not in the best of health. Jeremy and I are both worried that her health will suffer tremendously if we lose our home."
Trevor nodded his head slowly, as he considered her position. His thoughts returned to the path they had taken before her sudden appearance on his ship. It was as if she had been deposited in his lap, almost like a gift of fate. His eyes took on a calculating gleam as he considered her carefully, assessing her lovely features at length. He tried to picture her as his wife and the mother of his children. His blood grew warm at the thought of having this delectable young woman in his bed and at his mercy. It would be pleasurable indeed to tutor her in all the ways to please him.
Realizing that he had been staring at her for a long time, and much more intently than was polite, Trevor cleared his throat and looked down at his desk once more, clamping down on his lustful urges. She would do quite nicely for his purposes, but he would have to proceed cautiously to avoid scaring her off.
When he was able to look at her again without leering, he replied, "I would like to be able to help you, Mrs. Bradley, but if I were to loan your brother the funds he requires, what can you offer me in return?"
Excited by his apparent interest, Leanna's eyes lit up with hope, and she eagerly responded, "You would, of course, receive an equal share in my brother's business. He could run the operation for both of you, but you would get half of the profits. Eventually, he could buy out your interest."
Trevor smiled charmingly. "My dear Mrs. Bradley, you know as well as I that it could take several years for the business to show any profit, if ever. I have no knowledge of your brother's business acumen, so I have no way to judge whether he will be successful or not."
Leanna leaned forward in her chair, anxious to convince him of the merits of her plan. In her eagerness, she was unaware of what a delightful view she presented of her well-rounded breasts, but Trevor was inclined to scan that same view surreptitiously while she talked.
"I assure you, Mr. Grayson, my brother is a very shrewd businessman. He would have made my father much more successful, if he had only been given the chance."
Trevor nodded slowly. "Yes, I can see that you have great confidence in your brother's abilities. However, I hope you can understand that I cannot rely simply on the doting allegiance of a man's sister to ensure that my money would be returned."
Leanna bristled at his comment, but she bit back an angry reply. The effort caused twin spots of color to appear on her cheeks, and Trevor suppressed a grin, knowing that she was incensed.
"Well, would you accept the deed to our home as collateral?" she asked quietly. "We could make regular payments to you with interest. I assure you, we would be able to pay you back entirely, given some time."
Trevor cocked his head to one side, carefully considering her. "No, I'm afraid I have no use for the deed to a home in London. As it is, I am anxious to return to my home in Virginia. I don't think I will be returning to England, at least not in the foreseeable future. I would need something more for reassurance." He patiently waited for her next volley.
Leanna's eyes darted around nervously before she gave him her answer. "But I am afraid I don't have anything else to offer you," she mumbled dejectedly, staring down at her hands in her lap.
Trevor's laugh was low and smooth. "I would not agree with that, Mrs. Bradley. You have a great deal to offer."
Leanna looked up in time to see his eyes flickering over her breasts, and she colored brightly. "What exactly do you mean, sir?" she asked indignantly.
"I mean that I am much more interested in you than in any deed to a house or a share in a business venture," he responded with a lazy grin.
Leanna leaped up from her chair, her eyes flashing green fire. "How dare you! I should never have come here today." She would have stalked to the door, but he stood up, firmly blocking her path.
"Don't you wish to hear my proposal?" he asked softly.
Leanna faced him with a grim set to her jaw, placing her hands on her hips in vexation. "I don't think I do. I have already been propositioned to become someone's mistress, and I refused. He was a man I had been betrothed to. Why would I accept your offer, when I don't even know you?"
Trevor looked down at her heaving chest and her flashing eyes. This woman had courage, and he knew he needed that. He needed a woman who would submit to his desires in the bedroom but stand up to him in all other aspects of their relationship. Finding a woman with the right balance was almost impossible. And yet, looking at the outraged beauty in front of him, he thought she just might be the one. Bending her to his will without breaking her spirit would provide the ultimate challenge.
"I'm not offering for you become my mistress. I'm offering for you to become my wife."
Leanna's jaw dropped open in utter surprise and she sank weakly back down into the chair as her knees buckled beneath her. When she spoke, her voice was breathless with shock.
"You want to marry me?" she croaked. When he nodded, she shook her head in confusion. "Why on earth would you want to do that? You don't know anything about me."
Trevor slanted his head to one side as he considered her carefully again. "I have my reasons. Besides, I know several very important things about you already."
Leanna frowned in disbelief. "Really? Like what?" she challenged him.
His smile was devastatingly charming. "You are certainly beautiful. You are also brave and very intelligent. You have demonstrated that you have a fiery nature, which is what I need in a wife, someone who isn't afraid to stand up to me. Most important of all, you've shown that you are loyal and honest, and I find those qualities to be crucial in a marriage." His eyes clouded slightly as he said the last, but he blinked and the faraway look was gone. "I think we would be extremely compatible, and I know of several successful marriages that have been built on less. After all, it's not uncommon in arranged marriages for the man and woman to be virtual strangers to each other."
Leanna shook her head slightly as if she were trying to clear the cobwebs from her brain. "I cannot believe I am hearing this. Don't you want to marry someone you love?"
"I have no interest in love, Mrs. Bradley," he said flatly. "I much prefer to marry a woman I am compatible with. I am not offering you love. I'm offering you a position of security and honor. As my wife, you would want for nothing."
"And what makes you think we would be compatible based on one meeting?"
Trevor cocked his head to one side, his narrowed eyes assessing her carefully. "Believe me, Mrs. Bradley, we would suit each other quite well. In the past few years, I've learned to be an excellent judge of character. I need a wife, and due to reasons I don't wish to discuss right now, I want my marriage to be one of mutually agreeable companionship. While I would expect my wife to share my bed and provide me with children, I would not expect her to be in love with me, nor would I be in love with her."
Leanna rose from the chair and went to stare out the large window that overlooked the fetid water of the Thames. "Mr. Grayson, there is no way I can agree to marry you based on one meeting," she said shakily. "You may be able to make hasty decisions about things that will affect the rest of your life, but I cannot. Although I am desperate to help my family, I will have to refuse your offer."
Trevor came to stand directly behind her, and when he spoke, he startled her by his nearness. She turned to face him, and the nervous look in her eyes made his cock throb. He wanted her. Badly.
"I can understand your hesitancy. But perhaps a demonstration of just how compatible we are would help you decide."
Before Leanna could guess his intentions, Trevor drew her into his arms and firmly against his chest. Leanna gasped as her hands came in contact with solid muscles, and her nostrils were assailed by his clean, masculine smell. He smiled devilishly down at her and hesitated only a second before he swooped to claim her lips.
His lips were warm and firm, and Leanna gave in to the urge to return his kiss, as she slanted her mouth underneath his. She felt his tongue probing her lips, and she gasped, giving him the opportunity to slip inside and taste the warm cavity of her mouth.
She had never been kissed so intimately before, and while it was shockingly scandalous, it was also thrilling. Leanna felt warmth spreading through her lower belly, and her knees were slightly wobbly. She wound her arms around his neck, and a soft moan escaped her as his hands pressed her more fully against him. She felt his hands roaming her backside, and she gasped again when he skimmed one hand up her ribs to boldly knead her breast.
Leanna's eyes flew open and locked with his, as he stroked his thumb over her hardened nipple. She wanted to protest, but could only manage a strangled moan of pleasure, and Trevor took that as a sign of encouragement to deepen the caress. He slipped his hand inside her clothes to cup her breast in his palm, skin to naked skin. All the while, he watched her expression change from concern to confusion to excitement.
He continued to caress her as he kissed her again, even more blatantly exploring her breast. All she could focus on was what his fingers were doing to her nipple. Every hard pinch and twist sent a jolt of desire lancing through her body. She could feel the flesh between her legs growing wet and throbbing with need.
Trevor suppressed a satisfied grin when Leanna moaned and arched her back, pressing her breast more firmly into his hand. His erection ached painfully, but he ignored it for now, confident that he would have her soon. Trevor wanted more than just a single bout of sex with this woman. He wanted her as his wife. He reluctantly released her breast with one final tweak of her hardened nipple and watched as her lids fluttered open.
Leanna noticed that his breath was coming as fast as her own and his eyes were smoldering with intensity.
When he spoke, his voice was husky with suppressed passion, "Do you believe in fate, Mrs. Bradley?"
"Yes," she answered breathlessly, without thinking. She felt both weak and invigorated, and for the first time in her life, there was an aching emptiness in the pit of her belly.
He gave her a knowing smile. "So do I. We were destined to meet, I'm sure of it. I can make you no promises, save this one." His eyes dropped to her breasts. He could see the outline of her erect nipples straining against the fabric of her bodice, and he rubbed his thumb against one as he continued, "If you accept my proposal, you will never have to wonder where I spend my nights."
Leanna looked up at him with wide, confused eyes. This man's bluntness was both unnerving and strangely comforting. She gave him a small nod to acknowledge she had heard him and then she pressed gently against his chest.
He consented to release her, and she turned her back to him. It was all she could do not to rub her own hands over her breasts to ease their sensitive throbbing. She drew a shaky breath and shuddered with arousal. Trevor bit his lip to hide a grin as he watched her. She was exactly the woman for him.
"I can give you three days to consider my proposal, and then, I must sail for Virginia. Why don't I take you to dinner tonight and we can get to know each other a bit better? Shall I pick you up at seven o'clock?"
Leanna's head was still spinning, but she managed to nod her acceptance of his suggestion. She retrieved one of her calling cards and handed it to him.
"My address is on the card." She took another shaky breath and briefly met his eye. "I really must be going. I'll think about…everything."
She blushed and her eyes darted away. After what had just passed between them, she would be hard pressed to think about anything but his lips and hands on her.
He followed her to the door and held her cloak for her. She quickly donned it and fastened the clasp beneath her chin before turning back to him.
"I will see you this evening."
Their gazes met and held for several seconds before she turned to leave. He followed her back up the narrow stairs to the deck.
"Until tonight, then," he murmured, giving her a wicked smile.
She nodded slightly, and he watched as she disembarked from his ship and picked her way daintily down the gangplank to the nearby waiting hackney. She stepped gracefully inside, and the coach rolled away.
Leanna sat in the coach on the way home, and a heated blush rose in her cheeks as she remembered what she had allowed Trevor to do with her body. Even now, there was a moist heat between her thighs, and her breathing had not yet returned to normal. Surely, no proper lady would have allowed a man, a total stranger no less, to make love to her like that. She should be feeling like a shameless slut, but instead, an undeniable shiver of excitement went up her spine. The prospect of being Trevor Grayson's bride and experiencing even more of his lovemaking was unbelievably tempting. She couldn't deny that she was looking forward to seeing him again, and if he pressed her for further liberties, she doubted she would deny him.