Running into Temptation (Bancrofts of Barton Park)

BOOK: Running into Temptation (Bancrofts of Barton Park)
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Gretna Green, 1814

After narrowly avoiding scandal with a falsehearted rake, Miss Melanie Harding is sent to live quietly in the country. No balls. No parties. Certainly no flirting with dashing strangers whose dark eyes hint at all kinds of delicious wickedness.

All of Philip Carrington’s practical plans evaporate the moment he encounters Melanie. Is it foolishness to run away with her to Scotland, or the wisest thing he’s ever done? The lovely, impetuous Miss Harding kisses like an angel—and brings out the very devil in him. And together, they may discover the most passionate adventure of all….

Running into Temptation
Amanda McCabe

AUTHOR NOTE

When I first read Dickens’s wonderful book
Our Mutual Friend,
I was fascinated by so many of the characters, including the newlywed Lammles! They were not nice people at all. They married each other thinking the other rich, only to find themselves stuck with each other and no money at all. It served them right, but they seemed well matched in their capacity for scheming.

As I started writing
Running from Scandal,
Henry and Melanie were meant to be something like the Lammles, but they quickly showed me there was so very much to them. I saw the pain of their pasts, their deep loneliness, their longing for love, and I did the unthinkable—I started to
like
the villains of the story! And I wanted them to find their own happy ending, too. I loved the chance to make sure they weren’t alone in the world now, and I hope you enjoy their redemption, too….

Running into Temptation
features characters who appeared in
Running from Scandal
. Look for all three stories in Amanda McCabe’s miniseries Bancrofts of Barton Park.

The Runaway Countess (Harlequin Historical)

Running from Scandal (Harlequin Historical)

Running into Temptation (Harlequin Historical Undone!)

Prologue

Melanie Harding struggled to climb up the slope of the hill, holding onto her bonnet as the wind tried to snatch it away. Nature was really terribly horrid, especially to someone like her who had always lived in towns with paved roads and noisy lanes. She never would have thought it, but she even missed pokey, stuffy old Bath! Even
that
was better than living in such a tiny village, with such a dull old uncle.

Melanie sighed as she caught at her skirts, whipped around by the wind. Once she really had thought Bath a narrow, quiet place, especially with those tiny rooms she’d shared with her mother, the evenings at card parties and sipping tea at the assembly rooms. But now she knew what “narrow” really was, when she had no friends at all.

She stopped on the green slope of the hill and closed her eyes, hearing her mother’s voice in her mind again as Melanie had tried to stop her from throwing all her clothes into a trunk.

“Why must I go there?”
she had cried, snatching at her spencers and shawls, trying to keep her mother from sending her away. Her mother had been all Melanie had since her feckless father died when she was a child, leaving them so poor, so alone.

“You know very well why,”
her mother had said shortly, as she kept on packing.
“Because no one there will ever have heard of Captain Whitney and your unfortunate behavior. Your uncle the admiral will keep a close eye on you.”

Melanie sighed. The Captain Whitney thing
had
been unfortunate, but surely that was his fault, not hers. She had only believed him when he said his pretty words of love and devotion, read his tender poems, and she’d thought that her dreams were coming true at last. That a handsome officer was rescuing her from their impoverished life.

How could she have known that those poems were copied from a dusty old book by someone called Marlowe—or that Captain Whitney’s promises were just as false? That he was like her father, like so many other men. Selfish and careless.

Captain Whitney, in addition to looking handsome in his red coat, had a good income and respectable connections to a viscount’s family. If all had gone as he’d promised, her mother would have been ecstatic. But Melanie had been deceived, and now she was being punished for it, being sent to live with her elderly uncle in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

Thank goodness for Mrs. Smythe, Melanie thought as she continued her path up the hill. At least she had
one
friend here. Mrs. Smythe knew about fashion and the newest dances, even though she herself was enceinte and couldn’t dance for several more months. She would invite Melanie to tea at her cozy village house, where they would sit by the fire to look at fashion papers and share romantic novels.

Everyone else there seemed too serious to be interested in fashion. They never even laughed at all! And at least Mrs. Smythe seemed glad to have a friend, too. Melanie had been feeling all too rejected since her mother sent her away. Mrs. Smythe also had a handsome brother, who was a widower. A brother with a fine estate and a very good income. Sir David Marton.

Melanie reached the top of the hill and turned to look toward Sir David’s house at Rose Hill. Its gray stone walls rose against the rolling green fields, its windows sparkling in the sun. It was a pretty enough place, with Palladian columns and rounded towers. It could use a bit of renovation and decoration, of course, but that was what a wife was for. Melanie could certainly settle for being Lady Marton of Rose Hill. Then she would have a home for herself and her mother forever, a home no one could take from them.

The fact that Sir David was reasonably good-looking and smelled nice, not an old, balding man with gout like her uncle’s retired old navy cronies, made the idea palatable. But, oh, Sir David was so serious! So quiet and dull, buried in books and work. Not like Captain Whitney had been…

Melanie scowled at the thought. Captain Whitney had turned out to be a false scoundrel, just as all men surely were. The sparkling, dizzy feelings she’d got when he danced with her were evidently just as false. She had to be sensible now. Sir David was the best chance she’d had in a long time. He was a respectable, established gentleman and she did not care about him too much, so he couldnot hurt her. She could not let this chance go.

Suddenly tired, and fed up with the wind catching at her skirts, Melanie ran back down the hill toward the road. Her uncle would be waking from his nap soon, and she would have to read to him from the naval reports until dinnertime. She turned back to the village, thinking maybe she could take a bit of tea at Mrs. Smythe’s before she had to go back to her uncle’s stuffy, overheated house. As she strolled along the deserted lane, all she could hear was the whine of the wind. Until suddenly she heard another sound, the rumble of hooves pounding on gravel behind her and coming on fast!

She peered back over her shoulder, holding onto the straw brim of her bonnet, to see a large, gleaming black horse barreling down on her. It was suddenly so close she could see the sheen of sweat on the beast’s flanks and the capes of the rider’s greatcoat flying around him like wings.

Terrified, she screamed and dived toward the hedgerows, sure she would be trampled by the hooves. She tripped and fell into a mud puddle, soaking her pelisse. She wanted to sob with fear and frustration. What
else
could go wrong in her life?

“Are you quite all right, miss?” a man shouted. “I am so terribly sorry. I thought no one was around here.”

Melanie looked up to see the greatcoated man swooping down on her. He swept off his wide-brimmed hat and for an instant she was dazzled by the halo of sunlight around him. She blinked and saw that he really was quite angelic-looking. Dark, coppery-blond hair tumbled in poetic waves over his brow, and his eyes were a deep, warm chocolate-brown set in a face that looked as if it must have been carved by a master sculptor, all strong jaw and straight, aristocratic nose.

Had she hit her head when she fell? Surely she was caught in some kind of dream.
No one
in the village looked like that.

“Are you injured?” he said, his voice rough with concern.

“N—no,” Melanie gasped. “I do not think so.” She turned her fascinated gaze away from him to try to check if she was hurt, but she could feel nothing. Nothing but the warm blush in her cheeks at his regard.

“But I did at the very least give you a fright, for which I am profoundly sorry,” he said. “Please, allow me to check for any injuries.”

Melanie swallowed hard and nodded. He gently drew the muddied hem of her skirt up a mere few inches to reveal her dirty halfboots. She watched, her head all a-whirl, as his long, elegant fingers, clad in black leather gloves, carefully touched her ankle and shivered at the sensations his soft touch sent all up her body.

“Does that hurt?” he asked.

“Not at all,” she managed to answer. “I think you are right—I was more scared than anything else. I should not have been walking in the middle of the lane.”

“Not at all. I am the one who must apologize, I should have had more care. I was in too much of a hurry on my errand. May I help you to stand?” he asked, with a wide, white smile that dazzled her all over again.

“Yes, thank you, sir.”

Melanie held out her hand to him. His gloved fingers closed around hers, strong and warm, and he supported her as he raised her up. He held onto her until she could stand on her own, the dazzling dizziness slowly righting the world around her. All the boredom she’d felt only moments before was gone when she looked up at her rescuer.

“I have not seen you here before, sir,” she whispered.

“I have just arrived in the neighborhood on a business matter,” he said with another dazzling grin. “I would have come much sooner if I had known there were such beauties to be seen. May I beg to know your name?”

After so long spent in the arid loneliness of no society, she was dizzy with his compliments. She laughed. “I am Miss Melanie Harding, sir.”

“And I am Mr. Philip Carrington, very pleased indeed to make your acquaintance,” he said. He lifted her muddied glove to his lips for a gallant kiss. “Please, let me see you home to begin to make amends for my terrible behavior.”

“Thank you, Mr. Carrington,” she answered. The name was vaguely familiar to her, but she couldn’t quite fathom why amid the delightful feeling of Philip Carrington’s touch as he led her by the arm to his horse. She hadn’t felt that way for a long time, not since Captain Whitney first appeared in her life.

He lifted her up into his saddle, his hands strong and steady on her waist. Then he swung up behind her, holding her close to him as he urged the steed into a gallop. The wind rustling past her seemed exhilarating now where before she had hated it.

Suddenly the world seemed fun again.

* * *

Suddenly Philip Carrington’s unpleasant errand seemed a lot more—interesting.

The fear and remorse of nearly running a helpless lady down in the lane faded as the lady in question looked up at him from beneath the dirt-spattered brim of her bonnet. He saw that not only was she unhurt, but she was remarkably pretty. Tousled bright curls tumbled around an elfin, heart-shaped face and her upturned nose was topped with a spray of pale golden freckles.

She gave a tremulous smile as she looked up at him with those large, cornflower-blue eyes.

“Are you injured?” he said, his voice rough with concern.

“N—no,” she gasped. “I do not think so.”

Her voice was as pretty as her face, delicate as a silver bell. She looked like a fairy princess dropped onto a dull, muddy country lane. He smiled back at her, wondering why he had ever resisted coming to the country in the first place. He had obviously underestimated the charms of rusticating.

Then, in a painful flash, he remembered all too well why he was there in the dismal, muddy countryside. He was there, away from the pleasures of his city life, because he could no longer afford those pleasures. Because he had to find his cousin Henry’s widow, Emma Carrington, and get her to pay him what Henry had owed him before he died. Without those funds, he would be forced to desperate measures.

He would even be forced to go to his nasty old uncle, Sir Angus Macintosh, in Scotland to ask for an advance on his inheritance. And that he did
not
want to do, even though Macintosh undoubtedly owed Philip for what he had done so long ago, sending Philip’s mother away because she had dared to marry—only to be widowed by—an irresponsible rake. When she had died while Philip was at school, he had vowed to get what she was owed, somehow.

He had also thought to woo Emma while he was here in the country, for she had been a pretty lass and a good friend to him in those heady days on the Continent. Henry had been a great fool not to see what he had in his pretty wife. Emma could give Philip the security he hadn’t known for a long time, thanks to his incompetent family.

But surely there was more to life than security. There was excitement, fun. Danger.

All the things he could see now in the sparkling depths of this lady’s blue eyes. “Please,” he said, “let me see you home to begin to make amends for my terrible behavior.”

She nodded, and let him lift her up in his arms to carry her to the waiting horse. She was as light as a thistle in his embrace, and she wrapped her arms around his neck with another laugh. There were no missish airs with her, no simpering. Just laughter and shimmering eyes.

The ride to the village went much too quickly for Philip’s taste. It had been many days since he had been so close to such a pretty woman, and Melanie Harding was easy to be with indeed. She asked him a few light, flirtatious questions about his business in the country, and told him she was staying with her uncle, a retired admiral, for a few weeks, and was bored to tears in the village. But there was to be an assembly soon and perhaps Mr. Carrington would come? Perhaps he cared for dancing, as she did?

Philip did care for dancing, now even more so than before.

They arrived at her uncle’s house on the narrow village lane much too soon. Philip watched as his pretty damsel in distress dashed up the narrow steps to a house where she paused at the door and turned to give him a flirtatious little wave. Even under the dust of her fall, Philip could see how lovely her pert little face and the bright curls peeking from beneath her bonnet were.

An angel lurking in the dismal depths of the countryside. Who could have imagined such a thing?

Miss Melanie Harding.
Philip tipped back his head to peer up at the tall, narrow house. He had a feeling he would be hearing that name again soon. He was determined to see that fair face and slender figure again.

Philip sighed and wheeled his horse around. In the meantime he had to find lodgings and seek out the agent of this dismal journey—Emma Carrington.

At least things looked a little more fun now….

BOOK: Running into Temptation (Bancrofts of Barton Park)
2.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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