Title: The Mistress by Elise Marion
Kings of Cardenas #4
Publisher: Marion Press
Genre: Historical, Romance, Fantasy
Word Count: 42,260 (approximate)
Once the courtesan of a prince, and then the wife of a king, Davina Keane now finds herself divorced, banished for treason, and sentenced to a life of loveless marriage to the man who aided her in her crimes. Now a penniless widow, she has sunk as low as could be and faces a life of poverty; prostitution being her only other option besides living on the street. Desperate to save herself, Davina makes one final attempt at forging a new life … by marriage to Rafe Rothwell.
A widower and father of three, Rafe has been looking for a wife ever since his first one perished. It’s too bad no one will have him, as he and his children (known notoriously as the Racous Rothwells) have a reputation for being difficult to manage. He’s long given up his search when Davina Keane appears at his door, seemingly prepared to take on the role. Though his needs are practical at first, Rafe finds himself faced with the truth: he wants more from her than just a manager of his home and hearth.
As an arrangement of convenience becomes something more, Davina is faced with the possibility of losing her husband over the truth of a past she kept secret when entering the marriage. Will love be enough to erase the mistakes of her past, or will they threaten to upend her newfound happiness?
“Things have been … difficult … since Hannah died.”
“Hannah was your wife?” she asked, curiosity rearing its head.
Rafe nodded. “Yes. Her death was unexpected and Beth was there when it happened. She saw far too much and it has not been easy for either of us.”
Davina felt her first twinge of pity for the girl. She had thought of her as a spoiled wretch, but perhaps she’d misjudged her. “Poor thing.”
Rafe sighed and lowered his head. “She blames me and I cannot hold that against her.”
Curiosity swelled and grew so swiftly, Davina forgot to be tactful. “What happened?”
She regretted it the instant the question had been asked, if for no other reason than the heartbreakingly agonized look on his face when he glanced up at her again. Her heart squeezed painfully for him and she reached out to touch his hand.
“Forgive me,” she said softly. “You do not have to answer that.”
He studied her intently, silently, his hand clenching tightly around hers.
“My husband died of pneumonia,” she blurted, for she could think of nothing else to say. “It was sudden and he went quickly. I hope you will not think me very bad for admitting that I did not grieve him. At least, not in the way a woman would be expected to grieve her husband. Our marriage was one of convenience and I did not love him. We did not even like each other very much.”
Rafe’s free hand came up to her face again and cupped her cheek. She sighed and leaned into it, puzzled at how such an innocent touch could spark such a fire in her core. His palm was against her cheek, his fingers entwined in his, their thighs just barely brushing. It felt like one of the most intimate moments of her life, yet it was one of the most non-sexual.
“I know that our circumstances are unusual,” he said, his breath warm on her cheek and his voice a low rumble between them, “but I would hope that we could be better than convenient. I would like it very much if we could strive to be friends.”
“Friends?” she murmured as butterflies beat their wings madly in her stomach. “Interesting. I’ve never been friends with a man before.”
He smiled and Davina found his face utterly transformed. Behind the scruff lining his jaws was a breathtaking visage. “There is a first time for everything,” he said.
She nodded. “I would like that too.”
Silence fell between them again and Rafe’s eyes slid down to her mouth and lingered there. On their own accord, her lips parted, her breath racing out between them uninhibited. In her former life, during a moment like this, she would have leaned a bit closer, lowering her eyelashes coquettishly and allowing the tip of her tongue to caress her lower lip in invitation. A practiced seductress would not hesitate to take what she wanted. Yet, now, all she could do was wait, her breath caught in her throat as Rafe leaned in toward her.
She sighed and he caught the sound, his lips pressing to hers so gently and quickly that Davina wasn’t sure at first that he’d kissed her. The brush of his mouth against hers lasted just as long as it took her to exhale, but, oh, it sent shivers down her spine. She closed her eyes and tilted her head, waiting for more, wanting it with a desperation that that caused her heart to pound violently in her chest.
His hand cupped the back of her head, fingers gripping the low knot at the nape of her neck as he angled her for better access. He swooped in, his lips firmer this time, more sure, the taste of him invading her senses as the scent of wood, leaves, leather, and man filled her nostrils. His kiss was achingly slow, tender and taunting, reducing her to near begging. She emitted a low sound at the back of her throat and arched toward him, desperate for contact, for his hands on her body.
Then, as suddenly as he’d kissed her, he backed away, shooting to his feet as if burned. Staring at him through a haze of desire, Davina hardly knew what had happened before he was gone. She was left alone, her lips tingling from the gentle caress of his mouth, her breasts heavy and full, her thighs clenched as the pulsating between them intensified.
Davina’s breath sawed rapidly in and out of her lungs as she fought for composure. Never had she become so aroused so quickly while still fully clothed. The kiss had been so chaste and sweet, not at all the sort of treatment she was used to. He’d kissed her as if trying to be cautious of her feelings, as if he were worried she wouldn’t want it. No man had ever shown her such respect or practiced such restraint. Men had never given to her. They took from her. She swallowed, her mouth gone dry as she watched him loping back toward the house, his back and shoulders rigid as he made his retreat.
Brow wrinkled in confusion, she did not try to follow him. Davina merely sat and wondered what on earth had just happened. Never had a man’s kiss shaken her so badly. She touched her fingertips to her mouth, her mind racing as she tried to decide if she appreciated the feeling or not. One thing was for sure; no man had ever run away from her. Even when they’d left, eventually they always did, she’d never wanted to go chasing after one as badly as she did now.
I am a woman with two jobs. My first job consists of taking care of home and family, which includes a busy Army husband, two rambunctious kids, and two very active dogs. When I’m not doing that I’m stretching the imagination with stories of people from all walks of life (and worlds) falling in love.
I love coffee, chocolate, music (listening and singing), shoes, jewelry, and food! I am always in the kitchen whipping up something new or watching the pros do it on TV.
Ms. Marion is giving away 5 eBook copies of The Mistress during the blitz.