Sin and Scandal in England
Avon Historical Romance
On Shelves October 2007
For Bethany Munro, gaiety and frivolity ended the moment Ian Rockwell walked through the
As if the winter snowstorm outside had swept into the glittering ballroom, a stir of cool,
speculative whispers preceded him, reaching those finding respite at the sumptuous buffet
table in the back of the crowded room. A scandal in black, his broad shoulders shaped by an
elegantly cut evening jacket, he walked with physical grace, a quick dimpled smile and that at
promise of sin prevalent in his eyes--a gaze reserved solely for the woman on his arm.
Champagne flute arrested against her lips, Bethany found her breathing constricted by a
tightly laced corset. Since venturing from secluded country life two years ago, she had learned
quickly enough the world was rife with temptation. It surrounded her, taunted her. Yet she
had never been tempted, for the carnal fantasy of only one man haunted her from the past and
seemed to frame her future. Now here he was with the beautiful widowed Countess Dermott
draped on his arm, the one man who had ruined all other men for her, cordially greeting their
host, casually stepping back into her life even as he did not know it yet. She watched as he
moved with a smooth urbanity, stopping occasionally to speak with people as he worked his
way across the room, a man comfortable amidst the aristocratic glamour of his wealthy
Bethany had not seen Ian in three years, and she had never expected to see him again. Her
blond hair perfectly coiffed; her blue azure silk and tulle gown nothing more than another
jewel amid a sea of rainbow-colored attire. She wondered, if he would recognize her in the
crowd, then her growing apprehension usurped the initial warmth she’d felt--because he was
really here at Whitley Court, a very dangerous place for them both, and the last place in the
world she wanted to encounter him.
Her awareness of him became so palpable that it seemed to stretch taut across the distance
separating them. Her heartbeat raced. She suddenly wanted to slip from the ballroom. Did she
dare? But as she considered the question, he suddenly looked across the ballroom directly at
She froze as rigid as the naked mermaid ice sculptures to her left and right. His eyes touched
and held her, only the merest hesitation in his sensual features, his face dark and intent. Then
the woman on his arm spoke to him and, just that quickly, the contact shattered.
He bent his leonine head to listen, his mouth widening into an easy smile, his handsome face
taking on a boyish cast in the warm glow of lamplight reflected in the golden tissue-draped
walls and ceiling of the ballroom--all as if the last ten seconds had not occurred, as if Bethany
had only imagined the touch of green fire in his eyes when they’d fallen on her.
Ian Rockwell had barely noticed she was alive.
Bethany felt a stab in her chest, yet despite herself, she made herself stand straight and tall
and wrapped herself in cool composure as if she had never laid her heart at his feet and he had
Charlene giggled close to her ear. The tip of her crimson lace fan strategically placed at her
chin shut Bethany’s mouth. “Don’t bother lusting after him, oh friend of mine,” she whispered.
Bethany and Charlene Dubois, her host’s daughter, had met at England’s Academic
Conservatory for Young Ladies two years ago. “As you can see, my Aunt Serena has taken Sir
Ian off the market.”
Bethany was astounded by an unfamiliar timidity and the growing tightness in her chest. Had
he been a “Sir” when she had known him? “I have no idea of whom you are speaking,” she
replied, snapping open her own fan.
As the orchestra opened another waltz, the final set for the evening, Ian escorted the exotic
Countess Dermott onto the floor. He seemed to tower over the dark-haired beauty. She was
not tall, so perhaps every man around her looked that much taller.
“Yes, you do.” Charlene laughed, the movement setting fire to the diamond necklace that lay
atop the pale shelf of her ample bosom. “He is quite wealthy, rich as Croesus they say,” she
added coyly. “My Aunt met him a few months ago at the home of a mutual acquaintance. It
would be a coup for Papa if Sir Ian should decide to join our organization. The Rockwells are
an established family.”
Charlene giggled, as if Bethany should already be privy to such local details when, in reality
she’d only arrived at Charlene’s home from the conservatory two weeks ago. “His family has
resided in these parts since the Vikings dominated this countryside. He is a bachelor again. His
wife passed away some years ago.”
Wife? Bethany’s heartbeat stumbled. “He was married? When?”
“Three or four years ago.” Charlene waved her plump hand dismissively as she turned her
focus to the banquet table. “Some whirlwind courtship and wedding that ended tragically. No
one really knows what happened.” She examined the creamed salmon and cucumber hors d’
oeuvres with the eye of a connoisseur. “Do you want one?”
Charlene plopped the cucumber wedge between her lips. “Sir Ian wasn’t married long enough
for him to bring his wife home. In fact, the prodigal son only just returned this fall. He has
been somewhat reclusive. Papa must have included him at the last moment. He isn’t on the
guest list.” Charlene turned the topic to the group of Italian gentlemen currently approaching
from the other end of the buffet table.
Outside the large windows, huge snow flakes had begun to crystallize against the glass as the
storm sweeping off the North Sea began to blanket the provincial estate in white. But inside,
the air was clement, nearly hot. Drink and food were liberally proffered to guests. Couples
filled the dance floor. Bethany sighed. Ian had been married and widowed since she’d fallen in
love with him those years ago.
As a handsome Italian count requested her hand in the waltz, she forced a smile, accepting his
invitation to dance as if she were an actress stepping into the part of a grand play. She danced
with an exuberance and a passion that extended to every corner of her life. Indeed, she never
did anything halfway. The world was her oyster and she was its pearl, she’d always told
herself, many times, as if saying it often enough would make her believe it was true. Perhaps
that had been her greatest fault. She put too much of herself into the act of living. People were
always telling her she worked too hard at making others see her, and now, when all she
wanted was to disappear into the tiny cracks in the floor, she felt as if a huge ball of light were
shining down on her, revealing her most embarrassing flaws.
“You are here for the two weeks?” her partner asked, sweeping her in a majestic circle to the
flowing strains of music.
The fragrance of his flowery cologne surrounded her in an altogether unpleasant way, but she
presented him with a distracted smile. “Yes. And you?” she asked, despite knowing he was.
She’d seen the exclusive invitation list and knew exactly who was invited to this event, which
was why Ian’s presence had caught her off her guard.
The count followed with a chat about the weather and other mundane topics that did not
require her full attention and enabled her to catch glimpses of Ian and the countess. “Yellow,”
the man said after another turn.
Yellow? She pulled herself out of her thoughts.
“I have seen you in London recently,” he said. “Some weeks ago, I believe. You were wearing
Something in his tone cooled her. “I haven’t been to London in months.”
“No?” He leaned back and considered her. “I am sure I saw you there. But I cannot put my
finger on where.”
She threw herself into the waltz, a fact noted by her partner for he pulled her nearer.
“And as I said, sir. You are mistaken. Miss Dubois and I were still at the conservatory where
we both lived until the break two weeks ago.”
“You are good friends with the viscount’s daughter?”
“We attend university together. Her father sponsors the science curriculum at the
“Ah, an enlightened woman,” he said, his dark eyes intent on her face. “It is odd to me that I
should find a woman with your, um, assets...unmarried.”
“My assets?” She feigned ignorance. “I am hardly wealthy. Certainly not as you are, sir.”
Pleased with her flattery, he tightened his hold. “You are very beautiful, Signorina Munro.”
Bethany traveled alone with her maid, and some men erroneously considered her easy
pickings. She spent the rest of the dance fending off the loquacious count, as he seemed bent
on seducing her. She suddenly wanted out of this room. She stepped on the man’s polished
shoes nearly causing him to trip, her usual glib riposte hidden in her apologetic smile. Oaf, she
thought, and couldn’t care less if this foreign lothario thought her ungainly and gauche.
The music concluded in a resounding crash of cymbals. The man, limping, escorted Bethany off
the floor back to the buffet table, with a flourish typical of every Italian she had ever met,
bowed over her gloved hand and quickly made his escape. Snapping open her fan, she
watched him move into the crush exiting the floor. Her eyes suddenly froze on the couple
standing just at the edge of the dance floor. Her pulse halted.
Bethany had stopped searching for Ian. Now without any effort at all, she stood less than
thirty feet from him, his tall form easily recognizable in the crowd. Her gaze rose from the
white-gloved hand intimately splayed on the woman’s small waist ...and collided with his eyes.
Her breath shuddered to a complete halt. Ian was watching her over Countess Dermott’s
diamond- sprinkled hair, his expression now devoid of polite mask as he raised a glass of wine
to his lips and sipped.
Bethany did not imagine the touch of green fire in his gaze, assessing her, closing the distance
between them, melting the years as if they were no longer part of the past. She felt that touch
deep within her like a bruise on bone.
They each looked away from the other at the same time. And, despite the initial shock and
illogic of her response, she felt something else, something familiar and very much alive.
Something that made her a little afraid. He not only knew who she was, but he was not
pleased to see her--anymore than she had been to see him.
She relaxed a little as another man stepped forward to claim her hand for the next waltz, until
she saw who it was.
Lord Whitley’s secretary and bodyguard, Sir John Howard, stood in front of her. If there was
any man present tonight that made her sick to her stomach, this was he.
Dressed much as Ian was in a formal jacket with tails, he might have been dashing if Bethany
had a penchant for older, slippery men who took advantage of younger women. “Miss
Munro,” he said. “I believe I am on your dance card.”
She had no dance card and didn’t pretend to be polite. He’d been watching her, she realized,
and not in the way one watches a woman he wishes to seduce. “My feet ache, Sir John. I have
finished waltzing for the night.”
She sidestepped him but he moved to block her exit, casually reaching across her for a
chocolate strawberry on the table. “I see you have taken note of the countess’s latest lover.”
He bit into the sweet fruit.
It was never a good sign to come under Sir John’s scrutiny, and, while his words bore a hint of
indifference, his eyes continued to study her. His conversation bothered her. Not because the
exchange was highly inappropriate, but because he had discovered her uncertainty with such
ease and would make her the insect in his petri dish.
“You believe they are not?” he asked.
She fixed her gaze on Sir John’s face. “Why would I take note of anyone Countess Dermott
considers her lover?”
Why would it matter to him what she thought?
“I see I have made you uncomfortable,” he conceded.
She smiled. “Not at all, Sir John.”
Uncomfortable was too mild a response for a man she suspected of being a cold-blooded
murderer. Without excusing herself, she swept past him and let herself vanish into the crowd.