The Lady and the Libertine
A handsome English earl desires to seduce a virginal beauty in order to steal the vast treasure she guards in Egypt.
Anne Mitchell, born illegitimate and raised in a workhouse, sold by her mother and packed off by her father to the East, had every reason to lose faith. But in Egypt she found identity with the Khamsin, a tribe of Bedouin warriors. Greater even than the secret they entrusted to her was her newfound honor, and for that she would give all.
Nigel Wallenford was an earl. He was also a thief, a liar and a libertine. Regaining his birthright of Claradon had been a start. Next he required wealth, and he knew of just the fabled treasure…and its key’s guardian was a ripe fig waiting to be plucked. Never before had he scrupled to cheat, steal or even murder. One displaced Englishwoman, no matter how fair, would hardly be his match.
Four stars from RT magazine
"An exotic backdrop sets the stage for Vanak's newest novel. With a few twists, she combines an English lord, scarred in body and soul; an illegitimate young Englishwoman; a ruby and enough adventure, pathos, secrets and betrayal to keep you turning the pages of this sexually charged romance.
Summary: Lord Nigel Wallenford, Earl of Claradon, is a thief, a liar and a scoundrel. He's also in need of a great deal of money. Anne Mitchell began her young life in a workhouse in England. Sent to Egypt by her father, she is now known as Karida, guardian of a ruby that is the key to a sacred treasure -- a ruby that Nigel is intent on stealing.
Fate takes them on a journey filled with great passion, secrets, betrayal and danger. Though Nigel fights his feelings for Anne, she is determined to help him overcome the demons that torment him. Can she teach him to unlock his heart, to love and prove that she will always be his?"
Four and a half clovers from C2K KWIPS AND KRITIQUES
"Nigel Wallenford’s reputation of being an incorrigible thief, libertine, and liar was clearly shown right from the very beginning of this book and it appears he is not ready to redeem himself. Nigel needs money and if he must steal from an innocent in order to achieve his aims, he would.
Anne Mitchell, was born illegitimate; raised in a workhouse; sold by her mother; then packed off by her father to the East. Living with the Khamsin, Anne was known as Karida and was adopted and loved by new parents. Not until she was entrusted with a great secret did she find the one thing she could call her own – honor and belief in herself. But would her new found passion for Nigel destroy what she cherished or give her the happiness she had long yearned for?
Award winning author Bonnie Vanak continues her fascinating Egyptian series with her seventh book featuring the disreputable and notorious twin brother of the hero from THE SCORPION AND THE SEDUCER. Vanak showed Nigel to be a truly disreputable human being giving a complete picture as to how he wound up being the way he was. His childhood and the treatment from parents who should have shown him love, rather than disdain was carefully woven into the storyline so that the reader could easily feel empathy towards him and rejoice when the love and acceptance from Karida helped him to rediscover his good side and overcome his own feelings of inadequacy.
As always, Vanak creates her romantic scenes with daring sensuality and the intimate scenes between Nigel and Karida were no exception. Especially well done was the initial scene when Karida revealed the burn scars received during her childhood after falling into a fire. Vanak has a knack for creating strong , imperfect heroines and her characterization of Karida bears witness to her genius in giving life to her unforgettable characters.
The author kept the non-stop action perfectly paced and flowing well along with the suspense of whether Nigel would or could change his wicked ways and become a better man. Vanak also includes a scrupulously good amount of historical research making this series as well as this installment a highly entertaining and recommended read."-Marilyn Rondeau
Copyright 2009 by Bonnie Vanak
Khamsin camp, Eastern desert of Egypt, 1908
He would not be the virile groom tenderly deflowering her on their wedding night.
He would never cause a sigh a passion to wring from her slender throat as he caressed her virgin breasts, now hidden beneath the modest white kuftan.
The sparkling ruby dangling between them stood out like a blood droplet against a snowy bank. His hands, accustomed to stroking the skin of whores, were not worthy of touching her. They were, however, quite capable of stealing the ruby, as they had swiped other priceless Egyptian antiquities.
Crouched beneath the shade of a cigar- shaped ben- tree, Nigel Wallenford, rightful earl of Claradon, studied his prey as he clutched an oily rifle in his sweating palms. The silent woman picked up scattered seeds on the ground. Karida was her name. She guarded the ruby he needed to complete the key and locate the trea sure of the sleeping golden mummies.
All week, during his visit here on the pretext of buying Arabian mares, he’d heard her relatives praise her virtue and honor as if she were not a living, breathing woman but a limestone statue. Nigel wouldn’t have cared if she was as corrupt as he; he cared only about the ruby.
Ben- trees, acacia trees, and yellow- green plants peppered the water source near the Khamsin camp. The burning yellow sun played off jagged mountain peaks and peach- colored hills of sandstone. A cooling breeze chased away the sultry afternoon heat shimmering off the tawny sands. Black mountains and endless desert ringed this part of Egypt’s eastern desert.
Jabari bin Tarik Hassid, the Khamsin sheikh, thought Nigel was currently at the water source to kill desert hares, but he had chosen the spot to pursue Karida. Each afternoon since his arrival, she came here to gather seeds. Like a good hunter, he’d learned her habits, knew her movements. Like a hare struck down by a bullet, Karida would never know what hit her.
The ruby would soon be his.
Karida kept stealing glances at him. Her face, hidden by a half- veil out of courtesy to the visiting al Assayra tribesmen, was expressionless.
A good hunter knew how to disarm his prey, make them feel false security. Nigel set down the rifle and offered his most charming smile. He gestured to the bullet- hard seeds she dropped into her goatskin bag but kept his gaze centered on the ruby. His fingers itched to swipe the stone. Soon.
“Are those for eating?”
Karida blinked, as if startled to hear a human voice. “Samna. Cooking oil.”
Like her Uncle Ramses and the rest of her family, she spoke perfect English. Yet her accent was odd, as if she’d lived somewhere other than here in Egypt.
“I’m marrying tonight. This will be my last time gathering the seeds.” She gave a little sigh, as if pondering her fate.
“Do you love him?’ Nigel blurted, then could have kicked himself. A rude question. But he was a foreigner; maybe she’d forgive him.
“I do not know him.” Karida gave a little laugh, as sweet and musical as the jingling of gold bracelets. “I was informed I was chosen as a bride, but I don’t know who has chosen me. All the al Assayra warriors are honorable and noble, however, and so my husband will be.” Her large, golden- brown eyes, so exotic and mysterious, seemed to pierce him. “He will never lie to me or steal, and he will be admirable all his days.”
Nigel stared at Karida in sudden bleakness, feeling the shadows of old ghosts smother him. She was so damn perfect, an angel compared to the demon lurking inside him. His gaze dropped to his hands, and he rubbed them violently against his khaki trousers, knowing he wasn’t fit to touch her.
You would never marry me. I can’t father your children. My own sire lied about my birthright because I was sterile, and though I was older, I could not give him an heir like my twin brother. I wouldn’t give you my heart, but I could steal away yours.
Or worse. I could kill you.
Screams echoed down a rocky mountainside in Nigel’s mind, then silence. Nigel tensed against the memory, guilt swallowing his soul until nothing remained but an inky darkness. He could just shoot Karida, take the damn stone, and leave her corpse here, festering in the blistering heat. One more crime to add to his list.
She glided over to a small brown rock to pluck out the few seeds scattered there. Each movement held an inborn grace. As sinuous as a serpent, so lovely. Unlike Nigel, Karida was not scarred from painful surgeries to fix an arm that would never work quite right. Her skin was flawless, her body smooth and unmarked.
Her exotic gaze centered on him as she straightened. “You won’t see many hares at this time. It’s too hot. Like the scorpions and the vipers, they like to hide.”
“Like Englishmen should,” he joked. “Ground’s hot enough to poach an egg.”
His gaze dropped to her feet, and he wondered if her toes and ankles were as perfect as the rest of her. Fabric billowed in a sudden gust of wind as the gods answered his prayers, revealing a flash of shapely ankles and well- shaped feet in silver sandals. Nigel licked his lips, imagining his fingers stroking her delicate skin and tickling her toes.
As she moved toward the tree, his eyes caught a sudden movement in the rocky sand. “Christ, watch out!” he yelled.
He raced forward, hooked an arm about her waist, swept her off her feet, and waltzed her away as if they were dancing in a ballroom. The goatskin bag tumbled from her fingers and fell to the ground with a smack just as the viper’s head emerged from its sandy nest. Fangs struck the bag instead of her ankle.
Trembling, she remained in his embrace. Nigel became aware of those soft breasts pressed against his chest, the rapid pounding of her heart. A fragrance of orange blossoms and almonds filled his nostrils. For a wild moment, he wanted to rest his cheek against the top of the scarf covering her head and stay there, holding her in his arms.
Reluctantly he set her down and turned, watching the snake disturbed from its afternoon nap. He hunted for a rock to kill it.
Karida handed Nigel a nearby stick he’d seen the Khamsin use for shaking acacia leaves loose to feed their camels and sheep. He grasped it, and his fingers tentatively brushed hers.
Nigel trembled violently at the sizzling contact. Drawing in a sharp breath, he curtly told her to stand back.
He lifted the sturdy pole to strike the viper. It lifted its head and, for a moment, its cold, beady gaze seemed to reflect the blackness inside him. Then Nigel struck. Again and again he beat the snake, even after it lay motionless on the ground. Blow after blow, the misery and self- loathing inside him exploded like gunpowder.
A gentle hand tugging on his jacket sleeve caused him to stop. “That’s enough, Thomas. I think it’s past dead.”
Her gentle, teasing tone caught him off guard, almost as much as her use of his false name. Nigel tossed away the stick and turned to stare at her. Dryness filled his mouth.
Bloody hell, she was beautiful. Pure as polished ivory. Radiant as the sun. His gaze dropped to his hands. Hands that killed more than just snakes. Nigel scrubbed them against his trousers.
“Are you all right?” he asked hoarsely.
Karida gave a little nod. She stared back with frank interest.
Rapt, he leaned forward. Was it his imagination, a trick of fading sunlight, or did her eyes widen as if she liked what she saw and wanted him as well?
His pulse quickened. Nigel wished he could see more of her face. Was her mouth thin and flat? Did she have a wart on her nose? The flimsy veil was a fabric barrier between his curiosity and answers.
Take it off, he silently ordered. He began chanting in his mind: Take it off.
Karida unhooked the veil and let the fabric flutter down.
Breath hitched in Nigel’s throat.
Good God. No warts. Nothing but honey- toned smooth skin, a face sculpted by the Egyptian goddess Isis herself. A pert nose, full lips in a cupid’s bow, elegant cheekbones, and the most startling caramel eyes he’d ever seen. As her long fingers smoothed over her cheek and she tilted her head, he watched with rapt fascination. Such grace. Her every movement was elegant as an ibis taking flight.
His gaze fell to her rounded chin that nonetheless hinted of stubborn pride. The contrast between her graceful femininity and the arrogance of that little chin stirred his blood. She looked like a fighter. He wondered if she would prove such in bed, wrapping her limbs about his hips as he drove into her, nails raking down his back as she hissed and bit in a fury of desperate need.
Blood surged hotly through his veins as he indulged this wild imagining. She was his bride and, on their wedding night, she shyly removed her robes to bare her lovely body for his pleasure.
Nigel’s lids lowered, and he daydreamed about cupping her breasts with absolute reverence, their heaviness resting in his palms as he gently kneaded, showering her with tender, adoring kisses. Making love to her through the night, he coaxed shrill cries of pleasure from those rose- red lips, waking up to her in the morning and knowing she was exclusively his, that he’d forever marked her with his passion and she’d never forget him . . . even though he was a lying dog and she was a beautiful princess.
He shook free of the daydream as she reattached her veil. He turned away, knowing she was a woman of honor bound to marry a man of honor. A sweet innocent like Karida would never lower herself to be with him. The women in his bed were always whores, or liars just like him.
His gaze dropped to his thieving fingers. It was time to do what he must. He was in desperate need of money.
In a desert cave was locked a map leading to stolen treasure as vast as King Solomon’s. Nigel had the scorpion charm and needed only the ruby, the missing stone atop the stinger, to acquire the map. He soon would return to En gland, find proof he was the true heir, and drop this absurd masquerade as his twin; the title would be his, the earldom of Claradon, and afterward he’d seek the treasure and become wealthier than the pharaohs.
Tension knotted his stomach as he remembered a hopeful, gaunt face waiting for him in England. Little hands, calloused and scarred by hard labor, eyes far too sad. Damn it all, he was a sinner, not a saint, but he’d get that gold and for once in his miserable life do something right.
Karida had turned to retrieve her dropped goatskin bag.
Nigel fished in his pocket for the fake necklace that would replace the treasure around her slender neck. He swallowed hard, but his hand shook violently as he reached out to her.
Silently, he cursed. Just do it, damn it.