10 Scandals Brewing with Ashley March
The Short & Sweet
The Short & Sweet
I was born and raised in East Texas, moved to Colorado after getting married eight years ago, and have been craving snow-free winters ever since. I have a husband who just keeps getting better and better over time and two beautiful daughters.
Life is simply…fantastic.
Background: This is a book I’m thinking about writing (haven’t decided yet) under my new pen name, Elise Rome. The idea came to me the other morning as I was waking up, and I thought it would be perfect for the scandal theme in the 12 Days of Christmas celebration.
At the beginning of this scene, the heroine, Evangeline, is escaping from a Christmas Eve ball to meet with the man she wishes to marry. She and Viscount Rathdowne were promised to others by their families, but they have set up a rendezvous in the garden where they plan to be caught. The betrothals will be broken as he is “forced” to marry her in order to salvage her reputation, and they will live happily ever after.
Unfortunately...neither of them counted on her close friend, Leo—who has reason to believe Rathdowne is a villain, and knows nothing of their plan—following Evangeline out to the garden to keep her from becoming victim to Rathdowne’s rakish tendencies.
The Winter Garden
by Ashley March
by Ashley March
Leo wasn’t deceived into believing that he was hidden among the shadows in the corner of the ballroom. With the covert glances he continued receiving from Lady Maddows and her daughter, he was very well aware they could see him.
He flashed the daughter a feral smile, and she rewarded him with her parted mouth and a gasp he imagined he could hear even halfway across the room. As she whirled to scamper off like a frightened kitten, Leo leaned back against the wall.
Ah, yes. Run, little one. Run far, far away from the villainous scoundrel.
His gaze shifted, idly observing the antics of the other guests. Odd how the shadows seemed more welcoming, as if he could mold himself into the darkness more easily now than he could the bright light of the chandeliers. He had no desire to step out and mingle; there was only one woman present tonight whom he could even bring himself to tolerate, and he’d already danced with her twice.
As if summoned by memory, Leo’s gaze was caught by the sight of Evangeline on the opposite side of the ballroom. He’d already complimented her on the emerald green hue of her dress to appease her feelings, and while she did look remarkably pretty tonight, his attention was more focused on the man standing at her side.
Leo’s thoughts turned black as he watched the two converse in between the movements of the dancers. They turned murderous when Rathdowne leaned in and—almost accidentally, it appeared—brushed his lips across Evangeline’s ear.
Where was her common sense, the practicality she took such pride in? Leo smiled grimly. He knew she wasn’t like one of the little fools who became such easy victims for Rathdowne’s predatory nature.
A better question—where was her fiancé?
He was the fool, wasn’t he, to return to his family’s estate instead of attending the Fairthorne ball. To allow Rathdowne near. The high and mighty in London might have claimed Leo’s soul was painted black for the things he had done in his past, but at least he didn’t go panting after another man’s betrothed…nor did he do so while his own betrothed stood talking to her mother a few lengths away.
Evangeline’s head was bent close to Rathdowne’s now, and Leo decided to corner her afterward to discover what she found so interesting about the man she should have despised. Then the two parted, Evangeline stepping back against the wall near the terrace, Rathdowne ambling away to plague someone else with his company, and Leo’s mood immediately lightened.
The curse came swift and low as he saw Evangeline—he assumed she thought her skills at stealth perfect—slip through the terrace door, out into the winter night. He tried to remind himself that his friend was an intelligent woman, capable of marvelous things and possessing a sharper mind than even his own, but the moment he turned his attention to Rathdowne and found the man’s gaze focused on the same terrace door, Leo doubted everything.
He moved quickly, striding around the room from wall to wall, staying among the shadows. He knew the house well enough that he soon escaped the ballroom and found another door to the terrace. He might wish to protect her, but it would do neither of them good if he were caught outside with her instead of Rathdowne.
The cold air bit at his skin as soon as he stepped outside. Even the snow held a layer of frost, glittering with a million stars beneath the moonlight, and he had to duck his head to avoid the threat of icicles hanging from the low eaves above. Leo reconsidered his opinion of Evangeline; perhaps she was a fool, after all. At least he wore an evening jacket, but she only had two scraps of cloth clinging to the edges of her shoulders to serve as sleeves.
His feet crunched in the snow, and she whirled toward him as he approached. He tried not to take offense when her obvious anticipation dimmed to disappointment, but he did.
She clutched her arms with her hands and frowned.
He tried not to notice her shivering. If he offered her his jacket, she would be less inclined to return into the heated house by his side.
As was their way, an entire conversation was exchanged silently—no words needed. She’d never learned the trick of hiding her thoughts from the canvas of her expression, and she was too damned quick, able to guess what he was thinking before he even uttered a syllable.
Of course, he hadn’t made much of an effort to wipe the glower from his face, either. “Rathdowne, Evangeline?”
She scowled in response, but otherwise made no reply.
“What of your betrothal? Your upcoming nuptials?” He slowed his voice, allowing his speech to crawl to such a pace that she couldn’t possibly ignore his emphasis on the last word of each sentence.
She turned her back. A fog of air appeared as she said, “G-go away.” Her teeth had begun to chatter.
“I wish you to come inside with me.”
“I don’t want him to find you here. Please, Leo.”
It wasn’t her plea that swayed him, but the realization that if he had seen her leave the ballroom, anyone might have as well. And if Rathdowne were stupid enough to leave through the same door as she had—and Leo was not an optimistic man concerning the topic of Rathdowne’s intelligence—someone would likely draw the correct conclusion.
“Very well,” he said, then cursed for effect. “Do as you wish.”
He waited a moment, to see if she would change her mind. But she didn’t. She didn’t even look at him. He could only see the white curve of her cheek as she stood facing away, the trembling of her body as she waited for her future lover to appear.
Leo spun on his heel, being sure to make enough noise for her to hear him walking away.
When Gabriel finally approached from the ballroom, Evangeline couldn’t feel the tips of her fingers or her nose. It was worth it, though, to be able to marry the man she loved.
He stopped in the shadows a few feet away and opened his arms, and though her legs from her knees downward had turned numb five minutes ago, she ran to him. It seemed a thousand nights had passed since they’d first begun planning this moment.
His arms wrapped around her tightly, drawing her into his warmth, and she buried her face in his chest, wishing she could smell his familiar, beloved scent. But her nose was frozen, and all she could smell was the cold.
His hand touched her nape, urging her face to lift, and—because this was the end of their hopelessness, because this was the beginning of their future—it felt like their first kiss. As his mouth met and slowly parted hers, she clung to his jacket, frantic for the heat of his lips to thaw her own.
In this winter garden time stood still. He had told her he would make it obvious when he left the ballroom to go outside, to be sure he aroused curiosity, but even if they had to wait half an hour or more for one of her siblings to come searching for her, she wouldn’t mind.
He was hers.
Soon, she would be his.
And then she gasped as his tongue touched hers. A first kiss, and better than any yet before. Joy flooded her blood, pounded in her ears along with her heartbeat, heated every inch of skin which had just moments before been stiff and tight with chill.
Perhaps it was this joy that distracted her, that kept her from being prepared for getting caught—for when Gabriel suddenly broke apart from her and she saw her eldest brother and his wife standing a few feet away, she was completely taken by surprise. Dazed from the effects of his passion.
Gabriel must have been surprised, too, for he cursed beneath his breath.
Behind her brother and sister-in-law, more faces began to appear.
“What the hell is going on?” her brother demanded. “I hope to God that kiss was worthy, Evangeline, because now you must marry him. Who is he?”
She smiled and reached forward to take his hand, looking up into his face in the shadows.
And then a voice she knew well, a voice whose echoes she had carried around in her heart for so long, spoke grimly beyond her brother’s shoulder. “I’d like to know as well. Who is he, Evangeline?”
Her heart actually ceased beating at the sound of Gabriel’s voice, and she dropped the man’s hand as if he’d stung her. “No—” she began, then stopped herself. She wouldn’t give into hysterics, no matter how she wished to back away and shake her head violently, to insist that it had all been a mistake.
The man didn’t allow her to do such a thing, regardless. With a heavy breath, his hand took hers again and together they stepped out of the shadows.
This time her heart didn’t stop, but raced as if it meant to explode from her chest.
Leo looked down at her and smiled—that smile she’d understood since they were children, the one that meant he’d rather be anywhere else in the world but here. “Why, it’s me, of course. Who else did you suppose it could be?”
###Sebastian Madinger, the Earl of Wriothesly, thought he'd married the perfect woman-until a fatal accident revealed her betrayal with his best friend. After their deaths, Sebastian is determined to avoid a scandal for the sake of his son. But his best friend's widow is just as determined to cast her mourning veil aside by hosting a party that will surely destroy both their reputations and expose all of his carefully kept secrets...
Want some more of Ashley March's work?
Want some more of Ashley March's work?
Leah George has carried the painful knowledge of her husband's affair for almost a year. All she wants now is to enjoy her independence and make a new life for herself-even if that means being ostracized by the Society whose rules she was raised to obey. Now that the rumors are flying, there's only one thing left for Sebastian to do: silence the scandal by enticing the improper widow into becoming a proper wife. But when it comes to matters of the heart, neither Sebastian nor Leah is prepared for the passion they discover in each other's arms....
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Ashley March has generously offered a copy of her sophmore release, Romancing the Countess, to 1 lucky commenter! (Open Internationally) Just make sure to leave a comment and fill out the raffle copter form below!
Don't Forget to head over to Ramblings From This Chick and read Robyn DeHart's special holiday scene (plus ener her giveaway)
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Good Luck everyone and Happy Holidays!