England's prisons can make a man bitter. Betrayal can make him merciless.
Falsely accused of murder and left to rot in England's infamous prison system, Ryder Braddock, Viscount Blackwood, is finally proven innocent. He returns to his estate a changed, embittered man with a craving for opium and an unwanted wife. Determined to see this complete stranger pay for her trickery--no matter how beautiful she is--he threatens her with arrest... after he enjoys his conjugal rights.
Jessie's husband has come home. Brutalized by her stepfather into marrying the dangerous convict and opium-eater, she soon discovers he is far from the criminal she'd imagined as she helps him through opium withdrawal. And she quickly discovers the only thing truly in danger is her heart.
With Jessie's help, Ryder frees himself from the drug, only to find it replaced with a new compulsion--an insatiable need for his wife.
The book has been previously published but expanded for Samhain.
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November 01, 2007
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Excerpt from The Viscount's Addiction by Scottie Barrett
Jessie avoided the crumbling, second step of the stairway then leaped over the puddles gathering in the large fissures in the stoop. The front door, which had once been a mahogany masterpiece, stood slightly ajar. She hesitated a moment then assured herself that the wind had blown it open before stepping inside. The flickering light cast all the usual familiar patterns onto the peeling paint of the entrance hall. Suddenly, her shadow was joined by another, far more menacing silhouette. The breath froze in her throat.
"Who the hell are you?" a deep voice rumbled behind her.
Shivering now from fear and not the cold, she willed herself to turn around. A tall, hulking figure stood in the open doorway. The wind splattered rain onto the tile floor around his booted feet. He kicked the door shut as he moved toward her. He covered her mouth roughly with his hand, squelching her scream. Through her parted lips, she could taste the warm flesh of his palm.
The candles provided only pockets of light in the huge hall, yet she could tell his eyes were a rare blue, a blue that verged on violet. They stared at her from beneath the sopping brim of his hat. "I'm going to remove my hand, and then you are going to tell me what you are doing in my house."
He released her and leaned back, propping himself against the wall. His impossibly thick lashes lowered. He looked as if he'd fallen instantly asleep. She no longer felt the urge to scream. The man's misery was palpable. And even with the bruised dark hollows beneath his eyes and the pallor of his skin, she could not help noticing how handsome he was.
"I assure you, sir, you have most definitely lost your way," she said, speaking gently as if he were a wounded beast. She moved to the door and took hold of the latch. She opened the door, desperate to have him out. "You see, this is my home. I am Lady Blackwood." She instantly regretted having told this intimidating stranger her identity.
His lashes fluttered upward, and it took a moment for his eyes to focus. He cocked one black eyebrow in question. "Very amusing," he drawled. His eyes drifted shut again. She watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard. "Now, if you would be so kind as to summon Henry and that bastard of a son of his to come and help me to my room, I would appreciate..." His voice trailed off as he slid down the wall.
Jessie stepped carefully over his lifeless form before racing into the parlor.
Lewis slept slouched in the big chair before a dying fire. His chin was pressed into his chest. A thin thread of drool trickled from the corner of his mouth.
"Lewis," she said and gave his arm a pinch. She wrinkled her nose at the sour smell of alcohol. He blinked several times before seeming to register her presence.
"What the devil?"
"There's an intruder--a madman--in the entrance hall. With shoulders like this." She spread her hands wide apart. "Ghostly pale. Unusual eyes--tinged with violet."
With a frown, he swiped a hand across his mouth. "You've let a madman inside, and you're cataloging his attributes." With a groan, he slung his legs off the ottoman. "Violet eyes?"
She was sure she heard a quiver in his voice. "Yes. They are absolutely beautiful." She prodded him to stand up. "He claims this is his house."
The color drained from his cheeks. "It's Blackwood. Damn it to hell. Has he escaped?"
She swallowed hard. Sprawled across the marble floor was the man who Lewis often gloated was imprisoned for life. "I fear there is something wrong with him. He collapsed."
The man still lay where she'd left him. They peered down at him. He looked dangerous even in his inert state. Fear made her clutch at Lewis's coat. Lewis leaned over, lifted the man's arm and let it drop hard to the floor. There was only the tiniest quiver of the man's eyelids. The viciousness of Lewis's action made her release her hold on his coat.
"Dead drunk," he sneered. He moved to the man's feet and took hold of his ankles. He grunted with effort as he tugged him a couple of inches toward the door. "Help me get the whoreson outside."
"There's a storm. He's soaked through already. He'll catch his death."
"Would you rather have a convicted murderer waking up in your home?"
"Whatever else he may be, he is your cousin," she reminded him.
"And your husband," he said with a nasty chuckle. She shuddered at the thought.
Lewis purposely knocked him against the doorjamb on the way to the parlor. Unable to lift him onto the settee, they were forced to leave him on the parlor rug. Breathing hard, Lewis plunked himself onto the settee. Jessie put her hands to her back and stretched. The man was huge.
Noticing that he'd begun to shiver, she fed the meager fire. If he was truly Lord Blackwood, why the perplexed look when she'd told him her name? According to her stepfather, Lord Blackwood had arranged it all. She had been told that he'd eagerly signed the marriage certificate to protect the estate, to make certain it would remain in safe hands while he was in prison.
"I'm off to tell Father. I pray he's lucid. I do not want to handle this alone," Lewis said and heaved himself off the couch. "If it weren't for the drenching rain, I'd go out and get the constable tonight. Have him manacled and returned to prison. Perhaps they will hang him this time and be done with it."
True to his self-serving nature, Lewis thought nothing of leaving her alone with this formidable stranger. "Fetch some blankets," she called after him.
She fell to her knees beside the shivering man. Using all of her strength, she rolled him to his side and pulled on the sleeve of his rough woolen coat. Nearly panting from the effort, she finally removed the coat. She was about to toss it aside when he seized her wrist. She gasped at both the suddenness and the pain of his grip.
"Give me that," he said. His voice was low and rough.
Fear stole her breath and set her heart racing. He had enough strength in one of his big hands to snap her neck. She uncurled her fingers and dropped the jacket onto his chest. He released her wrist and, although barely conscious, fished through his pockets and retrieved a small druggist bottle labeled laudanum. After removing the cork, he dribbled some of the elixir between his lips. Though his hands trembled, he put the stopper in the bottle with care as though he were capping liquid gold. He replaced the bottle in the pocket and there was the sound of glass clinking against glass. Jessie wondered if his pockets were filled with goods from the apothecary. He folded the wet coat and trapped it beneath his head. His eyes drifted shut. Apparently, now that he'd had his dose of opium he was perfectly indifferent to the possibility of freezing to death in his soaked clothing.
Her first wifely duty, it seemed, was to undress her husband, though she'd always envisioned performing the task under more romantic circumstances. As she brushed his long wet hair back from his temple, Jessie could see he had the type of face that could steal a woman's breath away.
She tried to forget how handsome he was as she concentrated on removing his shirt. His body felt hard through the linen fabric. She blinked a few times at the musculature she exposed. He was built like an underfed gladiator. It seemed a muscular strength built from hard labor, not from nourishment. She traced her fingers over the scars that marred the sleek skin of his chest. A particularly wicked scar scored the skin beneath his ribcage. With a shudder, she daringly ran her fingers along it.