An Unexpected Temptation
by Sophie Barnes
Publication Date: December 8, 2020
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance
No other woman compares…
Six years ago, Athena Townsbridge broke up a wedding. This worked out well for her brother and the lady he loved, but Athena has never forgiven herself for what it did to Robert Carlisle. No one has seen him since he fled the church in humiliation, so when she learns of his estate’s proximity to the property she is staying at during a family visit, she sets out, determined to make amends.
When Robert, Marquess of Darlington, is reunited with Athena, she’s no longer the troublesome girl he remembers, but rather a fully grown woman. Trapped with her when a blizzard sets in, he rediscovers her playful side, the laughter and joy she can bring to his life. But it is her willful nature that tempts him, both with the need to tame her and with the dream of making her his.
Athena’s hand shook in response to the name. Hot tea fell against her thigh. Robert Carlisle had been the Earl of Langdon when she’d last seen him. Although things had ended badly between them, she’d been sorry to hear of his father’s passing. Athena darted a look in Charles’s direction. He and Bethany had both gone utterly still.
“I forgot he had property in this area,” Athena’s father finally said.
“I’ve not spoken to him in six years. Not since I left him at that inn where I found him after…” Charles cleared his throat and clasped his wife’s hand.
Athena returned her teacup to its saucer with a clatter. “I should like a chance to apologize to him.”
“No.” The word was unanimously spoken by her parents and siblings alike.
“Darlington was furious after what happened.” Charles’s voice was strained with regret. “He made it very clear to me there was nothing more to be said between us.”
“Nevertheless, I would like a chance to explain myself to him directly.” What she was truly after was his forgiveness. Darlington had been Charles’s friend. She’d known him most of her life and while he’d been wrong for Bethany, she could not deny the guilt she still felt over how she’d upended his life. “It would mean a great deal.”
“I’m sorry,” Charles said. A brief silence followed before he confessed. “I made repeated attempts to apologize to him on all our behalves. I wrote him letters, Athena, and he responded once, in a manner I cannot repeat with ladies present. His words were extremely harsh, especially those directed at you. And while I’ve no doubt he was foxed beyond reason when he penned the missive, I cannot excuse such behavior.”
“Not even when we are the ones who drove him to it?” Athena asked. She held Charles’s gaze. “Out of everyone who has criticized me over the years for the part I played in your marriage to Bethany, he is the one with the most right.”
“You’re not wrong,” Athena’s father said, “but there are instances when it is wisest to leave the past alone and move on. It is my opinion that this is such an instance. Our goal right now is to see you settled, not to ruin your chances further by reminding everyone of what happened, and yes, they will be reminded the moment they see you and Darlington in the same room.”
“So then I gather we ought to avoid a ball?” Lady Foxborough asked.
“What about the dance at the assembly hall?” Bethany asked. “Is there any chance Darlington might show up there?”
“No,” Lady Foxborough said. “The marquess, as I understand it, does not go out at all.”
“So then?” Athena prompted. “Why not invite him if you know he’ll stay away.”
“I fear he would not.” Lady Foxborough reached for her teacup while Athena tried to make sense of what she was being told. “The assembly hall functions are free from obligation, but if we, the Marquess and Marchioness of Foxborough, were to ask another peer to join us for a formal event, I believe he would feel duty-bound to attend, so as not to cause offense.”
Athena sank back against the sofa with a sigh. What foolish nonsense. The Foxboroughs could not host a ball because to do so they would have to invite a man who did not wish to attend but would have to do so simply for the sake of appeasing a group of people who did not want him there. Once again, she was reminded of how ridiculous Society was.
She glanced at the beveled glass windows, wet with rain. For six years she’d dreamed of running into Darlington, of voicing her regrets and wishing him well. In all her imaginings, he’d refuse to listen at first, but would relent when she persisted. Eventually, he’d tell her he understood, that it was all right, and that what had happened was for the best.
The only problem was, the marquess had cut all ties with her family and remained absent from Town. She’d had no chance to approach him – no opportunity to make amends. Until now.
Her pulse quickened. She wondered how far away his estate might be. If the Foxboroughs felt they had to invite him to an evening affair in the winter, he must be quite close – at least within an hour’s drive by carriage. Pressing her lips together, she considered those around her. None would provide her with the directions she required.
Perhaps it was just as well. Athena picked up a biscuit and bit into it with a sigh. She knew herself well enough to realize it was probably a foolish idea – the sort of idea best scrapped before it fully formed and began to grow roots in her brain.
But when she got up the following morning after a restless night of contemplation, she accepted what had to be done. If she was to find true happiness, she would have to make peace with the man she’d hurt. It was the only way forward.
About Sophie Barnes
Born in Denmark, USA TODAY bestselling author Sophie Barnes spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish, and Romanian with varying degrees of fluency. But, most impressive of all, she’s been married to the same man three times—in three different countries and in three different dresses.
When she’s not busy dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading.