|juliaross.net Games of Pleasure|
Games of Pleasure
(Originally published in Berkley Trade paperback ISBN 0-425-20565-7)
Resissued in Berkley mass market paperback ISBN 978-0-425-20730-7)
Romantic Times "Top Pick"
A powerful Regency-set historical romance
|E-book coming!||The second book in the Wyldshay trilogy|
Romantic Times: (Four1/2 Stars Exceptional) TOP PICK
“Carefully constructed and beautifully written with intelligent characters ... clever plotting, smoldering passion and an insightful glimpse into the human heart, this book is one of Ross's finest novels. You'll be captivated from page one."
RomanceJunkies.com: Five Blue Ribbons
“(with) tenderness and sexiness that is just unbeatable ... strong, passionate characters, and the storyline is rich and intriguing ... it is easy to see why Julia Ross is a bestselling author.”
“The journey is intriguing, sometimes dangerous, and filled with all the lush sensuality Ross’s readers have come to expect. A resourceful heroine with a past and an honorable, complex hero who is trying to avoid his proscribed future find passion and an unexpected destiny in this emotionally involving story.”
Historical Romance Reviews:
“A fast-paced and dramatic romance. Both protagonists have an intriguing blend of worldliness and innocence…. You will find yourself riveted to see how this lovely but mismatched pair of lovers find their way together.”
Romance Reviews Today: “Another winner.”
“GAMES OF PLEASURE is the kind of book one can sink into and enter the hearts and minds of the hero and heroine to experience their joys and sorrows, their pain and pleasure, their fears and triumphs, side-by-side with them. Ryder and Miracle gain immediate sympathy for themselves and their plight... While intensely character driven, GAMES OF PLEASURE also chronicles a suspenseful plot with a dangerous villain to avoid and a mystery to solve ... replete with wit and sensuality. Historical romance fans can count on Julia Ross to present novels full of romance and excitement, telling prose and engaging dialogue, and soul deep characterization. GAMES OF PLEASURE is another winner.”
Plot SummaryThe Heir to Wyldshay
Desired, envied, intimidating, only his handful of real friends know him as Ryder: Lord Ryderbourne, heir of the Duke of Blackdown. Power, wealth, and duty define his life. Yet Ryder's younger brother, Jack, has adventured to the ends of the earth, while Ryder stayed home to take care of the family estates at Wyldshay Castle in Dorset. Why shouldn't Ryder cure his own restlessness by flirting one last time with danger?
She's beautiful, seductive, and almost naked, and someone has cast her adrift in a dinghy. She's in danger of drowning, when Ryder plunges into the sea to rescue her. Unfortunately, Miracle Heather doesn't wish to be rescued, especially by the most darkly handsome and eligible bachelor in Regency England.
Any gentleman would insist on helping a damsel in distress, but Miracle is no ordinary damsel and she's hiding a terrible secret. Yet she must allow Ryder to wrap her in his cloak and carry her off to a nearby inn. Yet when he won't let her leave unless she tells him who abandoned her to die, she knows of only one way to distract his insistence on honor: in bed.
Games of Pleasure
Ryder may be easy enough to seduce, but, alas, duke's sons aren't so easy to abandon! When Miracle escapes him, Ryder comes after her. They make a pact to adventure through England together, traveling on the byways until Heather can find safety. Yet safety is not what awaits them. Can a man of honor and a lady of the night defeat both their enemies and their own scruples to forge a lasting new way to love?
As the book opens, we meet Lord Ryderbourne, eldest son of the Duke of Blackdown, riding his horse along the cliff path in Dorset on the south coast of England.
It's 1828, and Ryder's offer of marriage to an eligible young lady has just been turned down:
It was, he supposed, a serious shock to his confidence.
Not to his position in the world, of course. To his faith in himself.
The sensation was both unwelcome and novel. It left him feeling oddly vulnerable, to which the best answer was righteous resentment. Any insult to the male heart fuels only anger.
Drizzle wet his face. The ground was getting slick. Just ahead, part of the road surface had fallen away, carried down with the collapsing cliffs toward the sea by a landslide the previous winter. The local people had beaten a new track across the tumbled earth and another, narrower path down through the uprooted trees to the beach, but no wagon or carriage could pass this way any longer.
He slowed his horse, then stopped to gaze out over the bay. Clouds gathered on the horizon. Jade-shadowed breakers shattered white against the broken rocks of the headland.
Something bobbed, appearing and disappearing among the swells.
Ryder shaded his eyes. A scrap of wreckage, perhaps? Whatever it was, it had vanished.
He took a deep breath. Salt air filled his lungs. Rollers surged up the Channel. Spume splattered onto cliffs. Waves dashed and sucked on the shingle far below.
He loved this land. He loved Wyldshay, his ancestral home, his joy, his burden. He loved his family. His father, the aging duke, who delegated more and more responsibility to his elder son. His mother, brilliant and demanding and a light in society. His sisters, who would soon be fielding suitors of their own. And his younger brother, Wild Lord Jack—the wicked, interesting boy with the face of an angel who had left home long ago to drift about the world—gone again now with his new bride to India, while Ryder was left to both the duties and privileges of being the heir.
He had never resented it before, but now a small disquiet seemed to be gnawing at him like a mouse at a grain sack.
Ryder shrugged and urged his horse forward just as the flotsam lifted, closer to shore than he had expected. Dipping and spinning, it tossed haphazardly toward the headland.
He pulled up abruptly. A dinghy. Foundering, without oars, without rudder, spinning straight toward the rocks.
Yet something fluttered, almost out of sight behind the prow—a scrap of fabric?
Someone lay in the slosh of water in the bottom of the boat.
The gelding sank its haunches. Hooves slid on mud as the horse hurtled downhill through the jumble of dislodged trees and shrubs. Pebbles rattled, then showered past, when they reached the shingle. Riding full-tilt toward the surf, reins dropped onto his horse’s neck, Ryder shed hat, cloak, and jacket. His heart hammered as he plunged his mount into the sea.
The gelding swam strongly. Cold water broke over Ryder’s chest, soaking him. The saddle turned to soap beneath his thighs. He urged his horse to swim faster, his hands filled with wet mane and reins slippery as fish.
The sinking craft had disappeared among the waves.
The gelding’s breath roared like dragon fire. Ryder shouted. The ocean swallowed the sounds in an infinity of moisture.
He circled his horse, shouting like a madman, when the little boat suddenly wallowed down the face of a breaker. Cold spume broke over Ryder’s face.
Half blinded, he grasped at the gunnel.
A woman. Almost naked. Ivory flesh shone blue-white beneath her corset and a scrap of soaked chemise, her thighs and arms bare to the cold rain and the sea. Beaten iron-salt hair plastered over white neck and shoulders, streamed like seaweed across a slim waist. Just clear of the bilge, her half-hidden face lay pillowed on one outstretched arm.
The next wave tore the boat from his fingers.
Ryder tugged the swimming gelding back toward the dinghy. A rope trailed from the bow, coy as an eel. Reaching from the saddle, he grabbed at it. Skin ripped from his palm as the next wave lifted the boat, and his grip on the rope tore him from his horse.
Cold ocean, loud with bubbles, closed over his head. Kicking strongly, Ryder grasped the end of the gelding’s tail. Fighting water, he looped a knot between tail and rope. As he surfaced and his horse turned back toward land, a flailing stirrup iron struck him hard on the elbow.
He cursed and hauled himself into the dinghy one-handed.
She was alive. As Ryder lifted her she groaned, her head falling back to expose her white throat. A red bruise marked one cheek. Streaks of color spoiled the flesh of her arms. He knew an instant of livid fury before he forced his mind back to the problems at hand.
The boat wallowed deeper as another wave broke over it. The nerve screamed in his elbow, numbing the muscles from wrist to shoulder. Nevertheless, he propped the woman against his own body with one arm and hooked a foot under the seat to jerk off one of his boots. He began to bail as if his life depended on it—though his life was not at stake, of course.
He could still swim to shore with one arm. Yet he probably could not carry her with him without both of them foundering.
Her life, then. Her life depended on it.
A woman. A stranger. Her bones as lovely as glass. Her long legs entangled in beauty and threat. Her hair a cloak of mystery. Her face damaged by a man’s fist. Other than the purple fingerprints branded onto her flesh, her body might have been carved from marble beneath the little stone ridges of crumpled wet fabric. A sensuous, enchanting body, ripe with female invitation.
He cursed again and kept bailing.
Freed of its burden of water, the dinghy lifted. The horse swam nobly, driven by instinct straight back to the beach. The woman coughed and opened her eyes. The deft curve of her waist burned beneath his palm as she coughed again, then thrust both hands back over her head, pushing the sea-tangled hair from her forehead.
Her breasts lifted, nipples shining dark beneath the soaked fabric.
She looked up at him from bleak chocolate eyes, her lashes spikes of distrust.
He met her accusatory gaze without flinching. Of course he was aware of the shadowed triangle between her thighs; her breasts thrust up in deliberate invitation by her corset; her naked legs and cold white feet—glimmering beneath torn silk stockings as if she had run unshod over stones. Did she think he was villain enough to pay attention to anything but rescuing her? To feel anything but this white-hot anger at her unknown assailant?
“It’s all right,” he said. “We’re almost ashore. You’re quite safe now.”
She shivered and crossed her arms as if hugging herself, moving as far from him as space on the seat permitted, yet her mouth quirked with a kind of wry bravado.
“So who are you?” she asked. “Sir Galahad?”