Take Me

Langley Family Trilogy #3

Self Published

ASIN: B00M7T6E70

BN ID: 294-0149662371

ISBN-13: 978-1311669308

Originally published: 10/03/06

Current publication: 07/28/14

A man of honor and gut-wrenching loyalty, Jared, Viscount Ravenswood, has little use for society or the foolish, sometimes brutal ways of the ton. He made a deathbed promise he intends to honor, no matter the cost or inconvenience. Even if it means he must marry the reclusive duchess he’s spent the past four years despising in order to keep his adopted daughter.

Calantha’s marriage was an abusive prison that gave her nothing but pain. She thought she’d finally broken free from her past, but it’s come back to haunt her in the form of a man who devastates her senses and sends her fleeing to the safety of her roses. Yet he offers her an opportunity she thought she’d never have–to be a mother. She cannot help yearning for both the adorable little girl and the overwhelming man who brings her into Clantha’s life.

Jared doesn’t mind the idea of bedding the beautiful Calantha, who makes his blood sizzle. And inexplicably, she’s not bothered by the scarring that led to his Lord Beast moniker. Their passion is as intense as it is unexpected.

But someone wants to hurt Calantha, and they’ll stop at nothing, not even putting a child in harms way, to do so. . .

Originally published October 2006 in mass market paperback by Berkley Sensation.


Ebook:

Reviews

“Two wounded souls come together in a well-written story showcasing love’s healing power. Monroe reaches deep down to pull out all the stops exploring her well-crafted characters’ fears and desires.” 4.5 Stars Top Pick —Kathe Robin, Romantic Times  (Click for the complete review.)

“Take Me by Lucy Monroe is a breathtaking 5-Rose novel and should be at the top of every historical lover’s reading list!” —Janalee, A Romance Review  (Click for the complete review.)

“TAKE ME is an engrossing, thoroughly enjoyable tale from beginning to end and a superb conclusion to Lucy Monroe’s first historical trilogy.” —Alane Coppinger, Blue Ribbon Reviews  (Click for the complete review.)

“TAKE ME is a wondrously rich historical romance that will take your breath away at its deep sensuality and superb characterization. TAKE ME shows us the glory of love’s power to heal and redeem the human heart and psyche. Brava, Lucy Monroe!” 4.5 Stars —Debora Hosey, The Romance Reader’s Connection

“TAKE ME was definitely hard to put down. This love story pulled at every one of my heart strings and got my heart pumping when the action began.” —Tammie Ard, Fresh Fiction  (Click for the complete review.)

“Ever since Lucy Monroe started this series I have been waiting for Jared’s story, and TAKE ME more then makes up for the wait. Ms Monroe is one of the few authors who I will read no matter what she writes and TAKE ME is a good reason why. You do not have to read the first two books in this series in order to read TAKE ME, but after you finish you will be running to the store to get the other two.” —Barb Hicks, The Best Reviews  (Click for the complete review.)

“TAKE ME is a superb ending to a fine historical trilogy.” —Harriet Klausner, The Best Reviews  (Click for the complete review.)

“I enjoyed all three stories, Irisa’s, Thea’s and Jared’s, but I must admit TAKE ME has the emotion and passion that quickly grips our attention and won’t let us put it down. Warning: TAKE ME will entice you to look for and read all the books in the series and love each one.” —Carolyn Crisher, Romance Reviews Today

“Lucy Monroe has delivered another tremendous story of intrigue, love, and sensuality.” —Lydia Funneman,Writers Unlimited

“Take Me is a romance with heart, chivalry, compassion and warmth. It will steal its way into your hearts and onto your keeper shelves.” —Krist, Kwips and Kritiques  (Click for the complete review.)

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Ashton Manor, Summer – 1825

Lord Beast.

Viscount Ravenswood.

A very dangerous man.

Calantha watched the huge man cross the small ballroom toward her with both anticipation and dread. His black and white evening clothes clung alarmingly well to his well-muscled, oversized body and he carried himself with an easy grace that belied his size. Watching him move demanded all of her attention. The play of muscles under his tight-fitting breeches fascinated her as did the way others hastened to move aside as he approached.

This inexplicable reaction to him had so startled her on the first night of Lady Ashton’s house party that Calantha had fled with the flimsy excuse of a headache as soon as the ladies left the gentlemen to their port after dinner. She had not returned since. Until tonight.

She had promised Lady Ashton that she would attend tonight’s ball and Calantha always kept her promises.

Besides, she liked the friendly Lady Ashton. So, she had come. And now she watched the man the ton referred to as Lord Beast with the same absorption she reserved for her studies, her painting and her gardening. Yet, none of those things made her tremble with pleasure-laced-dread at the thought of being in the same room with them. Nor did they make her pulse race.

In truth, nothing made her pulse race. For such a reaction was an emotional one and she had long ago learned that life was safer if lived without emotional excesses and turmoil. Her heart was a frozen ball of ice in a soul that shivered from the cold winds that howled across it…if she had a soul at all.

“Oh, no. He’s coming this way. He has not forgotten our dance. Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?” A young debutante standing directly in front of Calantha spoke.

Ah, so he was coming over to dance with the deb. A mixture of relief and disappointment flowed over Calantha. Of course he would not be desirous of making her acquaintance. She was beautiful, but boring. She had overheard herself referred to as such and thought it appropriate. A woman who hid her true self could not be interesting, but she could be safe.

Everyone knew that Lord Beast spoke only to people that interested him. It was rumored that he gave his own father, the Earl of Langley, the cut direct. And now he intended to dance with the simpering chit in front of Calantha.

She would not have to talk to him. She would not be required to refuse his offer of a dance, or even worse as she very much feared she might…accept.

“Calm yourself, Beatrice. ‘Tis only one dance. Lord Beast isn’t going to eat you on the ballroom floor,” replied another young lady, sounding not in the least sympathetic to her friend’s plight.

“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to dance with him. I’m at sixes and sevens at the thought of him touching me,” complained the silly Beatrice, “I mean that awful scar. And he’s so big.”

Calantha understood her own fear of Ravenswood, but why would the debutante fear him?

Could she not see that under the bluster and glaring demeanor, was a man who knew gentleness? Calantha had taught herself to watch others closely in order to assess their true natures after making the colossal mistake of marrying a Duke who had been well named after the devil.

It was not difficult. Not really. She was quiet. She remained in the background…another protective behavior she had learned during the years of her marriage. From her vantage point on the peripheral of any gathering, she gathered and analyzed information on the people around her.

The first night she had seen Ravenswood, she had been unable to focus on anyone else and her intent regard had revealed some unexpected facts.

He cared deeply for his sisters and respected the men they had married. In his own way, he was even quite patient. It did not seem so at first, but he had an incredible ability to ignore the rudeness of the many who responded to his scar rather than to his person or his position.

Rumor had it that Ravenswood had fought with a wolf as a very young man to save his sister’s life and that is how he had become scarred. Could not the foolish Beatrice and the rest of the ton see the beauty in that, the courage and selflessness that such an action would require?

Even the servants were very nervous around him. However, at one point during the previous dinner party, a maid had come close to spilling a tureen of soup on him. He had not yelled at her, or demanded her punishment as many of the ton would do. Instead, he had saved her and so very carefully that he had not added to her upset.

He was not infinitely patient however. She had also seen him send footmen running with a look and had heard him raise his voice in argument with a local squire she found particularly set in his outmoded opinions.

Beyond everything else she had noticed about him was the truth that he was a man of power…perhaps even enough power to melt the ice that encased Calantha’s own heart. The thought sent chills of fear skating down her spine. If that were to happen, there would be pain, great rushing waves of it that would drown her once and for all.

Perhaps the debutante feared Ravenswood because she too could sense this power, though Calantha had difficulty crediting the chit with such insight. After all, her voiced complaints amounted to nothing more than window dressing. Like so many others, she was bothered by the scar. Foolish child.

Calantha could have told her that true evil lurked within and had nothing to do with physical imperfection. That sort of evil had the power to hurt beyond bearing. Her dead husband had taught Calantha that lesson very well.

Ravenswood stopped in front of Beatrice and put out his hand. “Come.”

Beatrice’s companion’s eyes widened at the peremptory command. Gentlemen of the ton did not order their partners to the dance floor. They made suitably bland comments and requests to which a lady could easily respond in the negative.

Beatrice gasped and Calantha watched with interest as her face drained of all color. “I couldn’t possibly, my lord. I’ve… I’ve… I already promised this dance. My partner is over there.” She waved her fan in the direction of the other side of the room. “He’s waiting for me.”

Had Calantha seen hurt in his gaze before his eyes narrowed? Had the hastily made-up excuse pricked his pride or damaged his ego? For some reason she could not fathom, she could not bear the thought. She tried to ignore the stirrings of compassion she felt. Compassion toward a man that logic said would not be touched by such a silly girl’s foolishness.

Calantha had pushed away such reactions early in her marriage when she realized that allowing herself to care for others put them at risk. It gave her husband further opportunities to punish her many imperfections by hurting others. She tried, but failed, to suppress the memory of her one dear friend, Mary.

Calantha had befriended the girl in the first months of her marriage only to discover that when her husband’s anger burned brightly toward her, he was capable of all manner of evil toward those she held dear. She still believed her husband was responsible for Mary’s disappearance the second year they were married. For she did not believe her friend would have left without a word otherwise.

She still regretted her lack of vigilance on Mary’s behalf, just as she bitterly repented so many of the weaknesses that haunted her.

It was definitely a weakness of mind that made her feet move forward and caused her to say, “Excuse me, please,” as she stepped around Beatrice to face Ravenswood directly.

“If you are not otherwise engaged, my lord, perhaps you would consent to escort me onto the floor. I am weary of stillness.” Liar. Liar. Her brain screamed at her, but she could not pay it any heed. She danced rarely and never grew weary of motionlessness. It was a condition of excellence when one existed on the perimeters of life.

His eyes widened and once again the deb gasped, this time with clear surprise. Calantha waited in frozen silence for him to answer. She had learned not to shift nervously when confronted with a potentially explosive situation and that training came in to play now. She waited.

And waited.

Finally, convinced he would refuse, she began to step back toward the outskirts of the room, as embarrassed by her behavior as she was confused by it. She could feel heat stealing up her cheeks and she wanted to cover them with her gloved hands. This man of power would have no interest in dancing with a weakling like herself.

But he was willing to escort that brainless twit, Beatrice, her mind taunted her.

Calantha could not believe how that knowledge had the ability to hurt her. She forced away the pain and summoned a smile that meant nothing, just as she had done so many times in the past. She did not remember the last time she had smiled with any true feeling behind it. She opened her mouth to speak.

***

Jared watched the Angel’s face take on the quality of a porcelain doll, the little emotion that had been revealed, now wiped clean from her features. She was backing away, not because she feared him as so many others had, but because she believed he would refuse her invitation to dance. He had seen the knowledge in her eyes and it seared him because he instinctively knew it had caused her pain.

He hadn’t meant to stay silent, but he, who was used to shocking others, had been completely taken aback by the actions of the Angel. Ladies did not ask gentlemen to dance and yet she had asked him. She had opened her mouth to speak again, but nothing had yet emerged.

He forestalled her speech by bowing low toward her and said, “I would be delighted by the honor, your grace.”

Blue eyes, the exact shade of an English summer sky, widened and she stopped edging away. Mary had had blue eyes, but even after what she had gone through with the duke, they had never shimmered with quite the wariness the Angel’s did.

Beatrice, the simpering miss his sister had arranged for him to partner, stared at them with fascinated awe. She no doubt could not believe that any lady would willingly partner him. With her trumped up story of another partner, she’d made it clear she wouldn’t.

The Angel’s willingness to do so surprised him as well. As did the fierce urge to hold her, even if it was for something as fleeting as a country dance. He had not expected anything resembling this response to the woman when he made his promise to Mary.

He reached out and to take her arm, unsurprised but disappointed when she flinched from his touch before seeming to gather her courage and allowing him to pull her toward him. He led her to the other dancers as the musicians began to play. They joined a set and she went into the dance steps with polished style.

But then, that was no less than he expected of the Angel. She looked and acted like the epitome of feminine perfection, her beauty ethereal in its flawlessness. Tall for a woman, she still gave the appearance of fragility.

Her blonde hair had been dressed in a Grecian knot, accentuating the slender column of her neck and further encouraging the perception of her as an otherworldly creature. Along with her translucent skin and composed features, it gave the impression of a marble statue of a Greek goddess rather than a mere mortal woman.

Her blue silk gown matched the shade of her eyes perfectly and exposed the upper swell of her small breasts without being vulgar.

Perfection.

Why had she asked him to dance? It did not fit with his image of her, neither the cold-hearted bitch he had assumed she must be, nor the Angel the ton believed her to be. After all, an angel did not dance with a beast.

He knew what the ton called him and did not care. He was used to the reaction of others to his scars. As he’d grown older and bigger, much bigger than most gentlemen amidst the ton, that reaction had only intensified.

Hell, the only two men of his acquaintance that approached him for size were his sisters’ husbands and they were unique in other ways as well. Neither one had ever shown the slightest fear of him and they’d both been courageous enough to marry strong-willed women. His sisters had stubborn streaks that matched his own.

Why had the Angel asked him to dance?

He frowned in thought and the lady now facing him, forgot the complicated steps involved in this portion of the dance and tripped. Jared’s hand shot out to steady her. Her eyes flew to his and he read surprise in her gaze as he gently righted her and continued the pattern of the dance. When he once again faced the duchess, he did so with relief.

“You are not staying at Ashton Manor?” he asked her, knowing the answer, but wanting to hear the melodic voice that had asked him to dance once again.

“No. I live nearby and your sister graciously invited me to attend tonight.”

He knew that Irisa had invited the Angel to come for all her planned entertainments, but the duchess had only shown up for two. She had come to dinner the first night of the house party and Jared had covertly studied her, making plans to corner her and talk to her after the gentlemen rejoined the ladies. However, he’d been disappointed to learn that she had left early with a headache.

He had waited for her to appear again, but she hadn’t and he’d resigned himself to seeking her out at her home. He wanted to discern what kind of person she was before he kept his promise to Mary. His original plan had been to attend the tail end of the Season and meet her then, but Hannah had an accident playing in the garden and had not been able to travel.

When he had learned his brother-in-law’s primary country estate was near the duchess’s home and his sister planned to invite her to the house party, Jared had shocked Irisa by accepting his own invitation. Although he had been happy to see both of his sisters and their families again, he preferred his own estates, as his sister was well aware.

He found the ton and its superficial ways irritating. It wasn’t just the way people reacted to his appearance, thinking him a beast because he didn’t fit the Beau Monde’s idea of a gentleman. He hated the way truth and honor often got shoved aside in order to maintain appearances. It had happened in his own family and he couldn’t stand the sight of his father because of it. He hated the fact that both of his sisters and the mother he had never been allowed to know had been hurt by his father’s cowardly actions.

The country dance ended and the Angel followed him off the floor.

“Would you like a glass of champagne or punch?” he asked her, wanting to prolong their encounter, needing some answers to the questions that continued to grow in his mind about her.

“A glass of champagne would be lovely.” The musical quality of her voice washed over him and he wanted to keep her talking, but he had to find the footman with the champagne tray.

***

Calantha sat in the chair Ravenswood had escorted her to before seeking out refreshments, her back ramrod straight. She feared that if she let even one muscle relax, she would lose control completely. Dancing with Ravenswood had been more dangerous than she anticipated. Much more.

Human touch was something she had avoided as much as possible during her marriage and completely since her husband’s death. Yet, there was no comparison between the revolted fear she used to experience whenever her husband so much as brushed against her and the reaction she had to Jared’s nearness.

She found herself terribly jealous of the time he spent facing the other ladies in their set. She wanted him all to herself. At one point the gentlemen had been required to place their hands on the waist of their current lady partners. She had wanted to shove the woman next to Ravenswood aside and take her place.

It had taken every ounce of her considerable self-control to stifle that urge.

He did not engage in the inane chatter her other partners found necessary and had in fact only asked one question – if she were staying for the house party. She had been relieved he did not ask more, that he had not wanted her direction because she knew she must not see him again after tonight. She could not afford the risk to her hard won peace.

Looking around the room, she wondered at how bright the colors seemed. It was as if everything had become more vivid and that frightened her. It was so much safer in the shadows and away from the vitality of life. She was content with her studies, with her flowers and her painting. She could not allow herself to become enthralled with a man like Ravenswood.

And yet a part of her recognized she already was.

She wanted to get up and run. Her legs had actually tensed to do so, but he returned.

“Your champagne, your grace.”

“Please, call me Calantha.” She hated the title that reminded her of all she had failed to be and a marriage full of hellish memories. For some reason, she despised it all the more on Ravenswood’s lips.

“Very well, Calantha. I am Jared.” He said it with the same authority one might announce royal bloodlines.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Jared.”

“I knew who you were before we danced.”

“Yes.” She’d known who he was as well, but now they had met. There was something intimate in a meeting like this, without someone to introduce them and intrude, in the sharing of their first names. “You are Lady Ashton’s brother.”

He nodded. “Calantha is Greek.”

She liked the bluntness of his speech. She did not have to expend effort discerning subtle nuances and double meanings.

She did not smile, but she felt like it and that surprised her. “My father was a vicar who spent most of his spare hours doing translations of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew. My mother helped him.”

They had both been shocked by the birth of a daughter so late in their lives.

“It means beautiful blossom. Did they know you would grow to such beauty, I wonder?”

“I suspect it was hopeful thinking on their part.”

“Their hope was rewarded.”

“They thought so,” she admitted.

They had believed her beauty a blessing and gift from the Almighty. Having died of an outbreak of the flu the first year of her marriage, her parents had never discovered her husband’s true nature and the curse her physical beauty had actually wreaked in her life. For that, she was very grateful – even if their deaths had left her feeling more isolated than ever.

Jared took a sip of his champagne and she watched his throat move as he swallowed. Extremely masculine, even this small behavior on his part fascinated her. He did not wear the high-pointed collars popular among gentlemen of the ton and she was glad. She would never get to look into his eyes if he could not bend his head. He was too tall.

She liked his eyes. They were filled with life. Not necessarily joy, but life. Jared felt and Jared lived.

Calantha envied him his courage to do so.

“Why haven’t you come to more of the events my sister planned?” he asked.

“I’ve been busy. It’s a delicate time for the flowers in my conservatory. They require continuous care.”

He nodded and she felt the most shocking desire to reach out and touch the black silkiness of his hair. Most men would have tied it back with a ribbon, but Jared let his hang free to brush his shoulders. It added to the wildness of his appearance, despite his gentleman’s garb.

She gripped her hands together tightly in case she found them doing something foolish as her mouth had done earlier when asking him to dance.

“I didn’t like leaving my rose garden, but I left strict instructions for its care,” he said.

“You grow roses?” Her voice came out faint, but she could not help it. Everything about this man drew her further into his web and she felt like a butterfly fascinated by a spider.

“Yes. I specialize in gallicas and damasks.”

Gallicas.

“Do you have an Apothecary’s Rose?” Her voice had risen above her usually well-modulated tones in her excitement.

The Apothecary’s Rose did not grow well in a conservatory and though she also kept an outdoor garden, she had not been able to acquire a good cutting. Several of the recipes her mother had left her called for the hips of this particular plant and Calantha was eager to try them out.

His face turned hard, his gaze shuttered, but not before she saw an inexplicable fury blaze to life in dark eyes. “Yes.”

She wanted to shrink against the wall at the rage he had hidden so quickly. She didn’t. She knew from experience that to show weakness made one doubly vulnerable. She forced herself to sit straighter and face him squarely and reminded herself that she had done nothing wrong.

Even if he divined her purpose in asking for a cutting and did not wish to give one, he need only say no. And now, she would not venture to ask.

Nevertheless, anger did not require justification she could comprehend as she well knew. So, she chose to remain silent in the face of Jared’s. Taking a small sip of her champagne, she waited for him to speak again.

“I take it you are interested in roses?” He didn’t sound angry, but she could not trust his mild response.

Her husband had often gone from mild inquiry to blazing rage in the space of a heartbeat.

“Yes.”

“Do you grow them in your conservatory?” he asked, his eyes filled with what appeared to be genuine interest.

Still, she took no chances. “Yes.”

“And you are interested in my Apothecary’s Rose?”

She inclined her head in answer, giving neither a confirmation nor a rebuttal. It seemed safest.

“You are aware they do not grow to their potential in a consistently warm environment or confined to a pot?”

“Yes.”

“Damn it, Calantha, don’t talk to me in monosyllables. My sisters can tell you that is my domain. You are a woman. You are supposed to talk in sentences, in whole damn paragraphs even. They train you for it from birth, or so it seems.” He glowered at her, sounding affronted.

Startled laughter erupted from her and she covered her mouth with her gloved hand, stifling the mirth almost immediately. The sound of her own amusement so surprised her that she did not respond for several seconds.

If dancing with him had been dangerous, conversing with him was lethal to her peace of mind. “I’m sorry. I will try to do better.” She took a deep breath, wracking her mind for something of interest to add. “I grow small China roses in the conservatory and some tea roses as well. They’re quite lovely and terribly fragile. They make me feel needed.”

She hadn’t meant to say that last bit. It had slipped out in her effort to talk in paragraphs. She wasn’t used to it. One word answers were safer and silence was safest. There was less chance of words being taken out of context that way, or her comments being misinterpreted by others.

“Will you dance with me again?”

His question caught her by surprise and she stared at him in stunned shock, much as he had reacted to her earlier.

His black brow rose in sardonic query. “Is the idea of repeating the experience so appalling?”

“No.” It was much, much, too appealing.

He put his hand out in peremptory demand. “Then, come.”

She stared at his hand and felt the seductive draw of his warmth and vitality. What could it hurt? She would not return to Lady Ashton’s during the house party. She would not see Jared again. Surely, she could withstand one more dance with him.

Reaching out, she placed her hand in his, her fingers trembling as his warmth enveloped them through the two layers of their gloves. He pulled her into his arms and onto the ballroom floor as the orchestra struck up a waltz. A waltz. She had been prepared for a country dance, but not this. This holding of her person, his large body so close to her own.

Her trembling increased.

He squeezed her hand. “An angel need not fear a mere mortal, even if he is a beast.”

Her head snapped up and unaccustomed anger flared inside her. “I am not an angel and you are no beast. Please do not refer to yourself in such a fashion in my company.”

His thumb moved in a strangely affecting caress against the indentation of her waist and she shivered. Did he have any idea the impact his nearness had on her? She felt that tiny movement of his thumb with every fiber of her being.

His lips quirked in mockery. “The rest of the ton sees me as such. Why are you so sure they are wrong?”

“I know a beast when I see one…now.”

He did not ask how or even what she meant, for which she was grateful. He merely nodded. “But you fit the role of angel to perfection.”

Despair washed over her. That hated word…perfection. She was not perfect as her husband and the rest of his family had made pains to point out. Others had paid the price for her inability to attain the ideal.

She hated the sight of herself in a looking glass. Her own outward beauty served as a mocking reminder of how far short of perfection she fell where it counted…inside. She was weak, a coward. She had let others be hurt because she had withdrawn behind her walls of icy reserve, her only defense against the slights and cruelties Clairborne had been so good at serving up.

She could have made stronger efforts to protect her servants from his wrath, but she had been terrified of standing up to him. The final price of her own cowardice had been too high, the lesson of her own fallibility too well learned. Because of her, a young girl – a sweet child full of vitality and joy – had died. She could never forgive herself or forget that she was more sinner than angel.

“Appearances are deceptive.”

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