Who is she?
Simon Quinn can have any woman he wants, but he prefers them jaded, worldly, and free of illusions. His life is one of danger and temporary pleasures. An Irish commoner, he has nothing more than his expertise as a lover and mercenary to recommend him and no title, property, or family to redeem him.
Lysette Rousseau is a deadly beauty who can seduce or betray with equal skill. She should be just the sort of woman Simon entertains, but something about her sets him on edge. At times she is a femme fatale he cannot abide, at others she is warm, sweet, and irresistibly alluring. His reactions to both sides of her are equally powerful, but for opposite reasons. It seems almost as if there are two women in one…
…one wounded and exploited, the other innocent but strong. Lynette Rousseau will do anything to reclaim the sister who doesn’t remember her. She will gain the proficiency required to enter the underworld her sibling occupies. But how will she defend herself against the enigmatic, seductive Simon Quinn? A man who can liberate Lysette, but whose insatiable desires may ensnare Lynette forever…
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Original Publication Date: March 25, 2008
Don’t Tempt Me has been named a finalist in the 2009 Maggie Award contest, which is judged by booksellers and librarians.
Paris, France 1780
He was the sort of man who could enslave a woman with a single glance.
A glance such as the one he was presently giving to her.
Lynette Baillon watched the notorious Simon Quinn with similar shamelessness, admiring the raven blackness of his hair and the brilliant blue of his eyes.
Quinn lounged against a fluted column in the Baroness Orlinda’s ballroom, his arms crossing his broad chest and one ankle hooked carelessly over the other. He looked both leisurely and alert, a dichotomy she had noted the first time she saw him riding through the moonlit Parisian streets. Tonight he was dressed in somber shades of dark blue and gray, a combination that created an understated elegance she found extremely appealing. Amid the flagrantly sensual theme of the intimate gathering–candles scented of exotic spices, chaises cleverly hidden by a faux forest, and servants dressed in revealing costume–he was austerely attractive. His quiet intensity was far more alluring than the deportment of those who cavorted in blatant rut.
For her part, she was dressed in white for effect, her skirts accented with rich cream-colored bows and silver thread. Combined with her pale skin and hair and the dark ruby red of her half-mask, the ensemble drew all eyes toward her.
Drew his eyes toward her.
They had never been introduced. She’d learned his name by eavesdropping on surrounding conversations, listening with avid interest to whispered tales of his wickedness and common origins. He stood on the fringes, alone. Coveted by the women and shunned by the men for the exact same reasons– he had only his reputed expertise as a lover to recommend him and no title, property, or moral compass to redeem him. The widowed baroness enjoyed shocking society, which explained his presence. He was a novelty and appeared to be comfortable in that role, but Lynette felt a strong pull to join him, to stand beside him, to enter the solitary enclosure he occupied.
Quinn was a tall man, and a big one. His jaw was strong, his nose a blade. Boldly winged brows gave him a hint of arrogance, while long, thick lashes added a touch of softness. To her mind, however, the most alluring part of his rugged handsomeness was his mouth. The lips were perfect, neither too full nor too thin, and when they curved in a smile–as they were doing now–they were irresistible. She wanted to lick them, nibble on them, feel them move across her bare skin.
“Between you and your sister,” her mother had once said, “you are most like me. Your passions run high, your blood hot. Pray you do not succumb to it.”
Her blood felt hot now. Her chest lifted and fell rapidly in response to his stare. Her heart raced. That a stranger could incite such a response in her despite the crowd that surrounded them and the distance separating them only acerbated her reaction.
Then he straightened abruptly and approached with a predator’s easy, yet determined gait. His long legs ate up the space between them, his pathway direct and unconcerned with those who were forced to move out of his way. She inhaled sharply, her palms dampening within her gloves.
When he reached her, her head tilted back to allow her to gaze upon his face and fully appreciate its savage beauty. She breathed him in, becoming intoxicated by the combination of tobacco and musk. The primitive scent was delicious and she fought the insane urge to lift to her tiptoes and press her nose into his throat.
She shivered as the sensual inflection with which he spoke wrapped around her like a lover’s embrace.
“Mr. Quinn,” she greeted, her voice husky and inviting.
Quinn’s gaze narrowed into an examining perusal. Without warning, he caught her elbow and pulled her away from the wall. She was so startled by his importunateness that she was unable to voice a protest.
At least that is what she told herself. She wasn’t yet prepared to admit that she wanted to be claimed by a man such as him. A man whose polished exterior encased raw masculinity.
He led her through the crowd and down a hallway, opening a closed door and pushing her ahead of him into it. The interior was dark and, for a moment, she was blinded by the dearth of illumination after the blaze of the massive ballroom chandeliers.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to the softer moonlight spilling in through the windows. When she could see, she stepped further into the large, liberally furnished library. The smell of leather and parchment teased her nostrils, reinforcing the sensation of being primitively claimed.
The door latch clicked into place and she jumped, her nerves stretched too thin. The sounds of laughter and music faded from her perception, leaving her aware only of Quinn and the fact that they were alone together.
“What game are you playing?” he asked gruffly.
“I was staring,” she admitted, turning to face him. She appreciated having the light behind her, which shielded her features in shadow while revealing the whole of his. “But then, every woman here was doing the same.”
“But you are not just any woman, are you?” he growled, coming toward her.
So… he knew who she was. That surprised her. Her mother had insisted they hide their identities. They stayed with a friend instead of at their own property and were using an assumed surname. Her mother said it would prevent her father from becoming angry with them for deviating from their stated destination–Spain. She would have agreed to anything in order to come to Paris. In all of her life, her family had never visited here.
But then… If Quinn knew her true identity, why would he pull her away from the festivities in such a public manner?
“You approached me,” she pointed out. “You could have kept your distance.”
“I am here because of you.” He caught her elbows and jerked her roughly into him. “If you had stayed out of mischief for a few days longer, I would have been far from France now.”
She frowned. What was he talking about? She would have asked if he had not placed his hands on her. No man had ever been so bold as to accost the daughter of the Vicomte de Grenier. She could hardly believe Quinn had done it, but she could not jerk away because the sensations elicited by his proximity stunned her. He was so hard, like stone. She could not have expected that.
As her breathing quickened, she felt herself sway into him, her chest pressing into his. It was madness. He was a stranger and he seemed to be angry.
But she felt safe with him, regardless.
For a long, taut moment Quinn did not move. Then he yanked her toward the window, impatiently pushing the sheer curtain aside so that moonlight touched her face. With a tug of his fingers, he untied the ribbons of her mask and it fell away, leaving her exposed. She suddenly felt naked, but not nearly naked enough. She felt a reckless, goading need to strip off every article of clothing while he watched. It was heady to be the focus of such heated, avid interest from so handsome a man.
He loomed over her, scowling, his mouth set in a grim line. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he snapped.
She swallowed hard. “Like what?”
Quinn made an aggravated noise, dropped the curtain, and caught her about the waist. “As if you want me in your bed.”
Mon Dieu, what did one say to that?
“You are…very attractive, Mr. Quinn.”
“‘Mr. Quinn,’ is it?” he purred, his large hands cupping her spine, making her feel tiny and delicate. Conquered. “I always knew you were mad.”
Her tongue darted out to wet her dry lips and he froze, his gaze burning.
“What game are you playing?” he asked again. This time, she heard something else in his tone. Something darker. Undeniably arousing.
“I-I think we are both c-confused,” she said.
He moved, cupping the back of her neck and the side of her hip, mantling her body with his. “I’m bloody well confused, curse you.” He tugged, forcing her spine to arch, leaning over her so that she had no leverage to move.
Every inhale was his exhale. Every movement was an enticement, their bodies sliding against each other in a wanton dance. She felt a fever in her blood, a conflagration that had started with that first smoldering glance in the ballroom.
“Do you want to be fucked?” he purred, his head lowering so that his lips touched her jaw. The caress was divine and wicked at once, making her shiver with delighted apprehension. “Because you are begging for it, witch, and I am insane enough in this moment to indulge you.”
Quinn turned his head and kissed her, hard, his lips mashing against hers. There was no finesse, no tenderness. Her mouth was bruised by his volatility and ardor. She should have been frightened. He seemed barely leashed, his emotions swaying from irritation to consuming desire.
She whimpered, her hands fisting in his jacket to keep him close. Enamored with the taste of him, she licked his lips and he groaned, his hips grinding restlessly into her. She surrendered weakly and he gentled his approach, seemingly soothed by her capitulation.
“Tell me what you are involved in,” he murmured, his teeth nipping at her swollen lower lip.
“You,” she breathed, tilting her head to deepen the contact. She felt drunk. The room spun behind her closed eyelids and she suspected she would crumble if he weren’t holding her so tightly.
Quinn turned slightly and sat in a nearby slipper chair. The change in position stole her balance and she settled between his spread legs nearly prone.
“Why now?” he asked, nibbling his way to her ear.
She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and bared her throat. His hot, open mouth suckled the tender skin and she writhed in mindless pleasure. “Mr. Quinn…”
He chuckled, surprising her with the warmth of the sound. “Who knew you burned so hotly beneath all that ice?”
“Kiss me again,” she begged, more infatuated with his mouth now that she had experienced its skill.
“We must leave, before I lift your skirts and take you here.”
Quinn suckled her lower lip and her body softened further, becoming hot and damp and aching. “Then let us retire to a more private venue, Lysette. Before lust rules my better sense.”
She stilled, the beat of her heart arrested by the sound of the name that was not her own.
The sudden understanding of all his questions horrified her. Simon Quinn knew her sister. Her twin. Her dearest friend and most agonizing loss.
For Lysette was dead, her body entombed in a beautifully sculpted crypt in Poland.
How, then, did Quinn know her and believe her to be alive?
Don’t Tempt Me has been named a finalist in the 2009 Maggie Award contest, which is judged by booksellers and librarians.
Don’t Tempt Me tied for First Place (alongside Elizabeth Holt w/ To Taste Temptation) for the 2009 Winter Rose Award for Excellence in Historical Romantic Fiction. The Winter Rose is judged by booksellers, reviewers, librarians, and readers group members.
Don’t Tempt Me is the 2008 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award winner for Best Sensual Historical!