Sunday, April 27, 2014

Idyllwild Series Blast & Giveaway with Author Lynne Barron‏

Portrait of Passion
Idyllwild, Book One
What’s a Viscount to do when a mysterious lady with a secret past and a reputation frayed around the edges suddenly appears in London in hot pursuit of his naive young cousin, setting the gossips’ tongues wagging, stirring his family into pandemonium, and driving him mad with her irreverent ways? 

If the Viscount in question is Simon Easton, the answer is quite simple.  Seduce the beguiling lady.  But Miss Beatrice Morgan isn’t your average tarnished lady.  She lives a slapdash life wandering the globe like a gypsy, painting fantastical portraits of Duchesses as sirens and landscapes featuring a crumbling old fountain, all the while harboring a secret desire to return to Idyllwild, the only home she’s ever known.  

What Simon does not know is that Beatrice just might be willing to sacrifice her honor, her virtue, her very heart to reclaim Idyllwild.


Ellora's cave:






“Have you ever painted a self-portrait?” Hastings asked as Easton walked up beside her with her hat.
She held out her hand but instead of the hat, he placed three hairpins in her palm. She met his eyes briefly before she looked up at Hastings. “No, I prefer to capture faces I find interesting. I have been looking upon my own for far too long to find it of any interest.”
“But if you could capture that moment when your hair fell back only to be picked up by the wind…what a painting that would be,” Bertie exclaimed.
Bea laughed at his foolishness. “I have no idea how I looked at that moment. How could I possibly paint it?”
“I can describe it,” Easton said quietly. Three pairs of eyes swung in his direction. There was a beat of absolute silence.
“But surely you were too far away,” Hastings pointed out. “And her horse was flying. You could not have seen the expression on her face.”
“I can describe it,” he said again. Bea turned and looked away from him, from all of them, to gather her hair into a loose bun at the base of her neck. She took her time securing it with the hairpins. She needed a few moments to gather her wits. The way he had said it, so sure, as if he had the image captured in his mind. And perhaps he did. She closed her eyes and there he was, sitting on his horse, his eyes intent, his jaw hard, his face a picture of—what? She wondered. Desire she had recognized but there had been more. Shock? Restraint? Contempt? Perhaps some combination? She didn’t know. She told herself she didn’t want to know.
With her hair confined to her bun and her wits restored to some semblance of normalcy, Bea turned back to address the gentlemen. “I for one would certainly enjoy a lemon ice right about now.”
“By all means, Miss Morgan.” Hastings threw out his arm, motioning her to precede him. The little group walked along the path, leading their horses along with them.
Bea smiled and laughed at the comments exchanged between Bertie and Hastings as they recounted the more memorable moments of the race. She was mindful of a quiet Easton following behind them. She reached one hand behind her to massage the cramped muscles of her lower back. She imagined she could feel his gaze, hot and hard, following the movement. She dropped her arm to her side self-consciously. Then a mischievous urge to provoke him rose up in her. Rarely one to avoid such urges, she exaggerated the swing of her hips. She couldn’t be sure but she thought she heard him utter a curse, low and hard.
She looked back over her shoulder to find him stopped cold. He whipped his gaze up from her swaying bottom to her eyes. She laughed softly before asking, “My lord, is there a problem? You seem to be lagging behind. Is the walk too much for you? Perhaps you would rather ride?”
“Come on, old man,” teased Hastings before continuing on with Bertie.
Bea slowed her pace until Lord Easton was beside her, leaving Bertie and Hastings to their talk of horses and races gone by.
“You, Miss Morgan, are trouble,” Easton said. His voice was quiet, just above a whisper.
“Please call me Beatrice,” she responded, peering at him from below her lashes. “We are friends, after all.”
“Friends?” he asked with an arch of his brow.
“I certainly hope so,” she answered. “I am quite short of friends in London, and even if I weren’t, I would still wish to count you my friend.”
“As you count Hastings your friend?” he asked.
“You wonder about my fondness for your cousin.” She knew he did. She had seen the way he watched her last night. That exaggerated curtsy, that moment when she and Hastings had stood, hands clasped, smiling at one another.
“The thought has crossed my mind that the two of you are quite familiar.”
“Too familiar?” She knew the answer. She wanted to hear him say it. She wanted to bring it out into the light, to a certain degree, of course. She would not share all with him. But she truly wanted them to be friends. For his father. For herself. And for him. He seemed in need of a friend.
“Much too familiar.” She waited but he said no more. So it would be up to her.
“Henry is not my lover.” She said it boldly, knowing he would find her words and the use of Hastings’ given name shockingly improper, perhaps even vulgar.
His gaze shot to her face but she continued to look straight ahead, willing herself not to blush, or laugh. From the corner of her eye she could see the look of absolute shock that flashed across his face. He coughed, and she couldn’t hold the laughter back any longer. But when it came, it was softer than she would have wanted, uneven and choppy. She heard the catch in her breathing and hoped he missed it.
She waited impatiently for him to speak. Surely he was not going to force her to do this alone. He must have questions. He was clearly protective of his younger cousin.
“I am sorry if I have shocked you,” she began.
“No, you are not,” he interrupted. “You did it intentionally.”
She waited a beat before shrugging one shoulder. “Perhaps,” she answered.
“Why?” he asked. There was a note in his quiet voice, a note she had not heard before. It sounded like more than curiosity. It sounded suspiciously like confusion.
“I don’t know,” she answered before honesty compelled her to say, “No, that isn’t true.”
He continued walking quietly beside her. He has the patience of a saint, Bea thought. It was exasperating!
“I think you are a man who needs to be shocked,” she finally admitted.
“I see.” He seemed to ponder her words. At least she thought he must be pondering her words. He walked on beside her, looking straight ahead, no discernible expression upon his handsome face. Say something, she felt like shrieking.
“Oh for goodness sake!” She threw up her hands, startling Lancelot, who bumped into her. She stumbled and would have fallen into the quiet, annoyingly patient man beside her had he not reached up with his free hand to grasp her firmly by the shoulder. Unfortunately, in an attempt to catch her balance, Bea shifted ever so slightly toward him. His hand glanced off her shoulder and fell to land on her breast. And as if that weren’t quite shocking enough, for both of them, he had been about to grab her shoulder to steady her, so when his hand landed, it didn’t just rest there. It grabbed. His hand squeezed her breast, not hard enough to hurt, but certainly hard enough that she felt it clear through the layers of her thick velvet riding habit, stays and chemise.
Bea froze. Easton froze. His hand froze upon her breast. True, he was no longer squeezing. But he did not remove his hand. Her gaze shot up to his face. My God, his eyes. They were hot, hot and dark, and boring into hers. And before she could stop herself, she leaned ever so slightly forward, fitting herself more firmly into the palm of his hand. Glorious, she thought with a sigh. The warmth of his hand upon her breast, the warmth of his eyes upon her face was simply glorious.
Easton blinked once, twice, and then she watched in fascination as his eyelids fluttered closed. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, let it out slowly so that it caressed her face. His eyes opened. There was the smallest of smiles pulling at the corners of his lips as he gently, oh so gently, squeezed the flesh that still rested in the palm of his hand.
Bea found herself starved for air. She dragged in a quick breath, filling her lungs and forcing her breast hard against his hand. She held herself still, not daring to move for fear that he would lift his hand from her. Her eyelids grew heavy but she was afraid to break the connection, afraid if she closed her eyes he would remove his hand. She imagined that she held it there with her gaze. She felt nearly faint with the pleasure of his hand upon her, and that smile teasing his lips.
He relaxed his hand and she released her breath with a soft moan. He groaned in response, deep in his throat, so that she felt it more than heard it. His fingers flexed, kneading her aching flesh, sending an arrow of shivery heat from her breast to her womb. Instinctively, she clenched her thighs together, trapping the delicious sensation, savoring it.

He dropped his gaze to her lips and bent his head toward her. Instinctively, she tilted her head back to receive his kiss. She watched his lips descend toward hers, slowly, oh so slowly, giving her time to withdraw if she chose. She didn’t. She wanted his kiss. Oh how she wanted his kiss. She felt his breath on her lips and finally her eyes closed.

Widow’s Wicked Wish
Idyllwild Series, Book Two

Be careful what you wish for.

The Countess of Palmerton has lived her life by Society’s rules, marrying the right man, bearing the required heir, and guarding her name at all costs. And what has it gotten her? A loveless union, a cold marriage bed and a reputation for perfect propriety.

Fleeing the whispers of her husband’s scandalous demise, Olivia finds a haven at Idyllwild. Away from the gossip and glitter of London, she dares to cast a wicked wish to the winter sky. 

Jack Bentley has a wish of his own, one he has no intention of leaving to the fickle fates. He will marry the stubborn widow, even if it means using her awakening passion to force her to the altar. 

Ellora's cave:



August 1818

A whispery, feminine giggle drew Olivia toward the stables. Warm, masculine laughter, deep and appreciative, had her peering through the space between the heavy wooden doors that never did close properly without a fight. 
Elizabeth Portman stood in a shaft of sunlight, golden curls falling over her shoulders, green eyes shining and her pale hands beckoning to a dark-haired man stalking her in the shadows. 
Wicked. She’d heard her mother and her aunts speak of wicked girls who lured men into their arms, but she’d never imagined she would witness one in action. And certainly not in the stables behind Hastings House on a sweltering summer day. 
Mesmerized by the sight of the powerfully built man prowling toward the petite lady, Olivia held herself still, afraid to move, to so much as breathe, lest she miss even a moment of the decadent drama unfolding. Heat bloomed on her cheeks, scorched a path down her neck and chest, shimmering through her limbs. She might have blamed it on the sizzling sun beating down on her uncovered head, but she suspected the spreading warmth owed more to the sight before her than the heat wave that held London in its grip. 
Fascinated by the heavy-lidded gaze of the lady who’d danced along the thin line between flirtation and folly throughout the long, interminable Season, Olivia watched the man halt before Elizabeth, close enough that his long legs tangled in her skirts. He leaned down, one arm wrapping around her waist, the other arm coming to rest on the rough wooden wall behind her, his fingers drifting through her blonde tresses, skimming along her temple. As the pair stared into one another’s eyes, the narrow beam of sunshine shifted, glancing over them, illuminating their profiles. Olivia’s gaze drifted over the man’s strong jaw and full lips, across the sculpted angle of his cheekbone, along the straight blade of his nose to the slash of his dark brow. 
Recognition was slow to come, and when it did, Olivia fought it. 
No. No, please not Jack. 
He was a stranger to her in that moment. Gone was the mischievous boy with the merry blue eyes who’d stolen her heart, who’d cradled it in his gentle hands for years. 
She might have convinced herself she was wrong, that it wasn’t Jack Bentley looming over the lady, but in that moment when she teetered between denial and acceptance, his voice vibrated in the quiet space. 
“You’re playing with fire.” 
Olivia knew his voice, had teased him when it changed from alto to baritone, had dreamed of the gentle rhythm of his Northern dialect. She thought she knew every cadence of his voice but she’d never heard that edge of danger before. As innocent as she was, Olivia recognized the desire in the dark sound. 
Pain beat against her breast even as a terrible anticipation filled her and she lifted one trembling hand to her lips just as Jack’s mouth found Elizabeth’s. 
The kiss was nothing like Olivia had imagined a kiss to be. There was no hesitation, no persuasion, no seeking or granting of permission. He simply captured her lips with a low groan, his hand fisting in her curls. 
Elizabeth wound her arms around his shoulders, her hands gripping his neck, and arched into his embrace. 
With a rumbling growl, Jack changed the angle of his head and deepened the kiss. Olivia imagined his mouth on hers, pressed her fingers hard to her lips, her breath leaving her on a fractured sigh. 
Jack broke the kiss and lifted his lips, his head turning toward the doors. 
Olivia froze, certain that he would see her watching from the narrow space between the doors. 
“Kiss me again.” 
Elizabeth’s breathy demand was like a bucket of cold water splashed over Olivia, awakening her to the shock of what she’d witnessed and the pending humiliation if she were discovered spying upon their secret passion. 
She turned and ran, her slippers kicking up a cloud of dust in the stable yard. She pushed between two thorny rose bushes into her mother’s garden, dodged around a stone bench and raced up the hedge-bordered path. 
It wasn’t until she reached the kitchen door that she realized she was crying, tears streaming down her cheeks. She scrubbed her hands over her face, drew a sobbing breath and pushed the door open. 
Slowly and carefully she walked through the kitchen, pulling her lips into a wobbly smile for Cook and the young maid who puttered about in the warm room. 
“Frightfully hot out there, Lady Olivia,” Cook said, dusting her hands on her apron. 
“Yes,” Olivia agreed as she made for the servants’ stairs. 
“Her ladyship asked me to tell her when you’d finished cutting her roses,” the maid said, her gaze dropping to Olivia’s empty hands. 
“Oh, the roses.” She’d completely forgotten the reason she’d gone out to the garden. 
“Don’t worry, my lady. I’ll cut some,” the girl offered. 
“Thank you.” Olivia turned and carefully picked her way up the dark, narrow stairway. 
Reaching the safety of her bedchamber she threw herself on the bed, buried her face in her pillow and allowed the sobs tearing up her throat free rein. She cried for the end of her innocence, for the demise of her dreams, for the loss of the secret hope she’d harbored for her future. 
Hours later, when the world beyond her windows had faded to dark, Olivia pulled her weary body from the bed and made her way to the window seat. Curling her legs beneath her, she stared up at the night sky, surprised to see a handful of stars shining through the gray cloud of smoke and dust that hovered over London. 
“Star light, star bright,” she whispered, her voice raspy and bittersweet, “the first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” 
Drawing in a deep breath and expelling it on a soft sigh, she thought about what she most yearned for, that which seemed most impossible, something worthy of what she suspected would be her last childhood wish. 
“I wish that once, please just once, I might know what it is to be wicked, to unleash a man’s desire.” 
Chapter One
Idyllwild Cottage
Northern England
January 1830

The funny thing about days when long-forgotten wishes come true is that they start out just like any other day. 
Olivia awoke with the dawn just as she did every morning. She lay in her warm bed with her eyes closed and listened to the sounds of the household awakening. She heard the front door open and close downstairs as Tom Jenkins went out to collect the wood that was kept neatly stacked in the old barn. She heard Molly banging around pots as she prepared breakfast for the family. 
It had snowed the day before, the first soft flakes beginning to fall just as she’d nudged her mount toward home after a canter across fields of dry, golden grass. Tom had predicted half a foot or more to fall during the night. Olivia didn’t need to look out the window to know he had been correct. 
Beyond the sounds of the household arising, all was quiet. It was the distinctive silence of a snow-blanketed morning in the north of England, when all was still, as if the entire world had fallen into an enchanted sleep. 
Olivia opened her eyes and sat up, stretching her arms above her head. Her shoulders and arms were sore, but it was a pleasant ache brought on by hard work. The previous day Tom had chopped down an old tree leaning perilously close to the stables. Together they had stacked enough wood to last the rest of the winter and beyond. It had been back-breaking work, but when they had stood back and looked at the neatly stacked wood, Olivia had felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. 
“Mama,” came a sleepy voice from across the room and Olivia looked up to see her three-year-old son Charlie peeking around the door. 
“Come in here and cuddle with your mother, Bonny Prince Charlie,” Olivia sang out just as she did every morning. 
Charlie toddled across the room, his gait uneven as he lurched from his strong right foot to his weaker left. Olivia forced herself to remain still amid the rumpled covers and allow him to scramble onto the bed unassisted. 
“Mama, there’s lots of snow.” He squirmed under the covers and Olivia wrapped her arms around him and buried her nose in his neck, breathing deeply. Every day he smelled less like a baby, she thought sadly. 
“Is Fanny awake?” Olivia asked. 
“Uh huh,” came his sleepy reply. 
Together mother and son lay cuddling in bed while they waited for Fanny to roust them. 
“Mama!” Fanny’s shrill voice broke the silence some minutes later. “Breakfast is ready, Mama,” she cried from the bottom of the stairs just as she did every morning. 
“Well Charlie, we’d best get up or she’ll be in here yanking our covers off.” Olivia rolled out of bed with her son in her arms and hurried him back down the hall to dress in warm woolen pants, a hand-knitted jersey, and sturdy leather boots custom-made to lend support to his damaged foot. 
“I’ll take the darling down.” Olivia looked up to see Mary Morgan standing in the doorway smiling at her where she sat on the floor tying the laces of Charlie’s boots, sunlight glinting off her silver hair and her blue eyes twinkling. “Get dressed before you catch a chill.” 
“Yes, ma’am,” Olivia replied with a smile. 
It was a bitterly cold day. It had stopped snowing but the wind had picked up and was whipping the snow into swirling clouds when Olivia and the children walked out into the yard just before noon. Fanny wore boy’s trousers and a jersey under a long wool coat, her dark hair pulled into two braids, a floppy old hat pulled low over her ears. A scarf was wrapped around her from her neck to her nose. 
“Fanny May, you’re not but a pair of twinkling blue eyes in a sea of wool,” Olivia told her as they walked together pulling a wooden sledge that Charlie, equally bundled up against the cold, was riding. 
“Well you’re not but a pair of silvery eyes and a rosy nose,” Fanny replied with a giggle. “Your nose is red, Mama, because your blood is there to keep it warm.” 
“Where did you learn that?” Olivia asked in surprise. At six, Fanny was a precocious child, smarter than her mother could fathom sometimes. She absorbed knowledge, seemed to soak it up through her skin. It was often scary the things her daughter knew. 
“I don’t know,” Fanny said with a shrug before dashing ahead. “Last one to the top is a rotten egg!” 
Olivia pulled Charlie on his sledge up the hill behind her daughter. When they reached the top, mother and daughter stood looking down at the view spread out before them. 
“It looks like a fairy tale,” Fanny whispered in awe. 
Everything for miles was white. Hills and valleys in the distance sparkled in the winter sunlight. The pond behind the cottage was frozen, covered in a bed of snow that all but hid it. The bare trees were hung with icicles, branches blowing in the breeze, filling the air with their music as they clinked together before breaking away to fall to the ground.
Idyllwild Cottage sat atop a small rise, gray stones shimmering in the sunlight, smoke drifting from the chimneys to curl in the crisp air before blowing off in the wind. Home, Olivia thought, a small smile pulling at her lips. Olivia and the children had come to Idyllwild more than a year ago, one month after Palmerton had died, leaving Olivia a widow, and baby Charlie the new Earl of Palmerton. And Fanny? Fanny had barely been touched by her father’s passing. At five she had hardly known him. 
Strange, thought Olivia, that she had found a home in the wilds of the north. She, who had been raised in busy London, who until three years before had been unaware of Idyllwild’s existence, had fallen in love with this wonderful old house and the fields and forests that surrounded it. From the first moment she had seen it, she had been enchanted. When she had left after that first summer, she had found her dreams filled with a longing to return. 
Olivia knew that soon, in two months, perhaps three, she and the children would have to return to London, to the town house in Grosvenor Square that had never been a home, to the social whirl of another London Season, to the whispers that would surely follow in her wake, to the cold disapproval in her mother’s gaze. 
Her brother Henry, the Earl of Hastings, would be there to welcome her home with his booming laughter and mischievous humor. And of course, her cousin Simon, Viscount Easton, and his wife, Beatrice, Olivia’s half-sister, would come to Town from their country house. Yes, it would be wonderful to see them, to bask in the uncomplicated affection they offered. 
“I can go by myself.” Fanny’s words brought Olivia out of her thoughts and back to the picturesque view from the hill above Idyllwild Cottage. 
“I don’t know, Fanny,” Olivia replied. The hill was not so steep but the snow was quite deep and she knew there were rocks and boulders hidden in its depth. 
“I’m six,” her daughter argued. “I’m not a baby like Charlie.” 
“I’m not a baby!” Charlie cried from his perch on the sledge. 
“Of course you’re not,” Olivia assured him before shooting her daughter a look of reproach. 
“If you go down alone, you’ll have to bring the sledge back up by yourself,” Olivia warned. 
“Oh,” Fanny murmured. “I don’t know about that.” 
Olivia turned away to hide her smile. Unless she was in the kitchen with Molly, Fanny dreaded anything that hinted at hard work. 
“I know,” her daughter continued, undaunted, “I’ll go down and then you can come down and bring the sledge up. Charlie can wait at the top…” 
Olivia listened with half an ear but her mind was on the sight far below. A carriage and two people on horseback were traveling the long road that wound past Idyllwild. The road led north to the village of Deerfield and south to the London Road. It was rare to see travelers on the road, especially in the winter months. The carriage was traveling south and having a tough time of it as the road was buried in snow. The locals could have picked out the road between the low stone walls that ran on both sides of it. This carriage was not driven by a local man. 
“Don’t you think so, Mama?” Fanny looked up at her mother with guileless blue eyes. 
“We’ll ride down together,” Olivia said firmly. 
They rode down the long hill, laughing as they came to rest at the bottom, just before the front lawn disappeared into the woods. When they had trekked back up to the top, Olivia looked toward the road but it was empty. She wondered if the carriage had become stuck on the other side of the woods. Perhaps she should ask Tom to ride down and see. Or she could saddle Mirabel and make the short trip herself. 
Olivia joined her children on the sledge, Fanny in front and Charlie wedged in the middle between them. She pushed off and then tucked her trouser-clad legs around both children as they started down the hill. The sledge picked up speed on the snow that was packed from their first foray. Olivia saw movement to her left and looked to see a man on horseback coming out of the woods. Another rider, perhaps a child or small woman, joined the first. They were riding their mounts slowly up the long drive to the cottage. 
“Oh, no,” Olivia murmured. 
“Mama,” Fanny warned as she noticed the riders. 
“Weeee,” Charlie cried as the sledge flew over a small boulder and left the ground. “Look out!” Olivia cried. 
“Move!” Fanny shouted. 
“Faster!” Charlie laughed. 
The sledge, with its three riders, sped down the hill with no way to slow their descent. The two people on horseback appeared oblivious to the danger. Couldn’t they see them, hear them? No, they were still too far away, but soon they would all collide. 
“Get out of the way!” Olivia shouted. She watched as the man finally turned his head. He seemed to freeze for a moment before he hauled back on the reins, turning his mount sharply to the right. He grabbed the reins of the second horse and turned it back. Both horses pranced about in a circle. Olivia wrapped her arms tightly around her children and leaned her weight to the right. 
She might have succeeded in turning the sledge had it not rolled right over another boulder. They were airborne once again and with their combined weight all leaning right, the sledge twisted in the air and sailed out from under them. 
Olivia cried out as she flew through the air with her arms and legs wound around her children. She looked up just in time to see the snowdrift before they all landed in it amid tangled limbs. 
Olivia lay motionless for a moment while her children wiggled about disentangling themselves and rolling away. 
“Are you all right?” she asked, lifting her head to see Fanny helping Charlie to his feet. 
“That was fun!” Fanny wiped one mitten-covered hand across her nose. “Can we do it again?” 
“Again! Again! Again!” Charlie jumped up and down clapping. 
Olivia allowed her head to roll back into the snow and closed her eyes. She smiled at her children’s exuberance. Again, indeed. 
A shadow drifted across her, blocking the sun that had been shifting beneath her closed lids. The riders! 
She opened her eyes to find a man standing over her, his greatcoat open and whipping around his tall, broad form like a crow’s wings beating against the cloudy winter sky. Beneath he wore a crisp white shirt open at the neck and dark breeches tucked into mud-spattered boots. 
His hair was dark as midnight but for silver streaks at his temples, and longer than was fashionable, unruly curls falling over his forehead to dance over thick, winged brows. 
Olivia raised one hand to shield the sun from her eyes and studied his face, a spark of recognition lighting. 
It was an interesting face, though by no means would he be considered handsome. He was too rugged, too masculine for anything as common as handsome. His features were constructed of blunt angles, from his cheekbones that looked as if they’d been carved from granite, to his nose that might have been considered patrician but for the fact that it had obviously been broken at some time and now sported a bump on the bridge and a subtle shift to the left. His chin was firm and square below a mouth that was…well, quite lovely, in fact, with an upper lip perfectly bowed in the middle and a full lower lip that looked terribly…soft, she decided. 
As the spark of recognition ignited into a blaze, Olivia remembered the wish she’d cast to the stars all those long years ago. Between the space of one heartbeat and the next, she silently sent it soaring to the heavens once more. 

Jack Bentley looked down at the woman sprawled in the deep snowdrift. He’d thought the sledge held three boys when he’d turned to see it flying through the air. While the legs splayed out before him were covered in thick wool trousers, the dark coat had fallen open to reveal a pair of generous breasts lifting and falling under a red knit jersey. Sable curls escaped from a bulky knit hat, trailing down a long delicate neck to rest just under a pointed little chin. Her skin was flushed with cold, her nose red. Her eyes were closed and she had the sweetest smile upon her lips. The tiniest dimple hovered beside her mouth. 
As if she sensed his presence, her eyelids opened, and Jack found himself staring into wide gray eyes, sparkling with laughter so that they looked silver in the sunlight. 
She lifted her hand to shade her eyes, her gaze sweeping over his face. He saw the exact moment she recognized him, watched as her lips parted and a small puff of breath escaped, immediately transforming into mist in the winter air. 
Jack could only stare down at her. Little Lady Olivia, no the Countess of Palmerton. He hadn’t been so near her, nor spoken to her since the first year of her marriage to the earl. She had been eighteen, a lady from her silk-slippered feet to the pearls that gleamed in her piled-high ringlets. She’d looked up at him as they danced, her eyes no longer those of a worshipful child, not yet those of a seasoned matron. She’d been suspended between two worlds. 
Unnerved by the mingled lust and anger that had simmered in his blood as he’d whirled her around the dance floor, he’d never again dared to approach the poised lady she’d become as she’d settled into her role as the proper wife to a peer of the realm. Instead he’d watched her from a distance at those few ton gatherings to which he’d been invited when he’d ventured to Town. 
Jack had imagined the day he would finally see her again a hundred times in the year since he’d learned of her husband’s death. He’d thought he would have to scheme and plot to find himself face-to-face with her in a crowded ballroom, a box at the theater, or perhaps riding in Hyde Park. He had never imagined finding her careening wildly through the snow to land like an angel at his feet. 
As she stared up at him in silence, Jack shook off his surprise, bent from the waist and held out his hand. 
Olivia placed her wool-covered hand into his and allowed him to pull her to her feet. 
“Let’s go again!” A small child bundled up against the cold skipped up to Olivia. 
Her daughter Lady Frances, no doubt. He looked past her to the smaller child ambling disjointedly through the snow. 
“Again!” Charles, the young Earl of Palmerton, launched himself against his mother’s legs, nearly sending her back into the snowdrift. 
Olivia lifted him into her arms and jiggled his bulky weight onto her hip. She wrapped her other arm around her daughter’s shoulder and pulled her against her side.  “Welcome to Idyllwild,” she said with a smile. “Are you lost or were we your destination?” 
Jack smiled in spite of himself. Both, he wanted to say, but instead he held out his arm. Justine came immediately to his side and Jack rested his hand on her slender back. 
“Lady Palmerton, may I present my daughter, Miss Justine Bentley,” Jack said. 
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Bentley.” Olivia greeted the girl, her eyes taking a quick inventory of her features. 
Jack knew Justine’s appearance owed nothing to her father and everything to her mother. She had Elizabeth’s wavy blonde hair and pale-green eyes, her pretty little cupid’s-bow mouth, and her delicate, petite form. 
“These are my children, Frances and Charles,” Olivia said. 
“Lady Frances, Lord Palmerton.” Jack greeted the two children with a slight bow. 
“Oh there is no need…” Olivia began with a laugh. 
“My name’s Fanny and that’s Charlie,” the little girl said as she gripped her mother’s coat with one hand and dropped into a wobbly curtsy. The boy tucked his head into the crook of his mother’s neck and stuck his thumb in his mouth. 
Justine stepped away from her father’s side to offer a graceful curtsy, her gloved hands holding her fur-lined cape out of the snow. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” she said, her words formal, the grin on her face playful. 
“Can we go back up?” Fanny demanded. 
“Perhaps later this afternoon. I think for now we had best get dry and warm. Did I see a carriage traveling with you?” Olivia asked as she turned back to Jack. 
“My father and his wife.” 
“Oh, but how lovely. It has been years since I’ve seen Mr. Bentley and I’ve never met your stepmother.” 
“They have gone on ahead.” And thank God for that. He hadn’t expected to find Lady Palmerton at the small estate on the London Road, had stopped merely out of curiosity, having listened to Viscount Easton describe the role it had played in his marriage. But if there was one thing that could be said about Jack Bentley, it was that he never let an opportunity pass him by. 
He would hardly welcome his father and stepmother as witnesses to the plan he was about to set in motion, a plan he’d been hatching since the day he’d received Easton’s letter and learned that the lady was a widow. 
“Will you join us for luncheon?” 
“Oh, yes, you must. Then you can go sledding with us this afternoon.” Fanny looked up at Justine with obvious delight. 
“Can we, Father?” Justine asked. 
Jack did not need to think about it. He may not have expected to find Olivia staying at the small estate, but now that he had, he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. 
“Thank you,” he said to Olivia. 
Jack held his hand out for her to precede him and watched in fascination as her legs ate up the snow-covered ground. He couldn’t remember ever seeing a lady in men’s trousers. He observed the way they hugged her legs and wondered if they hugged her bottom as tightly. Unfortunately the coat she wore covered her to mid-thigh. He dragged his eyes up to the back of her head. Her gray wool hat was slipping to the side, showing him the back of her slender neck. Her son turned his head and looked back over her shoulder at him with steady gray eyes. Eyes just like his mother, Jack saw. The girl had inherited her father’s blue eyes and her mother’s dark hair while the son was just the opposite. 
The party was met in the hall by two older ladies with aprons tied over their dresses and a tall man in brown buckskins and a blue jersey. 
“Mr. Jack Bentley and his daughter, Justine,” Olivia said, lowering her son to the wood floor. “Jack, this is Mary Morgan and Molly and Tom Jenkins.” 
Jack bowed to the assembled group, all the while wondering who they were and where the servants were hiding. 
Coats, scarves, mittens and hats came off. Olivia gathered them up where they fell and hung them on a series of wooden pegs that stretched down the wall of the hall. Blue pegs for Charles, pink for Frances, gray for Olivia. The rest of the pegs were hidden by other coats, scarves, and mittens. 
How long had Olivia been at Idyllwild? Jack wondered as he watched the well-orchestrated lining up of boots beneath the winter garments. This was a family with an established routine. 
“I’ll take the little ones up to change,” Molly said. 
“Thank you, Molly.” Olivia turned to Jack and met his eyes briefly before looking down at her own wet garments. “Are you and Justine dry?” 
“Yes. Go ahead and change. I’m sure Mrs. Morgan and Mr. Jenkins will keep us company. Can I put the horses in the stable?” 
“I’ll see to it,” Mr. Jenkins offered. 
“There’s no need, Mr. Jenkins.” 
“Bosh, it’s just plain Tom. You and the girl go on into the parlor where it’s warm.” 
“Yes, please,” Marry Morgan urged them. “I’ll be right in with a pot of tea. Or if you prefer, please help yourself to the brandy on the sideboard.”
 “It’s best to do as Mary says,” Olivia remarked with a smile for the lady. “I’ll be right down.” 
Jack tried not to appear obvious as he hesitated in the hall, his eyes following Olivia when she turned toward the stairs. Damn, it should be illegal for ladies to wear men’s trousers. The soft wool hugged her trim waist and perfect, round ass. The sway of her hips was a thing of absolute beauty. 

He turned back to find Mary Morgan looking straight at him. She smiled as he met her eyes and Jack felt his face flush. 

Author Bio: 

Lynne Barron always wanted to be a writer, if only she could decide what to write. Everyone told her to write what you know. It wasn’t until she married her extremely romantic and surprisingly sensual husband that she was able to follow that advice. Lynne lives in Florida with her husband, son and a menagerie of rescued pets.