The Jordans Collection, страница 1
The Jordans Collection
The Jordans Collection
Copyright © Jesse Petersen, 2014
The Secrets of a Lady (The Jordans: Book 1)
Copyright © Jesse Petersen, 2011
The Temptation of a Gentleman (The Jordans Book 2)
Copyright © Jesse Petersen, 2011
The Desires of a Countess (The Jordans: Book 3)
Copyright © Jesse Petersen, 2011
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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The Jordans: Book 1
The Secrets of a Lady
The Jordans Book 2
The Temptation of a Gentleman
The Jordans: Book 3
The Desires of a Countess
The Secrets of a Lady
“Damn weddings, damn love and damn Griffin Berenger!”
Audrey Jordan wiped her eyes and straightened her dark green gown before she exited the dressing room and strode down the halls of Ashton Court.
For as long as she could remember, she had dreamed of being the lady of this household. The mistress of its servants, the benefactress to its lands.
And then there was Griffin…
Stepping out onto the terrace, Audrey scanned the crowd. As expected, when she found her brother, Noah, Griffin Berenger was at his side. He was so handsome in his formal clothes, his dark blond hair tousled by the gentle evening breeze, and a grin on his striking face. He was perfect, and he should have been hers. But now he never would be.
As if to accentuate that point, Lucinda Sutton… no, Audrey corrected herself. Lady Lucinda Berenger came and slid her arm through his. She lifted her positively perfect face so that Griffin could place a brief kiss on her full, pink lips.
“Oh, Griffin,” Audrey whispered under her breath.
“There you are!”
At her mother’s sharp voice, Audrey spun on her heel. Tabitha Jordan stood with her hands on her hips, one slippered foot tapping with impatience beneath the lacy edging of her gown.
“That is enough mooning over Viscount Berenger, Audrey!” Tabitha grasped her daughter’s hand and half-dragged her down the steps into the garden. “This is his wedding day, you must accept that.”
Audrey nodded mutely. How could she argue? But the closer they moved to the happy couple, the further her heart dropped into her stomach.
“Viscount and Lady Berenger,” Tabitha gushed as she took the last few steps toward the couple. “Audrey wants to give you her congratulations.”
Audrey found herself staring at the man she loved and his new wife. “I’m very… happy for you, Griffin. And for you, as well, Luci,” she choked out. Her pride took a hard hit with each word.
She glanced at her brother for help. Noah nodded, his expression filled with compassion, and her discomfort eased a fraction. At least she knew she had one ally to rely upon.
Griffin smiled, though he was examining her face very closely. She hoped he wouldn’t see her heart. That would be utterly humiliating.
“Thank you, Audrey,” he finally answered.
Luci tossed a stray lock of pale hair from her shoulder. “Why Audrey, you look miserable for one who professes she’s happy. Are you well?”
The smugness of her voice made Audrey sick, but she didn’t respond. The woman despised her and the feeling was mutual. But it mattered very little now.
“My sister loves weddings, don’t you, Audrey? She’s such a romantic,” Noah supplied as he took his sister’s arm.
Tabitha nodded to the new couple. “We should leave you two to your other guests. Come along Audrey, Noah.”
She led her two children away from the crush of the crowd who were moving in to congratulate Griffin and Luci. When they reached a table at the parameter of the garden, Tabitha turned to her daughter.
“Please don’t think me cruel. I do realize how difficult this is for you, my love,” she said gently. “But Griffin is now married to someone else. That is permanent. Pining for him is foolish.”
“Yes, Mama.” Audrey sighed.
Her mother was right, of course. But it didn’t make the facts sting any less.
“I’m off to find your dear Father, children. Noah, I trust you’ll watch over your sister?”
Before she vanished into the crowd, Tabitha called over her shoulder, “And Noah, don’t forget you’re Earl of Lockhart. Please try to behave accordingly!”
As Noah snorted out a laugh, Audrey touched her brother’s arm. “Whatever Mama says, you may go. You’re Griffin’s best friend, you should be celebrating with him.”
Noah’s smile was open and genuine. “Oh, Audrey, don’t you know there’s no one at this party I’d rather spend time with then my beautiful, witty sister?”
“Don’t you ever forget that I’m ‘awkwardly spoken’,” she said, mimicking their mother.
Noah laughed and took his turn in copying Tabitha. “Well, your brother Noah is a unabashed rogue, Audrey Jordan. A disgrace to the title of Lockhart!”
She couldn’t help a giggle.
“Truly,” her brother said with rare seriousness. “Despite what you believe, you’re a beautiful girl. And if you had a chance, I think you’d sparkle.” Before Audrey could respond, Noah craned his neck over the crowd. “It appears Lord Ashton is about to toast the happy couple. I’ll fetch you a glass of champagne.”
She watched him disappear into the crowd. Despite anything her dear brother said about her positive qualities, Noah was everything she wasn’t: bold, charming, and at ease in any situation he encountered.
Audrey leaned back in her chair as she remembered her disastrous debut the past spring. The only men who had expressed interest in her were the ones who came sniffing after her generous dowry. She kept them all at arm’s length. She refused to marry someone who loved only her purse.
“Here you are, my lady.” Noah reappeared to hand her a glass of champagne with a flourished bow.
She eyed the drink with interest. She hadn’t been allowed many chances to imbibe in spirits. Tonight she needed them.
Audrey drew in a short breath as Lord Ashton came up the marble stairway leading to the house and clapped his hands for order. Griffin resembled his father so much that looking at the older man was like using an oracle to see Griffin in twenty years.
“What a pleasure it is for my wife and me to see so many friends here to celebrate this most joyous occasion.”
Any remaining chatter ceased at the rich baritone of Ashton’s voice and all faces now turned to look at him.
Audrey did her best to concentrate on his words, but found herself looking out over the crowd toward Griffin. From the joy on his face, it was clear he was perfectly content, certain that the future held nothing but
Lord Ashton raised his champagne flute. “To Viscount and Lady Berenger.”
“To Viscount and Lady Berenger,” the crowd repeated.
Audrey tried to lift her hand and join the rest, but her body felt too heavy. Instead, she downed her drink in one unladylike gulp.
Noah watched her with a raised eyebrow. “Careful, dear sister. Don’t imbibe too quickly or you shall regret it tomorrow.”
“I’m fine.” She gave her brother a bright smile she hoped didn’t look as false as it felt. “I promise you, dearest brother, I will overcome this silly dream I once had of a future with Griffin and be perfectly fine.”
“I know you will.” He dropped a kiss on her forehead, but couldn’t hide the sympathy in his voice. “Now Grif is motioning for me to join them. Will you manage here on your own for a while?”
Giving a mechanical nod, she said, “Of course.”
Her brother looked doubtful, but left with a frown.
Audrey glanced over to where he’d sat. His glass of champagne was still full except for one small sip. She took a guilty glance around her, then slid her fingertips around the delicate stem of the crystal and downed his drink, as well. Already her pain was beginning to fade, washed away on a frothy sea of bubbly liquid. Who needed Griffin Berenger anyway? Not Audrey Jordan.
She wanted another drink. In all her eighteen years she had never wanted anything more. Standing slowly to steady her suddenly shaky legs, Audrey eased her way into the crowd.
As a footman passed by, she caught his jacket sleeve. He glanced down at her hand then gave her a look of surprise. “May I help you, my lady?”
“Yes,” she said, trying hard not to sound as dizzy as she felt. “My father sent me to fetch him a drink. He’d like a glass of scotch.”
“Scotch? Yes, my lady. I’ll fetch it immediately.” He disappeared into the crowd and Audrey stifled a nervous giggle.
Oh, she was doing something very wicked. If her mother discovered her, it would be the end of her. But she didn’t care.
“Here you are, my lady,” the young man said when he reappeared at her side.
She grabbed the tumbler from his tray and very nearly toppled it over. “That will be all.”
As she watched the young man walk away, she slowly sidestepped toward a large bush at the foot of the marble staircase. Once safely hidden behind it, she looked at the drink in her hand. The brown liquid swirled when she moved.
With a deep breath, she downed the entire contents of the tumbler. For a brief moment she didn’t feel the effects, but then hot fire roared down her throat before it wove through her chest into her stomach. Coughing, she dropped the tumbler into the grass and bent over to gasp for breath.
“I’ll be right back darling, I promise you.”
Audrey hiccupped. She had to be drunk, for she was hearing voices. Griffin’s voice to be more specific, and he was calling her darling.
“Just don’t be too long, there are many important people still to greet.”
This time it was a female voice that answered. Lucinda. Audrey realized the couple was standing just on the other side of the bush where she was hidden. When she heard them kiss, she nearly retched. Then she saw the top of Griffin’s head disappear up the stairs toward the house.
Audrey peeked around the edge of the hedge to watch Lucinda weave her way back into the crowd. Creeping around the bush, Audrey walked up the stairs into the Ashton house.
It was quiet as she shut the glass door behind her. She leaned back against the doorframe to take a few deep breaths. Her head spun, her vision was unclear and her stomach unsteady. Finally, she took a few steps forward, toward… what?
And then she knew. Griffin’s office was just a few feet away. In the distance, she could hear him shuffling papers and humming some tune she couldn’t place. Turning the corner, she looked inside.
Good Lord, how could a man be so handsome? He ran a hand through his hair, tousling it as he lifted up a book to look for something on his desk. He scanned over the piles of paperwork scattered without order on the cherry wood.
“Are you looking for something?” She stepped into the room with a small hiccup.
He looked up, obviously surprised by her sudden presence in his private room. But then his face softened with pleasure. “Audrey, you startled me. What are you doing here?”
She took another step closer and shrugged one shoulder. “A good question, to be sure, but one without a good answer. I simply found myself here.”
His eyes flickered as he looked her up and down, taking in her slightly disheveled appearance.
“Audrey, have you been…” His voice dropped a level. “Drinking?”
Another hiccup escaped her lips before she could hold it back, completely belying the denial on the tip of her tongue. “Only a glass of champagne. To toast your happy day.” The words tasted bitter.
He arched an eyebrow as he came around the desk and stood a few feet away from her. She could smell his skin, warm and musky. The scent filled her senses with the same potency as the alcohol she had consumed.
“Well, two glasses,” she admitted as she braved another step closer.
“Robert!” Griffin called into the hallway as he continued to stare at her. “Come in here, please.”
A young man appeared in the doorway almost instantly. “Yes, sir?”
“Will you fetch Lord Lockhart for me?”
“No, don’t bring Noah into this,” she pleaded with sudden panic gripping her. Noah would pity her for this and she hated that idea. “I don’t want him to see me-”
“Shh, don’t worry. This will be fine, Audrey,” Griffin reassured her as he caught her shoulder gently.
The heat of his fingers burned through the silk of her gown. Closing her eyes, she swallowed back a groan. Why did he have to touch her? Didn’t he know it made it all worse?
He yanked his hand away and cleared his throat uncomfortably before he leaned back against the desk edge. “Why did you come up here? Whatever you said a moment ago, you must have a reason.”
“I wanted to tell you-I wanted to say-” She swallowed back the emotions that had begun to overwhelm her. “I’ve only ever wanted you to be happy. But Luci, Luci won’t…”
He straightened up from the desk. “What about Luci?”
“She isn’t what she seems, Griffin.” Immediately she covered her mouth. What had she done? Ruined everything, that was what, for Griffin was now staring at her with the sharpness of a hawk.
“What do you mean?” he snapped. She turned away, but he placed a hand on her lower arm and held her steady. “What are you saying, Audrey?”
She shook her head. All she knew was that Lucinda Sutton… Lucinda Berenger… was a cruel, vindictive woman who managed to hide it very well behind a veneer of beauty and grace.
“Answer me,” he repeated and now his voice was as sharp as his expression.
He was so close she could feel his breath against her cheek. And it would be so easy to just…
“I have always loved you, Griffin Berenger,” she whispered before she rose to her tiptoes and pressed her lips against his.
He stiffened against her, but didn’t release her arm. In fact, he seemed too shocked to do anything, neither release her nor respond. But she didn’t care. All she knew was that he tasted like mint, and his lips felt like heaven against her own. Then those lips moved and for a brief moment she thought he kissed her back. Before she could be sure, a sharp female voice pierced the silence of the room.
“What is going on in here?”
Griffin wrenched his mouth from hers with a stunned expression. He took a step toward the door where Lucinda now stood. Her normally pretty face was red and twisted with anger and hatred.
“Luci,” he began, shaking his head as he nudged past Audrey with only a quick, guilty side-glance. “This isn’
Luci barked out a disbelieving laugh. “So that little trollop wasn’t just kissing you, Griffin?”
Audrey dipped her head in response, unable to look at either one of them. Had Griffin kissed her? Really kissed her? No, it had to be a trick of her drunken imagination.
“She is highly inebriated, Luci,” he said with an edge to his voice. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
“Really?” Luci stormed into the room to plant herself directly in front of Audrey. “I don’t believe that for a moment. You know exactly what you’re doing, don’t you?”
Audrey could hardly hear over the rush of blood in her ears and the pounding of her pulse in her veins.
“I’m sorry,” she offered as stinging tears began to slide down her cheeks. And her words were true. What she had done was so very, very wrong. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t you even dare cry!” Luci screamed, slapping Audrey with enough force to send her stumbling back.
“Lucinda!” Griffin rushed forward to catch his wife’s hand before she could repeat the action. “That’s enough!”
He dragged Luci away and turned her to face him, but before he could say anything more, his wife yanked his head down to her and kissed him hard. Audrey bit back a loud sob as she turned her head away.
“Hey, hey! Don’t call me up here, Grif, if you’re going to be kissing your-” Noah laughed as he entered the room. He halted the moment he saw his sister and his smile fell. “Audrey?”
She half-stumbled over and took his arm. Both her cheek and her pride stung. What an idiot she was!
“What happened?” he asked.
“She…” Griffin began.
“That little whore came in here and kissed my husband!” Luci interrupted.
“That’s enough!” Audrey winced at her brother’s sharp tone and the look of concern in his face when he turned toward her and tilted her chin up. He searched her face. “Is this true?”