Taste of Temptation — Coming from Berkley Books June, 2010
Reviews for Taste of Temptation
"TASTE OF TEMPTATION is classic Cheryl Holt, witty and funny with enough secrets and betrayal to keep you turning the pages. I never set the book down."
— Mandy Burns, FreshFiction.com
"The Spinster's Cure strikes again as Holt delivers a sizzler where an innocent governess and an alpha sea captain share an unexpected passion. With strong characters, including the duplicitous Philippe Dubois, this is a fast-paced double romance filled with witty ripostes and a team of ruthless villains. A charmer!"
— Kathe Robin, Romantic Times Magazine
What fans are saying about Taste of Temptation
I am trilled to say that this book was just as good as the last one. I read it in no time, another one I just had to keep reading. I am glad you are back and even better than before.
Taste of Temptation Chapter One
London, August 1814...
"Michael! What are you doing?"
Captain Tristan Odell glared down the hall at his younger half-brother, Michael Seymour.
"Tristan," Michael casually replied, "I didn't realize you were home."
Michael — the recently installed Earl of Hastings — had his arms wrapped around a very fetching housemaid, his lean, lanky torso pressing her against the wall. Not that she appeared to mind.
She was buxom and plump, her abundant breasts scarcely constrained by corset and gown, and thus, the exact sort of female Michael relished.
A love bite was plainly visible on the girl's neck, so mischief had been brewing. If Tristan hadn't walked by, Michael would have lured her into an empty parlor, would have had her skirt thrown up and her drawers tugged down in a fast attempt to lose his virginity.
It was hell, trying to keep the eighteen-year-old boy in line. With his golden blond hair and big blue eyes, his broad shoulders and six foot frame, he could have been an angel painted on a church ceiling. Women took one look at him and promptly forgot every lesson they'd ever been taught about decency and decorum.
"What's your name, lass?" Tristan asked the maid.
"Lydia, Captain Odell."
"Be about your duties, Lydia, and I don't want you to sneak off with the Earl ever again."
She glanced at Michael, expecting him to counter the edict, but Michael merely grinned, a shameless, unrepentant rogue.
"Yes, Captain Odell," she sullenly mumbled.
"I don't care what he promises you," Tristan warned. "I don't care if he offers you money or plies you with gifts. You are to refuse. Do I make myself clear?"
"If he pesters you, and you can't dissuade him, come to me at once."
"For if I stumble on another tryst, you'll be fired immediately. I won't give you a chance to explain. You'll simply be turned out without a reference."
The threat of termination got her attention. She curtsied and left, but she was mutinous, and Tristan knew it was only a matter of time before she'd be searching for other employment.
"You!" Tristan pointed an admonishing finger at Michael. "In the library!"
Tristan spun and marched off, as Michael complained, "You're such a scold. You never let me have any fun."
"This isn't my fault."
"The way you carry on, one would think you were my mother."
"Don't bring your poor mother into it. If she hadn't died when you were little, she wouldn't last long, watching you now. Your antics would be the death of her."
"My mother would have loved me," Michael confidently claimed. "She would have thought I was marvelous. All women do."
Tristan rolled his eyes and plopped down into his chair behind the massive oak desk. Though Michael was the earl, he slouched into the chair across — like the recalcitrant adolescent he was.
The prior earl, their philandering father, Charles Seymour, had passed away six months earlier, orphaning Michael and his twelve-year-old sister, Rose.
There were several relatives who could have stepped in as guardian for the two children, but Charles — for reasons Tristan couldn't fathom — had named Tristan.
Tristan was Charles's oldest, but illegitimate son, the product of an illicit romance between Charles and Tristan's Scottish mother, Meg. Charles had owned a hunting lodge near Tristan's village and had visited every autumn. As a wealthy, urbane aristocrat, Charles had possessed the same charisma as Michael, and pretty, foolish Meg hadn't stood a chance.
She'd died when Tristan was a baby, so she'd been unavailable to insist on continuing contact with his father. As a result, Tristan had only seen Charles a few times, and he'd been given scant fiscal support.
Tristan had made his own way in the world, had embraced his love of sailing and the sea. He owned a small shipping company and sailed as captain of his own merchant vessel. He was never happier than when he was out on the water and flying over the waves, so it had come as an enormous surprise to learn that he'd been roped in by Charles, cast as mentor and protector to his half-siblings whom he'd never met.
At age thirty, Tristan had never been married and had no children of his own, so he knew nothing about parenting. He was floundering like a blind man, groping about in the dark.
Yet he wasn't eager to be compared to his negligent father, so he took his responsibilities seriously. When he'd received the letter advising him of his guardianship of Michael and Rose, he'd grudgingly traveled to London to assume his duties.
Michael and Rose weren't overly distraught at Charles's demise. Nor did they seem to miss him. Apparently, Charles had been as absent in their lives as he'd been in Tristan's. They viewed his loss as one might the passing of a distant friend of the family.
"Well" — Tristan struggled to look fatherly, "what have you to say for yourself?"
"She's very fetching? She's loose with her favors? You're a stick in the mud?"
Tristan snorted with disgust. "You're hopeless. I have no idea why I lecture you."
"Neither do I. It's a waste of breath."
"It certainly is, but you must heed me: You don't want to gain a reputation as a fellow who tumbles his servants. Those kinds of men are regarded as swine."
"I don't feel like swine. I feel randy as the dickens."
"You have an obligation to your employees. You can't frivolously ruin them — even if they beg you to."
Tristan glowered, stupidly expecting to elicit some evidence of remorse, or at least a hint that Michael recognized his behavior to be rash and wrong. He was a peer of the realm, so he should set an example, but as Tristan had quickly learned, Michael would act however he pleased.
He'd been raised by nannies and governesses — pushovers all — who'd been dazzled by his delightful smile and charming manners. With his being eighteen and horridly spoiled, there wasn't much Tristan could do but peck like a hen, while keeping a tight rein on Michael's fortune, a staggering array of money and property that he wouldn't completely control until he was twenty-five.
"I've enlightened you as to girls" — Tristan cheeks flushed with embarrassment — "and the urges we men suffer because of them. You have to be cautious."
"It was just kiss," Michael contended.
"Kissing can swiftly lead to more, and trust me, a low-born doxy like Lydia is a mercenary. If you impregnated her, you'd end up supporting her for the rest of your life."
Bored with the topic, Michael yawned. "Quit nagging. I like you Tristan, but honestly, you can be positively tedious."
Michael flashed an imperious glare, filled with youthful disdain. Tristan had sailed around the globe, had whored and debauched in cities from Bombay to Shanghai, so he was in no position to chastise, but he felt compelled to guide Michael in his carnal conduct.
Michael was an earl. There were standards to be maintained, as their father had pointed out in a letter he'd written to Tristan on his deathbed.
Watch over Michael and Rose, Charles had penned. Be kind to Rose. Dote on her as I never did. Be stern with Michael. Teach him the lessons I never bothered to impart...
The words were powerfully binding. Tristan was desperate to do right by Michael and Rose, desperate to make his father proud — a situation to which he'd never aspired when the man had still been alive.
"I've explained the mechanics of sexual activity," Tristan reminded him, "and I hope you've paid attention."
"Oh, yes" — Michael grinned wickedly — "and I can't understand why you're working so hard to prevent me from practicing what you described. It can't be healthy to be so physically frustrated."
"You have to wait till you're married."
Tristan nearly choked. Had that sentence come from his own mouth?
"Hah! I don't know why you're so determined to keep me in the dark."
"It's not the dark I'm worried about. It's the baby that arrives nine months later."
At all costs, Tristan would thwart Michael from siring any bastard children. Being a bastard himself, it was a sore subject for Tristan, but he couldn't get Michael to grasp why it mattered.
"I wish you'd take me to a brothel," Michael blurted out.
"Yes. If I could dabble with whores occasionally, I'd be — "
Tristan was saved from the conversation by a knock on the door. Michael's cousin, Maud Seymour, poked her nose in. She was a few years older than Tristan, a fussy, unremarkable widow with mousy brown hair and unmemorable gray eyes.
For over a decade, she'd resided in the mansion, with her sixteen-year-old daughter, Miriam. She'd served as the earl's hostess, as well as a detached mother-figure for Michael and Rose.
She was the ultimate hanger-on, the dreaded poor relative who'd come for a visit, ingratiated herself, and never left.
She was used to running the household, having had no supervision from Tristan's father over the accounts or servants, and she'd been furious over Tristan's barging in and seizing control. Tristan tried to be cordial, anxious to build a rapport rather than fight over territory.
He didn't care about the house or servants. He cared about Michael and Rose and ensuring that their futures and fortunes were secure.
"Yes, Maud, what is it?" he asked.
"An applicant is here to interview for the position of Rose's governess. A Miss Helen Hamilton."
Tristan bit down a curse. He'd forgotten about the interview. Rose had been without a governess for almost two years, and while she insisted she didn't need one, Tristan insisted she did.
He'd immersed himself in the search, but he couldn't find the exact person he wanted.
Rose was a lonely, sweet girl, and so far, the candidates had seemed too old or too grumpy or too lazy to be allowed to watch over her. Maud claimed he was finicky, and he probably was, but he had to keep stopping himself from asking why — when she'd been in charge for so long — the post had remained unfilled.
Finances weren't a problem, and Tristan suspected that Maud didn't like Rose enough to trouble herself with hiring someone.
"You don't have to bother with it," Maud told him. "I'm happy to talk to her for you."
"I don't mind meeting with her," he stated. "It's my duty to Rose."
"You're so conscientious," Maud simpered, flattering him. She was practically batting her lashes. "It's so refreshing to have a man about the place who enjoys being in command."
"What am I, Cousin Maud?" Michael inquired. "Chopped liver?"
"You," Tristan needled, "are an arrogant boy who's barely out of short pants."
"You think I'm a boy," Michael retorted, "but if you gave me half a chance with the ladies, I'd show you that I can — "
"Michael was just leaving." Tristan cut him off, terrified of what risqué comment he might make in front of Maud.
"Yes, Maud," Michael agreed, "I'm leaving. The maids are having tea down in the kitchen. I promised I'd join them."
"He's not going to the kitchen to chat with the maids," Tristan said. "He's going to his bedchamber to contemplate his many deplorable character traits."
"I don't have any deplorable traits," Michael boasted. "I'm flawlessly wonderful. Ask anyone."
Tristan rolled his eyes again. "Maud, escort him out, then send the applicant down to speak with me."
Maud and Michael departed, and Tristan sat, listening as their footsteps faded.
"A brothel, indeed," he muttered to the silent room.
If Michael started frequenting whores, his name would be permanently sullied, which Tristan couldn't permit.
His father's deathbed letter had contained the request that Tristan arrange brilliant marriages for Michael and Rose, to partners befitting their station. If Michael developed a reputation as a philanderer, who had bastard children scattered hither and yon, no sane father would have him as a son-in-law.
More footsteps sounded in the hall. They were dainty and hesitant, and before he could fully shift his thoughts from Michael and his budding sexuality, the interviewee entered.
On seeing her, he frowned.
She was very pretty, petite, slender and willowy, with a gorgeous head of auburn hair and big green eyes. Her skin was creamy smooth, her cheeks rosy with good health, her lips red and lush as a ripe cherry.
Her manner was pleasant, her dress neat and trim. She seemed to glide rather than walk, providing evidence of education and breeding.
No doubt, she'd be perfect, a cheery, competent, and interesting person whom Rose would adore, and he detested her on sight.
He'd specifically informed Mrs. Ford at the employment agency that he wouldn't consider any attractive, young females. Not with Michael in a constant state of lust. Was Mrs. Ford blind?
"Is this the library?" She peered around at the walls and walls of books that stretched from floor to ceiling, and she chuckled. "Of course, it is. That was a silly question, wasn't it?"
She focused those beautiful green eyes on him, and he felt as if he'd been hit with a bolt of lightening. She seemed to know things about him that she had no reason to know, seemed to understand what drove him, what he wanted, what he needed, and the sensation was so bizarre and so alarming that he actually shuddered.
"May I help you?" he queried.
"I'm looking for Captain Odell."
"You've found him." He stood, certain he appeared persnickety and overbearing. "And you are... ?"
"Miss Helen Hamilton. I've been sent by Mrs. Ford at the Ford Employment Agency to — "
"Yes, yes, I'm aware of why you're here." He gestured to the chair that Michael had just vacated. "Sit."
At his sharp tone, she faltered, then forced a smile and came over, carefully balancing on the edge of the seat, her skirt demurely arrayed, her fingers clasped in her lap.
They stared as if they were quarreling, but she didn't cower as he wished she would. He was eager expose a chink in her armor so that he would feel justified in rejecting her.
"Well?" he asked.
"Where are your references?"
"Oh, those." She waved an elegant hand as if a prior endorsement was of no consequence. "I didn't bring any."
He breathed a sigh of relief. No references. No job.
"Then we needn't continue this discussion. I can't imagine what Mrs. Ford was thinking."
"Would you hear me out?"
As if he hadn't declined to listen, she began extolling her virtues. "I could have penned some fake letters, but I didn't because I'm too honest."
"Yes. You see, I've never been a governess before. However, I've had excellent schooling. My studies included languages, art, science — both biological and geological — history, penmanship, and I'm also trained in the finer graces such as dancing, painting and — "
He held up a hand, stopping her. "Thank you for coming."
He pointed to the door, indicating she should leave, but she didn't. Her gaze brimmed with hurt, and perhaps a flash of desperation, and he felt as if he'd kicked a puppy.
"I speak French, Italian, Latin, and a bit of Spanish."
"I sing like an angel."
"I can play pieces by Mr. Mozart on the pianoforte."
"Good day, Miss Hamilton."
"Mrs. Ford said I was exactly who you were looking for."
"Mrs. Ford was wrong."
She scrutinized him, her head tipped to the side as if he were a curious bug she was examining.
"Why are you acting like this?" she stunned him by asking.
"What did you say?"
"Have I offended you?"
"That's not true. From the moment I arrived, your dislike was palpable. Tell me what I've done so that I can apologize, then we'll move on and conduct ourselves like rational adults."
"I have no desire to continue."
"My reasons, Miss Hamilton, are none of your business."
His comment fell into the room with a heavy thud, his discourtesy blatant and mortifying. Despite his low antecedents, he was a gentleman, and he hated upsetting her, but he wanted her to go away.
She seemed to deflate, appearing vulnerable and defenseless, a tragic figure who could benefit from a steady male influence, and he was irked to find himself wondering what it would be like to be the man who supplied it.
"May I be frank, Captain Odell?"
"No, you may not."
Once again, she blathered on without permission. "Mrs. Ford urged me not to mention it, but my father was Captain Harry Hamilton of the Forty-Seventh Dragoons."
He recalled a scandal that even he — being far out to sea and away from England — had heard about: a torrid affair, a duke's mistress, a duel in which the dashing Captain Hamilton had recklessly perished.
"If Harry Hamilton was your father, then you most especially would not be appropriate for this position. I wouldn't want you within a hundred yards of my ward."
"I'm twenty-four years old, Captain Odell. I have two sisters. Jane is eighteen, and Amelia is only twelve — the same age as Lady Rose. We're all alone in the world, and I can't provide for them. I need this job."
"I'm sorry, but no."
"I'll work for free, for a whole month. Give me a chance to prove myself."
"It wouldn't do any good."
"Weren't you in the Navy when you were younger?"
"Then I'm begging you, as a favor to my father, a fellow soldier who served his country honorably for decades. Help me save my sisters."
She reached out to him, trembling, beseeching him, and Tristan was too moved to reply. He simply shook his head.
To his horror, tears welled into her eyes, and he nearly leapt over the desk and shielded her face so he wouldn't see them.
Though he was a tough, swashbuckling sailor, he was a sap for a woman's tears, and he couldn't bear to know that she was so unhappy. Her woe made him want to assist her, to watch over and shelter her and her destitute siblings, and he bit down on all the comforting words that were fighting to burst out.
"Go now," he said very quietly.
Rudely, he grabbed a stack of correspondence and pretended to read it, effectively dismissing her.
He could sense her studying him, her probing attention wretched and intent.
Ultimately, she sighed and left, and he collapsed into his chair, feeling like a cad and a heel. He wasn't generally so callous, and he was chagrined that he'd been cruel to her, but London was a brutal place, and there were too many poverty-stricken females. He couldn't save any of them, and he wasn't about to try.
It dawned on him, though, that he could have slipped her a few pounds to ease her immediate plight.
Eager to catch up with her, he hurried out to the hall and proceeded to the foyer when — to his disgust — he ran into Michael and Miss Hamilton.
Michael's arm was around her waist, and she was pressed to the wall, much as Tristan had witnessed earlier with the housemaid, Lydia.
So... Miss Hamilton was not only the daughter of a notorious scoundrel, but she was loose and indecent, too. Had she come, specifically hoping to bump into Michael? He was definitely rich enough to solve her problems. Had seduction been her scheme all along?
"Michael!" he snapped. "Unhand her at once."
Michael chuckled and stepped away, while Miss Hamilton stumbled, struggling to right herself.
"She tells me," Michael said, "that you didn't feel she was suitable to be Rose's governess. She must be joking. I think she'd be spectacular."
Michael naughty gaze roamed down her torso, and she blushed furiously.
"Weren't you going to your room?" Tristan asked him.
"Why, yes I was."
Michael strolled away, as Miss Hamilton peered at Tristan, her expression unreadable. He couldn't decide if she was embarrassed at being molested or at being discovered.
For the briefest moment, it looked as if she might explain or defend her behavior, but instead, she spun and stomped out.
USA Today bestselling author Cheryl Holt presents the second sizzling story in a bold new trilogy in which passion — and a few drops from a magical elixir — leads to the sensual education of an innocent governess...
Helen Hamilton is a twenty-five-year old spinster, with no income and no prospects, who struggles to care for her two orphaned sisters. Destitute and only a heartbeat away from the streets, Helen applies for a position as a governess to the younger siblings of Captain Tristan Odell, the oldest and illegitimate son of the notorious philanderer, Earl of Hastings. But when Tristan turns Helen away, her future seems as desperate as her options.
Determined to do whatever it takes to support her sisters, Helen ends up at a brothel, where she agrees to sell herself as a mistress to a client of wealth and prestige. She even drinks a potion to make men desire her — and is shocked when the man who buys her is none other than Tristan. He too is shocked — and aroused by the possibilities. He hires Helen, but offers her more than a position as governess. Enmeshed in an affair of unrestrained desire, their passion quickly grows, as does an unexpected danger that could soon destroy them both...
"The Queen of Erotic Romance."
— Book Cove Reviews