Heartless is a spellbinding classic Kat Martin romance—now available as an e-book for the very first time!
To escape her life of poverty as a tenant farmer's daughter, Ariel Summers made a bargain with the devil—she would become the Earl of Greville's mistress in exchange for the schooling and refinements of a lady. But she couldn't foresee the earl's timely death, or her own disturbing attraction to his bastard son and heir, Justin Ross.
Justin never meant to demand payment from the tempting young woman his father had so callously planned to ruin. But her innocent allure provoked his ruthless nature and he vowed he would have her in his bed.
Seduction was his plan, but Justin never suspected Ariel's innocent passion would awaken emotions he had long thought dead. Now mistrust and betrayal threaten the fragile happiness the two of them have found, and Justin must convince Ariel he isn't the heartless man she believes him to be.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Kat Martin’s bestselling novels include Nothing But Velvet, Innocence Undone, and the Raines of Wind Canyon Series—Against the Wind, Against the Fire, and Against the Law. Her book Silk and Steel was nominated for a RITA Award. She is a graduate of the University of California, where she majored in Anthropology and History, a background that helped to develop her interest in the past. "I love anything old," she says. "I especially love to visit the settings for my books. My husband and I often stay in out-of-the-way inns and houses built in times past. It's fun and it gives a wonderful sense of a bygone era." Before becoming a writer, Martin was a real estate broker. She lives with her husband, author Larry Jay Martin, in Missoula, Montana.
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By Kat Martin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Kat Martin
All rights reserved.
Surrey, England, 1800
Oh, if I could only be like you. Crouched behind the hedgerows along the lane that led to magnificent Greville Hall, Ariel Summers watched the ornate black carriage roll past, the top down, the earl's gilded crest gleaming on the door. Seated on red velvet squabs, his daughter, Lady Barbara Ross, and her companions laughed as if they hadn't a care in the world.
Ariel stared at them with longing, imagining what it might be like to dress in such beautiful clothes, gowns fashioned of the finest silk, in shades of pink, lavender, and an almost iridescent green — each with a small matching parasol.
Someday, she thought wistfully.
If she closed her eyes, she could imagine herself in a gown of shimmering gold, her pale blond hair swept up in dazzling curls, her slender feet encased in matching kid slippers. Someday I'll have a carriage of my own, she vowed, and a different gown for every single day of the week.
But it wouldn't happen today, she knew, giving up a dispirited sigh, nor anytime in the foreseeable future.
Turning away from the disappearing carriage, she lifted her coarse brown skirts above her sturdy shoes and raced back toward the cottage. She should have been home an hour ago. Her father would be furious if he found out what she had been doing. She prayed he was out in the fields.
Instead, when she lifted the leather curtain that served as the door of the cottage, Whitby Summers was waiting. Ariel gasped as her father painfully gripped her arm and slammed her against the rough-textured wattle-and-daub wall. Forcing herself to look into his puffy, florid face, she flinched as his big hand cracked across her cheek.
"I told ye not to dawdle. I said for ye to deliver that mendin' and get back here as quick as ye could. What were ye doin'? Gawking at the ladies in their fancy carriage? Ye was daydreamin' like ye always do — wasn't ye? Wishin' for somethin' yer never gonna have. It's time ye faced the truth, gel. Yer nothin' but a cottager's daughter and that's all ye ever will be. Now get yerself out in those fields."
Ariel didn't argue, just ducked away from the fury she read in her father's flushed face. Outside the cottage, she dragged in a shaky breath and shoved her pale blond braid back over her shoulder. Her cheek still burned from her father's painful slap, but it had been worth it.
As she hurried across the dusty earth toward the vegetable garden, her apron flying up in the wind, Ariel stubbornly set her chin. No matter what her father said, someday she would be a lady. Whit Summers wasn't one of those fortune-tellers she had seen last year at the fair. He couldn't see into the future — especially not her future. She would make a better life for herself, escape the dreary existence she now lived. Her destiny was her own, and somewhere beyond her father's dismal patch of ground she would find it.
For now, with her mother long dead, Ariel worked from dusk till dawn. She swept the earthen floor of their two-room cottage and cooked the meager fare that was all the small rented plot of ground could provide, gathered potatoes, pulled turnips, worked at hoeing and weeding the vegetable garden, and helped her father in the wheat fields.
It was a dreary, backbreaking, endlessly dull existence that she intended to escape. Ariel vowed it with every ounce of her being.
And she had a plan.
* * *
As he did once each month, Edmund Ross, Fourth Earl of Greville, spent the day inspecting his fields and checking on his tenants. It was hotter than usual today, the sun a scorching white orb burning down across the earth and baking the rutted roads to the consistency of granite. He usually preferred riding one of his blooded stallions, but today, with the weather so warm, he took his light phaeton instead, hoping the top would provide a bit of shade.
He leaned back against the tufted leather seat, grateful for the slight breeze blowing in from the north. At forty-five, with his olive skin and silver-tinged wavy black hair, he was still an attractive man, especially popular with the ladies. In his youth, he'd had more than his share — as heir to an earldom he could pick and choose. But as he'd grown older, his tastes had subtly changed. Now, instead of the skills of a practiced lover, he preferred the tenderness and exuberance of youth.
Edmund thought of his current mistress, Delilah Cheek, the young woman he kept in London. Delilah was the daughter of an actress he'd once known in the biblical sense. He had been sleeping with Delilah for over a year, and her young, tender body still excited him. Just thinking of her small, firm breasts and long coppery hair made him hard. At sixteen, when he had first taken her, the girl had been a virgin. Since then, he had taught her well how to please him.
Still, she was reaching her maturity, her body ripening past the slender, almost boyish curves that enticed him, and soon he would grow tired of her. He would yearn for the youth and beauty of an innocent, the way he always did.
God's breath, it was a troublesome predilection.
His mind slipped backward to the days of his youth, and a foul word hovered on his breath. He'd been wed at nineteen, an arranged marriage that had produced only bitter memories of a cowering, frigid wife, long dead now, and a beautiful but worthless daughter, not the son and heir he needed.
Of course there was his bastard son, Justin, that spawn of the devil he had sired with Isobel Bedford, the daughter of a local squire. Isobel had been wild and beautiful, as reckless and hedonistic as he. He might not have believed the boy was his, but the physical resemblance — and the enmity between them — was irrefutable proof of the deed.
As the phaeton turned down the dirt lane that led to his tenant, Whitby Summers's, cottage, Edmund's thoughts swung briefly to Delilah and how he would use her young body when he returned to the city. But at the sight of Whit's fair-haired daughter, just turned fourteen, his interest focused in a different direction. Ariel was tall for her age, her body reed slender, not yet budding into womanhood. Still, the signs were all there. With her long flaxen curls, big china blue eyes, soft, bow-shaped mouth, and heart-shaped face, the girl was destined to be a beauty.
When he came to visit, he was unfailingly kind to her. She wasn't ripe enough to suit him yet, but Edmund always liked to keep the doors to opportunity open.
* * *
Ariel watched the earl's sleek black phaeton roll up in front of the house. She had known he was coming. The earl always came to visit on the same day of the month.
Checking her appearance, she smoothed her plain blue skirt and clean white blouse, freshly washed last night for the occasion. Unconsciously she rubbed the welt on her thigh where her father had taken a switch to her. She'd been flirting with Jack Dobbs, the cooper's youngest son, he had said. It wasn't the truth. Jack Dobbs was over-the-top for Betsy Sills, the butcher's daughter, Ariel's best friend, but when Whit Summers had been drinking, as he was last night, the truth didn't matter.
And in a strange way, Ariel was glad it had happened. It was the final nudge she needed to set her long-thought-out plan into motion.
The carriage rolled up in a swarm of dust. The earl set the brake and jumped down. He was handsome, she supposed, with the silver in his thick black hair and those odd gray eyes, at least for a man of his aging years.
"Mornin', milord," she said, making him a deep, respectful curtsy. She had been practicing for days and was pleased as she executed the difficult maneuver that she didn't lose her balance.
"Indeed it is a fine morning, Miss Summers." His eyes ran over her in that admiring way he had. It made her feel like a woman instead of just a girl. "Where is your father this fine day?"
"He had an errand to run in the village. He musta forgot you was comin'." And Ariel hadn't bothered to remind him. She had wanted him gone so she could talk to the earl alone.
"I'm sorry I missed him, but I suppose it doesn't matter." He glanced out across the fields, his expression warm with approval. "I can see the crop is faring well. If the weather stays good, you ought to bring in a very good harvest this year."
"I'm sure we will." The earl turned away from her, started back toward his carriage, but Ariel caught his arm. "Excuse me, milord, but there's somethin' I been wantin' to talk to you about."
He smiled as he turned to face her. "Of course, my dear. What is it?"
"Do you ... do you think I'm pretty?" She thought that he did, since he always seemed to stare at her in that strange, assessing way, but still she held her breath. Her plan was doomed to fail if the answer was no.
A slow, appreciative smile curved his lips. He studied the shape of her mouth and the line of her jaw, let his eyes drift down to her breasts. She wished they were round and full like Betsy's.
"You're very pretty, Ariel."
"Do ... do you think a man ... someone like yerself ... do you think — in a few years, I mean — that a man like you might be interested in a girl like me?"
Lord Greville frowned. "There are different kinds of interest, Ariel. You and I are not from the same social circles, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't find you attractive. I believe — in a few years' time — you'll grow into a beautiful young woman."
Her heart kicked up with hope. "If that is so, I was wonderin' ... I've heard stories, milord ... about the ladies you keep in London."
The frown reappeared, mixed with a look she couldn't quite read. "Exactly what sort of stories have you heard, my dear?"
"Oh, nothin' bad, milord," she hastened to assure him. "Just about the girls ... that you treat 'em real good and buy 'em pretty dresses and all."
He didn't ask where she'd heard the tales. It was common knowledge in the village that over the years the earl had kept a number of young women as his mistresses.
"What exactly are you asking me, Ariel?"
"I was hopin' maybe you and me could make some sorta bargain."
"What sort of bargain?"
It all rushed out in a single long breath, as if a dam had suddenly broken. "I wanna be a lady, milord — more than anything in the world. I want to learn to read and write. I wanna learn to speak right and wear pretty clothes — and put up me hair." She swept the long mass up on her head to demonstrate her words. When she released it, it tumbled back down past her waist. "If you would send me to school so's I could learn all those things ... if I could go to one of those fancy finishin' schools where they teach you to be a lady, then I'd be willin' to be one of yer girls."
She watched the surprise in his eyes turn to speculation, rather an unholy gleam, she thought, and felt the first faint stirrings of trepidation.
"You want me to pay for your education — is that what you're saying?"
"And in return, you would be willing to become my mistress."
She swallowed. "Aye."
"Do you understand what that word means?"
A beet red flush stole into her cheeks, as she knew it meant sleeping in the same bed with the man. What else it might entail she wasn't completely sure, but it didn't really matter. She was willing to pay whatever price it took to escape her father and her wretched life on the farm. "Mostly, milord."
He studied her again, his pale eyes raking her from head to foot. She felt as if he were stripping away her clothes piece by piece, felt the ridiculous urge to fling her arms up to cover herself. Instead, she endured his scrutiny and stoically lifted her chin.
"That's a very interesting proposal," he said. "There is your father to consider, of course, but knowing him as I do, perhaps something might be arranged that he would find satisfactory." He reached down and caught her chin, turned her face from side to side, studying the hollows beneath her cheekbones, the slight indentation in her chin. He traced a finger over the curve of her lips, then nodded as if in approval.
"Yes ... an interesting proposal indeed. You shall hear from me soon, my dear Ariel. Until then, I suggest you keep this conversation between the two of us."
"Aye, milord. That I will." She watched him climb into his carriage, watched him slap the reins against the backs of his glossy black horses. Her heart was beating fiercely, her palms slightly damp.
Excitement pumped through her, the knowledge that her plan might actually succeed. Uncertainty followed close on its heels. Ariel couldn't help fearing that in return for the chance at a better life she might have just traded her soul.CHAPTER 2
London, England, 1802
"He is arrived, my lord. Shall I see him in?" Stoop-shouldered and gray-haired, the butler, Harold Perkins, stood just inside the door of the Earl of Greville's massive bedchamber in his country estate, Greville Hall.
"Yes, with all haste, if you please." Edmund struggled to sit up a little straighter in the bed, reached out a shaking hand to grip the glass of water sitting on the nightstand. Water slopped over the edge and onto his bed jacket as he worked to carry it to his lips, and a footman who stood nearby hurried over to help him.
He took a drink and waved man and glass away just as the door swung open and Justin Bedford Ross, his newly adopted son and heir, ducked his head beneath the jamb and stepped across the threshold of the room.
"You wished to see me?" The deep, penetrating voice had an eerily familiar ring. Justin didn't approach the bed, just stood at the foot looking tall and dark and completely forbidding. There was no doubt the man was his son. He had the same high cheekbones, the same lean, broad-shouldered build as Edmund's own, the same long-lashed, black-fringed eyes, though Justin's were a darker gray, without a hint of his mother's pale blue.
"The paperwork has been ... completed," Edmund told him. "You are now legally ... my son and heir. In a very short time ... so the physicians tell me ... you will become the next Earl of Greville."
The bitter thought sent a spasm of pain coursing through him. Edmund bent forward, coughing fiercely into the handkerchief he pressed against his trembling lips. He wiped away a trace of saliva mixed with a pink tinge of blood. By God, he never thought it would come to this, that he would be forced to pass his fortune, his legacy, to the man who hated him beyond all reason.
Then again, he hadn't expected to die for at least a dozen more years.
Justin said nothing, just stared at him from behind the blank, unreadable mask of his coldly handsome face.
Edmund drew in a shaky breath. "I called you here because there is some ... unfinished business I wished to discuss. A personal matter...."
A finely arched black brow went up. "Personal? Interesting. ... I would presume, since we both know your penchant for the fairer sex, that you are speaking of a woman."
Edmund refused to look away from that penetrating stare. "Not exactly, though she will become one soon enough." He coughed again, a racking spasm that made the veins stand out on his forehead. Silently he damned the lung disease that was slowly but surely killing him. Recovering himself, he lay back against the pillows, his face the same white hue. "She is my ... ward, of sorts."
Edmund motioned to the footman, who stepped forward to place a bundle of letters within his reach. Edmund rested the stack on his chest, lifted the one on top with an unsteady hand, and gave it over to Justin.
Long dark fingers opened the sheet of foolscap, and Justin scanned the letter, putting to use the expensive Oxford education Edmund had paid for. He might not have claimed the boy until he'd been forced to, hadn't given the lad the slightest thought over the years, but had never abandoned his financial obligations to the child or its mother.
Justin glanced up. "You are seeing to the girl's education?"
He nodded. "And anything else she needs."
Justin's smile was hard and mocking. "I never realized what a benevolent soul you were."
Edmund ignored the sarcasm. "We had a bargain of sorts." He went on to explain the pact the two of them had made, sparing no detail, forcing himself to meet the disdain in his son's iron gray eyes. "Ariel was fourteen when she went away to school. She is sixteen now. Her father was a tenant of mine. He drank himself to death last year." He sucked in a breath of air, let it wheeze out of his lungs. "I leave it to you ... what to do with her."
Excerpted from Heartless by Kat Martin. Copyright © 2001 Kat Martin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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