Beauty Tempts the Beast

Beauty Tempts the Beast by Leslie Dicken

Book: Beauty Tempts the Beast by Leslie Dicken Read Free Book Online
Authors: Leslie Dicken
Tags: Romance
half-concealed in a doorway. “What is it?”
    “Miss Suttley. I thought you would want to know…”
    Ashworth’s long strides brought him quickly to his son’s tutor. “Where is she?”
    “Outside.”
    Relief percolated through his blood. Ah, of course. Vivian used her time to work on the garden. He should have known. “Thank you, John. I’ll go collect her now.”
    “Wait.” A hand settled on his shoulder. “There is something you must know.”
    A breath hesitated in his throat. He waited for more.
    “She saw me.”
    Ashworth’s gut twisted. “Did she see Harry?”
    “No. But she certainly saw me. I was coming upstairs from breakfast and she was on the landing, trying to open the rear door.”
    Ashworth swallowed. “What did she say?”
    “Nothing.”
    “She didn’t ask who you were or why you were there?”
    John’s hand slipped off, his cheeks slightly flushed. “No. She said nothing. Perhaps she waited for me to speak. But then I heard Harry coming up the stairs, so I quickly withdrew and shut the door.”
    “She will assume you are a servant. I appreciate your honesty.” Ashworth straightened his coat. “I’ll find her in the garden.”
    But Vivian was not in the garden. He’d found the door still slightly ajar from when she left from it, but she was not anywhere in the rear grounds. Ashworth searched behind the overgrown boxwoods and even within an old outbuilding, dangerously close to collapsing.
    He sank upon the cracked pedestal of a fallen statue.
    Why would Vivian leave? It was she who insisted she could not return home. It was she who promised him anything if they married. It was she who seduced him.
    Ashworth licked his lips, wishing he could taste her on them. He wanted her. He needed her. The very essence of her feminine scents and textures stirred something within his soul.
    Ducks quacked as they flew overhead, bringing Ashworth to his feet. With no other direction to guide him, he followed their lead. Past the fallen stone wall, Ashworth climbed the wooded slope of Briar Fell, his pulse tapping at his throat.
    He’d followed this trail many times through years, especially as a boy, when he would wander off to fish. He would be gone hours before any noticed his absence. He wouldn’t have minded the punishment so much if he’d actually caught any fish. But Briarwater never gave him any of its riches.
    Gull cries died away as Ashworth stepped through the willow thicket. Geese and ducks crowded along the rocky beach, but he did not see Vivian.
    He crunched his way toward the clump of towering oak trees, forcing away the panic. What if she had drowned? What if she were lost on the slope? What if he allowed her to come to harm?
    Despite the cool air, sweat formed on his forehead. He would not fail her.
    Wind whistled through the oak leaves, bringing with it the sweet sounds of a woman’s hum.
    Ashworth’s long strides brought him to a large rock, where Vivian sat calmly. His heart surged forward, his limbs weakened. Her dress was dirtied, her face smudged, but she was safe.
    Vivian did not see him approach, her dark, uncovered head angled down to something in her lap. Her song rippled over the water like the lightest mist, airy and comforting.
    Ashworth swallowed. “Vivian…”
    She looked up, her eyes drawing him in like a hidden treasure cove. His throat closed up with the intense trembling within his chest. She was a mythical mermaid perched along the seashore. “Isn’t it lovely here?”
    He blinked, stunned into silence.
    “Those pretty little flowers.”
    Ashworth looked over to where she pointed. Wild thyme nestled within the crevices of the boulder, the tiny purple flowers a sharp contrast to the gray stone.
    Heedless to the worry she had given him in her disappearance, Vivian lifted her closed fists to him.
    “Look.”
    He knew she meant for him to bend close, to inspect whatever riches she discovered, but he was immobile. Desire for her drummed in his blood, crashing

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