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Enchanting the Earl  (Book 1 of The Townsends)

Llynmore Castle is the only place Annabel Lockhart has ever considered home. For years, she’s been able to live as she wished, freely roaming the wild moors. Now there’s a new earl, as arrogant as he is handsome, and he wants her out. But if he thinks she’ll go quietly, he’s in for a surprise.

Theo Townsend returned from war a changed man. After unexpectedly inheriting an earldom and a secluded castle in the Scottish Highlands to go with it, he thinks he’s found the perfect place to hide from the world—until he arrives to find a spirited, beautiful woman already in residence. He can’t just throw her out, but surely there’s a way to get her to leave on her own. The sooner she’s gone, the better, especially when he realizes there’s more than just mutual dislike between them.

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In this moment, he was not a former soldier, not haunted, not wounded, not desperately trying to hold himself together for his family.

He was just a man.

He closed the distance between them, until they were almost touching, but not quite. He could feel the rustle of fabric against his chest when she took a deep breath, felt the soft gust of air against his cheek. He had the idle thought that their bodies had been made for each other; she matched him, thigh to thigh, chest to chest, mouth to wanting mouth.

He let his cane clatter to the floor. His fingers touched her arm at the elbow, trailed down to tangle with hers. He found himself pulling her slender hand toward him and studying the shape of it by the candle light.

“Several years ago, Robert and Eleanor begged me to go with them to a fortune teller’s tent at a fair, and the woman read our palms.”

Annabel’s eyes were as dark as moss as she looked at him under lowered lashes. “That sounds frivolous.”

“Dishearteningly so,” he said with a slight smile. “They wouldn’t stop begging, though. Younger siblings can be tiresome.”

“And what was your fortune?”

“Mostly she spoke of wealth and adventure,” he said. “I think she told me what I wanted to hear. But I remember she called this line the heart line.” Theo traced the line with his thumb, gratified when he heard Annabel’s soft gasp. He lowered his head and pressed a gentle, gentle kiss to the inside of her palm.

“What did she say about your heart line?” Annabel asked quietly.

“I don’t remember,” he said with rueful amusement. “As a fifteen-year-old, I was much more interested in the wealth and adventure part. But your heart line is quite deep. I would guess you’re passionate.”

He was cheating—he already knew she was passionate. And not just physically, but about things and people—her ex-actress of an aunt, Rabbie Burns, broken shells and ugly Highland ponies and this castle and the people around it and the very land itself. He was almost jealous—he was trying to make his world smaller, trying to restrict it to just the essentials, just the people he had no choice but to care for and protect, and here she was, resigned to a remote corner of the country, just like him, but her world was infinitely larger.

“I would guess you have no notion of loving by degrees.” He caught her intent, startled gaze. “Sometimes a dangerous trait.”

“Why?” she asked, her voice just a whisper of sound.

“Love is cruel. It takes hostages with no thought or feeling, no mercy. It doesn’t care what mere mortals want. It doesn’t care when it breaks them.”

What was he saying? He knew nothing about love. He just knew he liked the way she tasted.

 

 

Content Copyright Lily Maxton