Responsible widow Lilian Fairclough is persuaded to travel to Rome for a hard-earned break and to let down her hair! She’s surprised to be reunited with passionate, cynical Italian duke, Pietro Venturi. He reawakens her sensual side and intrigues her with glimpses of pain beneath his rakish surface. Enticed into a secret and temporary affair – what will happen once she returns home?
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Author Bio – When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. Despite that, it still takes her forever to fall asleep.
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I my latest release, Lilian and the Irresistible Duke, the heroine goes on a springtime adventure to Rome expecting to sightsee. The very last person she expects to meet at the luxurious villa she is staying in, is the handsome stranger she shared a passionate kiss with back home whilst escaping a snowstorm in a carriage…
Pietro had been having a bad day. Or rather it was not so much the day was any worse than any other, but that he had awoken feeling restless and that restlessness refused to go away no matter how much he tried to divert I with purpose.
The restlessness, as he called the odd mood which snuck up on him without warning, had always plagued him since he was a young man. A sense of something not quite right, something missing, a peculiar feeling of dissatisfaction with his life. It predated his marriage and had bothered him throughout its short and turbulent duration. In his youth, he put it down to ambition and over exuberance and had always assumed it would disappear with age. Except with each passing year, and despite his success and his significantly increased fortune, it seemed to plague him more now than it ever had. His usual method of distracting it with work, and if that failed to assuage it a brief fling with a willing woman, no longer seemed to alleviate it for quite as long as it used to and he often found his mood soured because he was so very bored with it all. Although he could never quite pinpoint exactly what it was he was dissatisfied with because he had no earthly idea exactly what it was he wanted.
To make matters worse, despite actively looking, suitable distractions outside of his punishing work schedule had been thin on the ground lately. The stalwarts he could always really on held little appeal and he hadn’t met a new woman in months who had seemed worth the effort he would need to put in to her.
Apart from that one woman…
Who he would have enjoyed thoroughly seducing just before Christmas. The troubled, proper, pretty one who had strangely intrigued him at Alexandra’s house when he had briefly stayed there. The one who had just apparently walked straight into him.
Her dark hair was loose about her shoulders, silky and wavy against her pale English skin as one of those creamy shoulders was exposed bare above the shawl she clutched tightly. Feline green eyes blinked up at him, the mouth he had thoroughly enjoyed kissing all those months before a startled O. And she was blushing. At her age. How… interesting.
All in all, the woman who had strangely intrigued him during that chilly English winter, because she wasn’t his usual type at all, suddenly looked very much his type in his hometown now. A petite, gloriously curvaceous, tousled and thoroughly intriguing armful of woman who looked wonderfully scandalised to have collided with him again. Her eyes dropped to his mouth, and he realised in that second she was remembering their heated kiss in the carriage just as he was. It was a memory which he had often revisited since, which was not like him either as he was not one to reminisce. What was the point? The past usually only served to depress him and he enjoyed the here and now.
But she had surprised him that night. He still couldn’t think of a reason why he had been initially drawn to her at the interminable house party he had been dragged to. But once they were alone in that dark carriage, thick fresh snowflakes falling outside in the moonlit sky and crunching beneath the wheels on that much too short journey, he had remembered clearly why he had kissed her.
Because in that moment, he wanted to. It was that simple. And she had surprised him by kissing him back with barely contained passion and for a few short minutes, the carriage, the snow and the entire world disappeared the second his lips had touched hers.
Pietro could not remember the last time such a thing had happened because his head was always full of other things. His business, his wealthy clients. Brokering discrete deals with the many financially challenged aristocrats who needed to liquidate some of their assets, then creating enough excitement and intrigue about those paintings and sculptures so they not only found a welcoming new home, but that he was paid a fortune for rehoming it. A least one of these things was always at the back of his mind at all times, and usually more to the forefront than the recesses, yet in that carriage, on that short road between one house and another, it had only been him and her.
It had been a truly unforgettable kiss. One, which if he were honest with himself, which had caught him off guard and left him decidedly off kilter. Enough to leave Alexandra’s house before breakfast in case he was tempted to do it again. Such an unexpected and unforeseen reaction was far too complicated to indulge further, and Pietro avoided complications like the plague.
“What are you doing here!”
“I live here.”
“You do?” Her voice came out in a delightfully outraged squeak as she simultaneously realised her shawl wasn’t entirely covering her modesty and wrestled with it ineffectually.
He nodded, his mouth curving into a smile for the first time today. “Which beggars the obvious question cara… what are you doing here?”
“I am here with my cousin… with Lady Alexandra… we’ve come to stay with Carlotta…”
“Ahhh…” Instinct told him this was no accident. It had the stamp of his sister all over it. She despaired of his quarter century of bachelorhood, declaring it unnatural- especially as he had been widowed so young. “And she put you in this room?” Conveniently located right next to his in the family wing. Much too coincidental to be coincidence.
“Do you know Carlotta? Silly question… of course you know Carlotta if you live in her house…”
“Actually, this is my house.”
“It is?” She didn’t look very happy about this news. Her dark eyebrows drawing together to create a charming wrinkle between them. “Alexandra led me to believe this is her friend’s house. Carlotta’s house.”
“Carlotta moved in here after her husband died three years ago. To bother me. Something she does very well. My little sister has always liked to meddle.” And matchmake. Although she was usually more subtle about it.
“They never told you?”
“No… neither she nor my dear cousin thought to tell me that my host was her brother… Or that we had met.” Her eyes flicked to his lips again before she caught herself and forced them to hold his gaze. He bothered her. The knowledge warmed him until he reminded himself he should probably be more wary than warmed. Mrs Fairclough was a widow. He was a widower. Carlotta and Alexandra had conspired to put her in the room next door to him, thrust directly in the path of temptation, when there were another twenty serviceable bedchambers in the palazzo well away from his.
“Clearly they both like to meddle, as I suspect you have been brought here on purpose Mrs Fairclough.” It didn’t take a genius to work out what was going on. Alexandra must have reported back straight after Christmas, eager to tell his sister he had shown an interest in a woman and Carlotta being Carlotta, she had assumed it meant more than it did and had thought to encourage it. “To matchmake perhaps?” Unless the woman before him was in league with them. She wouldn’t be the first to assume he was in need of a wife, and as he had instigated their kiss she might well assume she could be the one to tempt him to abandon his bachelor ways…
“Well if they did, I can assure you it was nothing to do with me! I would have put them straight and told them I wasn’t the least bit interested in such nonsense.”
A vehement and convincing denial which needed testing. In his experience, nobody manipulated better than a woman, especially a woman with a mission. “Yet here you are… Right next door to my bedchamber…” His eyes appreciatively travelled the length of her, settling on the bare toes poking beneath the hem of her dress and back up again to the blush which now stained her delicate collar bone, swanlike neck and the alabaster cheeks his fingers suddenly ached to touch- despite all his rampant suspicions. “Looking decidedly interesting.”
“I was about to get into the bath.” In her embarrassment, her teeth worried her plump bottom lip, drawing his eyes there as she clutched at her shawl like a shield. “Your servants brought me the wrong trunk by mistake. Mine must be with Alexandra.” As if noticing her bare toes for the first time, she twisted her feet awkwardly to hide them under the copious material of her skirt. “I was fetching my soap.”
“I can fetch it for you— And perhaps help to scrub your back..?”
His outrageous flirting had the most wonderful effect. Her green eyes sparkled like emeralds and she threw back her shoulders like an offended queen. Something which did wonders for her full bosom beneath the thin shawl. “No thank you.”
“If you change your mind…”
“I won’t!” She spun on her bare heel and marched back to her bedchamber, slamming the door loudly and he found himself frowning as he heard her turn the key decisively in the lock.
A woman determined to seduce a man, would have flirted back, not shut him out. She would have parried and simpered and used all her feminine wiles to lure him into her trap. Mrs Fairclough had been offended and angry. Much too keen to get out of his way. Exactly like a woman who was a surprised and horrified to see him as he was her.
Pietro winced at his own crassness.
Lilian Fairclough has been widowed for ten years, and has survived some hard times, while still managing to raise her three children and running the Fairclough Foundation. Now her children are all happily married, money is no longer an issue, and the family foundation is now in capable hands. For the first time in forever, forty-five year old Lilian is going to take a holiday and visit Italy – a place she’s longed to see. She’ll also be able to view some of the world’s greatest art, another passion of hers. Lilian travels with her friend, Alexandra, and they’ll be staying with her friend, Carlotta. What Lilian doesn’t know is that Carlotta happens to be the sister of a man she met briefly last Christmas, and with whom she shared an unforgettable kiss.
Pietro Venturi is the Italian Duke of Torizia, an avid art lover, and a successful art dealer. His business involves travelling, often to England, where he encountered Lilian last Christmas. He fondly remembers her and their shared kiss, but is surprised to find her in his Italian home as the guest of his sister. Pietro is now forty-eight years old, and has been widowed for twenty-five years. When his wife died, he made a decision about how he was going to live his life. From that point forward, he had numerous lovers, but all his affairs were conducted by his rules. He’ll never marry again. No emotions are involved. No promises are made. No strings are attached.
Pietro still feels that attraction for Lilian, and before too long, he boldly suggests an affair for the duration of her stay in Italy. Lilian, feeling free and attractive for the first time in years, surprises even herself as she agrees. Pietro and Lilian begin a steamy affair, but it turns out there’s so much more to their relationship. As Pietro takes Lilian to visit the lovely sites and art in his country, they discover they are compatible in so many ways other than the physical. They share a passion for art and beauty, and they share the same sense of humor. Though they agreed to a physical relationship only, it’s clear that they are becoming emotionally involved.
Since Lilian has felt love before, she recognizes what is happening, but Pietro is a stranger to the emotion and only feels unsettled and threatened. Though Lilian’s life has been hard, it’s also been filled with the love of a wonderful man and her children. Pietro, on the other hand, was forced into a marriage of convenience by his father at a young age, to a woman he didn’t know, couldn’t love, and who made his life hellish. Now, he doesn’t want to let Lilian disappear from his life, but he’s at a loss as to what he should do.
There is so much I love about LILIAN AND THE IRRESISTIBLE DUKE. Watching Lilian blossom and come into her own was joyful. I appreciate that she wanted their relationship to become permanent, but never tried to force Pietro into something he wasn’t ready for. Pietro was handsome, charming, and sexy, but confused and hurt from his youthful marriage. He always built Lilian up and made her feel beautiful, even though he had to find his own way and discover the path he needed to take. It’s wonderful to see a lead couple who are not youngsters in their twenties, but mature adults, even though they each had things to learn. I greatly enjoyed Lilian and Pietro’s sometimes bumpy journey to happily-ever-after, and especially loved the last chapter which gave a little glimpse into their future. LILIAN AND THE IRRESISTIBLE DUKE is a lovely wrap up to the Fairclough series, Secrets of a Victorian Household, and it can easily read as a standalone. I recommend this book, and appreciate Virginia Heath’s lush descriptions of beautiful Italy and some of its wonderful artwork, which added another layer of enjoyment to an already captivating story. ~Rose
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