Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
The day was as hot as the pond was inviting. It’s not as if anyone in Little Huffington was going to happen upon a secluded vale on the Duke of Greycliffe’s lands. And Venus Collingswood didn’t want to get her shift all wet. It was the perfect setting in which to plan her lovely bookworm of a sister’s betrothal to the mysterious new duke arriving seven days hence. If only she had a suitable accomplice…
Andrew Valentine, Duke of Greycliffe, never thought arriving at his own household a week early would cause so much trouble. The housekeeper thinks he’s his own cousin. Actually, the chance to not be the duke for a while is a pleasant opportunity indeed. It might even help him interrogate the delectable little nymph he’s discovered swimming in his pond—if he can manage to get a word in edgewise…
Praise for the Novels of Sally MacKenzie
“Naked, noble and irresistible!” —Eloisa James
“The romance equivalent of chocolate cake…every page is an irresistible delight!” —Lisa Kleypas
“A perfect night’s read.”—Romantic Times
The Duchess of Love is available on Amazon
Why do you need to read this book? Although this book was a bit too short for my tastes, I found the characters totally delightful. Venus Collingswood is a totally delightful, no nonsense heroine that deserves her hero.
Venus Collingswood ran into the vicarage and flung open the door to the study. As she expected, Papa, Mama, and her older sister, Aphrodite, were all there reading.
“Papa,” she said breathlessly, “did you know the Duke of Greycliffe and his cousin are coming to Little Huffington?”
“Hmm?” The Reverend Walter Collingswood kept his eyes on his book.
Venus turned to her mother. Surely with two unwed daughters, Mama would have heard the news. “Mama, did you know?”
Mama turned a page. “Did I know what, dear?”
“That the Duke of Greycliffe and his cousin, Mr. Valentine, are coming to visit now that Greycliffe has inherited Hyndon House.” Venus paused before she delivered the most important part. “And neither of them is married.”
“Oh?” Mama made a notation on the paper by her elbow. “That’s nice.”
“Nice?” Venus glanced at Aphrodite. At twenty-three Ditee was Venus’s only matchmaking failure, in imminent danger of becoming an old maid despite Venus’s best efforts. Surely she was interested in this news?
Surely not. Ditee was consulting Papa’s large Latin dictionary. She likely hadn’t heard a word Venus had said.
I swear I’m a changeling, Venus thought. It is the only explanation.
“Mrs. Shipley told me Mrs. Edgemoor told her that Greycliffe and Mr. Valentine are expected next week so Greycliffe can inspect the property,” she said, refusing to give up. “We should invite them to dinner to welcome them to the neighborhood.”
Mama sighed and sat back. “Walter, I am having the devil of a time making sense of this passage.”
“I’ll take a look at it in a moment, my love.”
Mama blinked at Venus. “I’m sorry, Venus, were you saying something?” She glanced back at her book. “Oh, I have it! Malum is apple, not evil. The man threw the ripe apple. How silly of me not to have seen it at once.”
“I’ve made the same mistake, Mama,” Ditee said, glancing up from the dictionary.
Venus ground her teeth. “I am going out to the road and throw myself under the next carriage to pass by.”
“Oh?” Mama chewed on the end of her pencil. “Please tell Mrs. Shipley to put supper back an hour before you go, will you?”
Venus stepped carefully out of the study. She did not slam the door behind her. She was quite proud of herself.
Mrs. Shipley, standing in the hall, clucked sympathetically. “Deep in their books, are they, Miss Venus?”
“Yes.” Venus swallowed. She was going to explode with frustration if she didn’t get out of this house immediately. “Mama said to set supper back an hour.”
The housekeeper laughed. “I warned Cook when that package of books arrived they’d be in there all night.”
Venus smiled tightly. “I believe I’ll take Archimedes for a walk.”
“Good. He’s been trying to beg a soup bone from Cook all morning. She’ll be happy to have him out from under foot.”
Venus collected Archie from the kitchen, and they stepped out into the hot afternoon sun. A squirrel scampered by; Archie, barking maniacally, shot off over the broad lawns in pursuit. Venus strode after him.
What was she going to do? Having a duke–and a ducal cousin–fall into their laps was not an opportunity to be missed, yet she couldn’t invite them to the vicarage herself. Well, she might try–she wasn’t above a little, er, creativity for a good cause–but the fact remained that unless the men appeared in togas and laurel wreaths, no one in her family would notice them.
Her odds of nabbing Ditee a duke were about as good as Archie’s for catching a squirrel–zero.
It was a crime. Ditee was at her last prayers, and yet she was by far the most beautiful girl in Little Huffington. Venus had managed to find matches in the admittedly shallow pool of marriageable men for far less well-favored women. Farmer Isley’s sister closely resembled his prize sheep, for goodness sakes, and Mrs. Fedderly’s niece had an obvious squint, and yet she’d successfully matched them with willing males.
Ditee was sweet tempered, too, as long as you didn’t try to take a book away from her. That was the problem. She wouldn’t pull her nose out of her Latin tomes long enough to have a conversation with a man, let alone something of a warmer nature. The men had finally given up and turned to younger, more approachable girls.
Not that Ditee noticed.
But if her sister could catch the duke’s attention…
“I’m sure Ditee would be considered a diamond even in London, Archie,” Venus said as the dog, having chased the squirrel up an oak tree, trotted back to her.
Archie, tongue lolling from his exertions, wagged his tail enthusiastically.
“And she is certainly intelligent. Any man must be pleased to have intelligent children, wouldn’t you say?”
Archie barked twice in apparent agreement.
“Of course, it would help if he is a bit scholarly himself, but I suppose he’ll spend most of his time at his clubs, so that shouldn’t make too much difference.” But Ditee needed to cooperate in any matchmaking effort; Venus had learned that lesson all too well. What would seduce her sister? Not a handsome face or deep pockets or–
Venus snapped her fingers. Of course–books! “I would think a duke, even if he isn’t much of a reader himself, would have an extensive library, wouldn’t you, Archie? Owning a vast quantity of books is considered most impressive.”
Archie was not interested in books–he’d chewed one as a puppy and been exiled from the house for months. He raced off after another squirrel.
Venus treated herself to a lovely daydream of Ditee walking down the aisle at St. George’s, Hanover Square, the ton, dressed in the latest fashions, filling the pews and even standing in the back. Not that her imaginings could be very precise. She’d never seen St. George’s or any church besides Papa’s here in Little Huffington.
If Ditee did marry the duke, she’d spend part of her time in London, wouldn’t she? Surely she’d invite Venus to visit. Then Venus could see the museums and the parks and go to the theater and perhaps even a ball or two. She’d not be condemned to live forever in sleepy Little Huffington amid people she’d known her entire life.
Archie had reached the gate to Hyndon House’s land and was waiting for her to open it. She paused, her hand on the latch. Old Mr. Blant, the previous owner, had never cared if they trespassed, but the duke might feel differently.
Archie barked and then whined, bumping her hand with his nose. He smelled water.
She’d like to go down to the water, too. It was so hot, and the deep, secluded pond was one of her favorite spots.
Archie jumped up as if to push the gate open himself.
“Archie, your manners! Show a little patience.”
Patience was not Archie’s strong suit. He got down from the gate, but clearly it was a struggle. His back end wiggled, his front feet danced, and his eyes were bottomless pools of supplication.
The duke was still in London; he’d never know.
“Oh, very well, we’ll go in, but before we come again, we must ask Greycliffe’s permission.”
Archie backed away enough so she could swing the gate open, but the moment there was space for him to squeeze through, he was gone.
Venus closed the gate carefully behind her. She must not get ahead of herself with her matchmaking. She knew nothing at all about Greycliffe. He’d never come to Hyndon House while Mr. Brant was alive, and Mrs. Shipley had not got any details from Mrs. Edgemoor beyond the fact that the fellow was unwed. What if he was Papa’s age? She frowned. She couldn’t wish for Ditee to marry an old man. Or an ugly one. Or an unrepentant rake.
She heard a great deal of quacking and honking and then a storm of birds erupted from the trees ahead of her. Archie had reached the pond.
She hurried down the rest of the slope and through the woods.
She’d been coming here since she was a girl, but she was always a little surprised and thrilled to step out of the trees and see this perfect jewel of water. The woods ringed it, leaving a grassy bank on which to sit or sun; and on the south and deepest side, a large gray rock sat as if it had been placed there specifically to jump from. Once Papa had discovered the pond, he’d been sure to teach her and Ditee how to swim.
It would be quite peaceful, if it weren’t for Archie, romping and splashing in the water. He started toward her.
“Oh, no, you’re not going to shake half the pond all over me,” she said, dashing for the rock and scrambling up onto it, well out of Archie’s reach. After some good-natured barking, he ran back into the water.
She sat down. Even the stone was hot.
When she was a girl, she used to come here often. Before Ditee had become such a bloody bookworm, Mrs. Shipley would pack them both a basket with their lunch, and they’d spend lazy summer days playing in the water, lying in the sun watching the clouds float by, and talking about all sorts of things.
She took off her shoes and stockings and wiggled her toes. She’d dearly love a swim, but she was nineteen now, not nine.
Yet if the duke did bar the gate to his property, this might be her last chance.
It was so hot…
She looked around. She’d never seen anyone else here. What were the odds someone would appear today?
Close to zero. Certainly good enough to wager on.
She pulled off her bonnet and plucked out her pins, shaking her hair free. She was wearing a simple frock; it took only a moment to have it and her stays off. Then she stood up in her shift and looked down at the deep, cool water. It would feel so good washing over her.
But a wet shift would feel terrible–even worse when she had to put her stays and dress on over it. She didn’t have time to lie in the sun and let it dry.
This was a stupid idea. She would get dressed again.
But if it weren’t for the shift…
She closed her eyes, imagining the cool water rushing over her naked flesh.
No. That was too scandalous.
But Archie didn’t care what she wore-or didn’t wear–and there was no one else to see.
Archie, obviously sensing he might have company, ran back and forth on the bank, barking encouragement.
Damn it, what was the benefit of living in the middle of nowhere if you couldn’t do what you wanted? No one would see her but Archie, and he didn’t bear tales–except for the one he was wagging furiously.
Before she could change her mind, she grabbed her hem and pulled off her shift. She threw it on top of her other clothes, turned back to the pond–
Oh! Her ankle twisted slightly, throwing her off balance. Her arms flew out, but there was nothing to hold onto.
She tottered on the edge and then plunged down into the clear, cold water.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel
Hailey Anderson’s deep, dark secret? She’s been madly in lust with her overprotective brother’s two best friends for years. Gorgeous woodworking artist Mark Allen and sexy doctor Tony Adamo have no idea they star in her fantasies every night.
After a nasty breakup with her abusive boyfriend, Hailey’s looking for a little distance. Headed for a two-week Hawaiian vacation with her brother and his hot friends, Hailey can’t wait to feast her eyes on Mark’s and Tony’s rock-hard, ocean-slick bodies. Even if she can’t touch.
But instead of treating her like their little sister, Mark and Tony have a surprising proposition: a monogamous ménage à trois. The three of them—and no one else. Both men want Hailey and have agreed to share her. The red-hot reality is even better than the forbidden fantasy. Until Hailey’s ex threatens their newfound happiness…
Sharing Hailey is available on Amazon
Why do you need to read this book? This is a great menage romance where the emphasis is on the relationship. I love the interaction between Hailey and these two very different men!
Hailey stood in the line at Phoenix airport security flanked by her brother’s two best friends, aka serious drool material. As if she hadn’t been able to figure that out for herself, every woman in the vicinity and a few of the men reminded her. Even mothers busy with babies and toddlers managed to sneak in wistful glances at them.
Tony Adamo and Mark Allen. Too bad she had a crush on both of them—had had a crush on both of them since she’d learned that boys were good for something other than playing ball and tag. Too bad they thought of her as a little sister. Oh yeah, and there was that tiny, little detail about them being her brother’s best friends.
Yes, she was vacationing with her brother and his wife and her brother’s best friends. How pathetic was that? Her boyfriend hadn’t wanted to go. And why was a thirty-two-year-old woman using the term “boyfriend,” as if she were still in high school?
Nix that. She no longer had a boyfriend. After a year and a half, she’d finally broken it off with him two days ago. Well, technically a day and a half ago.
Which reminded her…
Surreptitiously, she swept the area with her gaze just to make certain Daniel hadn’t followed her. No sign of him. Just a few families going on vacation and a lot of business people with their carry-ons in one hand and BlackBerries in the other. She pulled her cell phone from the back pocket of her jeans and checked for messages.
One from her brother saying he and Nikki had arrived in Hawaii and to “get her rear in gear.” She automatically deleted the message and then the phone number in the log of incoming calls, leaving it empty. She checked her outgoing log to make certain it was empty then stopped herself.
Daniel was history. No more arguments over who called her or whom she called. No more fights over whom she lunched with. No more defending her meetings with clients. No more put-downs or subtle threats.
She should have been relieved. She wasn’t. Daniel hadn’t taken the breakup well.
Once again she scanned the crowd, more carefully this time.
“You lookin’ for someone?” Mark asked, his voice so close to her ear that she startled and her heart skipped a beat.
Hailey slipped the phone back in her pocket as she shook her head. “No.”
He rested his arm across her shoulders, and Tony ruffled her hair.
“Hey, sunshine, you’re on vacation. What’s got you so jumpy?” Tony asked, his dark eyes serious.
Hailey tried to clear her throat so her voice didn’t sound so rough. It was too damned early in the morning to talk. “Nothing,” she lied, but her next statement was the truth. “I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m just tired.”
Tony looked over her head at Mark and shrugged his shoulders. He obviously didn’t believe her. His frown and the lines between his dark eyebrows told her as much. One of the drawbacks of knowing each other for so long.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
Stunning sensuality and breathtaking romance mark this dazzling new Legendary Lovers tale from New York Timesbestselling author Nicole Jordan, where an extraordinary beauty teaches a handsome, reclusive “beast” to love again.
The most charming Wilde cousin, Lady Skye has secretly loved the enigmatic Earl of Hawkhurst since girlhood, long before the tragedy that left him scarred both physically and emotionally. When Skye learns that the celebrated hero has returned to England from his self-imposed exile to make a cold marriage of convenience, she brazenly plants herself on his castle doorstep, determined to convince Hawk that she alone is his true mate and destiny.
An elite member of the Guardians of the Sword, Hawk has vowed never again to risk the pain of loving—but that’s before he deals with the most enchanting, annoyingly persistent seductress he’s ever encountered. One night of blazing passion leaves him impossibly torn. Will Hawk choose duty over love, or will he open his heart and let Skye’s healing light penetrate his darkness?
Secrets of Seduction is available on Amazon
Why do you need to read this book? You need to read this book because of Lady Skye. She doesn’t let anything get in the way of what she wants. She is eternally optomistic, and determine to get her way. The excerpt that I included below will give you a snippet of what she’s like.
Excerpt from the author’s website:
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE:
East Sussex, England; September 1816
She had never before pursued a man, but in matters of the heart, sometimes a lady
needed to take fate into her own hands.
In the gathering dusk, Lady Skye Wilde peered through her carriage window at the
hulking mansion shrouded in fog and drizzling rain. Built two centuries before, Hawkhurst
Castle was an enormous edifice of gold-hued stone, complete with turrets. Once
magnificent, it looked forsaken now, although faint lights shone in a lower-story window,
giving Skye hope that her mission would not be in vain.
The Earl of Hawkhurst needed a bride, and she intended to interview for the position.
In truth, she’d been plotting this moment all summer long, ever since learning of Lord
Hawkhurst’s intention to marry again. Now that the moment was at hand, an army of
butterflies was doing battle in her stomach.
Skye was keenly aware her entire future could depend on this first meeting.
Before she lost her nerve, she pulled her cloak hood over her fair hair and stepped down
from her carriage into the rain. No doubt it was idiotic to purposely get caught in a storm,
yet the brewing tempest played well into her scheme to plant herself on the earl’s front
doorstep. A downpour increased the odds that he would take pity on her and provide her
shelter, perhaps even allow her to stay the night.
An ominous flash of lightning in the near distance warned Skye that she had little time
before the worst hit. Even so, she hesitated to approach the sweeping stone steps that
led up to the massive front door.
Actually, she had encountered the earl only once, yet Hawkhurst—known as Hawk to his
intimates—was the kind of man no woman ever forgot . . . or any girl either. When she
was nearly fourteen, she’d fallen head over heels for him and had been heartbroken to
learn he was already wed. Then shortly afterward, he’d suffered the most terrible of
tragedies, losing his beloved wife and very young son to a fire here at his family seat.
From her vantage point, Skye couldn’t see the charred remains of the burnt rooms. The
fire must have started in another wing—
A second bolt of lightning, this one much closer, was followed swiftly by a crash of
thunder that startled the already fractious carriage horses. Glancing behind her, Skye
called out an order to her coachman to drive the team around to the stables and seek
shelter.”My lady, I dislike leaving you here alone!” he shouted back over the growing bluster of
wind and rain.
She appreciated the concern of her loyal servants—two grooms and a coachman—who
were more like bodyguards than lackeys. Her brother, Quinn, insisted they accompany
her for protection on her travels, even though she was almost four-and-twenty. Skye
usually suffered her strapping attendants with good grace, since they allowed her a
measure of independence that most unattached young ladies lacked. But now they were
decidedly in the way.
“I won’t come to harm!” Skye insisted. “Lord Hawkhurst is a close friend of my aunt. He
will not turn me away in a storm.”
At least I trust not, she added to herself. Hawkhurst was known as a great lover of horses
and a master horseman. In all likelihood, he would not evict frightened animals from his
estate, even if he might want to refuse their human owners.
“If you are certain, my lady— ”
Another crack of thunder cut off his sentence. “Yes, go quickly please, Josiah!” Just then
the heavens opened up and the drizzle became a torrent of driving rain.
The two grooms hastily climbed onto their rear perch and the carriage drove off, while
Skye sprinted for the stone staircase and wondered if she had underestimated the
storm’s danger. Her cloak hood barely protected her face as big, stinging drops pelted
her tender skin. Quelling a gasp at the chill impact, she ran almost blindly up the steps.
By the time she reached the top landing, she was thoroughly drenched.
Between the gloom and the buffeting rain, she could barely make out that the knocker
had been removed from the door. She rapped with her knuckles for several long minutes,
then pounded with the heel of her hand.
No one answered.
Although half expecting the door to be locked, she tried admitting herself. The knob
turned freely, so she pushed open the door an instant before it abruptly swung wide,
pulling her forward. Skye stumbled over the threshold and would have pitched face-first
onto the floor if not for a pair of strong arms saving her.
Skye did gasp then. Held against a broad chest and a very male body, she looked up,
her heart pounding. In the enormous entrance hall, the flame of a single wall sconce cast
flickering shadows over her savior’s visage.
It was the lord of the manor himself, Morgan Blake, the sixth Earl of Hawkhurst.
Skye caught her breath anew at his stunning masculine beauty: High forehead, chiseled
cheekbones, aristocratic nose, sensual lips. And his most striking features, winged black
brows with dark-fringed, storm-gray eyes.
He looked more rugged than she remembered, perhaps because of his tousled, overlong
raven hair and the stubble roughening his strong jaw. His face held more character also,
and lines of pain that hadn’t been present before. But of course, he was ten years oldernow, and at four-and-thirty, he had seen far more of the dark side of life.
Those penetrating eyes still had the same spellbinding effect on her, however. When her
gaze locked with his, heat streaked through Skye, stark and raw, like a bolt of lightning.
He might have felt the same electric flash of fire, for he reached up with one hand and
pushed back the hood of her cloak to reveal her pale gold hair. Frowning, he touched her
face, as if wondering if she were real.
It was a moment of enchantment she could never have anticipated.
Her heart still in her throat, Skye parted her lips but remained mute as she returned his
searching stare. Then Lord Hawkhurst seemed to realize he was holding her. Appearing
reluctant to let her go, he slowly helped her to stand upright.
Disappointment swamped Skye. Being held in his arms was as breathtaking as she’d
dreamed it would be, and she had not wanted his embrace to end. This intimate manner
of meeting was unplanned but much better than she could have hoped for . . . until she
suddenly spied the weapon in his other hand.
He wielded a deadly looking dagger and seemed prepared to use it on her.
Skye swallowed hard before realizing his weapon was the sort of knife used for paring
“My l-lord,” she managed to say with relative calm. “You needn’t defend yourself from
me. I am not a thief or assassin. Had I been, I would not have knocked on your front
“If not a thief, then who are you?” he asked in a voice that was commanding and
“I am Skye Wilde, the niece of your friend, Lady Isabella Wilde.”
His brows drew together sharply. “Did Bella send you here?”
“Yes . . . I mean, no.”
“Which is it?” He sounded impatient.
“Actually, she did not send me. I came on my own, all the way from London—” Skye
stopped herself. When she was nervous, she became breathless and spoke too rapidly.
“Forgive me, my lord. I chatter on when dangerous gentlemen glare at me and threaten
me with knives.”
His expression softened a measure as he lowered the blade to his side. “Are you daft,
setting out in a storm?”
She hid a smile at his accusation, since she’d just been wondering the same thing.
“When I left home this afternoon, it was not storming. And I don’t believe I am daft,
merely desperate. May I please come in before you ring a peal over my head? Afterward
you may scold me as much as you like.”Hawkhurst made a soft sound of disapproval in his throat, something like a growl, but
stepped back to allow her entrance. As she moved past him, he glanced out at the
darkening courtyard below, which was nearly obscured by rain. “Where is your carriage?”
“I took the liberty of sending it around to your stables. My horses and grooms needed
shelter. I felt certain you would want me to keep my horses safe. Perhaps you should
shut the door,” Skye added sweetly. “Rain is gusting in and flooding your marble floor.”
He stared at her again for a moment, as if not crediting her boldness. Then curtly acting
on her suggestion, he closed the door and blocked out the storm before turning to face
The hall was quieter now, although still echoing dully from sheets of rain lashing the
Skye smiled up at Lord Hawkhurst. “I do beg your pardon, my lord. We got off on the
wrong foot. May we start afresh? I am Lady Skye Wilde, and I am happy to meet you at
last. Have you not heard of me?”
“Yes, I have heard of you.” He did not look pleased by the fact.
“I thought Aunt Bella might have mentioned me. You and I are practically family.”
He gave her another frowning glance, this one rife with skepticism. “How did you arrive at
“Well . . . we are not related by blood, but you and my aunt are such good friends, I feel
as if I know you. And you are acquainted with my elder brother, Quinn Wilde, the Earl of
Traherne. You and I were never officially introduced, but I saw you once a long time ago,
when you and your wife attended a ball at our home, Tallis Court. I was the girl hanging
over the banister, watching the dancers below.”
Even in the dim light, she could see recognition dawn in Hawkhurst’s striking eyes.
“I am flattered that you remember me,” Skye said honestly. “Except for a brief moment,
you paid no attention to me that evening.”
“I feared you might be in need of rescue.”
Skye felt her cheeks warm at the reminder. She’d been watching the glittering company
with her cousin Kate from the gallery above the ballroom. When the devastatingly
handsome Lord Hawkhurst had looked up at her and smiled, her heart had instantly
melted. Stricken with awe, she’d nearly tumbled over the railing. The earl had leapt
closer, prepared to catch her and break her fall if necessary. Fortunately—or
unfortunately, Skye had thought at the time—her cousin’s quick action in grasping her
skirts had saved her from disaster.
Uncomfortable awareness flooded her now. How embarrassing to appear so awkward
with a nobleman she wanted earnestly to impress. This was twice now that she had
almost fallen at his feet.
“I am not usually so clumsy, I promise you.”He did not seem interested in prolonging their discussion. “What brings you here in the
midst of a storm, Lady Skye?”
His abruptness was rather unmannerly, but given her unexpected arrival, she could
“My aunt wrote me a letter of introduction and explained my purpose to you. . . .” Fishing
in her reticule, Skye pulled out a folded letter that was a bit worse for wear and presented
it to him. “Please will you read this?”
Hawkhurst broke the wax seal but barely glanced at the contents, perhaps because it
was difú cult to read in the scant light. When he made to move closer to the wall sconce,
Skye spoke up. “Is there a fire where I may warm myself?”
He hesitated before finally replying. “There is one in my study. Follow me.”
When he strode off across the entrance hall, she hurried to keep up with him and found
herself eyeing his tall, athletic form with admiration. He was dressed informally—white
linen shirt, buff breeches, and riding boots—and the way his clothing clung to his broad
shoulders, lean hips, well-formed buttocks, and muscular thighs emphasized his stark
masculinity. It was brazen to admit, Skye knew, but the intense physical attraction she
felt for Hawkhurst now was much less pure than when she was a mere girl.
She was also brazen to call at his nearly deserted country estate when no one suitable
was present to act as chaperone. Yet to attain her heart’s desire, she needed to be bold
and daring. She would not let the risk of scandal deter her. Courting scandal in their
amorous affairs was a Wilde family legacy, and she was a Wilde, through and through.
When they entered a dark corridor, Skye glanced inside the rooms they passed. The fact
that the elegant manor was damp and musty from disuse was no wonder, considering
that it had been shut up for more than ten years. But the furniture was still shrouded in
“I expected you to have servants to answer your front door,” she commented to the earl’s
“The elderly man who acts as caretaker is hard of hearing and didn’t heed your
“But I understood you arrived here a full week ago. I thought by now you would have tried
to set the castle to rights.”
Only after another pause did he answer her probing remark. “I haven’t yet arranged for a
full-time staff. Some women from the village came today to begin cleaning, but with the
storm approaching, I sent them home before it grew too dark.”
“That was kind of you.”
Hawkhurst made another low sound of dismissal in his throat and kept walking.
“I am grateful that you opened your door to me,” Skye pressed, “although you frightened
me out of my wits, brandishing that knife.””You did not look particularly frightened.”
She had not been—but then she knew the extraordinary sort of man she was dealing
with. “I suppose you have an excuse for your extreme reaction. You can’t help yourself.
You were trained to be suspicious. You were a spy for the Foreign Office for the past
dozen years and more, were you not?”
Hawkhurst halted in his tracks and glanced back at her. “Who told you that?”
“My aunt, of course. She also warned me that you were a determined recluse. But you
could be a trifle more welcoming, for her sake if nothing else.”
His eyebrow shot up at her impertinence. Hawkhurst regarded her for several more
heartbeats, obviously reassessing her.
He must finally have realized that she was attempting to lighten the mood, for her
complaint won her the barest hint of a smile. “You break into my home and then take me
“I did not break in,” she pointed out genially. “You admitted me.”
“Much to my regret.
Just then the darkness in the corridor was broken by another lightning flash. When he
continued on his way, Skye followed in his footsteps.
Upon arriving at his study, he allowed her to precede him. To her relief, this room at least
looked habitable. A fire was crackling in the hearth and a low-burning lamp rested on a
“You may sit there by the fire,” he said, pointing to a leather wing chair that was angled
before the hearth.
His invitation seemed slightly grudging, but Skye did not take offense. “Do you mind if I
remove my cloak first? I am chilled to the bone.” Her discomfort was not a lie. Her cloak
was soaked through and her gown was damp at the bodice and sodden at the hem.
Hawkhurst murmured something under his breath that sounded much like, “It serves you
right,” but he stepped closer to aid her.
When he reached out to lift the cloak from her shoulders, Skye’s own breath suddenly
turned ragged at his close proximity. Then, when she handed over the garment,
revealing an elegantly tailored traveling dress of forest green kerseymere beneath, his
gaze dropped to her breasts.
Instinctively she went still as his marvelous eyes traveled over her body in dispassionate
appraisal. She was well aware of her physical attributes and that her feminine
countenance and figure appealed to most men. Usually she had suitors falling at her
feet, declaring themselves in love with her. Yet she had no clue what Hawkhurst was
thinking or feeling.
There was no question about her body’s reaction to him, however. She was not sexuallyexperienced, but the intense fascination she felt for him was most certainly sexual, her
desire that of a grown woman, not merely the love-struck awe of a young girl. But what
he did to her insides was more remarkable. His mere nearness filled her with fluttery
excitement and sweet yearning—a response she had never felt with any man but him.
She had no difficulty picturing Hawkhurst as her husband now, just as she’d done
numerous times in her romantic dreams these past few months. If he were her husband,
though, she could have removed her gown instead of standing here shivering in this
clammy one. If he were her husband, she could have undressed down to her shift and
moved into his arms. Indeed, she could have bared her entire chilled body to him and
shared his warmth. . . .
The alluring image dissolved when he took her dripping cloak and spread it near the
hearth to dry, then went to his desk without another word.
Hawkhurst was clearly displeased to have her in his home, Skye could tell as she
removed her wet gloves. She ought to be intimidated by his surly manner; any normal
young lady would be. But few gentlemen had the power to shake her, perhaps because
she was accustomed to handling the strong-willed men in her family.
She usually was able to bend them to her own will with sweet reason. She suspected in
this case, though, it would take a good deal more than reason to sway the earl. Indeed,
the sheer size of her task daunted her. But if Lord Hawkhurst was looking for a wife, it
might as well be her, Skye judged. At the very least, she wanted to see if they were a
compatible match. And regardless of her romantic hopes, she needed a hero just now,
and he was a genuine hero.
Skye drew a steadying breath to bolster her courage. She had contrived to land on his
doorstep, and now she had to capitalize on the opportunity she had created for herself.
“Will you please read my aunt’s letter, my lord?” she asked.
Obligingly, he turned up the flame on the desk lamp, then held the letter nearer the light.
It was then that Skye really saw the burn scars marring the back of his hands.
A sudden lump formed in her throat. Hawkhurst was still the most beautiful man she had
ever seen, but also the most deeply scarred. Not just on the outside but on the inside, if
her information was correct. After all, he had crawled through fire to save his wife and
young son, futilely as it happened. With his life shattered, he’d exiled himself to a distant
Mediterranean island and spent the past decade engaged in dangerous deeds, not
caring whether he lived or died.
Skye’s heart went out to him. Perhaps that organ was too tender, but as the youngest
Wilde cousin of the current generation, she was known for being the sensitive one, in
addition to being the most mischievous.
Mentally chiding herself for staring at the earl’s scarred hands, she busied herself
spreading her gloves on the hearth. Then she settled into the wing chair and began to
remove the pins from her chignon, since her damp hair would dry more quickly if down.
For a short while as he read, the silence in the study was broken only by rain spitting
against the windowpanes and the occasional snap of a log in the hearth fire.When Hawkhurst absently reached for a snifter that was almost empty, Skye noticed the
crystal decanter half-filled with what appeared to be brandy. Evidently he had been
drinking, which partially explained his morose mood.
It was not surprising that he would be sitting alone here and brooding. She would have
brooded also if she’d had to face the ghosts of her dead family, as he doubtless had
upon his arrival at the castle after a decade of being absent.
In fact, it was his castle that had made Skye wonder if the earl might be her ideal match.
According to her cousin Kate’s matchmaking theory, the five Wilde cousins—Ashton,
Quinn, Jack, Katharine, and Skye—could possibly find true love by mirroring legendary
lovers in history and literature.
Skye hoped that her romance would follow a French fairy tale written nearly a century
ago, where a beautiful young lady had been delivered to a beast whose lair was a
Of course, Lord Hawkhurst was not a beast in the literal sense, but a brooding, scarred
recluse somewhat fit the role. And this gloomy mansion could be a beast’s lair, Skye
thought with a shiver.
Just then Hawkhurst looked up from the letter. His gaze narrowed on her as she combed
her fingers through her tangled tresses. Then he said rather brusquely, “Lady Isabella’s
missive falls far short of the explanation you promised. She says only that you have a
request to make of me. So what do you want, Lady Skye?”
Skye hesitated, knowing she had to choose her words carefully. Naturally she could not
tell him her true reason for being here for fear he would think she was stalking him. Her
purpose had to remain her secret for now. Therefore, she would employ an entirely
different excuse to ensure her chance to pursue the earl.
“I need you to you to find someone for me.”
“My uncle’s long lost love.”
Hawkhurst appeared dubious. “Why the devil do you think I could help?”
“Because you are an expert at solving puzzles and finding missing people. Some years
ago when Lady Isabella was abducted by a Berber sheik and carried off to the mountains
near Algiers, you found her and rescued her, to her immense gratitude.”
When the earl was silent, Skye offered absently, “I will pay very generously.”
That was obviously the wrong approach, for he shook his head. “My services are not for
“Then do it as a favor for my aunt.”
That argument did not appear to sway him either.At his reticence, Skye gave a soft huff of exasperation. “You are a hero, Lord Hawkhurst.
You should want to help me.”
Her claim brought a flash of genuine amusement to his features. “I am no hero.”
“You are indeed. And you belong to a secret league of heroes called the Guardians of
the Sword. In fact, you are the league’s most renowned member.”
His expression suddenly became enigmatic, but his tone revealed his displeasure that so
much had been revealed about him. “I expected more discretion from Bella.”
“You ought not blame her. I was quite persistent.”
That was certainly true. She had quizzed her aunt at great length about every facet of the
“But don’t fear,” Skye added quickly. “She told me little more than the name of your
alliance of spies. I know, however, that you have a long list of commendable qualities.
You are honorable, supremely clever, and a leader of men. Before the tragedy struck,
you were a devoted husband and father. And since then, you have risked your life
countless times over and saved numerous lives.”
His answer was gruff, almost harsh. “That still does not make me suitable for your task.”
Skye eyed Hawkhurst in frustration. She was not about to admit failure, not when she felt
such great urgency to act. His spy career might still be shrouded in secrecy, but her aunt
had been completely frank about his romantic affairs. Hawkhurst soon intended to wed
the great-niece of his superior and mentor—a marriage of convenience strictly for
He had not begun his courtship yet; he was merely readying his house to receive a new
bride. But given his plans, Skye had little time to discover if they were a match, and if so,
to somehow prevent his betrothal and marriage to another woman.
She was never one to turn away from a challenge, though.
Tamping down her frustration, she offered Hawkhurst her most winning smile. “Just hear
me out, my lord. Please. It is the least you can do, given your friendship with my aunt.”
Leaning back in his chair, he folded his arms over his chest. “Very well, you have you
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel
Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, long ago buried his grief for his missing elder brother, Peter, who was presumed dead after being kidnapped. When a mysterious note arrives from Tristan Bonnaud asserting that the Duke’s brother is alive, it leads Max straight to the winsome Lisette Bonnaud, illegitimate daughter of a viscount and Tristan’s sister. Soon he and Lisette are traveling to Paris posing as husband and wife, in search of Tristan, who has disappeared. And the longer he spends with Lisette, the easier it is for Max to see that the line between dukedom and desire is easier to cross than he imagined…
What the Duke Desires is available on Amazon
Why do you need to read this book? Other than the fact that everyone needs to read everything that Sabrina Jeffries writes, I liked this book for the character of Lisette. She’s down to earth, practical and wanting to live her life much like a modern woman would – wanting a career. She takes the duke in hand and doesn’t put up with any of his guff! Loved this book!
Excerpt from the author’s website:
When Lisette Bonnaud was awakened just past dawn by a pounding on the door downstairs, she nearly had heart failure. Who could be coming here so early? Oh dear, had something happened to delay Dom’s ship to Edinburgh?
Hastily donning her dressing gown over her nightrail, she hurried into the hall just in time to hear Skrimshaw grumbling to himself as he headed for the door downstairs. He’d scarcely got it open when a male voice snapped, “I demand to see Mr. Dominick Manton.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Skrimshaw said, donning his butler role with great aplomb. “Mr. Manton does not see clients at this early hour.”
“I’m not a client. I’m the Duke of Lyons,” the man countered, his tone iced with the sort of frosty anger only the aristocracy could manage. “And he’ll see me if he knows what’s good for him.”
The bold statement sent Lisette rushing forward in a panic.
“Otherwise,” the duke went on, “I will be back with officers of the law to search every inch of this house for him and his—”
“He’s not here,” she said as she flew down the stairs, heedless of how she was dressed. The last thing Manton Investigations needed was an officious duke barging in with a crowd of officers merely because he was up in the boughs over some foolish matter. The gossip alone would ruin them.
But as she reached the bottom of the stairs and caught sight of the man, she skidded to a halt. Because the fellow looming in the doorway beyond Skrimshaw did not look like a duke.
Oh, he wore the clothing of a duke—a top hat of expensive silk, a coat of exquisitely tailored cashmere, and a perfectly tied cravat. But every duke she’d seen depicted in the papers or in satirical prints was gray-haired and stooped.
This duke was neither. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was the most striking fellow she’d ever seen. Not handsome, no. His features were too bold for that—his jaw too sharply chiseled, his eyes too deeply set—and his golden-brown hair was just a touch too straight to be fashionable. But attractive, oh yes. It annoyed her that she noticed just how attractive.
“Dom’s not here,” she said again, inanely.
“Then tell me where he is.”
The expectation that she would just march to his tune raised her hackles. She was used to dealing with his sort—the worst thing she could do was let him bully her into revealing too much. After all, she still didn’t know what this was about. “He’s on a case out of town, Your Grace. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.”
Eyes the color of finest jade sliced down, ripping away whatever flimsy pretensions she might have. In one savage glance he unveiled her age, family connections, and station in life, making her feel all that she was . . . and was not.
Those all-seeing eyes snapped back to her. “And who are you? Manton’s mistress?”
His words, spoken in a tone of studied contempt, had Skrimshaw turning positively scarlet, but before the servant could speak, she touched him on the arm. “I’ll handle this, Skrimshaw.”
Though the older man tensed, he knew her well enough to recognize the tone that presaged an epic set-down. Reluctantly, he stepped back.
She met the duke’s gaze coldly. “How do you know I’m not Manton’s wife?”
“Manton doesn’t have a wife.”
Supercilious oaf. Or, as Maman would have called him … English. He might not look like a duke, but he certainly acted like one. “No, but he does have a sister.”
That seemed to give the duke pause. Then he caught himself and cast her a haughty stare. “Not any that I know of.”
That really sparked her temper. She forgot about his threat to call in officers, forgot about the early hour or what she was wearing. All she could see was another version of her other half-brother George, full of himself and his consequence.
“I see.” She marched forward to thrust her face right up to his. “Well, since you know so much about Mr. Manton already, you obviously don’t need us to tell you when he’s returning or how you can reach him. So good day, Your Grace.”
She started to close the door, but he pushed forward to block the motion. When she lifted her livid gaze, she found him staring at her with the merest hint of respect. “Forgive me, madam, it appears that you and I got off on the wrong foot.”
“No,” she shot back. “You got off on the wrong foot. I merely watched you shove it into your mouth.”
He raised an eyebrow, clearly unused to having people of her inconsequence speak to him in such a fashion. Then he nodded. “A colorful way to put it. And perhaps apt. But I have good reason for my rudeness. If you will allow me in to explain, I promise to behave like a gentleman.”
When she eyed him skeptically, Skrimshaw stepped forward to murmur, “At the very least, miss, you should come away from the open door before someone sees you dressed as . . . well . . .”
It suddenly hit her that she was standing here practically in view of the street wearing only her nightrail and dressing gown. “Yes, of course,” she mumbled and backed away, allowing Lyons to enter.
The duke closed the door behind him. “Thank you, Miss . . . Miss . . .”
“Bonnaud,” she finished for him, then groaned at her rashness.
But before she could even explain that Dom was her half-brother, the duke said in a strained voice, “Ah. You’rethat sister.”
The wealth of meaning in his words made heat rise in her cheeks. “The bastard one?” she said tightly.
“The one who’s also a sister to Tristan Bonnaud.” His hard gaze flicked down her again.
Alarm rose in her chest. “You know my other brother?”
“You might say that. He’s the reason I’m here.” His eyes narrowed on her. “I was hoping Manton would reveal where the scoundrel is hiding in London. But I don’t suppose there’s much chance that you will do so.”
A chill coursed down her spine. This wasn’t good at all. If Tristan had been fool enough to come to England even with the price George had placed on his head years ago . . .
No, it was impossible. “You must be mistaken, sir. Tristan hasn’t visited London in years. And if he did, we would be the first to know. But Dom and I have had no word from him.”
He searched her face. “Which only proves me right about his character. I did think it odd that a man of Manton’s sterling reputation would countenance Bonnaud’s actions, but if he was unaware of them—”
“What actions, sir?” she asked, her pulse jumping up a notch with the duke’s every word. “What has my brother done?”
“Forgive me, madam, but I prefer to discuss this with a more disinterested party. Tell me where Manton is, and I will leave you in peace.”
After hinting that Tristan had done some awful thing? Not a chance. “As I said before, I’m not at liberty to do so. But if you’ll reveal what it is you think Tristan has done, I promise to be as impartial a judge of his actions as you have been.”
Behind her, Skrimshaw let out what sounded like a laugh, but it turned into a cough when the duke shot him a withering glance.
“It seems that we have come to an impasse,” the duke told her icily.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “It does appear that way, doesn’t it?”
“I’m not leaving without the information I seek.”
“And I’m not telling you anything without knowing what is going on. So you have two choices, Your Grace. You may speak to me clearly and honestly of your grievance, and I will help you resolve the matter in any way I can. Or you can bed down in our parlor for the next week or so until Dom’s return.”
“A week!” the duke exclaimed.
“As I told you, he is on a case. Sometimes they go on for a while.”
Lyons appeared to be considering that. Then he muttered an oath under his breath. “You realize I could bring half a dozen officers in here to search the place for the information I seek.”
It was her turn to cast him a withering stare. “You could. But you’ll find that such behavior will only make me more recalcitrant. By the time you can return with officers, I will have spirited away any information of use to you. And then you’ll have to toss me in the gaol to get anything out of me.”
He blinked, then surprised her by letting out a harsh laugh. “You make a formidable adversary, Miss Bonnaud.”
“I take that as a compliment,” she said archly.
“Of course you do. Very well, I’ll tell you what I know if you’ll tell me what you know.” He nodded at Skrimshaw. “But only if we can continue this conversation in private.”
Now that she’d won the skirmish, she began to be worried about the battle. If he wanted privacy, Tristan must have done something very bad indeed. “Certainly, Your Grace,” she said shakily, then turned to Skrimshaw. “If you’d be so good as to ask Mrs. Biddle to bring us tea, we shall take it upstairs in the study. I believe this discussion is going to require it.”
“It will require something more than tea, I expect,” Skrimshaw muttered as he took the duke’s hat and coat, then headed for the back of the house.
Lisette began climbing the stairs. “If you’ll follow me, sir, I’m sure we can sort out this muddle.”
The duke fell into step behind her. “I damned well hope so.”
So did she. Because if she couldn’t handle this to the duke’s satisfaction, she had a feeling the result would be disaster for both of her brothers. And she would do just about anything to prevent that.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
In London after a two-year exile, Lord Blakeney plans to cut a swathe through the bedchambers of the demimonde. Marriage is not on his agenda, especially to an annoying chit like Minerva Montrose, with her superior attitude and a tendency to get into trouble. And certainly the lastman Minerva wants is Blake, a careless wastrel without a thought in his handsome head.
The heat and noise of her debutante ball give Minerva a migraine. Surely a moment’s rest could do no harm . . . until Blake mistakes her for another lady, leaving Minerva’s guests to catch them in a very compromising position. To her horror, the scandal will force them to do the unthinkable: marry. Their mutual loathing blazes into unexpected passion but Blake remains distant, desperate to hide a shameful secret. Minerva’s never been a woman to take things lying down, and she’ll let nothing stop her from winning his trust . . . and his heart.
Confessions from an Arranged Marriage can be purchased from Amazon
Why do you need to read this book? Again, the characters of this story take the cake. Lord Blakeney and Minerva are utterly delightful. Their fighting that leads to a happily ever after is witty, sparkling and fun to read. Pick up a copy!
Excerpt from the author’s website:
London, Spring 1822
Lord Blakeney wasn’t in the ballroom. He wasn’t even in the building. Minerva Montrose wouldn’t care if he was on a ship to America.
When the stone-faced footman informed Miss Montrose that his lordship was nowhere to be found, it came as no surprise to her. If you asked her to name the men in the world guaranteed to be unreliable, the Marquis of Blakeney would be first on her list.
Never mind that the ball was at Vanderlin House, the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Hampton. Never mind that the ball was occasioned by her formal presentation to the ton. And certainly never mind that Blakeney, the duke’s only son and heir, was supposed to open the ball with her. Minerva knew him well enough to be undisturbed by his failure to keep this particular engagement. Neither was she disappointed at the loss of a partner who would have younger debutantes grinding their teeth with envy. Her marital ambitions took no account of high rank.
“I don’t think Blakeney’s coming.” Her brother-in-law, Viscount Iverley, looked so mournful Minerva had to smile.
“This must be the first time in your life you’ve been sorry for his absence,” she said.
“I’d be just as happy if I never had to set eyes on him again.”
“I haven’t seen him for almost two years. I don’t suppose he has changed.”
Sebastian gave a contemptuous grunt. “He was an arrogant ass at the age of ten, with very little reason I may say, and he never got any better. He’s an idiot without a worthwhile thought in his head.”
“The duke and duchess are clever people. How did they produce such a son?”
“Perhaps he was dropped on his head by a nurse.”
Sebastian’s feud with his first cousin went back to their childhood, and winning Diana, Minerva’s sister, from his old rival had done nothing to abate his dislike. Minerva adored her brother-in-law and shared his opinion of Blakeney’s intellect. At another time the pair of them would have enjoyed a cheerful enumeration of the latter’s many shortcomings, but Sebastian had something else on his mind.
“Do you suppose I shall have to dance with you instead?”
Minerva resisted the urge to tease a man teetering on the edge of desperation. “Only if we cannot find me another partner, preferably one who is both sober and capable of rational conversation. Blakeney, should he appear, is likely to be neither.”
Sebastian’s look of terror flickered to one of shrewdness. “The Member of Parliament for Gristlewick, I suppose. Does the fellow realize you are going to hunt him down and transform him, willy-nilly, into a successful statesman?”
Minerva lowered her eyes to her slippers with a modesty that would fool no one who knew her. “Mr. Parkes, if I’m not mistaken, would like to be Prime Minister, and I’m the very person to make it happen.”
“Good luck to him. Which is he?”
This early in the evening the ballroom remained less than half full. Those present for the most part compromised political aspirants anxious to please the duke, rather than the merely fashionable members of the ton, who preferred to be fashionably late. Ignoring Adam’s most famous London interior, which to Minerva’s eye was merely white and gold with a lot of pillars, passing with indifference over anyone in a gown, her questing gaze sought a cluster of men in earnest conversation beyond the Ionic colonnade that divided off one end of the long chamber. “Over there.” she said.
“The short sandy-haired fellow?”
“I’d call it light brown. I would expect you of all people, Sebastian, to appreciate a man who cultivates his intellect rather than his appearance.”
“I take your word that the man is a paragon of learning. At the moment he’d impress me by coming to claim you for the opening dance.”
“He won’t do that. He has already engaged me for the second.”
Sebastian looked back at her, anxiety visible through his spectacles. “Then who are you going to dance with? You can’t sit out the first set when this wretched ball is in your honor.”
“Wretched? If it weren’t for Diana increasing, you’d be giving the ball yourself.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“It was very good of you to come up from Kent to support me.”
“Diana made me. And she ordered me to get a report on the new fashions. How the devil am I supposed to do that? And now I’m supposed to dance.”
Minerva patted his arm without a hint of mockery. Well, perhaps a hint. “Poor Sebastian. You should pity me too. I’d rather be conversing with all those M.P.s than leading off the dance. Cheer up. Here comes the duchess. Perhaps she’s found me a partner.” She tightened her grip on him lest he attempt escape.
Their hostess, the Duchess of Hampton, haughty and elegant in emerald green, joined them. “I’m sorry, Miss Montrose,” she said. “It seems my son has forgotten his engagement.” Only a thinning of the lips and a greater than usual coldness in her tone revealed the extent of her displeasure, but Minerva had no doubt the duchess was exceedingly angry at Blakeney’s discourtesy. “It is only proper that a member of the family lead you out. Unfortunately the duke’s heart does not allow him to dance.” Her eyes rested on her husband’s nephew. “Iverley. You must do the honors.”
“I want to kill Blakeney,” Sebastian muttered as he trailed her to the center of the room. “Not that there’s anything unusual about that.”
“Don’t worry,” Minerva said. “It’s a dance, not an execution.”
Having survived the first set without disaster, Sebastian limped off to find liquid refreshment and avoid being pressed onto the dance floor again. Minerva tended to share his dislike of dancing, but for a different reason. She had no trouble going through the steps, but during a pair of country dances with Mr. Thomas Parkes there was little time for discourse. Standing opposite in the line, she had ample opportunity to take in the agreeable appearance of the man, whom she’d long since selected as a potential husband based upon newspaper reports of his budding career. A little above average—only a man as tall as Lord Iverley would call him short–his height topped hers by two or three inches. His figure was solid without running to fat and encased in evening clothes distinguished by propriety without excessive elegance. The admittedly sandy hair was thick and well cut and crowned agreeable, sensible features.
All in all, a most satisfactory picture. Minerva set no store by good looks. In her experience handsome men tended to be arrogant and self-absorbed. One of many reasons she had little time for Lord Blakeney.
Mr. Parkes examined her in return and she smiled encouragingly. As her sister Diana had often told her, men were dreadfully shallow about a woman’s appearance and tended to be impressed first by beauty. She’d rather be esteemed for her intelligence, but Minerva was a realist. She knew people thought her pretty. If Mr. Parkes wanted smiles, she’d give him smiles. She believed him attracted to both her brains and her person and wondered how soon she could expect an offer. She’d like to be wed this season. There was a possibility the government would fall in the next few months and he would be embroiled in the excitement of the election. When that happened, Minerva had every intention of being involved as Mrs. Parkes.
At the end of the set, he offered his arm to escort her back to Lady Chase, her chaperone in Diana’s absence. Her eager question about the Irish situation died half formed because his attention, like most of the others in their vicinity, turned to the entrance. A gentleman staggered through the double doors and skidded on the polished parquetry floor. At a distance of twenty feet, Minerva saw the newcomer preserve his balance by grabbing the shoulders of a large-bosomed, open-mouthed matron. Swinging her aside, his backward slide was arrested by the wall. Without a hint of embarrassment he slouched against a pilaster and scowled at the assembly.
He was as gorgeous as ever. A lock of dark blond hair with glints of gold flopped over a noble brow. No nose had ever been more perfectly carved, no jaw as firmly etched. The shapely mouth was full, sensuous and sulky, matching the expression in his dusky blue eyes.
He’d always been a handsome devil but the sight of him filled Minerva with disgust.
Lord Blakeney had arrived.
Surveying the room, his glance came to rest on her. His lips twisted into a derisive half smile and their eyes met in mutual displeasure. He shoved his back away from the wall and ambled over to her.
“Our dance, I believe, Miss Montrose.” He hadn’t changed a bit.
Minerva felt a strong desire to slap his arrogant face. “Lord Blakeney,” she said with the merest hint of a curtsey. “I believe our dance was over half an hour ago.”
“This one will do just as well.”
Mr. Parkes forestalled her response with a bow and a polite “my lord.”
“Do I know you?” Blakeney asked.
“His Grace presented us at Brooks’s last week.”
“Right. I remember.” Obviously a lie. He’d never give a second thought to a man whom he couldn’t challenge to a fencing bout or horse race. Confirming her thought, he paid no more attention to the M.P. for Gristlewick but listened to the musicians tuning up with an exaggerated air. “I do believe it’s to be a waltz.” He proffered his arm. “Never let it be said I forget all my family obligations.”
Minerva replied through gritted teeth and a gratified smile. “I assure you, my lord, you owe me nothing. As your cousin’s sister-in-law our relationship is negligible.” Anyone watching would think her looking at him with pleasure, not noticing how her eyes slid over his shoulder to glance with envy and regret at Mr. Parkes, who had murmured his leave taking and headed in the delightful direction of the Home Secretary.
Blakeney’s eyes narrowed. “I meant my obligation to the duke and duchess. My revered parents. Your hosts.”
So he didn’t even pretend to be polite. Good.
Blakeney’s manners might not have improved since Minerva last set eyes on him, but at close quarters she detected subtle alterations in his appearance. He’d aged while she was living in Vienna and he at the Vanderlins’ Devon estate. Aged was perhaps the wrong word—he was only twenty-nine, or perhaps thirty, the same as Sebastian—but he no longer appeared quite the golden youth who’d courted Diana. She perceived a delicate web of lines extending from the corners of his eyes. When she’d known him before his grooming had always been impeccable. Now one of his stockings was wrinkled and his neck cloth askew. His hair brushed his collar, still damp and curling upward. He needed the attention of a barber. As he placed his hand on her waist she caught the fresh scent of verbena soap mingled with a strong aroma of brandy.
She supposed she’d better attempt to converse with the oaf. “My previous partner, Mr. Parkes, is a brilliant man with a brilliant future. I believe your father thinks very highly of him.”
He guided her into the turn with just a hint of excessive force and much to her satisfaction she detected a wobble in his footwork. Her smile broadened. She’d succeeded in irking him.
He recovered adroitly with no more than a firmer press of his hand, warm on her waist through her silk gown. He danced well, she grudgingly admitted, even though she was pretty sure he was foxed. He must have shaved himself for he’d missed a bit, on the left jaw. Fair as he was, she wouldn’t have noticed if she’d been more than the six inches away demanded by the waltz.
“Is your valet indisposed, or were you not at home when you changed for the evening?” An impertinent question that skirted impropriety, but there had always been something about Blakeney that made her lose her poise and behave like an unschooled savage.
The curve of his lips matched hers while his eyes lit with malice. “Since you ask, Miss Montrose, I came from Henrietta Street and the house of Mademoiselle Desirée de Bonamour.” He spoke in deep mocking tones. Though there was no reason fair coloring shouldn’t be accompanied by a low baritone, in Blakeney Minerva always found the combination incongruous. “She’s a very hospitable lady. When I realized I was late she invited me to share–er–use her bath.”
Infuriated with herself for blushing, she almost lost her temper. She wasn’t the least bit interested in the Frenchwoman, universally proclaimed (though mostly out of earshot of unmarried girls) as the most beautiful in London.
“I suppose you seek to embarrass me by mentioning your mistress,” she said.
“No,” he said. “Just to remind you that I have better things to do than cater to the consequence of an ambitious miss.”
“Then we find ourselves in perfect accord,” she retorted. “I have better objects of my attention than a spoiled wastrel without a thought in his head except for sports.” She favored him with a sweet and utterly insincere smile.
“Sports? Miss Montrose. I’m not thinking of sports now.”
Minerva wasn’t sure what the last riposte meant. He might be thinking of what he could be doing with his mistress, or, equally likely, that he’d like to kill his current partner. With four brothers Minerva was an expert at inciting the desire to commit violence. The smile she’d just employed could reduce the youngest Montrose to rabies.
She tried to read Blakeney’s face, in case it became necessary to duck and avoid strangulation. “I wouldn’t want to disturb your mental exertions, Lord Blakeney. I shall remain silent until we finish the waltz and may be done with each other.”
“It will be my very great pleasure, Miss Montrose, never to dance with you again.”
It took every ounce of her considerable willpower to keep a simper on her face and her feet off his; she was tempted more than once to stamp hard on the lout. She might have done it, by accident of course, if not for her doubt that her satin evening slippers would be able to inflict much pain on his big clumsy feet. Well not clumsy exactly. Even drunk they moved with deft precision after the one initial slip. His smile was as steady as hers, and from their expressions an onlooker would likely believe them to be enjoying the waltz in perfect accord.
They completed the set without exchanging another word.
After the dance, Blake has a disturbing encounter with an old enemy and overhears his friend Lamb set up a tryst in the library with the notorious Duchess of Lethbridge.
Half an hour and half a bottle later, Blake had an idea. He and Lamb had been torturing each other with pranks for years. Why not tonight?
The library at Vanderlin House, though far smaller than that at Mandeville, the country seat in Shropshire, was well stocked. Gilt spines glowed by the light of a single lamp, turned down low. Slipping in from the deserted passage, Blake couldn’t appreciate the restful cool of the room with its faint odor of leather. Above the serried bookshelves loomed the ghostly marble faces of Greek and Roman philosophers. During visits to the library under the supervision of his tutors he’d often fantasized about shooting the smug bastards. Especially the Greek ones.
God, he hated Greek. He took a swig from his bottle and found it empty.
Narrowing his eyes, he assessed the odds of bowling it to bring down a bust of Plato. Easy with a cricket ball, but he wasn’t sure he could control the spin on a flying champagne bottle. He almost missed the fact that he was not alone. A woman in white lay on the divan, provided for comfortable reading but handy for a less cerebral activity.
The duchess had arrived early.
A tall woman, her feet hung over the end of the padded bench. One gloved arm was draped over her eyes while the other trailed dramatically toward the floor. He very much doubted she was asleep. Rather, he guessed, she had invited Lamb to participate in one of her little games.
Wandering satyr surprises sleeping nymph, perhaps. Or–suitable to the library setting–visiting scholar ravishes the virginal daughter of the house. Pondering the possibilities aroused a little interest in him. Not much. He’d spent most of the past week in Desirée’s bed. He was also quite drunk.
On the other hand, it would be amusing if Lamb arrived to find his position already occupied, so to speak. Childish but amusing. This was even better than surprising Lamb in flagrante. He stepped quietly across the room and squatted on the floor at the end of the couch, contemplating a pair of white slippers, made from silk with a swirly pattern. He corrected his balance by falling onto his knees, averted his eyes from the nauseating spirals, and looked at the duchess’s ankles instead.
Very pretty. Blake had always had a weakness for a neat ankle, though he didn’t recall ever taking note of Anthea Lethbridge’s. Slender, well defined, and deceptively innocent in pure white stockings.
With the tip of his forefinger he traced the bone beneath the silk. She didn’t move. He opened his hand and felt warmth under his palm. She twitched at his touch. He closed his hand around the tender limb and inched it upward. Her body undulated seductively and her legs parted a little, though from the rhythm of her breathing he’d think her asleep.
Sleeping nymph it was. Good acting.
With a hand on each ankle he gently drew the legs apart and leaned over to kiss the spot above her slipper, then, nudging at her skirt with his brow, he ran his lips up her inner calf.
The sweet heady scent of woman enticed him to explore further. He might not be in a fit state for the full performance—though that fact was now in dispute—but he could taste. And he knew the lady would appreciate his attention. Chuckling softly he raised the skirts and dove under until he was enclosed in a tent of silk petticoats. The soft skin of her thighs brushed his cheeks. Her fragrant heat was a siren call to his groin. The lovely duchess was going to receive double pleasure tonight.
She moved, stretched her legs out as though emerging from slumber. Then he heard the doorknob turn and remembered the existence of his old friend. Damn Lamb. He was early too.
“What?” The question was voiced in a blend of sleepiness and confusion, followed by a strangled shriek. Flailing hands beat at his head through the material of the gown and he hastily withdrew.
Sinking back onto his ankles he looked up to meet the outraged face of Miss Minerva Montrose.
“What are you doing?” she cried. She lay before him, her legs exposed to the knees.
His head swam and his mouth fell agape as they stared at each other in horror. Then in unison they turned to the door.
A parade that wouldn’t have disgraced the fashionable hour in Hyde Park trooped into the library.
His mother, the Duchess of Hampton.
Lord Iverley, his first cousin, lifelong enemy, and Minerva’s brother-in-law.
Lady Chase and Mrs. Compton, best friends of Diana, Minerva’s sister, Sebastian’s wife, and Blake’s erstwhile fiancée.
James Lambton, looking surprised.
The Duchess of Lethbridge, looking amused.
And Lady Georgina Harville, the biggest gossip in London.
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel
Kennedy suspected Richard of cheating for most of their marriage. When she finally catches him with his hands up the skirt of a young business associate, Kennedy finds herself single and jobless. So, she decides to rent the guest house. But, instead of the female requested, the real estate agent sends Seth Clayton, a sexy screenwriter recently separated from his girlfriend of four years. Seth’s own relationship woes don’t stop him from wanting to help Kennedy rebuild her self confidence from the outside in. But “hands off the broken chick,” he admonishes himself as he insinuates himself into her life.
On the outside, exotic Kennedy is an easy fix. Inside, she has repressed her sexual desires to placate a controlling husband. Through Seth’s encouragement, her sexual awakening begins. Richard, not pleased by Kennedy’s new life and tenant, sends a spy to lurk outside the mansion. And the juicier the spy’s findings, the angrier Richard becomes.
Meanwhile, Richard’s past dalliances with some unsavory women combined with emerging insecurities between Kennedy and Seth put the couple at risk. But, with Seth in her corner, as well as in her bed, Kennedy finds not just physical gratification but an emotional connection, as well.
Play House is available at Amazon
Why do you need to read this book? Interesting question. I bought this book thinking it was one thing and it turned out to be something different. After getting off to a bit of a slow start, I bonded with this story and enjoyed reading it all the way through. Pick up a copy and see what you think!
Welcome to Sugarbeat’s Books – The Home of the Romance Novel!
TWO MEN WITH TWO ENORMOUS…SECRETS
Dylan Stanwyck and Mike Pine are looking for a certain kind of woman. The firefighter and ski instructor aren’t picky – blonde, brunette, Asian, African-American, Caucasian, athletic, Rubenesque, boyish – any type will do, but there is one pesky little deal breaker – she needs to want a long-term threesome. So far, that’s caused some problems as Dylan took to the dating field and found no takers, search for someone he and Mike could share. Laura Michaels fits the bill – they hope. Working class stiffs who become accidental billionaires in a mysterious turn of events involving their dearly departed longtime lover’s estate, the men are looking now for a third to complete them.
When Dylan discovers Mike’s gone behind his back and slept with Laura, the deception makes them both realize that they want Laura, desperately – to be their permanent third. The question is – how can they untangle the web they’ve caught them all in? Will Laura flee when she learns the truth?
WHAT THEY DON’T KNOW IS THAT (SOME OF) THEIR SECRETS ARE HERS
Laura Michaels took a last-ditch chance at online dating and hit the jackpot – twice. After waking up in Dylan’s apartment and being surrounded with pictures of his wife, she follows the advice to DTMFA – so she dumped him. Mike popped up out of nowhere on the online dating site where she met Dylan, and in a whirlwind two days she managed to sleep with both. Adding insult to injury, when Dylan appeared at her workplace disguised as a flower delivery guy, the truth came out: the pictures were of his dead lover. Passion overrode reason and Laura found herself caught between two incredible men.
And wishing she could have both.
Dylan and Mike might be in for the surprise of their life, because maybe – just maybe – Laura has some threesome desires of her own that she’s finding it harder and harder to control. When Dylan and Mike give them all an opportunity to consummate their brewing desires, the result is hotter and more passionate than any of them ever imagined, yet as Laura realizes she’d been manipulated, her old insecurities come back. Fleeing, she leaves Mike and Dylan wondering whether they’ve ruined their second chance at a perfect triad – but they haven’t seen the last of Laura….
Her Two Billionaires is available at Amazon