Declan Deveraux, the Earl of Worthington, is a man who knows one thing for certain - he will never marry for love. With that aim, he pursues only the most vain, and spoiled, women of the Ton. Fate has other plans for him, however, and he’s made guardian to Alex Kendrick, a female he likes – God forbid. Now Declan has to get her suitably married, before he succumbs to the temptation to make this fiery temptress his own.
Alex, a rapier-wielding countess in her own right, doesn’t welcome a guardian and crosses swords with him at every opportunity. In spite of their less than auspicious beginning, she soon discovers Declan’s quick wit and Black-Irish looks inspire an emotion she can’t ignore, love. Now the battle is for Declan’s heart, because Alex will accept nothing less.
“Did you need something?” Declan straightened the stacks of papers he’d been working on and came around to lean on the edge of the library table, avoiding the carved wooden wings of the mythical creatures that cavorted around the sides.
“I was looking for a quill and ink.” Alex began to back away from him, one hand hidden in the folds of her skirt. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
She acted as jumpy as a horse at the start of a race. Any minute he expected her to bolt out of the room. “What did you need them for?”
“It’s not that I needed them. I just felt like writing.”
His Alex, writing, because she felt like it? Next she’d be telling him she’d taken up sewing. He raised an eyebrow until she continued in an exasperated tone.
“If you must know, I wanted to add to my list.”
So that was what she’d been trying to hide. It must be of some importance for her to be so touchy. “List?”
“I’m making a list of the qualities I want in a husband. That way I’ll just score each potential candidate. I’ll marry whomever has the greatest number of points.”
He should have expected something like this from her. “Admirable. But have you forgotten I have a say in whom you marry?” He would agree to most anyone who was suitable, just to put her out of temptation’s way, but she didn’t need to know that.
“No,” she retorted. “I intend to choose someone you can’t object to.”
“So, what qualities do you find desirable in a male?” He’d never posed that question to any other woman, but he couldn’t contain his curiosity as to what Alex found attractive in a man. “Perhaps, you’d like an intellectual.” He pretended to ponder his choice, then gave a slight shrug. “Oh, but there wouldn’t be any sport in that. You’d run the poor man through before he’d even raised his weapon.”
“I suppose no man could match you in prowess with a rapier.” Alex perused her list, making an elaborate production out of studying every item. “No, I don’t find arrogance on here anywhere. You’d never be a choice.”
“I wouldn’t be a choice, because I choose not to marry until I must. When I do, it will be a business arrangement, nothing more.” He didn’t want to think about his inevitable marriage. Instead, he turned his attention to the rapier collection near the fireplace. “These weren’t here when I was a child. When did your grandfather start collecting?”
He studied the rapiers with a critical eye. They were of the finest quality, about thirty in all, with various grips and blades. He didn’t know much about antiquated weapons, but some appeared to be from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
“They’re mine.” Alex came to stand next to him. “I would select what I wanted, and Grandfather would purchase them for me. Most vendors have an aversion to selling to women.” She gave him a slight smirk. “Even if I could out-fence every one of them.”
“Now who’s being arrogant?”
“Not arrogant. Confident.” Alex smiled up at him. “There’s a difference.”
“Is there?” Her teasing smile undid him. She was so close he could smell the vanilla fragrance she favored. “Might I find confidence on this list?”
He’d meant to grab only the paper, but somehow ended up taking her hand. Her pale fingers were devoid of jewelry but perfectly formed. Everything about her fascinated him. He lifted his gaze to her luminous green eyes. She was exquisite. He’d known many beautiful women, but they’d never affected him like this. He desperately wanted to feel her pressed against him. “I think I should warn you about arrogant men,” Declan whispered. “They’re liable to take advantage of a situation.” He brought his other hand up to caress the silky hair at the back of her head, and slowly drew her mouth to his.
Known as The Marble Duke amongst the Ton, Garret Weston, the Duke of Kendal sets himself apart from his peers. Nothing will hinder his guilt-driven attempt to become a perfect duke. Nothing that is, save the alluring and imaginative betrothed he’d thought dead. His intended believes-of all things-that she is a Vicar’s daughter. The “perfect” duke needs a “perfect” duchess, but how was he to discern her suitability? Employing her as a governess to his niece seemed like an ideal solution. But whose “suitability” is being tested? His betrothed refuses to see he is beyond redemption. And most grievous of all, she stirs his blood, making him forget what’s important.
Cara believes fairy tales really can come true, until she meets the unrelenting and arrogant Duke of Kendal. He looks like a Prince, but acts like a Beast. Why must he challenge her at every turn? Her greatest peril is her attraction to the vulnerable, seductive man behind the title. A match between them would be impossible. But can she show him, without losing her heart, that “perfect” is in the eye of the beholder?
A Highland Yearning
Georgian/Regency Era Time Travel
(Coming late 2013)
Ariel Sutherland stared at the ornate wooden box that looked so out of place on her Formica kitchen table. What the hell had she been thinking? Now she had no savings, and if the insurance company ever found out, she’d never work again.
Scruffy nudged her leg, a gentle reminder that she’d been home ten minutes and food had not been forthcoming. He looked less kempt than usual today. His ragged ear flopped over one eye and his wiry fur had that wet dog smell.
With a sigh Ariel grabbed a towel and picked him up, rubbing while she studied the box. The Mackay crest had been artfully worked into a background of vines and leaves. Some might consider it beautiful. But beauty was for people who didn’t have to worry about their next meal.
“Well, Scruffy, should we open it?” He cocked his head and gave her the same stare he’d given her when he first appeared on her doorstep. That look, and his persistence, had finally won him a cushion in the kitchen when the weather turned cold. Rochester winters could be brutal, but if Scruffy wasn’t on the doorstep each night, she wouldn’t go looking for him. They had their own lives. It was better that way.
She hadn’t bothered to admire her prize since verifying its authenticity, handing over the money, then bringing it home. Guilt gnawed at her, but if she couldn’t even appreciate the damned thing, then why had she bought it? With the dog tucked under one arm, she lifted the lid and a soft “oh” escaped her lips. The ring lay nestled on a faded blue velvet bed, its size and weight too great for any of the men she knew.
In her five years working for insurance companies, she’d never come across such fine workmanship. Someone must have cleaned the gold recently because the metal seemed to glow. Would the thief who’d sold it to her have taken such care?
Two eagles grasped a large diamond in their beaks, their ruby eyes fierce. Yes, this ring would fit – him.
Her heart skipped, pounding a little faster, and her lungs refused to fill with air. She closed her eyes and forced a deep breath, trying to focus on expanding her chest, but her mind flew to the painting. Lord, she wished she’d never gone to Scotland, never met the Sutherlands, never seen that painting, or heard about Caden Mackay.
He’d called to her.
The painter had captured not only his handsome features, but his air of complete confidence. No doubt centuries of Sutherlands had gazed at that arrogant pose and realized Laird Mackay would have been a worthy opponent.
There’d been talk of witchcraft among the Mackays and if she believed in magic, she might think she’d fallen under the spell of a man who’d died over two hundred years ago. He’d plagued her dreams and driven her to possess the ring.
Scruffy squirmed and she adjusted him to his favorite position, his head on her shoulder. Had it been fate that she was asked to investigate the theft of the Mackay’s “Ring of Belief” – his ring? Or fate that the man who’d stolen the ring from the Sutherlands had claimed that, as a Mackay, the ring belonged to him?
He’d sold it to her for a fraction of its value. Still, the ring had cost her everything. She shivered. There was no “cushion” now. If she couldn’t find work, she’d lose her apartment and few possessions. She’d never be able to sell the ring without exposing her involvement.
Her gaze returned to the ring, the Mackay’s words echoing in her mind. “I’ve no problem sellin’ it to you, lass. It’s but for a time.” With that cryptic remark, he’d smiled and handed her the box.
With a trembling hand, she reached for the ring. Caden had once worn this symbol of his clan. She could see where the back had been smoothed by countless generations. Her fingertip rubbed the spot.
At the touch, her head felt fuzzy, and Scruffy started to growl in her ear. A shock traveled up her arm until her whole body vibrated with energy, as if she’d touched a live wire on a lamp with wet hands. She clutched Scruffy. What was wrong with her? When she looked down at her hand, she was...fading?
Outrage screamed through Lily. “You have no right.” Her voice sounded composed, but no doubt she ruined the effect by bunching her sapphire-velvet skirt in tight fists. She longed to run from this elegantly appointed salon to her clean, sunlit herb garden, but the man sitting on the dais would have her dragged back. That had been one of her first lessons.
Lord Covington – her husband – watched her with amusement dancing in his cat-like eyes. “On the contrary, my dear, I have every right.” He reached over to run his thin, white fingers through the blond hair of the boy at his feet. Rather like absentmindedly stroking a dog. Only this “dog’s” eyes shadowed a bit more with each touch. “You simply misunderstood my promise. I gave you my word I would not claim my marital rights. I said nothing about allowing another man the dubious honor.”
Fury rose, stalking her like a creature from her nightmares. Just survive today. Just survive today. The repeated thought steadied her. “You want to be cuckolded. Why? What if there’s a child?” The possibility brought bile to her throat. She’d die before allowing this man anywhere near a child she might bear.
“I have my reasons, and they are not your concern.” His voice became silky-smooth, and a shiver ran up her spine. “Your brother would want you to cooperate. Debtors’ prison would do nothing for his fragile constitution.” He gave a slight shrug. “It would not surprise me if he chose death over the indignities of prison. I would.”
She closed her eyes. A vision of Ash, shackled to a damp cell wall, made her lips tremble until she forced them into a straight line. Her brother’s life or her virginity? It had been foolish to hope she’d someday leave this debacle with both.
Shoulders squared, she opened her eyes and met Covington’s gaze. She wouldn’t beg. It would only increase the blackguard’s enjoyment.
He raised a well-shaped brow and smirked, giving his face a Puckish appearance. But unlike the errant sprite, Covington’s form of “mischief” tore at the soul. “Do you need instruction on what to do with a man?”
“No.” Her face flooded with heat, ruining her attempt to appear calm and dignified.
A smile played around her husband’s mouth. “Perhaps I married a ruined flower?” He leaned forward to study her as if she were a new breed of beetle he’d discovered for his collection.
The movement caused his cloying scent to waft over her. She tried not to inhale too deeply. Until she’d married she’d loved the smell of cloves, but even that he’d taken from her.
She bit the skin on the inside of her mouth to keep from reacting to his perusal. Too bad she hadn’t been ruined so she could throw it in his face, but her parents had been very protective. In the twenty years of her life she’d never so much as kissed a man.
Her husband’s pretty features relaxed as he sat back. “No matter, your experience should make it more enjoyable for my guest.” He glanced at the boy sitting rigid on the raised platform, then picked up one of the child’s curls and rubbed it between his thumb and index finger. “Though I prefer innocence.”
Lily fought the urge to yank the child out of his grasp. So many boys had come and gone over the last six months, she’d stopped even trying to learn their names. Was this boy worth her brother’s life? She looked down at the swirling pattern on the carpet, feeling sucked in by circumstances beyond her control. The last time she’d interfered... At least Ash still believed his injury was due to a hunting accident – though Covington had made sure she knew the truth.
Stomach quivering, she fought to appear calm as she met her husband’s gaze, but she couldn’t control the disgust that laced her voice. “You are despicable, and I promise, there will come a time when you rue this decision.”
For a moment he looked startled at her threat, then his fingers tightened in the boy’s hair until the child winced. “Suitable attire is awaiting you in your chamber. When you are ready, a servant will escort you to my guest.” His mouth drew inward until his rouged lips were a red slash across his pale face.
She turned to leave, but his words stopped her. “If you think to deceive me, know this. I’ll be in the adjoining room – watching.” His gaze bored into her as if trying to discover what she was thinking, then he leaned forward and bent a finger for her to approach.
Her revulsion must have shown on her face, but she did as he asked.
He reached down and skimmed her cheek with his fingertips. At her shudder he smiled. “You are a pretty bauble, my pet, but heed my warning. Do not release your lover or tell him who you are. If you do, you will both pay the price.”