From the cozy confines of a tiny seaside village to the glittering crush of a fashionable London soiree comes an enthralling tale of a thoroughly mismatched couple... poised to discover the rapture of love.
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Amanda Quick, a pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz, is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of contemporary and historical romances. There are nearly thirty million copies of her books in print, including Seduction, Surrender, Scandal, Rendezvous, Ravished, Reckless, Dangerous, Deception, Desire, Mistress, Mystique, Mischief, Affair, With This Ring, I Thee Wed, and Wicked Widow. She is also the author of Slightly Shady and Don’t Look Back, the first two novels featuring Lavinia Lake and Tobias March. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Frank.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was a scene straight out of a nightmare. Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, stood on the threshold and gazed into the cheerful little anteroom of hell.
There were bones everywhere. Savagely grinning skulls, bleached ribs, and shattered femurs were scattered about like so much devil's garbage. Chunks of stone with teeth and toes and other odd bits embedded in them were stacked on the windowsill. A pile of vertebrae littered the floor in one corner.
In the center of the unholy clutter sat a slender figure in a stained apron. A white muslin cap was perched askew atop a wild, tangled mane of chestnut-brown curls. The woman, obviously young, was seated at a heavy mahogany desk. Her slender, graceful back was turned to Gideon. She was sketching busily, her entire attention focused on what appeared to be a long bone embedded in a chunk of stone.
From where he was standing, Gideon could see that there was no wedding band on the supple fingers that held the quill. This would be one of the daughters, then, not the widow of the late Reverend Pomeroy.
Just what he needed, Gideon thought, another rector's daughter.
After the last one had died and her grieving father had left the vicinity, Gideon's father had appointed another rector, the Reverend Pomeroy. But when Pomeroy had died four years ago, Gideon, who was by then in charge of his father's estates, had not bothered to appoint a new rector. Gideon had no particular interest in the spiritual welfare of the people of Upper Biddleton.
Under an arrangement Pomeroy had made with Gideon's father, the Pomeroy family had continued on in the rectory cottage. They paid their rent on time and that was all that mattered as far as Gideon was concerned.
He contemplated the scene in front of him for a moment longer and then glanced around once more for some sign of whoever had left the rectory cottage door open. When no one appeared he removed his curly-brimmed beaver hat and stepped into the small hall. The brisk breeze off the sea followed him inside. It was late March and although the day was unusually warm for that time of year, the sea air was still crisp.
Gideon was amused and, he admitted to himself, intrigued by the sight of the young woman seated among the old bones that cluttered the study. He crossed the hall quietly, taking care that his riding boots made no sound on the stone floor. He was a big man, some said monstrous, and he had long ago learned to move soundlessly in a vain effort to compensate for that fact. He received enough stares as it was.
He halted in the doorway of the study, watching the woman at work for a moment longer. When it became obvious she was too engrossed in her sketching to sense his presence, he reluctantly broke the spell.
"Good morning," Gideon said.
The young woman at the desk gave a startled shriek, dropped her quill, and shot to her feet. She whirled about to face Gideon, her expression one of dawning horror.
Gideon was accustomed to the reaction. He had never been a handsome man, but the deep scar that slashed across his left jaw like a lightning bolt had not improved matters.
"Who the devil are you?" The young woman had both hands behind her now. She was clearly trying to shove her drawings out of sight beneath what appeared to be a journal. The expression of shock in her huge, turquoise blue eyes was rapidly converting into a look of dark suspicion.
"St. Justin." Gideon gave her a coldly polite smile, well aware of what it did to the scar. He waited for her incredibly brilliant eyes to fill with revulsion.
"St. Justin? Lord St. Justin? Viscount St. Justin?"
Enormous relief rather than disgust flared in her blue-green gaze. "Thank God."
"I am rarely greeted with such enthusiasm," Gideon murmured.
The young lady dropped abruptly back down into her chair. She scowled. "Good grief, my lord. You gave me a terrible shock. Whatever do you think you are about, sneaking up on people in this manner?"
Gideon glanced significantly back over his shoulder at the open door of the cottage. "If you are anxious about the prospect of being disturbed by intruders, it would no doubt be best to keep your door closed and locked."
The woman followed his gaze. "Oh, dear. Mrs. Stone must have opened it earlier. She's a great believer in fresh air, you know. Do come in, my lord."
She sprang to her feet again and swept two large tomes off the one spare chair in the room. She hovered indecisively for a moment, searching for a spot amid the rubble that would accommodate the volumes. With a small sigh, she gave up the task and dropped the books carelessly onto the floor. "Please sit down, sir."
"Thank you." Gideon sauntered slowly into the study and lowered himself cautiously onto the little shield-back chair. The current fashion for delicate furniture was not well suited to his size and weight. To Gideon's relief, the chair held firm.
He glanced at the books that had recently been occupying his seat. The first was Theory of the Earth by James Hutton and the other was Playfair's Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth. The texts coupled with the room full of bones explained a great deal. His hostess had a passion for fossils.
Perhaps her familiarity with bleached, grinning skulls accounted for her failure to be alarmed by his scarred face, Gideon decided wryly. She was obviously accustomed to grisly sights. He studied her for a moment as she busied herself scooping up the remainder of her drawings and notes. The lady was unusual, to say the least.
The outrageous, untamed mane of hair had long since escaped the confines of her cap and the few pins that had been haphazardly stuck into it. The thick, fluffy mass billowed like a soft, wild cloud around her face.
She was certainly not beautiful or even particularly pretty, at least not in the fashionable sense. Her smile was quite brilliant, however. It was charged with energy and vitality, just like the rest of her. Gideon noticed that two small white teeth overlapped a bit in front. For some reason he found the effect oddly charming.
Her sharp little blade of a nose and high cheekbones, combined with the alert intelligence in her spectacular eyes, gave her an aggressive, inquisitive air. This was certainly not a shy, coy, or missish sort of female, Gideon decided. One would always know precisely where one stood with this woman. He liked that.
Her face made Gideon think of a clever little cat and he had a sudden impulse to pet the lady, but he restrained himself. He knew from painful experience that parson's daughters were frequently more dangerous than they appeared. He had been badly bitten once, and once was enough.
Gideon guessed his hostess was in her early twenties. He wondered if it was the lack of an inheritance that had kept her unwed or if her evident enthusiasm for old bones had put off potential suitors. Few gentlemen would be inspired to propose to a female who displayed more interest in fossils than in flirting.
Gideon's gaze swept briefly over the rest of the woman, noting the high-waisted muslin gown that had probably once been bronze in tone but had long since faded to a vague shade of brown. A pleated chemisette filled in the modest neckline.
Between the chemisette and the enveloping apron, a great deal was left to the imagination. Nevertheless, Gideon got the impression of soft, rounded breasts and a slender waist. He watched closely as the lady hurried back around behind the desk to resume her seat. As she swung around the edge of the desk, the light muslin shaped itself briefly to what appeared to be a lushly curved bottom.
"You have taken me by surprise, as you can see, my lord." The woman shoved a few more sketches out of sight beneath a copy of Transactions of the Fossils and Antiquities Society. She frowned reproachfully at Gideon. "I apologize for my appearance, but as I was not expecting you this morning, I can hardly be blamed for failing to be dressed for the occasion."
"Do not concern yourself about your appearance, Miss Pomeroy. I assure you, it does not offend." Gideon allowed a brow to rise in polite inquiry. "You are Miss Harriet Pomeroy, are you not?"
She had the grace to blush. "Yes, of course, my lord. Who else would I be? You must think me an ill-mannered baggage. Indeed, my aunt is always telling me I have no social polish. The thing is, a woman in my position can never be too careful."
"I understand," Gideon said coolly. "A lady's reputation is a fragile commodity and a rector's daughter is especially at risk, is she not?"
Harriet gave him a blank look. "I beg your pardon?"
"Perhaps you should summon a relative or your housekeeper to join us here. For the sake of your reputation."
Harriet blinked, blue-green eyes widening in astonishment. "Reputation? Heavens, I was not talking about my reputation, my lord. I have never been in danger of being ravished in my entire life and, as I am already nearly five and twenty, the prospect is not liable to become a major concern in the future."
"Your mother did not trouble to warn you about strangers?"
"Heavens, no." Harriet smiled reminiscently. "My father called my mother a living saint. She was gracious and hospitable to everyone. She was killed in a carriage accident two years before we moved to Upper Biddleton. It was the middle of winter and she was taking warm clothing to the poor. We all missed her dreadfully for a long time. Especially Papa."
"If you are concerned about the properties, my lord, I fear I cannot help you," Harriet continued in a chatty tone. "My aunt and sister have walked into the village to shop. My housekeeper i...
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