Read an Excerpt
By Kalen Hughes
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Kalen Hughes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLondon once again finds itself enlivened by the presence of the handsome Lord S-. If only we could discover what has kept him from our shores for so many years ... Tête-à-Tête, 6 October 1788
She'd haunted his dreams for years.
Auburn curls and sherry-colored eyes. A singularly wicked smile, tilting up higher on one side to expose a dimple. A spray of freckles across her bosom: a constellation designed by God to tempt a man's thoughts below her décolletage.
Another man's wife.
Of all the unfortunate things Ivo Dauntry had learned about himself over the years, the fact that he could lust after someone else's wife should have been minor. Should have been nothing beside the fact that he could kill a man, thwart his grandfather's will, break his mother's heart, and never look back. But it wasn't the face of the man he'd killed or the mother he'd disappointed that swam through his dreams night after night.
It was hers.
Mrs. Lionel Exley's.
In his dreams she was nothing like the proper newlywed who had actually existed, barely more than a girl, excited to be flexing her wings on her first visit to Paris. No, the siren in his dreams had eyes that brimmed with the shared knowledge of lust. Her smileseeming to promise everything he'd ever wanted. But she always remained just out of reach.
A temptress. A tease. A practiced coquette.
None of it was real, but he'd had the same dream so many times now that it felt real. Her seduction had become the clearest of memories, as treasured as his first lover, as sensual as the first time he'd plunged naked into the warm water of the Mediterranean.
Mrs. Lionel Exley. The woman standing across the prizefighter's ring at this very moment, casually clinging to the arm of a man who was certainly not her husband.
The only woman whose virtue he'd ever defended. An action which had cost him dearly. Career. Family. Friends. He'd lost them all. No, not lost. He'd sacrificed them for her, like a lamb on an altar to a biblical god.
And all this time he'd thought it had been worth it.
His fist clenched around his purse, coins biting into his palm. The sea of humanity pressing in on him blurred and spun momentarily before the pain in his hand grounded him again.
Nothing in his dreams had been real, but watching her now, it was as though he'd somehow conjured her, given the dream form. She turned and said something to the man on the other side of her, the column of her neck twisting, swanlike, elegantly pale against the dark fur tippet wrapped around her throat.
He swallowed thickly, lust rushing through him, liquid fire from heart to groin.
Where the devil was her husband?
She shone like a beacon, her red habit blazing out against the dull blues and browns of the greatcoats surrounding her like the breast of a pheasant when it launches itself into the sky.
Her breath escaped in a white cloud, mingling with her escort's reply. She smiled, and Ivo could swear he heard the accompanying laugh carry over the dull roar of the crowd. It reached right inside him, grabbed hold until he could hardly draw breath.
He wrenched his gaze away, forcing his attention to the combatants as they prepared for the match.
She wasn't any of his business.
The champion, Tom Johnson, was bantering with the young Prince of Wales, while his challenger stood by like a lump. It didn't look as though Johnson had much to worry about. The upstart was large, but beefy and slow. Ponderous, like a dray horse.
Ivo shifted his weight, stamping his feet on the cold ground. The damp was seeping up uncomfortably through the soles of his boots. He'd almost forgotten what autumn was like in England. A riot of color in the trees. Frost on the ground like sugar dusted on a pastry.
He was home again. Reluctantly returned from Italy to the not so welcoming embrace of his family, with the uncomfortable status of heir to his grandfather. He was the Earl of Somercote. A courtesy title for the Marquis of Tregaron's heir.
He simply couldn't get used to it. Nor did he want it. He'd been plain Mr. Dauntry for almost thirty-five years, and no matter how much he tried, he couldn't seem to answer to anything else. Couldn't step into his cousin's shoes without feeling the pinch, without his grandfather reminding him how unfit he'd already proved himself to be.
And the proof was right there across the ring.
All around him bets were being furiously laid as the two combatants stripped to the waist, shucking coats, waistcoats and shirts, tying their cravats about their waists to hold up their breeches. Routine enough for a prizefight, but it suddenly seemed highly unsuitable with Mrs. Exley present.
What on earth was she doing here? What kind of lunatic brought a woman to a mill? Any woman, let alone a respectable one.
Unless she wasn't.
Respectable anymore, that was. He hadn't seen her since Paris, and a lot could change in six years. He didn't want to believe that she could have. He couldn't.
His friend Bennett jostled his arm. "You didn't follow Rivers's advice and put your blunt on the challenger, did you?"
"No." Ivo rolled his shoulders, trying to relax, to keep his attention away from the woman across the ring. "But what odds will you give me on that great lump going at least ten rounds?"
Bennett looked the challenger up and down, assessing. "Not a chance. I'll bet you fifty pounds he doesn't make it even to three. Johnson has a punishing left."
While Bennett loudly sized the pugilists up, arguing the finer points with the men surrounding them, Ivo's gaze slid back to Mrs. Exley, back to the rakish buck who was watching over her with a proprietary air. The man wore his cocked hat angled low over his brow, gilt trim winking as he dropped his head to hear her over the crowd. His leather greatcoat gaped, revealing a flash of a puce coat beneath embroidered in darker browns and gold.
The way she stood, arm tucked into her gallant's, was an affront to the sacrifices he had made. She had no right to flaunt herself like a fallen woman. No right to be such. If nothing else she owed him purity.
As he studied the pair of them, she glanced across the ring and her eyes met his for the briefest of moments. Her face paled, then she looked away, turning her attention back to her cicisbeo. Ivo's stomach clenched. Fury rushed through him-a hot, burning tide-mingling with an almost violent repulsion. What had she become?
He was barely aware of the match as it commenced. The combatants, the din of the crowd, the jostling, raging, swirling humanity surrounding him, it all simply faded away, nothing but a fantastical stage set for the woman standing across the ring. She was the only thing that was real. The only thing that mattered.
Fifteen rounds later the match was over, the challenger bloody and beaten. Howls of anger mingled with cheers. Fights broke out in several places, causing the mob to shift and push. Across the ring, Mrs. Exley's companion wrapped one arm familiarly about her waist and turned to escort her from the field.
Ivo shut his eyes for a moment, resisting the urge to plunge into the crowd after her. He'd given up everything for her, and it stung to realize that sacrifice didn't give him the right to demand an explanation today. It didn't give him any rights at all.
As he collected his winnings, he glanced surreptitiously over his shoulder, trying to catch one last glimpse of her.
"She's gone," Bennett said with a sly smile, thrusting a wad of bank notes at him.
His friend's smile widened, revealing the perfect teeth for which he was justifiably famous. "The only woman out here. The one you've been staring at for the last hour or more."
"You know her?"
It didn't matter that Bennett knew her. Didn't matter that he'd seen her again. Or that some man had succeeded in giving her husband a pair of horns. It didn't matter that their attraction was every bit as strong as he remembered.
He ran his tongue over his teeth. His mouth was chalky and bitter. He needed a drink. A very large one.
"Everyone knows her." Bennett tossed back the ruffles at his wrist and pulled a flask from one capacious pocket. "That was Georgianna Exley. One of the most outrageous widows in England." He removed the top and took a drink before holding the flask out to Ivo. "It's rumored she has rules for taking a lover, the most pernicious of which is that she only grants the men she chooses as many nights in her bed as they roll on a die."
"Widow?" Ivo swallowed hard, heart hammering in his ears. That single word reverberated through his whole body, echoes cascading like a stone dropped into a well.
"Widow," Bennett repeated absently, thrusting the flask into Ivo's hand. "You can meet her tomorrow if you've a mind to. She's sure to be another guest at Lord Glendower's shooting party. The earl's her father-in-law."
Ivo stared hard at the crowd, searching to no avail for her fur-trimmed hat in the sea of humanity headed back toward the village. He glanced down at his hand, realized he was holding Bennett's flask, and tossed back what was left of the brandy. The heady fumes filled his nose and the liquid burned a slow track all the way down into his belly.
"George, who the devil is that man across the ring? The tall fellow staring at us."
Georgianna Exley glanced up before following Gabriel Angelstone's gaze across the straw-strewn ring where the two prizefighters were being helped from their coats.
Her eyes met those of the man Gabriel was glaring at and she glanced away immediately, her hands suddenly cold. Her head buzzed as though she might faint.
Dauntry. His name was Dauntry.
Her breakfast swirled about in her stomach and she swallowed convulsively. She was not going to throw up. She was not going to faint. Not here.
"I haven't the slightest idea," she replied, pressing slightly closer to Gabe, burrowing into his reassuring warmth. Around them people eyed her and Gabe askance. Dauntry's look of disgust was reflected in many other pairs of eyes.
She didn't belong here. No woman did. And her oldest friend was not well liked. Too handsome. Too foreign in a myriad of subtle ways: honey skin and almond eyes from his Turkish mother, an air of French dandification from his ambassador father.
He was her rock. The one constant in her life. The only man she'd ever known who hadn't deserted her in some way.
George tilted her head, peeking around Gabe's shoulder, and studied Dauntry for a moment. He looked very much as she remembered: tall enough to be imposing, his own black curls tied back in a queue, eyes that seemed almost as dark. His face was lean, the planes angular, the features sculpted. He was only saved from the epithet pretty by his sheer size and the thin scar that cut down along his left cheekbone. A swordsman's scar, received in her honor.... She bit her lip and looked away.
She didn't want to remember Paris or anything about it. She could have handled Blanchot herself. Lord knew she'd fended off enough drunken advances over the years, but Dauntry had stumbled upon them, and without so much as a word, he'd pulled Blanchot off her and knocked him to the ground, sending the older man's wig flying.
What began with fists had ended with swords, the flash of steel wicked in the scant light provided by artfully placed lamps. Blanchot's lips had been wet with blood-flecked foam by the time the ambassador and the rest of Dauntry's party had arrived on the scene and her world had spun out of control. She could still picture Blanchot's wig lying abandoned on the ground, sullied and trod upon.
As ambassador, Lord Fitzherbert might have been able to arrange everything to keep that night's events quiet-it was amazing what money, power, influence, and sheer force of will could achieve-but his machinations hadn't prevented the worst of it: the look of disquiet in her husband's eyes. Just because no scandal had broken over her-over them-didn't mean she'd forgotten or forgiven the events of that night.
Chapter TwoThe beautiful Mrs. E- has been seen leaving Town escorted by none other than the Angelstone Turk. Could it be that he's given up a certain yellow-haired opera singer? Tête-à-Tête, 8 October 1788
On the second night of Lord Glendower's annual shooting party, Ivo stole out of the overheated billiard room and secluded himself on the terrace. The room inside, overflowing with the cream of the sporting set, had become stifling.
The night was cold, the air holding a hint of frost. Perfect hunting weather. One of the many things he'd missed while he'd drifted through country after country, always telling himself there was nothing left in England worth coming home for. Nothing waiting for him but the possibility of resurrecting a long-cold scandal and a family that wanted nothing to do with him.
He blew a cloud of blue-gray smoke from his French cigarito out into the garden and tried not to think about Mrs. Exley. It seemed like the only thing he'd done since the mill was try not to think about her during his waking hours and dream even more vividly about her each and every night.
She wasn't the same woman he'd been so enamored of, but he couldn't figure out the changes. It made his head hurt to try.
After dinner she'd disappeared, probably off with one of the two men who appeared to be vying to be the next man in her bed: her companion at the mill, whom they all called Brimstone-apparently to differentiate him from his cousin, who was also an Angelstone-or with the Viscount St. Audley. As far as he could tell, she was the spoiled and petted darling of every rake in England and it made him sick.
But not sick enough.
He still wanted her so badly his hands shook with the need to touch her.
Ivo froze as the subject of his thoughts suddenly appeared, walking up the gravel path that wound through the garden with her long, masculine stride. Aside from that walk-and her rather colorful vocabulary-she was utterly feminine. Nothing but soft, inviting curves from the mass of auburn curls that she never powdered, to the swell of breasts and flare of hips, to the surprisingly dainty ankles visible just below the hem of her petticoat. Curves. Lush, ripe, disturbingly erotic.
He straightened as she ran lightly up the steps. Leaned back against the balustrade, glad for the cold bite of the stone against his hip, for the grounding the discomfort gave him in the moment. This wasn't one of his dreams.
She didn't look particularly happy to see him. Up until now, she'd been fairly successful at avoiding him. And she was avoiding him. He was sure of it.
"Good evening, my lord." She paused at the top of the stairs, tense as a feral cat. She pulled her shawl tighter about her shoulders, hugging herself.
"Mrs. Exley." He inclined his head, ever so slightly. "You've been down to the barn?"
She glanced briefly toward the house, her expression guarded. He could hear their fellow guests just inside the open French doors, but so far none had been inclined to join him on the terrace. Probably disgusted by the smoke from his cigaritos. Smoking anything but a pipe was a habit mostly confined to the riffraff of France and men who'd spent long periods in the hot climes where tobacco was grown.
"Yes," she said at last, "one of my father-in-law's setters is whelping, and he's down there, nervous as an expectant father."
Ivo swallowed thickly, doing his best to keep his gaze from locking on her lips. She was so tall he wouldn't have to do more than bend his head to kiss her, and that too-full lower lip of hers had clearly been created for kissing. He'd thought so years ago ... apparently so had Blanchot. And look where that had gotten them all: an exile, a corpse, and a woman teetering on the verge of ruin.
She looked pointedly at his cigarito. "Can I bother you for one of those? It's a habit I picked up from my husband, and I suddenly find that I miss it. I could smell the smoke drifting down through the garden, and I don't think any flower could have smelled so sweet to me tonight."
Ivo did his best to keep his expression neutral as he withdrew a second cigarito from their case and passed it to her. Outrageous. That's what she was. Blazingly, unforgivably outrageous. No one said no to her, ever. She was surrounded by the most masculine, cocksure, sport-mad gentlemen in England, and they let her lead them around by their noses. By their cocks, more likely.
Excerpted from LORD SIN by Kalen Hughes Copyright © 2007 by Kalen Hughes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.