Mischiefby Amanda Quick
Imogen Waterstone had always prided herself on being a thoroughly independent young woman. But now she needed a man, and not just any man: one with an implacable will and nerves of iron. That's why she invited Matthias Marshall, the infamous Earl of Colchester, to her home in Upper Stickleford. For who better than the legendary explorer to help her lay the perfect… See more details below
Imogen Waterstone had always prided herself on being a thoroughly independent young woman. But now she needed a man, and not just any man: one with an implacable will and nerves of iron. That's why she invited Matthias Marshall, the infamous Earl of Colchester, to her home in Upper Stickleford. For who better than the legendary explorer to help her lay the perfect trap. Her scheme was simple, really: She planned to let it be known that when she inherited her uncle's collection of antiquities, she also inherited a map to a fabulous ancient treasure. She was certain that her enemy would risk financial ruin in pursuit of the mythical artifact. And to make doubly sure the scoundrel took the bait, the strong-minded beauty expected Colchester to set himself up as the ruthless lord's rival and pretend that he was out to seduce Imogen so that he, too, could get his hands on her map. Yet in all of her plotting, Imogen never anticipated Colchester's violent reaction to her request ... or her own electrifying reaction to him. With his powerful build and the swath of silver in his midnight dark hair, Matthias was more than magnificent. And as he entered in to her charade, acting out the part of spellbound suitor for all the world to see, Imogen found herself in the thrall of true passion at last. But to Colchester it was no act. Indeed, to the formidable earl's surprise, he found himself succumbing to the charms of the most amazingly forceful, opinionated, stubborn woman it had ever been his misfortune to meet. Yet just as he decides the time is ripe to reveal his own motives for going along with Imogen's scheme, there emerges from the labyrinth of London society an undreamed-of threat - sinister enough to endanger the one woman a man like Colchester could ever love.
Stouthearted Imogen is not the least put off when encountering, in her late uncle's sarcophagus/bed (uncle collected odd artifacts), a caped figurenone other than that of Matthias, the Earl of Colchester, complete with icy eyes and a white streak in his "midnight-dark" hair. Imogen plans to draw Colchester into a scheme to avenge what she believes is the murder of her friend Lucy at the hands of Lucy's detested husband Lord Vanneck. As a scholar and expert on the customs and artifacts of the "lost island of Zamar," Matthias is necessary to further Imogen's plot. (Never mind why.) Soon the pair"Coldhearted Colchester" and "Immodest Imogen" (the latter societal rep imposed when in the past Imogen was surprised, innocently, in a bedroom with Vanneck)are weaving and feinting through the intricacies of the ton. By the close, there are three murders left to solve; a lost journal; a duel attended by a corpse; Matthias' young sister used as a pawn in a dastardly plot; and a dusty showdown in a Zamar museum. While crises loom, Imogenfull of purpose and cries of "bloody hell!"discovers the thrills of "Zamarian" lovemaking.
A tidy package: Lively lovers, a tiny but respectable mystery, sex both lavender and jovial, and good humor throughout. More of the saleable same.
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"You pass yourself off as a man of action, but now it seems that you are not that sort of man at all."
"I do not pass myself off as anything but what I am, you exasperating little"
"Apparently you write fiction rather than fact, sir. Bad enough that I thought you to be a clever, resourceful gentleman given to feats of daring. I have also been laboring under the equally mistaken assumption that you are a man who would put matters of honor ahead of petty considerations of inconvenience."
"Are you calling my honor as well as my manhood into question?"
"Why shouldn't I? You are dearly indebted to me, sir, yet you obviously wish to avoid making payment on that debt."
"I was indebted to your uncle, not to you."
"I have explained to you that I inherited the debt," she retorted.
Matthias took another gliding step into the grim chamber. "Miss Waterstone, you try my patience."
"I would not dream of doing so," she said, her voice dangerously sweet. "I have concluded that you will not do at all as an associate in my scheme. I hereby release you from your promise. Begone, sir."
"Bloody hell, woman. You are not going to get rid of me so easily." Matthias crossed the remaining distance between them with two long strides and clamped his hands around her shoulders.
Touching her was a mistake. Anger metamorphosed into desire in the wink of an eye.
For an instant he could not move. His insides seemed to have been seized by a powerful fist. Matthias tried to breathe but Imogen's scent filled his head, clouding his brain. He looked down into the bottomless depths of her blue-green eyes and wondered if he woulddrown. He opened his mouth to conclude the argument with a suitably repressive remark, but the words died in his throat.
The outrage vanished from Imogen's gaze. It was replaced by sudden concern. "My lord? Is something wrong?"
"Yes." It was all he could do to get the word past his teeth.
"What is it?" She began to look alarmed. "Are you ill?"
"Good heavens. I had not realized. That no doubt explains your odd behavior."
"Would you care to lie down on the bed for a few minutes?"
"I do not think that would be a wise move at this juncture." She was so soft. He could feel the warmth of her skin through the sleeves of her prim, practical gown. He realized that he longed to discover if she made love with the same impassioned spirit she displayed in an argument. He forced himself to remove his hands from her shoulders. "We had best finish this discussion at some other time."
"Nonsense," she said bracingly. "I do not believe in putting matters off, my lord."
Matthias shut his eyes for the space of two or three seconds and took a deep breath. When he lifted his lashes he saw that Imogen was watching him with a fascinated expression. "Miss Waterstone," he began with grim determination. "I am trying to employ reason here."
"You're going to help me, aren't you?" She started to smile.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You've changed your mind, haven't you? Your sense of honor has won out." Her eyes glowed. "Thank you, my lord. I knew you would assist me in my plans." She gave him an approving little pat on the arm. "And you must not concern yourself with the other matter."
"What other matter?"
"Why, your lack of direct experience with bold feats and daring adventure. I quite understand. You need not be embarrassed by the fact that you are not a man of action, sir."
"Not everyone can be an intrepid sort, after all," she continued blithely. "You need have no fear. If anything dangerous occurs in the course of my scheme, I shall deal with it."
"The very thought of you taking charge of a dangerous situation is enough to freeze the marrow in my bones."
"Obviously you suffer from a certain weakness of the nerves. But we shall contrive to muddle through. Try not to succumb to the terrors of the imagination, my lord. I know you must be extremely anxious about what lies ahead, but I assure you, I will be at your side every step of the way."
"Will you, indeed?" He felt dazed.
"I shall protect you." Without any warning Imogen put her arms around him and gave him what was no doubt meant to be a quick, reassuring hug.
The tattered leash Matthias was using to hold on to his self-control snapped. Before Imogen could pull away, he wrapped her close.
"Sir?" Her eyes widened with surprise.
"The only aspect of this situation that truly alarms me, Miss Waterstone," he said roughly, "is the question of who will protect me from you?"
Before she could reply, he crushed her mouth beneath his own.
From the Audio Cassette edition.
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