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Passion and Pleasure in London
By Melody Thomas
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Temptation came in many forms. The shine of a gold coin, the taste of fine whiskey. A fine woman with eyes the color of expensive dark chocolate.
Rory Jameson knew temptation. And he liked chocolate.
What he could see of the woman's hair beneath the voluminous hood of her cloak was as dark as her exotic eyes. He'd felt her gaze pause on him as she'd squeezed into the crowded taproom, then made her way toward the long oaken bar with an ease born of familiarity.
Buried in the smoke and noise surrounding him, Rory watched her, intrigued by the womanly shape her cloak failed to hide. Everything about her brought to mind a night of sin. Over the rim of a shot glass of smooth Irish whiskey, a smile slowly tugged at his mouth. He had finally found something worthy of his interest in this backwoods hamlet.
Rory was a man who enjoyed his vices. He'd lived hard, but unlike many of his peers, he hadn't died young. And he had no intention of doing so. At least not tonight.
Indeed, at two and thirty, he'd managed to live longer than most ever expected. A combination of luck and fortitude got him this far in a profession that fed its young into the gristmill just to see what came out on the other side. He'd seen much of the world in one fashion or another and intended tosee the rest before old age or a bullet took him off the playing field forever.
He feared little, except perhaps missing his niece's birthday and disappointing his sister, which in the end had been what brought him to this part of England on this sleepy summer's eve. The letter she'd received a month earlier from their estranged grandfather burned more than a hole in his pocket, and, more than once, he'd wondered how Lord Granbury had found them.
He relegated those thoughts to the back of his mind as he relaxed in his chair and felt it creak beneath his weight. He sat in the shadows near the open window, his legs casually crossed at the ankles. Soft leather riding boots hugged his calves. He drank as he continued to watch the dark-eyed beauty's progress across the room as she stopped to talk to the barkeep. Her hood slipped slightly to her shoulders revealing her profile and he wondered for a moment at her age.
His eyes narrowed as he watched her, her gloveless hands animated as she spoke, the movement of her lips drawing his eyes to her mouth.
Arousal pressed against the fine black wool of his trousers, which he found damn hard to ignore. His mind noted that everything about her seemed out of place in this crowded public room filled with a medley of drunken men, footpads, and slatterns, yet no one accosted her. In fact, the burly barkeep currently eyed Rory, something of which he had just became aware. The oaf's silent warning seemed to overtake other patrons as well for they too turned to peer toward where Rory sat, as if he'd trespassed in forbidden territory. The air around him grew chilled. Recognizing the type of men here, he suspected the only reason he'd not been challenged yet was that his manner and clothing warned them he would prove to be something more than a casual mark. Amused by his interest in the local entertainment, Rory tipped back the shot of whiskey, liberating his conscience as he set the glass on the scarred table next to the half-empty bottle. He stood, removed a coin from his pocket, and flipped it into his shot glass. At two inches over six feet, he had to duck his head to avoid bumping the low-hanging gas lamp. He didn't look back at the girl, though he could feel her eyes on him now. The sensation was as physically arousing as if she'd put her hands all over him. And it was as novel as it was discomfiting. Perhaps even more so because she'd left him with a curiosity. He wanted to know who she was.
Winter Ashburn's hand paused on the frayed edge of the curtain separating her from the crowded taproom, her gaze lingering on the door through which the tall, dark-haired stranger in black had just passed. The mammoth rack of antlers above the oaken door seemed to frame the quiet drama of his exit in her mind as she stood hidden within the confining shadows of the storage room. She dropped the curtain, shocked as awareness of him shimmied through her veins like an electrical current. The man was a stranger, an outsider yet there had been something familiar about his lazy smile.
And the race of her heart had nothing to do with the frantic reason that had brought her to this inn tonight.
A solid thud of the door sounded behind Winter, and she turned to greet the older woman who stepped into the room. A soiled apron clung to Mrs. Derwood's ample bosom where her hands now made use of the apron skirt as if it were a towel.
Mrs. Derwood's massively built son, the Stag & Huntsman's proprietor and barkeep who had directed Winter into this storage area, was also the sheriff. He had once been the overseer for Winter's father's stable of horses at Everleigh Hall, and his mother a cook while they'd lived there. Winter had known both Derwoods her entire life, and always felt safe inside the walls of this inn.
"I would have been here sooner," Winter said, holding out the scrap of paper in her hand. "But I only just received your note."
Mrs. Derwood's brown eyes softened as she approached. "Fie on that rascal brother of yers for not tellin' ye we found yer mam. She is with Mrs. Smythe."
Last month, Winter's mam had been making nightly treks to the cemetery where Winter's father was buried. Father Flannigan had found her asleep atop the grave. Tonight was worse, though—Winter hadn't even known Mam was missing until she'd received Mrs. Derwood's message. She'd been looking for her errant brother the entire evening.
Excerpted from Passion and Pleasure in London by Melody Thomas
Copyright © 2008 by Melody Thomas. Excerpted by permission.
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