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EXCERPT FROM THE RUINATION OF LADY JANE
He turned to face his brother who now smiled, making Havyn wary. He knew that expression. Grantham had some plot afoot.
"Have you plans for the immediate future?"
"None at all." Havyn waited. After a moment, he added, "Thus I am quite at your disposal."
"Excellent." Grantham smiled again, a tight little smile that did nothing to alleviate the severity of his countenance. "You will find Jane. Track her down and return her to her proper place."
"I?" Havyn blinked in surprise. He was ready and willing to undertake any task for his brother, and by extension, for his ward, but this?
"You. I have plans for the chit, and I will see them in place."
Grantham frowned at Havyn's question. He took a moment to respond. "I intend to announce her engagement to Yarwoode at my annual summer house party." He gave Havyn a level look. "It wouldn't do for the bride-to-be to be missing."
"Indeed, but you expect too much of me. I know nothing of her habits, her customary pursuits," Havyn stated. "I've been gone too long."
Grantham nodded. "Precisely. You won't be hampered by misconceptions. You have the time and no one will suspect what you are about."
"I wouldn't know where to begin."
"Did you not stalk a leopard until you found his lair and killed him?"
Havyn conceded the point. "But Jane is not a leopard. She's a lady, bound about with restrictions." He had been thinking of her as some bothersome lap dog, not as a sleek jungle cat.
"That is true. Yet, from your own accounts, you loosened your strictures, learned to live among the natives and adopted their habits. You learned to hunt. Use that knowledge now tohunt her down."
"She's not a wild beast!"
Neville, Lord Grantham waved away his protests. "She has gone to ground. Find her."
EXCERPT FROM PRIVATE EYES
Nicci opened the heavy mahogany double doors and stepped into the damp night, drawing thick air deep in her lungs. The lights of Seattle twinkled through the fog. Somewhere in the distance a ferry horn blared. Without a wrapper, her bare arms and back instantly chilled. She welcomed the quick composure.
The clarity lasted only a moment. Suddenly she felt as if she stood in a mystical forest and like a unicorn she could sense danger. She slowly turned, drew in a sharp breath when she saw him leaning casually against the brick wall. He didn't move or speak, simply held her gaze through the darkness for a moment that spanned an eternity.
He finally pushed off the wall, his defined jaw set, and moved toward her through the mist swirling and dancing like virgin angels around his black tuxedo. His blue eyes focused on her, probing. "Did you think of me while you were in his arms?"
He knew she thought of him, Nicci heard it in his measured tone. He knew she wanted him to be the one in her arms on the dance floor. He shared her secret thoughts.
She turned from him, leaned against the balustrade and stared out over the Emerald City, held her breath as his footsteps moved toward her, then slowly expelled as his warmth radiated like a warm quilt on a winter night.
"I thought of you," he said, his words a Chinook against the delicate shell of her earlobe.
Involuntarily, she leaned toward his heat, until her backside framed his front. Nestled against his solid planes, her head resting just under his collarbone, Nicci's body rose and fell in rhythm to his breathing.
"Who are you?" she asked, though she'd persuaded herself earlier it would be best not to know. The pads of her fingers imprinted the rail and melted a thin layer of October frost.
He buried his firm lips into her hair, just above her temple. "Do you really want to know?" His right hand reached around and wound his fingers between hers, strengthening her support on the rail. "I don't think you do. It excites you to not know me." His other hand slid across her abdomen, pulling her taut against him.
Nicci's little black dress gave no barrier to the efficacious downward slide of his hand, nor to the pressure of his prominent desire awakening against her bottom. The spice of his cologne, the building heaviness in her breasts, the want to move her hips just slightly against his manhood, suggested he might be right. Maybe it was what drew her to him, the anonymity, a safety net from what she feared she wanted and knew she wouldn't allow herself to have.
"What do you want from me?"
His mouth touched her neck. Sensations ebbed and flowed through her body. "I want you. All of you." He unwound his fingers from hers, tilted her chin upward and to the side. He laved her neck with his tongue, his mouth moving in slow, languid nibbles to the point of her pulse, where her desire beat wildly out of control.
She closed her eyes, reeling in the intense tingles spreading from her neck to the tips of her breasts, effervescing lower and knew she should say no...
"Here. Now." Cool air rushed over her neck, drying her skin as he spoke deep tones just behind her ear, his warm, moist breath circling and spiking a shudder. "I want to take you. Again... and again."
Nicci arched her back, wanting more contact, craving more touch. "I don't even know your name."
He ran the side of his large, powerful hand down her throat in a touch so soft its caress was lighter than a breeze, yet stirred sensations deeper than a storm. His hand drew down between her breasts, over her rib cage and she sucked in her stomach as his hand tickled over her hipbone.
She turned around to face him, to look in his eyes, to tell him, yes
The swoosh of the balcony doors opening sent music spilling out onto the crisp night. "I didn't know you had company."
Oh, god... Brad. Nicci stepped away from her stranger, feeling as if she were on the other end of her surveillance.
Brad looked beyond Nicci's shoulder as if he couldn't bear to see into her eyes. "The... ah, it's time to go."
Nicci understood both the message and the pain in his tone. She thanked him with a smile for remembering not to expose her undercover identity, and emphasized an apology with her eyes. He couldn't know it, but the apology extended to breaking the trance her stranger seemed to hold her in with his eyes, his words, his touch. How close she'd been to making a mistake. "Thank you. I'll be right in."
Brad nodded, stepped back through the doors.
Unable to look at her stranger, unsure if she would be able to leave if she met his deep gaze, if he touched her again, Nicci smoothed her dress. "I have to go." She stepped toward the doors.
He grabbed the strap of her evening bag, eased her backward. Her body fit against him like a puzzle piece, completing the hard planes and angles with the soft curves of her body. "Stay." It was a command. She wanted to obey.
"II can't." He moved her purse out of the way, nuzzled her even closer. "Come to me later," he said, his breath jagged against her ear. She bit her bottom lip to keep from asking where and shook her head. "I'll be waiting."
"I can't," she whispered, and pulled free. Slipping through the doors, knowing the succulent desires her stranger awoke in her would never be experienced again, mounted a mournful ache. Yet it was an ache that reminded her, again, of what she had to lose.
EXCERPT FROM CODE NAME:KISS
The eunuch slid his hands along my shoulders, a caress of excruciating slowness. Sweeping aside my hair, he exposed my neck, dragged his palms over my skin, forbidden touches that shouldn't have made me shiver, but did.
He swirled his fingers along my breastbone, the tops of my breasts. My nipples peaked to tight tips, and I imagined how I must appear to my audience. My nude body showcased by his veiled one. His dark hands, a striking contrast to my fairness. Would the cameras detail the sweat glazing my skin?
My most basic mission objective was to establish a credible cover, but I wasn't entirely sure how to do that right now. The eunuch's touch distracted me, made it difficult to assess the situation. I wouldn't have thought that such glancing touches would scatter my thoughts so completely, would make me so aware of my body. My breathlessness was surprising the hell out of me, it was grudging... unwelcome.
He pressed so close now I could feel a whisper of his smooth muscle through his veiled garments. I had no clue what he intended, how far he'd been instructed to go to get a response, so I simply braced myself. But I couldn't have prepared for his tongue dragging a rough-velvet stroke along my nape.
I imagined it was Seth's kiss invoking this crazy fluttering low in my belly, told myself it was the heat of his breaths caressing that sensitive juncture between neck and shoulder. If I just pretended that he stood behind me, his mouth skimming along my skin in an open-mouthed glide, I could explain my reaction, the way my weak knees left me swaying uncertainly.
Firm thighs parted wide enough to cradle my bottom and steady me. A silk-covered chest with hard nipples pressed into my back, and I put distance between us again, but didn't get a chance to catch my breath before he aimed his next volley.
Flicking his tongue lightly, he timed the motion with those of the fingertips he traced along the undersides of my breasts. He stroked my skin like he might have fingered a harp. His mouth curved, a smile I could feel against my skin.
And when he rolled my nipples between his fingers, the suddenness of the move took me so off guard that I gasped. A sound that echoed through the bubbling quiet like I'd tossed a stone down an empty well. His touch ignited every nerve in my body, and I could only breathe deeply to manage the sensation.
I needed to get a grip. I'd been sent to perform for an audience, and I would. This was my chance to prove myself. Seth had gone out on a limb to put me in the field. He believed I was the best operative for this jobyoung enough to entice the commanders yet skilled enough with undercover work despite my youtheven though I still hadn't completed my training.
I was the best woman for the job, and I'd prove it by not freaking out now. I just needed to keep my head and watch for unexpected opportunities to accomplish mission objective.
So keeping my gaze on the tiles, I played the model slave, as if being aroused by a eunuch for the entertainment of internationally wanted criminals was all in a day's work.
Yellow. Gold. Orange. Pink. Scarlet. Wine. Blood.
I really wished this felt like a normal day's work, but somehow those long fingers and the vision of eight terrorist commanders were coloring my day differently. I'd be fine if I could stay focused on the man I'd much rather be performing for.
I wondered what he thought about me standing nude with my eyes downcast and legs spread, a strange man's mouth and hands teasing me with touches that aroused me against my will.
I focused all my thoughts on Seth Blackthorn, my intelligence officerI told myself it was his clear gray gaze raking over me, making me feel every inch of my bare skin, my tightening nipples, my moist sex.
Because from half a world away, via satellite signal, he was watching.
EXCERPT FROM THE SACRIFICE
Anastasia awoke with a start, blinking against the dank blackness that greeted her, struggling against images she couldn't control and of which she should have no knowledge. Dark sensual images that haunted her.
The coarse woolen blanket that draped her scraped the stiff tips of her nipples and drew a desperate moan from her lips. While she slept she had unlaced her linen shift. Her face now burned with that knowledge and from the heavy moist pulse that throbbed between her legs.
Was she destined to take her final vows, in a mere three days hence, still plagued by forbidden thoughts and shocking desires? Surely Lucifer was tempting her mortal soul.
She flung off her covers and sank to her knees. The rough stone floor chafed her but she paid no heed. She vowed to persist all night if praying would deliver her from this awful curse.
Her sobs echoed against the walls of her sparse cell in the abbey but only a mocking silence followed. No guardian angel answered her prayers.
Yet, the life for which she was destined awaited her. She could never doubt that. Had she not prepared all her life for the holy nuptials with which she would become the bride of her Lord?
To be raised in privilege allowed her to appreciate her sacrifice to live in poverty, and having been born a girl, obeisance had been her life. She would offer those gifts with a generous spirit.
Poverty and obedience, yes. But what of chastity?
While she had no carnal knowledge of men, still, she willingly offered the sacrifice of celibacy as well.
A thought startled her. Perhaps her prayer for deliverance had just been answered? For how could she offer the last as a gift? A gift that had no meaning since she had no knowledge of what she offered.
She sprang to her feet and tucked her toes into small leather slippers, certain now of what she must do.
She grabbed a small torch from its wall holder and hurried to the circular stairwell leading to the back gardens. A snap of cold air bit her fair skin as she stepped out. The sound of wild geese squawked overhead.
She paused after she passed the fishpond and looked up into the sky. Dark clouds loomed ominous. She would have to move swiftly to avoid the storm.
Long before the first hint of sun teased the horizon, Anastasia found herself on a drawbridge, crossing the moat surrounding a castle and standing before Hawkwood and its foreboding gates of iniquity, frozen with fear.
Immediately sentries on duty blocked her path. A streak of lightning crackled in the sky and the heavens let loose with a sudden downpour as though issuing a final warning.
Every novice at the Cloister heard rumor of Count Maxwell and about the dark sexual secrets that simmered behind these walls. Whispered admonishments filled the Abbey of pleasures of the flesh lurking within the fortress.
She clutched her cloak tighter, soaked now, the heavy cloth plastering her shift to her skin.
"Who goes there?" The men-at-arms raised their swords and bucklers.
"A ... visitor." Anastasia hesitated. How was she to explain what she sought?
"Is Ian expecting you?"
"I... I don't believe, sir."
They drew nearer, their eyes sweeping over her small wet frame, and then peered at her face, hidden beneath her hood. The younger man spoke in a husky voice and glanced at the other. "I'll take her in. You stay here."
They signaled above and the iron-studded portcullis lifted. Lightening flashed, jolting her. She mistepped and nearly fell but for the strong hold of the soldier who reached out to grab her. When she looked up, the castle's spiked turrets, like giant lances, silhouetted against the illumined sky. A shiver stole down her spine at the awesome sight.
"Hurry along, now," he scolded, firmly dragging her through the gatehouse and toward heavy wooden doors.
Within minutes she was entering a large antechamber. A single blazing torch cast ghostly figures along the gray stonewalls, the flames forming shadow-like robes that mimicked a sensual dance, sinful in its promise. The bite of incense hung in the air. A scent so familiar it should have lent comfort but within these walls smelled sultry, hinting at heathen rituals and mystery forbidden.
The guard led her through a wide barbican that took them to the far end of the keep and then up the winding stairs of a tower. When they reached two floors up, she stepped into immediate warmth. The smell of wood smoke and pine scent filled the air and a blazing hearth graced almost an entire wall bracketed by books on both sides. Volumes of books equaled nowhere but in a monastery or abbey.
On a wooden stand in the corner perched a large hooded falcon. Anastasia recognized the bird by his white feathered legs and sharp claws. It must be asleep, for the only sound was the soft crackle of dried sagebrush in the roaring fire. The soldier pushed her farther into what Anastasia assumed was Count Maxwell's private solar.
"'Tis a visitor, my lord."
Anastasia looked to where he directed his words. A man sat before a roughhewn trestle table, head bent to paper, a large hound stretched out on the floor beside him. Anastasia startled to see the hound suddenly raise his head and peer at her. She doubted the missive was heard by his master, so deep appeared the man's concentration. His long tapered fingers encircled the clipped quill with which he wrote with a languid hand. The candles burning at each corner of his desk flickered light over inky black hair that fell in soft waves to broad shoulders.
"Count Maxwell?" The guard repeated.
So this was the master of the keep, thought Anastasia. The infamous Lord of Pleasure. Even before her cloister, she heard tales of his power over women with indulgences he'd learned as the captive guest of a Saracen sultan. Only those women obsessed by wicked demons were heedless of any warnings.
It was whispered their desire for him drove them to madness in the end. But it was he who had disappeared and left his vast holdings amidst a cloud of rumor and thus remained, a recluse in these mountains, unrepentant and carrying on his sinful practices.
Without sparing a glance, the depraved Count answered his guard. "Give her to Duncan. He likes virgins."
Anastasia drew in a breath, at first stunned by his response and then disconcerted to know that he sensed her purpose.
How could he know? Perhaps her journey here was destined, fated by her guardian angel so that she would truly be worthy of her sacrifice.
Count Maxwell continued to concentrate on his script but then spoke again in a velvety voice that so belied its deep masculine pitch. "Duncan could use the amusement." He waved a dismissive hand.
Before she could wonder about Duncan, the guard took her arm and led her away. When she glanced back, hoping for a glimpse at the legendary warlord, her hood fell to rest on her shoulders. The hound reared up abruptly and started forward.
"Damascus, be still," the Count scolded.
The hound whirled on him and barked and then turned back to Anastasia. The Count looked up and his quill stopped. His eyes met hers. Dark orbs, reflecting light from the banking fire, moved over her face and then suddenly flared with a primal knowledge that sent flames to her groin. She stifled a cry, sure she had but imagined the exchange.
The falcon sparked to life, squawking and rattling his perch. Were the animal's legs not strapped down with leather, Anastasia would have feared he'd fly for her head.
"Claudius," the Count growled. The bird quieted.
"Bring her here." He flattened his palms on the table and rose, his gaze intense. Even from across the room, she could feel his power. The guard drew her back into the room until she stood across from the Count with only the table between them. She lifted her eyes to his face but remained impassive, proud in her determination to end her quest and silence the senseless ache that kept her from her destiny.
Raw strength radiated from his tall frame. A muscle ticked in his jaw, it's sharp line shadowed with new beard growth. But what drew her was the deep cleft in his chin. It was the only softness in a face seemingly chiseled from the mountainside in which this great castle was carved. That and a wide full mouth.
When he came around from behind the table, her eyes involuntarily fastened on his muscled chest, in full view under his rough tunic that opened down the front. Taut smooth skin and dark hair drew her attention. And then just below, his member, hard and thick in his chausses. She gasped on a shocked breath.
"Surprises me, too," he said silkily. He shot his guard an amused glance. "Not since I was a young squire have I hardened at the sight of a fully clothed woman."
He moved to open himself. She jumped back, jostling the guard braced behind her, her eyes wide.
Count Maxwell released a husky chuckle. "As much as I'd like to feel your lips on me, you need not fear. I'm simply giving myself much needed room."
He loosened the ties and then reached for her, cupping her elbows. "Come." He drew open her cloak, letting it fall to the floor. "Let's see what else you can do for this world-weary lord."