The Questioning Miss Quinton

The Questioning Miss Quinton

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by Kasey Michaels

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Patrick Sherbourne, eleventh Earl of Wickford, had been unwittingly charmed by the feisty Miss Victoria Quinton. Her bespectacled appearance belied her femme fatale persona—one he almost dared to covet, until the vixen accused him of her father's murder! Not one to allow his good name to be sullied, Patrick found his only recourse was to aid Victoria in

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Patrick Sherbourne, eleventh Earl of Wickford, had been unwittingly charmed by the feisty Miss Victoria Quinton. Her bespectacled appearance belied her femme fatale persona—one he almost dared to covet, until the vixen accused him of her father's murder! Not one to allow his good name to be sullied, Patrick found his only recourse was to aid Victoria in uncovering the real criminal. But the earl had to act fast. For not just his family honor was at stake...spending a prolonged period in Victoria's company might mean the end to his beloved bachelorhood.

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Kay Hooper
Kasey Michaels creates characters who stick with you long after her wonderful stories are told.

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Kasey Michaels Collection , #1
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Chapter One

"How completely and utterly boring."

Victoria Quinton, feeling no better for having voiced her sentiments aloud, shifted her slim body slightly on the edge of the uncomfortable wooden chair that was situated to one side of the narrow, badly lit hallway, a thick stack of closely written papers lying forgotten in her lap as she waited for the summons that was so uncharacteristically late in coming this morning.

Raising one hand, she stifled a wide yawn, as she had been kept awake far into the night transcribing the Professor's latest additions to his epic book-in-progress on the history of upper-class English society; for besides acting as secretary, sounding board, and general dogsbody to him for as long as she could remember, Victoria also served as transcriptionist to the Professor, transforming his, at times, jumbled and confusing scribblings into legible final copies.

The Professor would not allow Victoria to recopy his notes into neat final copies during the daytime, and since her evenings were not known for their hours spent in any scintillating pursuit of pleasure, she could find no convincing reason to object to his directive that she fill them with more work.

As for the Professor, his lifelong struggle against insomnia made his evenings a prime time for visiting with the countless people he was always interviewing—all of them contenting themselves by prosing on long into the night over some obscure bit of family history of concern to, probably, none other than his subjects, another scholar, or himself.

Victoria had never been introduced to any of the Professor's nocturnal visitors, nor did sheharbor any secret inclination to learn their identities, which the Professor guarded like some spoiled child hiding his treasured supply of tin soldiers from his mates. After all, if the Professor liked them, they would doubtless bore her to tears.

Hearing the ancient clock in the foyer groan, seem to collect itself, and then slowly chime 10 times, she tentatively rose to her feet, torn between acknowledging that every minute that ticked by made it one minute less that she would be expected to sit in the gloomy library writing page after endless page of dictation until her fingers bent into painful cramps, and dreading the certain sharp scolding she would get for not rousing him when the Professor finally awakened on his own.

In the end, realizing that she wasn't exactly spending the interim in a mad indulgence of pleasure—seeing as how she had been sitting in the same spot like some stuffed owl ever since rising from the breakfast table—she made for the closed door and gave a short, barely audible knock.

There was no response. Victoria sighed and shook her head. "He's probably curled up atop his desk again, afraid that the trip upstairs to his bed would rob him of his drowsiness, and taking his rest where he can," she decided, knocking again, a little louder this time. Then she pressed her ear against the wood, thinking that the Professor's stentorian snores should be audible even through the thickness of the door.

Five minutes passed in just this unproductive way, and Victoria chewed on her bottom lip, beginning to feel the first stirrings of apprehension. She looked about the hallway, wondering where Willie was and whether or not she should search out the housekeeper as a sort of reinforcement before daring to enter the library on her own.

But Willie was always entrenched in the kitchen at this time of the morning, industriously scrubbing the very bottom out of some inoffensive pot, or shining an innocent piece of brass to within an inch of its life. She had her routine, Wilhelmina Flint did, and Victoria was loath to interrupt it. Besides, Willie had a habit of overreacting, and Victoria didn't feel up to dealing with the possibility of having to dispense hartshorn or burnt feathers at this particular moment.

Also, the Professor might be sick, or injured in a fall from the small ladder he used to reach the uppermost shelves of his bookcases. What a pother that would create. For if the Professor was hard to deal with when healthy, as an invalid he would be downright unbearable!

Victoria gave herself a mental kick, realizing she was only delaying the inevitable. She had hesitated too long as it was; it was time she stopped hemming and hawing like some vaporish miss and acted. So thinking, Victoria straightened her thin shoulders, turned the knob, and pushed on the door.

The room thus revealed was in complete disorder, with papers and books strewn everywhere the eye could see—which wasn't far, as the Professor's huge, footed globe was lying tipped over onto its side, blocking the heavy door from opening to more than a wide crack.

"Willie will doubtless suffer an apoplexy," she joked feebly, wondering if she herself was going to faint. No, she reminded herself grimly, only pretty girls are allowed to fall into a swoon at the first sign of trouble. Plain girls are expected to thrust out their chins and bear up nobly under the strain. "Just one more reason to curse my wretched fate," she grumbled under her breath, pushing her spectacles back up onto the bridge of her nose, taking a deep breath, and resigning herself to the inevitable.

Putting a shoulder to the door, she pushed the globe completely aside with some difficulty and entered the library, blinking furiously behind her rimless spectacles as her eyes struggled to become accustomed to the gloom. The heavy blue velvet draperies were tightly closed and all the candles had long since burned down to their sockets.

"Oh, Lord, I don't think I'm going to like this," she whispered, trying hard not to turn on her heels and flee the scene posthaste like the craven coward she told herself she was. Victoria could feel her heart starting to beat quickly, painfully against her rib cage, and she mentally berated herself for not having had the foresight to have acted sooner.

"Pro—, er, Professor?" she ventured nervously, hating the tremor she could hear creeping into her voice. She then advanced, oh so slowly, edging toward the cold fireplace to pick up the poker, then holding it ahead of her as she inched her way across the room, her gaze darting this way and that as she moved toward the front of the massive oak desk.

The Professor wasn't behind the desk; he didn't appear to be anywhere. Lowering the poker an inch or two, Victoria walked gingerly round to the rear of the desk, as she had decided that the intruder—for what else could possibly have caused such a mess except a housebreaker?—was long gone.

She looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully, for the Professor's chamber was directly above the library, and wondered if he was still abed, and as yet unaware of the ransacking of his sacred workplace. "Wouldn't that just be my wretched luck? I most definitely don't relish being the one landed with the duty of enlightening him with this marvelous little tidbit of information," Victoria admitted, grimacing as she cast her eyes around the room one more time.

"Oh," she groaned then, realizing at last that the stained, crumpled papers that littered the floor at her feet constituted at least three months of her painstaking labor, now ruined past redemption. "The only, the absolute only single thing in this entire world that could possibly be worse than having to transcribe all those boring notes is having to do them twice!"

She flung the heavy poker in the general direction of the window embrasure in disgust, not caring in the slightest if her impetuous action caused more damage.

"Arrrgh!" The pain-filled moan emanated from the shallow window embrasure, and the startled Victoria involuntarily leaped nearly a foot off the floor in surprise before she could race to throw back the draperies, revealing the inelegantly sprawled figure of the Professor, his ample body lying half propped against the base of the window seat.

Excerpted from The Questioning Miss Quinton by Kasey Michaels. Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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