Tired of being under her brother's control, Cordelia Barclay sets out to be as bad as she wants to be. When nude paintings begin to surface in London, she longs to obtain one for herself. Calder Ramsey, the mysterious artist, has no desire to be the cause of Cordelia's downfall. With the assistance of her friend Randall Calhoun, Cordelia is prepared to convince Calder that all artists require inspiration and she is just the lady to give it to him.
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The Viscount's Muse

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Tired of being under her brother's control, Cordelia Barclay sets out to be as bad as she wants to be. When nude paintings begin to surface in London, she longs to obtain one for herself. Calder Ramsey, the mysterious artist, has no desire to be the cause of Cordelia's downfall. With the assistance of her friend Randall Calhoun, Cordelia is prepared to convince Calder that all artists require inspiration and she is just the lady to give it to him.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595781666
  • Publisher: Liquid Silver Books
  • Publication date: 10/10/2005
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 91
  • File size: 502 KB

Meet the Author

Robin Danner writes sweet and sexy historicals, and lives in Alabama with her husband and three sons. When she is not writing, she enjoys watching reality television and singing karaoke...quite possibly off-key! She is a graduate of Troy University and published her first novel not long after earning her degree in biology. She currently works full time and shuffles her time between writing, work, and her family., www.robindanner.com
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Read an Excerpt

"I heard that she was completely naked."

Cordelia Barclay did not mean to eavesdrop, truly she did not, but she could not help overhearing her brother's stunned exclamation as she passed by the half-open door to the library that held Morgan and his best friend, Randall Calhoun.

Her ears perked up and she paused mid-step. Who was naked? Curious beyond belief, she retraced her steps and quietly stood at the library door.

Randall, Viscount Dinsmore, chuckled to show his amusement. "Do you mean to tell me one naked woman is causing such an uproar? Surely the ton has better things to concern themselves with than worrying about one woman's lack of clothing."

Morgan sighed and even though she could not see him Delia could imagine her older brother running his hand across his face in exasperation. "It is indecent, Rand. Surely even a rogue such as you will admit it is highly improper for a lady to pose in such a manner."

Delia's ears strained for Rand's response. His lack of regard for society's rules was the main reason she enjoyed his company.

He did not disappoint her by mincing his words.

"Bloody hell, Morgan. You sound as if you believe women should be trussed in corset and petticoats at all times."

"Not all times," Morgan drawled. "There are certain situations where nudity has its appeal."

Delia rolled her eyes. Her brother's recent rake attempts were becoming tiresome. She placed the blame fully on Rand's shoulders. His influence had turned her normally staid, proper brother into an overbearing, pompous ass.

"I still do not understand the uproar," Rand continued. "I saw the painting and I found it to be a glorious tributeto her timeless beauty and grace."

Painting? Timeless beauty and grace? What the devil were Rand and her brother discussing? Delia crept forward another inch or so and pressed her ear closer to the opening.

Morgan was clearly surprised. "You saw the painting? When?"

"Last week. The dowager invited a select group of individuals to view the painting. I was lucky enough to receive an invitation."

"The devil you did! Why did you not tell me sooner?"

Delia heard a rustle of clothing and could sense that Rand had stood and walked to the liquor cabinet. Even though he was a guest, Rand had always been made to feel at home within the Barclay household. A clink of crystal against glass indicated she had guessed correctly.


Her brother mumbled in agreement. "Is it true then? Did Lady Woodley pose nude for that scandalous painting?"

Delia covered her mouth with one hand to contain her gasp. Lady Woodley? The dowager was eighty if she were a day. Recovered from her small shock, she removed her hand and mentally applauded the feisty lady. What a truly marvelous idea! It would certainly knock society back on its heels, a feat that Delia had never been able to accomplish. Mostly due to her brother and the eagle eye he kept on her at all times.

When Rand did not immediately answer, Morgan's voice grew impatient. "Don't keep me in suspense, Rand. Are the rumors true?"

Rand must have nodded or given some sort of affirmative gesture because Morgan suddenly whooped with delight. "Oh, this is too much! What sort of perverted artist paints an elderly lady totally nude?"

Rand's voice grew clipped and impatient. "The piece was tastefully done and I applaud the artist."

Me too, Delia silently added. It was a rare man indeed who would sacrifice his good name for the sake of his art. Speaking of which, who was this artist?

Morgan sounded contrite. "I am sorry, Rand. I quite forgot that Lady Woodley is a close friend of your family. It is kind of you to defend her."

"I am not defending her. I am defending an artist's right to paint what he wants."

"If naked ladies of the ton are what Calder Ramsey wants, I am afraid that he will die penniless."

Now she had a name of the artist. Calder Ramsey. He sounded delightfully exciting and bold.

Rand's voice grew bored. "Rumor has it that Lady Woodley paid a small fortune for the privilege of having Ramsey paint her. Already two matrons have approached her with the intent of having a similar portrait of themselves."

"I do hope that Lady Rawley was one of the interested parties."

Delia rolled her eyes again. Her brother had been enamored of the beautiful Lady Rawley since her debut several years earlier. When she married an elderly earl, Morgan had been heartbroken, but refused to give up hope of someday claiming her for his own.

"I hate to disappoint, but Lady Rawley did not seem to give it much consideration."

Morgan heaved a great sigh. "Now that is truly tragic. With a body like that..." His voice trailed off suggestively. "If I were Ramsey, I would pay her for the honor."

"Then Ramsey really would end up penniless," Rand joked. "Besides, I thought you said nude paintings were indecent."

"You misunderstand," Morgan said. "I meant to say nude paintings of elderly ladies were indecent."

"I doubt that Lady Woodley would be gratified to learn of the distinction."

Morgan was quick to retract his previous statement. "Maybe I was a bit hasty in condemning the man before I see his work. I am sure that Lady Woodley would never participate in anything that could be construed as less than decent."

Knowing her brother's fear of the older lady, Delia swallowed a chuckle. She fought harder against laughter as Morgan continued speaking.

"You are not going to tell her what I said are you, Rand?"

"Relax, Morgan. I would never reveal your confidences even though the lady is my esteemed godmother."

"Hell, I had quite forgotten about that," Morgan said. He made an audible sound of choking. "Good lord, Rand. You mean to say that you saw a naked portrait of your godmother? Why, that is almost incestuous!"

Delia, who had been fighting laughter for most of the conversation, was unable to prevent a giggle from escaping. She blanched and clamped a hand over her mouth.

From the sudden silence inside the library she knew she had been heard. She gathered her rose silk skirts in one hand and prepared for a hasty retreat.

She barely made it two steps before the library door was wrenched open completely. Damn!

She lifted her gaze meekly to her brother's face.

"Hello." She gave him a small wave.

Morgan did not look happy to see her. His handsome face was wreathed with irritation. He put his hands on his hips and glared down at her.

"You've been eavesdropping again, haven't you?"

She shook her head in denial. "No. I was merely walking by and could not help but overhear part of your conversation."

Morgan growled and wrapped his hand around her wrist. "You might as well come in now since I am sure you overheard every word that was spoken."

She shrugged nonchalantly. "Maybe not every word."

Even though she was willing to follow him into the room, Morgan felt it necessary to tug her inside. He released her wrist and motioned for her to take a seat.

There were four armchairs in the library. She took the one nearest Rand since he looked the least angry at being interrupted. As she slid into the seat, she cast a glance at her brother's best friend. He never failed to remind her of a fallen angel and today that impression was made even more apparent by the dark breeches and open throat shirt he was wearing. There was a small speck of something near his eye and she leaned forward to peer at it.

Rand noticed her gaze and his hand lifted to his face. "What is it?"

She pointed a finger at the speck. "There is something near your eye. A small smudge of dirt perhaps."

He wiped away the smudge and smiled his thanks. "I was out riding in the park. It was quite muddy today."

Seeing no need for explanations, she turned her attention back to her brother, who was watching their exchange with polite disinterest. She dropped her gaze to the tumbler of brandy at his elbow and lifted an eyebrow suggestively. When he did not take the hint, she stood and went to the liquor cabinet to pour her own glass.

She returned to her seat and was met by identical looks of amazement. She lifted the glass to her lips and took a small sip. "What is the matter?" She ignored the burn of the brandy as it slid down her throat.

Morgan reached for her glass and plucked it out of her fingers before she could take a second sip. "I was not aware that you had added partaking of alcohol to your list of sins. I am going to have to keep closer watch on you in the future."

"You already watch me like a hawk," she snapped and tried to retrieve her glass. "Give me back my glass."

Morgan only moved it farther out of reach. "It is not proper for you to drink brandy."

She leaned back in her seat and clutched the arms of the chair, patiently counting to ten. "Father used to let me have sips of brandy at bedtime."

"Only to calm your nightmares," Morgan pointed out. "You have not suffered that particular affliction in ten years."

"How do you know?" she fired back.

Morgan patiently explained. "I sleep across the hall from you, remember? You used to wake the entire household with your screams. If you were having nightmares again, I would know."

Rand stretched out his long legs and crossed them at the ankles. She moved aside her own feet so that he could have more room and tried another tactic on her brother. "I have not been sleeping well recently. Perhaps the brandy will help."

Morgan laughed and glanced at Rand, who looked equally amused. Rand propped his elbow on the arm of the chair and motioned toward the glass. "Maybe you should just let your sister have her brandy."

She shot Rand a grateful look. "Thank you, Rand. At least you always seem to have my best interests at heart."

Morgan handed over the glass. "If she turns into a blind drunk, I am holding you personally responsible."

Rand ran a finger over his lips to hide his amusement. "Duly noted." He turned his head toward Delia and spoke out of the side of his mouth. "Do try to hold your liquor, my dear."

Delia resisted the urge to stick out her tongue, but just barely. She took another sip of the brandy and smacked her lips with satisfaction. She glanced around the room as if searching for something. "Would either of you gentlemen happen to have a cigar?"

Morgan, who detested the habit, shook his head. He obviously failed to see the humor in the situation. Rand, true to form, reached for a small box located at his elbow and extended it to her. She pretended to take her time pondering the selection. Finally, she chose a small cheroot and clamped it between her teeth.

"Need I remind you, Rand, this is my sister you are debauching?"

Rand ignored Morgan's question and nodded encouragingly at Delia. "I do believe the proper way to go about it is to light one end."

"Precisely," Delia mumbled, somehow managing to keep the cheroot in place. She spied a candle and bent forward to light the cheroot. She sucked in her cheeks, as she had seen gentlemen do, and puffed several times. Satisfied that she had lit the cheroot, she sat back and puffed away.

"How is it?" Rand asked, obviously struggling to hide his amusement.

"Excellent," she answered. In truth, her eyes were watering from the smoke and the taste was horrible. She took a deep puff and it went straight into her lungs. Her eyes widened as her chest constricted in a coughing fit.

Rand immediately removed the cheroot from her hands and stubbed it out. His hand moved to her back and rubbed with comforting circles, while she hacked in a completely unattractive manner.

When she was through coughing, he bent close to her ear and whispered for her benefit only. "Next time, take a smaller amount into your lungs."

Her tongue felt fuzzy. She moved it from side to side before answering. "I do not think there will be a next time, but thank you for the advice."

She took another sip of her brandy and grimaced. The taste was even worse. She set it aside and pretended to forget it was there.

Morgan, who had watched with an impassive face, finally shook his head. "How could I have been cursed with such a difficult sibling?"

This time, she did stick out her tongue. "I wonder the same thing about you every day."

Morgan leaned forward and steepled his hands under his chin. "Now, where was I? Oh yes. I believe I was on the verge of lecturing you about eavesdropping." He made a face. "Again."

Rand shifted in his chair and rose to his feet. "Perhaps I should leave you two alone."

Morgan glanced up. "Why bother? It is not the first time and I am sure it will not be the last time that you witness me lecturing Delia."

Rand cast her a questioning glance, as if seeking permission to remain in the room. She nodded and gestured that he sit down again. "Please stay. You are like family, after all."

Rand took his seat and gave her a reassuring smile, as if he knew that what Morgan was about to say was going to be unpleasant. She blinked in surprise as she noticed the beauty of Rand's smile for the first time. She had always considered him handsome, but she had never felt such warmth from a mere smile, especially his. He was almost like a brother.

Why, it would be incestuous! At the thought, she suddenly remembered her purpose for being in the library. She had quite forgotten about Calder Ramsey and his scandalous painting.

She leaned forward eagerly. "Can we get the lecture over with quickly so I can hear more about Lady Woodley's painting?"

Morgan's fingers tapped out a staccato rhythm on the arm of his chair. "It does not bear repeating."

"Which? My lecture or the painting?" she quipped.

"The painting," Morgan clarified. He was interrupted by their butler, Greaves, who arrived to inform Morgan that he had another visitor.

"Thank you, Greaves," Morgan answered and climbed to his feet. He shot Rand a brief look. "Excuse me. I will only be a moment." He then glanced at Delia. "You seem to have another reprieve."

As he quit the room, he gave Delia a fierce look, silently commanding her to stay where she was. It was needless, since she had no intention of going anywhere. She fully intended on getting the entire story from Rand.

As soon as the door closed behind her brother, she turned to Rand with an excited gleam in her eyes. "Is she really completely nude?"

Rand draped one arm casually over the back of the chair. The green velvet of the chair lent his dark eyes a hazel glow. "I don't think Morgan wants me to discuss this subject with you."

"Piffle," she said with a wave of her hand. "Who cares what Morgan wants?"

"He is my friend," Rand pointed out.

"Yes, but you are my friend also." She could sense that he was wavering, so she went in for the kill. "Please, Rand?"

She batted her eyes at him and pouted the tiniest bit. He was never able to resist her when she begged, a fact she used to her advantage on more than one occasion.

Rand glanced to the door, but she knew his decision had already been made. She turned toward him expectantly. He lifted his back from the chair as he leaned forward slightly. "What do you want to know?"

"Everything. Who is this Ramsey? How did Lady Woodley meet him? Are there any other of his paintings?"

"I am afraid I cannot answer those questions. Not much is known about Ramsey. My godmother is refusing to speak of him and no one claims to be aware of any of his other works."

Her face fell in disappointment. "But Lady Woodley was nude?"

Rand nodded. "Yes."

"How astonishing!" she breathed. "I wish I could see it."

Rand appeared surprised by her interest. "I was not aware you possessed an appreciation for art."

"Normally I don't," she admitted. "But this proves to be very interesting. Do you suppose your godmother would let me see the painting?"

Rand shrugged. "She has been showing it to virtually everyone, so I do not think she would mind. If you would like, I could get you an invitation."

"Oh, please do!" She leaned forward enough to toss her arms around his shoulders and give him a brief hug. "You are such a good friend." She pressed a kiss against his cheek, feeling the slight rasp of his stubble against her skin.

She drew back and gazed at him as if he had given her the moon. "I suppose we should not let Morgan know I intend to see the painting."

He seemed to understand her silent plea. "It will be our secret."

* * * *

When Morgan returned to the room, it was to find Rand and Delia engaged in a rousing game of chess. She moved a piece forward and jabbed her hand in the air victoriously.

"Check," she called out.

Rand did not reply. He simply reached out and moved one of his own pieces into position. "Checkmate."

Her smile faded and she glared at the board with consternation. "You won again."

"Of course," he answered. "Don't I always?"

She crossed her arms and pouted. "A true gentleman would let me win at least some of the time."

Rand threw back his head and laughed. "My dear Delia, what ever gave you the impression I was a gentleman?"

"He has you there," Morgan said as he strolled over and glanced at the board. He pointed out a move that Delia had missed. "Next time pay more attention to the game. You could have beaten him several moves ago."

She studied the move that Morgan pointed out. "You are right." She glanced up at Rand and narrowed her eyes. "Why did you not tell me that I should have made a different play?"

Rand widened his eyes in mock horror. "And lose a game to you? Never."

Deciding she had suffered enough in the company of her brother and his friend, she got to her feet. "If you will excuse me, I do believe I will retire to my room. I have some correspondence to attend to."

"What sort of correspondence?" Morgan asked.

Delia grinned unrepentantly. "Love letters to answer. I get those quite often, you know."

Morgan poured another glass of brandy and saluted her. "Pardon me. I quite forgot you were the toast of the ton."

Rand's dark eyes lifted to her face. "Are you still being sought after by those buffoons?"

Delia lifted her nose in the air and gave a haughty sniff. "I prefer to call them my suitors, but yes I am."

"Idiots," Rand mumbled as he returned the chess pieces to their original positions.

Privately Delia agreed with Rand's assessment. Who would have guessed the lengths some men go to during the courtship ritual? She had received massive bouquets, flowery odes of love, and more callers than she could shake at with a stick. She did not delude herself into thinking all the attention was because of her own appeal. It was true that she was somewhat attractive and witty, but most of her suitors desired her only for the large dowry that her brother could provide. Her good looks and charming personality were just a bonus.

She turned and walked toward the door. Her hand was on the doorknob when her brother called her name.

"Delia. Aren't you forgetting something?"

Drat! She had almost escaped.

She turned and gave a look of innocence. "I don't believe so."

Morgan crooked his finger and she sighed with resignation. She shuffled a few steps closer and dropped her gaze to the carpet below her feet. As she did, Rand stood and crossed behind her. She felt a small touch against her shoulder and knew he was offering his sympathy.

Morgan swirled the liquor in his glass and weighed his words carefully. He studied her bent head and contrite expression for several moments. Finally, shaking his head in disbelief, he tossed back the contents of his glass and dismissed her.

Delia lifted her head and glanced at her brother. "What? No lecture?" She glanced at Rand to see if he was as surprised as she was by her brother's unusual show of leniency.

Morgan shook his head again. "No. You know what you did was wrong. If I catch you eavesdropping in the future, I promise you that you will not get away so easily."

She hurried out of the room before he could change his mind and start yelling at her. She began to skip up the stairs, then changed her mind at the last minute.

Turning direction, she headed toward the servant's wing in the rear of the house. When she appeared in the kitchens, no one seemed surprised to see her. Most of the servants were gathered around the table, observing a lively game of whist that was currently in progress.

"Who is winning?" Delia whispered to a scullery maid.

Felicity cupped a hand around her mouth and bent close to Delia. "Simms and Roberts, Miss. Four tricks to three."

"Really?" Delia stood on the tips of her toes and tried to see over the shoulders of the footmen standing in front of her. She tapped one on the shoulder and he nudged his companions to get their attention. When they saw that she was present, they stepped aside so that she could get a better spot for viewing.

"Thank you," Delia said and tugged Felicity along with her. She knew that the young maid had a soft spot for Patrick Simms and would appreciate the chance to be at his elbow when he finally defeated his archrival, Greaves.

Simms had been with her family since he was ten years old. He had originally served as a stable lad until being taken under the wing of Greaves, the butler, and had been eventually promoted to the position of footman. Their nightly whist games had become something of a household legend and as far as anyone knew Greaves had never been defeated.

Simms' partner was Roberts, one of the coachmen, while Greaves was paired with Mrs. Dalton, the cook.

"Isn't it exciting?" Felicity breathed in Delia's ear. The young maid's eyes sparkled with anticipation. "After ten years, Patrick is finally going to win."

Delia turned her attention back to the game, wincing when Simms' partner made an unfortunate choice. The fourth trick went to Greaves and Mrs. Dalton.

The game was now tied.

Simms led the play, tossing out a king of hearts. Delia leaned over to Felicity.

"Has the ace already been played?"

Felicity shrugged to signify that she did not know the answer.

Delia glanced back toward the table. Mrs. Dalton played a ten, while Roberts tossed out a six. The entire room drew in an audible breath as they waited for Greaves' card to fall.

The butler glanced up impassively. His face gave away nothing. Finally, with a casual nod, he turned up a queen of hearts.

Simms' eyes widened a split second before the room erupted in cheers. Felicity grasped Delia's arm and began to jump up and down.

"Oh, he did it! He finally did it!"

Simms pushed back his chair and smiled victoriously. Greaves, ever gracious, shook his hand and congratulated him on his win. Noticing that Delia was present, Simms doffed his hat and came forward.

Delia smiled at him. "Congratulations, Simms."

"Thank you, Miss Barclay." His eyes moved past Delia and he winked flirtatiously at Felicity, who tittered and blushed becomingly. "It was mainly luck."

Delia rolled her eyes. She knew from personal experience that he was a wizard at the game. He had been tutoring her for several weeks now in the highly enjoyable game.

She glanced at the table, her fingers fairly itching to begin playing.

As if he could read her thoughts, Simms pulled out a chair and motioned toward her. "Would you like to give it a go?"

The other servants were clearly surprised by Simms' invitation. Not many of them were aware of her whist lessons with him. She nodded and quickly took her seat, waiting for the other players to take their places.

A second rubber was quickly arranged. This time, Greaves was paired with Roberts, while Simms and Delia sat across from each other.

As the cards were dealt, she ran the rules through her mind. Satisfied that she had a grasp on the game, she reached for her cards and shuffled them around in her hands.

The rubber began, with Greaves and Roberts easily winning the first hand. She and Simms managed to squeak by with a win on the second hand. It once again came down to a tie. This time, it was Delia who was leading the play.

She chewed on her bottom lip and considered the remaining five cards in her hands. Three of them were low cards, which would be useless. One was the jack of clubs and the second was the queen of diamonds.

She lifted her gaze to the players seated around the table. She studied their faces, trying to gain a hint of their cards. Roberts did not look happy, so he obviously had a bad hand. Greaves and Simms kept their faces purposefully blank. Hoping she made the right decision, and praying Greaves did not have the king of clubs, she tossed out her jack of clubs.

Roberts followed with a nine. Simms tossed out a five. Delia cursed her luck. The king of clubs was still in play, so Greaves must have it.

Looking extremely put out, Greaves laid down his card. She lifted an eyebrow in surprise when she saw it was not the expected card. Glancing up at Simms, her face mirrored her amazement.

"We won!"

"Two times in one night," Simms crowed and reached over the table to pinch her cheek. "We did it."

Greaves still appeared confused. No one noticed when he flipped over the players' remaining cards. The king of clubs was in Simms' pile. He smiled to himself as he realized that the young footman had purposefully made it look like Delia was responsible for the win.

Delia was so caught up in the excitement of the win that she did not hear the creak of the kitchen door until it was too late.

"Cordelia Anastasia Barclay! What on earth is the meaning of this?"

Delia groaned and turned her head toward her brother. He stood in the doorway, looking thoroughly put out by the sight that greeted his eyes. He strode forward until only a hairsbreadth separated them. "Gambling, Delia?" His brown eyes, very much a mirror of hers, narrowed with irritation. "I swear you would tempt the patience of a saint."

Delia grinned, unable to resist chirping, "Which we all know you are not."

Not so much as a whisper of a smile crossed his face. He lifted his hand and pointed a finger toward the door. "Upstairs, now."

Delia's hackles immediately rose. "I am not a child, Morgan, to be ordered to my room whenever I misbehave."

"Until you turn twenty-five, you are under my protection. As you are only twenty, I believe that means you have to do what I say for the next five years."

"You are being a pompous a..."

Morgan held up his hand again when she would have cursed. He gave a sharp glance at the servants still standing around and gawking at the unfolding tableau. "Get back to work!"

The servants scurried away to do his bidding. Even the elderly cook leapt to her feet and hurried to the larder behind the kitchen. Delia placed her hands on her hips and glared at her brother. "That was terribly rude of you. The servants have done nothing to earn your anger."

"They should be working instead of watching my sister make a mockery of me by gambling in my house."

"We were not gambling." Delia swept an arm toward the now empty table. "Did you see any coins exchange hands? No, you did not. It was only a friendly game of whist."

Morgan, clearly exasperated with her, tossed up his hands and strode from the room without another word. He brushed past Rand in the hallway, whose eyes met Delia's through the open doorway.

"Oh, Delia. What have you done now?"

Rand's heartfelt sigh made her anger bubble to the surface. She was tired of being treated like a child and it was time that her brother and Rand knew it.

She marched forward and poked her finger in the center of Rand's chest. "What have I done? Why does everyone immediately assume that I did something wrong?"

If he was surprised by her show of anger, he did not show it. Instead, he wrapped the lean fingers of his right hand around her wrist and lowered her hand to her side. Delia was not to be deterred. Anger was coursing through her veins and Rand became a convenient scapegoat.

"I am tired of always being told what to do. I am twenty years old for goodness sakes. More than old enough to make my own decisions. If I want to play whist, then dammit, I will play. If I want to waltz with an entirely inappropriate gentleman, I will. If I want to go see a scandalous painting, then by God I will." She broke off for a moment to take a deep breath. "From this moment, Morgan's control over me is finished. It is time I started playing by my own rules."

Rand's hands came to rest on her shoulders. "Delia, calm yourself. You are speaking nonsense."

Ignoring the warmth of his palms through the thin material of her gown, she lifted her head and gave him a haughty look. "It is not nonsense to desire freedom."

Rand's eyes moved from hers to glance around the lavishly furnished house. "I would hardly call this a prison cell."

She grunted and gave a mighty shove against his chest. "Oh, you are just as bad as he is."

She made a move past him, but he reached out and took hold of her arm. Half turning to face him, she lifted an eyebrow in mock inquiry. "Yes?"

He gaze swept from across her face, taking in her flashing eyes, flushed cheeks, and pouting lips. "You are beautiful when you are angry."

She felt a small thrill at his words, but grew determined to not let her heart soften. He, along with Morgan, had just become the enemy. "Do not try to sweet talk me into forgiving you."

His lips tilted into an amused smile. "Forgive me? What offense have I committed against you that would require forgiveness?"

Her mouth opened, but she fumbled for a reply. After several seconds of silence, she snapped it back closed.

"Ah ha. I see I have you there. Come now and stop all this comlaining. I am not the one you are angry with."

He tugged on her arm and gathered her into a loose embrace. The top of her head barely came to his shoulder and it seemed right to press her cheek against his chest and allow him to hold her.

His breath ruffled the hair on the top of her head and she gloried in the feel of his arms around her. For a moment she could forget this was Rand, her friend for years, and envision herself in the arms of a man who desired her above all others. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, but the familiar smell of Rand reminded her that this was only a fantasy. The man she dreamed of did not exist.

Taking a step back, she lifted her gaze to Rand's face. The expression on his face was carefully guarded, but she caught the wary look in his eye.


She stared at the hand he extended toward her for several moments before reaching out and accepting it with her own hand. "Friends," she agreed.

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