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Two Weeks With a Stranger
By Debra Mullins
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Debra Mullins
All right reserved.
How female mystery lures the mind of man
And shatters logic as no other can . . .
The journals of Simon, Lord Devingham, on the subject of women
Two months later
Simon fingered the pale pink, scented stationery. The elaborate script of Isabella's latest note flirted with him as seductively as the lady herself. If all went well at Creston's ball this evening, he might well be on his way to uncovering the signorina's most intimate secrets.
If all went well.
He tossed the letter on the desk with a snap of his wrist, then leaned back in his chair, folded his hands over his abdomen, and studied the feminine scrap of paper with a frown. Isabella Montelucci was a woman coveted by most men. The dark-haired, dark-eyed temptress moved with a sensuality that naturally drew the male eye. She was an accomplished coquette with a husky voice that hinted of unspoken pleasures, and her seductive laugh caught the attention of every man within hearing distance.
She was female sexuality personified, and it was his job to seduce her.
The mere thought of the task tensed his shoulders and started the vein throbbing at his temple. What were his superiors thinking, charging him with such an undertaking?
Never in his life had he been the sort of man for whom women pined. Oh,he was attractive enough, he supposed, though personally he believed that his past romantic attachments had more to do with his title and fortune than his physical form.
Weapons, he knew--how to care for them and how to fire them, swiftly and with deadly accuracy. He had killed men in the course of duty and walked away without a backward glance. He spoke four languages, and he could slip past Napoleon's army into Paris, pass as a Frenchman, then return to England undetected with the information he gathered.
He enjoyed a good game of chess or a quiet night composing poetry for his own amusement, and he had spent season after season breeding just the right shade of pink for his soon-to-be-famous hybrid rose, the Devingham Star.
He was too private to be a flirt, too tongue-tied around females to be a rake, and too damned bookish to engage in empty prattle. Charming women had always been Fox's forte.
Fox. Guilt swelled, seizing with black, churning power. He clenched his jaw and closed his eyes, holding steady against the daily struggle. Three years had passed. What was done, was done. His world had changed, as had John Foxworth's. They could only go forward from here.
He opened his eyes again and focused on the familiar sight of his desk. The note from Isabella, pale pink against the dark mahogany wood. The inkwell. His poetry journal, set aside when Dobbins had brought the post. And, on top of the stack of correspondence, a letter bearing the neat, curving slant of his wife's handwriting.
He straightened, lifting the communiqué from the pile. Ah, Lucy. Someone who did not inspire anxiety or despair. He traced a finger along his name, written in her hand. Never had he expected that anything in his work might harm her. But this business with Isabella could, if rumors reached Devingham.
Had that prattlebox, Mrs. Colfax, carried tales home with her after she had seen him flirting with Isabella at the theater last month? What damnable luck that the biggest gossip he knew lived but a stone's throw from his ancestral home, and that she had chosen to visit relatives in London at so inopportune a time. He had considered the possibility that she had gone straight to Lucy with her rumors and innuendos, but the tone of his wife's letters remained unchanged, suggesting that his countess suspected nothing.
That uncomfortable itch between his shoulder blades pricked him yet again. Was it the discomfort of having to portray himself as a rake--as far-fetched as it appeared to him--or was it guilt? Charming Isabella was a necessary evil for the good of all England. Should his wife hear the gossip, she would no doubt be stung by those sharp tongues, but he would think of an explanation that she would accept.
The heaviness in his chest eased somewhat, and he turned his attention to her note. No doubt her missive included the usual chatter about Devingham. Perhaps Lucy's newly betrothed sister, Alice, had set a date for her nuptials. Or maybe the vicar's wife had given birth to her child, or the new groom his steward had hired last month had proven unreliable. He wouldn't know until he read the letter.
As he went to tear through the seal, a familiar scent teased him. He stopped and lifted the missive to his nose. The flowery fragrance of lavender greeted him, and he closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. Instantly, he was transported to Devingham. To Lucy and their one night together. To the welcoming sheets of her bed, as soft and warm as her pliant, passionate body, and the sweet smell of lavender flooding his senses as they mated.
He would never again associate that scent with anything but the delicious release to be found in his wife's eager arms. He hadn't wanted to leave her, but the urgent summons from Sir Adrian, his superior, had brooked no argument. He had intended to return to his new bride within a matter of days, but instead, business had kept him tied here to London for the past several weeks. As much as he wanted her company, he had no intention of inviting her to join him, as he couldn't allow Lucy to become embroiled in his affairs here in the city.
When he'd decided to wed, he had deliberately searched out a soothing country miss who would be content to remain at Devingham and raise their children while he tended to important matters in London. A woman whom he didn't feel obliged to impress with clever social chatter or sly on dits. Country-bred Lucy had fit the bill, and her playful spirit had made living up to this particular obligation less onerous than he had expected.
Excerpted from Two Weeks With a Stranger by Debra Mullins Copyright © 2007 by Debra Mullins. Excerpted by permission.
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