BESTSELLING AUTHOR KAT MARTIN TURNS UP THE HEAT IN A SEXY NEW REGENCY-ERA ROMANCE FILLED WITH INTRIGUE
The London ton is abuzz with the latest scandal. Jillian Whitney, well-born but penniless, has been living under the roof of a wealthy nobleman old enough to be her father. When Adam Hawthorne, the mysterious Earl of Blackwood, meets the lovely rebel, he's intrigued enough to want to lure her into changing protectors.
Suddenly, Jillian's beloved guardian is murdered, and she is the only suspect. Forced to flee, she falls into the arms of the earl, who offers refuge from the law but no escape from an intoxicating passion. Although Jillian swiftly loses her heart, she knows that the eligible earl would never marry a woman tainted by scandal. But is Jillian underestimating the strength and depth of a man's passion?
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About the Author
New York Times bestselling author of over 65 historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense novels. Born in California, where she still winters, and lives in Montana with her husband, western writer L. J. Martin.
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The battle raged inside his head, the crack of musket fire, the thunder of cannonade, hot lead tearing into flesh and bone, men weeping in fear and despair.
It's a dream, he cried inside his mind, trying to convince himself, to awaken from another of the nightmares that plagued his sleep. Inch by inch, clawing his way back to consciousness, Adam Hawthorne, fourth Earl of Blackwood, sat upright in his huge four-poster bed. His heart was pounding. Sweat ran in rivulets down his naked chest and dampened his hair, urging it into heavy black waves that stuck to the cords at the back of his neck.
Though a chill pervaded the room, Adam shoved the feather comforter down past his waist and a shiver swept over him, pebbling his skin above the crisp linen sheet. He was used to nights like this one. He had suffered the terrible images for more than six years. Penance, he believed, for the part he had played in the war.
Running a hand over his face to erase the last vestiges of slumber, he swung his long legs to the side of the bed and stood up. Through a slit in the gold velvet draperies, the first gray light of dawn filtered into the room. Adam poured water into the porcelain basin on his dresser and performed the necessary ablutions, then pulled on buckskin breeches and a full-sleeved white shirt and shoved his feet into a pair of high-topped Spanish riding boots.
Making his way downstairs, he headed for the stable at the rear of the town house for his daily morning ride.
His groom, Angus McFarland, a big ruddy Scotsman, formerly a sergeant in the Gordon Highlanders, stood waiting, a beefy hand gripping the reins ofAdam's prize black stallion, Ramses.
"'Ave a care, Major. The lad's a bit full o' himself this mornin'."
Adam nodded. "We'll give him a run, then." He patted the stallion's sleek neck. "You'd like a good run, wouldn't you, boy?" The horse was as black and shiny as polished jet, with perfect conformation and a surprisingly gentle disposition. Once Adam had spotted him at Tattersall's, he had spared no expense to have him. It was his single real indulgence since he had unexpectedly come into the Blackwood title and fortune.
Adam patted the soft dark muzzle, then reached into his pocket and held his hand out, palm up, offering the animal a lump of sugar. "A little fresh air always makes the world seem better."
"Aye, and so it does," the Scotsman agreed. Adam swung up onto the saddle and settled himself on the flat leather seat. After eight years in the cavalry, he felt more at home on a horse than he did with his feet on the ground. He bid farewell to Angus, more friend than employee, and headed for his daily outing in the park, Ram in high spirits, dancing and snorting with untapped energy as they rode through the London streets.
At this early hour, the park was empty. Adam set the horse into a gallop, nudged him into a flat-out run, and they pounded around the carriageway. The sun had crested the horizon by the time horse and rider drew to a halt beneath a plane tree on a rise near the duck pond. Adam let the big horse blow, the stallion's sides heaving in and out with spent effort, both of them feeling the benefits of wind and early morning sun.
Giving Ram an absent pat, he turned his attention in another, more interesting direction, scanning the grassy field below in search of his quarry, spotting her on the same wrought-iron bench she had been perched on each morning since he had come upon her three days ago.
The expensive clothes she wore, today a pale green muslin sprinkled with small embroidered rosebuds, marked her as a member of the upper classes. She was shorter than average, with a slender frame and fair, unblemished skin. Beneath the rim of her lace-trimmed bonnet, he could just make out her face, the refined lines and straight nose, the nicely shaped dark copper eyebrows. He imagined her eyes were blue, but at this distance, he couldn't be sure.
What amazed him was how badly he wanted to find out.
On the bench below, the woman smiled at the growing cluster of ducks that swam or waddled toward her, fanning out to surround her feet. To each in turn, she passed out bits of bread, watching with delight as several of them plucked a morsel from her hand. She laughed as a mother duck clumsily waded ashore, six tiny ducklings lined up in a row behind her.
He thought she might have glanced his way, spotting him on the knoll, but perhaps he only imagined it. He wondered who she was and why she came to the pond by herself, so early in the morning. He wondered if, as he did, she sought solace from turbulent thoughts.
He wondered if she would be there again when he came to the pond on the morrow.
Departing the carriage from her morning journey to the park, Jillian Alistair Whitney whisked through the big double doors of the Earl of Fenwick's town mansion, a brisk spring breeze having driven her early from her daily morning outing. She grabbed the rim of her bonnet to keep the wind from blowing it off as the butler, Nigel Atwater, closed the heavy portal behind her.
"A bit chilly, isn't it, to be out gallivanting about?" He glared down his long beak of a nose with disapproval, mirroring the sentiment of a number of the servants, though Atwater was the only one secure enough in his position to let it show.
"The wind came up rather suddenly," she said matter-of-factly, refusing to let him know how much his censure hurt. "Perhaps we're in for a bit of a storm." It wasn't important what the servants thought, she told herself, and even if it were, there was little she could do to change things.
From the start, Lord Fenwick had scoffed at the gossip her presence in a bachelor household caused. He was, he had said, old enough to be her grandfather, was, in fact, a close friend of her father's, a man who had seen more than forty years by the time he sired a child.
Jillian thought of the proud man who had died sixteen months past, a man who had doted on her, loved her to distraction, but left her without a farthing to see to her needs. If it hadn't been for Lord Fenwick...ah, but the earl had come to her rescue, and gossip was a small price to pay for all he had done.
Jillian tugged off her kidskin gloves and started up the stairs to her bedchamber, a cheery room done in pale blue, ivory, and gold, her mind on her situation and the solitude she found each morning in the park. She always went early, before the fashionable set arrived. She hated their knowing glances and speculative smiles and at that early hour, she had the park all to herself.
At least she had until three days ago, when she discovered she wasn't alone.
"Beg pardon, Miss Whitney."
She had almost reached the top of the stairs when she heard the butler returning to the entry. "If you please, Miss, his lordship would like a word with you in his study."
Jillian paused in the process of untying her bonnet. "Certainly. Thank you, Atwater."
Making her way back downstairs, bonnet in hand, she walked along the hall to the suite of rooms in the west wing of the mansion that included the earl's private study, her mind still on the tall, dark-haired rider and magnificent black horse she had spotted on the knoll. There was something frightening about him. Something dark and forbidding. Something mysterious and intriguing.
In truth, he was attractive, in a hard, ruthless sort of way, sitting there astride his horse. At first she had been frightened, then it occurred to her that he would scarcely need to press himself on an unwilling woman. Handsome as he was, likely he could have whatever lady he chose.
A noise in the study drew her attention. Jillian knocked on the gilt-trimmed ivory door, then, at the sound of Lord Fenwick's gruff voice, turned the gold knob and went in.
"Ah, here you are, my dear. I thought I heard you in the entry. You are certainly one for getting an early start."
She walked to where he sat behind his rosewood desk, his stained meerschaum pipe gripped casually in an age-spotted hand. She bent toward him, kissed his wrinkled cheek.
"I'm always up early, my lord, as you well know. Morning is the best time of day. Everything is bright and cheerful, and it is quiet enough to hear the birds."
He chuckled, carefully set his unlit pipe down on its stand, and rose from behind his desk.
Oswald Telford, Earl of Fenwick, was a man well into his sixties, with patchy gray hair and a paunch beneath his white piqu - waistcoat. He had never been a handsome man, with his sugar-bowl ears and slightly bulbous nose, but he was dear to her and she to him.
"Tonight is the Marquess of Landen's soiree," he said. "I thought you might like to attend."
She shook her head a little too quickly, steadied herself enough to smile. "Your gout is still acting up, and in truth I should rather remain at home. I thought perhaps we might spend the evening playing chess."
For an instant, a twinkle appeared in eyes a cloudy shade of blue much paler than her own bright hue. With a look of regret he shook his head. "I should like nothing more than to stay here and trounce you soundly, my girl, but I am not getting any younger, and I need to see you settled. It is beyond time I found you a husband, and the only way I can accomplish the feat is- "
"You are not that old! And at any rate, I am already on the shelf."
"At one and twenty? I hardly think so."
"We've had this conversation before. I thought you understood my feelings on the subject." Those being that she didn't want a husband. At least not the sort the earl would have to buy for her. She wanted a man she could love, one who would love her in return. She wanted the kind of happiness her father had found with her mother.
Jillian had never known Maryann Whitney. Her mother had died giving birth to her only child, but her father had never remarried. He had loved his wife that much. And Jillian refused to settle for anything less than that same sort of devotion.
"Every woman needs a husband," Lord Fenwick grumbled, but he didn't press her further and Jillian was grateful.
"There are endless soirees," she said, "as evidenced by the stack of invitations on your desk." But the stack continued to dwindle as the gossip about them mounted.
As usual the earl ignored it. He was set in his ways and taking her in was as far as he was willing to go in her regard. "I refuse to have that old battle-ax of a cousin of mine in the house just to still the wagging tongues," he had said.
But sooner or later, without a proper chaperon, they would be ostracized completely.
Jillian summoned a smile she suddenly didn't feel. "Perhaps by the end of the week you'll feel better."
The earl fought not to show his relief. "Yes, I'm certain I shall."
But Jillian was worried about him. He'd been looking a little more peaked every day. She would have to make certain he got plenty of rest and brew him some rose hip tea.
He had come to her aid when she had no one else to turn to. He had lost his only son the year before and perhaps he was lonely. Whatever the reason, he had taken her into his home, become the father she had lost, and she meant to take care of him.
And she didn't give a damn what the gossipmongers said.
Adam sat astride his black stallion at the top of the knoll. The day was fair, the breeze no more than a whisper. Ramses pawed the ground and snorted, lifting his magnificent head to study the lean bay gelding standing placidly beside him. Today Adam wasn't alone.
"Nice view." Clayton Harcourt Barclay, Duke of Rathmore, stared down at the woman seated on the wrought-iron bench near the duck pond.
"So I discovered several days past." Adam had known Clay since Oxford, where they had been close friends. Since Adam's exit from the cavalry and subsequent return to London, they had become good friends again. "Do you have any idea who she is?"
Clay flashed a roguish grin. He was a handsome man, tall and broad-shouldered with thick, dark brown hair, the sort who could charm the garters off a lady with little more than a smile, which he had done with considerable regularity before he had wed.
"Actually, I do know who she is." Clay had recently married the Viscount Stockton's rebellious little red-haired daughter. Though the two had their problems in the beginning, they had worked them out, and Adam had rarely seen a happier man.
"The lady's name is Jillian Whitney. We met several months back at one of Stockton's dinner parties. Lately there've been rumors about her. They say she's the Earl of Fenwick's mistress."
Adam felt as if he had just been hit in the stomach. "Fenwick? I can scarcely credit that. The man is thrice her age and more."
"True, but he's still a man, and Miss Whitney is a very attractive young woman."
Adam silently agreed, wishing he could get a closer look at her.
"As the story goes, her father was a longtime friend of the earl's. When he died, Miss Whitney was left near penniless. She lived with an elderly aunt until the woman died, then Fenwick took her in. He claims she is merely his ward, but there is speculation she is far more than that."
Adam swallowed the bitter taste in his mouth. Little surprised him anymore, jaded as he was, yet it was difficult to imagine the smiling young woman who sat placidly feeding the ducks had been spreading her thighs for the ancient Lord Fenwick.
"Fenwick has never been known for his charity," Adam said. "I'd say he got a nice bit of muslin in return for his generosity."
"I suppose so...if the gossip is true."
Adam's attention swung away from the woman and fixed on his friend. "You're saying it isn't?"
Clay shrugged his powerful shoulders. "It wouldn't be the first time the gossipmongers have been wrong."
Adam pondered that. He had felt the vicious bite of slander himself, on more than one occasion.
And yet in his experience which, where women were concerned, was quite extensive most of those he had known would sell their souls for a few expensive baubles.
Clay lifted a knowing, dark brown eyebrow. "Since it is highly unlikely that mere coincidence brought us here this morning, I assume you would like an introduction."
Adam's mouth only faintly curved. It wasn't exactly the reason he had led Clay in this direction. Or maybe it was.
"Why not?" he said, and nudged his boot heels into the sides of his horse.
Jillian straightened as she saw the two men riding off the knoll in her direction. It took her a moment to recognize the Duke of Rathmore as the man on the right, but she had met him and his wife a couple of months ago, and he wasn't a man a woman would forget.
She stood up as they slowed their horses and both men swung down from their saddles. Rathmore went through the formalities, making polite morning greetings, then introduced her to the tall, raven-haired man beside him, Adam Hawthorne, Earl of Blackwood, the man who had watched her from the knoll.
"I've seen you here before," Blackwood said to her, more candidly than she would have expected.
"Yes, I'm quite an early riser. I prefer to enjoy the park before the crush arrives."
"That is my preference as well." He was lean, his skin darkly tanned, as if he often spent time in the sun. His features were strong, even harsh: black slashing brows and lean cheekbones, a mouth that looked hard, but was perfectly curved, except for a faintly cynical lift at one corner. A thin scar ran from his temple along his jaw, giving him a dangerous air, and yet it was a face of uncommon beauty, the sort a woman would notice the moment he walked into a room. His looks combined with the powerful presence he exuded to make the earl a potent force.
"Morning is the very best time of day," Jillian went on, groping for something to say that wouldn't sound inane, forcing herself not to look away from the midnight blue eyes that assessed her with such bold regard.
Blackwood barely nodded. "Yes...the sunlight has a way of sweeping the demons away."
It was an odd thing to say. She studied him with renewed curiosity and thought she saw something shift behind his eyes, as if the door he had accidentally opened had once again slammed closed.
"Lord Blackwood was in the cavalry for a number of years," the duke said mildly. "I don't think he'll ever get used to spending much time indoors."
"I can understand that. I prefer the country myself." Jillian smiled a bit wistfully, thinking of the small, ivy-covered cottage where she and her father had lived in Buckland Vale, a little village near Aylesbury.
"Is that where you got your interest in birds?" the earl asked.
"The ducks, you mean?" She glanced down at the creatures once again wobbling toward her from the pond. "I've grown quite attached to them, I'm afraid. That's Harold, there; and this little brown hen with the spots on her face, that's Esmerelda. If I don't bring them a bit of bread in the mornings, I worry they won't get enough to eat. Silly, isn't it?"
The duke cast her a glance. "You sound like my wife, Kassandra. She adopts every stray animal that comes her way. Just yesterday she ran across a litter of abandoned kittens in the mews. She was up half the night feeding them with a rag dipped in milk."
But he didn't look disturbed about it. In fact, he looked rather proud of her efforts.
The earl Blackwood however, continued to watch her as if he played a game of cat and mouse. There was no doubt which one of them was the prey. Jillian shivered beneath that intense regard and returned her attention to the duke.
"I hope your wife is well."
"Quite well, thank you. I'll be certain to give her your regards."
She nodded, hoping they would leave, but Blackwood seemed in no hurry. Since that was the case, she made ready to depart. "It has been a pleasure to see you again, Your Grace, but I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me. It's past time I returned to the house."
"Yes..." Blackwood cut in, assessing her in that unsettling way of his. "Should you be overly late, I'm certain Lord Fenwick would become quite concerned."
Was that mockery she heard in his voice? Had he heard the gossip about her? It always seemed ridiculous to her, considering the earl's age and health. She couldn't imagine how it had ever got started. The duke didn't seem the sort to be amused by such things, but Blackwood...he was difficult no, impossible to read. Her stomach clenched to imagine what the men might be thinking about her.
"Farewell, Your Grace," she said to the duke.
"Have a pleasant day, Miss Whitney."
She tipped her head to the earl. "It was a pleasure to meet you, my lord."
Dark blue eyes swept over her. "The pleasure was mine, Miss Whitney, I assure you."
Still uncertain what she heard in his voice, Jillian turned and started walking away. She expected the shuffle of boots as the men remounted their horses and rode off the way they had come. Instead, only one of them departed. Without looking back, Jillian knew which one remained. She could feel the dark earl's gaze on her back until she disappeared out of sight on the path leading off into the trees.
In the early mornings, he rode. At night he walked the streets. His years in the army, days and nights of living out of doors, made it nearly impossible for him to fall asleep without at least a little fresh air. More than a year ago, after the death of his older brother, Carter, Adam had sold his commission in the Eleventh Light Dragoons and returned to London to assume his duties as earl. His nightly outings had quickly become a habit, and Adam knew every lane and alley in the West End.
He knew the exact house, a huge Georgian mansion in Brook Street, where the Earl of Fenwick lived.
What he didn't understand was what had drawn him there this evening.
Adam swore an oath into the darkness. For God's sake, the girl is the old man's mistress! She had bartered herself like a piece of meat for the expensive clothes she wore, for the fancy black coach and flashy matched grays that carried her each morning to the park.
He knew about women like Jillian Whitney. He had nearly married Caroline Harding, would have, if he hadn't found her in bed with his cousin, Robert.
And there was Maria. His face bore a constant reminder of her betrayal. The duel he had fought with her husband left a far deeper scar on the inside than the one he carried along his jaw.
And yet when he imagined the young woman beside the pond, when he remembered the sound of her laughter as she fed the ducks, he didn't feel the anger and hostility he felt when he thought of Caroline or Maria. Instead, he felt an odd sort of calm, a peacefulness he hadn't known since before the war.
The huge house loomed ahead, lamplight gleaming from a dozen different windows on the first and second floors. He wondered which room was Jillian Whitney's, wondered if the old man was brazen enough to install her in the countess's bedchamber next to his own. He imagined how the servants must feel about the old earl's mistress being kept right there in the house, and suddenly felt sorry for Jillian Whitney.
He paused in the shadows across the street, leaning back against the trunk of a tree. Had she really been so desperate? Had her father left her with no other choice?
Other speculations rose into his mind, but the echo of a gunshot brought them to a sudden end. There was no mistaking the sound, not after eight long years in the army. And the shot had come from inside the Earl of Fenwick's house.
Adam moved in that direction, careful to stay in the shadows. A scream came from somewhere inside and a few seconds later, the front door burst open.
"Help! Someone call a watchman! The Earl of Fenwick has been shot!"
From the corner of his eye, Adam caught a flicker of movement between the mansion and the house next door. A small, cloaked figure ran from the rear of the house toward the alley behind the mews. Moving silently, ignoring the shouts of the servants who streamed out into the street, he rounded the house next door and headed toward the mouth of the alley to stop the fleeing figure he had seen.
Waiting in the darkness at the entrance, he could hear the pounding of light, frantic footfalls. Hidden beneath the hood of a billowing cloak was the barely discernible shape of a woman. Adam stepped out of the shadows directly in front of her and she careened hard into his chest.
His arms clamped around her as she struggled to break free. "Let me go!" She tried to twist away, but he merely tightened his hold. "Please. Dear God, please let me go!"
Adam stared down at her, a grim smile etched into the corners of his mouth. "Why, Miss Whitney. I hadn't expected we would meet again so soon."
She looked up at him and the breath seemed to stall in her lungs. "Blackwood," was all she said.
Copyright © 2002 by Kat Martin
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1806 Earl Adam Hawthorne finds himself attracted to Jillian Whitney though she is reportedly the mistress of a codger old enough to be her grandfather, the Earl of Fenwick. Gossip aside, Jillian is a penniless innocent all alone except for Fenwick taking her in and caring for her as if she really is his ward; her sire was a close friend of his until he died. Adam hears a shot and almost immediately finds he holds a shocked Jillian in his arms. Jillian tells him that someone killed Fenwick with a servant accusing her of the deed. To avoid prison she begs Adam to hide her, which he does. As they fall in love, a war wages within his mind as he wonders if once again a deceitful female has used her wiles to trick him. Still he desperately seeks proof of her innocence in the homicide as easily as he learned how innocent she was in the boudoir. Though the return of lead characters from previous tales add a feel of homecoming for Kat Martin fans, the well written FANNING THE FLAME is an exciting but by the numbers Regency romantic suspense. The story line entertains the audience, but has no twists even with the amateur sleuth investigation. Jillian is a desperate damsel in distress while Adam is a brooding cynic skeptical about her yet unable not to be her knight in muted armor. Regency purists will applaud Ms. Martin¿s likable tale. Harriet Klausner
First book by author! Well written, excellent romantic tension ! Likeable vunerable leads Suspenseful mystery with potential harm to heroine through out although nothing really bad happens, which I prefer Enjoyed addition of young relative to plot Exciting ending where true villian is exposed Second conflict briefly separates couple with happy resolution