From the depths of an English forest to glittering ballrooms to the scaffold's dark shadow, ride the path of temptation with Kat Martin in Nothing But Velvet...
Lovely Velvet Moran has renounced all thoughts of love. To save her family from ruin, she will wed the hard-faced Duke of Carlyle. But instead of becoming a nobleman's bride, Velvet finds herself a notorious highwayman's prize-her resolve to escape his forest lair warring with the wicked heat sparked by his caresses.
Falsely branded a murderer, Jason Sinclair has secretly returned to clear his name and stop the wedding that would deny him his stolen dukedom. In an outlaw masquerade, he'll kidnap this sensuous minx and detain her as long as is necessary. But can he bridle the surge of passion that has captured his soul...and could imperil them both?
About the Author
Kat Martin’s bestselling novels include Nothing But Velvet, Innocence Undone, and the Raines of Wind Canyon Series—Against the Wind, Against the Fire, and Against the Law. Her book Silk and Steel was nominated for a RITA Award. She is a graduate of the University of California, where she majored in Anthropology and History, a background that helped to develop her interest in the past. "I love anything old," she says. "I especially love to visit the settings for my books. My husband and I often stay in out-of-the-way inns and houses built in times past. It's fun and it gives a wonderful sense of a bygone era." Before becoming a writer, Martin was a real estate broker. She lives with her husband, author Larry Jay Martin, in Missoula, Montana.
Read an Excerpt
"I forbid it! Do you hear?" The duke of Carlyle's face turned a mottled shade of red beneath his mane of snowy hair. "You are a Sinclair," the duke said, his eyes locked on those of his handsome defiant son. "You are an earl, a peer of the realm, and heir to the duke of Carlyle. I will not allow your sordid relationship with that harlot to continue!"
Jason's spine went rigid. Standing in the ornate, walnut-paneled study at Carlyle Hall, the duke's lavish country estate, Jason clamped his jaw against the anger surging through him, the muscles tight across his broad shoulders.
"Forgodsakes, Father, the lady is the countess of Brookhurst — not some light-heeled tavern wench!" He was twenty-one years old, tall and well-built, a man fully grown, yet his father treated him as if he were still a half-witted child.
"She is also eight years your senior, a widow who has slept with half the ton. It is clear that she is also a woman who will settle for nothing less than the Carlyle title and fortune."
Jason's hands balled into fists. "I refuse to let you speak of Celia that way. And whether you forbid it or not, I'll see whomever I choose." Ignoring the sound of his father's meaty hand crashing down on his rosewood desk, Jason turned and stalked out of the study, his angry strides echoing on the black marble floors. Fury pumped through him, and humiliation, and an icy resolve to thwart his father by whatever means he could.
Outside the hall, his sleek bay hunter stood waiting, pawing the earth in restless anticipation. Jason gave the stable-boy a curt nod of thanks and swung up into the saddle. In the window behind him, the oil lamp flickered in his father's study as the big man strode out into the hall, then the sound of a slamming door echoed clearly through the massive stone mansion.
A thread of uneasiness snaked along Jason's spine. Surely his father wouldn't follow him back to the inn. Surely not. Even a stubborn, arrogant man like the duke of Carlyle would never go so far.
Jason watched a moment more, but his father did not appear. Breathing a little easier, he reined away from the house, grateful the confrontation was over at least for the present. He set the horse into a canter, then relaxed a little more at the animal's steady, rhythmic pace. Stark rays of moonlight slanted down through the branches of the trees, and a slight breeze ruffled his dark brown hair, cooling the last of the anger that still burned at the back of his neck.
As the miles slid past, his thoughts moved away from his father's bitter words to the woman whose warm, pliant body awaited. Celia Rollins, Lady Brookhurst. Tall, slender, and beautiful, from the top of her elegantly coifed, black-haired head to her shapely breasts and narrow waist, all the way down to the high, feminine arches of her feet.
They had been seeing each other for the past three months, often meeting at the Peregrine's Roost, an intimate, well-appointed inn halfway between Carlyle Hall and the countess's country estate, Brookhurst Park. Tonight they had planned just such a tryst, and Jason grew hard inside his snug black breeches just to think of the pleasure he would find when he joined the countess in bed.
It was less than an hour till the familiar ivy-covered arch marking the inn appeared above the courtyard, setting his blood to pumping again. He rode into the walled interior, the horse's hooves clattering on the cobbles, dismounted, patted the bay's sleek neck, and handed the reins to a stableboy waiting out in front.
With long, eager strides, Jason started walking toward the rear of the building. Accessible from inside the tavern, as well as having a second private entrance outside, the room often served wealthy patrons. Jason hurried even faster, but a stirring at the corner gave him pause.
"A coin, sir? Spare a coin for a blind man and God is sure to bless you." He was a mangy creature, sitting hunched over on the ground, his body swathed in rags from head to foot, an old tin cup in one hand. Even in the darkness, Jason could see the sores on his pasty skin. He tossed a coin into the metal cup, made his way to the back of the inn, and took the stairs to the second floor two at a time. A single brief knock and Celia beckoned him in.
"My lord," she whispered, smiling as she went into his arms. She was slim yet voluptuous, a vision of loveliness in the glow of the small fire blazing in the hearth. "Jason, darling, I'm so glad you've come."
She pressed her lips against his and kissed him with eager abandon, making him instantly hard. Jason kissed her back with the same hot need he sensed in her, dragging the pins from her silky, waist-length hair. It shone blue-black in the lamplight and hung straight down her back, a midnight curtain that contrasted his own chestnut, not quite shoulder-length hair worn in a queue at the nape of his neck.
"Celia ... my God, it feels like years instead of only a week." He kissed the spot below the rim of her ear, trailed kisses along her bare shoulders, and frantically began to work the buttons on her gown, a heavy sapphire silk, nearly the same shade of blue as his eyes.
For a moment Celia faltered. "I-I was afraid ... I know how your father feels ... I thought you might not come."
"My father's opinion doesn't matter. Not in this." He kissed her again as if to prove it, then began to kiss a path along the arch of her throat down to her breasts, but a pounding at the door stopped him cold.
He wouldn't, Jason thought, imagining the angry, mottled face of his father. But as he feared, when he opened the door, the duke stood there in the opening.
"I've come to have a word with you. Both of you." Blue eyes clashed with blue, his father's gaze darkened with a hint of steel. The duke's fierce glare took in the countess's dishevel, her uncoiffed hair and rumpled gown. "I won't leave until I do."
Jason clamped his jaw, fury warring with humiliation, for Celia as well as himself. "Say what you came for, then leave." He stepped back as his father walked in and closed the door. Sliding a protective arm around Celia's waist, he silently cursed his father, and thanked God they were at least still fully clothed.
The duke of Carlyle fixed them with an icy stare and opened his mouth to speak. Then he frowned, his eyes shifting toward a movement at the door on the other side of the room. For a moment he just stood there. The echo of a gunshot ended what he might have said, the deafening blast filling the chamber, the lead ball taking him square in the chest.
The countess stifled a scream, and Jason gasped in horror at the scarlet blossom erupting in the middle of his father's silver waistcoat. The old man grasped the spreading stain as if he could keep his lifeblood from spilling out and pitched forward, both knees buckling beneath him.
"Father!" The word exploded from Jason's throat. He spun toward the duke's assailant, stared with horror into the familiar face of his half brother, Avery, who had climbed the outside stairs and fired through an open window, then Jason felt an agonizing pain burst in his head. The room began to spin and his legs refused to support him. Bright spots darkened his vision and began to close in.
"Father ..." he whispered, fighting the black swirling circles that rose in front of his eyes. With a groan, he slumped forward, landing unconscious a few feet away from the duke's lifeless body.
The countess stepped over the shards of glass from the broken pitcher that lay scattered on the floor, opened the door, and the fashionably dressed man outside walked in.
"Very good, my dear." Avery Sinclair smoothed a fat silver curl at the side of his elegant, tied-back periwig. "You've always had a quick wit about you." Ignoring the pounding that began on the door leading into the inn, he knelt and pressed the still-smoking pistol into Jason's limp hand.
The countess smiled thinly. "One should always be prepared when opportunity presents itself."
Avery simply nodded. "I hoped you'd be smart enough to realize the old man would never allow you to marry his son."
"I knew it, even if Jason didn't."
"Well, now your problem is solved." He surveyed the bodies on the floor with grim satisfaction. "I had no idea the old man would make it so easy."
"Open this door!" The innkeeper's husky voice rang from the hallway. His heavy fists banged on the thick oaken planks of the door.
"Let me handle this," he said.
Celia arched a sleek black brow. "Oh, I shall."
"And remember, a bit of scandal is a small price to pay for your share of a considerable fortune."
Her pretty mouth curved up. "Never fear, I will remember ... your grace."
A duchess! She was going to be a duchess! Their desperate scheme had actually succeeded.
Velvet Moran stood at the tall mullioned windows in the entry, watching the duke of Carlyle's ornate gilded carriage depart, waiting until it had finally disappeared down the poplar-lined road. Pondering the hour she had spent in company with the elegant blond man who would soon be her husband, she barely heard her grandfather's footfalls as he crossed the black-and-white marble floor, approaching where she stood beneath the crystal chandelier.
"Well, my girl, you've done it, eh?" The earl of Haversham was having a good day today. No memory lapses, no forgetting where he was or what he had been saying. Days like this were infrequent and growing more so, but Velvet cherished every one. "You've saved Windmere, just as you said you would. Saved us both from ruin."
Velvet smiled in spite of the trepidation that still churned inside her. "Only two more weeks and I'll be married. I feel terribly guilty for deceiving him. I wish there were some other way, but we certainly can't risk telling him the truth."
The old man chuckled softly. He was snowy haired where he wasn't going bald, and lean as a bone, his skin so thin blue veins showed through in his hands and face. "He'll chafe a bit when he discovers the debts he'll incur as your husband, but your dowry is a fine one. That should appease him some. And he'll have you. A man couldn't want for a finer wife."
"I'll make him happy, Grandfather. He won't regret marrying me — I vow that on my honor."
The old man cupped her cheeks between his wrinkled hands and stared into her pretty face. With her upturned nose and slightly tilted golden brown eyes, Velvet was the picture of her long-dead mother. She was petite and shapely, with high full breasts and a tiny waist. Her hair was long and wavy, the color of polished mahogany when it was left unpowdered, alive with reddish highlights.
Her grandfather sighed. "I know it can't be helped, but I was hoping for a love match, not a marriage of convenience. What your grandmother and I once had ... that was what I wanted for you. I wish it could have been so, but life is never easy. And one must do what one must."
A wistful moment stole through her. She, too, had hoped to marry a man she loved, though she hadn't really believed she would ever be that lucky. "The duke and I will get on well together. He has wealth and position. I'll be a duchess, live a life of luxury. What more could any woman ask?"
The earl smiled forlornly. "Only love, my girl, only love. Mayhap in time, you will find it with the duke."
She forced herself to smile. "Yes, Grandfather. I'm sure I will." But thinking of Avery Sinclair, of his self-righteous ways and pompous, overstarched manner, she didn't believe it was true. "It's drafty in here," she said, taking the old man's arm. "Why don't we sit for a while in front of the fire?" He nodded and she led him toward the rear of the house, passing the formal drawing room with its opulent red flocked walls, barouche painted ceilings, and heavy carved furniture, then another small salon, also lavishly furnished, hung with silk moiré draperies, and centered around a green marble hearth.
As soon as they rounded the corner, the opulence disappeared. The hall no longer glittered with golden sconces and gilt-framed portraits, for the sconces and gilded frames had long been sold. The beautiful Persian carpets that had once warmed the floors had garnered a price that had kept them in coal through the winter. Stained, threadbare versions had been laid down in their stead to stave off the bitter cold.
To the occasional visitor, with its warm redbrick exterior and beautiful parklike grounds, Windmere looked as magnificent as it always had, standing three stories tall and overlooking the river. In her father's day, its big square towers, gabled roofs and chimney stacks, and hundreds of acres of meadowlands had made the house a showplace.
The last three years had changed all of that. The debts her father had acquired before his death had come as a shock to Velvet and the earl. Even in his misty state of mind, her grandfather realized what a terrible mistake he had made in turning management of his estates over to his son. But the old man's health was failing. With no one else to rely on, he'd had no other choice.
Now George Moran was dead, as his wife had been for more than ten years. He had been killed in a carriage accident on the Continent while traveling with his mistress, an actress by the name of Sophie Lane.
It was Velvet who'd discovered, to her horror, their decimated funds — and the mountain of debts her father had left them. All but her dowry, the only unselfish thing he had done in the years he had managed the estates. Since the earl's fortune had been vast, the dowry was quite sizable, in fact one of the largest in England, certainly enough to keep them living well for years.
The only catch was, Velvet had to marry before the funds were released from the ironclad provisions of her trust fund. Her husband would acquire a small fortune.
He would also acquire Haversham's vast array of debts.
Her grandfather paused in the hallway. "Where are we going?"
"To the Oak room. Snead will have started a fire." Snead was one of a half-dozen trusted retainers who were all the staff they could afford to keep at Windmere. "It will be warm and cozy in there."
"But the duke ... I thought he was coming to pay a call?"
Velvet's heart sank. The lucid day was over. "He already came, Grandfather."
"What about the wedding?"
"We'll be traveling to Carlyle Hall at the end of the week. His grace insists we arrive several days early so that everything may be properly in place before the day of the wedding." She had said all this before, but of course he had forgotten. And what did it matter, if it pleased him to hear it again?
"You'll be a beautiful bride," he said with a sentimental smile.
And he'll be one very surprised duke, Velvet thought. But she would cross that bridge when she reached it. In the meantime, she would keep up the facade that would ensure her marriage to a very wealthy husband. She would ignore the cold that pervaded the house, the smell of musty rooms that had been closed up, the stench of cheap tallow candles.
Thank God she would only have to pretend for another two weeks.
Jason Sinclair paced the floor in front of the slow-burning fire in the marble-manteled hearth, the crisp white lace on the cuffs of his full-sleeved shirt brushing his fingers as he moved. He had always been a tall man, broad-shouldered and lean-hipped. In the past eight years, the leanness of youth had been honed by hours of backbreaking labor into a hard-muscled body as solid as steel.
He turned to the man across from him. "God's blood, Lucien, we've brought the bastard nearly to his knees. We can't falter now and let him win."
Lucien Montaine, Marquess of Litchfield, leaned back in his tapestry chair. "I realize this news is not what you wished to hear, my friend, but brooding over the matter will do you no good. It may take some time, but sooner or later, we'll find another way to reach him. A leopard doesn't change his spots, and a jackal like Avery will once more fall prey to his vices."
Jason paced toward his friend, the one man who had stuck by him through the hell he had suffered these past eight years. "I've waited long enough, Lucien. The man may wear a facade of wealth, but we both know it for the lie it is. His money is nearly all gone. The time to strike is now."
"I can't disagree with your thinking. 'Tis the reason he's so determined to marry."
"I want what is rightfully mine, Lucien. Carlyle Hall is the first step in getting it. I want justice for my father. I want my brother to pay for what he's done. I'll do whatever it takes to see that he does."
Excerpted from "Nothing But Velvet"
Copyright © 1997 Kat Martin.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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