Praised for creating “the best in romantic fiction”(Rendezvous), New York Times bestselling author Virginia Henley returns to nineteenth-century London in a scandalous love story that burns with the heat of forbidden passion on every page....
All her life, flame-haired Alexandra Sheffield has been expected to marry the wealthy Lord Christopher Hatton—a man whose title and inheritance make Alex the envy of all London. But desperate for a life filled with adventure and passion, she is in no hurry to marry the spoiled aristocrat. Instead, she is consumed with longing for another man—Lord Hatton’s devastatingly dangerous twin brother, Nicholas.
All his life, Nick Hatton has had his pick of beautiful women, but he’s also had enough sense never to hazard his heart. That is, until his irresponsible brother gambles away his inheritance and plans to refill his pockets by marrying spirited young Alex. Driven by a fierce need to protect her, Nick will risk anything to prevent his brother’s scheming seduction. But when the girl he sets out to save becomes the glorious woman he longs to ravish, he must force himself to resist her wild beauty and reckless flirtation—before his desires erupt in a single, scorching moment that can never be undone.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.30(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Virginia Henley is a New York Times bestselling author and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award. Her novels have been translated into fourteen languages. A grandmother of three, she lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
Hatton Hall, July 22, 1792
&'grave;Lord Hatton's heir shall not make his way into the world arse-first, if I have any say in the matter!'' The red-faced midwife pushed hard on the baby's buttocks in an effort to turn it about, then brushed her hair back from her sweating forehead.
On the big bed, the young Irish girl's beauty had been replaced by a pale, haggard look brought on by the ordeal of childbirth. Lady Kathleen Hatton had gone into labor at dawn and it was now almost midnight.
Meg Riley, Lady Hatton's serving-woman, who had been Kathleen Flynn's nurse when she was a child, wrung her hands in dismay. &'grave;She's in agony, woman. Deliver the child as quick as ye can!''
The midwife, who had detected two heads when she arrived, pressed stubborn lips together. She was offended at having her authority challenged before the two young maids who hovered anxiously by the door. ''The Irish think they know everything! Unless you have experience delivering twins, I suggest you keep your advice to yourself. Twin births are dangerous; naught but harm and hazard!'' In spite of her air of authority, the midwife secretly felt panic. She took a firm hold of the tiny shoulder that now presented itself and pulled with relentless resolve.
Lord Hatton's heir made his appearance into the world two minutes before midnight; mercifully, the mother lost consciousness. The midwife handed the child to Meg Riley. ''Wash him and I shall present him to his father immediately. The poor man has waited long enough.''
The ''poor man'' has removed himself to his library where he'll hear no screams and where the fine brandy will ease his wait, Meg thought with outrage. As she bathed the male child, Meg examined him carefully. He was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen, with tufts of dark hair curling upon his head and black eyelashes fringing his gray eyes. She wrapped him in a swaddling blanket and approached the bed. When the midwife reached for the small bundle, Meg said, ''Ye cannot leave Lady Hatton; ye have to deliver the other child!''
''Her labor has stopped, and it could be hours before it starts again.'' The midwife took the heir she had successfully delivered and made her way to the library.
Mr. Burke, Hatton Hall's majordomo, opened the library door for the midwife, greatly relieved that, at last, all seemed well.
''Is it a boy?'' Henry Hatton demanded, arising from his leather wing chair amid a blue haze of cigar smoke.
''Yes, indeed, my lord. Congratulations on a fine son.'' The midwife beamed and unwrapped the blanket to display her trophy.
Lord Hatton's eyes kindled with male pride. &'grave;He's absolutely perfect, if I do say so myself. This calls for a celebration! Burke, summon the steward and the footmen and we'll drink a toast.'' Henry suddenly bethought himself. ''How is Lady Hatton? Pleased with herself, no doubt?''
&'grave;Her work isn't finished yet, but I don't want to force things.''
&'grave;Get it delivered. I don't want Kathleen to suffer discomfort.''
&'grave;Twin births can be hazardous, my lord. We don't want to injure the child.''
&'grave;Don't worry unduly. I have my son, my heir; that's the important thing. Just make sure no harm comes to this one. I've decided on the name Christopher... Christopher Flynn Hatton!''
* * *
By the following night, the entire household was in a panic. The second twin was still unborn, despite everything the midwife had done to induce the birth. Even the cook had been summoned for gruel and molasses and Mr. Burke, filled with alarm, had rushed upstairs a dozen times with hot bricks to warm her feet.
Kathleen Hatton lay in a torpid state with glazed eyes while Meg Riley bathed her tenderly, praying fervently as tears rolled down her anguished face. Just before midnight, Lord Hatton stormed into the chamber for the third time in as many hours.
''It must be dead, my lord,'' the midwife pronounced desperately in the face of his anger.
''That Spawn of Satan had better be dead!'' He strode impatiently up and down the chamber, issuing threats to everyone and taking perverse satisfaction in his ability to make them cower.
As the last stroke of midnight died away, the second twin finally made his appearance into the world. Meg Riley looked down in wonder at the child whom the midwife handed her to cleanse. It was another boy, identical to the first in every detail. The same perfect limbs, the same tufts of dark hair, the same black eyelashes fringing his gray eyes, the same tiny cleft in the center of his chin. &'grave; 'Tis another boy, my lord.'' Meg held out the beautiful baby.
''Keep him away from me!'' Lord Hatton roared. &'grave;He's a hazard to us all! Keep him away from my son, Christopher!'' He picked up his first-born protectively and strode from the chamber.
While the midwife looked helplessly at her dying patient and Meg cradled the rejected child, the cook shook her head ominously. &'grave;Twins born more than twenty-four hours apart, born under two different signs of the zodiac... 'tis unnatural!''
The young maids nodded their agreement. A bad omen indeed.
Having at last done her job, Lady Kathleen Hatton slipped away with a gentle sigh of relief.
''Twin births are naught but harm and hazard,'' the midwife lamented.
''My beautiful boy,'' Meg Riley crooned as her tears ran freely. &'grave;Since they think ye're Old Nick's spawn, we might as well call ye Nicholas, and yer middle name shall be Flynn, after yer sweet, gentle mother, who's now with the angels, God rest her soul.''
Though Henry Hatton blamed his second-born for his wife's death, as time went by he learned to grit his teeth and tolerate him, since it was impossible to keep the twins separated. From the moment they learned to walk, the boys spent every waking hour together. But from the beginning it was Nicholas, the second-born, who was the natural leader and Christopher the follower.
The servants all agreed this was because Nicholas had been born under the sign of the lion, while Christopher's birth sign was the crab. In appearance the boys were identical with not a hairsbreadth of difference between them. Their personalities, however, contrasted vividly. Though both were attractive, mischievous little rogues, Nicholas was a complete extrovert, doing everything with such passion he outshone his brother in every way.
This infuriated Lord Hatton and added to the hostility he felt toward Nicholas. Henry Hatton expected Christopher, his heir, to excel at everything, and as a result young Kit was insecure. His stronger-willed twin, Nick, became exceedingly protective of him, even doing Kit's lessons in the schoolroom so that their tutor would not make unfavorable reports to their father. Nick took the blame for Kit's sins of commission as well as omission, when he did not fulfill his responsibilities or his father's expectations.
By the time they were ten, the Hatton twins had learned to change places with each other whenever it suited their purpose, and by the time they were fifteen, it amused Nick to ensure Kit got all their father's praise, while he took all the punishment their sire meted out. The Hatton twins had truly earned the nicknames that the servants had given them at birth: Harm and Hazard!
London, July 1813
Champagne Charlie's face lit up with delight as she recognized the pair of dark, dashing clients who strolled into her establishment in Pall Mall. She welcomed the handsome devils with a kiss, while the two young libertines each greeted her by placing a practiced hand upon the cheeks of her shapely derriere.
Naughty Nell, the newest nymph at King's Place Vaulting Academy, stared at the twin visions garbed in impeccable black evening attire, then turned to Moll Tempest with a breathless question. ''Who are they?''
&'grave;We're in for fun tonight.'' Moll winked. &'grave;It's Harm and Hazard!''
When Nell gave her a blank look, Moll explained. ''The Double-Dick Brothers! Champagne all around, and let the games begin!''
Suddenly, it seemed every female employed at Charlotte King's brothel had crowded into the large reception room, decorated with gilt-framed mirrors and frescoes of naked-breasted women in enticing poses. Champagne bubbled forth, as did the effervescent laughter, while the painted ladies scribbled their names on bits of paper and tossed them into the gentlemen's tall silk evening hats.
As Nell's gaze traveled from one tall, dark rogue to the other, measuring their wide shoulders, assessing their muscled thighs, and sighing over their black curly heads and devilish gray eyes, she murmured, ''How do you tell them apart?''
&'grave;We don'tit's a guessing game the entire night, but in truth who cares? Just look at them! None of Charlie's other customers measure up to these two.''
''In length or circumference?'' Nell quipped naughtily.
&'grave;In endurance, luv! They're accomplished rakestheir father, Lord Hatton, saw to that. Brought 'em here for their fifteenth birthday to initiate them, but they were no virgins! Like turning two young stallions loose in a stable filled with mares in season.''
Nell's interest intensified when she learned their father was a nobleman. ''Ooo! Are they titled?''
Moll gave the new girl a pitying glance. &'grave;The elder twin is heir to his father's baronial title, but when a man is naked, the measuring stick that counts is not his nobility!''
&'grave;They seem to be on most intimate terms with Madam. Don't tell me she services them?'' Nell asked aghast.
&'grave;It's the Double-Dick Twins who do the servicing. Charlie breaks her own rules for them. She's the only one who can tell them apart, but even she admits they've diddled her on occasion!'' Moll whooped with amusement at her own pun.
Squeals of laughter punctuated the air as Harm drew the names of Lolly and Bubbles. &'grave;Well, lay me down and tickle me wiv' a feather,'' one of the curvaceous blondes giggled, taking the six-foot Adonis by the arm. The charming scoundrel bent to whisper in her ear and received a playful slap for his wicked suggestion.
When Hazard drew the name of a sloe-eyed Asian girl and then one called Desire, with the dusky skin of a houri, Charlie lifted a questioning eyebrow at him to see if he was pleased.
&'grave;Delicious appetizers, my sweet, but I'd like you for the maincourse, as always,'' he murmured for her ears alone. His voice was so deep, it never failed to send a thrill along her spine.
''It will give me a chance to show you my gratitude,'' Charlie whispered back. &'grave;As you advised, I opened a gaming room last week, and already it's doubled my business!''
* * *
Six miles from London, at Longford Manor, Alexandra Sheffield locked the bedchamber door, then quickly stripped off her clothes. She looked deeply into the bold eyes that were assessing her naked body and smiled mischievously. &'grave;Alone at last! I've been wanting to do this for weeks. Every time I looked at you, I was tempted. People gossip about me being a hellion; this'll prove them right!''
She watched the hand lift her red-gold tresses, then shuddered as she felt the bright, silky curls spill down over her naked breasts and settle about her slim waist.
&'grave;Are you sure about this? There's still time to stop.''
As the question floated in the air, Alexandra ran the tip of her tongue over her lips in hesitation. It was the first time, and once it was gone, she knew there would be no putting it back. The corners of her mouth lifted at her own daring. &'grave;I'm sure! Let's kiss it good-bye and be done with it!''
Alexandra looked again at her reflection in the mirror, picked up the scissors, and sheared off her long tresses. ''Oh, my Lord, I look positively outrageous!'' she declared with glee. Drab, boring respectability was anathema to Alexandra, who longed to live in London and experience first-hand the follies of the beau monde.
She had collected all Fanny Burney's scandalous novels and had ambitions to become a writer. Last month she had read in the lively Town and Country Magazine that most female novelists had to cut off their hair and effect male attire before they were taken seriously, and even then they had to publish anonymously in the male-dominated profession. It was even rumored that Charles Lamb, essayist and humorist, was in reality Mary Lamb.
As Alexandra bathed and washed her newly shorn hair, she decided that when she went to London to pursue her calling she would use the male version of her name. Alex Sheffield had a definite ring to it! When her hair dried, she felt dismay at the myriad curls and tendrils that formed a red-gold halo about her face and feared she still looked far too feminine. As she descended the curving staircase on her way to the salon for afternoon tea, the voice of her brother, Rupert, stayed her.
&'grave;Good God, Alex, what the devil have you done to yourself? The ton will say you've gone as dotty as our grandmother! No one will offer for you now that you've turned yourself into a damn freak.''
Alexandra spun about and lifted her stubborn chin. &'grave;That, Rude Rupert, is the whole point of the exercise! I'm only seventeen; I don't want anyone to offer for me.''
&'grave;Well, they will, even though you've turned a silk purse into a sow's ear. You're an heiress, Alex; there's no help for it.''
As they reached the ground floor, they were in time to see their grandmother, Lady Dorothy Longford, bid good-bye to a rather flashily dressed man.
''Nice doing business with you, Viscountess.''
''A simple my lady will do.'' Dottie prodded him with her ebony walking stick. &'grave;Now remember, they must come after dark or they won't be admitted. I'll have my gamekeeper set the dogs on 'em.'' Dowager Viscountess Dorothy Longford was a martinet who dominated all who came into her presence.
Both Rupert and Alexandra were used to Dottie's eccentricities and odd acquaintances. Since Longford Manor had neither gamekeeper nor dogs, they dismissed the visitor from their thoughts.
Lady Longford straightened her bright red wig, yanked on the bellpull for tea, then lifted her lorgnette to examine her granddaughter at length. When she was done, she said, ''Mmmm.''
Alexandra waited for her grandmother's rebuke.
&'grave;I believe you've turned yourself into an original. A hellion with the halo of an angel... how unique! Those tumbled, short curls make you look taller. Your long legs make you appear quite coltish... difficult for a man to resist. You'll be all the rage, darling, just as I was.''
It was an appalling understatement; in her day, Dorothy had been more of an outrage. Yet her scandalous, unconventional behavior had not prevented her from marrying Viscount Russell Longford, the wealthiest nobleman in Bucks County. Marriage had not tamed her, however, for it was rumored that she'd had as many lovers as Queen Charlotte had children: an astonishing fifteen!
&'grave;I don't want to be all the rage,'' Alexandra protested.
&'grave;Piss and piffle! You will catch a Lord of the Realm, just as I did. You will become a 'lady' just as I did, and just as your mother did not, to my undying shame.''
Alexandra did not want Dottie to start on the subject of her mother, for there was no end to the pain it brought. Margaret had made a disastrous marriage with a commoner, Johnny Sheffield, thoroughly disgracing her parents. Then she had added injury to insult by running off with another untitled lout, and deserting her children in the bargain. Alexandra's grandmother had taken her and Rupert into her home and her heart, not only providing material comfort but lavishing them with love. Dottie had assuaged the unbearable pain of rejection, and Alexandra knew she must never hurt her grandmother the way her mother had. She vowed to postpone marriage as long as possible to avoid choosing the wrong man. Sheffield had married her mother for her money, and Alexandra was determined to avoid this pitfall like the plague.
Dottie continued, &'grave;It's all right for Rupert; he inherited his grandfather's title of Viscount. But you, my darling, must marry to gain the title of Lady.''
&'grave;Marriage didn't make you a lady,'' Alexandra said with a wink.
''Touché, darling! You have inherited my wicked wit. I shall enjoy watching you set London on its ear before you settle down.''
&'grave;I always hoped you'd marry my best friend, Kit Hatton, but you don't even try to attract him,'' Rupert complained.
''And so she shall marry Christopher Hatton. It is no secret that Lord Hatton and I have had an understanding for years.''
Alexandra had heard those words all her life. She and Rupert had grown up with the Hatton twins, whose vast acres connected with the Longford property. The devilishly handsome brothers had fascinated her since she was a child, when she and Rupert had shared in the twins' daring escapades.
Alexandra vividly recalled an incident from the summer that the boys turned twelve. Kit Hatton had overheard the servants talking about a highwayman who had been gibbeted on Hounslow Heath at the Great West Road. He had dared his brother to ride to Hounslow and touch the grisly corpse. ''Come and watch me!'' Nick challenged. All four of them had thought it a great adventure in the beginning. The dangerous heath was out of bounds to them, though it was only two miles away, and none of them had ever seen a dead man, let alone a hanged felon.
Alexandra remembered the fascinated horror she had felt when the gibbet came into view. Without hesitation Nicholas rode up and boldly touched the thing, making it swing on the end of its rope, but Christopher shrank back and wouldn't even approach it. Rupert, a few months older than the twins, also lost his nerve and looked like he might be sick. Alexandra remembered her feeling of admiration for Nick's courage. He was born under the sign of the lion and would never bow his proud head. Never! No matter what!
With great contempt for Kit and Rupert, Alexandra declared that she too would touch the highwayman. She would never forget the look of admiration on Nick Hatton's face. It was that look that gave her enough courage, that and the fact that he held her hand while she did it. She could remember the goosebumps even now.
When they returned, Lord Hatton was awaiting them in a rage. Kit told his father that Nick had dared and taunted them into it and had even forced Alexandra to touch the gruesome thing. Though Nicholas knew he was in for a thrashing, he did not make a liar of his brother. Instead, he sent Alexandra a reassuring smile that told her he would bear the punishment with stoic dignity.
Alexandra's memories were interrupted when the tea arrived. She looked at her grandmother and sighed. Dottie expected her to marry Christopher Hatton because of his title, and Alexandra knew that the only way to avoid a fortune hunter was to marry someone with wealth and title. But she was torn between the twins. Though she and Christopher shared a love of painting, and he and her brother were inseparable friends, Alexandra was not certain it was the heir she preferred. She and Nicholas were true friends. She had confided in him since they were children. However, they were children no longer, Alexandra acknowledged. The Hatton twins were men grown, sophisticated and experienced beyond their years. They had taken their place in society and were the envy of their peers. She regretted that these days Nick treated her as a sister, for lately she had begun to long for him to think of her as a woman. She glanced at Dottie and was suddenly covered with guilt over her attraction to Nicholas. All her life it had been drilled into her that she must not follow her heart, must not fall in love, for that path inevitably led to disaster.
''By the by, you will give Annabelle Harding my regrets at her entertainment tonight. Tell her I am decomposed.'' Dorothy Longford, slim as a reed and straight as a ramrod, was a commanding figure, and though her face was now like fine parchment, it still retained traces of the vivid beauty she had once possessed.
Alex's lips twitched with amusement. &'grave;The word is indisposed, as well you know, but if you're not going, neither am I.''
&'grave;Pish tosh! You must go. She has designs on your betrothed for that dreadful daughter of hers. And she's not the only one. Every mother in the county with eligible daughters will be there in hope of leg-shackling one of the Hatton twins. You know all the gels pursue them shamelessly.''
''Christopher is not my betrothed,'' Alexandra protested.
&'grave;Claptrap! As the future Lady Hatton, it is your duty to keep those greedy hussies at bay. Men aren't discerning, darling; they'll lift any skirt that's offered.''
At thirteen Alexandra had become aware of the way females looked at the Hatton twins. Older women as well as debutantes were avid for the company of the charming, virile devils. She hadn't understood the attraction was sexual until she turned sixteen. &'grave;We don't even know if the Hattons will attend.''
''Piss and piffle! Henry Hatton will be there. Annabelle lures the men with gambling, and those decadent Chinese lanterns she strings about the gardens positively invite intrigue!''
&'grave;I'll escort you, Alex... wouldn't miss it on a bet. I can lend you one of my tie-wigs to cover your hideous hair, if you like,'' Rupert teased mercilessly.
Suddenly, thinking of Nicholas, Alexandra wished she'd waited one more day before cutting off her crowning glory.
''What the hellfire are you doing?'' Nicholas Hatton demanded as he rounded the east wing with a shaggy black wolfhound at his heel.
His twin took aim and fired, nicking the curved beak of a stone griffin that stood sentinel at the corner of Hatton Hall's roof. At the sound of the shot, the dog lunged forward and began to bark furiously. Christopher aimed his pistol at the wolfhound. &'grave;Call him off, if you don't want a ball in his brain.''
Nicholas knew his brother's bravado was an act. ''Heel, Leo,'' Nick commanded, then without hesitation strode forward and plucked the pistol from his brother's hand.
Kit grinned and pointed proudly to the griffin. ''Match that!''
''Have you no more sense than to deface Hatton statuary for target practice? You value nothing!''
&'grave;I'm sure we can afford to replace a few ornaments, if they get damaged,'' Kit drawled.
&'grave;It isn't about money. Hatton Hall has sat here for almost two centuries. Those griffins are antique artifacts. You should cherish our ancestral home.'' Nicholas had a deep and abiding love for Hatton Hall and the lush acres upon which it sat. Somehow, it was the only connection he would ever have to a mother he only knew through the servants' affectionate stories and fond memories.
''Perhaps you cherish it too much, or is covet a better word? Since Hatton Hall will be mine some day, it is none of your damn business. You know, Nick, you have a habit of telling people exactly how they should manage their lives, and moreover, you do it in a superior, condescending manner. I suggest you save your orders for Hatton Grange.''
It was understood that Christopher would inherit the title, Hatton Hall, and Hatton Great Park, while Nicholas would inherit Hatton Grange horse farm. Gray eyes stared into identical gray eyes until one pair lowered. Christopher knew in his heart that his twin coveted nothing that was his. Kit laughed and lifted his lashes. &'grave;Your lion's roar is worse than your bite; you've never mauled me yet. From now on I'll use the doves for target practice.'' At his twin's look of contempt, he said quickly, &'grave;I'm jesting; the only doves I'm interested in are soiled ones. I intend to pluck myself a pigeon tonight.''
&'grave;So do I, but I'll be at the gaming table,'' Nick said wryly.
Kit winked. &'grave;That's why they call me Harm and you Hazard.''
Nicholas handed back the gun. He knew his brother wanted to impress their father with his shooting at the hunt next week. To celebrate their twenty-first birthdays, invitations had gone out for a gala weekend house party, with a masquerade ball on Saturday and a hunt on Sunday. &'grave;If you like, we'll set up some targets tomorrow for a practice session. You can give me some pointers,'' Nick said with self-deprecation. &'grave;You're a far better shot than I am.''
When they arrived at the Hardings that evening, Alexandra sought out Lady Annabelle to give her Dottie's regrets, while Rupert headed straight to the card room. The Hatton twins were there before him, and as usual, he had no notion which was which. Their taste in clothes sometimes helpedKit liked to wear fawn and burgundy while Nick preferred blues and graysbut in their formal black evening attire they looked identical. Their dark, cropped hair curled crisply against starched, high-pointed collars. Their cravats were tied intricately, and their shirts were immaculate beneath black, superfine jackets that fit their broad shoulders to perfection. Their long fingers held their cards negligently, while they bantered good-naturedly with the other players.
Suddenly, Rupert's brow cleared as the puzzle was solved. Kit seldom won at the gaming table; Nick never lost. Rupert greeted his friend Kit, who threw in his hand, drained his glass, arose from the table, and said, ''I have more luck betting on the fair sex.'' Before he left the card room, Kit lifted two glasses from a footman's silver tray and proceeded to drink both. ''I have a keen appetite tonight, Rupert. A guinea says I can lure Olivia Harding into the rhododendron bushes.''
&'grave;Didn't you know that Nick has been favoring Olivia with his attentions lately?''
Kit dug his friend in the ribs. &'grave;Don't be such a gull, Rupert. Of course I know. That's what makes it such rare sport. It's a point of honor with me to charm away every female who falls for Nick. It's so devilishly easy!''
''But you have the advantage of the title,'' Rupert said bluntly.
''Precisely.'' Kit laughed. &'grave;I'm only following in Father's footsteps. Before he leaves tonight, he'll bed Annabelle and get drunk on Lord Harding's brandy, not necessarily in that order.''
In the ballroom, Alexandra turned down invitations to dance from three eligible bachelors, one of whom was heir to an earldom, before she escaped to the card room. She immediately saw one of the Hatton twins and held her breath, hoping it was Nicholas. Her heart beat wildly as she watched his gray eyes take in every detail of her cropped curls with tolerant amusement.
''Hello, Hellion. At it again, I see.''
His deep voice coupled with the affectionate nickname sent a frisson of pleasure down her spine. ''Hello, Nick. I hoped it would deter the fortune hunters, but I hoped in vain. I have decided to take refuge in here with you and gamble the night away.''
The amusement left his eyes. ''You will not, Alexandra.''
He looked and spoke like a mature man addressing a child, and it never failed to infuriate her. ''Why not?'' she flared. ''I can beat the players in this room. You should know that; you taught me.''
Nicholas signaled the dealer that he would not be playing the next hand, then he smiled charmingly at the elderly ladies across the table and nodded to the other men and his host, Lord Harding. ''Please excuse us.'' With a firm hand on Alexandra's elbow, he led her from the card room. &'grave;You cannot sit with the men and gamble all night. It would damage your reputation
''There were other females present!'' Her voice rose indignantly.
''Alexandra, they are dowagers, addicted to gambling and long past the age when they need worry about their reputations.''
''Sitting with the dowagers would not have damaged my reputation,'' she insisted.
''Not until you began to cheat, you little hellcat. Then there would have been the devil to pay.''
&'grave;Did you at least get me that copy of Laclos's Les liaisons dangereuses?''
''I did not.'' His voice was so deep it sounded like a growl, a warning growl.
Alex ignored the warning. ''Why not?'' she demanded imperiously.
&'grave;It's unsuitable; it's about immensely salacious seduction.''
''I have to learn about sex if I am to write novels.''
''Are you on that kick again? What a tiresome child you are.''
She looked up into his eyes. They were like fathomless, gray pools, so deep she fancied she could drown in them. She blinked rapidly, hurt by his disapproval and dreading his rejection. ''What the devil is the matter with you, Nick? We used to share such daring escapades and high adventures.''
&'grave;That was when I was a schoolboy, sent down from Harrow. Since then I matured; obviously something you haven't done yet, Hellion.''
She made a rude, derisive noise. ''From the ancient, lofty height of twenty-one, how can you condescend to even talk with me?''
She was without doubt the most exasperating female on earth, but as he looked down at her bright head, a wave of protectiveness swept over him. He realized that if she had done something as drastic as cut off her beautiful hair, she must need to talk. &'grave;If you promise to restrain your impulse toward mischief for the next hour, I'll meet you around ten in the summerhouse and we'll talk.''
Nick spotted Rupert in intimate conversation with a pretty blond creature and beckoned him with a commanding gesture. ''Rupert, escort your sister in to supper. And keep an eye on her; she needs a bloody keeper.'' He returned to the card room, apologized sincerely for the interruption, and resumed play. During the next hour many more men joined the game, and by ten o'clock Nick Hatton was richer by a hundred guineas, which he would add to the money he'd been saving for a Thoroughbred filly for the Grange.
As he passed the supper room, he saw that it was empty, so he purloined a bottle of champagne and two glasses and headed into the lantern-lit gardens. Young people clustered about the terraces, laughing and flirting, while the more adventurous strolled across the lawns and down the pebbled paths, shadowed by yews and weeping willows. Nicholas caught the heavy scent of rhododendrons just as a young woman emerged from the bushes. His cynical gaze swept over Olivia Harding, taking in her dishevelled gown and ruined coiffure.
''Christopher,'' she gasped, quickly drawing up the shoulder of her gown to cover her half-exposed breast.
&'grave;It's Nicholas, I'm afraid. Christopher is behind you.''
Olivia spun about with dismay and stammered, ''But... he pretended to be you'' She delivered a stinging slap to Kit's face, confirming the act they'd committed, then fled into the shadows.
&'grave;She's lying,'' Kit drawled as he tucked his shirt into his pants. &'grave;Couldn't wait to compare us to see if I measured up to your... worthy attributes. Fortunately, I did.''
&'grave;If you did, it's because your brains are in your cock,'' Nick said coldly. Sharing whores was one thing, even taking turns gracing the beds of the dissatisfied wives of the ton was a pleasure they could share, but inexperienced debutantes were another matter entirely. Nick wanted to smash Kit in the face, but he knew his twin had been drinking and would be no match for the fury he would unleash. With an effort Nick reined in his anger, telling himself that his heart wasn't involved with Olivia Harding, or with any of the other females Kit had deliberately lured away from him. Thank God he had more sense than to hazard his heart.
—Reprinted from Ravished by Virginia Henley by permission of New American Library, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Virginia Henley. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I usually love her books but not this one.........it's extremely boring. The characters don't interact for more than half the book!
This was my first book by Virginia Henley. I love Alex and Nick's story. I can feel the longing that they have for each other and it makes me long for my own Nick. This book has all the elements that I enjoy in Romance novels like love and adventure. It made my cry. Highly recommended.
Alexandra Sheffield is my favorite female lead, bar none. She is a fiery red-head, which I adore. (I'd kill for naturally red hair, grrrr) She is feisty and adventurous, but she's also romantic and vulnerable. Her adoration for the male lead, Nick, was so endearing I immediately wanted to run out and fall in love. Because Alex's family is in dire straits her grandmother arranges for her to marry Christopher Hatton, but it is his identical twin brother Nick whom she truly loves. Christopher was the favorite twin and Nick constantly took the heat for Chris's indiscretions. Poor Nick has to act as his brother's whipping boy and he does it with such grace and compassion for his twin that I could not help but love him. My only quarrel with him was the readiness with which he accepted Chris's engagement to Alex, instead of putting his brother in his place Nick runs off to fight Napoleon. I would have liked to see him sweep Alex into his arms and run away with her. Most of the sex in this book takes place through dreams that Alex and Nick have about each other. But when they finally do make love for the first time, it is amazing. Henley really took the time to create a truly beautiful scene and it was well worth the wait. If I have one major qualm about this book it was the constant switching act that Nick and Chris kept pulling. Because they are identical twins they are constantly assuming the other's identity, after a while it got a bit confusing. Overall I really really liked this book. It has a great plot that kept me interested throughout and had me rooting for the characters. I wish I could read it again for the first time. (side note: Hart Cavendish makes an appearance as one of Alexandra's suitors. He was sexy and cool.....if you're reading this Virginia Henley: PLEASE! Write a book about Hart. I want more of him.)
This was the first book I read by Ms. Henley and I couldn't put it down. I can't wait to read other books by this author!
I don't know what everyone else is talking about in their reviews but I personally loved it. I guess perhaps Virginia Henley has written much better in some of her other works but since I am not too familiar with this author, I was quite pleased with this book. I can't wait to read some of her other stuff if everyone says she has done better!!
This was just the book I was looking for this summer. A nice, fun book that moved along well; I enjoyed all of the characters and will probably try more of Viginia's collection.
I so looked forward to reading this book, and found myself slightly disappointed. Ms. Henley is one of my favourite authors, but this book will definitely, not, be listed in my all-time best reads. The tale of the twins Nick (the good one ) and Kit (the weak one) is good, with the rivalry and under currents between them, keeping things moving. Alex (the slightly scandalous lady character) is interesting and all turns out as it should in the end. Go ahead and read this book, as it is good. but... it could be a teensy weensy bit more exciting..
I have all of Virginia Henley's books, which I thorouhly enjoy over and over. It was with eager anticipation that I ran out and bought Ravished. What a complete letdown, this novel was horribly written and developed. I did not care for the characters much and the male protagonist in my opinion was such a disappointment in comparison to her other previous male leads. I didn't even finish her book which is rare for me. I read the excerpt from her new book and it sounds promising. Hopefully it won't be such a letdown as Ravished.
I just started it this morning and its okay so far i should finish it soon...
Ravished is definetly not Ms. Henley's best work. It doesn't even look like she wrote this one. It is only towards the end when I could finally see some of her old self.
In 1792, Lady Kathleen Hatton gives birth to twin boys, but dies as the second child is born. Her husband Henry is elated with his heir Christopher, but blames the second infant Nicholas, named by a servant, for the death of his spouse. Over the years Henry gritted his teeth whenever Nicholas was in his presence and blamed him for all misdeeds whether the lad or Christopher, called Kit, did them. As much as he wanted nothing to do with his murdering son, Henry spoiled the older twin. Over two decades later, their two families expect Alexandra Sheffield and Kit to marry, but she knows she does not love him. Instead, she secretly covets his brother. When she seeks adventure before doing her duty, Nick protects her. However, as they fall in love, circumstance forces the siblings to do what they do best, switch places to keep everyone safe. As expected from Virginia Henley, RAVISHED is a delightful torrid Regency romantic suspense that drives in first gear from the moment Henry cuts off his youngest son until the final identity stripping by Alex. The story line is loaded with action as the two rogues and the adventure-seeking lady will delight the audience with their antics. Though twins switching identities is an over used theme trap, Ms. Henley¿s brand of pandemonium in and out of the boudoir makes for an invigorating reading experience for sub-genre fans. Harriet Klausner