Regal, poised, and elegant, Sophie, Countess of Monmouth, is everything that a highborn lady should be. But Sophie is hiding a past that is far from royal. When Patrick, Earl of Coulter, realizes that her story doesn’t add up, he resolves to find out the truth of what Sophie and her sister-in-law are concealing. Although Sophie has every reason to avoid him, the handsome and charismatic Patrick awakens something wicked deep within her soul . . . a powerful need that Sophie must stifle in order to protect her place in society.
Despite Sophie’s humble background, the raven-haired beauty has won Patrick’s heart. But what Sophie needs now is an ally. Viscount Myles Dumbly, the disgruntled former heir of Monmouth, is determined to expose Sophie as a fraud to recapture his lost inheritance. Soon Patrick is drawn into a fight for both their lives. Somehow he must find a way not only to rescue Sophie from poverty once and for all, but to keep her in his arms forever.
Includes an excerpt from another Loveswept title.
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“If only she had a small imperfection.”
“What?” Patrick, Earl of Coulter, tore his eyes from the top of the stairs to glare at his friend.
“The countess.” Lord Sumner swept his hand in an arc that encompassed most of the assembled guests. “I was saying that some sort of imperfection would detract from her goddesslike beauty. Perhaps a lisp? Alas, no,” he added seconds later. “A lisp would merely make her sweet and beautiful.”
“Idiot,” the earl muttered, propping one shoulder against the silk-covered wall. His gaze returned to where the countess now stood. Poised on the top step of the Duke of Rookvale’s ballroom, she appeared motionless; only her eyes moved as they passed over the guests milling below.
“Perhaps a mole with several long dark hairs,” Lord Sumner mused, “on the end of her little nose?”
Patrick watched the countess descend. Tonight her raven locks were piled high and clasped with a single diamond pin; several long curls had been artfully teased to lie on one slender shoulder. Created to torment, her dress was cut low in the bodice, allowing a glimpse of the lush curves that lay beneath, and with every step she took the skirts caressed her legs in a swirl of emerald satin. Patrick dreamt about those legs—naked and wrapped around his body. Even from a distance, his muscles clenched at the thought of her lying beneath him, skin gleaming, lips red from his kisses. Bloody woman. From the first glance, she had taken up residence in his head, and he wanted her out. Patrick didn’t obsess over women—he took what he wanted when he wanted it. Usually his affairs were brief yet satisfactory for both parties and he was always the one in control. The countess, however, was another matter. Something about her reached out to him and he wanted her with a desperation no other had made him feel. Yet he would never act on that desperation because the countess was a fraud, and there was nothing Patrick hated more than people who set out to deliberately deceive others.
“Did you just growl, Coulter?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Patrick snapped, following the countess’s progress until she reached the bottom step. Once again she became motionless. It was as if she held her breath, yet those eyes moved in every direction, seeking, searching, but for what?
“To be her lady’s maid for just one day,” Lord Sumner sighed.
Reluctantly, Patrick pulled his eyes from the countess once more to look at the man who lounged beside him. Stephen Sumner had been Patrick’s friend since childhood, and knew him better than anyone.
“The woman’s a fraud.” Patrick was subjected to a fierce glare as he finished speaking.
“For pity’s sake, Colt,” Stephen said, reverting to the nickname Patrick had been given in his school days. “Just because she has not fallen prostrate at your oversized feet whilst declaring her undying love, does not mean she is a fraud. Surely you have tasted rejection before.”
“She has not rejected me!” Patrick snapped. Even knowing Stephen was baiting him did not ease his ire. That bloody woman always set him on edge.
“Excellent,” Stephen said. “We know how fragile your ego is.”
“I have no idea why I keep you as a friend.” Patrick shook his head. As Stephen began to speak, he lifted a hand to stall him.
“Three days before the Earl of Monmouth passed away, I paid him a visit at Monmouth Hall. He was in his bed, clearly near death, but still lucid.” He paused to make sure Stephen understood exactly what he was saying. “There was no Countess of Monmouth at that time, Stephen, no wife and most definitely no son.”
“What are you saying, Patrick? That she is some sort of imposter?” Running a hand through his golden locks, Stephen shot his friend an irritated look. “Why must you always suspect people of wrongdoing? Maybe she was away from the estate? Good lord, Colt! The old man was absent from society for years, lived like a recluse. He could have married a whole bevy of beauties and we would have been none the wiser.”
Shaking his head, Stephen continued before Patrick could interrupt. “Your investigating days are over, and for what it’s worth, I for one like the lady and cannot see her capable of treachery or deceit.”
Patrick snorted, his disbelief obvious. “You are too trusting, Sumner. There was no wife, I tell you. The old earl’s man of affairs was there, and that obsequious weasel of a nephew who was due to inherit his fortune, but there was no mention of a countess.”
“Well, good for her. If she got that old goat to marry her before he passed away, I’d say she deserved his money.” Stephen followed Patrick’s gaze back to where the countess now stood. “The woman is obviously a lady, so let it be, Patrick; no good can come of your meddling.”
“Me, meddle? I’m insulted.” The wounded expression on Patrick’s face belied the wicked twinkle in his eyes.
Laughing at the foul comment Stephen hissed in his ear, Patrick lifted both hands in surrender, his demeanor once again serious.
“All I’m saying is that I quite liked that ‘old goat’ as you so delicately put it, and because I was one of the last to see him alive I feel in some way connected to him. Something about the countess does not seem right, and if she is a charlatan I will expose her as one.”
“Well, if you want to investigate further I suggest you make haste to put your name on her dance card, as her circle is forming,” Stephen urged.
With a look of distaste, Patrick eyed the men moving to intercept the countess and then pushed off the wall to join their ranks.