Unknown to Colette, Lucien has begun an urgent search for a bride, so that his ailing father might see him married before he dies. He knows what he wants--a plain, biddable woman without the curse of beauty to endanger his heart. Yet no matter how he tries, Lucien finds himself unable to stay away from Colette. And as sinful pleasure lures them ever closer to the edge of ruin, the only question that matters is whether they can survive the fall. . .
Praise for Kaitlin O'Riley and Secrets of a Duchess
"A well-written, lively romance!" --Kat Martin, New York Times bestselling author
"A talented author. . .O'Riley's plot twists add. . .freshness to the genre." --Romantic Times
About the Author
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You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover
London, England May 1870
"Hello!" a deep masculine voice called. "Is anybody here?"
The words echoed through Hamilton's Book Shoppe, a small but quaint building on a side lane off Bond Street in Mayfair, London's most fashionable district. Lucien Sinclair, the Earl of Waverly, looked around the dark and cluttered interior searching for signs of the proprietor.
Growing impatient, Lucien ventured another call, this time a little louder. Honestly, one would think Mr. Hamilton had no desire to do any business if he were not present to greet potential customers when they arrived.
"Just a moment, please!" a dulcet voice exclaimed from the back of the shop. "I shall be right with you!"
Finally. A response of some sort. Well, that explained the delay, Lucien thought to himself. Apparently a woman was left to tend the shop. Perhaps Mr. Hamilton was out for the day, in which case his little venture would be for naught. He highly doubted the lady in the back room would be able to assist him.
He had met the owner of the shop over a year ago and had found him to be most agreeable. A kind and genial man who was very intent on helping Lucien choose the exact type of literature that would interest him, Mr. Hamilton wouldn't rest until Lucien was totally satisfied with his selection of authors. Lucien had only purchased the books out of boredom one day, hoping to ease the restlessness that plagued him from time to time, but once he returned home, he had lost interest in the little stack of books chosen by the eager bookseller, and he became immersed in his demanding social life once again.
However, a few weeks ago his father's sudden illness required him to spend more time at home to look after the weakened man and keep him company. Lucien began to read to his bedridden father, finally putting the forgotten books to good use, and surprise of surprises, he had actually enjoyed them. He realized how much he missed reading for pleasure, since he had not done much of it since his days at Oxford. Now he wanted to speak with Mr. Hamilton, not only to thank him, but also to ask his suggestion for new books he and his father might appreciate.
Glancing around, he noticed the little bookshop was not quite how he remembered it, but then again it had been over a year since he had visited there last. If he was not mistaken, the bookshop had been remarkably like any other that he had seen in his life; dark, disordered, and fairly dusty. Now it appeared to be undergoing some sort of transformation. Wooden crates, some of which were stacked and some open, and an assortment of hundreds of leather-bound books lay scattered in haphazard heaps on the floor, large buckets of paint and various sized brushes rested on a work table, and long sheets of canvas covered half the room.
"I'm so sorry to keep you waiting." That clear and gentle voice intoned once again and Lucien turned to see a woman walking toward him. "Welcome to Hamilton's. How may I help you, sir?"
Never one to miss a pretty face, Lucien instinctively noted the one belonging to the lady in front of him. From her small stature, he judged her to be very young, perhaps seventeen, seeing as there was a youthful air about her. Still, she approached him in a businesslike manner. She must be minding her papa's store for the first time. He frowned.
"I was hoping to speak to Mr. Hamilton," he responded in his most imperious tone.
As she stepped closer he revised his initial impression of her, for she was more than passably pretty. In spite of the dirt smudges on her fair skin, the dust motes sprinkled in her rich brunette hair, and the drab, shapeless gray smock that covered the navy dress she wore, her face was stunningly beautiful in its perfection. Her deep blue eyes, insightful and steady, regarded him with what seemed like skepticism. Even disdain. Her demeanor shocked him. Such an odd thing! Couldn't she tell he was a nobleman? What would prompt the beautiful girl to look at him in such a condescending way? As if she knew more than he did? As if she had dealt with his kind before?
"I am Miss Hamilton, his daughter. I can assist you."
The challenging, practically defiant, tilt to her head almost knocked him over. Once again he realized he was in error. She was older than he first thought, for she handled herself far too confidently. She must be closer to twenty. Again he frowned. He refused to deal with a haughty shopkeeper's daughter.
"I'm sure you are quite a charming young lady, but I was hoping your father could assist me. Perhaps I shall return at another time when he is available to offer his expertise. Would you please tell me when I could expect him?"
"My father passed away six months ago." She stated this matter-of-factly, revealing no emotion, her face calm and serene.
Feeling like a callous idiot, he said earnestly, "I am very sorry to hear that, Miss Hamilton. I only knew him briefly, but your father seemed to be a good man. Please accept my sincerest condolences on your loss."
She nodded her head in acknowledgment of his sympathy. "Thank you."
After an awkward pause, he asked out of polite curiosity, "Who is responsible for running the bookshop now?"
That truly took him aback. A mere woman, this little slip of a girl, maintaining a business? It was preposterous. Ridiculous. Unheard of. She ought to be safely married with a home to manage, not working in a store.
"How old are you?" Lucien asked without thinking.
"Old enough. How old are you?" she countered quickly.
Her slightly sarcastic response irritated him. "Surely you have help? You could not handle such an enterprise on your own. A brother or an uncle or a male cousin must be overseeing you," he said.
Again that defiant look crossed the elegant features of her face, making her appear more assertive than he had first anticipated.
"You are aware that a woman is running our country, are you not?"
"Well, that's different," he sputtered in his defense. "Queen Victoria was born and raised to rule and has advisors and counselors to guide her."
"I too was raised to oversee this shop. I have no male relatives to help me, yet I manage quite well without the assistance of men, thank you," she responded with unmasked condescension.
Lucien did not approve of women having to work, and for some reason her particular situation upset him. This girl was far too beautiful to be in charge of a business with no male to guide her decisions and ease her burdens. From his point of view, it was simply wrong. A woman should be taken care of, not left to fend for herself.
"You seem rather too delicate and too young to shoulder such weighty responsibilities, Miss Hamilton."
She sighed heavily, her manner revealing she had explained this many times before. "I've been assisting my father since I was a child. I assure you, I am quite capable of running the bookshop on my own, Mister ...?"
He gazed at her skeptically, but answered her unspoken question. "I apologize for not introducing myself sooner. I am Lucien Sinclair, the Earl of Waverly. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Hamilton."
"How can I assist you today, Lord Waverly?" she asked with a decidedly lofty tone.
He could not help but notice the unmistakable emphasis she placed on the "I" when she spoke. Irked by her obvious confidence, he glared back at her. She really should be more solicitous of him as a potential customer. And as a gentleman. Something about her made him want to rattle that self-assurance of hers a little.
"I came to speak to your father about selecting some books, but since you are here, let's see if you can help me. I need to purchase a gift. A present for" — he paused with deliberateness, raised one eyebrow, and grinned daringly at her — "a lady."
She gave him a withering look and he wondered if she treated all her customers with such disdain or just him in particular.
"Was there a specific type of book you had in mind for this lady?" she questioned with an air of superiority.
Noting her skeptical inflection of the word lady, Lucien felt slightly vindicated. "Are you knowledgeable about poetry?" he asked, for Lord knew he was not.
Something about the shape of her mouth intrigued him and he could not stop staring at her lips. They were full, sensual looking, and the color of summer-ripe berries. He found himself wondering what they would taste like and if they would be as sweet as they looked. How was a girl this beautiful not married yet? She must be an awful harridan. It was the only explanation that made sense.
"What about love poems?" he continued. "Do you know anything about love poems?"
"I think I know what you have in mind," she stated dryly.
He was trying to bait her and she refused to be reeled in. Miss Hamilton merely turned and made her way carefully to a stack of books in the corner. She picked up a small, red leather-bound book and handed it to him.
"This should do."
He glanced at the gold-lettered title, A Collection of Romantic Love Poems, and laughed. "Now, how did you know this was exactly what I had in mind?"
"Experience," she retorted without hesitation.
He shook his head in mock surprise. "My, my, Miss Hamilton, I wouldn't have expected it of you."
Ignoring his innuendo, she gazed at him wearily.
"Have you read this?" he asked out of perverse curiosity.
"Which poem do you recommend as being the most romantic?"
"Page seventy-four." She folded her arms across her chest and sighed. "Now, is there anything else I can do for you today, Lord Waverly?"
"Most definitely, Miss Hamilton, but I don't believe you would agree to it," he surprised even himself by saying. Something about the woman set him on edge. He wanted to read the poem on page seventy-four, but found himself staring at her instead.
On impulse he stepped toward her and she instinctively backed away from him. Now that was a reaction he expected. He moved forward and she predictably moved back until she was pressed against a table laden with stacks of books and could retreat no further, her hands braced on the edge of the table behind her. He closed in on her, standing mere inches from her petite body.
At this proximity he was able to breathe her scent. It was something floral and delicate and reminded him of a summer meadow. She smelled heavenly, even though she had obviously been immersed in cleaning before he arrived. Being that she barely reached the middle of his chest, she was required to tilt her head back to see his face. Wide eyes, the color of the sky on a cloudless June morning, stared up at him with mixed emotions. Surprise. Expectation. And again that determined look of defiance. But not fear.
Not this girl.
He had the oddest sensation that she could see right through him, leaving him feeling off balance. A feeling he was decidedly unaccustomed to having. Yet the beauty of her face mesmerized him. Such a dainty little nose! She had perfect skin, as smooth as fine china, with not a freckle or a blemish to be seen. Although the inclination to wipe the dirt smudges from her soft cheek overwhelmed him, he held himself in check, his hands at his sides, his fingers clenched tightly around the book of poems.
Instead, their intense stare continued for what seemed an endlessly long time as her intelligent eyes held his in an unwavering gaze. Something intangible sparked between them. An unexplained intimacy, a sense of knowing, an ethereal bond, a chemistry of sorts. Lucien had heard or read dozens descriptions of such sensations before but never had he felt something this intense himself. It was as if they were suddenly the only two people in the world, and a wild desire to kiss her, to taste for himself those luscious lips, charged through every vein in his body. Lucien realized he was holding his breath, and if he were not mistaken, Miss Hamilton held hers also. That intrigued him and made him want to kiss her even more, to set her world off- kilter, too.
What would she do if he leaned down and kissed her? Would she scream in outrage? Would she slap him in indignation, as she rightfully should? Or would this woman let him kiss her pretty, tempting mouth, pressing his lips ever so softly against hers, just to start? He had earned himself quite a reputation over the years, and many women had gossiped about his romantic talents.
Then again, he had never advanced on an innocent woman he had just met all of five minutes earlier.
What had come over him?
He wanted to kiss her, and he did not like how desperately he wanted to kiss her. He didn't even like the type of woman she was: independent, defiant, and self-assured. All attributes that he found objectionable in women. Still, unable to stop himself from touching her, he slowly reached out his hand to her. He saw her tremble, felt her expectation, but she did not resist. She did not so much as flinch from him, which made him grin. Her blue eyes rose upward as they followed the movement of his fingers to the top of her head.
Very carefully, and ever so gently, he removed a fluffy dust mote from her silky, coffee-colored hair. Holding the bit of fuzz on the tip of his index finger, he blew on it with a puff of his breath. They both watched in mute fascination as it floated lazily to the ground at their feet.
Suddenly Miss Hamilton pushed by him, spinning back around to face him, her long navy skirt twirling around her legs. In an instant she became all business once again, the intensely intimate yet unexplored moment between them lost, leaving him battling a sense of sharp disappointment at the evaporation of all that moment had promised.
"Since this book of poetry is all you require today, shall I wrap it for you, Lord Waverly?" The frostiness of her tone of voice matched the cold look on her beautiful face. All traces of the warm and inviting woman who had wanted him to kiss her had vanished.
She behaved as if that astonishing feeling had not just passed between them. That a highly charged connection had not sparked so wildly in their eyes. That he, a complete stranger, had not almost kissed her there in broad daylight in the middle of her father's chaotic little bookshop.
She was not easily ruffled, that was for certain. Whereas he was more unsettled than he cared to admit to himself.
"That would be lovely, Miss Hamilton." He handed the book of poetry back to her with a gallant sweep of his arm and followed her to the counter. He leaned leisurely on the polished wood, resting his chin on his hand. "Does Miss Hamilton have a first name?"
She glared at him. "Of course I do."
He grinned at her, his most charming, most winning smile. The one that got him his way with every female he had ever encountered. It truly came in most handy at times.
"May I have the honor of knowing your name?"
"No?" He echoed in disbelief, raising an eyebrow, a bit stunned by her refusal.
"No." She did not meet his eyes.
"Then I shall have to guess your name," he persisted. "Let's see ...Katherine? Mary? Victoria? Margaret?"
She shook her head at each suggestion as she methodically wrapped the little red leather book in brown paper. Her elegant fingers moved with efficient skill as she folded the paper with sharp, straight creases.
"Nothing traditional, then? Because your father owned a bookshop, perhaps your name has a more literary inclination. How about Lydia? Tess? No, not quite. Alice? Goldilocks?"
He noticed the glimmer of a smile playing at the corners of her sensuous lips and felt his stomach tighten in response to her. He continued his guessing game. "Ophelia? Juliette?"
"Juliette is my sister's name," she admitted with slight reluctance.
"Ah, I'm getting warmer. It seems your father had a passion for Shakespeare."
"No. Juliette is just a coincidence."
"So it's simply an affinity for French names, is that it?"
She nodded her head.
"This should be interesting now. I didn't suspect you of having an exotic French name. Is it Desirée? Jacqueline? Angelique?"
She rolled her blue eyes heavenward in exasperation. "It's Colette."
"Colette? How very intriguing."
In an odd way the French/English name suited her perfectly. Colette Hamilton. She was a woman of contrasts. Beauty and business. Youth and maturity. Sensuality and innocence. He could not stop thinking about her.
She continued to ignore him as she artfully tied a pretty green ribbon around the brown paper package. The bright bow added a distinctive flourish to the wrapping.
"Nice touch," he commented on her handiwork.
"Thank you." She held out the gift-wrapped book to him.
"No, it is I who must thank you for your most able assistance, Miss Hamilton." Once again he grinned devilishly at her. "I gather that no one calls you Coco?"
She eyed him evenly. "No one."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "When His Kiss Is Wicked"
Copyright © 2009 Kathleen M. Milmore.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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