June 28, 2011
The Ministry of Marriage, Book 1
St. Martin's Paperbacks
Barnes & Noble
Love. The one thing she can’t afford…
When the Ministry of Marriage arranges a match, all that matters is power, wealth and prestige. In the business of marriage, there is no room for love. But even the most prudent plans can go awry…
A Convenient Marriage
Jane, Lady Roxdale, has endured one marriage of convenience decreed by the Ministry of Marriage. While she deeply regrets her late husband’s death, she is relieved to be free at last. But when a dissolute rake threatens everything Jane holds dear, she must contemplate marrying a second time…
An Inconvenient Passion
Disgraced libertine Constantine Black inherits his cousin Roxdale’s land and title–while Roxdale’s prim widow is left all the wealth. Constantine is not a marrying man, but wedding Jane is the only way to save the estate from ruin. Jane resists the smoldering heat between them, desperate not to fall in love with an unrepentant rake. But for the first time ever, Constantine wants more than seduction. He wants all of her–body, heart, and soul…
Clever, lush and lovely!
~ Suzanne Enoch
A delightful confection of secrets and seduction, HEIRESS IN LOVE will have readers craving more!
~ Tracy Anne Warren
One of the most compelling heroes I’ve read in years!
~ Anna Campbell
Reviews of Heiress in Love
Starred review from Publisher’s Weekly! “…Each scene is more sensual and passionate than the last.”
Fresh fiction has called HEIRESS IN LOVE a “Riveting tale of life, loss, convenience, and heart wrenching love! Superbly written!”
RT Book Reviews called HEIRESS IN LOVE “Delightful… [an] enchanting read” PLUS, they gave my “bad boy” hero a K.I.S.S. (Knight in Shining Silver) Award!
Romance Junkies: “A scintillating read, HEIRESS IN LOVE… is a witty, steamy historical romance that readers will find hard to put down… With steamy hot love scenes, engaging characters, deceit, humor and romance, this book is a definite keeper.”
The Season for Romance: “A new series that keeps the blood boiling and hearts pounding, you’ll hang on every word.”
Romance Reviews Today: “This excellent story will entertain all readers of historical romance. The hero and heroine are captivating; the situation twists and turns in unforeseen ways, and secondary characters play an important part, especially those impeccable individuals involved in the Ministry of Marriage.”
Carriage upon carriage, some draped in black crêpe, some emblazoned with noble coats-of-arms, choked the rush-strewn drive that wound up to the house. Like a train of shiny black beetles, they shuffled between ornate wrought iron gates, marched through an avenue of oaks, then paused beneath the portico to disgorge mourners.
Their pace was slow, respectful, inexorable. And Jane could not wait for them all to depart as slowly and respectfully as they’d come.
She pressed trembling fingertips to the window pane. How soon? How soon must she leave her home?
Not hers anymore. His.
Constantine Black. Her husband’s cousin and heir. The scoundrel who had not even bestirred himself to appear at his kinsman’s funeral.
If he couldn’t summon sufficient proper feeling to appear today, was she not right to fear for the estate? But then, the new Lord Roxdale was reputed to be glittering and wild, a philanderer, a drunkard, a gamester, with no thought in his head save the next Faro bank, the next wench, the next bottle of wine.
He would run through his new fortune, just as he’d squandered the funds he’d inherited from his father. That would take time, of course, even for an inveterate gamester such as Constantine Black.
The Lazenby estate was vast, bolstered by the spectacular dowry Jane had brought to her marriage. Her family’s money would fund this wastrel’s dissipation, while she was cast out of her home. The utter, galling unfairness of it! If only…
If only she’d borne an heir, this disaster could have been averted.
Her throat ached with a sudden rush of sadness. If only Luke were the son of her body as well as the son of her heart.
Outside, sullen drizzle turned to rain, spattering those barouches and landaus, tapping at her fingertips through the window pane. Footmen with umbrellas emerged to rescue the mourners inside the stalled vehicles and shepherd them into the house.
Jane let the curtain fall and closed her eyes. Constantine Black would plunder the legacy that had dropped like a ripe whore into his lap. She’d no power to stop him. None.
A jolt of awareness made her eyes snap open. Something must have alerted her. Not a sound, for the rain and the thick panes of glass muffled noise from the outside. More, an atmosphere. She fingered the gauzy curtain aside and peered out again, to see a flurry, a veritable commotion below.
A man. Yes, a man on a white horse, thundering down the lawn alongside the drive, streaking past all those black beetles like a shooting star through the night.
She couldn’t see his face, merely gained the impression of broad shoulders, muscular thighs hugging the horse’s flanks and a daredevil billow and furl to his cloak as it streamed out behind.
He reined in where the bottleneck of carriages made passage to the shelter of the portico impossible. The big, milk-white stallion stood quiescent, magnificent, as the gentleman dismounted in a graceful slide.
The newcomer swept off his hat and bowed to the mourners, who were undoubtedly agog but too well-bred to show it. Black curls tousled and damped in the wet breeze.
He stilled. His big shoulders lifted slightly, as if invisible fingers pinched his nape.
Then he turned. And looked up. At her.
Their gazes met, and the distance between them seemed to vanish in a dizzying flash. Somnolent eyes openly stared at her, heavy-lidded, insolent, a touch quizzical.
Jane’s lips parted. Her heart pounded against her ribs. She had to remind herself to breathe.
A sudden smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, then grew in a dazzle of white teeth. It seared through the black pall over her soul like a bolt of summer lightning. She felt it down to the soles of her feet, that blinding warmth, that tingling joy. Bit back an answering gleam that seemed drawn from deep within.
The stranger’s smile faded. His eyes narrowed to an intent, purposeful regard. Jane’s lungs burned as if she breathed smoke, not air. But she kept looking, looking, powerless to wrench her gaze from his.
Heavens, but she’d never seen such a man before. By rights, vice ought to be ugly in its incarnation, but he… It must be true that the Devil looked after his own.
Constantine Black. The new Lord Roxdale. Who else could it be? A hard flutter struck up in her chest, like the wings of a finch trapped behind glass. She took a hurried step back from the window, let the curtain swing shut.
Moments throbbed by in silence before Jane collected herself, straightened her spine. She would not cower and blush before that tricked-out scoundrel, with his loose-limbed charm and his careless strength and his swagger. She disapproved of him utterly. He would not beguile her.
JANE OPENED HER EYES and a large form filled her vision—or at least, he filled the doorway—dark hair tousled beyond any recognizable style, heavy-lidded eyes trained on her, and a cigarillo clamped between very white teeth.
She gasped. The rider she’d seen from the upstairs window.
Now, he was close enough to reach out and touch. He smiled at her around that horrible cigarillo, Jane realized with dismay. Her heart lurched into a frantic dance.
Jane’s mind fixed on the source of that smoke as a drowning woman might clutch at a rope. She shoved Rosamund’s handkerchief into her pocket and scowled up at him. “I hope you aren’t going to puff on that disgusting thing in here.”
The man’s green eyes narrowed, observing her for a moment. Then his lips closed around the repellant object. The hollows in his cheeks deepened; the end of the cigarillo glowed amber. Deliberately, he removed the cigarillo from his mouth, tilted his head and blew smoke upward. The stream of cloudy gray passed between his well-formed lips, lifting, clouding, curling in tendrils to caress the plasterwork.
In that attitude, the slightly stubborn jut of his chin became pronounced. Despite her annoyance at his studied disregard for her wishes, Jane’s fascinated gaze traced the strong lines of his throat as they disappeared into a stark white cravat.
The stranger turned and pitched the butt off the terrace in a sailing arc, into the rain.
As if the heavens resented this wanton act, they opened, hurling water down in sheets. The wind gave a ghostly howl. Blood red curtains billowed around him, and the fanciful image of a devil stepping out of hell popped into her head. The gentleman moved inside and closed the long window behind him, shutting out the storm.
Jane shot from her chair, which brought her within discomfiting distance of the stranger’s tall form. He smelled—not unpleasantly—of horse leathers and rain and the exotic hint of Spanish smoke.
They both moved at once, and she fetched up against him in a heady brush of palm to chest, side to muscular thigh. Two large, strong hands gripped her upper arms to steady her. “Whoa there.”
The heat from his palms and fingers seeped into her chilled skin. He seemed even larger than he’d appeared from beneath her window. She had to crane her neck to look up at him and his decided chin.
A sudden fire glinted beneath those lazy eyelids. She almost expected him to hold her longer, but he unhanded her almost before she’d regained her balance. She took a hasty step back and the backs of her knees hit her chair.
The stranger smiled, another flash made brighter by the contrasting swarthiness of his face. “No, no! Don’t go on my account.” His voice, a husky tenor, plucked its way down her spine.
Jane frowned. Who did he think he was? A gentleman did not barge into private rooms without an invitation. “Oh, I’m not going anywhere. You’ll find the other mourners in the drawing room, sir.”
“I know. That’s why I’m in the library.” The corners of his eyes crinkled. “You don’t have the faintest idea who I am, do you?”
She was beginning to think she did. “Of course not. We haven’t been introduced.” Despising her priggish tone, she turned slightly and picked at the armrest of her chair with fingers that weren’t quite steady.
But surely he wasn’t… He couldn’t… If the stranger was Roxdale, he’d have attended the will reading, wouldn’t he?
Before he could speak again, she said, “I don’t care who you are. It’s improper for us to be here alone together. You must go.”
“Must I? But we are getting on so famously.” Without a by-your-leave, he reached past her to move her chair from where it blocked his path and stepped farther into the room.
Prowling by bookshelves and globes and maps, he rounded a large drafting table and homed in on the drinks tray that sat, stocked and ready, on the sideboard. He poured himself a brandy from one of the crystal decanters.
She marched after him, blustering. “Just what do you think—”
“It seems I have the advantage.” Turning, he wrapped his long fingers around the glass and tilted it toward her. “For I know who you are.”
Jane halted. “How could you? You’ve only just—” Only just arrived, she was about to say. But she didn’t wish to allude to that handful of electric moments when she’d been trapped in his gaze like a fly in a honey pot.
“Oh, I made a point of finding out,” he said softly. “Lady Roxdale.”
As he sipped, the corner of his mouth quirked upward. An indentation beside it that scarcely merited the term ‘dimple’ appeared. Jane found herself fascinated with the seductive contours of his lips as he savored the brandy. She shivered, blinked to clear her head. She seemed to be falling under some sort of enchantment.
Then she realized what he’d said. He’d asked about her. Why?
Societal dictates told her to leave the room immediately, rather than bandy ripostes with a complete stranger. Jane was somewhat a stickler for the rules of polite society… when they allowed her to follow her own inclinations.
But this time, her curiosity proved too rampant. Feigning disinterest, she waved a hand toward him. “And you are…?”
A magician. A conjurer. A wizard, binding me with your spell.
He set down his glass and made an elaborate bow. “I suppose I must be Roxdale.” A gleam of white teeth. “But you may call me Constantine.”