July 2, 2013
The Ministry of Marriage, Book 4
St. Martin's Press
Barnes & Noble
LONDON’S ULTIMATE BAD BOY…
Physically reckless, irrepressibly roguish and poised on the brink of ruin, Jonathon Westruther, Earl of Davenport, returns from the dead only to throw himself into dissipation. Until he meets his worst nightmare: a straitlaced former schoolteacher he can’t get out of his head.
He resolves to seduce the delightful Miss Hilary deVere by fair means or foul. But when his past returns to endanger Hilary, he must protect her at all costs…
MEETS ENGLAND’S MOST PROPER MISS
Dismissed from her post at a ladies’ academy because of prejudice against her uncouth family, Hilary will do anything to avoid going back to live with her loutish brothers. She longs for a London season to show the world a deVere can behave with utmost decorum and find a respectable husband.
Everything about Lord Davenport appalls her but desperation makes strange bedfellows. To get to London, Hilary strikes a bargain with the devilish Davenport, confident that she’s immune to his charm. But as she discovers surprising depths beneath his rakish surface, this infamous scoundrel becomes more temptation than even the most proper lady can withstand…
The wind had picked up, making the rain slant into their faces. Davenport shivered. He still wore his evening kit and his bloody cousins hadn’t done him the courtesy of leaving him with so much as a driving coat to shield him from the elements. It was spring, but you wouldn’t know it, the way the rain had turned to icy needles.
The girl’s slim shoulders remained erect as a sergeant major’s as she battled into the gale. Her hat drooped about her ears; her drab pelisse was dark with damp. Rats’ tails of honey blond hair snaked down her back, whipped free from her tight, proper bun by the wind.
Lightning streaked across the horizon. Thunder cracked, making her halt in her tracks.
But she didn’t look back. She lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and marched on.
“This is madness,” he said, pulling alongside her. “Don’t be such a little fool.”
He reached down to her, even though she still did not look at him. “Give me the bandboxes.”
Her straight white teeth sank into the cushion of her lower lip. He became acutely conscious of a desire to soothe that beleaguered feature. Preferably with his tongue.
He blinked, cleared his throat. “Come, ma’am. Surely a short ride with me is preferable to getting caught in this storm.”
She sighed. “Very well. Thank you.” Reluctance showing in every line of her body, she handed the bandboxes up.
He tied them securely, then reached down a hand to her. “Put your right foot on mine,” he instructed her.
She did. Her grip tightened on his hand and he hauled her up. She might be a dab of a female, but the rain weighted her skirts. The pain in his shoulder flared, but his smile didn’t waver.
She didn’t smile back. Her eyes flickered as she looked into his face properly for the first time, but the expression of disdain did not alter.
“Thank you,” she said frigidly.
He gripped her around the waist and settled the wet, bedraggled bundle more comfortably across the saddle before him.
“You are freezing,” he said.
She sat as straight as she could under the circumstances, as if she had a poker rammed down the back of her gown.
He chuckled. Really, she was absurd. “Relax. I won’t bite.”
Much as he’d like to.
“I am perfectly relaxed,” she said stiffly.
“If you lean against me, you will be more comfortable,” he murmured provocatively, his breath warming her ear. “Shared body heat does wonders against the chill.”
She glanced at him suspiciously.
“I assure you, it’s true. It’s all to do with thermal conduction.”
He went on to explain the principles of heat transference, but despite all of the obscure, multisyllabic words he threw in to impress her, she refused to participate in his proposed experiment.
“Thank you. I do not regard the cold.”
She didn’t regard him, either, but stared ahead. Clearly, the affront to her dignity of allowing some nameless ruffian to escort her home—and at such scandalous proximity—was insurmountable.
With a mental shrug, he set the horse into a brisk walk, enjoying the way she was forced to move against him in rhythm with the motion of their mount. Despite the icy damp of her, despite his own aches and ails, his body went on full alert for action.
At close quarters, he noticed the warm, creamy perfection of her skin. That her irises were not blue, as he’d expected from her fair coloring, but light brown, flecked with hints of gold.
She had a lovely, queenly neck, he discovered, sadly shadowed by the high collar of her pelisse. She dressed like a spinster aunt, but she couldn’t have long left her teens.
“I believe it is customary in such situations to make polite conversation with your rescuer,” he said, teasing her.
She turned her head to look at him. Who knew warm brown eyes could turn so cold?
“We have not been introduced,” she said. “Therefore, I cannot converse with you.”
He wanted to laugh. Her bottom was so near to his groin as to make them very close acquaintances indeed. Yet she would be a stickler for the proprieties.
“What do we stop for?” Even now, much as she longed to do so, Hilary could not bring herself to look this dreadful man in the eye.
He presented the most shocking figure. She recognized all too well the familiar signs of a scoundrel. She’d had considerable experience of them in her own family.
But this one was a slight variation on the theme, she had to admit. He possessed a sense of humor, for one thing. Intelligence, too. He did his utmost to hide it, but there was a disquieting expression in his gaze when it rested on her, as if he saw her more clearly than he’d any right to do. She wasn’t sure she liked that.
He was chivalrous in his own audacious, careless way. She was not stupid enough to believe he’d rescued her out of pure altruism, however. She knew the look in a man’s eye when he wanted her. She’d dealt with plenty of those while living in her brothers’ house.
He was covered in bruises, but even beneath his swollen jaw and the purple contusion that flared across his cheekbone she could tell at a glance he was a remarkably handsome man.
Liquid brown eyes framed with thick lashes, a head of dark brown hair that, even windblown and wet, fell romantically over his brow. A handsome, strong jaw that spoke of determination, perhaps even a streak of stubbornness, belied his easygoing manner.
There was something about a man garbed in evening dress and looking utterly disheveled that awoke in her a dormant heat.
Confusion seethed in her brain. How could she find him in the least attractive? She knew his type from bitter experience. He was precisely the kind of man any lady with the least common sense would avoid.
His situation shouted a debauched personality. How on earth had he come to be riding about the countryside in his evening clothes at three in the afternoon? Perhaps he had not yet gone to bed?
No. She ought not to think of this man in connection with a bed.
She’d tried not to notice how large his shoulders were, how strong the arm that encircled her. How broad the thigh that brushed hers now and then as he steered his horse.
He was a brute, a rogue, and most probably a libertine, too. He was everything a deVere trying her best to maintain her own standards in the face of an impossible handicap did not need.
But her pulse raced. Her body longed to melt against him, to draw warmth from that big, masculine form. Thermal conduction, he’d called it. Whatever the terminology, remaining aloof from him was like staying away from a roaring fire when one was frozen to the marrow.
If she could just get home without giving the fellow any hint of her disquiet, she would be safe. Not far now.
Then he stopped.
She couldn’t help it. Her head whipped around. She stared up at him, her eyes widened at the intent expression on his face.
A flush scalded her cheeks. She’d been determined not to react to his teasing and succeeded for the most part. But the serious look disarmed her. She bit her lip.
“Stop that,” he ordered, startling her. Gently, he traced her lower lip with his fingertip, freeing it from the anxious clutch of her teeth.