January 3, 2012
The Ministry of Marriage, Book 2
St. Martin's Press
Barnes & Noble
Designed to arrange matches of rank and affluence, the powerful Ministry of Marriage has no interest in love. But when does the heart ever play by the rules?
A BEAST OF BURDEN
Lady Rosamund Westruther has no objection to the match arranged for her by the Ministry–until she meets her intended. Gruff, stubborn Griffin, Earl of Tregarth, is hardly the charming
nobleman the classic beauty has dreamed of for so long. While a proper lady can’t cry off, she can demand a proper courtship…
A BEAUTY TO BEHOLD
Griffin is aware of his duty to wed–and more convinced than ever that the lovely Rosamund has no place with a man like him. Built for fields and stables rather than drawing rooms, Griffin doubts he can win her in the polite manner society requires. But with every passing day, the attraction between them flares higher and hotter. Maybe there is more to love than meets the eye…
Read an Excerpt
He released the pump handle and straightened, wiping the water from his eyes. Glancing up, he saw at least three stable hands frozen in place, as if turned to stone. His eyes narrowed. Was that a hint of drool slipping from the corner of Billy Trotter’s slackened mouth?
With a strong feeling he wouldn’t like what he was about to see, Griffin turned around.
He nearly shoved his head under the pump for another dousing. If the reaction of every other male in the vicinity hadn’t told him his eyes didn’t lie, he’d have believed her a vision conjured by exhaustion. But not even his imagination could have manufactured such a breathtaking piece of womanhood.
She wore a deep cobalt blue riding habit that fitted her form so precisely, his hands itched to shape themselves around those well-defined curves. The habit was in the military style, with elaborate silver lacing across her torso that drew the eye to a magnificent bosom and trim waist.
Griffin peeled his gaze from her mouthwatering form and forced it to her face. Eyes as blue as the heavens stared at him beneath a sweep of thick black lashes and delicately arched brows. Rich golden ringlets escaped artfully from one side of her jaunty black hat.
The angle of that hat seemed unconscionably rakish. In fact, with her pearly skin and her adorable bow of a mouth, celestial eyes, and gilt curls, the set of that particular piece of millinery struck a jarringly saucy note. It was as if an angel stood before him, closing one eye in a sly, knowing wink.
Stunned as he was, moments passed before the truth crashed in on him, like Armageddon.
Lady Rosamund Westruther.
Bloody. Bloody. Hell.
Her lips moved, but he didn’t hear what she said for the pounding in his ears. His heart pumped. His mouth dried. His hands grew clammy. Blood abandoned his brain like rats from a sinking ship.
She’s not for you.
His skeptical, cynical mind fought for supremacy, but instinct, powerful and raw, drowned out the frantic messages from his brain. A low, animal hum swelled inside him.
I want her. Now.
The angel’s brows snapped together, and for the first time, he noticed a distinctly militant sparkle in her eyes.
She put up her chin and said, “You, there! Didn’t you hear what I said? Saddle me a horse, please. I wish to ride.”
Rosamund’s first sight of Griffin deVere would have caused a maiden with a less valiant heart to quail. Shirtless, dirty, sodden, and glaring, he presented a spectacle to strike terror into any gently bred lady’s soul.
His massive body gleamed wetly in the sunshine: acres of hairy muscled chest, miles of long, strong legs. Hands as big as plates shoved a shock of black hair from his eyes, plastering it back over his skull. The movement made the muscles in his biceps bulge with latent power.
Her fascinated gaze snagged on the tufts of dark hair beneath each armpit. Oddly, the sight was the opposite of repulsive. A hot shiver burned down her spine.
But it was the brooding, angry look in his eyes that made her insides melt and slide and sizzle, like butter in a sauté pan.
Rot the man! Why did he have to be even larger, more intensely alive, more masculine than her wildest imaginings had painted him? He was colossal, and not only in stature. The powerful life force within him seemed to blaze from those lightning-colored eyes.
She ought to be disgusted by the state she found him in, particularly in the circumstances. The least he could do was make himself presentable on this, of all days!
Ah, how she wished she were disgusted. Her fury fired anew that he should have such a cataclysmic effect on her. He was rough and dirty and in a shocking state of undress, so far from the gallant prince of her imaginings, it would have been laughable had she not been consumed by disappointment.
Well. If he wanted to behave like a groom, she’d treat him like one.
Rosamund said, “Let us put the past behind us. You are here now, and the season is about to begin. We shall enjoy a little courtship. Yes—” She held up her hand to fend off the protest she anticipated. “—I do mean enjoy, my lord.”
Once again, his expression altered. Those gray eyes held a rakish gleam. “I recall some parts I mean to enjoy very well.”
She gasped. Could he actually mean—?
Amusement lightened his features in response to her confusion. He leaned toward her. “Starting tonight.”
His voice was a low growl that vibrated through her body; his breath brushed her ear with tingling warmth. The implication caught fire in her brain, making her pulse jump and race. A hot flush swept over her breasts and up, into her cheeks.
Those intimacies she’d promised him . . .
Should she admit she anticipated those intimacies as eagerly as he did? Perhaps not. Something told her he’d want her more if she displayed a little reluctance.
“Oh!” she said. “But you’ve done nothing to earn any rewards yet.”
A little grimly, he replied, “If you think spending an entire week at the tender mercies of your cousin and my new valet aren’t enough to earn me a taste of you, let me remind you that I’ve been dancing attendance on you for the better part of an hour this afternoon.” He threw out a hand as if to encompass their surrounds. “I’m strolling, for God’s sake!”
She was enjoying this hugely. “That is true,” she said, cocking her head as if to consider. “And yet, these were not the conditions of our agreement. I distinctly recall that I specifically listed various entertainments which— Oh!” she exclaimed as he grabbed her hand and pulled her along with him. “What are you doing, sir?”
He yanked her off the path and whisked her behind a tree so that they were screened from the path, but not from any other chance passerby. In a flash, he’d captured the handle of her parasol, twisted it out of her fingers, and tossed it aside.
“That parasol cost me twenty guineas!”
“I’ll buy you another.” He maneuvered her so that her back was against the tree trunk and brought his palm flat against the trunk beside her head.
Leaning in, he said, “If you don’t want me to kiss you here, now, in public, you’ll agree to meet me somewhere in your house tonight.”
“Oh, this is an outrage!” managed Rosamund, trying not to allow a delighted laugh to escape her. “I utterly refuse to agree to anything so improper.” She turned her face away from him like a martyred virgin avoiding the flames licking upward from the pyre. Her heart thumped hard and fast in her breast.
But when he did not respond to this clear piece of encouragement, she breathed, “I should think you would treat your future wife with more respect, sir.”
“Oh, I respect you, my dear.” Griffin raised his hand and ran his fingertip gently over her lips. His breathing grew ragged. She closed her eyes and waited for his mouth to descend on hers.
It was scandalous behavior. They were in public, even if by some lucky circumstance, no one could see them now. Yet she longed for his kiss so much that she didn’t care.
Voices. Coming closer. Now she really did panic, her bravado deserting her abruptly. “Oh, someone’s coming! Let me go, I—”
“Not until you agree to meet me.”
“Yes, yes, I agree! But let me g— Oh.”
He stepped away from her just as a couple of small boys ran past, rolling a large wooden hoop.
She sagged back against the tree, limp with relief, giddy with exhilaration.
Griffin bent to pick up her parasol and handed it to her, and his gray eyes still held a devilish sparkle.
“When?” he said softly. “And where?”
You can read the first three chapters of MAD ABOUT THE EARL at Heroes and Heartbreakers!