Book Genre: Historical

Mr. Sinclair Beguiles a Bluestocking

Posted October 18, 2022 by Danielle in / 0 Comments

Title: Mr. Sinclair Beguiles a Bluestocking
Series: Windermeres in Love #.5
Genre:
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It Was Only a Kiss...

Violet Hotchkiss is head over heels in love with Oliver Quincy, the embodiment of the perfect English gentleman in every novel she’s ever read. So why is she kissing Will Sinclair in the garden at the Twelfth Night ball?

That Led to a Night...

Violet always found Will to be too much—too tall, too handsome…too far out of reach for a bespectacled spinster to dream about. But one taste of Will releases something wild in Violet, something that will never be satisfied with just a kiss…

That Changed Everything...

Will always had a crush on smart, spirited Violet. But the bold woman who takes what she wants, and isn’t afraid to ask for more, is a revelation. Now he just has to convince Violet to take the bravest step of all—letting him love her.

***Please Note: This novella was previously published as It Was Only A Kiss.

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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

29 December 1818

Miss Violet Hotchkiss never expected to walk into Sir John and Lady Sinclair’s evening soirée and fall headlong into love.

Indeed, one would hardly expect it of a bespectacled wallflower of four and twenty years who was more comfortable discussing the 1815 Corn Law than the latest in ladies’ fashion.

And yet, she had.

Only minutes earlier, Violet had been alighting from her parents’ carriage and bracing against the wintry cold with her burgundy velvet cloak wrapped tight about her, prepared for the usual sort of supper party, with all the usual local gentry.

She stopped to adjust her spectacles, which had slipped down her nose.

“Violet.” Her sister Lily rushed from her carriage, breath puffing white through the smile curving her mouth. Everyone had always agreed that of the Hotchkiss sisters Lily had the prettiest smile. It was an opinion with which Violet wholeheartedly agreed.

Lily’s arm twined through Violet’s. “Is Mr. Granville attending?” Violet asked. Only last summer Lily had become Mrs. Charles Granville. Violet still hadn’t fully adjusted to the idea of her beloved sister being a Mrs.

Lily used her fan to point out the small grouping behind them. “Charles is asking for Papa’s advice regarding an agricultural matter.” Lily leaned in conspiratorially. “I think he does it so Papa will think well of him.” Lily’s gaze flew upward and roved over the house before them. “Isn’t Somerton Manor splendidly lovely?”

Constructed of light gray stone, Somerton Manor was an elegant, rectangular house with few pediments and plain pilasters framing the front door. Perfectly symmetrical and English, it was indisputably the finest house in the neighborhood, not including the Earl and Countess of Holland’s magnificent estate, Welles Castle, which Violet didn’t include as she only saw it once a year at their annual Twelfth Night Ball.

Violet gave a noncommittal murmur. It wasn’t that she disagreed with Lily’s observation. It was that her sister had made it at all. Lily had only begun commenting on other people’s houses after she’d become a married gentlelady. Violet was learning that the wedded state changed women in ways ineffable and mysterious. How lucky that she would never marry.

They took the staircase at a quick clip; such was the motivating factor of the biting wind. Of course, it was exactly the sort of night one would expect in late December. Besides, one couldn’t hold the cold against such a beautiful, clear night with the stars winking their twinkly brilliance above.

At the top, the front door swung open on smooth hinges to usher them into the inviting warmth beyond. Although Somerton Manor was a grand house from the outside, Violet had always appreciated that its interior was built to be lived in, with its downstairs of warm oak-paneled rooms that instantly made one feel cozy and at home.

After leaving their cloaks with a footman, Violet and Lily continued into the main hall, where Sir John and Lady Sinclair were receiving their guests. “If it isn’t the most lovely Mrs. Granville and the most erudite Miss Hotchkiss,” said Sir John with his familiar, paternal wink.

Violet smiled agreeably, even as she sighed on the inside. Of course.

In her thirteenth year, she’d been found shortsighted and fitted for her first pair of spectacles. In an instant, she’d gone from being a pretty-enough girl to well-read and bookish. Erudite was simply a variation on the theme. Bluestocking was yet another, but in a few years one word would surpass all others. Spinster, a word that would stick with her all the rest of her days.

Spinsterhood was the inevitable fate of well-read, bookish, erudite bluestockings, a fact that had become clear to her as their family, friends, and acquaintances had separated her and Lily into intelligent and lovely, respectively. So, Violet had taken the persona yoked onto her, tried it on for size, and found it fit, mostly. She enjoyed books and learning. If on occasion she viewed her sister’s life and experienced a pang of envy, it passed quickly, for she loved Lily with all her heart and begrudged her nothing.

Although, it must be admitted that a certain question did sometimes poke its sharp, little point into her: Why was that life closed off to a well-read, bookish, erudite bluestocking? It was as if the possibility never occurred to anyone else, therefore everyone expected it would never occur to her. It was easier to throw herself into books. Besides, she’d never once met a gentleman who compared to the hero of one.

“Sir John, Lady Sinclair,” Lily said, “what a perfect night for a soirée.”

“We simply had to celebrate Sinclair’s return to us,” said Lady Sinclair, as if she couldn’t quite believe the fact herself.

“Returned alive and all in one piece, I might add,” chimed Sir John on a laugh that contained a note of seriousness.

Sinclair … Will Sinclair, Sir John and Lady Sinclair’s only child, had come home after three years of travels to this and that exotic locale, clearly to the relief of his parents who had dutifully kept their neighbors apprised of his latest jaunts. Lily offered her happy congratulations, and Violet smiled along. It wasn’t that she wished any harm on Sinclair. It was simply that she’d never had any doubt that he would return home, alive, and in one piece. Sinclair had always seemed a capable sort.

Sir John craned his neck around and began glancing about the hall. “Now where has the boy got off to?” But his search was cut short when Violet and Lily’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hotchkiss, entered the hall with Mr. Granville. Now the host and hostess were on to further greetings.

Lily tugged Violet’s arm. “Come with me,” she said, sotto voce. “I have news to share.”

Violet experienced a frisson equal parts excitement and dread. Since Lily’s wedding, Violet had been expecting news. Once ensconced in a quiet corner of the drawing room, Lily grabbed both of Violet’s hands and squeezed. “Can you guess my news?”

“Oh, sister,” Violet said, sudden tears springing to her eyes, “I am overcome with joy for you.” And she was. She truly, truly was. “But you shall give me a niece first. Then you can have all the boys you like.”

“Vivi,” Lily began on a laugh, “how you do love to control matters. But even you cannot influence this outcome.”

Violet’s responding smirk did the job of suppressing the familiar pang of envy. Once she’d understood she would never marry, she’d accepted she would never have children. Lily, the younger sister by two years, had been the one destined for marriage, so the sisters had begged that they be allowed to debut together. Their parents hadn’t been able to deny the wisdom of such an arrangement and assented. At their debut dance, Mr. Granville had been first to sweep Lily across the dancing floor, and her future had been set.

“Come,” Lily began, pulling Violet forward, “let us be social. Who has arrived?”

Violet gave the room a quick once-over. “The Baring-Whites are here. And Mrs. Acton.”

“Did Mrs. Baring-White bring her spaniel?”

“One must wonder if she is allowed to leave her house without it.”

Lily flashed Violet an impish grin. How Violet loved to pull that grin from her sister. They didn’t much need words to communicate.

Across the room, Mr. Granville gave Lily a nearly imperceptible nod. Lily’s smile transformed into one entirely inscrutable to Violet. She was no longer the only person in the world with whom Lily didn’t need words to communicate. It had taken a bit of getting used to.

Drawn by the magnetic force of her husband, Lily pulled a slightly annoyed Violet along. As they joined the group, Papa was saying with an affable smile, “So, that vagabond son of yours is done traveling the world?”

Sir John beamed. “I am happy to confirm all the reports are true. Sinclair is home to stay.” He gave his longtime neighbor a clap on the back. “Though I’ve had a devil of a time keeping an eye on the boy tonight. Mayhap Quincy will know.”

“Quincy?” asked Mama. Like any attentive mother of a marriageable daughter, her ear was ever attuned to the mention of a gentleman. After all, he could be moneyed and unmarried. “Who is Quincy?”

“Mr. Oliver Quincy is my beloved sister’s son,” explained Lady Sinclair. “He is paying us a brief visit on his way up to Town.”

The tension released from Mama’s shoulders. “So, he is a good sort?” she asked, relentless.

Violet glanced at Lily, so they could share a private laugh, but Lily’s attention was fixed and doting upon Mr. Granville.

“Quincy is a fine young man, to be sure.” Sir John cast his gaze about the room. “Ah, and there he is.”

Violet followed along with everyone else to locate the young gentleman. Her heart did a funny little pitter-pat in her chest. Never once in its four and twenty years had her heart behaved so.

As he navigated toward them, one couldn’t help but be taken by Mr. Quincy’s elegance of bearing and learned air. He was of a middling height that wasn’t too tall, with fine dark hair that lay in a perfect coif and large dark eyes that conveyed the sense that they weren’t too impressed by his surroundings. A man could not be too learned, but he could be too impressed. Violet had never observed a man who so precisely personified an artist’s rendering of the perfect English gentleman.

“Sir John, you desire my presence?” asked Mr. Quincy. Even the studiously enunciated syllables of his voice were just as they should be.

“Come and meet Mr. and Mrs. Hotchkiss, my boy,” said Sir John.

“Delighted,” said Mr. Quincy as he bowed over Mama’s hand.

“And their family, Mr. and Mrs. Granville,” Sir John continued.

Mr. Quincy bowed over Lily’s hand. “Charmed.”

“And Miss Hotchkiss.”

Mr. Quincy turned to Violet. A hot flush rose inside her, and her heart was off to the races. “Enchanted,” he spoke over her hand.

Violet had difficulty drawing breath. Enchanted? She had never enchanted anyone in her entire life. A breathy “Oh,” escaped her in the form of an exhale that may have ended in a bit of a giggle.

Lily cut her a sharp glance, and Violet attempted to remember herself. She wasn’t the sort of young lady who giggled.

“Ah, there is Sinclair.” Sir John smiled, his eyes alight with pride and affection.

Once again, as one they followed the direction of his pleased smile as Sinclair approached from the opposite end of the room, politely avoiding various groupings vying for his attention.

“Oh, my, but his travels seem to have agreed with him,” murmured Mama.

“Indeed,” came Lily’s breathy reply. Mr. Granville lifted an eyebrow at the appreciation in his wife’s voice.

Violet and Sinclair were of a similar age, with him being two years her elder, and as their families were friendly neighbors, they had grown up in the way those of friendly proximity did—seeing each other about the village, at general assemblies, at teas and fêtes. Although Sir John was a baronet, he’d never lorded that fact about the neighborhood. Still, Violet had always kept her distance from Sinclair. For all they’d grown up in the same environ, he’d always discomfited her.

His height had been too towering. His shoulders too massive. His face too handsome. He had been quite simply too everything.

And now, he was still in possession of these qualities, yet somehow different, as if a sharper edge ran along the length of him. She couldn’t help wondering what had forged this new quality that rendered him even more forbidding, but she dismissed the curiosity in favor of a safer man to think upon: Mr. Quincy. He was a man who wasn’t too anything.

Of a sudden, a fitting comparison between these two men struck Violet. Mr. Quincy fit the ideal of the perfect hero from a novel with his smooth, refined features. And Will Sinclair? Well, he would be the rake, a man whose overwhelming handsomeness and slightly brutish exterior many a lady would find impossible to resist.

Sinclair first greeted Mr. and Mrs. Hotchkiss, as was proper. Mama’s cheeks looked a trifle flushed as she returned his felicitations. Next, he turned to Mr. and Mrs. Granville, congratulating them on their summer nuptials.

During this time, Violet had taken a great interest in the seams of her satin gloves. Then she felt them: eyes upon her. Sinclair’s, she knew it. He possessed one of those gazes that was ever unflinching.

Once the silence had gone on a beat too long, she relented and met his deep blue eyes. Perplexingly, her breath caught in her lungs and refused to be reasonable and release. She felt strange and exposed, as if Sinclair could see down to the cockles of her soul. She didn’t remember this about him.

Sir John cleared his throat. “Miss Hotchkiss, you’ll remember Sinclair?”

Sinclair’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. “Miss Hotchkiss?” he asked.

Violet had forgotten how deep his voice was. Too deep.

All eyes swung toward her. She forced an uneasy laugh. She never did enjoy being at the center of a gathering’s attention. “That has been my name these last four and twenty years,” she chirped lightly, which did nothing to dispel the scowl on Sinclair’s face.

“But how is it you’re unwed?” he asked.

Violet blinked.

Had he truly asked such a question? In company?

He had.

She opened her mouth and closed it, flummoxed and speechless for the first time in her life.


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Three Lessons in Seduction

Posted November 11, 2018 by Sofie Darling in / 0 Comments

Title: Three Lessons in Seduction
Series: Shadows and Silk #1
Genre: ,
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Lesson One: Don’t forget to tell your wife you’re a spy...

An absentee husband is one thing, but a dead husband is too much for Lady Mariana Asquith to ignore. When she travels to Paris to search for the body of the wastrel who broke her heart, she finds him—alive at the Opera and still far too attractive for her comfort. But not everything is what it seems with her husband…

Lesson Two: Don’t let your husband seduce you...

Nick has sacrificed everything to protect King and Country—including his marriage. But after ten years of staying away from the woman he loves, he can’t quite make himself drive Mariana away. He longs to be done with the lies and spies—but there’s one last job, with a seductive partner at his side….

Lesson Three: Whatever you do, don’t fall in love—again.

As they work together to save the French government from powerful adversaries, Nick must teach his wife how to be a spy, starting with how to seduce a dangerous stranger. Mariana already has some experience with dangerous men thanks to Nick, and she has her own lessons to teach him—like how passion, love, and trust just might save the day.

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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Married: Persons chained or handcuffed together, in order to be conveyed to gaol, or on board the lighters for transportation, are in the cant language said to be married together.
- A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue Francis Grose

Paris 12 September 1824

Nick spotted her across the cavernous expanse of La Grande Salle, and the breath froze in his chest. There would be trouble.

From his shadowed position inside the opera box opposite hers, he could easily pretend she was just another sophisticated Parisienne. After all, he couldn’t see her face as she made conversation to her right.

Except he didn’t need to see her face. Her profile, limned in the soft glow of gas lamps, was enough for the heavy thrum of recognition to flood him with both a dread and a thrill that had excited him from the first moment he’d laid eyes on her more than a decade ago.

Why was she in Paris?

As if in response to his unspoken question, she canted her head to the side and froze as if she sensed something unusual, or was it someone unusual? He stepped deeper into shadow. Her gaze shifted sideways and unerringly found the exact spot he’d occupied no more than a trio of seconds ago.

He resisted the urge to run frustrated hands through newly shorn hair. She might have caught a flash of him. He couldn’t be sure.

Blast. Why was she here?

She was here for him. The thought sank in, and horror unfolded within him. Deep down, he’d known this day would come—the day she would enter his shadowy world.

For one thing, he was missing, or was he dead? Or maybe he was on a trip to Italy. No one could say with certainty. And he preferred it that way until he discovered who had sent two men to attack him in his hotel suite a fortnight ago.

The woman was more than trouble. She was a threat to half-formed plans that were barely treading water as it was. Ignoring her presence in Paris wasn’t an option. If she was here for him—and she was without a doubt—she would find him. She was that sort of woman. She didn’t fade into the background when it was convenient for others that she do so. In fact, she only responded by foregrounding herself further.

He must find a way to seize control of the situation before it spiraled away from him, as situations tended to do around her. If she’d caught a glimpse of him, perhaps he could use to his advantage the curiosity such a sighting would stir within her.

She must be handled, and this ran him square into the second reason there would be trouble: she was his wife. If one person in Paris could best him, it was Mariana.

♦♦♦

“Ma chérie,” Mariana heard this as if from a great distance. “To sit in La Grande Salle is a privilege and a joy. Settle and experience it. You have les fourmis.”“Les fourmis?” Mariana’s French didn’t extend beyond the schoolroom basics of bonjours and adieus.

“Zee ants. You sit like ants are crawling against your skin,” explained Helene de Vivonne, her mother’s dearest childhood friend. “I lived in London during la Terreur. Have you forgotten? Everything is rush-rush. Tick one item off your list, so you can complete the next. Posthaste, you English say. This is not the French way.” The older woman pulled Mariana close. “Savor the night, ma chérie. London has nothing on Paris.”

Possessed with the attention span of a butterfly, Helene released her hold on Mariana and turned to her other neighbor, leaving Mariana alone to take in the crowded room.

From the ornate ceiling frescoes illuminated by a magnificent cut-glass, ormolu chandelier, and the parquet floor cushioned by dense Persian carpets, to Society’s glittering monsieurs, madames, and mademoiselles in between, La Grande Salle was nothing short of sumptuous, the sparkling epicenter of Parisian Society. Inside this spectacularly gilded room, one could forget Paris had been in shambles not so long ago. This room could tempt one into pretending that the Revolution had never happened, and that it was only a wicked night terror revealed to be without substance in the warm glow of morning sunshine.

It was within this world that her husband had spent the better part of the last decade. Oh, Nick . . .

She slipped the note from her reticule and fingered its newly worn edges. She’d looked at it so often these last three days, she could quote its contents from memory:

9 September 1824 To the most esteemed Lady Nicholas Asquith: It is with great and solemn regret that we inform you that your husband, Lord Nicholas Asquith, younger son of the Marquess of Clare, is missing, presumed dead in the service of his King and Country. He was last seen in Paris on 30 August. Please accept our most profound and sincere condolences to you and your family.

Unable to comprehend the subtleties contained within the note at once, Mariana had sprung into a course of action regarding its more concrete elements. Namely, she would hasten to Paris and find her estranged husband—either dead or alive.

First, she’d seen to the care of the twins. Her sister, Olivia, took Lavinia with few questions asked, and Geoffrey would remain at school in Westminster.

She couldn’t get Geoffrey’s solemn, intelligent, ten-year-old eyes out of her mind. He’d known that something was wrong. “Tell me again why you’re leaving in such a hurry?” he asked as if she hadn’t already explained herself twice.

“I’m visiting your father in Paris. It will be a holiday.”

“You never visit Father in Paris.” His head had cocked to the side. “Or take holidays, for that matter.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” she’d said, bright and shrill.

Geoffrey’s eyes had only narrowed.

Even so, he, like Lavinia, had agreed to post an express letter to Helene’s Paris address every single day. With the possibility their world had been irrevocably turned upside-down looming over their heads, Mariana needed to know her children were safe while she searched for their father—their missing, presumed dead father.

Next, she’d rushed from London to Margate. There she’d used a combination of desperation and gold to convince a reluctant Captain Nylander to transport her across the Channel in his East Indiaman. He was set to sail to East Asia within hours, and a quick side trip to Calais would be nothing to him. From Calais, she’d hired a coach, paid the driver twice his usual fee, and rode on to Paris.

If Nick proved to be alive, she would leave him where she found him and return home.

For a decade now, they’d been living the perfect facsimile of a Society marriage where they saw each other at arranged times of year—Christmas, Easter, birthdays—for the benefit of Geoffrey and Lavinia. Not ten words passed between them a year, and the children likely never noticed. It was the sort of marriage not uncommon to their social set, and it was not at all the sort of marriage she’d envisioned when she’d fallen head over heels in love with him.

She gave her head a tiny, clearing shake. That dream had been crushed years ago, a lifetime really. A better use of her time would be to focus on the present. If Nick proved to be dead, she would transport his body to London. At the very least, she owed the twins their father’s decent burial at home.

Familiar panic rose, and the ground beneath her feet threatened to crater and give way. She wasn’t certain what lay below, but she suspected it was a bottomless abyss from which she would never claw her way out. Even though she saw him no more than every few months, a world without Nick in it was too much for her brain to comprehend.

It simply couldn’t be, and it simply was not. A force, intangible and mysterious, connected her to Nick. She would sense his absence if he’d left this world for the next. Except . . .

What if she couldn’t? And he was dead? The doubt crept in and threatened to split wide into the unfathomable chasm of her nightmares, but she refused to consider that outcome.

Hands clenched into fists at her sides, a steadying wave of determination steeled her. It simply couldn’t be. It simply wasn’t. She would find him and prove it—for the children, and, yes, for herself. She could admit that much.

The playful rap of a silk fan across her knuckles snapped her back into the present. Helene leaned in. “I take it the tall drink of Viking water is no longer in Paris?”

Mariana quashed a sigh and replied, “He left soon after escorting me to Nick’s hotel.”

Helene shrugged a Gallic shoulder. “His loss,” she said, returning her attention to her other neighbor.

Escorted all the way to Paris by the imposing Nylander—it was true the man resembled nothing other than a Viking in both bearing and temperament—Mariana’s first order of business on her arrival yesterday had been to place herself on Helene’s doorstep. Within the hour, Mariana and Nylander had followed Helene’s directions to Nick’s hotel in the Place Vendôme.

“I believe this is where we part ways,” Mariana had said to Nylander, her tone purposeful and businesslike. “I’m not certain you needed to escort me all the way here.”

She’d darted a covert glance at the captain. He was the sort of man who could give an unhappily, even happily, married woman ideas. Even though she was here for Nick, Mariana saw how easily she could pivot and pursue a different path. She could invite this gorgeous man into her suite of rooms. She didn’t owe Nick fidelity, especially after what he’d done.

“Shall I escort you inside?” Nylander asked in a low rumble.

For a long moment, she met eyes the blue of a midsummer sky. “I think not.”

“I shall be in Calais for a fortnight to have a few repairs done to the Fortuyn. Contact me at Le Blanc Navire if you need further assistance.” Without another word, he pivoted and strode down the crowded sidewalk as casual passersby parted for him like the Red Sea.

Mariana found herself the lone occupant of Nick’s set of rooms, which once picked apart inch by inch, yielded no clues as to his whereabouts or fate, an outcome at once wildly frustrating and oddly comforting. She didn’t know he was alive, but she didn’t know he was dead either. The man was nowhere.

Mariana worried the note between her fingers. Over the last few days, its texture had become as soft and supple as cloth. Yet, she kept it close for a reason: this note defied all logic. It was impossible to square with the dissolute life Nick led in Paris. Although the note was unsigned, it had originated from the Foreign Office.

How in the course of largely ceremonial consular duties—Nick’s words—did one become missing and presumed dead in the eyes of Whitehall? She intended to ask Nick if she found him . . . No, when she found him.

“Mariana?” came Helene’s voice.

As Mariana turned to reply, the fine hairs on her arms stood on end, and she hesitated. Her eyes darted left, toward the source of the feeling, but she found no one she recognized.

Heart pounding, she whispered, “Helene, may I use your opera glass?”

Helene raised a single eyebrow and handed the object over.

Mariana held the glass to her eyes and . . . saw nothing useful. Her overwrought mind was playing tricks on her. A phantom husband was the stuff of novels full of whimsy and scandal, not the stuff of real life.

The glow of the theater’s lights dimmed, and the roar of the assembled dulled to a low rumble. The ballet was set to begin. All eyes shifted their focus away from the drama of each other and toward the impending drama to be enacted on the stage.

All, except Mariana. She couldn’t succumb to the sugar-coated fantasy of the ballet. In an effort to relax, she exhaled every last bit of breath in her lungs and inhaled a slow, steady stream of air. But it was to no avail. Her heart a relentless tattoo in her chest, the walls of the theater threatened to close in on her.

She shot to her feet. “Helene, I need some fresh air.”

Without a care for the other woman’s response, Mariana darted out of the dark box and into a bright, empty corridor. Finally, blessedly alone, the walls expanded, and a self-conscious smile pulled at her lips. She was in danger of becoming the sort of excitable woman who tested her patience within thirty seconds of conversation. It was no state in which to conduct one’s life. A restorative visit to a museum would do her a bit of good. Perhaps the Museum of Natural History . . .

An inconspicuous door flew open, and a hand shot out, closing around her upper arm with the strength of a steel vise. A scream caught in her throat as she was dragged into a pitch-black room, the door snapping shut behind her. Her heart hammered in her chest as if it was trying to break free of her body, and her mind raced in time with its frenetic rhythm.

Before another scream could gather in her chest, a leather-gloved hand clamped over her mouth, and an arm reached across her torso, trapping her arms to her sides and pulling her tight against a solid, muscular chest. She struggled, twisted, wiggled, and stomped—everything she could think of to free herself. But nothing succeeded, and her breath continued coming hard and fast through her nose.

It wasn’t until her body stilled in frustrated exhaustion that she inhaled and smelled. Located in the scent surrounding her were notes she recognized—notes specific to one man. It was the scent of . . .

“Can I trust you not to scream?”

It was the voice of a dead man.


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