In the first book in Katharine Ashe’s stunning new historical series, to capture a duke, a lady must first seduce a rogue.Lady Constance Read is independent, beautiful, and in need of a husband-now. The last man on earth she wants is the rogue who broke her heart six years ago, never mind that his kisses are scorching hot…Evan Saint-André Sterling is rich, scarred, and finished with women-forever. He’s not about to lose his head over the bewitching beauty who once turned his life upside down.But Constance needs a warrior, and Saint is the perfect man for the job. Only as a married woman can she penetrate Scotland’s most notorious secret society and bring a diabolical duke to justice. When Constance and Saint become allies-and passionate lovers-he’ll risk everything to protect the only woman he has ever loved.
Of the dozen men in the room, he was the only man she should not be staring at. He was not a lord. Not an heir to a fortune. Not a scion of impressive lineage or a favorite of the prince. He wasn’t even really a gentleman.
Yet she could not look away.
It shouldn’t have mattered; a hidden niche was an excellent place from which a young lady could spy on a risqué party. Until someone else discovered it.
Unless that someone else were the right someone else.
For four nights now no one had noticed her peeking from a door that could barely be called a door in the corner of the ballroom. These passages had been fashioned in an earlier era of rebellion, and everybody had long since forgotten them.
And now him.
A quality of familiarity braided with danger commanded the breadth of his shoulders and the candlelight in his eyes as he watched her. Yet she did not duck back into the dark passage and escape. She had no fear that he would know her. Like the women who had actually been invited to the party, her mask hid the upper half of her face. Anyway, she knew no one in society. Her father had not yet taken her to London, only deposited her here at Fellsbourne, where he imagined her safe in the company of his dear friend’s family. Where she had always in fact been safe. Teased, taunted, treated like an annoying younger sister, and very carelessly acknowledged. But safe.
Not removing his eyes from her, the stranger unfolded himself from the chair with predatorial grace. He moved like a hunter, lean and powerful and aware. Not entirely human. Even at rest he had watched the others, disinterested in the amorous flirtations of the other men and the women here to entertain them, yet keen-eyed. Like an elven prince studying mortal beings, he observed.
For four nights she had wondered, if she were one of those women would he be interested in her? Would he seek her attention? Would he touch her as the other men touched those women—as she longed to be touched—held—told she was special—good—beautiful?
She was wicked to her marrow.
Wicked to want a stranger’s notice. Wicked to relish the thrill in her belly as he walked straight toward her.
Under normal circumstances her tongue was lithe enough. But normal circumstances had never in her wildest misbehaviors included a man with eyes like his—green, clear and shining, moonlight cast upon the waters of a forest spring. Perhaps he was not entirely human. This wasn’t Scotland. But England had its fair share of mystical beings too.
When he stood within no more than two wicked feet of her, her tongue failed.
“You were staring at me,” he said in a voice like fire-heated brandy—rich, deep.
“You were staring at me.” The low timbre of her own words startled her.
“One of us must have begun it.”
“Perhaps it was spontaneously mutual. Or it was coincidence, and both of us imagined the other began it.”
“How mortifying for us both then.” The slightest smile appeared at the corner of his mouth that was beautiful. Beautiful. She had never thought about men’s mouths before. She had never even noticed them. Now she noticed, and it did hot things to her insides.
“Or fortunate,” she ventured. She was grinning, showing her big teeth. But she couldn’t care. A young man was smiling at her, a young man with sun-darkened skin and whiskers cut square and scant about his mouth, like a pirate too busy marauding to shave for a day or two. Not very mystical, true. His hair was the color of ancient gilt, curving about his collar and swept dashingly back from his brow. A military saber hung along his thigh, long and encased in dark leather. Its hilt glittered.
He was staring at her lips, and so she stared at his. Giddy trills climbed up her middle.
His lips made her think of kisses. Want kisses. Kisses on her mouth. Kisses on her neck like those that the loose women got from the other men. Kisses wherever he would give them to her.
Wicked wicked wicked.
“Dance with me,” he said.
She darted a glance into the ballroom. All of the women wore costumes, scanty, sheer, slipping from shoulders beneath gentlemen’s bold fingertips. Jack was throwing a masquerade for his friends and these women. Women she should not envy.
She should not be here. She should be at the dower house a quarter mile distant, where Eliza had drunk whiskey with dinner and now snored comfortably by the parlor fireplace.
“I cannot dance tonight,” she said with more regret than she remembered ever saying anything.
“Cannot? Or will not with me?” His tongue shaped words decadently, as though the syllables were born to kiss his lips and taunt her with what she could not have.
“If I could, I would only with you.”
He seemed to study her face: her too-big eyes, her too-small nose, the mouth that was too wide, brow that was too spotted, and cheeks that were too round. She knew her flaws, and yet he seemed to like studying them.
“What is your name?”
“I haven’t one.” Not that she could tell a stranger with elven eyes and pirate whiskers.
He smiled, and it was such a simple unveiling of pleasure that her heart thumped against a couple of her ribs.
“I will call you Beauty,” he said, then his brow creased. “But you have heard that before.”
“Then I suppose I must call you Beast,” she replied. She liked the tingling tension in her belly that he had deposited there with only his smile.
“For what I’m thinking now, you should,” he said . . .
Katharine lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her beloved husband, son, dog, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European History, she writes fiction because she thinks modern readers deserve grand adventures and breathtaking sensuality too. For more about Katharine’s books, please visit www.KatharineAshe.com or write to her at PO Box 51702, Durham, NC 27717.