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A Novel by Jen Black
Genre: Historical Romance
Release: April 6, 2012
Editor: B.L. Wilson
Line Editor: Greta Gunselman
Cover Designer: Nika Dixon
You’d think he’d be grateful when she saves him from drowning, but Jack is living in his own private hell after the death of his wife.
Frances thinks he’s a rude, insufferable idiot. When Holbrook arrives and dazzles the neighborhood with his glorious regimentals, Frances does not care for him, but her mother, dazzled by his looks, claims that he’s admirable husband material even if he is without funds. He thinks Frances is just the heiress for him.
Then the newspaper publishes an ugly letter that, without naming Frances, questions her recent actions and her reputation. Horrified, she believes Jack is the culprit and challenges him…
Jack stared at the ceiling.
Frances did not dare move, hardly dared to breathe. The slightest movement would draw his attention to her. She held her breath and hoped he would drift off back to sleep.
He would be furious she had invaded his home, his privacy, his grief.
How had she ever thought coming here had been a sensible thing to do? Arriving alone at a gentleman’s house was the height of folly. As she stared at him, her reasons suddenly seemed specious indeed. His well-being was not her concern, and never would be.
Her thigh muscles ached from holding her in such an awkward position against the door. Skin prickling with unease, heart thundering against her ribs, she waited. Oh, dear Lord, she was going to collapse to the floor if he did not shut his eyes soon. Her thighs burned and trembled. She had to breathe—
His hand flopped to the mattress, his head rolled on the pillow and his wide, vacant gaze slowly focused on her. “Why, Lady Rathmere…”
Through the thunder of blood in her ears, his voice reached her as if from a great distance.
His brows drew together. “What the blazes are you doing here?”
Frances struggled upright, and took a step away from the door. “To, er…see you got home safely. After last night. You know. You were drunk, and probably don’t remember.” Frances shook out her skirts, and tugged the jacket of her riding habit into place without looking in his direction. Her face burned and prickled as blood suffused her skin.
He sank back against the pillows, a fingertip pressed to each temple.
Clearly he had a monstrous headache. Her mouth twitched. There was a God after all. If she simply opened the door and retreated, he might not notice until too late.
Her hand closed on the door knob.
She glanced over her shoulder and sucked in a shocked breath. His hollowed cheeks, tangled hair and shadowed eyes spoke of sleepless nights, misery and deprivation. With a huge effort, he pushed to his feet and stood there swaying as if a huge wind roared through the room.
Her breath caught uncomfortably in her throat, and forced her to swallow. Her gaze skimmed over his brown skin, traced the strong tendons of his throat, lingered on the spreading collarbones, and glimpsed the strong muscled chest revealed by the crumpled shirt falling away from his shoulder.
Frances coughed and looked away. She had visited museums and galleries and marvelled at works of art depicting man in extremis, but now, when the real thing stood before her, she did not know what to say or do. Cold white marble was all very well, but gleaming brown skin was much more shocking.
“What the devil are you doing here?” He hitched the drooping shirt back onto his shoulder, swayed and grasped the bed post to prevent toppling onto the mattress. “Well?”
He scowled at her. No statue she had ever seen looked as angry as he did at this moment. Frances blinked, cleared her throat and turned to the door once again.
His eyes narrowed. When he took a step towards her, Frances bit back a wheeze of fright and wrenched the door open.
“Nay,” he cried. “Wait—”
His bulk overwhelmed her, flattened her breast and cheek against the hard wood of the door. Under their combined weight, the door slammed shut and the impact jarred her insensible for a moment. The side of her face ached where it had hit the door, and the pin holding her hat tugged violently as the hat itself was forced to one side. The warm weight of his body made her stiffen.
“No,” she gasped, struggling to be free. “No! No!”
She could not shift him. His palm splayed across the door only inches from her eyes. Terrified, she watched the strong bones and tendons move, and felt his weight recede as he levered himself from her. He spoke, scant inches from her ear and even through her panic, she heard the irritation in his voice.
“Stop squealing, woman. I have no intention of hurting you.”
The sour odour of alcohol curled her nostrils. Free of his weight, she closed her eyes in relief and sagged against the door.
“I apologize if I hurt you,” he said from somewhere behind her. “My sense of balance is not quite normal this morning.”
Frances remained motionless against the door. She identified the soft shuffle of his feet on the floor, his indrawn sigh of frustration, smelt the mixed aromas of sweat and lemon soap.
Breathe, she told herself while the warm dampness of his exhalations swarmed across the nape of her neck. Stay calm. He will not hurt you.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Please step back, sir.” To her shame, her voice sounded like a child pleading for comfort. When a floorboard creaked, she assumed he had stepped back. She laid her brow against the smooth, cool wood, closed her eyes and spoke quietly. “I am not here to do you harm. The opposite, if only you will believe me.”
“Then why invade my home like some meddling, interfering busybody who—”
“I resent that!” Frances gathered together what shreds of dignity she possessed, turned and met his sardonic gaze. “I am neither meddling nor interfering! I came to see…” Her voice faded into nothing. A flicker of fear ran through her skin. Grimly, she took a few swift breaths.
He waited, his head tilted to one side.
“I came to see that you were safe. Last night you were as drunk as…as I have ever seen anyone, and I feared you would not arrive home without mishap.”
“And what is your scale of drunkenness, Lady Rathmere? How do you judge? I should wager you have never in your life seen a man drunk!”
Frances acknowledged the accuracy of his statement and worried her lower lip. “I am truly sorry,” she blurted at last. “Please believe my intentions were good.”
“You invaded my bedchamber. What if I was not alone? What if I had a companion here? For God’s sake, woman, what were you thinking?”“Oh.” Such a possibility had never crossed her mind.
About the Author:
Jen lives in wild and beautiful Northumberland, and writes about the places she loves – imagines the characters who have been there before her. Her stories sometimes creep over the border into Scotland ~ it’s only a forty minute drive the way she thunders around in her bright yellow Mini. A lit/history graduate, she loves research and poking into castle ruins, wandering down quaint little streets in old cities.
Author's Other Works:
The Banners of Alba (WriteWords, Inc)
Dark Pool (WriteWords, Inc)
Far After Gold (Quaestor2000)
Till the Day Go Down (Quaestor2000)Shadows (Sapphire Blue)
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