Taste of Liberty available
July 17 at http://www.cerridwenpress.com
When two black sheep of society meet, Angelique sees Lucas as the means to losing her good reputation and being branded beyond redemption by those who seek to reform her, until their affair spirals into love and threatens to destroy her well-laid plans.
Lady Angelique Barstow runs the `Creative Thinkers' Colony' for fledgling artists and rejects the confines of marriage that would destroy her life's work. She hatches a plan to be caught in a
compromising position with the rakish brother of the Earl of Stoursbridge. But Lord Lucas Hayden, Earl of Stoursbridge, is desperate to reform that brother's reputation and to groom him to take over the family business so that Lucas can cope with his wife's wife's ghost who demands that he discover and punish her killer.
When Lucas learns of Angelique's plan for his brother, he masquerades as his own servant in order to disrupt it, but finds himself seduced by her charm, intellect, and passion. When their affair is discovered, they must contend with marriage-minded relatives, accusations of murder, a restless ghost, and a mysterious killer who is closing in on them. And Angelique could lose much more than her reputation; she could lose the one man in the world whom she can truly
"I thought my display would inspire a different reaction from you."
Lucas sat on a tall stool and leaned in over a rough-hewn table while Angelique stood in front of an easel, making large strokes with a piece of charcoal. The easel was angled away from him so he couldn't discern her work, but he prayed the lady's memory couldn't recall every lurid detail of him that he'd just revealed to her. He checked his coat buttons for the third time to ensure that he was duly covered, then cupped his snifter in his hand and quaffed his second
glass of cognac.
Angelique lifted her fingers to her upper lip to cover her smile. "You are indeed an inspiration." Bright pink color crept into her cheeks as she spoke. "I do hope to paint your portrait, after
"And what part of that portrait are you sketching right now?"
She smiled broadly, beguilingly. "Your face, of course."
He didn't believe her for a second. But an indecent portrait was low on his list of concerns at the moment. "What has influenced you to pursue other interests with me?"
She stared at the canvas in front of her, still blushing. "Will you make me say it? Will you insist that I share every detail of my attraction to you?"
Dear God, how he wanted to hear her say it. How had it come to this? With every word she spoke, he felt more drawn to her. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs she spun in his mind. She was not the kind of woman who interested him. No Society lady ever had been. Still, she was an enticing creature.
"There are other advantages in choosing you." She put down her charcoal and brushed her hands against her smock as she walked toward him.
The motion of her hands over her body outlined her gorgeous curves and Lucas' mouth went dry. "Do tell."
"Well, because of your position, my family would never consider forcing a marriage to save my honor."
"Do you believe I'm the sort of man who would…kiss and tell?"
"I'd not presume such a thing. But perhaps in this case, you would consider it. I've told you that Mr. Mosely will demand substantiation of my story."
"There is another way, Angelique. Why not just ask me to lie for you? Is it that matter of attraction?" He reached out and rested his fingers against her hand. Once again, he felt an unexpected thrill course through him.
"A servant's word wouldn't hold enough weight, and Mosely has already pegged me as a liar. There would have to be a witness to at least a kiss and an indecent embrace. Or to a man leaving my unchaperoned company at an odd hour." She lifted her gaze to his and squared her shoulders. "And yes, it's true. I won't deny that I'm drawn to you, and that I desire much more from you than just a kiss. That's not such an unreasonable thing for a twenty-three-year old woman to feel, is it?"
He blinked hard, taken aback by her forthright admission, and more flattered by it than he cared to acknowledge.
She scowled at his slight reaction. "Don't worry. I'm not completely broken down. I have all of my own teeth."
He laughed, but didn't correct her misunderstanding. "All of them? Well, that is quite a bonus."
She ignored his comments and continued her explanation. "I'm a feme sole. Do you know what that means, Luke?"
He nodded. "Your father left you your own inheritance."
"Yes. There's a solicitor who acts as the guardian of my trust until I turn twenty-four, but it is my money. To marry would forfeit that. All of my wealth, and the fate of my parents' legacy, would be put in the hands of some greedy man."
"Perhaps you can marry a man with his own wealth who doesn't covet yours."
"Hmph. You've obviously not spent enough time with your lord's peers. Even Lord Edgar, who is nice enough and seems to adore my sister, refused a marriage if my father so much as set aside pin money for Lady Melanie."
Lucas raised his eyebrows. He knew the viscount's family had no great wealth of their own, but to deny his wife anything in her own name seemed archaic. And explained Angelique's view of marriage.
"I will die unmarried," she said, "but I don't intend to die an untouched old maid. Forgive me if I shock you, but if you're not comfortable with my request, I shall seek out someone more amenable to the idea."
It felt like she had landed a blow in the midpoint of his chest. He sucked in his breath and pushed down the jealousy that rose like bile in his throat. He told himself that it was only concern for her that sparked his visceral reaction. There was no telling what manner of jackal might appear to prey on the innocence of such a lovely and eager woman. And for her part, Angelique still had no idea what she was suggesting. But perhaps if she did…