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Nominated for RT's 2011 Reviewers' Choice Award
for Best Historical KISS Hero
(Knight in Shining Silver)
Every Scandalous Secret
Book 3 of the "Scandalous Lady" trilogy
Who is the lady setting London astir?
Notorious rake Leo Wade is not one for house parties--he'd much rather pass the time in London's gaming halls...and ladies' boudoirs. But when his gambling instinct leads him to believe the enchanting and utterly impossible Miss Susanna Leland is the anonymous model of a shockingly immodest painting...he braves country tedium for a chance to prove the lady's secret.
With one foot already firmly planted on the shelf, Susanna cares not a fig for propriety. But even she never imagined she'd become caught up in a ridiculous game of cat and mouse, and certainly not with the most wicked man of her acquaintance! Susanna has absolutely no intention of letting Leo confirm his suspicions, no matter how persuasive he can be.
Until sweet temptation becomes too much to bear, and they both learn that the price of trust may just be worth every scandalous secret.
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(The following is the property of the author and Avon Books, and cannot be copied or reprinted without permission.)
(Story Setup: Leo Wade discovered Susanna Leland and her two female cousins posing as boys to steal a nude painting from the wall of a gentlemen’s club. To protect each other, all three women vowed to be the model. He and his two friends made a wager to discover the truth. Leo followed spinster Susanna to a country house party.)~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
First Excerpt Second Excerpt
Susanna could still hear the wind and rain lashing at the windows at the front door of the mansion. And she wasn’t tired. Instead of ascending one side of the curved double staircase, she went straight through the long central corridor of the house, to the two-story conservatory that framed the back of the house in iron and glass. Globe lamps hung along several of the paths, illuminating trees that touched the very top of the glass ceiling and disappeared as if into the darkness of night. Walking forward, feeling the wetness of fern leaves brushing her arms, she could see the rain running in rivulets down the glass, but nothing beyond, with the world in darkness.
“Do you like storms?”
She whirled about, almost dropping her candle. Mr. Wade blocked her path. His dark clothing seemed to fade into the background, leaving his face and hair lit with the golden glow of light. His eyes, ever amused, studied her.
“It is impolite to sneak up on a woman,” she scolded, trying to hide the way he’d set her heart pounding.
“I was not sneaking. I could even hear the shells crunch under my feet along the path.”
“Well I could only hear the storm. And what if someone saw you following me?”
“I am alone—you should not be here.” But oh the excitement of it surprised her, called to her.
“Other girls have female relatives at these house parties, to make sure they’re tucked in safe each night. But not you.”
“That is how I’m different—I’m not a young girl. I’m far too mature—”
“And on the shelf?”
“—to be held to such strict standards,” she finished, trying not to smile. “There are enough married and widowed ladies about to see to any chaperoning necessary.”
“But none of them are here right now,” he murmured, taking another step toward her.
The candlelight gleamed in his hair, shadowed his cheekbones. He looked teasing and dangerous all at once—it played with her nerves, setting off a tremble deep in her stomach as if he fingered the strings of a violin. She’d never experienced the like of it before.
“We didn’t finish our conversation,” Mr. Wade said.
“There is nothing left to talk about,” she answered calmly. “I posed for a painting, but you cannot prove it to your friends.”
“Not yet,” he agreed pleasantly. “But I will. Until then, we can talk.”
She knew he would attempt to use her words against her, but she doubted he could. Let him try to confuse her with the pretty phrases he used on gullible, green girls fresh from the schoolroom. She had asked about him before leaving London—he was not a gifted scholar, lacked even the will to be interested in his finances. But he always had plenty of coin. Did his brother give him an allowance?
In a low voice, he said, “When I first saw the painting, I came to a complete stop, unable to move.”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His words and the gravelly timbre of his voice had an unsettling effect on her in the shadowy dampness of the conservatory.
“There were many men as stunned as I, of course, for the painting was a new attraction. But there you were, reclining above us all, your skin golden with candlelight against a black background.”
She swallowed, surprised to notice the tightness in her chest, the way she felt too warm, even though the storm beyond chilled the conservatory, letting in drafts that seemed to swirl beneath her skirts.
“With your head arched back as if in ecstasy, I could not see your features. And there was that scarf, twisting about you.”
The warmth seemed to pool deep into her stomach, even between her thighs. His voice wove a spell that made her feel…sinful.
He was closer now, his smile gone, those dimples hidden, his green eyes as watchful as the deep forest.
He didn’t know anything about her—he didn’t know the truth.
She smiled. “Was that speech supposed to sway me? ‘Oh yes, Mr. Wade, I’ll tell you everything.’ Then you wasted your time and your performance.”
“I wasn’t performing.”
She laughed softly. “But you thought your pretty words would convince me to fall at your feet and offer proof for you to win that wager.”
He grinned, and reached to briefly cup her cheek. “No, this is merely the beginning battle in our little war, sweet Susanna.”
She let herself briefly experience the warmth of his hand before stepping back playfully. “Then you should retreat, general. Better yet—surrender.”
He laughed, hands on his hips, watching her as if she’d pleased him tonight, instead of refusing to succumb to his obvious ploys.
“I won’t be the one surrendering,” he assured her. “I’ll seduce the truth from you. And you’ll give me the proof I need to win.”
She almost laughed again, for no man had ever attempted to seduce her. But there was something about his confident certainty that intrigued her. “This is your plan? And you didn’t even try to keep it a secret, to at least surprise or fool me?” Once she might have thought his plan proved he lacked intelligence, but now she didn’t know.
He folded his arms across his chest. “There’s no need. As you’ve already said, you’re a woman, Susanna, not a debutante. And according to you, you were daring enough to pose for that painting. I’ll look forward to finding out what else you’ve done—and what you’ll do with me.”Second Excerpt:
(Story set-up: Susanna teaches sketching to the young ladies at the houseparty, and her students daringly sketch Leo by moonlight one evening.)
Susanna helped the women gather up their pencils and sketchbooks, and all took their leave of Mr. Wade as a group. It wasn’t until she reached the corridor of their bedrooms that she realized she hadn’t picked up her own sketchbook.
She returned to the gallery alone, peered in—
And found him sprawled on the sofa, her open sketchbook in his hand. He waved at her as if he’d been waiting patiently.
She walked across the gallery and held out her hand. “My book, please, Mr. Wade.”
He studied the rendition of himself. “You’re talented, Susanna.”
“Thank you,” she said. “My book, please.”
“It must have been easier for Roger Eastfield to paint you,” he said quietly. “He had oils at his command.”
She looked over her shoulder, feeling a surge of uneasiness. “Everything begins with a sketch. Please hand me my book.”
“But his black background looked so nuanced.”
“Because the paint was a mixture of different colors, not just black.” She stepped closer until she stood above him. “Mr. Wade, my book please. Do not make me take it from you.”
His eyes widened with feigned innocence, the green gleaming catlike in the shadows. “Can you? I would be most impressed.”
He slid it beneath his thigh, then shrugged out of his black evening coat. His shirt was light gray in the shadows, his waistcoat striped black and red. To her surprise, he turned and lay back on the sofa, crossing his legs at the ankle atop the far armrest.
He smoothed his hands along the fabric of the sofa. “When you supposedly posed for that painting, did you lie on something as exquisite as this, Susanna? What did it feel like against your bare skin?”
She pushed away the images his words evoked, knowing that they were too dangerous so late at night, with no one about.
“Show me how you posed,” he said, not smiling, though the usual spark of amusement still touched his eyes. “I believe I should lift my arms—”
“I am surprised you dare tease me,” she interrupted. “You know nothing about me or what I’ve done—”
“But I want to hear every detail.”
It was one thing to play a game with him, another to take too many risks that would damage her reputation. She gripped his arm and tried to draw him upright. Suddenly he grasped her by the upper arms, pulling her off her feet until she sprawled across his chest, her knees brushing the carpeted floor.
She gaped at him, their faces so close she could feel his warmth—or was that the warmth of his torso, pressed against hers clear down to her waist? She could actually sense the quickened thump of his heart against her ribs, and knew her pulse pounded an answering rhythm.
She felt all hot and tingling and aware; she was so very aware of an ache in her breasts, a trembling in her limbs, and how her mouth seemed parched because her lips were parted with her frantic breathing. Without thinking, she licked them, and saw an answering flare of interest in his narrowed eyes.
“Ah, you know just what to do to a man, Susanna,” he murmured.
He pulled her closer while she tried to lean away. “Mr. Wade, I only know that you need to release me. This is—”
He lifted his head to kiss her. She had only a brief impression of soft, warm lips, a moment to think A man is kissing me! before common sense had her turning her head away.
“Leo,” he murmured.
She gasped as he nuzzled behind her ear, then began a trail of kisses down her neck. His lips were softer than she’d imagined, moist, tempting.
“How is this seduction if I’m resisting?” she demanded, hearing the tremble in her voice.
He dropped his head back against the pillows and looked up at her. “Truly? You’re resisting?”
“Yes, although you may be unused to the reaction.”
When he released her arms, she rose to her feet and pulled her sketchbook out from under him.
With his usual smooth grace, he sat up and swung his legs to the floor, then patted his thighs. “Perhaps if you sit down in my lap, we can discuss our differences.”
Shaking her head at his daring, she made for the door at a brisk pace.
“Coward,” he called after her.
His laughter lingered in her mind until she reached her bedroom. Though she was still trembling at the unaccustomed sensations—and resolved to be more wary of her own reactions toward him—she felt a sense of triumph. He had thought such crude methods would work on her—and now he knew he was mistaken. Perhaps he would give up and return to London.
But she didn’t want him to.
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