Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Excerpt: How to Cross a Marquess by Jane Ashford

Excerpt: How to Cross a Marquess by Jane AshfordHow to Cross a Marquess by Jane Ashford
Series: The Way to a Lord's Heart #3
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 27th August 2019
Genres: Historical, Regency
Pages: 352
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The Marquess of Chatton and his neighbor Fenella Fairclough have known each other all their lives. They refused to marry each other years ago when their parents demanded it, and they won't concede now―even if circumstances have brought these former enemies much closer than they ever could have anticipated...

Enjoy the except of the latest release by Jane Ashford, “How to Cross a Marquess” and enter the giveaway for a chance to win “A Lord Apart” below!!


The warmth in his expression left Fenella shaken. She’d been braced for blame. She knew how to dismiss unjust accusations, taught by those her father had been tossing at her for as long as she could remember. But not to have to. That was another matter entirely. Relief was a pale word. Her throat thickened with tears.
She looked away to hide them, blinked them back. Their horses had ambled along at their own direction while their riders talked, and she saw that they’d veered closer to Clough House. Before them lay a dip in the land that was filled with bushes. “The raspberry thicket,” said Fenella. “I used to come here and pick berries whenever I could sneak away. How Mama scolded me for spoiling my dresses! But I couldn’t resist. I love raspberries.”
“I’ll pick some for you.”
“The thorns will tear your clothes.”
“No, they won’t. You can sit in the shade over there.” He turned his horse toward a cluster of saplings at the side of the thicket, grinning over his shoulder. An antic mood seemed to have overtaken him.
The breeze carried the scent of sun-warmed raspberries. Fenella’s mouth watered. “I could pick my own,” she said.
“Please allow me.”
He spoke like a knight offering some perilous feat of chivalry. She decided to let him.
They dismounted, leaving their mounts to the rich grass on the side of the hill. Fenella settled in the shade and watched Roger plunge into the raspberry bushes. He pulled out his handkerchief and began to fill it with ripe berries. Stains spread over the linen as he added to his haul. She saw the thorns catch at his coat sleeves and riding breeches. They scratched his glossy boots as well. His valet wouldn’t appreciate that. But Roger didn’t appear to care. He moved deeper into the thicket, until only his hat was visible above the arching canes. And then that too vanished. “Are you all right?” called Fenella.
“Dashed briars snatched my hat,” he replied. “Just a… Got it.” The crown of his hat reappeared above the branches. He was near the center of the thicket, at the bottom of the dip. It was much harder to get out of that little valley than to go in, Fenella remembered. The slant of the bushes seemed to push one back down.
Roger’s face showed above the vegetation. He must be standing on tiptoe. “There you are,” he said. “I got turned around.”
He moved slowly toward her, obviously having to fight his way out. His head, and then his broad shoulders, came into view. He held one arm in front of his face to stave off the thorns.
“Hotter in there,” he said when he finally emerged. Sweat gleamed on his face. He came over to her, bowed, and set his bundle of berries beside her as if they were indeed the result of a knight’s quest. Fenella noted an angry scratch across the back of his right hand. At least it wasn’t bleeding. She took a raspberry and ate it. The fruit was warm from the sun, sweet and tart at the same time. It melted on her tongue, utterly delicious. “Berries picked here are always better than any others,” she said.
Roger sat down in the grass beside her.
“You must have some, too. You did all the work.”
He ate one. “Very good.”
“Better than that,” Fenella said. “Luscious.” She held out a berry. He bent a little forward and took it, his lips brushing her fingertips, light as a butterfly’s wing, and still it stirred her.
“Luscious,” he agreed.
The word vibrated between them, expanding out to encompass far more than berries. The air was heavy with the hum of bees and the scent of fruit under the heat of the August sun.
They were hidden from the world here, Fenella noted. Even the horses would not be easily visible, due to the dip in the land and the height of bushes. They might have stepped outside of time. Her everyday life seemed far away.
Roger took a raspberry and held it out to her. Fenella leaned forward and opened her lips. He put the berry on her tongue. She bit into it, the intense flavor filling her mouth—piquant, delicious, another dart of pleasure. She held out a berry. He followed her example, bending toward her. She set the crimson fruit in his mouth without touching him. He held her gaze as he bit down.
The sultry atmosphere went to her head—the languorous warmth, the rustle of leaves overhead, the soft grass beneath her, Roger’s lips red with berry juice. Hers must be as well, Fenella thought. The same hue, the same taste. The idea seemed to pull her forward, and the next time he held out a berry, she leaned past it and kissed him.
He did taste of raspberries. But the kiss was so much more than that. The sweet taste of the fruit slid slowly into a melting of her whole body.
Strong arms came around her and pulled her close. She put hers around his neck and let herself sink with him onto the grass. The world contracted into a kernel of dizzying sensation.
What kisses, she thought. She’d known she was drawn to Roger, but she hadn’t realized it would be like this. His touch set her vibrating with desire. She wanted to give him all he could ask, to take everything he could offer. She pressed up against him. Their kisses wove a tapestry of longing, begging to be unraveled. He murmured her name.
“It went this way,” shouted a boy’s voice from other side of the thicket.
“Into the brambles?” replied another.
“Right under, the cunning little devil.”
“I ain’t desperate keen to crawl in there.”
“It’s John and Tom,” whispered Fenella.
“Deuce take them,” replied Roger.
“Perhaps it will come out the other side,” said John. “We can go around.” Footsteps pounded along the edge of the thicket.
Roger pulled her closer as if to protect her from this intrusion. But his instinct was wrong in this case. They couldn’t be found embracing. Fenella pulled away and sat up. Her hat had fallen off. She retrieved it and set it on her head, plucking and pinning stray strands of hair into place.
“Must speak to you,” Roger whispered.
“Shh. Not now.”
“Must.” He couldn’t stay silent. He had to tell her. This was the tricky bit, where he could win her, or lose everything. If only he could make his damnable tongue form the right phrases, and in a hurried whisper, no less.


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About Jane Ashford

JANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Excerpt and Giveaway: SEAL Wolf Surrender by Terry Spear

Excerpt and Giveaway: SEAL Wolf Surrender by Terry SpearSEAL Wolf Surrender by Terry Spear
Series: SEAL Wolf #6
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 28th May 2019
Genres: Military, Paranormal
Pages: 352
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For a shifter with no interest in she-wolves...he sure is territorial.

Wolf shifter and former Navy SEAL Brock Greystoke isn't interested in she-wolves. The last one in his life ambushed him with the intent to kill. So when he's tasked with helping his cousin's friend get to a wedding, he has no intention of getting involved with her...

She-wolf Natalie Silverton has inadvertently crossed a group of dangerous criminals, and she's in dire need of a bodyguard. Good thing Brock is there to protect her. At every turn, their work--and play--brings them closer to catching the criminals and to each other, but Brock will have to get them out of this alive if he has any hope of winning Natalie's heart.

Enjoy an excerpt from the all new SEAL Wolf series release, SEAL Wolf Surrender by Terry Spear and don’t forget to enter the giveaway below!

She took hold of Brock’s free hand and pulled at him. “Come on, honey. We need to get back to the celebration.”

Brock looked down at her and smiled and squeezed her hand.

She felt her face flush with heat. She hadn’t dated in more than two years, and she had to admit Brock was total hotness.

The last guy she’d gotten close to had turned out to be using her. He’d wanted to get insight on her parents’ successful garden nursery in Wichita Falls so that he could start his franchise garden shop and get rid of his competition. After she figured that out, she’d had trouble trusting men’s motives, though she hadn’t met any eligible wolves in Amarillo after their move there. She hated feeling that way, but it only took one lousy rat to prove not everyone could be trusted. She’d felt so bad because her parents had suffered too, not just her.

She heard footsteps behind her and was worried that the wolf was following them.

“Don’t worry about it,” Brock whispered in her ear, then pulled her to a stop and kissed her, turning their bodies so he could see who was following them. Still, he got into the kiss, as if he really was her honey.

Well, she was totally into going along with the game, since she’d started this anyway. She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned into the kiss, tonguing him as his body pressed against hers. Hard muscle and the stirring of an arousal. She almost laughed at turning him on so quickly, but that would have ruined the ruse.

Their pheromones were zinging all over the place, calling for more, and she was surprised at the intensity of the intrigue between the two of them.

He smiled at her, almost looking a little sheepish, his eyes a bit glazed. Then he pulled her away to walk to the Humvee. She was dying to know if he saw Marek behind them, but if the other wolf was following them, he hadn’t walked past them when they’d stopped to kiss.

Brock slipped his arm around her as they walked to an elevator and got on and pushed the button for the second floor. She didn’t say a word, thinking Brock was going to the wrong floor so the guy wouldn’t learn what he was driving. And what his license plate number was. When the elevator opened on two, Brock punched the button for the third floor. When they reached that floor, he pushed one.

He smiled roguishly down at her. Natalie chuckled. She really didn’t believe it would work, but if the guy was trying to follow them, he’d be running up and down the stairs. When they reached their floor, they headed for their row and soon were in the Humvee and on their way. She was trying to see if the guy had figured out which vehicle Brock was driving. She noticed Brock glancing in his rearview mirror too.

“Do you think he’ll suspect something more since we were trying to evade him?” she asked, worried that it might have been a little obvious.

“He already suspected you took his bag. I was trying to prevent him from learning who I am and where I live. Which would mean he might follow you there too. That’s a lot of money to lose. He wouldn’t know I’m with a pack here or anything about me. So he doesn’t know the kind of danger he could face if he followed us out there. More than anything, I worry about you and when you need to go home. He won’t know your address or name unless he tries to follow you home, and that could be a problem.”

She hadn’t had anyone but her parents to worry about her in a long time, so she really thought the world of Brock for caring. “But I won’t have Marek’s money. Not after we burn it tonight.”

“He won’t know that. And he’d probably figure it would be easier to get the truth out of a lone woman than it would be when you have me at your side. If he didn’t make it to our parking garage level and see my vehicle and the license plate, he might hang around the airport, thinking you’ll be going to Amarillo soon.”

“Great.”

“Well, if he does come after you here, he’ll be one sorry wolf.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have tried to lose him.”

“Oh, I’ll go after him. He’s made the mistake of coming here. I’ve got his name, his scent, and I’ll run a check on him. As long as that’s his real name, I can run him down. I’ll definitely be escorting you to the airport when you leave and be watching out for the guy.”

“Right. You’re a PI. I keep forgetting. Do you ever do bodyguard work?” She never thought she’d be asking a perfect stranger if she could hire him as her bodyguard until this was resolved. But she didn’t want to bring this business home with her and get her parents into the middle of it without having some additional protection.

Brock smiled at her. “In the line of duty as a SEAL, yeah. As a civilian, not yet. But I’m up for hire for anything you might need.”

Anything? Lighting her fire further? She felt she needed to fan herself.

“God, I can’t believe I just came to a wedding and found I have to hire a bodyguard. I will never, ever again grab a bag at the airport baggage claim without checking the name tag on it first. My concern is when I leave here, he might have people watching for me on my return to Amarillo. They won’t know my name, but he could send a description. Then my parents could be at risk, if the criminal followed me home. I’m not into all this cloak–and–dagger stuff. So I don’t know what to expect.”

5 Copies of SEAL Wolf Undercover

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About Terry Spear

USA Today bestselling author Terry Spear has written over 35 paranormal romances featuring werewolf and jaguar shapeshifters. In 2008, Heart of the Wolf was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. A retired officer of the U.S. Army Reserves, Terry also creates award-winning teddy bears that have found homes all over the world and is raising two Havanese puppies. She lives in Spring, Texas.

Excerpt and Giveaway: Smooth Moves by Marie Harte

Excerpt and Giveaway: Smooth Moves by Marie HarteSmooth Moves by Marie Harte
Series: Veteran Movers #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 28th May 2019
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Military
Pages: 384
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He may be all brawn
But when it really counts... His heart is all gold

Ex-Marine Cash Griffith is a beacon for trouble. Working for the family moving company, he does his best to keep a low profile, but he can’t help finishing a fight someone else starts. There’s one person at work who annoys and baffles him. But if he even thought about taking her on, she’d put him down. Hard. Which is a real problem, because Cash wants nothing more than to tangle with sexy Jordan Fleming.

The ex-Army MP has her hands full with her new job and her rebellious teenage brother. Getting him through summer school is a chore. Figuring out what to do with her life now that she’s a civilian is disheartening. But one thing she lives for—doing battle with the obnoxious, arrogant, incredibly hot Marine at work.Their battles turn into true camaraderie, then into something more. Helping each other out with family problems, Cash and Jordan learn to trust each other. One kiss leads to another, and friendship starts turning to love. But when dangerous secrets come to light, their bond will either break or strengthen into a future they both deserve.

Enjoy an excerpt from Smooth Moves, the second book in the Veteran Movers Series by Marie Harte and enter the giveaway below!

5 Copies of The Whole Package

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In the front yard, away from the mess, the boys and their dog played. Thank God at least the kids stayed away, frolicking in the growing wet.

Cash swore and slicked his hair back, and Jordan tried really hard not to ogle the man. But the rain made it difficult to ignore the crew’s fine physiques—at least, that was her excuse.

He was part owner of the company, yet he worked alongside the guys as if just another employee. All too easily she imagined former Gunnery Sergeant Cash Griffith in uniform. Sadly, she’d noticed everything about the man from day one. Cash exuded leadership. Though what normally came out of his mouth was either crass, obnoxious, or rude, he made people laugh and somehow want to follow him. Hell, he annoyed her to no end, but she could see his natural fit for command.

He had legs like tree trunks, a broad chest, and thickly muscled arms she’d dreamed of holding her more than once. His short, dark hair spoke of time in the military, kept trim but not buzzed short. And that stubborn jaw had temped her more than once to punch it then kiss it better.

Cash’s bright-green eyes seemed to be constantly on her, filling her with heat.

As they were now.

She pretended she hadn’t been staring at him so hard, and he snorted. The big, bad man who intimidated most others didn’t frighten her in the slightest. Because Cash was a protector at heart. He might swear, act gruff, and loom over everyone with that condescending smirk, but he was always the first in line to offer to help.

And he hadn’t lashed out at the kids all day, when he’d had plenty of opportunity to do so. Especially now. She groaned. “Judy, am I seeing things, or did the boys just go inside the truck?”

Judy frowned. “They were told not to do that.”

Several times today. “Hey, Cash. The boys are—”

“I see them,” he snarled. Apparently, he’d reached his limit. He stalked inside the truck, and she heard, “That’s it! You two, out, now. And take your dog with you. This is no place for kids.”

Silence reigned for a moment.

“You can get hurt if—”

Something crashed, the dog bolted, and the boys screamed. Not a we’re-having-fun yell but the scared kind.

Everyone rushed to the truck, and Hector, closest to the ramp, hurried inside first.

“My babies!” Judy cried, but Heidi held her back from entering.

Jordan gasped. Inside, Cash looked like Atlas, crouched and holding the weight of a large grandfather clock on his broad shoulders and upper back while one of the boys lay under him, frozen in fear.

The other twin stood on a couch behind the overturned furniture, staring in shock.

Hector rushed to pull the boys out while Jordan helped a visibly straining Cash edge the clock off his shoulder.

“Why did the kids have to tip this thing over? Why not the lamp that weighs ten pounds? Oh my God. This is heavy.” She couldn’t believe he’d been holding it, crouched as he was, off the boy.

“No shit, Sherlock,” he said through gritted teeth.

Her own shoulders ached as she laughed. “Okay, okay. Don’t be so dramatic.” She paused then added the ultimate insult, “Nancy.”

He laughed. “You’re such a pain in my ass.”

“Ditto.”

Then Hector and Heidi were there, easing the furniture and a few other skewed pieces back into place.

Once everyone had exited the truck back into the shelter of the garage, Heidi glared at the twins, her accent growing thicker the madder she became. “I told you not to play in there. Nothing is strapped down yet. You could have been hurt.”

The boys looked a lot more sulky than sorry, reminding Jordan of her own brother. Rafi, who’d taken money from her wallet. Rafi, who’d involved himself with a questionable bunch of teens. Rafi, who seemed to be on the verge of throwing his entire future away. Rafi, who needed a firm kick in his teenage ass.

Sorry, Judy. This has to be done. Jordan stepped forward and grabbed each boy by the neck of his T-shirt, yanking him forward. She glared into their beady little eyes. “That. Is. It! If Cash hadn’t been there, one of you might have been seriously hurt. Or crushed.”

“Or dead,” Cash said bluntly. “That clock weighs a ton, enough to crush a tiny little skull for sure. You ever seen brains leak out of your head, kid? It’s gross.”

Ja. And messy,” Heidi added, her face stiff.

Hector pinched the bridge of his nose, and Jordan felt for him, sensing her own headache coming on.

The twins flinched. Finally.

She dragged them closer. “You will now thank Cash for saving your sorry little asses.”

They stared at her with wide eyes. Judy blinked at her through tears.

“And you will apologize to your mother for worrying her. She just lost your nana; she doesn’t want to lose you too. Look at her.” She shook them, not hard but enough to get their attention. “She’s worried about you.”

Judy had been silently crying.

The boys lowered their heads in shame. Jordan heard sniffles. If only it were that easy to get her brother in line.

“We’re sorry, Mom.”

“Yeah. We’re sorry.”

Jordan nudged them toward Judy. “Now you go give her a hug. Then you stay with her. Because if you don’t, Cash is going to paddle your butts until you can’t sit for a week. And your mom won’t even mind.”

Cash flexed his huge hands, and Jordan saw the boys’ fright. Heck, she wouldn’t want to be spanked by a hand that large either.

Well… No. No I wouldn’t.

About Marie Harte

Caffeine addict, boy referee, and romance aficionado, NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Marie Harte has over 100 books published with more constantly on the way. She’s a confessed bibliophile and devotee of action movies. Whether hiking in Central Oregon, biking around town, or hanging at the local tea shop, she’s constantly plotting to give everyone a happily ever after.

Excerpt and Giveaway: A Wolf Apart by Maria Vale

Excerpt and Giveaway: A Wolf Apart by Maria ValeA Wolf Apart by Maria Vale
Series: The Legend of All Wolves #2
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 7th August 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
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Can a human truly make room in her heart for the Wild?

Thea Villalobos has long since given up trying to be what others expect of her. So in Elijah Sorensson she can see through the man of the world to a man who is passionate to the point of heartbreak. But something inside him is dying…

Elijah Sorensson has all kinds of outward success: bespoke suits, designer New York City apartment, women clamoring for his attention. Except Elijah despises the human life he’s forced to endure. He’s Alpha of his generation of the Great North Pack, and the wolf inside him will no longer be restrained…

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Here Elijah visits Thea’s isolated cabin. He comes to the realization that his usual posturing isn’t going to work on her and he decides to try something else.  

“Here’s the truth. I didn’t do anything. The letter you wrote for Liebling? The one that you showed me in New York? It would have been just fine as it was. A change or two maybe to make it stronger. Our letterhead, sure. But it was fine as it was.”

“So why did you say it was more complicated?” The smell of coffee hits the back of my throat as she spoons the grounds into the filter.

“Because I wanted to see you again.”

She stops for a moment before screwing the lid back on and returning it to the cold box.

“That’s kind of pathetic.”

“I know. I’m not used to being pathetic, but there it is.”

A thin wisp of steam starts to curl up from the kettle.

“And why are you here now?”

“Same reason. I wanted to see you again, and after yesterday…I wasn’t sure you would.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t have.” She raises her arm, stroking her cheek with the back of her hand. “Your skin is so soft,” she whispers, low and deep and urgent [imitating me]. “You should never wear anything but silk.”

If I weren’t so humiliated by the words, the sound of her voice would have made me come right there.

She grins and hands me the mug and a spoon.

“When you’re done with that, give it back.”

“What?”

“The spoon. I’ve only got one.”

She pours milk into the bowl in front of her and then coffee, and then taking the spoon from my hand, she swirls the clouds of milk through her bowl of coffee.

It is so terribly, achingly intimate.

There is, I realize, looking over the rim of my mug, only one of anything here. A single cup. A single bowl. A single small skillet. A single pot. A single chair. A single plate. A single towel hanging from the bathroom door.

The only thing that might accommodate more than one is the bed with its thick duvet and four pillows.

Doug wanted to expand Thea’s cabin. Install a refrigerator, a sofa, a TV. What did he say? “That’d be nice, right?” He wanted more. More noise, more stuff, more him.

But he missed the point of this place. Thea’s cabin isn’t just a shelter that could use modernizing and expanding; it’s a bulwark protecting her solitude. And no matter what he thought could be done, should be done, it would not be done, because there was no room here for more Doug or more of any man.

But…I am not any man. I am not a man at all. And as wolves, we understand what it is to be wordless. We understand the primal importance of silence.

She stirs distractedly, staring at the silence beyond the window.

“How long have you been here?”

“Four years,” she says, “give or take.”

“That’s a long time to be in the middle of nowhere. Do you ever get bored?”

“Bored? Never. I like the quiet. Helps me focus. For me, things get muddled when there are too many voices telling you what to do or how to be. Can I warm you up?”

You have got to be kidding me.

I glare down at the mountain ridge in my pants, pointing out that the only thing this woman with a steaming pot in her hand is offering to warm up is my coffee.

My…brain suddenly goes all curious about whether Doug is out of the picture. Because I don’t want him or anyone else offering to refill her.

“You don’t get lonely?”

“Sometimes. Not a big deal. Then I just make more effort to see friends. But most of the people I see need me. I like it. It feels more real than when someone’s squeezing you into their schedule, praying that you’ll cancel at the last minute.” She taps at the window with her finger, then wags the same finger. Even I, who am a creature of the forest, can’t see who she’s reprimanding. “Do you?” she asks. “Get lonely, I mean.”

“Me? Pffft. I see people all the time.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

I think of all the clients I have spent time with, laughing and impressing and cajoling. And all the women I have spent time with, laughing and impressing and seducing. And in the end, have come home, vomited, and crawled into bed with a wolf-shaped hole in my chest.

“Yes. Sometimes.”

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Excerpt and Giveaway: Brave New Earl by Jane Ashford

Excerpt and Giveaway: Brave New Earl by Jane AshfordBrave New Earl by Jane Ashford
Series: The Way to a Lord's Heart #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on 7th August 2018
Genres: Historical, Regency
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An Earl mired in melancholy is no match for a determined woman…

Widower Benjamin Romilly, Earl of Furness, has given up hope of finding happiness. His wife died in childbirth five years ago, leaving him with a broken heart and a child who only reminds him of his loss.

Miss Jean Saunders is a cousin by marriage. She doted on Benjamin’s late Countess, and can’t bear it when she hears rumors that the Earl is too bereaved to care for his young son. She arrives on the scene to evaluate his fitness as a father, and if necessary, to take his son away.

Jean’s sudden eruption into the Earl’s household simultaneously infuriates and invigorates him. She may be the only person who can breathe life into his neglected home—and his aching heart…

Jean searched the parlors on either side of front hall, calling softly and beginning to feel foolish. This was obviously a futile quest. She had given up and turned back when she noticed a line of light under the library door. She went in, finding the chamber still warm, the coals of a fire still glowing. “Tab?” she said.

“I beg your pardon?”

Jean started so violently that a drop of hot wax splattered from the candle to the back of her hand. The pain made her breath catch.

Lord Furness rose from the chair by the hearth. “What are you doing here?” she asked. “With no lights?” In her fright, she sounded accusing.

“I don’t sleep well,” he replied. “I often come down. And you?”

“I was looking for my kitten.”

“Got out, did he?” Still half in his broken reverie, Benjamin eyed his guest. The lines of her body were beautifully revealed by her thin wool dressing gown and gossamer nightdress. Her hair had been braided down her back, but soft tendrils had escaped all around her face. He imagined what that hair would look like loose—what a wild riot of curls.

“I don’t see how,” she said, her tone oddly defensive. “But he’s not in my room.” The candle wavered in her hand. “Oh, what if he’s in the kitchen when your cook gets up.”

“The cook will cope.” Miss Saunders’s unexpected appearance was like a dream, yet so different from the ones that usually disturbed his nights.

“Why must everything I do go wrong? I had this one small creature to care for—”

“And tomorrow we will find him,” Benjamin interrupted. “There’s no sense looking in the dark. Too easy for him to hide. We’ll turn out the staff in the morning. By then, he’ll be hungry and come looking for food.”

“Yes.” Miss Saunders startled suddenly, setting the light of her candle dancing over the walls. “The portrait seemed to move.”

Benjamin looked up at Alice’s likeness above the mantel. “Yes, when it’s dim like this, she does. Seem to.”

“You loved her very much,” said Miss Saunders softly.

“We met at a ball in London, fell in love, married, and were parted by death all in a year. Such a short time to encompass so much.”

“A life sliced in half,” she replied. Her tone was contemplative and…bitter?

“Yes.” Benjamin sank back into his chair. “You understand that?”

“Oh yes.” Absently, she sat down opposite, putting her candle on the low table by the fireplace.

“A love you lost?”

She shook her head, setting the errant curls bobbing. “Say rather…a person who defined my existence.”

It was a striking phrase. He waited a moment. When she didn’t go on, he asked, “Who?”

Miss Saunders hesitated before answering, “My mother.”

“Ah. That can be a deep bond.”

“Yes.”

The single word dropped between them like a rock tossed into a well. The echoes were odd, Benjamin thought. Not sadness, not regret. “You miss her a great deal.”

Miss Saunders laughed without humor. “How I wish I did. She haunts my dreams.”

Benjamin felt as if some mighty hand had reached deep inside him and struck a chord. His whole being resounded with it. He leaned forward and took her hand. It was trembling.

As his strong fingers closed over hers, Jean couldn’t look away. Under his dressing gown, his nightshirt was open at the neck. The strong column of his throat rose above a muscular chest. She’d never been more intensely aware of another person, much less a man.

“The past keeps its claws in us,” he said.

The phrase was so exactly right. “It feels like talons,” she said. “Sunk right in. No matter how you fight, they won’t come loose.”

“A mouse carried off by a hawk,” he said.

Lips parted in amazement at his understanding, Jean nodded. Lord Furness leaned nearer. She’d moved toward him as well, she realized, irresistibly. For a moment, a kiss seemed inevitable. They grew closer, closer. She could feel a hint of his breath on her skin.

Then, all at once, he seemed to become aware of their proximity, their laced hands. He let go, drew back. In a welter of emotion, Jean did the same. Color flickered in the corner of her eye; the image of her cousin Alice looked down on them from above the mantel.

Lord Furness cleared his throat. “So, you see.” He took a breath. “Previous…events make it more difficult with Geoffrey. For me. Despite what I might wish.”

Jean gazed at him.

“The resemblance.” He indicated the portrait with a gesture. “It…flashes out at me. There and then gone. He looks just like his mother, and then he doesn’t. If it was one or the other, I’m sure I’d grow accustomed. But I find it hard to take the…sudden blow.”

She nodded. Her dreams were like that. Some memories as well.

“I’m very glad you’re here to help,” he added.

“You are?”

“Yes.”

“I’d thought you seemed to be doing well. With the pony and all. Perhaps I wasn’t needed.”

He sat straighter. “We agreed to work together, for Geoffrey’s sake.”

“But I’m not sure what I can do.” She wanted to help him, Jean realized. She wanted a number of things she hadn’t recognized until tonight.

Lord Furness turned away. “I ran today,” he said in a harsh tone. “I had to get away from him. My own son. I hid in this room as I’ve been doing for far too long. I wanted never to come out.”

“But you did.”

“And I was a bear at dinner. Surly and curt.” He turned back to her. “Do you see that hiding is easier?”

Jean couldn’t look away from those blue-gray eyes. They were mirrors and temptations and beckoning abysses. “Yes,” she whispered.

He blinked. Jean felt as if she’d tripped on a missed step. She felt Alice staring down at her. In a confusion of emotion, she stood. “I…I should go up.”

He didn’t argue. Was he finding it just as difficult to speak? Shaken, Jean took her candle and went.

When she entered her room—minutes, eons, later—Tab was sitting on her bed. He gazed at her in seeming reproach and mewed. “Where were you?” cried Jean. “I looked everywhere.”

Mew,” said Tab. He kneaded the damask coverlet, pulling a thread of the pattern loose.

“Don’t. Oh, I’ll have to ask for a plain bedcover.” She put the candlestick on the bedside table and ran a hand over the kitten’s silky fur. He flopped over and offered his pale belly, tiny paws waving in the air. Jean laughed and petted him.

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About Jane Ashford

JANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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