Friday, August 29, 2008

Author Spotlight: Melody Thomas

Today's author in the spotlight is Melody Thomas and her latest release, Passion and Pleasure in London, which hit bookstores on August 26, 2008.

Years after receiving her Criminal Justice degree Melody Thomas discovered the historical romance genre. True legends like M.M Kaye, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Judith McNaught, and Penelope Williamson, sparked her love for writing and convinced her she wanted to be an author. For the last eight years she has brought her own passionate stories to life.

In the past, she has written westerns for Leisure under Lori Morgan and Pirate adventure books for Berkley under Laura Renken. Her books have been five times reviewer nominated by Romantic Times Bookclub for Best Adventure and Best Historical Suspense and Gothic categories. They have won the Holt Medallion twice, the WISRWA Writer's Choice Award, the Affaire de Couer reader's Choice award Most recently, Wild and Wicked in Scotland won the Beacon award for the best historical of 2007. Her books will be published in five foreign languages worldwide.

Melody lives in the Chicago area where she is also the former president for the Windy City RWA chapter.

For more information on her books check out: WWW.MelodyThomas.com . Happy Reading.

AMAZON LINK: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0061470937/ref=ord_cart_shr?%5Fencoding=UTF8&m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&v=glance

BN: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Passion-and-Pleasure-in-London/Melody-Thomas/e/9780061470936/?itm=1


Can two people rediscover their passion for life in the love they have for each other?

Winter Ashburn was once the toast of the ton, but now she skirts the margins of high society by stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Her latest mark is none other than Rory Jameson, the rake who dared mistake her for a lady of the evening. Winter has stolen from her fair share of scandalously handsome men in the past . . . so why does her heart beat faster as she approaches his door.

Rory Jameson is a rake, it's true. And he's caught many a thief while on secret missions for the crown, but none have been this intriguing, this enticing. He will make Winter repay what she took
so shamelessly . . . and melt her icy facade with the heat of his wicked touch. But her kiss sets his soul on fire--now he will never be satisfied until he has made this alluring temptress his own.


Outside LondonSummer 1877Temptation came in many forms. The shine of a gold coin, the taste of fine whiskey. A fine woman with eyes the color of expensive dark chocolate.
Rory Jameson knew temptation. And he liked chocolate.
What he could see of the woman’s hair beneath the voluminous hood of her cloak was as dark as her exotic eyes. He’d felt her gaze pause on him as she’d squeezed into the crowded taproom, then made her way toward the long oaken bar with an ease born of familiarity.
Buried in the smoke and noise surrounding him, Rory watched her, intrigued by the womanly shape her cloak failed to hide. Everything about her brought to mind a night of sin. Over the rim of a shot glass of smooth Irish whiskey, a smile slowly tugged at his mouth. He had finally found something worthy of his interest in this backwoods hamlet.
Rory was a man who enjoyed his vices. He’d lived hard, but unlike many of his peers, he hadn’t died young. And he had no intention of doing so. At least not tonight.
Indeed, at two and thirty, he’d managed to live longer than most ever expected. A combination of luck and fortitude got him this far in a profession that fed its young into the gristmill just to see what came out on the other side. He’d seen much of the world in one fashion or another and intended to see the rest before old age or a bullet took him off the playing field forever.
He feared little, except perhaps missing his niece’s birthday and disappointing his sister, which in the end had been what brought him to this part of England on this sleepy summer’s eve. The letter she’d received a month earlier from their estranged grandfather burned more than a hole in his pocket and, more than once, he’d wondered how Lord Granbury had found him.
He relegated those thoughts to the back of his mind as he relaxed in his chair and felt it creak beneath his weight. He sat in the shadows near the opened window, his legs casually crossed at the ankles. Soft leather riding boots hugged his calves. He drank as he continued to watch the dark-eyed beauty’s progress across the room as she stopped to talk to the barkeep. Her hood slipped slightly to her shoulders revealing her profile and he wondered for a moment at her age.
His eyes narrowed as he watched her exchange, her gloveless hands animated as she spoke, the movement of her lips drawing his eyes to her mouth.
Arousal pressed against the fine black wool of his trousers, which he found damn hard to ignore. His mind noted that everything about her seemed out of place in this crowded public room filled with a medley of drunken men, footpads, and slatterns, yet no one accosted her. In fact, the burly barkeep currently eyed Rory, something of which he had just became aware. The oaf ’s silent warning seeming to overtake other patrons as well for they too turned to peer toward where Rory sat, as if he’d trespassed in forbidden territory. The air around him grew chilled. Recognizing the type of men here, he suspected the only reason he’d not been challenged yet was that his manner and clothing warned them he would prove to be something more than a casual mark.
Amused by his interest in the local entertainment, Rory tipped back the shot of whiskey, liberating his conscience as he set the glass on the scarred table next to the half-empty bottle. He stood, removed a coin from his pocket, and flipped it into his shot glass. At two inches over six feet, he had to duck his head to avoid bumping the low-hanging gas lamp. He didn’t look back at the girl, though he could feel her eyes on him now. The sensation was as physically arousing as if she’d put her hands all over him. And it was as novel as it was discomfiting. Perhaps even more so because she’d left him with a curiosity. He wanted to know who she was.
Winter Ashburn’s hand paused on the frayed edge of the curtain separating her from the crowded taproom, her gaze lingering on the door through which the tall, dark-haired stranger in black had just passed. The mammoth rack of antlers above the oaken door seemed to frame the quiet drama of his exit in her mind as she stood hidden within the confining shadows of the storage room. She dropped the curtain, shocked as awareness of him shimmied through her veins like an electrical current. The man was a stranger, an outsider yet there had been something familiar about his lazy smile.
And the race of her heart had nothing to do with the frantic reason that had brought her to this inn tonight.A solid thud of the door sounded behind Winter, and she turned to greet the older woman who stepped into the room. A soiled apron clung to Mrs. Derwood’s ample bosom where her hands now made use of the apron skirt as if it were a towel.
Mrs. Derwood’s massively built son, the Stag & Huntsman’s proprietor and barkeep who had directed Winter into this storage area, was also the sheriff. He had once been the overseer for Winter’s father’s stable of horses at Everleigh Hall, and his mother a cook while they’d lived there. Winter had known both Derwoods her entire life, and always felt safe inside the walls of this inn.
“I would have been here sooner,” Winter said, holding out the scrap of paper in her hand. “But I only just received your note.”
Mrs. Derwood’s brown eyes softened as she approached. “Fie on that rascal brother of yers for not tellin’ ye we found yer mam. She is with Mrs. Smythe.”
Last month, Winter’s mam had been making nightly treks to the cemetery where Winter’s father was buried. Father Flannigan had found her asleep atop the grave. Tonight was worse though--Winter hadn’t even known Mam was missing until she’d received Mrs. Derwood’s message. She’d been looking for her errant brother this entire evening.
Winter scraped a hand through her unbound hair. Tears suddenly filled her eyes. “I’m sorry to put you through this again.” Suddenly tired, for these incidents had become too common this past year, she looked away. She disliked showing emotions and took great care to keep them walled most of the time. But tonight had been too close a call. “I just don’t know what I’d do if something happened to her.”
“Leave her be. Mrs. Smythe could do with the company as her husband just recently passed. Besides, ye take too much on yerself.” Mrs. Derwood patted her like a babe and Winter laughed at the incongruous thought that it would be perfectly natural to burp. “Now, that’s a good girl.”
Wiping the moisture from her cheeks with her fingertips, Winter drew away. “Thank goodness the baron is in London. He would be none too pleased to learn of Mam’s latest escapade.”
Not that Winter cared what the bastard thought, but his money gave him the power to destroy their lives. And he would, too, if he learned that in addition to Mam’s illness, she had now taken it upon herself to wander about the night. The baron would lock Mam away.
“Your uncle should be the one brought to shame, lass.” Mrs. Derwood took Winter’s hands, her concern mitigating the sternness of her expression. “You should be with them in London for the Season.”
“Goodness, no.” Winter withdrew her hands. She had never even danced a waltz in public. “I don’t care about such frivolity and nonsense.”
“Nonsense. Your uncle don’t want you with him because you outshine that snippety daughter of his, lass. It is you what should be weddin’ Granbury’s heir--”
“Mrs. Derwood.” Winter pulled the hood of her cloak over her hair. “It’s late. Please, I need to be getting back to Perry before he and Robert get into their usual mischief.”
“I’ll have Old Ben fetch the cart and take you back.”
“I have no need to worry about ghouls, ghosts, or wild dogs surprising us the woods. Perry and Robert are in full character tonight.”
“If you would wait a minute, I’ve something for them in the kitchen.”
Mrs. Derwood bustled out of the room. The noise filtering through the curtained barrier from the taproom eased over the silence that followed the elderly woman’s departure.
Barrels and crates filled the airless storage room. The smell of yeast and a hint of the night’s smoked boar teased Winter’s senses. She touched a barrel as if it were an old friend. This place had been like a second home to her since her father died.
Though on paper, Winter Ashburn might be the great-granddaughter of a duke, she never let herself think any more about how things used to be when her father was alive. She focused these days on how to keep her life running as smoothly as possible. As long as she did nothing to draw her uncle’s attention, he ignored her, which was just as she wanted it to remain.
Baron Richly was the husband of her father’s older sister, and had entered Winter’s life just before her father’s death left the family without funds to pay their debts. In a matter of months, Winter had gone from society’s prevailing darling to someone her father’s once staid friends pitied. Not a single high-minded elitist stepped forward to stop the baron from taking her beloved Everleigh. The only people who had aided her during those awful years were the estate’s tenants and many of the villagers. They were Winter’s family now.Winter held no love for the baron’s world and no allegiance to an establishment that made paupers out of other men’s souls as well as their purses. In her mind, aristocrats and nabobs--aristocrat wannabes--were notoriously worthless, and a wealthy reprobate might find his pockets considerably lighter before leaving the boundaries of this hamlet.
And just that fast, her thoughts returned to the dark-haired stranger whose eyes had boldly assessed her in the pub.
Maybe it was the music coming from the other room as the fiddler took up his bow and a jaunty tune drifted back to her.
Like the shadow of a great bird slowly spreading its wings, the stranger began to fill her thoughts. Or maybe he had been at the back of her mind all along. In persona, he embodied every aristocratic attribute she despised, but somehow she sensed he was not like the other gentlemen of her narrow acquaintance. Despite his languid sprawl, he’d exuded danger--along with his palpable sexuality and arrogance. She couldn’t place where she might have seen him before. But there was something familiar about him.
Winter walked to the small window that looked out over the livery where she’d left her brother. But it wasn’t for Perry whom her eyes searched.
Idly folding her arms beneath her cloak, she narrowed her attention to the white-washed livery and surrounding paddock. A full moon picked out the mist rising silently from the ground and the fleeting shadow of a spotted hound.
Had the stranger already ridden out of the yard? An odd sense of loss fell over her.
Mrs. Derwood returned carrying a basket filled with goodies. “Here ye be, mum. Don’t be shy about eatin’ some of these victuals yourself. They’re fer sharing. Ye tell Master Perry and that scamp, Robert, I said so, mum.”
“I will.” Winter thanked the woman, not only for the basket, but also for helping take care of Mam.
Mrs. Derwood opened the back door to the crisp night air. “Now run along and give that sweet potato pie to those two young pirates outside. Then hie yerself home. No good ever comes on a night with a full moon.”
Once outside the Stag & Huntsman, and despite Mrs. Derwood’s ominous full-moon superstitions, Winter found herself in better spirits than she had been inside. She followed the familiar sound of laugher and discovered her brother with his friend behind the livery. Perry loved caring for the horses, his father’s son to be sure. He had been too young when their father died to remember the celebrated Ashburn stables.
Her brother turned at her approach. Wearing a pirate eye-patch, Perry still managed to see the white basket in her hand first. He and his friend Robert were dressed in their swashbuckling costumes. They liked to leap from trees and terrorize the unsuspecting at the most inopportune time, sending animals and people screaming.Her errant brother already had to make restitution to Mrs. Peabody for scaring her nearly to death, but mucking stables for a week wasn’t enough. Just last week, he’d nearly broken his neck after constructing wings from bed sheets and leaping off the stable roof on the assumption he could fly.
Perry ran to her and, with the instinct of a growing eleven-year-old, ferreted out the pie. The two boys tussled over who would get first bite until Winter thought they’d resort to fisticuffs.
“Perry! Robert!” she admonished just as the two dropped the pie on the ground between them.
Fortunately, Mrs. Derwood had wrapped it. But then what was a little dirt to two rambunctious boys dressed up like Blackbeard and Henry Morgan? “You can both eat that pie at home. It’s getting late.”
Robert ignored her and unwrapped the pie, replying for Perry, who, though taller, was the younger and shyer of the pair. “We can’t go yet, mum.”
“Show her what the gent gave ye,” her brother mumbled excitedly over a mouthful of crust.
Robert displayed a coin. “I earned a shilling.”
“It’s part mine, too.” Perry shoved the battered wig off his brow.
“You weren’t begging coins from people?” Winter demanded.
“Nah!” The two boys snickered, then Robert said, “A tall highbrow gent come ridin’ in earlier and tells Old Ben to keep ’is mount in the stable away from them other nags in the corral.”
Winter flinched at Robert’s annihilation of the King’s English. She had been teaching both boys their letters and had taught Robert especially to speak with better syntax and less verbiage. As if reading her mind, and ever conscious of her approval, Robert swallowed. “Away from them other horses,” he corrected. “The gent’s a regular toff, ’e ’is,” the urchin forged onward with a lowered voice. “Butter won’t melt in ‘is mouth, mum. Gisette offered to tup him for less than six pence and the chap turned her down flat.”
His eyes widened in distress. “Ye shoulda ’eard what Gisette said.”
Perry laughed, completely unaware that such a topic could not possibly be proper. Suddenly the two boys were best friends again, planning how to spend their newly acquired wealth, her presence entirely forgotten in their gluttonous orgy as they discovered the roasted chicken in the basket. Perry acted as if he hadn’t eaten in a week.“You said the man was tall?” Winter asked. “Was he dressed nicely? Black leather boots?” Tailored riding clothes as impeccable as the body they draped? “Woolen jacket? Dark hair?”
Tucking away the coin, Robert considered her question. “He were tall. Don’t know ‘bout the boots, but he was wearin’ a silver watch.”
“Dark hair,” Perry confirmed.
“He ain’t like the others, what come through here, mum, who just come to...you know.” Robert swallowed his mouthful and didn’t say the word ‘tup.’ “He wanted to know which road went to Granbury Court.”
“Granbury Court?”
“I told ’im, and that’s when ’e gave me my shilling.”
Winter looked around the mist-shrouded yard. The old Marquess of Granbury’s estate sat amid thirty thousand acres owned by the Jameson family since before the English civil war. Anyone who had grown up within a hundred miles of London would know how to find Granbury Court, which meant the man who had inquired, was not from this part of England. But with the exception of anyone visiting Lord Granbury’s rakehell grand-nephew, who was currently in London, the cantankerous marquess rarely had visitors anymore.
“The man who asked, is he still here?”
Robert shrugged a shoulder toward the back entry of the stable. “The toff’s stallion is still ’ere, cause I’m guardin’ it.”
Caught by the sudden inexplicable flutter in her stomach, she glanced toward the stable. “Start home,” she told the boys. “I’ll catch up--”
“But we have to stay, Miss Winter.”
“I’ll ask Old Ben to keep an eye on the horse. It is late. I want you both to start home. I’ll catch up to you.”
Winter left her brother and Robert grumbling, but they packed up the basket. When she turned in the doorway of the stable, she saw them walking toward the woods. She was not one to chase after the identity of any man, but neither was she content to live with a curiosity burning through her mind.
Adjusting the hood of her cloak, she entered the stable. A horse snorted. The pungent smell of straw, aged leather, and manure touched her senses. Oil lanterns hung from a post at each end provided dim light. She peered up and down the narrow aisle, listening, but heard no one present.
Moving toward a bay stallion in the last stall, she kept to the shadows. Quietly stopping, she picked an apple from the barrel next to one of the stalls, keeping her ears alert for any noise that told her she wasn’t alone as she approached the stall.
The horse was a beauty with long legs, a full chest and glossy coat, a thoroughbred of stellar bloodstock. Whoever the stranger was, he knew horseflesh. This stud was worth more than most common people would ever see in a lifetime. The bridle and saddle boasted the highest craftsmanship. Wanting to get near the valise attached to the cantle, Winter eased cautiously into the stall all the while crooning softly. She held out the apple and powerful jaws crunched down on the sweet morsel.
If she could but learn the name of the dark-haired stranger, she could settle the matter of his identity.
Liar, her wicked self whispered.
Even as something about him warned her to be wary of her initial reaction when she’d seen him in the pub, a flicker of long-repressed femininity focused her memory on the touch of his gaze. Men undressed her with their eyes all the time, but no one had ever made her body tingle. Her reaction had both alarmed and intrigued her, for at the base of it all was an unfamiliar sense of awareness.
She saw no identifying marks or initials emblazoned on the saddle or on the valise. She struggled with the clasp before noting it needed a key. The horse stirred and Winter slid her palm gently across its powerful shoulder. “His name is Apollo.”
Winter whirled, horrified to find the voice’s owner lounging against the stall door, his smile flashing white in the lamp light. “Mine is Rory,” he added. “In case you were wondering the name of the man you were attempting to rob.”
“I wasn’t! Robbing you, that is...” She brought her hand to her chest as she really looked at him. Good heavens.
Up close, this man was beautiful. Hair nearly blue-black in the low light enhanced the dark stubble shading his jaw. Eyes not quite blue but silver, like the ornate braided chain dangling from the watch pocket on his vest. Eyes that were not nearly as friendly as his voice.
“You startled me.” She pressed against the horse like some urchin caught in the act of stealing bread. Mentally chiding herself for her lack of aplomb, she adjusted her hood and straightened.
“This isn’t what you think.”
“It never is.” His crisp white linen shirt beneath his jacket opened slightly at the neck with the subtle shift of his body. “Maybe all I’m thinking is that there are easier ways to earn your money tonight, love. Especially since there is nothing in that valise worth your life.”
Her heart leapt. Did he mean to slay her where she stood? The horse shifted and tossed its head.
“I would like to come out,” she said with more brevity than calm and reached for the stall latch.
His gloved hand reached it first, and she jerked back. The corners of his mouth twitched. The beauty of his features juxtaposed against the harsh shadows cast by the lamp behind him made him look both dramatic and dangerous, and resentment that she should find the bounder attractive flared within her. “Step aside,” she warned.He relaxed against the stall, preventing her escape. “I thought you people were more circumspect and practiced in your crimes.”
Having been caught trying to go through his things, crying innocent would do no good, but his having a low opinion of her bothered her. Perhaps not because he thought her a thief, but because he considered her a bad one. “I wasn’t trying to steal from you.”
He laughed, clearly at ease with his boorish behavior, more so than she with her indefensible stupidity for stepping into the stall with a horse that could be dangerous. “I would like to come out, now. Please.”
“Now this is the first hint of intelligence I’ve seen from you tonight. You should be afraid,” he said softly.
Of you or your horse? The fact that he thought she should be afraid made her determined to prove she wasn’t.
Rory unlatched the stall and Winter slid out, hesitating when he did not seem inclined to move.
She squeezed out of the stall, her body forced to touch every inch of his. A faintly exotic scent overlay the hint of whiskey she smelled. A suggestion of patchouli struck her nostrils as if he’d washed his hair in exotic soap. The gate clicked shut behind her.
“I will reiterate. You are a bastard.”
She started to move around him when he pressed his palm against the stall and blocked her escape. Her breath caught in her chest for the second time in as many minutes. A flame-hot rush of awareness burned through her, electric in intensity, and she fought to resist the intoxicating sensations that seemed to begin in the pit of her stomach and radiate outward.
“Tell me your name,” he commanded softly.
“No,” she returned his whisper.
“Or maybe I should inform the sheriff I caught you trying to steal from me.”
Propriety demanded her immediate withdrawal. But ten cannons wouldn’t dislodge her at this point. “Blackmail?” she scoffed in rebuke, doubting he would resort to such tactics. “Talk to the sheriff. He won’t believe you.”
“Do you always make it a habit to go through a man’s belongings then? Or am I special?”
Every female instinct warned her to caution, and it required much effort on her part not to press her palms to his chest and push him away. Yet beneath it all was born a sense of familiarity with this man. She had seen him before. Though she knew it impossible. She did not travel outside Granbury or in his circle.
Perhaps he’d once visited her father’s stable. “I was merely admiring your horse,” she said in a half-truth. “I have rarely seen such a fine animal. From which stable did you purchase it?”
He took a step to his side and leaned against one of the roof supports at his back, folding his arms. “Apollo was a gift from a corrupt Bashaw in Tangiers who owed me a favor.”
Her lips parted slightly in shock before she could speak. “What does a man do to earn a tyrant’s favor?”A wolfish smile appeared on his handsome face. “I didn’t sleep with his Circassian lover. He thanked me for it.”Heat crawled into her face. Taking issue with her own unworldly reaction as well as his humor, she stared at him. “Is that a fact?”
“That is a fact.”
His gaze lowered to her lips, and she held her breath.
He’d been right about her going into Apollo’s stall. A stallion’s temperament should never be taken for granted. But at the moment she was in more danger from the man than she had been from his horse.
“Trevor Jameson is not in residence at Granbury Court,” she blurted out, “if that is why you are going there.”A shadow momentarily eclipsed the light in his eyes.
“My brother and his friend told me you had inquired about directions,” she explained. “You do not look like Lord Granbury’s solicitor, so I assume you are here to see Mr. Jameson?”
“I’m not.” He peered down the length of the stable as if his senses touched on something hers had not. “No doubt this entire town is in collaboration in some form of vice or another,” he surmised. “But I should warn you, your brethren will not like what happens if I even get a whiff of communal chicanery tonight.”
A niggling worry probed her. “If I wanted to steal from you, I would have set someone up at the entrance to warn me of your approach, sir.” Winter took a step around him. With no warning, a leather-booted leg blocked her escape before she could draw a breath and her hip collided with it. Apprehension surging, she stepped backward, her heart hammering. She shot a look to his face. “I could scream,” she said.
A hint of the humor in his eyes touched his mouth. “How old are you?”
“Fourteen,” she said without hesitation, and resisted a momentary swell of superiority as her lie swiped the smirk off his face.
His eyes narrowing, he gave her a lengthy inspection. “Is that a fact?” he said, pleasantly mimicking her earlier remark. “I like that you are a liar as well.”
Still feeling an odd lingering heat between them despite her alarmed, she lifted her chin. “Why?”
With aristocratic indifference to her shock, he replied in the lowest of tones, “Because I no longer feel guilty for wanting to do to you exactly what I’ve had on my mind since you walked into that pub, madam.”
Winter felt the heat burn all the way from her décolletage and into her cheeks. “Of all the--”
“As I said”--again, he braced his hand against the stall at her back. And there it was again. The exotic smell of him. Soap. Whiskey. Leather--“there are easier ways for you to earn your coin tonight.”
She’d been holding her breath against inhaling the summer warmth of him but had not realized it until his gloved hand produced a florin. “We can start with your first name. I told you mine.”
The dolt was far too sure of himself and of her.
“A kiss then. It’s less personal perhaps.”
Tension knotted in her stomach. What was wrong with her that she did not put this man in his place? That she should not feel insulted by his assertion that she was a local bawd, and that her heart was racing with something akin to devilish excitement. “I won’t be forced.”
“I am not in the practice of abusing women,” he said in a whisper that caressed her senses. “If you don’t want me to kiss you, all you have to do is step away, or say no. Or scream. I’m sure my life would be imperiled should you choose to raise your voice an octave.”
His presence alone kept her pinned against the stall, not quite threatening, but neither had he made an effort to move anymore than she’d made an effort to escape. She wet her lips against the dare in his eyes and the desire to put him in his place. “Does money buy you everything you want?”
“I don’t know. Will it?”
The tone of his words told her she was merely a night’s gamely diversion for him. He didn’t care anything about her, but he would not coerce a woman to do his bidding. If she moved away this time, she suspected he would allow her to leave and would feel no loss at her defection. That he could so easily dismiss her produced an unprecedented response, for it made her feel inadequate and somehow less than she was.
Men with money thought they held all the power. Her life was managed by such a man--a bastard who wanted unfettered control. Who had already hurt her more than most people knew. The thought angered Winter. Sometimes a woman could hold power, too, and to be less than memorable was to be dead.
Boldly pushing back her hood and letting it fall about her shoulders, she lifted her chin until she met his gaze. “You’re a libertine,” she accused, though in the back of her mind she remembered he did not choose to tup Gisette.
She felt the momentary weight of his eyes. “A moralist term,” he said with a restrained timbre, his gloved hand rising to cup her chin. “You’re a thief.”
Her hands fell lightly against his chest, and her heart pounded. She was a thief, more than he knew.And she felt more alive than she had in years. Something about this man challenged a dormant part of her. She stared back at him. “Then on the whole, you find morality inconvenient. Hence, you are willing to overlook most faults in people. Even lies.”
His eyes grazed her hair, touched her lips and met her own gaze. “Lie with me,” he whispered.Her mouth trembled as he leaned to kiss her.
Anxiety surged, resurfacing to pool in her stomach along with everything else, none of which she could define. “No,” she said, her face a breath away, and she found herself bracing her fingers against his chest, closing the distance between their lips on her own terms, not his.
She had only willingly kissed one other man in her life. No one ever made her hot and shivery, and so she imbibed as if he were a glass of whiskey. Cautious of the taste, wary of the burn, and fully conscious of the danger as she forced herself to center on the texture of his mouth, not the heat in her blood. If she wasn’t careful, she would end up giving him more than a kiss. He knew it, too. His hands went to her waist.
It was that overconfidence that subdued her and ruined her at once, as she forced herself to remain focused. But her head was swimming as she continued to press her advantage, stirring restlessly.
Distantly, she felt as if he were holding back almost like an observer perfectly comfortable allowing her to take the lead. Sinking deeper into her kiss, she rose on her toes, wanting something more, yet unsure what. Her palms smoothed across the contoured planes of his chest. Her knuckles skimmed along the inside of his jacket and hit something cold and metallic in a leather sheath beneath his shoulder.
Startled she pulled back. “Is it loaded?”
His hands went to her face his fingers slid into her hair, his eyes half-lowered and intent on hers. “My gun is always loaded, love.” His mouth claimed hers, taking the initiative from her, and making her previous kiss feel like a childish peck on cheek.
Oh my.
His legs parted and he stepped against her, slow deliberate movements as his hand angled back her head. His tongue swept between her lips with perfect boldness, deepening the contact. She found her back against the stall door, while every female sense reacted to the press of masculinity against her layers of bulky skirts. Slowly his hands traveled down her spine piling sensation down upon new sensation as every notion she’d ever held about kissing a man crumbled to her feet.
Her body hummed. Try as she might, she could not pull away, but she lacked his carnal sophistication and could not follow his lead. She felt trapped by her response. Everything was happening too fast. Panicked by the surge of need he roused within her, so much so, she tore her mouth away from his.
“Loose me,” she found the voice to say. “Now...”
His hands framed her face as he pulled away, his eyes now dark and unnerving. She shivered slightly. For a heartbeat, only their breathing touched the heavy silence between them.
“You are either a virgin,” he rasped against the heat of her lips, “or the worst kisser in the world.” Amusement laced his tone. “In either case, you are no strumpet, love.”
The thought that her reaction to him could be so enormous while his toward her was naught but a frivolous passing sent a maddening feeling of humiliation straight to the core of her. “Get away from me!”
“No more games, madam. Who are you exactly? Why were you trying to go through my valise?”
His eyes were no longer laughing at her, but deadly serious. Yet for just a brief instance after he’d kissed her there had been something else in that silver gaze that went deeper than the surface, something that frightened her because it touched her on a deeper level as well.
Winter caught herself retreating and stopped. “I wanted to know who you are. You are familiar to me.”
He used his fingertips to tilt up her chin. “Which part of me?”Her brother’s voice startled her. “Winter?”
Perry and Robert stood in the doorway. Dressed like pirates as they were in their wigs and dragging their cutlasses they looked like two highwaymen of lore.
Good lord. They were supposed to be halfway home by now. “I thought I told you to leave, Perry.”Her brother’s usually friendly eyes peered watchfully at the man whose height and size dwarfed them all. “We were waiting for you, Winter.”
“Perry,” she quietly warned when he failed to leave. “Start home. I’ll be right behind you. I promise.”For once, he did as he was told.
“You have a protector,” the stranger said after the boys left.
“Do you find that extraordinary?”
Unlike his touch, his stare was casual. “No more than your name. Winter? I might have guessed you’d have an unusual name.”
Disliking the intimate sound of it on his lips, she yanked up the hood of her cloak. Her eyes went to his face. Dangerous in the shadows.
“Will I see you again?” he asked.
Perhaps one day in purgatory, she mused, stepping away from him, an involuntary reaction as much from his words as it was from something deep inside that still wanted to wrap itself around him. “You and I will never walk in the same circle.”
“No.” The slide of his eyes over her body to her walking clearly was not what he had on his mind. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t entertain ourselves.”
She calmly adjusted the hood of her cloak. “Try not to break your arrogant neck on the road tonight. We would all weep inconsolably for your family’s loss.”
A black-gloved hand grabbed her arm as she swept past the man who was no longer quite a stranger and who still held electric sway over her response to him. His eyes, glittering with a dark mystery, continued to wreak havoc on her senses as he pulled her to him. “What are you doing?”
He slid the coin he’d held up earlier down her bodice, the intimacy of his touch making her gasp. “Assuring you that this evening has been worth every bit of what that coin purchased, Miss Winter.”
Ignoring his quiet, confident laughter, she spun on her heel, confident that before the evening was gone, his lordship would know he’d overpaid.
Her mouth suddenly curving at the corners into its own secret smile, she wondered how long it would take before he discovered the entire contents of his pockets had been pilfered.
Unfortunately, the arrogant toff would never know he’d just made a substantial contribution to Father Flannigan’s poorhouse fund.