In this excerpt, Miles Redmond, renowned explorer and heir
to the Redmond family fortune, has just sorted out a bit of house
party mayhem and is on his way up to bed when some instinct makes
him stop on his way up to his chambers...where he encounters the
cause of the evening's mayhem, and proves to himself just how
dangerous it is to be alone with Cynthia Brightly.
And later, he would never be certain why he paused
near the library door on the way up to his chambers. When his
faculties were finally returned to him, he would, of course speculate
in terms of the properties of physics: magnetic attractions, atmospheric
disturbances, things of that sort, because analysis was what gave
order and meaning to his world.
Regardless, pause he did.
And in that dark room, two things created light: the dying fire,
and the shining head of the person bent toward it from a perch
on the settee. An unmistakable head.
For an instant, Miles went still and admired it the way he might
the moon: with a helpless, impartial wonder. All those burnished
Oh, for God's sake. Brown. Her hair was brown. Her
dress was also some shade of brown. And the fact that Cynthia
Brightly was still wearing it meant that she hadn't yet gone up
She was perched on a settee, her body curled forward towards the
fire, her face cupped in her hands. Something about the pose implied
could she be weeping?
He froze, instantly restless and panicked. He took a step forward.
A step backward.
And then her body slowly curled upright again, as lyrical as a
flower blooming, and one hand dropped to her lap, and
For God's sake. She'd been leaning over to light a damned cheroot
in the fire.
She balanced it at her lips with a disconcertingly practiced motion
and was clearly about to suck it into full flaming life when he
"Where did you find a cheroot?"
Her head whipped toward him and she launched her cheroot-holding
hand the entire length of her arm away from her mouth, looking
like a chaste maiden fighting off a zealous suitor. She froze
that way, her eyes round and white as eggs.
Miles tried and failed to turn his laughter into a cough.
She reeled her arm back in. "I nearly swallowed this thing
whole," she said peevishly. "I searched the house over
for it, too."
for a cheroot."
She stared at him, her head at a slight tip, dark brows diving
toward the bridge of her nose. And then with pointed theatricality
she slowly, slowlypruriently slowly inserted the tiny
cigar between her lips, pursed them around it. And sucked until
the tip was tiny, angry red dot.
Miles was undecided as to whether he was fascinated or repelled.
Though he was certain he was aroused. Out of genuine curiosity,
he waited to see if she would cough or tear.
Instead she sagged elegantly against the generously curved arm
of the settee, cast her head back, and released a slim geyser
of smoke toward the ceiling.
The elegant sagging shifted her bosom in the confines of her bodice,
which was suddenly beautifully illuminated by firelight, soft,
round, inviting. He stared.
And he was, in just about a thrice, hard as a rock.
"I searched the house over, and at last I found three of
them in the humidor in this room. Fortunately this room already
smells of cheroots."
"Muskets, sherry, and a room that stinks of tobacco. The
stuff of every young lady's dreams."
"I find cheroots relax me."
"I suppose hunting heirs can ride roughshod over the nerves."
She rewarded this terse witticism with a duck of her head and
held the little cigar out before her to study the burning tip
"The thing is
I find being incessantly
sparkling leaves me strangely depleted. And as I will be allowed
no habits at all when I am marriedor rather, honor dictates
that I continue with the habits I've demonstrated thus farthe
urge suddenly overcame me."
Miles was silent. He didn't know which part of this revelation
" 'Honor,' Miss Brightly?"
Her head turned sharply toward him. "I've more notion of
honor than many of the people sleeping under this roof tonight,
I'd warrant, Mr. Redmond."
She left her gaze level with his. He wondered suddenly whether
he was included in the remark. Thinking of Lady Middlebough. Third
floor, fourth room from the left. Which is where he should be
She took his silence for the apology it was.
"What precisely was the nature of the game tonight?"
he genuinely wanted to know.
"We were all to drink when Lady Georgina said, 'Oh, Mr. Redmond.
You're so interesting.' "
He was struck. Imagine Cynthia noticing such a thing. And
once again, he was torn between hilarity and anger.
Georgina did say it rather a lot.
"Perhaps she thinks I'm very interesting." He said this
"That could very well be," Miss Brightly allowed skeptically.
He couldn't help it. He smiled. She shifted again on the settee,
and her dress pulled at the swell of her breasts, and his smile
vanished, and he felt that familiar difficulty with his breathing.
"She's very nice," she added. It sounded almost like
"That isn't her fault," Miles said quickly.
Which then struck both of them as funny, and they both smiled.
The smoke she'd released now hovered over them like a net about
Leave now, you bloody, bloody fool, the voice in Miles's
"Have you considered that you'll spend your entire wedded
life 'depleted,' as you say, Miss Brightly?"
She turned to look at him. "Depleted but rich," she
corrected slowly, deliberately.
He went still.
And then the fury was instant and seemed to come from nowhere
It propelled him into the room and down on his knees next to her
so swiftly she didn't have time to gasp: he gained an impression
of her wide blue eyes and of the cheroot tip glaring between her
fingers like a third accusing eye.
And then Miles plucked it from her fingers and hurled it into
the fire. They stared, astonished, toward where it vanished, devoured
with a pop and a hiss.
Silently they sat. Miles watched the flame inexorably reducing
the log to ashes, feeling oddly spent. After a time, he became
aware of Cynthia's breathing beneath the groans and pops and hisses
of the fire. The logs sounded as though they were objecting to
He turned slowly. She wasn't staring at the fire.
She was staring at him, and some expression that haunted him fled
her eyes when he turned. Shadows of flame leaped and shivered
over her throat, as though she herself were being consumed.
As if to test whether or not this was true, Miles watched his
hand move toward her. His fingers landed softly, softly, beneath
Her breath snagged audibly. And so did his.
He couldn't stop.
She didn't stop him.
With two fingers he slowly, purposefully, gently, followed both
the clean, fine line of her jaw and the unthinkably soft skin
beneath, marveling at this contrast in textures.
Like a vigilant chaperone, he watched his own fingers as he drew
slowly, slowly, down, down, down. Her throat was satiny and hot,
frighteningly delicate. Her pulse bumped hard there, sending blood
rushing through her veins, flushing her skin with a heat that
transferred itself to his own skin. The surface of it felt feverish,
every cell of his body alert to, craving, sensation.
Onward his fingers journeyed. They made an almost whimsical figure
eight over those bones at the base of her long neck.
"I don't want you." She said. It was a cracked whisper.
Miles, the truth seeker, sought proof of this. Lower, just a little
lower, just above the pale round give of her breast, his fingers
found again her rapid heartbeat. Miles paused his fingers there
to savor, with vindication, its tempo, and levered his head up
to meet her eyes.
It was the only warning he gave her before he eased his forefinger
into that alluring crease between her breasts.
Her head jerked back; her lips parted on a silent gasp; her ribcage
gave a minute leap.
"I don't want you, either." He whispered, too. It seemed
the proper language for the dark, the language to use when touching
And at that, she smiled faintly: that got the lies out of the
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