Headlong into the unknown…
Independent, willful Kate Starr has cherished a penchant for handsome Lord Shelburn since she was sixteen years old, but as a mill-owning industrialist, she moves in a different world from the libertine earl. Then one fateful day, Shelburn invites her to accompany him in a scandalous race, and immediate physical attraction swiftly turns into blazing passion.
The hunter caught…
Leighton Anstey, Earl of Shelburn, glories in his reputation as the worst lord in London. His fame as an irresistible seducer is unrivaled, although his amours are notable for their explosive heat, not their longevity. The dashing lord has never met a woman who can hold his wandering attention, until he tumbles into a liaison with a mysterious woman who enthrals him, body and soul.
A brief encounter or a forever love?
Neither Kate nor Shelburn views their torrid affair as more than a shooting star, flaring red-hot for a brilliant instant, then destined to fade to nothing. But does the fiery desire raging between them blind them to the chance of finding lifelong happiness together?
An international e-book release ~ 31st May 2022
The Great North Road, May 1816
Kate was never shy. She’d been running the mills since she was twenty and before that, she’d helped her father. She was more accustomed to masculine company than gossiping with female friends. But as she sat in the hired gig with Shelburn and watched Lady Verena disappear down the road, she felt awkward and unprepared and…shy. Unseeing, she stared down at the hands that she’d linked in her lap to hide their shaking.
“Would you like to go back to London?” For once, Shelburn’s voice held no sardonic humor. Instead he sounded gentle. Which didn’t help resolve her clamoring confusion.
Back to London? If she left him, she’d be safe. She could pursue her sensible plans. After all, she’d spent her life being sensible.
She lifted her head and turned to study the man beside her. He was handsome and wild and dashing, and entirely outside her experience. Nobody who knew her would ever believe that staid Kate Starr gave the time of day to such an aristocratic libertine.
She had difficulty believing it herself, despite all the foolish dreams that she’d woven about him.
But when she’d permitted herself those foolish dreams, she’d been sure that Lord Shelburn would forever remain a figure of fantasy. She’d never have to deal with the real man.
Until she did.
Now it was up to her to bring this escapade to a close. Hazel would reproach her. Alfred would sniff with disapproval. Mr. Williams would overlook her small misdeed, she was sure. And if he couldn’t, her life would toddle on with no ill effects.
Should she pass up the business opportunity that Mr. Williams offered, she’d find another. Or continue along as she was, which would be no bad thing.
Going back to London was the correct choice. The sensible choice.
How she began to loathe that word “sensible.”
Shelburn remained quiet. She suspected that he was wise enough to recognize that if she could blame him for any lapse in her judgment, she would. He wasn’t giving her the chance. This was a decision she had to make. She needed to accept that if there were consequences, they were of her own making.
“Where would you like to take me?”
The clumsy question made her blush like fire. Because she was sure that if she agreed to run off with Shelburn, he would indeed end up taking her.
The light flaring in his eyes told her that he hadn’t missed her slip. Although his voice remained grave when he replied. “There’s a good inn I sometimes use about five miles away.”
Sometimes used for an encounter with a mistress? What else could he mean? Kate had no illusions about this man’s appetite for a new woman in his bed. “And what do you want of me at this good inn?”
He didn’t look away. But then, settling the terms for an affair was nothing new for him. She supposed she should be grateful that he didn’t take her consent for granted. Someone as experienced as Shelburn must know that she was attracted to him. She was too unfamiliar with desire to hide it.
“I think you already know.”
She shifted on the seat of the hired carriage. It was roomier than the phaeton. So it made no sense that she was even more conscious of his proximity than she had been on the drive north from the Angel. “Tell me anyway. I can’t afford to misunderstand what is happening.”
He set the horses moving at an easy walk. They were nothing like the thoroughbreds that he’d driven up from London. They were more like the reliable, commonplace beasts that Kate kept in her stables. She had a grim feeling that there was a lesson in that for her. Shelburn was the high-strung, expensive champion, while Kate was the plodding workhorse.
She pushed the thought aside as too depressing for words.
“I don’t want the horses standing,” he said, clearly thinking that she misinterpreted his action as an attempt to force her hand. “I’m not kidnapping you.”
“I almost wish you would,” she said in a shaky voice that she didn’t recognize as her own.
He cast her a piercing glance under the brim of that stylish hat. “No, you don’t.”
No, she didn’t. She’d battled all her life to retain the right to make her own decisions. Even in today’s unprecedented circumstances, she wouldn’t give that independence up without a fight.
She swallowed to moisten a throat dry with nerves and straightened her spine against the padded leather seat. “So tell me.”
The horses proceeded so slowly that Shelburn could devote his attention to her, while keeping a loose hold on the reins. “I want you.”
Hearing the words sent wicked pleasure rushing through her. Kate struggled to keep a grip on caution, but excitement vibrated in her voice when she spoke. “Because I’m a woman who happened to drive with you to Hatfield?”
“We didn’t make it to Hatfield.”
She didn’t smile. “You know what I mean.”
“I was trying to lighten the atmosphere.” A faint smile teased that expressive mouth. “I feel a little as if I’m going to the scaffold, instead of plotting a secret rendezvous.”
Kate stiffened. “That’s not very flattering.”
His laugh held an ironic note. “Perhaps not.”
“I’m not…I’m not accustomed to dalliance.”
Unfortunately, he was right about the intense atmosphere. She couldn’t blame him for feeling oppressed.
When she didn’t speak, he went on. “I want you because you dared to join me on this ride. I want you because from the moment I saw you across that crowded innyard, I felt like you and I were meant to come together. I’m known for being outrageous, and luring a respectable lady to join me in my carriage was indeed outrageous. But I didn’t invite you to amuse the numbskulls who spread society tattle. I invited you because I had the strangest feeling that if I let you go on your way, I’d miss out on an experience unsurpassed even in my unruly life.” While she struggled to digest his confession – and it sounded like a confession that he didn’t much enjoy making – he went on. “And of course, I want you because you’re beautiful.”
“That’s very nice of you to say.” She’d barely stopped blushing since she’d mentioned him taking her. Now she blushed again. “I’m a little too severe and mannish for the current fashion.”
“That’s not at all how I’d describe you, you know.” This time, he gave her a real smile, as he subjected her to a thorough inspection that left her feeling as if she may as well not be wearing this modest traveling outfit. It was apparent that this man knew everything about a woman’s body.
Her breasts swelled against her pelisse’s dark blue bodice as if they begged for his touch. Her heart raced. Not just because he made her feel naked. The avid interest in his expression had her pulses performing a wild tarantella.
There was no doubt that Lord Shelburn was an exciting man. The problem was that Kate was convinced that she wasn’t an exciting woman.
If she did this reckless, dangerous thing, was she doomed to disappoint him? She had enough pride to want him to enjoy what they did together. If she set out to fall in such a spectacular fashion, she wanted the occasion to be memorable for him, too.
She shifted on the seat again, in part to ease a stomach churning with nerves and wanton excitement. “How would you describe me?”
His smile turned tender. She wished it wouldn’t. When he looked at her like that, he had far too much power over her. “Are you chasing compliments?”
“I think I am.” With difficulty, she unlinked her shaking hands and made a bewildered gesture. “It might stiffen my resolution.”
He gave a grunt of amusement. “Whereas my resolution is quite stiff enough already.”
More blushes. She was worldly enough to understand the joke. “So?”
He pulled the horses to a halt and waited for a farm cart to pass. He touched his hat in salute to the family riding on it, all in their Sunday best and on their way back from church, Kate guessed. It was hard to believe that it wasn’t even noon yet. She felt like her whole life had changed today. A mere few hours did no justice to the turmoil she’d experienced.
“So you’re beautiful. All woman. Tall and graceful and mysterious. Like a goddess come down to earth. Minerva or Juno. Someone glorious and powerful. If you don’t already know that, I have no respect at all for the clodpolls who live in Bradbourne. They should be falling at your feet in worship whenever they catch a glimpse of you.”
That did make her laugh, even as astonishment ripped through her. Shelburn seemed to be talking about some other person entirely.
Kate was no self-effacing mouse. She was well aware of her qualities, even if most of them fell under the category of sturdy and useful rather than alluring. She was clever and hardworking and determined. She was loyal to a fault – look at how her foolish heart had settled on Lord Shelburn and had never shifted. But none of those qualities conveyed the touch of the divine that he claimed to see in her.
“That would be devilish inconvenient.” Because it was so ridiculous to think of practical, businesslike Kate Starr as a resident of Olympus, she had no trouble injecting a dry note into her answer. “And dangerous as well, if it happened in the mill with the machines running.”
Shelburn burst out laughing. “You’re enchanting, you know.”
“No, I don’t,” she said crisply. “So you can keep your nonsense to yourself, my lord.”
He urged the horses on again, at that same leisured pace. “It doesn’t feel like nonsense to want a woman the way I want you.” His gaze sharpened. “What’s it to be, Kate? Do I turn off at the next corner? Or shall we retrace our way to the Angel? If we turn off the main road, I’ll take you to my bed and show you pleasure beyond your wildest dreams.”