Authors: Jillian Hunter
The Countess Confessions
“Simply delightful.Â .Â .Â . From beginning to end, I was totally captivated.”
âNight Owl Reviews
“As always, Hunter hits the mark, drawing readers into her three-dimensional characters' minds and hearts, and delighting [readers] from the delicious start to the satisfying conclusion.”
RT Book Reviews
“I had a blast with this one.Â .Â .Â . I am definitely going back for more.”
“Filled with witty banter, passion, secrets, danger, deceit, treason, betrayal, and love. Did I mention passion? A must read!”
âMy Book Addiction Reviews
“HumorousÂ .Â .Â . hotÂ .Â .Â . fun reading.”
âRomance Reviews Today
The Mistress Memoirs
“Hunter knows how to combine sensual romance with a mystery, and passion with tenderness.”
“Another wonderful winner.”
“ExquisiteÂ .Â .Â . filled with action, mystery, sensuality, love for extended family, rotten children to love, and a bevy of eccentric charactersÂ .Â .Â . a rare treat for historical readers.”
Praise for the Bridal Pleasures Series
The Duchess Diaries
“There is so much to love about this book. The witty dialogue and the fantastically paced writing, the characters who sparkle and come to life on every pageÂ .Â .Â . a romance tale at its finest.”
“The reader will have a hard time putting it down.”
“Another completely captivating combination of wonderfully madcap plotting, wickedly humorous writing, and wildly hot passion.”
“Fast-paced, sexy, and hilarious.Â .Â .Â . Run, don't walk, to get a copy.”
A Bride Unveiled
“Sizzling sexual chemistry and rapier witÂ .Â .Â . a thoroughly romantic literary treat.”
“Hunter draws the reader in with a compelling plot and engaging characters in this smoothly written tale of love lost and found.”
A Duke's Temptation
“A sinfully sexy hero with a secret, a book-obsessed heroine in search of her own happy-ever-after ending, a delightfully clever plot that takes great fun in spoofing the literary world, and writing that sparkles with wicked wit and exquisite sensuality add up to an exceptionally entertaining read.”
“With humor and charm, sensuality and wickedness, Hunter delights.”
“This is the first in what looks to be a very promising, and extremely seductive, new quartet. Few can resist a novel by Jillian Hunter!”
âHuntress Book Reviews
More Praise for the Novels
of Jillian Hunter
“One of the funniest, most delightful romances I've had the pleasure to read.”
“An absolutely delightful tale that's impossible to put down.”
“A sweet, romantic taleÂ .Â .Â . full of humor, romance, and passion. Historical romance that is sure to please.”
âThe Romance Readers Connection
“A lovely read.”
âRomance Reader at Heart
“EnchantingÂ .Â .Â . a fabulous historical.”
Midwest Book Review
“[It] bespells, beguiles, and bewitches. If romance, magic, great plots, and wonderful characters add spice to your reading life, don't allow this one to escape.”
“Romantic and sexy.Â .Â .Â . Read itâyou'll love
âThe Romance Reader
The Bridal Pleasures Series
A Duke's Temptation
A Bride Unveiled
The Duchess Diaries
The Boscastle Affairs Series
The Mistress Memoirs
The Countess Confessions
Published by the Penguin Group
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A Penguin Random House Company
First published by Signet Select, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright Â© Maria Hoag, 2015
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Gunilla with
As always, a huge thank-you to my agent, Mel Berger, for his support and insight.
Also, a special thank-you to my editor, Kerry Donovan, for staying on board with the book until her own production schedule took precedence.
I am grateful to Isabel Farhi and Claire Zion for filling in during my editor's absence and to the art department for creating yet another wonderful
ames had pursued his alluring prey midway to the ladies' retiring room. A black silk mask concealed half his face, but the more experienced guests at the masquerade ball knew his identity. A duke's heir rarely went unnoticed at a party, especially when he paid attention to a particular lady. To his amusement, the object of his infatuation seemed to be the exception.
The lady acted unconcerned by his pursuit, perhaps even oblivious to his interest. She hadn't once glanced over her shoulder or faltered in her steps to show she cared that she'd captured his fickle attention. She swept down the corridor like a
, oblivious to whoever fell or trailed in her wake.
He admired her demeanor. Was it possible she was blithely unaware of his existence? He had to remedy that situation before he had half the guests at his heels. But he was starting to wonder whether he wasn't hunting her as much as she was leading him somewhere.
She certainly wasn't dressed to entice a man. Her skirts belled out over a metal-framed Elizabethan farthingale that bumped a pair of footmen on either side from her hurried path. It was quite the costume. If James hadn't become so instantly enamored of her angelic face, he might not have gone on the chase with so many tiresome debutantes warning her, between giggles, that a scoundrel had her in his sights.
“Hurry up, my lady!”
“He's going to catch you.”
“Do you want us to escort you?”
“She isn't from London,” one of them whispered to another, looking at James through a bejeweled mask. “He'll take advantage of her innocence.”
The silly geese dispersed as soon as he approached herâhis personal attendants had made an art of protecting his privacy. They crowded the hall until he caught her by the hand and led her to a corner beyond the betraying lights of the wall sconces.
He neglected to ask her name, or to speak at all, while memorizing her face. And he ignored her initial resistance as he pulled her into his arms and kissed the lovely mouth that had lit an unbankable fire in his blood. Her body refused to mold to his, but neither did she push him away. The feather in her tall hat poked him in the eye. As soon as he had noticed her in the ballroom, he had wanted to take her home and remove her square-necked Elizabethan lady's costume. But now he realized she was too young to dishonor, as badly as he desired her, and beyond that, he'd enlisted in the infantry. She would belong to someone else when he returned home.
Stolen kisses on this night would have to suffice.
“Sir, I don't even know who you are,” she whispered when he gave her a moment to breathe.
“If I told you, would you allow me greater liberties?”
She laughed at his bold question, evidently delighted at the prospect of a season of romance and gentlemen to vanquish ahead of her. “I should warn youâmy father has a hot temper.”
“I have a hot temperament.” Which she did nothing to cool. How could he offer her anything except trouble when he was about to leave for war? He brushed his hand down her back, over her stiff skirt and petticoats, then around and up to her bodice, seeking the true shape of her body. She was well built, and he laughed at the delicate hand that arrested his quest.
“That's quite enough.”
“Not for me.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“Isn't it better sometimes not to know?”
“I couldn't say. I've never attended a masquerade.”
He stared down into her sweetly indignant face and proceeded to ravish her tempting mouth until the rumble of background voices forced him to release her. He had acted rashly, and it was his responsibility to protect her reputation. After all, she was presumably at the ball to find a husband.
He brought his hand to her warm cheek, murmuring, “My body servants will stand as a barricade for you to slip away. I'm sorry if I offended you, but I simply couldn't resist. And I'm not sorry that I kissed you. Tell me the truthâare you? Do you regret my actions this evening?”
He knew even before she replied that she wasn't. He'd felt the shivers she had tried to control when they
kissed. Still, he didn't expect a lady to willingly admit that she had shared his inexplicable surge of desire.
She surprised him with her answer. “I'll tell you the truth,” she said under her breath. “This was my first kiss. From what I've heard, as far as first kisses go, yours was fairly decent. But if you try anything like this ever again, I will call you out. I won't let you kiss me a second time. My father is looking for a husband for me tonight. I'm his eldest daughter, and that's all you need to know.”
“You're everything a lady should avoid.”
“I might be.”
“Well, it's never too late to repent.”
“At my age? I have absolutely no intention. Save the sermon for the next rake you meet.”
“I'll tell you something else,” she whispered. “It's a good thing I can't see your face, because in the event that someone has seen us together, I can't identify
to my father.”
He laughed. “Or to your future husband, who, it is becoming apparent, must kiss decently and be on his guard against scoundrels like me. You do have a delicious mouth. Are you certain I can't entice you to meet me in a more private spot at midnight?”
“This is my debut,” she said, with a catch in her voice. “Would you ruin it for me? Would you ruin me for the rest of my life for your passing pleasure?”
He crushed her to him, closed his eyes for an agonizing moment, and released her with a regret he'd never known he could feel. “I suppose it's too much to ask you to remain pure another few years?”
She laughed again. “If you had your way, I wouldn't remain innocent for the rest of the night.”
“Let's make a bargain.”
She shook her head, the feather in her hat tickling his nose again. “I don't think so.”
“Hear me out first.”
“Hurry, then. I've left my sister alone in the ballroom.”
“If you don't have five proposals by noon tomorrow, I shall offer for your hand.”
Her eyes widened. “Now I know you're mad.”
And at that moment he let her slip away, unable to disagree, convincing himself it was for the best. What did he want with a woman who made him lose his head?
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Ivy had felt quite beautiful during the short interlude with the masked stranger, bedazzled by his attentions. In fact, she so wanted to believe the scoundrel had meant what he said that she made one excuse after another not to dance with anyone else for the remainder of the night. If they spotted each other across the room and he broke through the crowd of dancers to reach her, well, she wasn't sure what was supposed to happen next in a romance.
She expected there was a good chance that she'd catch him flirting with another lady, in which case she would simply stand with all the poise she could muster, smiling until her face ached, and count the hours until she could escape.
At least she wasn't alone in the crowded ballroom. She had an ally at her side; of her three sisters only Rosemary had been old enough to accompany her to the ball. Rosemary had met a young gentleman, too, one who shared her passion for literature but was too shy to ask her to dance, and he had disappeared when his aunt complained that she had felt a need for air.
Ivy hadn't yet dared to confess to Rosemary what had happened, but of course one day she would. She wanted to savor the secret for the evening and not appear gullible in Rosemary's eyes. Her sister could be counted on to lecture Ivy for behavior beneath the Earl of Arthur's eldest daughter, and then, even worse, she would demand that Ivy describe every detail of the rake's kisses so that she could include it in one of her future novels.
Ivy doubted she could describe the alchemical transformation she had undergone in the stranger's arms. The magic of it still shimmered through her veins. She intended to keep it private for as long as possible.
What a bounder.
“Ivy?” Rosemary nudged her. “Who are you looking for?”
“Whoâoh. Papa, I suppose.”
“He's upstairs gambling.” Rosemary unsuccessfully attempted to fit her skirts into a Chippendale chair. “Bother. Are you enjoying yourself?”
Ivy nodded. “Yes. I think so. And you?”
“It's amazing how much one can learn about life from watching what goes on in a ballroom. I'd love to take a stroll down the corridors. Are you game?”
“Not in these skirts. I'd rather remain here and observe the crowd.”
Just before the midnight supper the evening's festivities turned ugly. Another debutante, one who had attended the same boarding school as Ivy, had been caught in a bedroom with a married baronet. Ivy comforted her in the retiring room while the other girls talked of nothing but her disgusting behavior. Later Ivy
persuaded herself she should feel fortunate that she had not been witnessed in an indiscretion herself. After the guests had settled down from the excitement, her father's footman appeared during the supper and the two sisters were whisked home to the town house.
By the next morning their father, Thomas Fenwick, the Earl of Arthur, had been accused of cheating at cards and killed in a duel. In the rush of sorrow that followed, the scoundrel's kiss faded into a sweet memory that Ivy buried beneath her grief for so long that at times she even wondered whether it had happened at all.