She Has Nothing Left To Lose—
After finding herself at the center of a very public scandal that left one man dead and another on the run, Lady Alexandra Huntington has exiled herself to her brother’s estate and is content to manage his affairs. But the arrival of darkly handsome Collin Blackburn awakens her curiosity and her desire—and the advantage of being a fallen woman is that she can be ruined only once…
Except Her Heart…
After a promise sworn to his father, Collin Blackburn is compelled to seek the aid of the woman who brought about his brother’s death in a senseless duel. Yet Lady Alexandra is not the shameless femme fatale he expected. In fact, Collin suspects she is guilty of nothing more than a hunger to experience passion, and the brawny Scot is certainly equipped to oblige. But the quick-witted, keenly sensual Alexandra has a few lessons of her own to impart—on life, love, and the delicious joys of succumbing to temptation…
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Copyright © 2007 by Victoria Dahl
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ISBN-13: 978-1-4201-0015-0 ISBN-10: 1-4201-0015-7
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This book is dedicated to my mom, Helen.
I would never have become a writer without you.
Thank you for filling my life with books.
And to the love of my life,
You've believed in me from the beginning,
and I think you love my stories even more than I do.
You re my husband, my best friend, my biggest fan,
and my hero, all in one.
Thank you to Adam and Ethan for being smart, sweet, and sometimes quiet. I love you.
Thank you also to my wonderful agent, Amy Moore-Benson, for believing in my work, and to Connie Brockway, whose
books inspire me. And special thanks to all my friends: Amy Jo, the Wild Cards, the Hoydens, and so many others.
Last, but never least,
thank you to my critique partner, Jennifer.
Together we've kept our sanity intact through the many highs and lows of writing
. . . Or have we?
Yorkshire, June 1844
Lady Alexandra Huntington squinted at the invoice in front of her and breathed out the vilest curse she knew. Unladylike, of course, but then she was sitting at a man's desk, in a man's office, wearing men's riding breeches, and doing a man's job. Her language was likely the least shocking thing about her at the moment.
"Bi. . . Bin. . ." she tried again, glaring at the tangle of scratches that were supposed to be words. "Oh, for God's sake." The miller's writing had always been doubtful, but the man's penmanship had recently taken a turn for the worse. She knew the bill of sale must have something to do with grain, probably oats crushed for the stables, and still she could make neither heads nor tails of it.
It couldn't be helped then. She would have to search out the stable master and compare his recent orders with the few letters she could make out on the invoice. And though the man was polite enough—she was the sister of the duke, after all—he clearly wished she would give up this game of managing her brother's estate.
Alex stood and snatched up the paper. The click of her boots was absorbed by a thick rug as she stepped into the hall, so even though she hurried, the faint echo of an unfamiliar voice still reached her ears.
"You must be mistaken," a man said, as she moved toward the front rooms. The words bounced off the marble walls of Somerhart's entry. "His Grace assured me his sister would be home."
Alex blinked, shocked to hear herself spoken of. Her brother had sent someone from London to see her? It seemed unlikely, however. . . She slowed her pace and paused in the shadow of the side hall to peer toward the front door.
The man stood only a few feet inside the door, tall and dark and glowering at Prescott. That alone was interesting. No one glowered at her brother's butler. Prescott controlled access to a young and powerful duke.
Alexandra felt her prickling interest grow stronger. She edged a little farther into the room.
"If you'd care to leave a card, sir—"
"I do not have a card." The man's eyes flicked toward her, pinned her for a bare moment. He could not suspect who she was in her current attire, with her black hair pulled into a tight knot and the jacket hiding her curves. Still, Alexandra straightened at the brush of that silver gaze, even as it moved back to Prescott. The butler stood silent, not the least affected by the man's coolness. Ten seconds passed. Then twenty.
With a stiff shrug, the stranger finally gave in to the impossibility of intimidating Prescott. "Please tell her I need to speak with her. I'm at the Red Rose."
She watched as he turned, felt the soft tug of her impetuous nature. Who in the world was he? He should have been cowed by the butler's utter indifference, but he looked self-assured to the very fiber of his being even as he was turned away.
His brown hair needed trimming and he appeared to have forgotten his cravat as well as his calling card, but the perfect cut of his brown coat spoke of wealth. And a Scot's burr softened his deep voice—and sped her pulse.
Surely her brother would never speak of her to someone he didn't trust. "Prescott."
Ever unflappable, Prescott simply stepped aside. "My lady. A Mr. Collin Blackburn to see you."
"Thank you, Prescott."
Collin Blackburn froze at the sound of her voice. She watched him turn and step back inside, watched his eyes slide past her to search the corners of the huge entry for a more likely figure, but when he realized who she was, only the barest lift of russet brows betrayed his shock. "Lady Alexandra."
She let him stare a moment, let him take in the oddness of her attire. No gentleman had ever seen her in riding breeches before, none other than her brother. She was dressed inappropriately, indecently even, but it mattered not in the least. She was a fallen woman. She'd earned the freedom to do as she pleased, so she let him look his fill and took the chance to study him as well.
He stood as tall as her brother but wider. Wide shoulders, broad chest. Definitely no padding in that coat. His body wasn't bulky though. He was, in a word, solid.
His face looked purely masculine. Not handsome exactly, but stark and compelling. The slightly crooked nose spoke of an old fight, but his high cheekbones and wide mouth turned the mind to more pleasurable pursuits. She glanced back to the clear gray eyes that studied her so intently and saw his pupils tighten when he met her gaze.
"Thank you for seeing me."
"Prescott, would you have tea brought to the office, please? Mr. Blackburn?" Gesturing back toward the hall, she spun on her heel to lead the way. Her long red coat opened as she turned, and she felt the hem brush against the buff riding breeches that hugged the curve of her thigh and hip. There was no mistaking the widening of his eyes, even at the corner of her vision. He'd had quite the view.
Gritting her teeth against the thrill that chased through her, Alexandra buttoned the coat and hurried toward the door of her cramped office. The morning room would be more appropriate, she supposed, but not dressed like this. Her men's clothes would be a startling sight against a backdrop of flowered upholstery.
Alexandra stepped into the office and waved Blackburn toward a pair of chairs by the window. He waited until she took the chair opposite his, then sat and crossed a booted ankle over his knee.
"What did you wish to discuss with me, Mr. Blackburn?"
He let a heartbeat pass, then another. He watched her and frowned. A lock of hair fell over his brow when he finally inclined his head. "I'm here to ask a few questions."
"About Damien St. Claire."
The name tightened the muscles of her jaw in a painful bunch. Blood rushed to her ears, roared like crashing waves. She couldn't move for a long moment, couldn't make her throat work. A deep breath forced it open. "I think that you should leave," she said very carefully, very evenly.
Blackburn shook his head, began to protest, but she stood and stabbed a finger at the door. "No. It's obvious my brother did not send you here. Leave. You can find your way out." She pushed past him to the desk and dropped into the seat behind it, hands frantically shuffling papers. A rush of hurt surged in her chest. Why would she think he'd be different from any other man?
Standing with slow purpose, he stepped toward her and leaned to rest his fists on the desktop. His jaw looked as hard as hers felt. "Lady Alexandra, I need to know what happened between you and St. Claire—and John Tibbenham."
"Really? How does it involve you?" Making an obvious show of widening her eyes, she looked up at him with mock dismay. "Oh, I'm sorry. You must have been one of my lovers. I find it so hard to recall them all."
His eyes narrowed as if her words had been a slap, then a sneer twisted his mouth as he leaned close. "Believe me, my lady. If I'd been one of your lovers, you'd remember it."
"Truly?" Alexandra let her gaze drift down to rest on the front of his trousers.
His fists tightened to rock on her desk. "Dinna think—" he began, but she cut him off again.
"You are not the first man to come here on the scent of easy prey. A ruined woman who just happens to be an heiress? Is that what you were thinking? Not very original, Mr. Blackburn. Please get out of my home."