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Click here for the Excerpt from A Talent for Sin

Click here for the Excerpt from Bound by Temptation

Click here for the Excerpt from What a Duke Wants

Click here for the Excerpt from Mastering the Marquess


Excerpt from Taken by Desire


Chapter One


It couldn’t be him. By all the gods in the Pantheon, please don’t let it be him. Glancing once more down the darkened hall, Anna Steele swore softly to herself, the sound of the words making it no further than her lips.

All she had wanted was to sneak down and slip her note into the letters waiting to be posted. She needed to let Mr. Jackal know she’d send more funds as soon as she returned to London. She’d even chosen a book from the library on her way back to her room to give an explanation for her actions if she was caught roaming the halls in her nightclothes.

All she wanted was a peaceful night.

And now this.

Impulse was not something she gave in to. A great deal of thought went into any deed she performed. Listing the times she had considered carefully before taking action would have required a full day, if not longer.

And now this.

The blasted man hadn’t been on the guest list for Lady Smythe-Burke’s house party. After all the occasions on which she had avoided him it seemed preposterous that she should be forced into this situation.

She could not proceed past him without being seen and if she tried to retreat he would surely hear her.

She didn’t need this now. She had enough to worry about without --


She was not mistaken about who stood there or whose room he stood before, his hand on the door.

Alexander Struthers.

She couldn’t see the piercing blue eyes that had always seemed to demand her deepest secrets, but there could be no mistaking that angular, powerful frame. It would have been bad enough if he were arriving, but she’d heard the distinctive click of her half-sister Maddie’s door easing shut.

She closed her eyes, tried to think -- never an easy thing to do when Struthers was near. If she stayed quiet maybe he wouldn’t see her. Even if he did, she could smile sweetly and pretend that she had not seen him slip out of Maddie’s room. Struthers was always as eager to avoid her as she was him.

Then, she heard it.

The sharp tap of boots sounding down the hall behind her.

Lord Milson. Maddie’s pompous husband. No one else strode with such military precision.

Struthers’s head snapped up as the sound reached him. The dim lighting made it hard to see him clearly, but she could imagine his look of bliss and satisfaction dying quickly. His posture tensed and his face turned toward her, the gesture of a wolf scenting for prey.

He saw her then. She could be no more than a dim shadow to him, but he stiffened in recognition. Then his head tilted further as he realized the footsteps were not hers.

There were only two rooms this far down the hall, hers and the one Struthers had just left.

She saw the movement of his lips and knew he had sworn with even more eloquence than herself.

Lord Milson was a jealous man -- and a crack shot. More than one opponent had met him at dawn and not returned.

His footsteps drew closer. They would turn the corner any second and then there would be no choice.

This was the moment. She had to do something.

She didn’t even consider before she slipped her robe open and shoved her chemise as low as it would easily go. Seduction -- that at least she understood.

The sound of a boot-tip grinding in rotation as it turned the corner caused her to launch herself forward, pressing herself into Struthers’s firmly muscled chest. He took a step back as her weight hit him fully, pressing him into the door he had just exited. His hands came up, cupping her behind, as he fought to keep them both from falling or crashing through the door.

He was so warm, so hard.

She hadn’t recognized how much she missed being touched.

Even before the thought was fully realized Anna rained kisses down upon his throat, frantically trying to remove any mark of the woman who had been there before her. It was not so easy to erase the smell of the distinctive, overly-sweet floral perfume and the heady musk of sex. She could only hope nobody else drew this close to him.

The footsteps came to a stop. She waited for a cough or some noise from behind to demonstrate that Lord Milson intended to stop matters.

No sound came.

She slowed her kisses, concentrating on the small hollow of his throat. Small delicate kisses. Long slow kisses. She let her tongue dart out to taste him. Let herself imagine for the briefest of seconds that this was real, that this was where she wanted to be, where she was meant to be. It was far easier than it should have been, her whole body ached with the desire to be closer.

He shivered at the touch of her tongue, but made no other move.

Couldn’t the man help at all? Did she have to do everything?

A long deep sigh escaped her lips as she licked again at the damp flesh of his throat. He tasted of salt and man. She rubbed her cheek against his chest, relishing in the abrasion of hair against skin. She nipped gently. No response.

She shifted, pressing her breasts firmly against him and causing her chemise to slip yet lower -- the slightest shrug of her shoulder and her robe slipped down to catch at her hips where Struthers’s hands still held her. A deep moan and another nip.

Still no movement or sound from either man -- neither Lord Milson, behind, nor Struthers, who seemed to be made of stone.

There was only one thing a smart woman could do -- she reached beneath Struthers’s robe, slipped her fingers into his breeches and grabbed him. Oh, she wanted to do it hard and with a little twist, but she refrained herself, a soft wrapping of the fingers, the gentle pull and push. Oh, Struthers was moving now -- and far more than she would have expected given his recent bout of activity.

Finally, one of his hands slipped up and about her, his thumbs trailing over her nipples. She glanced up and met his gaze. His eyes caught the light and flashed once. It was her turn to shiver. There was no comfort or connection to be found in his glance. His lips tightened. His face was full of some emotion -- but what?

Then both his hands moved. He tightened his fingers, almost painfully, into her buttocks and lifted her -- his head coming down to catch a taut nipple between his lips, his teeth -- his tongue circling, wetting the thin linen of her shift. God, the man knew what he was doing. Her whole body arched, her head falling back, half in unwanted pleasure, half in an attempt to see the man behind -- to gauge the response to the show.

Her hair was in her eyes. All she could see were her own dark curls. She tossed her head to the side, trying get a view. Struthers’s hand shifted to restrain her, pulling her tight against his arousal. Small shivers formed deep in her belly, lighting flames that raced through her. No, this was her game. She moved her hand, pinching softly, then more firmly -- rubbing until the next moan that escaped was his.

That was all it took. A tight voice sounded from behind. “Really, my dear Madeline, couldn’t you at least have made it to the bedroom? Killing him there would be so much more discreet.”

Lord Milson. She had almost forgotten him.

She gasped, much louder than was necessary, but she wanted to end this situation quickly -- it had suddenly become much too real. She pulled out of Struthers’s embrace and spun, resisting the urge to cover her breasts. The dampened fabric of her chemise left nothing to the imagination. Experience had taught her well.

She waited for Struthers to speak, but he remained silent, leaving the game to her.

Her mind grew icy clear. A faint glimmer of moonlight fell between the curtains of the long window and she allowed it to fall, illuminating her face and hair, before turning to hide against Struthers’s hard chest. As if finally awaking to what must happen, he wrapped his arms about her, protecting her -- or at least appearing to. The tighter he held her the more danger she felt.

She smothered a cough. The floral perfume she had scented before was even more overpowering, almost smothering her  -- reminding her fully of the situation.

There was the faintest creak and the door they rested against eased open, forcing Struthers forward, bringing them impossibly close together.

“Gerald, what is going on here? I was expecting you a good hour ago,” her sister’s sultry voice called from the door. And then the sudden intake of breath -- so perfectly executed Anna almost believed it herself. “Mr. Struthers, what are you doing here? And -- and --”

It was hard for anyone to see who Anna was now that she was completely encased in Struthers’s arms.

It was too late to back down.

Anna lifted her head from its protection and stared straight at Maddie. “I would think it’s very obvious what we are doing here. The only mistake is that my door is one further down the hall.” Her voice was low and husky, as well-trained as that of the most costly courtesan.

She clenched her fingers to hide their quake, the only betrayal of her true emotion.

“Anna, how could you --”

“I’ll have you know that this is a respectable house. I cannot believe that --”

“Bloody hell, you’re even more of a minx now than you used to be.”

All three spoke at once and it was impossible for Anna to distinguish who had said what -- except for that last, that could only have come from him, from Struthers.

She snuggled back against him, shifting her hips, rubbing, pressing -- enjoying his squirm as she made full contact.

“I must insist you stop that behavior this moment, Miss Steele. I am absolutely appalled that our hostess, Lady Smythe-Burke -- not to mention her nephew, the Duke of Brisbane -- would allow such -- such things under his roof.” Lord Milson spoke with voice hard as iron. He stepped toward them and for the first time Anna was glad of the strong arms holding her tight.

Anna turned her face to Maddie -- waiting to see if her half-sister would even attempt to save her. Anna might have understood what she’d done -- but Maddie could not know what had been in Anna’s mind when she threw herself into Struthers’s arms.

Maddie turned her head, refusing to meet Anna’s gaze. Swallowing a brief flash of disappointment, Anna tried to find the words -- words that would disarm this situation. Nothing came. It was not surprising. She would never have started this charade if she had not understood the potential for death and disaster that lurked in this hall.

“Miss Steele,” Lord Milson continued, “I will make this known to Lady Smythe-Burke immediately. I am sure our hostess will be most upset with your behavior this night. I will expect your departure before morning.”

Anna had expected Milson to reveal at least some relief that it was not his wife he had caught. Rather, there was only this cold, icy anger.

She leaned back, letting her head fall against Struthers. Again, she wished she could pretend this was real, wished she could find comfort. Instead, there was only more disappointment. He, too, said not a word in her defense.

She had saved him from injury -- possibly even death or murder, killing someone in a duel was still murder -- and he didn’t say a word.

Lord Milson stared at the two of them, but his focus was only on Anna, making his own impression of the situation clear. She was the woman. It was her transgression, her sin. “Miss Steele, I trust you do not wish to accompany me to Lady Smythe-Burke. I am sure your time would be much better spent organizing your maid to begin with the packing. I will not have you near my wife. I always knew you were trouble.” He gave a little snort and turned to leave, giving not one indication that she had ever sat at his dinner table, that he was married to her sister. They had never gotten along and now she was going to pay.

And so she faced disgrace again. Anna would have snorted herself if it would not have made the situation worse. Her dear friends would still welcome her into their homes. They had all faced scandal and worse. Her actions would matter little to them beyond her foolishness in getting caught. It was a sophisticated world she in which she lived and this adventure would do nothing but cause a few giggles.

Oh, outside of her own little world a few more doors would close, but they were doors she had no desire to walk through. Still it stung when each one slammed. She pulled her shoulders back and stepped away from Struthers, pulling out of his arms. With as much dignity as she could manage she bent down and lifted her robe from the floor, drawing it tight about her. She turned from Struthers toward her own room to summon the maid.

She would not let it matter -- neither his silence, nor Maddie’s. She had expected no better -- not from either of them.

Struthers reached out then, caught her shoulder and for a moment the light from the window lit his features full on. His eyes focused on her face, first her eyes and then slowly, as if unwillingly, they dropped to her lips. Her breath caught at the intensity of his stare. Her tongue flicked out to dampen her suddenly dry mouth. The minute gesture seemed to shake him and his glance returned to her own. His eyes were very dark, the blue sinking to an inky black despite the shining light. There was a question there -- and recognition -- and something more -- something more she did not understand.

“Stop.” Struthers’s firmly spoken word was directed at Lord Milson, who was half a dozen steps down the hall, but it caught her too. Struthers turned his head and the shaft of light caught his profile, sending him into silhouette. She drew her breath deep. The word might be aimed at Milson, but his glance still held her. In the shining light of the moon she could see the cool consideration of his gaze -- if she had acted on impulse, he did not. “If you are to speak with Lady Smythe-Burke it should be to tell her of our upcoming nuptials. Miss Steele has finally agreed to become my wife. You must forgive me if my joy in her answer allowed my baser passions freer rein than is proper. All fault is mine, not hers.”

Milson snorted again, but gestured for Struthers to join him. Struthers released her shoulder without another word and followed him.

She should do something. This was not what she wanted. But all she could do was stare, her tongue caught by the shock of Struthers’s words.

As the two men disappeared around the corner she turned to Maddie, hoping for some glimmer of understanding, looking for some sign of comfort, some kindness, if only out of remembrance of their childhood together. She said, “You do understand I was only trying to help, don’t you?”

What Anna received was displeasure. There was no mistaking the cold glare in Lady Milson’s clear blue eyes as she slipped back into her room and gave the door a powerful slam.

Anna was left alone, staring down the hallway.


Coming in July 2016

Angel in Scarlet

Sarah's Surrender


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