In Vanessa Kelly’s captivating series, three young women are descended from royalty in the most improper way. But that doesn’t stop them from pursuing lives rich in adventure. . .
Lia Kincaid, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of York, comes from a long line of notorious women. Raised by her grandmother, formerly mistress to the late Marquess of Lendale, she has little hope of a respectable marriage. But the new Marquess, her childhood friend, Jack Easton, would make a very desirable protector . . . if he weren’t too honorable to take her to bed.
It s bad enough being saddled with a title he never desired. Now Jack must resist the beautiful woman he desires far too much. Duty calls, and he is duty-bound
to choose a wealthy bride. But then Lia makes another outrageous suggestion: asking Jack to devise some tests to find her the perfect paramour. Tests that involve flirting, kissing, and other pleasurable pursuits. Tests that, in a matter of weeks, could transform friendship into the ton s greatest
scandal, igniting a passion even duty can t deny. . .
Hell and damnation.
Jack’s hands shot out and grasped Amy by her bare shoulders. The dancer wobbled dramatically and clutched at his waistcoat, as if she would fall flat on her backside without his support. Because Lia knew Amy could balance on the toes of one foot with no trouble at all, she had to swallow a snort.
“Oh, la, thank you, kind sir,” Amy trilled. “I would have taken quite the tumble if you hadn’t caught me.”
Jack blinked down at her, looking befuddled. Then the scowl returned, and it grew even more severe as he took in Amy’s generously displayed charms.
“I’m happy I prevented so unfortunate an occurrence.” His tone suggested the opposite as he tried to extract himself from Amy’s deathlike grip.
“And who might you be, sir?” the dancer asked with a flirtatious smile. “A new patron for our little company or a member of our illustrious board? I do hope so.” She gave his waistcoat a little stroke, as if checking out the goods. “You would make a fine addition, I’m sure.”
Because Jack was now directing his scowl in Lia’s direction, she was tempted to leave him to his fate. Still, he was Jack, and he’d come to her rescue numerous times over the years. “He’s a friend of mine, Amy. A good friend,” she added pointedly.
The girl cast a shrewd glance at her, then relinquished her grip. “So that’s how it is, eh? Forgive me, love. I didn’t know you had a special beau.”
Jack’s expression had now become an interesting combination of outrage and alarm. Lia started mentally bracing herself for the forthcoming scold. It was sure to be a ripper.
“He’s not a special beau,” she said, trying to minimize the damage.
Amy’s eyebrows went up in an incredulous lift.
“Never mind,” Lia said with a sigh. Trying to explain her relationship with Jack wasn’t worth the bother; Amy wouldn’t believe it anyway. “This is the Marquess of Lendale. Lord Lendale, allow me to introduce Miss Amy Baxter, a member of my stepfather’s company.”
“A pleasure,” Jack replied in a tone so clipped Lia was tempted to smack him.
“Don’t look very pleasurable to me,” Amy said with her usual fatal candor. “But I’m sure our Lia can find a way to sweeten your mood.” She finished up that bon mot by giving Jack an exaggerated wink.
“Oy, Amy, my love,” came a welcome interruption from out in the hall. “Are you in the green room?”
“In here, Bertie,” Amy yelled back.
A moment later one of the musicians stuck his head through the doorway. “A few of us are popping out to the pub for a bite before rehearsal. Fancy joining us?”
“Yes, please,” Amy replied.
Bertie was not the least bit nonplussed by Amy’s half-naked appearance. Most of the members of the company were used to seeing each other in various states of undress and never blinked an eye. It had taken Lia a few days to get used to it, but she now realized that the men in the company were fiercely protective of all the women, even if morals on occasion did tend to get a bit wobbly.
One glance at Jack’s face, however, signaled that she had work to do when it came to explaining how tame her new life was, despite appearances to the contrary.
Amy disappeared with Bertie, leaving Lia with the ignoble urge to slink out after her friend. Unfortunately, Jack was blocking the doorway with his tall, muscular frame.
Might as well bull through it, old girl.
“You’re looking well, Jack,” she said brightly. “It’s lovely to see you.”
“Really? You’ve been assiduously avoiding me for a week now.”
Drat. She had been avoiding him, and not simply because she didn’t want to reprise their argument. Their disastrous kiss in the library at Stonefell had been the most mortifying moment of her life. How could they ever get back on the old footing with something like that hanging between them?
“I’ve been very busy,” she explained. “The theater will open with a new program in only two days. It’s been a madhouse.”
“So I see,” he said, casting a dark look around the room.
Some of the plasterwork was a little worse for wear and the paint was a bit faded, but it was in better shape than some of the shuttered rooms at Stonefell. Her stepfather had plans to renovate the entire backstage area, but that would have to wait until they were making a profit. So far, all his efforts had gone into refreshing the galleries, boxes, and public areas of the theater. The Pan was now almost as elegant as the big theaters in Drury Lane.
“Now that I’ve finally got a moment of your time,” Jack said with gentle sarcasm as his gaze returned to her, “may I comment that your behavior has been nothing short of reckless? First you lied to me by feigning illness, then you ran off to London on the mail coach, of all things. What in God’s name prompted such foolishness, especially after I told you that I would take care of you?”
Lia carefully folded the costume and placed it in her workbasket. Then she crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him. “You can’t think of one thing that would make me bolt?”
He flushed a bit. “You were the one who kissed me, not the other way around. It wasn’t as if I had designs on your virtue, pet—quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Yes, you made that abundantly clear,” she said coolly.
He slapped a hand to the back of his neck, rubbing it as if it pained him. In the process, he knocked off his hat.
“Dammit,” he muttered as he stooped to retrieve it. “All right, let’s leave aside the issue that you apparently resent the fact that I refuse to take advantage of you. And let’s also defer for now any discussion of your precipitous, nay, insane departure from Stonefell.”
“Thank you, my lord,” she said with sugary sweetness. “I’m ever so grateful.”