Heiress Jane Cartwright wants a suitor who likes her instead of her dowry. Her parents want a titled son-in-law. When a stranger falls out of a tree and lands at her feet at the Midsummer Ball, she’s intrigued with this charmingly awkward, science-minded man. She thinks her deepest wish has been answered when she finds out he’s titled. But Jane will soon learn that wishes can be fickle, and her whirlwind romance might just be too good to be true…
Note: This is a novella (20,000 words) and it was originally published in A Midsummer Night’s Kiss anthology.
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Read an Excerpt of Midnight Wish
(In which our couple meet, and Stephen leaves an impression.)
Jane gasped as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. The gardens of Hadley House were just as lavishly decorated as the ballroom. Torches lit the stone balcony, and past the balcony, strung along winding gravel paths, were round oil lamps in different colors that gently illuminated the grounds.
She walked down the steps and into the fairy gardens, alone.
As she took one of the pathways at random, she noticed a shimmering up ahead and stopped to stare with delight. The ethereal glow came from hundreds of candles. Each candle rested in a small glass jar, dangling from the overarching tree branches by a string.
She walked forward, hand outstretched as though she sought to hold the tiny ethereal flames in her palm. But the gesture was halted when muttering drifted to her from a smaller path branching to the right.
Jane hesitated. She was curious, of course, but low mutterings in the dark of night were not exactly something one sought out. But then, the choice was made for her, because as she narrowed her eyes and peered through the leaves, she saw him…a man, a full grown man in formal evening attire…climbing up a tree.
She moved closer silently as he leaned out to stare at one of the jars. She frowned, wondering what on earth had captivated him so, when the fluttering of small wings caught her attention—a moth. The man took a handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket and reached forward, gently trying to move the moth away from the flame. As soon as he removed the obstruction, the moth was back.
The man grimaced. “Ridiculous addle pated insects,” he said vehemently, looking like he was as likely to crush the creature as save it.
Jane pressed her hand to her mouth, but it wasn’t enough to stifle a snort of laughter.
His head swung toward her. A flash of white as his eyes widened. And then, he lost his grip on the tree and fell to the ground with a large thud.
“Oh, good God!” Jane cried, rushing forward. She stared at the silent heap on the ground. She couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not. Was he dead? Should she run to the ballroom and have someone fetch a physician? Or an undertaker, perhaps?
As she leaned close to peer at him, he shot to his feet and nearly gave her an apoplexy in the process. She pressed her hand over her thudding heart and assessed the situation—the dead man seemed to be alive and well.
“Are you injured?” she asked tentatively, not entirely trusting that he wouldn’t collapse at any second.
He glanced down at his body and then back at her. “I don’t believe so.”
She surveyed him—his coat had leaves and dirt on it, but she didn’t see any broken bones protruding. While he adjusted a pair of small round spectacles that had been knocked askew, she studied his face. Calm gray-blue eyes shone past the glitter of the glass lenses. His hair was thick, though a rather ordinary shade of brown, and tousled from the fall. His forehead was a little too broad, his nose long.
He wasn’t the most handsome man she’d ever seen, but there was something about his eyes that she liked.
“What in the world were you doing?” she asked, when he didn’t speak again.
“I was…well, I was…” he started to put his hands in his pockets, then seemed to realize he didn’t have any pockets as he wasn’t wearing a greatcoat, and let them lower to his sides.
“Trying to save a moth?” she supplied.
“Yes,” he said, a little defensively.
She frowned, thinking he wasn’t the most articulate person in the world. “Are you going to run from jar to jar, trying to save them all? I have to tell you, I don’t think it’s possible.”
He glared at her. “I’m not a simpleton,” he said. “That moth was very rare.”
“Then you’ll be glad to know it seems to have decided against suicide for the moment. It’s right beside you.”
Somewhat Recent Release!
The Improper Bride
Sisters of Scandal #5
Cold, arrogant, and demanding Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton, would never dally with a mere servant. But when Henry is injured in a horrible fire, his pretty housekeeper Cassandra nurses him back to health, throwing them together day and night. As he slowly heals from his burns, their friendship blossoms, and the class walls between them start to crumble. Cassandra is surprised by glimpses of a kind and thoughtful man beneath her employer’s hard façade—and even more surprised when she develops tender feelings for him. But anything between lord and servant is impossible…and besides, as a widow, she knows love only leads to heartbreak.
Henry is changing, as well. His close brush with death has opened his eyes to his self-imposed emotional isolation…and has urgently reminded him of his duty to marry a well-bred lady and produce an heir. Determined to do right by his family name, he immediately begins searching for a suitable bride. But Cassandra is the only woman who is never far from his mind or his heart. Contrary to everything he’s been taught to believe, he realizes his lovely housekeeper might just be his perfect match. Now, if only he could convince everyone else of that. Especially Cassandra…
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Read an Excerpt of The Improper Bride
“Oh, indeed?” he said softly, in a tone that scared her with its evenness. “What you feel for me is mere…servitude?”
No! Good Lord, there was nothing subservient in the way she’d pressed into his body in the snow, or when she’d cradled his face in her palms, or slept spooned up against him on the library floor. But admitting that would only make a complicated situation even more tangled. “Yes, I suppose, if that is what you wish to call it.”
He took a step toward her. “And when I recognized you even blindfolded, and your body trembled as I whispered in your ear, that was merely lord and housekeeper?”
She swallowed, her face heating. “I…” She cleared her throat. “That was a misunderstanding.”
He took her hand in his and tugged. She stumbled forward, nearly colliding with him. She would have, if she hadn’t braced her hand on his chest. She had to tilt her head back to look him in the eyes and she was very aware that he hadn’t removed his fingers from her wrist. Each one was distinct, burning her like brands.
“In that case, touch me,” he growled.
“What? No, I—”
“If you’re not affected by my presence, man to woman, I want you to prove it.” His eyes blazed with challenge.
“You are being ridiculous,” she said, her voice quaking as much as her heart.
He untied his cravat with one hand and let it drop to the floor, revealing his throat and his collarbone—smooth, pale skin, unmarred by the fire. She saw the pulse in his throat, saw that it was beating faster than normal.
“Touch me,” he ordered. Like Satan whispering temptation in her ear… Do you want the apple? Take it. Taste it. Her hand was still on his chest. Take it.
She wanted to so much, with a yearning that left her weak. She slid her hand up, her fingertips brushing his shoulder. He was tense. When she touched skin, he sucked in a quick breath.
A heady feeling, to know a simple touch could affect him so strongly. Heady and hot, and not at all servile.
It occurred to her, she was playing right into the scoundrel’s hands.
She didn’t care. The contact, the warmth of him, the way his pulse trembled under her fingers, had a similar effect to the whisky. It was like flame dancing along her limbs. Her nerves tingled, surging and alive. She let her thumb brush his collarbone, memorizing the contour of the graceful, jutting sweep, and paused at the hollow of his throat where she could feel the pounding of his heart.
No, she couldn’t… But she was already letting her head fall forward, her willpower succumbing to the hard, harsh rhythm of her body. Her lips grazed the hollow and his fingers tightened around her wrist, almost hurting her but not quite. She breathed him in, salt and spice and skin.
And licked him.
Content Copyright Lily Maxton