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Reluctant Hearts, Volume 1
James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, had everything—until he was found covered in blood, standing over a dead girl. Now locked away in a madhouse, he has one short year to recover his memories and prove his sanity, or be condemned for life. But the demons inside Devlin’s head are far easier to battle than the evil surrounding him at Ballencrieff Asylum.
Anne Winton hardly expects to find her calling—or love—while working in a lunatic asylum. But despite all warnings, the “Mad Marquess” proves dangerously fascinating to innocent Anne. She vows to save him not only from his adversaries, but from himself.
Initially, Anne is only a pawn in Devlin’s bid to gain his freedom, until he begins to see her not just as a means to an end, but as a beautifully passionate woman. He must choose: compromise the woman he loves, or languish forever in hell.
Page Count: 444
Word Count: 109230
Very well, she would let her hair down. Really, men could be children at times. She pulled the first pin and slid it into her pocket. By the second, he had stopped dead and stood watching her as if something crucial might be lost if he moved. It finally dawned on her thick brain in the middle of removing the third that she had his entire attention. Of course that knowledge made her fumble the fourth. As she scrambled to pick it up, her hair fell in a rush, the ends brushing the rug.
“I have been aching to see that since I knocked your bonnet off in the great hall the first day you came.”
He was so close, nearly face to face with her. Taking the pin from her shaking fingers, his hands framed her face and then brushed over her head, searching for more pins. When he found them all, he released her hair. It fell heavy and swinging down her back and over her breasts.
Wishing to hide or to savor this moment, she closed her eyes. He smelled of linseed oil and cloves. And something else that was deep and earthy, as if he had just sprung from the ground.
His hand brushed her skirt. She blinked. He dipped into her pocket and then dropped the pins. The bone of his knuckle hovered next to her thigh. Only one thinnish petticoat between them.
She would slip her hand in with his and then lift her mouth—
He jerked the delicious heat away and then yanked her to her feet.
“Stop looking at me that way, for God’s sake. How am I to concentrate on anything?”
Stupid tears pricked at her eyes. So foolish, persisting in the belief that his smallest gesture might be one of seduction. Steeling herself she met his gaze.
His breath came fast, and the hand he had just withdrawn from her clenched white with tension. Not just in anger, but something else as well.
She would find out what the something was. Insolent and stubborn, Mrs. Abbot had called her. Her knees still bore the scars from being made to kneel on sharp stones from morning prayers until tea. Lord Devlin would find out his Owl, as he called her, could be tenacious as a hawk when she truly wanted something.
“Sit down. Quickly.”
She did so. But not quickly.
“Lie back in the chair. Yes… No! Don’t touch your hair. Now drape yourself over the chair’s arms. Yes, exactly, your head back like that. Now, lick your lips and look at me.”
She loved these orders. He exuded power in giving them, but she had learnt a valuable lesson today.
She had a bit of power as well.
Waiting until his full attention was back on her, only then did she lick her lips and arch her back ever so slightly.
“Yes. All right.” His Adams Apple bobbed in his neck. “Now you may resume your story. I think we left off yesterday just when the Troll-Lord was about to remove Cristabelle’s wings. And don’t skimp on the details. You know how I like seeing everything.”
“My stories are no longer free.” His gaze snapped to meet hers. “But I am prepared to trade you for the next installment.” Flirting with disaster she was. Not only her position here at Ballencrieff, but something more dire, her heart. So be it. She would suffer the consequences of both.
His eyes were entirely fixed on her lips. His chain clanked against the bare floor. “A trade?” He flicked his paintbrush against his open palm. “It would appear, Miss Owl, you are learning the ways of the world. Very well, I am open to a fair trade. What would you have of me?”
She sat up straighter, struggling to maintain her new-found power. “A kiss.”
His brush dropped to the floor.
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