Excerpt #4: Three Weeks With a Princess

Three Weeks With a Princess


“Jack, please wait,” called the sweetly lilting voice he knew as well as his own.

He turned to see Lia hurrying along the garden path that cut up from the stables. She was dressed in a faded blue day gown with a light scarf around her shoulders. Her lustrous hair was pulled back in a simple knot, as if she’d been in a hurry to dress.

He couldn’t help thinking how pretty she looked as she came to meet him—a domestic version of Flora, as fresh as spring and just as wholesome. He’d always found it ironic that the daughter and granddaughter of two exceedingly experienced women glowed with innocence. Lia was the epitome of a fresh-faced country girl destined for a happy life as a wife and mother. He hoped more than anything that he could still give that to her, even if he would never be the lucky man to claim such a prize.

Claim such a prize?

Jack had never thought of Lia in such terms and wouldn’t start now. Besides, he couldn’t afford to marry a penniless girl. His mother had made that point in yet another anxiety-filled letter just this morning. She’d included a list of the heiresses she’d vetted, each one a more than acceptable candidate for the role of Marchioness of Lendale.

“Good Lord, such a fierce scowl,” Lia said when she reached him. “What’s put you in such a bad mood this early in the day?”

“I’m not in a bad mood. Just got a bit of dust in my eye.” She looked dubious, but he didn’t give her a chance to dispute it. “You’re out and about rather early. Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No, just a cup of coffee. I wanted to catch you as soon as I could.”

“Ah, then it must be important.”

She grimaced. “Rather, I’m afraid.”

“Come into the library and I’ll ring for something to eat. It’s never a good idea to discuss important matters on an empty stomach.”

She smiled as she fell into step beside him. “I won’t say no to a roll and another cup of coffee.”

“I think we can do better than that.”

“You’re up early yourself,” she said as they turned the corner of the house and headed along the main path through the ornamental gardens.

The day promised to be fine, with clear blue skies and a light breeze. Swallows flitted through the trees, twittering like mad, and bees darted from one heavily laden rosebush to another. It was the most bucolic scene one could imagine.

“I was awake early, so I thought I’d take a ride across the downs before starting my work day,” Jack said. They would be his only moments of peace before once more surrounding himself with ledgers, bills, and aggravating letters from his bankers.

“Yes, I know. I just missed you. I stopped by the stables to check on Dorcas.”

He cast a quick glance down at her lovely face. Lia had always had the run of the entire estate and countryside. Her roaming about so freely had never bothered him—until now. “You seem to be spending quite a bit of time in the stables. I know you like to assist Markwith, but it’s not appropriate.”

Her elegant brows winged up in an almost comical slant. “What in heaven’s name are you talking about? I’ve been helping out at the stables since I was a little girl.”

“But you’re no longer a little girl. You’re a grown woman, Lia. And you seem to wander around a great deal without a chaperone.”

She stared at him with complete incredulity. “It’s my home, Jack. Everyone knows me. And it’s the country, after all. I’m perfectly safe.”

He found her naïveté appalling. “Still, it’s not a good idea for you to be hanging about the stables. If you want to ride, simply send your maid up with a note to Markwith. He’ll have your mare saddled and ready for you.”

Lia stopped in the middle of the gravel path and regarded him with an expression that suggested she thought him dicked in the nob. “In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have my own maid. We have one young girl who helps Sarah, and the poor thing is run off her feet as it is. Goodness, Jack, what’s got into you this morning?”

As he struggled to find an answer that wouldn’t offend, a surprisingly cynical expression transformed her features. He’d seen that look on her face a few times yesterday afternoon during that gruesome talk at Bluebell Cottage. He didn’t like it.

“Afraid I’ll be dallying with the stableboys, are we?” she asked sardonically. “Dear me, Lord Lendale, such a vulgar assumption to make about your old friend.”

“For God’s sake, Lia, of course I’m not making such a ridiculous assumption,” he said, quickly becoming exasperated.

“Then what is the problem?”

“I don’t want anyone treating you with disrespect or making assumptions about your character. You’re safe on the estate, but the countryside is changing, especially with so many men coming home from the war. The world is a rough place, Lia. I won’t have you exposing yourself to unnecessary danger.”

When she started to roll her eyes, he scowled at her. “I mean it,” he said. “You’re more vulnerable than you know.”

“I’m not a peagoose, Jack. I know that Granny and I have very few resources at our disposal. I know how vulnerable we are.” She grimaced. “It’s a wretched situation, I’m afraid.”

“Sweetheart, there’s no need for drama. You and Aunt Rebecca have a home here at Stonefell for as long as you desire.”

She crossed her arms and regarded him with a thoughtful air. “Really? And what happens when you get married, Jack? I wonder how your wife will feel about having a former courtesan and her bastard granddaughter living in the dower house.”

Bloody hell. He’d had more than one tussle with his mother about Lia and Rebecca and what to do with them. But he hadn’t yet contemplated how a wife would react to them living on the estate.

“I’m not planning on getting married any time soon, so it’s not a problem,” he hedged.

“But you will eventually marry, and I’m sure the average aristocratic miss will look askance at the notion of having the Notorious Kincaids living just down the lane. You think people talk now? Just wait until you pitch a gently bred young lady into the middle of that mess.”

A footfall on the gravel had them turning to see old Merton coming along the path, trundling a wheelbarrow full of gardening tools.

“We are not discussing this for any Tom, Dick, or Harry to overhear.” Jack took her by the elbow and started to propel her toward the terrace.

“Stop making such a fuss.” She resisted his efforts to get her moving. “Merton, you should check the rosebushes by the arbor. They’re showing signs of blight.”

The old man gave her a fond smile. “I’ll do that, miss, ye can be sure.”

“Thank you. I’ll come see you once I’m finished with Lord Lendale. I’d like to talk to you about some ideas I have for the kitchen garden, too.”

“Aye, Miss Lia, I’ll wait for ye.”

Jack cursed under his breath as she finally let him march her up onto the stone terrace.

“And now what have I done to annoy his lordship?” she asked.

“It seems to have escaped your notice that you don’t actually work here at Stonefell. There’s no need for you to be running about instructing the staff. They’re quite capable of doing their jobs without direction from you.”

She yanked her arm away, coming to a halt in the middle of the terrace. “Yes, they are. But, again, in case you’ve failed to notice, Stonefell is severely understaffed and the servants are quite overworked.” She glanced away and blinked several times, as if she’d gotten a speck in her eye.

“I’m only trying to help,” she added in a tight voice.

Jack breathed out an irritated sigh. He had no damn business taking his frustrations out on her, especially when she did everything she could to make his life easier. “I don’t seem to be able to keep my blasted foot out of my mouth this morning, do I? You might as well give me a kick in the backside and get it over with. I certainly deserve it.”

Her startled gaze flew back to him.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he said. “I didn’t mean to insult you. But you’re not a servant here at Stonefell. I don’t ever want you to feel you have to earn your keep.”

She gave him a quizzical smile. “Stonefell is my home, and your people are the closest thing Granny and I have to family. If I can help them, I’m happy to do so.” Her shoulders lifted in a practical little shrug. “And although I wouldn’t quite phrase it as earning my keep, we do owe the Lendales a great deal. Your uncle supported us for almost twenty years, and now you’ve pledged to do the same. And you, I might add, get nothing out of the deal, unlike the previous lord.”

He found her cynical assessment unnerving. “That’s a rather hard-hearted way to look at it.”

“But it’s the truth, isn’t it?”

He shoved a hand through his hair, hating the discussion. He’d always done his best to shelter Lia from the more unpleasant facts of life, but she’d grown into a woman who had a decidedly unvarnished view of the world. He realized now that he’d been a fool to think he could protect her from the realities of immutable circumstance.

When she was a little girl, they’d all pretended there was nothing out of the ordinary in her upbringing, or in his uncle’s relationship with Rebecca. Selfish and stupid was what they’d all been, and poor Lia would pay the price.

She placed a gentle hand on his arm. “Jack, we can’t go on pretending nothing’s changed, or that nothing’s going to change. That’s why I came up to the house so early. I need to talk to you before Granny does.”

“What does Rebecca want?”

She nudged him toward the open French doors of his library. “Trust me, you do not want to have this particular conversation with her.”

The morning sun cast bands of light across the library carpet and gently highlighted the faded shades of blue, cream, and rose. Lia wound her way between the scattered chairs and low tables of the comfortable room, then flopped into one of the creaky leather club chairs in front of his desk. Even when she flopped she managed to look graceful, although Rebecca would surely read her a lecture for reclining so casually, with her booted feet propped up against one of the desk legs.

Those boots looked familiar.

“Lia, are those the boots I bought for you when you were sixteen?”

She gave him a sheepish smile. “I suppose they are.”

“They’re practically falling off your feet. When was the last time you got a new pair?”

She glanced down negligently. “I just wear these when I work in the garden. Now, would you please stop worrying about such silly things and sit down? You can be such an old biddy sometimes.”

He snorted. “Well, that’s a first. Nobody’s ever called me an old biddy before.”

She grinned. “They don’t know you as I do.”

“You mean you think you know me. Now, would you like me to ring for something to eat?”

She shifted and sat up in her chair. “Thank you, but I think not. I don’t have much of an appetite, as it turns out.” He studied her face, noticing the shadows under her eyes and the tight set to a mouth that was normally generous, lush, and tilted up in a smile. She looked worried and nervous. But Lia had never been nervous with him—not once that he could remember. It sent a faint chill of warning up his spine.

“That bad, is it?” he said, forcing a light tone.

“You have no idea,” she said with a sigh.

“Then I suppose there’s no point in putting it off, is there?” He took his seat.

It seemed odd to be sitting across from her like this—the all-powerful lord of the manor at his desk. It still felt awkward, and he wondered if the feeling would ever fade.

Lia was staring down at the floor, her arms resting on her knees and her hands clasped in a tight knot. “I don’t know where to start, Jack.”

“You know I will always do anything I can to help you, my dear.”

She flashed him a rueful smile. “Like that time you rescued me from the chimney?”

When she was six years old, she’d taken it into her head to become a chimney sweep. She’d wedged herself into the flue in her grandmother’s bedroom and gotten stuck. Jack had been terrified that she’d hurt herself, but she’d begged him not to tell her grandmother or run for help. He’d finally managed to extract her with only a few scrapes and bruises, but she’d emerged covered with soot and her clothes more or less in tatters. She’d simply giggled uproariously, chalking the whole episode up as a grand adventure.

Lia nodded. “I know. You’ve always been my best friend. No one could ask for a better one.”

Her words set off a pang in his chest. Other than the servants on the estate, Lia had no friends, and no confidants besides her grandmother and him. In so many ways, she’d existed in an odd sort of isolation—not alone, but without the relationships any normal girl in a country village should have.

He forced aside the weight of guilt that pressed down on him. No matter what it took, he would do right by her. Lia could never be just an obligation to him. Yes, he’d rather neglected her these last several years, but she mattered to him in a way that few people in his life ever had.

“Good,” he said. “Now that we’ve agreed that I’m a perfectly splendid fellow, why don’t you tell me what Aunt Rebecca is worried about?”

“It’s not that she’s worried exactly. It’s something she, er, wants you to do.”

It wasn’t like Lia to hedge. “Pet, we haven’t got all day. Just spit it out.”

She sighed. “Very well. But please do remember that it wasn’t my idea.”

“I give you my word.”

Sitting up straight, she met his gaze. “Granny wants you to become my protector.”

That was a puzzling choice of words. “Of course I’ll protect you. Didn’t I make that clear yesterday?”

“Yes, but not my protector in a general way. She means protector in a rather specific way.”

The vague conversation began to frustrate him. “I’m not sure what else I can do to address her concerns, other than to say that I will provide for anything you need.”

She looked over at the window, shaking her head and muttering under her breath.

“Perhaps you could clarify what she means by specific,” Jack suggested.

Lia finally looked at him, her checks blazing as red as apples. “Granny wants me to be your mistress, you nodnock. She wants you to be my lover. Is that clear enough for you?”

Jack probably looked like a fish who’d landed on a bank, stunned and gasping for breath. And the entire time he stared at her, Lia glared back at him, looking furious and embarrassed. And anything but loverlike.

He finally marshaled the few wits that hadn’t been stunned into insensibility. “Clear? It’s insane. Take you as my mistress? How your grandmother could come up with such a ridiculous notion is beyond me. It’s simply laughable.”

He felt as if someone had knocked him on the head with a brick. And even more appalling, now that she’d put the idea into his head, some part of his brain—well, not his brain actually—thought there was some merit to the notion. How could it not, when she looked as she did now, her cheeks flushed, her gorgeous eyes snapping with fury, and her pretty breasts pushing up over the simple trim of her bodice with each indignant and huffy breath.

Get a handle, you idiot. He would no more take Lia as his mistress than he would don minstrel’s garb and caper about in Hyde Park.

When she crossed her arms under her chest, the movement pushed the plump white mounds up even higher over her bodice. Her scarf had slipped aside, and Jack fancied he might even see the edge of one nipple peeking out from behind the narrow band of lace. That lascivious hint sent a bolt of lust thrumming through his body to settle in his groin.

Argh. He’d never thought of Lia in that way and he was utterly horrified by his reaction.

He forced his gaze up to her face. The fury and hurt he saw in her eyes immediately dampened any misplaced ardor on his part.

“I’m sorry you find the notion so repugnant,” she said tightly. “Of course I realize I can’t hold a candle to all the fine ladies you’re accustomed to consorting with in London.”

“Good God. I don’t consort with fine ladies,” he exclaimed. “What sort of man do you take me for?”

“The regular kind. And don’t pretend you’re a virgin, Jack, or that you’ve never had an affair or slept with, well, you know.” She paused, suddenly looking uncertain. “You aren’t a virgin, are you?”

He dropped his forehead into his hand. “Lia, this is an entirely demented conversation.”

She let out a horrified gasp. “You are a virgin. Oh, dear. I’m so sorry, Jack. This must be thoroughly embarrassing for you. Please forgive me.”

He looked up with a scowl. “It is embarrassing, but not because I’m a virgin. I am not, by the way, though that is beside the point.”

“The point seems to be that you find the notion of me as your mistress hideous beyond imagining,” she said with irritation. “Well, let me tell you that I’m not exactly thrilled by the notion, Jack Easton.”

“Why the hell not?” he asked before he could stop him- self. “Never mind, don’t answer that. And just to be clear I don’t find you repugnant in the least. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

She blinked. “Then there is a chance you would consider taking me as your mistress?”

“Christ, no!”

Lia tucked her chin down and winced. “There’s no need to yell, Jack. I’m not deaf.”

He gripped the edge of his desk and took several deep breaths, trying to steady himself. Then he pushed himself out of his chair and stalked over to the drinks cart. He poured a splash of whiskey into a crystal tumbler and tossed it back. The burn hit his stomach like a gunshot, but the jolt of heat cleared his head.

“I could use one of those,” Lia said.

“I am not giving you whiskey before you’ve had anything to eat,” Jack growled. He refused to look at her before he got himself under some semblance of control. He felt as if he’d fallen asleep and woken up in a madhouse.

“Spoilsport,” she muttered.

He tugged at the hem of his waistcoat and then turned around to face her. Lia was now twisted around in her chair, arms crossed and shoulders hunched in a sulky pose. But because she never sulked, he suspected it was a defensive posture to cover up the pain of his unintentional insult.

Whoever would have thought that refusing to take Lia as his mistress would count as an insult?

“Now, let us start over again and try to speak to each other like rational human beings,” he said.

“I’m perfectly rational. You’re the one who’s acting like an escapee from Bedlam.”

He reached for his patience, now thin as a gossamer thread. While he rummaged his brain for something sensible to say that would lower the temperature in the room, Lia sighed and pushed herself to her feet.

“I’m sorry, Jack. That was rude of me. And I don’t mean it, of course. It’s just that—”

“I hurt your feelings,” he said gently.

She gave him a sad smile that made his heart cramp. “You did, rather. I know that makes me sound like a coxcomb, and it’s not as if I truly want to be your mistress. But you made it sound like the most ridiculous thing one could imagine—as if I’m utterly repugnant, despite your claims that I’m not.”

“Don’t be silly,” he said gruffly. “It’s just that I don’t think of you that way.”

She tilted her head like an inquisitive puppy. “Just how do you think of me, Jack?”

His mind blanked again. This should not be a difficult question to answer. “Almost like a little sister, I suppose. Someone I grew up with.”

Her eyes narrowed, as if the answer didn’t please her. “I’m not your sister, Jack.”

“I’m well aware of that, Lia.”

“I am not in any way related to you.”

“Yes, I know.” He was going to crack one of his back molars if he didn’t stop clenching his teeth. “What is your point?”

She reached a hand up to rub the center of her forehead, as if she was developing a headache. He knew the feeling because he was beginning to think someone had dropped an anvil on his head. The whiskey, in retrospect, might have been a mistake.

“I seemed to have lost it, actually,” she said. “Perhaps you might try looking for it.”

“Gladly.” He went to her and placed a hand on her shoulder, gently nudging her down into her chair. Then he went round the desk to his. “Why don’t we start over? I understand Rebecca’s concerns about the future, but how did she come up with this scheme in the first place? On a practical level alone, it doesn’t make a lot of sense because I’m not exactly flush with funds. Taking on a mistress is not on my list of priorities.”

“I told her that,” she said in a gloomy voice. “But she says if you’re willing to keep supporting us at Bluebell Cottage, there’s no reason you can’t take me on as your mistress. Formalize the relationship, as it were.”

He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“Draw up a contract outlining terms.”

“Again, that makes no sense. I’m willing to do that without imposing . . .”

“Conditions?” she finished dryly.

“For lack of a better term, yes.”

“It’s merely a guarantee against what will happen in the future, Jack. A form of protection for us, at least financially,” she said in a tone that suggested he wasn’t very bright.

Not that he could blame her. He was feeling remarkably fuzzy at the moment, and not from the whiskey. “What’s going to happen in the future?”

“You’re going to get married of course,” she said in a flat tone. “If I have a formal contract of, er—”


She nodded. “Then you can’t throw us out, willy-nilly. Or at least your wife can’t anyway.”

Jack wanted to thump his head down on the desk. That would probably hurt less than the headache roaring behind his temples. “As I explained a few moments ago, I have no immediate plans to take a wife.”

His mother would have something to say about that as, strictly speaking, it would be the easiest way out of their financial mess. But as far as he was concerned, that was a weapon of last resort. Jack had no desire to rush into a marriage that wasn’t grounded in genuine affection and respect. His parents’ battling had taught him that lesson.

“What a disaster,” he murmured.

“I’m sorry, Jack. What was that?”

“I said, I have no intention of getting married any time soon.”

“Yes, but you will someday,” she said patiently. “And when you do, you can hardly expect the Marchioness of Lendale to tolerate a pair of scandalous females in residence just down the lane.”

He started to protest, but she held up a restraining hand. “It’s ridiculous to assume otherwise and you know it.”

“I would never abandon you or Rebecca,” he said.

“I know you wouldn’t want to, but you might not have much choice.”

It felt as if she’d just jabbed a long, cold needle into his heart. Did she truly have so little faith in him?

“Let’s set that aside for now,” he said. “But let us be clear on two things. The first is that you will remain at Bluebell Cottage for the indefinite future and the second is that I will not be taking you as my mistress.”

She nodded. “I assumed as much of course.”

He waved his arms with exasperation. “Then why the hell are we having this conversation in the first place?”

She rounded her eyes at him. “Because otherwise Granny would have. And she’ll probably still try to speak with you about it.”

“And I’ll tell her exactly what I just told you.”

“She’ll simply present you with another idea if you shoot down her first plan.”

“Which I already have,” he said through clenched teeth.

“I’m not an idiot,” she said. “You don’t have to keep beating me over the head with your rejection.”

“I’m not beating you . . . oh, never mind. Do you know what this other plan is likely to be?”

She shifted in her chair, looking a bit squeamish. “Granny thinks that since you’re so well-placed in the Ton, you’re bound to know lots of important, rich men. So, if you can’t be my patron, she wants you to help me find a suitable candidate for the position. Sponsor me, as it were.”

Once again he could feel his eyes bugging out. “You’re joking.”

“Yes, ha-ha. That is exactly the kind of thing I like to joke about,” she said sarcastically.

Jack placed his palms flat on his desk and came slowly to his feet. He glared down at her, as if trying to impress her with the full weight of his authority. Lia simply stretched out her legs, crossing them at the ankles, then propped her interlaced fingers on her stomach. She ticked up a decidedly unimpressed eyebrow, waiting for him to speak.

“Let me be very clear on one thing,” he started.

“Just one?”

“Lia . . .” he said in a warning voice.

She wrinkled her nose at him. “Sorry. It’s just that I’m not used to you going lord-of-the-manor on me. It will take some getting used to.”

“Then you’d better get started, because I want you to hear very clearly what I’m about to say. You are not embarking on a career as any man’s mistress or becoming a courtesan.”

“Well, of course I’m not, Jack. Do you really think I want to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps?”

He was trying very hard not to lose his temper. “Truthfully, I don’t know what you think at this point. I assume you made your grandmother aware of your position?”

“I did, for all the good it accomplished. Because, as Granny so cogently pointed out, the original problem remains, which is that we can’t rely on you to support us indefinitely. So I’ve come up with another plan, one I feel confident will work.”

How many mad schemes had she and Rebecca conjured up? “Which is?” he warily asked.

“I’m going to London to join my mother’s acting troupe,” she said triumphantly. “That way, I can support both myself and Granny. And I’ll be with my mother and her husband. It’s exceedingly respectable, so even you can’t object.”

He fought the impulse to tear around the desk, haul her up, and shake some sense into her head. Either that or pull her into his arms and keep her safely there forever, protecting her from all the dangers that seemed to be springing up in her path like weeds. While he didn’t have the right to claim her like that, he’d be damned if he stood idly by while she rushed out into the world to ruin herself.

“Absolutely not,” he said, struggling to keep his voice calm. “You know as well as I do that actresses are viewed in much the same way as courtesans. Your family history should serve to confirm that.”

Lia pulled herself up, her back ramrod straight. She regarded him with a degree of haughtiness that would do a princess proud.

“If you’re referring to my mother, she has been respectably married for ten years. My stepfather is a well-regarded businessman whose conduct is above reproach.”

“In the theatrical world, yes. But society still looks askance on those engaged in that particular business and you know it.”


“And let’s not forget that your mother came rather late to domestic respectability,” he continued. “We both know she was considered as notorious as your grandmother in her day. For you to join her company as an actress, even under the protection of your stepfather’s good name, would invite exactly the type of attention from exactly the type of men you’re trying to avoid. I absolutely forbid it.”

That brought Lia to her feet in a flash. “You forbid it? May I remind you, sir, that you have no right in that regard?”

“Legally, perhaps not. But I’m responsible for you nonetheless. Aside from your grandmother, I’m the closest thing to family you have—which you just pointed out only a few moments ago.”

“You seem to be forgetting that I do have a mother— and a stepfather,” she said with a lethal glare. “And I said you were my best friend. I’m starting to doubt that particular relationship at the moment, given your wretchedly selfish behavior.”

“Good God, Lia, my behavior is anything but—”

“So, let me be perfectly clear, your lordship,” she said, jabbing a finger in his direction. “You are not my brother, my father, or anything else that gives you the right to command me. I am a woman grown and I have proven time and again that I am more than capable of making sensible and rational decisions. And given the extremely precarious position in which my grandmother and I find ourselves, my plan is without a doubt the most sensible course of action.” She gave her head a dramatic toss. “You, Lord Lendale, have nothing to say about it.”

Her disdainful tone and her rejection of their relationship set off a little explosion in Jack’s head. He marched around the desk and planted himself in front of her, his legs spread and his hands propped on his hips. It forced Lia to tilt her head back to meet his gaze, glare for glare.

“As much as it pains me to speak so bluntly . . .” he started.

“Ha! I doubt that.”

“The circumstances demand that I must do so,” he said, ignoring her jibe. “You are no more an actress than a courtesan. You are no more a Notorious Kincaid than I am. What you are is an innocent and nice young lady who was raised in the country. And that is exactly where you will remain until I figure out how to deal with this situation.”

Her eyes blazed with icy blue fire. “I beg to differ, my lord. If I put my mind to it, I’m quite sure I can be just as notorious as the other women in my family.”

Then she reached up and clamped his face between her palms. She went up on her toes and planted her mouth on his, kissing him with a fury that almost knocked him off his feet.

It wasn’t the first time she’d kissed him, but those had been chaste pecks on the cheek. This clumsy kiss took him like a storm, blasting amazement through his veins. Instinctively, his arms started to wrap around her to pull her close.

But she shoved him away, leaving him slack-jawed and gasping for breath. The color was high on her cheekbones and her lush, pink mouth was dewy. Like him, she was panting, but from the look on her face he suspected it had more to do with rage than passion.

“Let that be a lesson to you, Jack Easton. You don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

Then she turned on her heel and marched to the French doors. Spinning around, she once more jabbed a minatory finger in his direction. “And don’t ever try to tell me what I can and cannot do.”

With that daunting remark, she disappeared into the bright morning sunlight, leaving Jack with the unnerving sensation that he’d just lost control of everything.