Amy Hardwick has one last Season to shake off her wallflower image and make a love match. If she can’t, she’ll set aside her dreams of romance and return home to a suitor who can provide security-if little else. What she doesn’t count on is the inappropriate-and irresistible-attention lavished on her in a darkened library by rake extraordinaire Will “The Devil” Darcett . . .
When Will is caught in a tryst with the ton’s shyest miss, he knows he must offer for her hand. Yet Amy is not the shrinking violet she seems to be. Passion lies beneath her prim exterior and Will is eager to release it. But winning Amy isn’t simply a matter of seduction; first, Will must convince her that he’s mended his wicked ways . . .
Pots banged and laughter rang out from the kitchen. Then a voice sounded close to the kitchen door. Amy’s heartbeat drummed in her ears. Realizing that someone might come out and find her, Amy turned left and tried the door to the wine cellar. It was open. She stepped inside, closed the door, and released a relieved breath. It was rather cool, but at least she was safe from prying eyes.
Footsteps clipped on the floor.
She flattened her back against the cold wall. Her legs trembled. She squinted in the darkness. Should she make a mad dash for the door? Or should she wait to see if the other person would leave? She inched along the wall, and then a candle flame wavered.
The footsteps clipped closer and closer. Her heart pounded. Please, please, please leave.
“Who goes there?”
The voice startled her. No, it couldn’t be. She must be having a nightmare. But she knew that voice all too well. Drat it all. What was the devil doing here?
He drew closer. In the dark cellar, the single candle cast flickering shadows over his face. “Miss Hardwick, did you follow me?”
“I did not,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“Admiring Boswood’s excellent wine collection,” he said. “I saw the butler accidentally leave the door open and came to investigate. But you still haven’t answered my question.”
“Leave me be.” She sniffed.
“Are you weeping?”
“N-no.” Her face burned. Of all the people to witness her cry, it would have to be him. The devil. The man who had tried to trick her into going in a dark room alone.
She heard the whisper of cloth, and then he handed her a handkerchief. “Dry your eyes.”
Amy blotted her face and handed it back to him.
“I’ll find another candle; those stairs are dark. Don’t move,” he said.
The minute he stepped away, she turned round to escape, but she bumped her hip into a stack of crates and hissed in her breath. He came to her side in a few long strides. “You’re injured.”
“It’s only a bruise,” she said. In truth, it hurt. She knew her hip would be purple and tender for some time. Lizzy would see it when she helped her undress tonight.
“There’s a candle branch, but you’ll arouse suspicion if you carry that. Stay still until I can locate a second candle,” he said. “You don’t want to fall and hurt yourself. You’ll have difficulty trying to explain how it happened.
Of course it was the sensible thing to do. She worried her hands, wishing he would hurry with that candle. His features were indistinct in the darkness, but she could make out his movements as he walked about. She had no idea how much time passed, but she grew increasingly anxious.
“Found it,” he said.
Thank goodness. She meant to leave as soon as he lit the candle.
He used the flame from the first candle to light the second one. .
As he moved around, she saw bottles nestled in diamond-shaped cabinets. There was a long table just beneath. There were more bottles than she’d ever glimpsed in all her life. Lord Boswood’s collection must add up to a tidy fortune.
Mr. Darcett walked toward her. “I’ll escort you to the door. You go upstairs first. I’ll wait for a few minutes before following.”
When he offered his escort, she took it. The faint scent of sandalwood soap clung to him. Her mouth dried as they neared the door. All she wanted was to escape unobserved. Hopefully, the redness had left her nose and cheeks by now. As they neared the door, footsteps clipped on the other side.
Her heart stampeded. She held her breath, terrified they would be discovered
Mr. Darcett beckoned her and turned round. He led her farther back into the cellar where they hid behind the stack of crates and blew out the candles. Her nerves jangled. Mr. Darcett was so close, she could hear his breathing. Please, please, please don’t let anyone discover us.
A key scraped inside the lock and turned over.
Amy covered her mouth.
The footsteps retreated.
“Bloody hell,” the devil muttered. “We’re locked in.”
FEATURED AUTHOR: Vicky Dreiling
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