BOOK BLURB: Lady Imogene Norwood lives a sheltered life of quiet respectability and routine…until she debuts at her first Season. There among London’s elite she meets the wild and broken Lord Atwood. And the very shy English rose suddenly realizes that a little chaos might just be what her heart desires.
Lord Nathaniel James Atwood doesn’t believe true love exists. Since scandal tore him away from his family at an early age, he has spent his life fighting for what he wants. That attitude has made him a rising star in bare-knuckle boxing, and now leads him back to London to reclaim the life that was stolen from him.
But upon meeting the innocent Imogene, his beliefs are trounced…as guarding his heart against her proves to be the fight of his life.
The following excerpt is in the middle of the book and our hero has just thoroughly compromised our heroine in the midst of their discussion of his contract negotiations…
“Atwood tucked her head against his chest but said nothing. She still clung to him, unable to move. Pulling away from her, his large hands curved down the length of her arms with digging fingers until they dropped away completely.
He eyed her. ‘I didn’t force myself on you, did I?’
Her cheeks bloomed with heat. She brought a trembling hand to her hair, sweeping long sections of it away from the sides of her face. ‘No.’ Sweeping a hand over his mouth, he fisted that same hand and dug it against his teeth.
After a long moment of silence, he grated out past that fist, ‘You are inevitable, you know that?’
Why was he biting his hand?
‘You don’t appear to be in the least bit pleased by my inevitability.’
He dropped his hand back to his side and gave her a sidelong glance of disbelief. ‘No. I’m not. And I’ll tell you why. Because I feel like I was put into a situation I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get out of. For Christ’s sake, the last thing I wanted was to be married again. And to you, no less. To you.’
She stiffened, her womanly pride prickling. To her, no less? What did that mean? What was so wrong with her that he felt a need to emphasize it aloud with so much vile annoyance? And after he had indulged himself to the brim? She knew she was odd and couldn’t speak well when it was needed most but did he really have to-
It stung. More than she wanted it to.
‘Leave,’ she choked out. ‘My brother will- ’ She wanted to add much, much more to the sentiment, but was too upset and her throat too tight with emotion. Her tongue was already feeling heavy and set to stutter.
He quirked a dark brow. ‘Your brother will what?’
She whipped a forefinger to the parlor entrance, knowing that if she spoke, it would only be in broken fragments that would make her look half-witted. And she was not going to be upstaged after that hip-grinding, breast-tweaking display her brother had to witness.
Nathaniel stared. ‘Why the devil are you so miffed?’
Oh, she would show him miffed, making her feel like a piece of fat he’d cut off the mutton when she was giving them all an opportunity of a lifetime. Just because she was naïve to the ways of men didn’t make her naive to the ways of being demeaned. Shaking her finger rigidly at the direction of the parlor entrance, she hoped to God he would just go and spare her the humiliation of having to use words.
Lines of concentration etched his brow. He angled toward her. ‘Is this about your stutter?’
Her eyes widened. Oh, God. He knew. Her own brother had tattled about her stuttering as if she were some medical aberration in need of pity.
His countenance notably softened. ‘Imogene. I’ve been through far too much to judge. Believe me. I don’t care what it sounds like. Say whatever you need to.’
He felt sorry for her. Henry had no doubt even asked the man to play governess to her until the championship. It was…humiliating. Like she was being passed from one set of panicked hands to another.
Nathaniel eyed her. ‘One of the boys in New York had a stutter.’
This just kept getting worse. She was now being compared to some American boy. Hardly a compliment.
Taking on a pensive look, he added, ‘I have an idea. Seeing we have four months of this ahead of us, why not deal with it now?’ He lifted his shaven chin and undid his cravat, tossing it aside.
She scrambled back, her throat tightening all the more. What was he doing?
He casually undid the buttons on his waistcoat. ‘You and I are going to play Devil’s Dare. It’s a game men and women play in the Five Points. The idea is that I have to get you to take the Devil’s Dare through verbal bribes before all of my clothes are removed and I’m forced to walk into the street naked. The Devil’s Dare is this- you have to say something. So for each bribe I issue and each bribe you reject, a piece of my clothing is removed until I’m forced to walk into the streets in nothing but my goodwill. Now I know you like me well enough not to let me walk into the street naked. Or at least, I hope you do. Are you ready?’
She gaped. Was he being serious?
‘Imogene, I will buy you a necklace made of rubies after I get my seven thousand.’
She swallowed, trying to steady her breathing. What was he doing?
‘Clearly, you reject.’ He shrugged off his coat from each muscled arm and let it fall to the floor.
‘Imogene, I’m not one for fawning, but I’ll take you into a garden and pick flowers for you. Would you like that?’
Mother of heaven. Why was he-
‘Clearly, you reject.’ Holding her gaze, he shrugged off his waistcoat. It rustled to his booted feet.
‘Imogene, I’ll dance with you on the rooftop of whatever house we move into during our four-month marriage.’
He didn’t expect her to play along, did he?
‘Clearly, you reject.’ He yanked out his linen shirt from his trousers, letting it fall past his hips.
‘Imogene, I will do something I have never done for a woman. I will take you shopping and hold all of your parcels.’
She clamped a trembling hand over her mouth.
‘Clearly, you reject. I’m also running out of clothing, so you better take up the next offer.’ He yanked off the linen shirt with a ripple of solid movements that exposed the menacingly well-sculpted muscles of a broad chest and arms that visibly shifted and tightened against scars that bespoke years of fighting. He tossed the shirt.
She gasped, her heart pounding in disbelief, and glanced toward the opened doorway and back again at that bare chest, dreading Henry might come in and shoot them both.
‘Imogene, I will always listen to whatever you have to say. No matter how you say it or why you say it.’ Holding her gaze, he dragged his hands down toward the front flap of his trousers, planning on doing away with them next.
Oh, dear God. She had to save him and herself.
‘I accept!’ she choked out.”
FEATURED AUTHOR: Delilah Marvelle
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