BOOK BLURB: Lady Clarissa has decided to live life on her terms. After the end of a ten-year betrothal, she wants nothing to do with marriage or the men of the ton. Least of all her friend’s brother, the very charming Lord Markham, or Hearts, as many ladies call the oh-so-handsome earl.
Markham pursues relationships with no ties that bind. Acting the rake leaves everyone satisfied…until he overhears a wager that could lead to Clarissa’s ruin. He can’t help but step in and claim she’s his intended bride.
Clarissa is appalled. She did not need to be saved. Reluctantly, she agrees to the fake courtship, if only to experience what the rakish Markham can offer. But when lust becomes love, Clarissa must make up her own terms and bet it all on Hearts.
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Clarissa had often explored London with Katherine, Katerina, and Philippa. On occasion, their respective husbands or brothers had been in attendance. Even then, Clarissa had never been particularly aware of any of the gentlemen…not as men, anyway.
This outing to Hampton Court was entirely different.
And it wasn’t the absence of Katherine, Katerina, and Philippa. It wasn’t the inclusion of Julia and Horatia, whose excited chatter provided, at least, a screen.
It was, of course, him.
Whose presence, up until yesterday, had irritated Clarissa more than anything else. But then, they’d kissed, and, well…
She stole a glance across the carriage.
Right now, Markham didn’t look like a man whose lips could transport a woman, even if those lips were curled into a rather entrancing smile.
He sat opposite Clarissa, and their knees brushed from time to time, though he sat angled toward Julia’s side of the seat.
Markham, Julia, and Horatia were playing some sort of hand game that included a great deal of slapping. And, judging by Horatia’s giggles, Julia hadn’t properly explained the game to Markham.
Either that or Markham was simply allowing the young ladies to win.
He did that sort of thing for his sisters. He indulged their whims and fancies, purposefully made them laugh and, on occasion, endured the roll of their eyes.
Rayne would never—and had never—given her interests a second thought, nor would it have occurred to him to keep her—not to mention any of her friends—entertained on a long, jolting carriage ride through the city.
Not that Rayne had been a bad brother. He’d simply absorbed their father’s attitude—he felt a duty toward Clarissa, but beyond providing shelter, food, and the occasional escort, he deemed little interaction necessary or required.
She’d spent so long linking Markham’s faults to Rayne’s, she’d never seriously contemplated Markham’s finer qualities.
And Markham had fine qualities, didn’t he? Unexpected qualities. Some of them she’d noticed last summer. Loyalty. Good humor. Care.
And Markham wasn’t just amiable. He was attractive. More infuriating, he knew it. Just like he probably knew exactly how stunned she’d been by their kiss.
The carriage lurched forward. The girls oohed in unison and, without time to grasp the strap, Clarissa slid from the bench…directly into Markham’s arms.
Or, rather, one arm.
One strong arm that had been there just in time, catching her fall just before she landed in his lap.
His laughter died as she looked up. His pupils widened. Her breath stopped.
He cleared his throat. “All right?”
She nodded. She would be, just as soon as they reached Hampton Court Maze and she could get out of the blasted carriage.
He helped her back into her seat, smiled swift and brief, and then turned back to Julia and Horatia. The entire episode had lasted but a moment. But that moment had taken Markham’s presence from problematically distracting to all-consuming.
Why did she have to catch a whiff of his scent?
Spice, definitely. His cologne was rich and dark and comforting, but what was the base? Clove? Bergamot?
He laughed at something Julia said, caught Clarissa’s glance, and winked.
Inner awareness blossomed—greedy…anticipatory.
She glanced out the window, cheeks coloring…but his compelling aroma lingered.
And perhaps—she inched forward and inhaled—the faintest touch of tobacco.
She’d never seen Markham smoke, but Farring smoked a pipe on occasion. She thought she disliked the scent, but, on Markham, it was quite pleasing.
“What do you think, Lady Clarissa?” Julia’s eyes sparkled.
Dear Lord, had Julia seen her sniff Markham? How utterly mortifying. “I’m afraid I wasn’t listening.”
AUTHOR BIO: Wendy LaCapra has been reading romance since she sneaked into the adult section at the library and discovered Victoria Holt & Jane Aiken Hodge. From that point on, she dreamed of creating fictional worlds with as much richness, intrigue and passion as she found within those books. Her stories have placed in several contests, including the 2012 Golden Heart®. She lives in NYC with her husband and loves to hear from readers.
Awards: Lady Vice (also titled A Dangerous Desire) took first place in the 2013 Laurie and finaled in the 2013 Marlene and 2013 Royal Ascot. An earlier version took first place in the OK RWA Finally a Bride Contest and finaled in the Great Beginnings Contest.
Scandal in Spades finaled in RWA’s 2012 Golden Heart® & finaled in the 2012 Emily Contest.
Devil’s Heartache finaled in the Toronto Chapter’s 2010 Toronto Golden Opportunity Contest and took first place in the Northwest Houston Chapter’s 2010 Lone Star Writing Contest.