Published by Entangled Publishing on June 5th 2017
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
When a fellow member of the Brotherhood of the Sword drops off a mysterious lady in need of protection at the house of Viscount Jason Ellis, he agrees to keep her safe not fully knowing what that will entail. Once Isabel Crisp learns the truth of her identity, that she’s the last remaining member of the royal family from the island nation of Saldania, her world is tipped upside down.
A plot to usurp the throne from Victoria after a marriage comes to light. Isabel realizes rather quickly that if she were already married the men would not succeed with their plan. Jason reluctantly agrees to marry her, but in name only as he’s bound to learn the title to his brother’s son, the rightful heir. But keeping his hands off his tempting and willing wife proves too difficult and the passion between them ignites.
“What is this place?”
“My duties with the Brotherhood require a certain amount of agility and athleticism. I prefer to work on such things here in my own home,” he said. “Although plenty of gentlemen do the same sorts of things in their clubs. Boxing and fencing and the like.”
Appreciation lit her eyes as they went from one area to another. He’d worked hard on this room, and to have someone recognize that meant something to him.
“I’ve lined the floors with thin mattresses and then blankets to give it more spring. It makes some of the tasks easier, and if you fall, it’s less painful,” he said. He pointed to the rope hanging from the rafters in the right corner of the room, knots dotting the long strand. “Excellent for climbing practice and getting your arms nice and fatigued.”
“This is amazing.” She stepped forward. “What is that for?” she asked, pointing to the roped off area with the extra-padded flooring.
“Fighting and boxing.” He stretched his jaw, rubbing at the spot where Ricks had punched him.
“And this?” She had moved over to the fencing area.
He followed her. “That is why I brought you up here. I thought we could have a lesson.”
He handed her a foil and a vest. “Put this on over your dress. It will give you some measure of protection.”
“Fencing?” she asked.
“I can’t very well teach you to box.”
She grinned broadly, and the sheer joy emanating from her seemed to slide over to him, wrapping him in the warmest of sensations.
He held out a large pillar candle, and the flame flickered between them. “Dip the tip of your foil into the wax a few times to build up a blunt end. I’d prefer you not puncture one of my lungs on our first go-around.”
While she did what he asked, he stepped behind her and tied her vest in place. “You said you cleaned at the school,” he said. “Was that out of requirement or choice?”
“Mostly choice,” she said. “I found that after a day of physical exertion, I slept much better.”
He’d never met anyone who sought exercise the way he did, especially a woman. Most were ruffled if they had to walk too far in Hyde Park. Although he didn’t often speak of such things, he’d never seen any of the other men in the Brotherhood devote themselves to physical exertion, except at their clubs when they drank too much and settled things with a good box. His own brother was perfectly content with a book or ledger to occupy his mind.
“Now then, fencing is the most precise type of swordplay. It is more about lunging and striking. It is as much about your mind as it is about your body.” He positioned himself in a starting lunge pose. “Start this way. Then as you shuffle toward me, I shuffle backward, and then we switch.”
“It is very civilized.”
“I do believe the Spanish would be appalled at what the English have done to their military technique,” he said.
“Am I holding this correctly?” she asked.
He stood parallel to her, then moved her right elbow out. “Extend it this way.” And then they were locked in a mirrored stance, him behind her, guiding her arms and legs to the appropriate positions. The warmth from her skin rolled off her, practically caressing him. Perhaps this hadn’t been a good idea, after all. He quickly went back to facing her.
“This?” She moved forward, lunging the foil at him.
“Precisely.” He shifted toward her. “I advance and you retreat. Then you advance and I retreat.” They repeated the actions several times in silence while he let her get used to the activity. She bit her lip, clearly concentrating, and he was struck again by how lush and full her lips were. How eminently kissable.
“Fencing is as much intellectual as it is physical,” he said as he circled her. Mostly, he said it to distract himself, because watching her while she fenced was too tempting. “It is about knowing your opponent and deliberately trying to mislead him.” He lunged and she retreated. “You must anticipate their next move and how they’ll react to yours.” She lunged at him and he met her strike. Her balance wobbled. “And try to throw them off, as it were. You make them think you’re going to do one thing, and then you do something else. It’s a mind game. It’s trickery and deceit.”
Their foils hit, clanging delicately. She was naturally athletic; he could tell that from the ease with which she moved her body. She struggled a few times, stumbled more than once, but always persevered and refocused on the task at hand. It was an admirable quality. He couldn’t help wishing she had fewer admirable qualities. This would all be much easier if he didn’t like her as well as desire her.
Thirty minutes later they were both winded and perspiring. Her cheeks were flushed, and damp curls framed her face, and she’d never looked more alluring. He wanted her even more, if that were possible.
“Isabel, might I ask you a question?”
“Of course.” She withdrew the protective covering he’d given her and handed it back to him.
“Do you know how to dance? Waltz and quadrille and the like?”
“Yes, although I have only ever had other women as partners because of the school,” she said.
“Judging by today’s performance, we shall be all right at our ball. I suspect that was all the practice we needed.”
“I was not that terrible, was I?” she asked with an impish grin as she came to stand right in front of him.
“Indeed, you were quite good.” Unable to resist, he reached out to tuck one of her curls behind her ear. Her smile softened from one of open glee to something a little more enticing.
Afraid if he stood there much longer, he would do more than merely touch her hair, he took the foil from her hand and carried it along with his own back to the equipment chest.
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