on December 29th 2017
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A spinster hatches a plan (with a smattering of blackmail)Miss Augusta Widmore has no time for proprieties. She must force her sister’s ne’er-do-well betrothed to the altar with all haste—or watch her sister bear the scandalous consequences. But with the blackguard resisting his duty, she needs leverage. And only one man can provide it.
A giant holds all the cards (or so he thinks)Sebastian Reaver has no time for presumptuous women. He has a club to run. So, when a perfect nuisance invades his office, demands a fortune in markers, and refuses to leave until he relinquishes them to her, he knows just the thing to send her scurrying back to Hampshire: Exact a price this prim country spinster would never agree to pay.
A fiery battle begins (with both sides playing for keeps)Ordinarily, Augusta would never agree to become the mistress of a notorious club owner—whether he’s a lowborn ruffian or the wealthiest man in London or the most intriguing, ill-tempered giant she’s ever encountered … or all three. Calling his bluff raises the stakes (and the heat), but retreat will mean ruin for Augusta. Now, Sebastian wants her total surrender, and he has a few tricks up his sleeve—soul-stealing kisses, unexpected honor, and electrifying persuasion for the woman he never saw coming.
Augusta released a breath, her head swimming. With renewed purpose, she climbed the narrow wooden stairs, pausing on the landing to listen for voices. Again, all was quiet. Hurrying now, she raced up one flight after the next, clutching her skirts higher than was proper. Finally, she reached the floor where she’d been assured she would find Mr. Reaver’s private office. She cracked open the door that led into a hushed, white-paneled corridor. Cringing as the boards creaked beneath her feet, she glanced to either side. Empty. Relief was a warm wash. She rushed down the corridor, searching frantically for the hidden door. It should be tucked inside a recess, just past the seventh sconce. Most who managed to visit this floor, her source had claimed, thought it the entrance to a closet or equally innocuous space. He had not used the word “innocuous,” of course. Much like the pickpocket she’d hired to distract Mr. Duff, her source had scarcely spoken a word of proper English, weighing her coins in his palm and muttering about “daft chits what need a man ta take ’em in ’and.”
Augusta begged to differ. She did not need a man. Not for herself, at any rate.
Passing the fifth sconce, she stopped.
Footsteps. A refined masculine voice with admirable diction. It could only be Mr. Shaw, the club’s majordomo.
Oh, dear God. She spun in place, searching frantically for the recess and finding only white paneling and sporadic doors. Ahead, dividing the corridor into two sections was a cased opening where a door must have once been. She rushed toward it, hoping the framed protrusion would hide her well enough. But just before she reached it, the long paneled wall—designed to appear flat until one stood in this precise spot—gave way to a recess.
Inside the recess was a dark wood door.
As Mr. Shaw’s voice grew louder, his brisk footsteps closer, she closed her eyes briefly. Said a quick prayer. And opened the door.
The antechamber was smaller than she’d imagined. Hushed and plain, it contained only a small, L-shaped desk and a rather large set of winged chairs. From floor to ceiling along one wall stood a series of wooden drawers with numbered labels topped by shelves of ledgers. All the ledgers were uniform in size, their spines labeled with a code of numbers and dashes. Upon the desk sat two lamps, both brightly lit. On the far wall was another door.
This was it. Her reason for coming to London, spending her coins on pickpockets and bribable servants, risking her reputation and her safety.
Because she must.
Because Phoebe would suffer if she did not.
She smoothed her hair with a gloved hand. Adjusted the folds of her brown woolen pelisse. Gathered her breath and courage.
Opened the door to the devil’s lair. And stepped inside without so much as a by-your-leave.
The room was not what she’d expected. Neither was he.
“Need a new ink pot, man,” rumbled the black-haired giant wearing wire-rimmed spectacles. He sat behind an oak desk as plain, massive, and neatly arranged as the room itself. He did not look up from his ledger, instead giving the nib of his pen a disgusted glare. “Ran through another one this morning.”
The man’s voice was so deep, it vibrated through the plank floors and up into her bones. She could not place his accent. It sounded similar to the pickpocket’s, but much more comprehensible with rounder O’s, flatter A’s, and a bit of a burr. Northern, perhaps, near the Scottish border? At least she could understand him. That would make this conversation easier.
From where she stood, she could see the white of his shirt, the gray of his waistcoat, the black slash of his brows. She could measure the width of his shoulders and the muscles of his arms as he wrote. His wrists were thick and solid. His hands looked bigger than her head.
She wondered if she might disgrace herself by swooning.
Good God. The man was twice a normal human’s size. He was wider than Mr. Duff and much, much more muscular. His forearms, dusted liberally with hair the same black as the close-shorn strands upon his head, bulged and flexed and rippled in fascinating fashion.
He could not be real. Giants were a myth.
“Frelling, either speak or leave. We’ve discussed this.”
Mr. Frelling was Mr. Reaver’s secretary. Ordinarily, the man would be ensconced in the antechamber, but Augusta had learned of Frelling’s fondness for taking his new wife to Gunter’s Tea Shop on Tuesday mornings. Evidently, this was news to Mr. Reaver.
Delicately, she cleared her throat.
His pen did not stop. He dipped it into the waning ink pot.
Swallowing hard, she forced herself to push away from the door and step further into the room. Closer to … him. “Mr. Reaver, there is a matter we must discuss.”
He kept writing.
“It is most urgent.”
The pen stilled. Thick, long, blunt fingers placed it back into its stand with a decisive click. Then, they removed the silver-rimmed spectacles from his nose and laid them gently upon the oak desk. He straightened in his chair and flexed his right hand as though it pained him. Finally, he looked at her.
She lost her breath. His eyes were like onyx.
“Unless you are here delivering ink, we have nothing to discuss. Nothing whatever.”
She moved three steps closer. “My name is—”
“I know who you are.”
“—Miss Augusta Widmore. One of your club’s members is a gentleman with whom I am acquainted. Lord Glassington. He … owes you a substantial sum.”
His features were strangely raw. Heavy brows. Piercing black eyes, cold and deep. A hawkish nose with a crook at the bridge like a road cut in two. His jaw was wide and square, the bones of his cheeks sharp and unforgiving. Darkness shadowed the lower half of his face where his whiskers threatened to grow. He’d been ruthless with the hair upon his head, cutting it severely short. She imagined he’d be equally ruthless with his beard. And with people, for that matter.
“You may leave on your own. Or I may toss you out the door. Your choice.”
She swallowed. Licked her lips. Moved another step closer. “Regretfully, I must prevail upon your honor, sir.”
Most men would have risen by now. Even the lowliest knew it was customary to stand when in the presence of a lady.
She cleared her throat. “With the greatest respect, I would ask you to forfeit Lord Glassington’s markers.”
“I haven’t yet explained my reasons. Allow me to—”
“With the greatest respect, Miss Augusta Widmore, your reasons mean less to me than the deposits made in the privy this morning.”
Her mind stuttered as she took his meaning.
“Now. Leave my office.”
“Mr. Reaver, I realize my request is unusual—”
“You are the fourth one this week. And it is only Tuesday.”
The fourth? Blast. It was worse than she’d imagined. Much worse than she’d hoped. “Nevertheless, I beseech you. If you will only listen—”
“How did you elude Shaw? He would not have let you inside, much less shown you to my office.”
She pressed her lips together. How to answer? “Mr. Shaw refused me entry. He is unaware of my presence.”
His expression—as forbidding and chilling as his reputation—darkened. “So, it was Duff.”
“No,” she answered, cursing the tremor in her voice. “I found my way here on my own. You mustn’t seek to punish your employees. They are not to blame.”
He released an amused puff of air. “If you are here, then they have failed in their duties.” Unnerving onyx eyes swept the length of her, pausing almost imperceptibly at her hips and her shoulders. Though, perhaps that last stop had been slightly below her shoulders. It happened too quickly to be certain. “And you are undeniably here.”
In celebration of the new release, Elisa is giving away one free e-copy of Anything but a Gentleman. To enter, all you have to do is answer this question:
What is the biggest gamble you’ve ever taken?
What did you bet on, and how did it turn out?
Elisa’s answer: Becoming a novelist. It always seemed a little nuts to me. Who makes a living doing that? Nora Roberts and Stephen King, maybe. But those are long odds. That’s why I spent years in jobs that were more “sensible” and “steady” and “soul-sucking.” (Okay, I added the last one for color. Truth is a nice shade, don’t you think?) Then, a few years ago when I had a lot of time to think, I decided to take a chance on my nutty, outlandish dream. Much like Reaver and Augusta, it’s surprised me every step of the way.
We would love to hear your answers, too. Big gambles can pay off in wonderful and unexpected ways, or they can send you down a vertical slope on greased skis.
One winner will be selected from those who comment below. Contest ends midnight January 14. Best of luck!