Miss Sophia Vane, a hoyden of the first order, makes an unlikely match when she weds Nathaniel Ellison, the rich and wary Duke of Scarsdale. What starts with an unexpected friendship soon blooms into a fiery passion. But a betrayal plunges Sophia into the thorny world of London Society and entangles her in a labyrinth of manipulation and jealousy that will test the strength of her marriage. Behind her husband’s sudden icy facade, Sophia believes dwells the caring, passionate man she loves. To break through the barriers and reclaim their happiness, they must do more than simply cast away their pride. They must fight for their very lives.
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Sophia peered at Nathan again. “I’m just going to take off your coat, shirt, and cravat, all right?”
Laughter danced in his rapidly dulling eyes and pain twisted his lips. “That sounds rather boring.”
She shoved her embarrassment―and, truth be told, a little bit of curiosity—away. Leaning over him, she slid her arms under his back to get a good grip. When her chest brushed his, she gasped.
He half chuckled, half moaned. “This has to be the strangest seduction I’ve ever been subjected to.”
“I am not trying to seduce you,” she spat and yanked him upward. The low hiss that escaped him made her loosen her hold. “Push away from the bed with your good arm.”
He pressed with a loud grunt as she tugged with an equally loud one. They careened backward and tilted precariously to the left, but somehow, by the grace of God, did not fall over. They ended up sitting face-to-face on the bed, just as she’d intended. Nathan was no namby-pamby duke. He was solid and very heavy. Thick, corded muscle covered his back and rose under her fingertips as she grasped his arms to hold him in place.
“So it begins,” he teased in barely a whisper. His head came to rest on her shoulder and his warm exhalation tickled her neck. Her stomach fluttered as they sat there, pressed so close that you couldn’t slide a piece of foolscap between them.
Her heart thudded and the veins in her neck pulsed with each beat. Using the utmost care, she struggled to draw off his coat. The one grunt he made told her it hurt, but other than that, he was silent. Despite the cold room, perspiration trickled down her brow from her effort to hold him up, though that exertion was nothing compared to trying to get his shirt off at the same time.
She spent several minutes attempting to tilt him one way and then the next, but it was futile. Once she got him into a position she thought might do, she realized she needed to untuck his shirt first. She let out a string of Frank’s favorite expletives, which elicited a low chuckle from Nathan.
“My ears are burning,” he chided.
She snorted. “Somehow I doubt that.” Trying to avert her eyes, so as not to see too much, she reached into Nathan’s breeches at the tip of the waist and tugged at the fine material of his shirt.
With bashfulness burning her cheeks, she withdrew her hand from his breeches and let out a yelp when his warm hand came to rest over hers.
“Don’t fret yourself. It’s not often a lady gets to stick her hands down a duke’s pants.” Heaven above! Had she really just said that? She wasn’t sure where the thoughts had come from. Clearing her throat, she added, “Almost done.” With care, she quickly removed his cravat, then glanced at his shirt. The slit near his collarbone exposed the top of his glistening chest. A knot formed in her throat. This was certainly not the way she had expected to see a man’s naked chest for the first time in her life, but so be it. “Can you raise your arms?”
“The one that doesn’t have a gaping hole in it,” he grumbled.
“Right, then.” She gently laid him back down, reached into her boot where she’d sheathed her dagger, and came up to kneel over him. “I bet you would have never thought to see a lady leaning over you with a dagger in her hands,” she joked, trying to relieve some of the tension. Now that Nathan’s coat was off and his blood-soaked shirt was visible, her stomach roiled with queasiness and worry.
“You’re quite surprising,” he managed.
Sliding her dagger from the top of his shirt to the bottom, the material parted to expose his muscular chest marred only by the blood covering his left shoulder. Her nostrils flared, and she inhaled a long, steady breath. Even wounded, she could see why a woman might lose her head over him. He was perfection, at least physically.
Dismissing the thoughts, she reached down and grasped the brandy, then leaned closer to him. “I’m going to cleanse the wound. Are you ready?”
“Hell no,” he muttered. “But do it anyway.”
Underneath her thighs, the muscle of his legs tensed. Best to be quick. Without giving him warning, she tilted the bottle and poured. The amber liquor mingled with blood and ran down his arm onto the bedsheets. As she stared at the mess, she shook her head. It had been silly not to put a towel under him. She glanced at his pale face and clenched jaw, and nibbled on her lip. It was true she had read some medical books, but she was no expert. “Maybe I should do it again?” she questioned herself.
“Not unless you’re trying to kill me,” he gritted, surprising her with his response.
“Not quite yet. Not until we’re properly married and I’m sure I’ll get some of your vast fortune,” she jested, hoping to turn his thoughts away from the obvious pain. He gripped the sheets in his fists, his dark eyes taking on an alarming, glazed look.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Johnstone is a USA TODAY best-selling author of Regency Romance and the author of a new urban fantasy/paranormal romance book. She’s been a voracious reader of books since she was a young girl. Her mother would tell you that as a child Julie had a rich fantasy life made up of many different make believe friends. As an adult, Julie is one of the lucky few who can say she is living the dream by working with her passion of creating worlds from her imagination. When Julie is not writing she is chasing her two precocious children around, cooking, reading or exercising. Julie loves to hear from her readers. You can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her at www.juliejohnstoneauthor.com, or on Facebook and on twitter at @juliejohnstone. You can join Julie’s newsletter here: http://juliejohnstoneauthor.com/extras/subscribe/