SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Once Upon a Duke by Sandra Masters

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Serena, an artist and widow, has no desire for another husband. When she meets Geoffrey Austen, attraction sizzles to a scorch. Stolen days and nights ignite forbidden passion. Geoffrey asks Serena to be his mistress, but she wants commitment, love and marriage, not an affair with a notorious rake.

Geoffrey realizes Serena might be the one woman who can care for his tortured soul, and maybe release his demons. The magic they shared is shattered when he learns she has been forced into an engagement with another. He vows to save her even at the cost of his own life.

Will Geoffrey’s gallantry prove he truly loves Serena? If he survives, will Serena surrender all to him?

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EXCERPT

If Lady Serena could be granted one wish, she would ride off into the morning mist and vanish. That, of course wasn’t possible, but here in her favorite lakeside retreat, she could relax in safety.

With her mare nearby, she bent her head over her sketchbook and inhaled the scent of sweet honeysuckle. She paused her charcoal, leaned back against the oak tree, and envisioned how her sketch would be completed.

The sound of hoof beats disturbed her contemplation. In the distance, a man and steed moved as one toward her.

The vision spoke as he drew the horse to a halt. “Good day, my lady.” He dismounted, and tethered the stallion to a tree away from the mare. “It’s a beautiful day, and to have my path cross with a lovely woman makes it more so.”

“Yes, it is a welcomed morning, sir, but your flattery does not turn my head.”

Alarmed, Lady Serena thought to reach for her riding crop, but checked the impulse. Serena raised her hand to shield the sun and eyed the well-dressed, handsome stranger. Since he was on Henry’s property she assumed him to be of noble birth. Her snobbish brother would never allow an outsider to encroach.

Something about the man demanded her rapt attention. Curiosity compelled. What harm could come of it?

“Allow me to introduce myself, Lord Geoffrey Austen, at your service.” He swept off his hat and bowed. “I am Henry Worthington’s hunting guest for the week.”

“I am Lady Serena Worthington—sister of your host. I would rise and curtsy to you, but I am far too comfortable. You may, however, consider I have proffered the appropriate respect, if you would indulge me.” She meant her smile to charm, and to distract him from her breach in etiquette.

“I would be happy to humor you in any manner you prefer,” his voice murmured low and husky. He removed his gloves and walked to sit next to her on a log fashioned into a bench. Serena noticed the large ring on his finger as it caught the sunlight’s glint.

“I have seen you twice before from a distance when I have come to visit Sir Henry, but never approached. Some things are best appreciated from afar, but today I was compelled to ride over and speak with you.”

Serena smoothed her skirt with damp palms.

“Your brother is well aware of my notorious reputation. He would prefer I did not seduce his sister and has made his wishes known to me. However, I feel the Fates demanded we meet.”

“Seduce or merely tempt?”

He grinned. “Dear Lady Serena, a beautiful woman is always a challenge. A wonderful circumstance caused me to come upon you this glorious morning, but I see I have interrupted your sketching. Shall I depart? Or will you show me your wares?”

“They aren’t my wares, Lord Austen. They are representations of my artistic imagination. There is a difference.”

“I offer my apology. Allow me to rephrase the question. May I see your work?” His eyes sparked with blatant flirtation.

“You may.” She handed him the sketchpad.

He flipped through a few pages. “God’s blood, you are talented. You could sell these.”

“I considered the notion, but Henry would think it crass.”

“I disagree entirely with his perception.” Lord Geoffrey turned to face her. “I wonder, my lady, why your brother has hidden you? Rumor has it you are unattached.”

“I have chosen solitude. It is my personal preference, I assure you. Why do men think every woman in England wants to leg-shackle a man?” She cocked her head in appraisal and met his inquisitive gaze. “I cannot abide the need to display myself on the marriage auction block. I would rather remain a liberated widow or enter a convent before I’d suffer nuptials to some old goat, or a young wastrel who looks for a generous inheritance.” She rose to pace, both hands akimbo on her hips. “If I shock you, it is intentional.”

His lips lifted, the cleft in his chin apparent. “I have a fondness for women who provoke.”

Her heartbeat skyrocketed. He had a maddening hint of arrogance that beguiled her. She lowered her lashes, and then focused her gaze. “Lord Austen, I know my brother’s horses, and your animal is not familiar.” She hoped to steer the conversation in another direction. Her stomach quivered, uneasy.

“Solomon is mine. He is an Arabian and strong-willed like his master. It takes a firm hand to control him, but he flies like the wind.”

“Your pride is evident.” Serena gestured toward her horse. “My mare is Sheba. She is also high-spirited. We are a good match as well. Perhaps we should consider mating?”

Had she actually said that? Nerve endings tingled, warmth flooded her.

Lord Austen arched a brow. “Were you referring to our mounts, or do I dare hope you meant their owners?” His suggestion was wicked.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandra MastersFrom a humble beginning in Newark, New Jersey, a short stay at a convent in Morristown, NJ, to the board rooms of NYC, and a fantastic career for a play broadcasting company in Carlsbad, California to the rural foothills of the Sierras of Yosemite National Park, Sandra Masters has always traveled with pen and notebook writing her experiences. It has been the journey of ten thousand miles with a few steps left to go.

Romance is at best a gift. She hopes you’ll like her voice and passion for writing. While she also writes contemporaries, her own passion is for Regency England in the early 1800’s. Admittedly, she’d prefer to be the sister of a duke or an earl…perhaps even a princess? Not being able to time travel, she writes about what she loves and hopes you will support her author efforts.

Sandra lives in Coarsegold, California with her husband, Ron, who is her plotster, and their two dogs, Silky Houdini and Sophie Chiquita. When she’s not writing, she’s busy cooking way too much Italian food for friends and family. She loves bears of all kinds and prefers to collect them in paintings and wood carvings.

Connect with Sandra at www.sandramastersauthor.com or on Facebook.

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