A Secret Passion

 

ISBN 10: 0451211367 or ISBN 13: 978-0451211361

 

The word is out that the beautiful widow, Jane Lovering, is engaged. The only problem is, she isn’t. To escape her father’s forceful meddling, she flees London to the town of Littlefield. There she encounters a most disarmingly handsome — and arrogant— gentleman with a scandalous past, who teaches her more than she ever knew about secret pleasures.

The battle-weary seventh Earl of Graystock is beguiled. First the delectable beauty mistakes him for a stable hand. Then she makes an outrageous offer to train his new stallion. He counters with a sensuous and shocking proposition of his own. And all the while, her kindhearted childhood beau lurks to complicate matters.

Honor, desire and pride force these fiercely independent souls on a tempestuous journey towards adventure and temptation. This duel of hearts can only be resolved by one last irresistible proposal.

AWARDS/REVIEWS . . . 

 

Winner Best Debut Romance of 2004~ Romance Readers Anonymous

 

Winner 2005 Award of Excellence

 

Golden Heart finalist ~ ~ Romance Writers of America

 

2005 HOLT Medallion finalist

 

Write Touch Readers' Award finalist

 

“Warm, romantic, and sensual—an assured and impressive debut. I loved it!” 
~ Mary Balogh, NY Times bestselling author

THE MUSE UNLEASHED . . .

 

Readers are forewarned. There is a sad story behind the creation of this debut book. My father, the most avid reader I’ve ever known, had always talked about the idea of writing a novel. A WWII war veteran, Princeton graduate, poetry-lover, and amateur golf champion, my father made me promise to write a book when he was in the last stages of a terminal illness. He edited the first few chapters of A Secret Passion and I gave my word that I would see it through. A year later I entered the manuscript into Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers and it was one of the five finalists. While I didn’t win the award, the final round judge, editor Hilary Ross at Signet called and offered me a contract. Sadly, my father did not live to see its publication, but I took great joy edicating this first book to him.

As with all my stories there are touches of family, friends and places I know residing between the lines of this novel. Hesperides is the name of my paternal grandfather’s property in Warrenton, Virginia. Its name comes from the biblical Hesperides or ‘Land of the Golden Apples.’ The book was set in Cornwall, my favorite area of England. 

Sophia's father placing a Regency-era golden guinea in her shoe.

EXCERPT . . .

 

Lost in thought, Jane almost failed to notice she had arrived at the field. It was eerie in the mist with the dark tree trunks and branches covered with a hint of new leaves.

 

“Mrs. Lovering, it is almost time for breakfast. I assumed you had forgotten our engagement.” The earl was attempting to bridle the stallion, who kept pawing the ground. He was wearing the same deplorable outfit in which she had first seen him. Almost against her will, she verified that one could positively see the man’s smalls through the tear on the hip of his breeches. If anything, it had grown larger! 

 

“Fear not. I would not dream of depriving you my help in taming your beast, sir.” Jane averted her eyes, jumped down from her sidesaddle, and secured the reins to a tree. She had a difficult time maintaining a composed expression, as his arrogance seemed misplaced given that he had new mud stains on his shoulder and cheek. “And how lovely that you dressed on my account!” she continued.

 

She detached the riding habit skirt, revealing form fitting, dove colored riding breeches. She had had her seamstress make the skirt of the habit and breeches to her specifications years ago, much to the shock of her father.

 

“As did you, I see Madam,” the earl said with one eyebrow raised.

 

“If I am to get on and more importantly stay on your animal, it will have to be astride. I would only ask you not discuss my attire with anyone.”

 

Lord Graystock rolled his eyes and smiled. “Heaven forbid, Mrs. Lovering. I daresay your reputation could not bear another mark.”

 

“And yours, sir? Is it superior to mine?”

 

“I daresay it could withstand word of my riding astride wearing breeches.” His eyes roamed slowly down over the offending article of clothing. “Not that I am complaining, you understand.”

 

Jane refused to allow him to make her blush. “Yes, well, at least my smalls are covered.”

 

“More’s the pity,” he said, from much nearer than Jane recalled him being.

 

She disregarded the comment and walked toward the animal in the middle of the field. “Now, sir,” she said, taking possession of the bridle from the earl along the way, “Let us see what is to be done about this recalcitrant stallion of yours. And by that--lest you find yourself confused—-I do mean your horse.” She was rewarded by his laugh, which caused a sensation in her midriff that she would just as soon not examine.

 

When she was within reach of the warm, moist breath of the stallion, he snorted, wheeled around, and galloped away.

 

Lord Graystock chuckled. “You must have better methods in your repertoire. I daresay your entire arsenal won’t do the trick.”

 

“We shall see,” Jane retorted as she watched the stallion. She felt little of the self-confidence she tried to show. The stallion exhibited a sort of wildness in the eye she had rarely seen before.

 

“Care to wager on it?” he asked.

 

“Wager on what?”

 

“On your ability to ride the beast, of course. Or perhaps--” his eyebrows quirked insolently, “--we should better your odds by making it on your ability to capture him?”

 

“I have never wagered in my life.”

 

“Are you unsure, Mrs. Lovering, of your abilities?”

 

She looked at him for a long moment. “What would I win?”

 

He smiled. “More importantly, what would you lose?”

 

They paused for a moment, each thinking as quickly as possible. The earl closed the gap between them.

 

“A kiss. If you lose, that is,” he said.

 

“No,” she said.

 

“A kiss if you win, then, if you prefer.”

 

“No,” she said again.

 

“Then we are back to if you lose.” 

 

She knew he expected her to refuse again, stomp off and refer to her reputation and the like. What could she counter it with to wipe the smug expression off his face and end this entire wagering business?

 

“Alright,” she said, slowly, “But, if I stay on the brute, you’ll marry me.” Really, she just wanted to see him unsettled, just a little. Titled gentlemen were so sure of themselves, this one in the extreme. He antagonized her beyond measure. And, she knew she could unseat herself if she did manage to ride the beast. She could tell by the strained expression on his face that she had outmaneuvered him.

 

“Mrs. Lovering, ah, your wager is so very tempting, but . . .” She smiled as she realized he was not going to accept the challenge. “But, not very equal in terms. What say you to upping my end to a bit more than a kiss?”

 

She felt flustered and annoyed. “I think not,” she responded as she jutted out her chin.

 

He looked delighted. “Ah, well then let’s shake on the original wager,” he concluded as he reached for her hand. “And by the by, he seems to favor trees. Best be careful.”

 

She was too embarrassed to ask for clarification of the original wager or the comment regarding the trees. The truth was the infuriating man had her doubting her own abilities. Jane had ridden many young, difficult horses but never a difficult stallion in his prime. And she was distracted by Graystock, who sat on a log under the shade of a young sapling, watching her with a hooded expression in his gray eyes.

 

After a full hour, the horse was caught, bridled and shaking. She had got within a few feet of the horse and then turned her shoulder to him while pretending to be working on the bridle. The horse’s curiosity had gotten the best of him in the end, as she had known it would. He had walked up to her and put his head over her shoulder. She had shown him the bit and he had allowed her to slip on the piece of tack with only one whinny and head toss.

Jane checked the tightness of the girth and swung up into the saddle with well-practiced ease. Before she was seated, the horse began backing up at full speed and then reared. She leaned forward and pulled down hard on the reins. With a half turn, the horse came down on all fours in breakneck speed. Instead of hauling back on the reins, Jane leaned forward near his neck and let the animal have his head. After circling the field four times, the horse changed tactics.

 

She was going to get hurt. She could feel her dwindling control over the animal slipping from her grasp. Desperate to unseat her, the stallion began bucking and twisting in mid air. An abrupt stop after a near fatal sideswipe of a tree found Jane somersaulting off the horse’s back. She fought for control of her lungs as she realized the wind had been knocked out of her. The earl’s shadow fell across her face as she tried to sit up.

 

“Are you hurt?” he asked. He began feeling her legs and arms when she did not respond. She pushed away his hands as she tried to get enough air to speak. Really, she just wished he would give her space and time to regain her senses.

 

When she opened her eyes and sat up, she noticed a gash on her thigh. The earl examined the wound as she tried to compose herself.

 

“You are in luck,” he said grimly. “Looks like you’ll not need stitches.” He pulled a flask out of the leather saddlebag lying in the grass and began sprinkling the contents on the slash. She bit her tongue as the liquid burned the raw edges of her skin. He untied his loose neck stock to bind the wound.

 

“I’ll send a doctor to see to this, once you return to your aunt’s house. It should be fine as long as it doesn’t become putrid,” the earl added as he rocked back on his knees. 

 

“I’m fine, really, just fine,” insisted Jane, embarrassed. She paused before continuing. “I now see how your breeches came to be in their current state of disrepair.”

 

He smiled. A heavy silence descended on them as the earl looked at the widow’s person for any other signs of misfortune.

 

“Well, then.”

 

“Well, then what?” asked Jane, trying on her most innocent voice but feeling all the nervousness of a never been kissed girl of six and ten.

 

The corners of his lips curled as he looked at her and pushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “I fear you have a bit of dirt on your face.” His large hand felt warm as he brushed the earth from her face. She could read desire in his gaze.

 

“As do you, my lord.” As his hand touched her cheek again, she held her breath with anticipation and a bit of fear.

 

“Are you going to kiss me now?” 

 

“Was that not the wager?” he asked with a lazy drawl.

 

She looked up at his heavy lidded eyes and whispered, “Yes.” Jane felt as if it were inevitable, yet she was so uncertain. She had always been in control of every situation. This was unchartered territory. Forbidden territory, really.

 

As he pulled her to her feet, he took her hands. “Come, come, Mrs. Lovering. I am a gentleman. I would not take advantage of you without your permission, especially when you have already suffered battle wounds.”

 

She looked at him.

 

“I’ll take that as permission to continue.” He cupped one side of her face with his palm and lightly kissed her. She could feel the hot creep of a blush forming and dared not look up at him. “You are embarrassed now,” he said.

 

She raised her eyes to his with anger. “I am not.” She deliberately reached up and placed her arms around his neck.

 

She tugged his neck down to her and placed her passive lips on his.

 

She felt him laugh against her lips. “Oh no, Mrs. Lovering,” he said. “That’s not the way of it at all.” He leaned one of his hands against the apple tree behind her as he pulled her waist close to his body with the other arm, forcing her to arch into his broad chest. “This is the way,” he whispered as he lightly bit at her lower lip and then used the tip of his tongue to gain entrance beyond her lips. She felt awash with heretofore-unknown longing and excitement. No one had ever kissed her like this. His tongue urged her to respond in kind, as she yielded fully to his embrace. She shivered with desire as a small moan escaped her lips.

 

She breathed deeply. The masculine scent of male and cologne made her throat ache. She could hear his ragged breaths as his mouth moved down her neck, feathering kisses along the way. He gathered her hand in his other and raised it to his lips.

 

“Really, my dear, we should continue this in the cottage nearby,” the earl whispered.

 

His words jolted Jane into action. She shook off the mesmerizing trance and confronted the earl. “I think not.”

 

“Mrs. Lovering, you are a widow. I am a widower. What more need be said? Do you not long for a liaison? I am here for you now, for the asking,” he whispered as he nipped the lobe of her ear. She placed her hands on his chest and pushed gently.

 

“You are very kind to offer. However, I am not inclined.” Her words hid the truth; she was terrified by his suggestion. As Jane did not want to show her fear and naiveté, she continued, “Perhaps another time, if I am ever inclined that is.”

 

Lord Graystock gazed at her. “If I did not know you to have been married, I would take your reaction to be that of a very green girl. Or are you just a coquette?” he said.

 

He could see through her. Jane reached down to retrieve the wrap skirt and secured it. She dared not say another word, lest she say the wrong thing. Distance was the answer. She walked to her horse and mounted without looking back.

 

“I hope I have not scared you. It wasn’t my intention.”

 

“You did not scare me, my lord. I am expected by my aunt. She was unhappy with the idea of my riding your horse. It seems a groom’s sister alarmed her with a description of your brute. It is long past the time that I should be on my way.”

 

“There will be no further training sessions, then?”

 

Jane refused to take the bait. “Good day to you, sir.”

 

“And good morning to you, Mrs. Lovering,” he said, and stood, looking after her long after she had gone from sight.

 

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