I am SO excited to be participating in the excerpt tour for The Scandal in Kissing an Heir by Sophie Barnes, since I am MAD excited for this one – it sounds so fantastic :) I have the last excerpt, #5, so be sure to check out the other four:
Lady Rebecca is determined to find a husband on her own terms, rather than marry any of the aging suitors her greedy aunt and uncle foist upon her. Her chance comes at the Kingsborough Ball, where she meets several potential grooms…yet no one compares to the dangerously handsome Daniel Neville.
Daniel Neville, notorious rake and heir to the Marquis of Wolvington, is in need of a bride, but finding a lady who’s willing to accept his past, is an entirely different matter. When he spies a stunning woman across the ballroom, Daniel believes he’s found her…until scandal erupts around them. How can he convince Rebecca to take a chance on him…and on the love that could be theirs forever after?
Gah, like seriously, how awesome does this one sound? Now for the excerpt:
“You can’t be serious, Mr. Neville. Men like you don’t marry.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Because you enjoy your carefree existence too much – the gambling and outrageous parties (which I hear you are quite an expert at hosting) – and because you hold your mistress in such high esteem that you offered her a pair of earrings which, rumor has it, were meant for your future wife. No woman in her right mind would attach herself to someone so careless and indiscreet. Besides, from what little I’ve been told, men like you are notorious for getting themselves into scrapes. For all I know, you’ve depleted your funds and now hope to get your hands on my dowry so you can settle whatever debts you may have.”
“Good God, woman! Must you paint such a dastardly picture of me? It threatens to ruin my image.”
Rebecca smiled. “I rather think it underlines it quite nicely.”
When he laughed, there was a genuine ring to it which made her wonder if perhaps she’d been too harsh in her dismissal of him. She knew he was a rake and not at all the sort of man with whom she should be strolling alone in the garden, especially not since she suspected that his reasons for seeking her company in the first place had probably been less than honorable. Why else would a man of his caliber speak to a lady dressed as she was in a scarlet gown? He probably thought her a widow, or worse … a courtesan with whom he could spend a night of unconditional pleasure.
And yet he’d just offered her marriage. Rebecca shook her head at that conundrum. Surely he had an agenda in which he hoped she’d play a part. Whatever it was, she couldn’t possibly accept. She wasn’t going to delude herself into thinking that marrying any man with such haste would lead to love, but she certainly didn’t want to share her husband, whoever he might be, with a hoard of other women.
Nevertheless, she could not deny that she enjoyed his company. There was just something about him that made him easy for her to be around. It was as if she could truly be herself when she was with him – something she hadn’t had the chance to be for so long, not even in Laura’s or Lady Trapleigh’s company. It felt wonderful – liberating.
Glancing up at him as they passed another torch, she marveled at the way in which the light and shadow played across his face. What a handsome devil he was. Dangerous too, since her heart was once again beating a little bit faster. Intent on returning to their previous conversation, she said, “I believe it’s your turn to tell me something outrageous.”
Her playful nature was captivating. With a smile, Daniel glanced down at her. She was looking right at him, all serious expectancy, but with a gleam to her eyes that betrayed her. She was having just as much fun with this as he was. “Very well.” He paused to consider his options. As far as outrageous exploits went, he could probably outdo the most daring and the most debauched, but there was a limit to what he would share with any lady, no matter who she might be. And then of course, there was also her opinion of him to consider. He was still furious with his uncle, but unless he wanted to lose his allowance, he had no choice. So far, Lady Nuit appeared to be his best chance, if for no other reason than that she was at least willing to speak to him.
“I did on one occasion pretend to be the fiancé of a certain Miss Brighton,” he said, recalling one of his more successful endeavors.
“Surely you jest.” Lady Nuit’s voice sounded just as doubtful as Miss Brighton’s had done when he’d first told her of his plan.
He shook his head. “You see, Miss Brighton and my sister went to finishing school together – they became close friends and have kept in touch ever since. When my sister discovered that Miss Brighton’s parents were eager for her to marry, she invited her to London for the Season, hoping that this would improve her chances of making a good match.”
“That was very good of your sister,” Lady Nuit said.
“I suppose it was,” Daniel agreed, “and being the married woman that she now is, she was able to act as chaperone for Miss Brighton. You see, my sister’s husband is the Earl of Chilton and –”
“Your sister’s a countess?” Lady Nuit asked with unabashed surprise.
“Well yes, she is, and as such, she’s well enough connected to –”
“But you’re Mr. Neville, which means that she was not a titled lady before she married,correct?”
Daniel nodded. Lady Nuit was obviously having a difficult time understanding how a mere miss had ended up marrying an earl. Her confusion was easy to understand since it was rare for any member of the ton to marry someone without pedigree. “It’s quite simple really,” he explained. “My aunt and uncle are The Marquess and Marchioness of Wolvington and my sister was one of the most coveted ladies on the marriage mart the year she made her debut.”
“Oh…well that explains it,” Lady Nuit said. She looked up at Daniel as if waiting for something. When he said nothing further she said, “So then what happened?”
“I beg your pardon?” Daniel couldn’t tell what color her eyes might be in the dim light of the garden. They looked dark, so he supposed they must be brown, but he couldn’t be sure. What he could see, was that they were filled with warmth and happiness.
“Miss Brighton. What happened to her?”
“Well, I believe Miss Brighton’s parents were hoping my sister’s good fortune would rub off, but unfortunately nobody paid the poor woman any mind.”
“So you offered to escort her home as the fiancé her parents had hoped for?”
Daniel shrugged. “They had no way of knowing we weren’t really engaged, so yes, I did. We spent a lovely week there together before I returned to London on some fictitious business.”
Looking away, she quietly asked, “And are you still fictitiously engaged to her?”
“Oh no. I actually took ill and died a few weeks later.”
Lady Nuit gasped, eyes wide with shock. “How dreadful for poor Miss Brighton.”
“She got what she wanted – an engagement to an earl and the reprieve that a year of mourning would give her.”
“You played the part of an earl?”
“Well yes. I wanted Miss Brighton’s parents to be thoroughly impressed with the good catch she’d made.” He waggled his eyebrows, eliciting a peel of laughter from Lady Nuit.
“Goodness me, Mr. Neville.” Her eyes were warm and … understanding? Curious that. “You’re quite the schemer aren’t you?”
My dear, you have no idea.
“Not really. I was just trying to be helpful.” This was true, for he’d genuinely liked Miss Brighton – kind and gentle as she was. Seeing the desperation on her face at the prospect of returning home empty handed had prompted him to concoct yet another harebrained exploit.
“And I admire you for it,” Lady Nuit said as they turned onto another graveled path that would take them past some flowerbeds and to the opposite side of the lawn.
“You do?” Daniel coughed, hoping to mask the surprise in his voice.
“Why of course. You acted very selflessly.”.”
He considered that as they continued along the path, realizing that he couldn’t recall when someone had last said anything positive about him. It felt strange somehow – undeserving almost. Especially since the only reason he was keeping her company at all was because he needed her help. Well, there was also the fact that he genuinely liked her. She was different from other women – freer somehow – as if she wanted to embrace life and live it to its fullest. In that regard, he had to admit that they were very similar, and it was this that also convinced him that they would get on very well with each other once they were married. He smiled brightly. “You see, I’m not so bad after all.”
Grinning, she shook her head with amusement. “Perhaps not the worst rake there is, but still a rake, nonetheless.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Not that I would presume to know anything about your lifestyle, Mr. Neville, but I can only assume that it must be rather costly to be a rake. I mean, the women –”
“Lady Nuit, this is hardly an appropriate topic for conversation.”
“No, I suppose not,” she relented. A sly smile captured her lips. “Then again,
I fail to believe there’s anything appropriate about you.” Her voice was light and teasing – delightful in every way.
“Perhaps not, but I have every intention of changing that.”
“What? Surely you’re not planning to reform? ”
“Surely you’re not imagining that I would have offered you marriage if I weren’t. I’m not that great a scoundrel you know – I just like to have fun once in a while.”
She eyed him for a second. “Perhaps,” she said. “But then again, we both know that you weren’t being serious.”
“Well of course not – you’re a rake!”
“Yes, I believe we’ve established that much already.” Trying to keep his irritation at bay, he sighed heavily. “You won’t even give me a chance, will you?”
“To what? Court me or seduce me?” Without waiting for him to answer, she continued. “I’m not saying that people can’t change, Mr. Neville. I just don’t think that they do so without good reason – especially not from one day to the next. There’s something you’re not telling me. After all, you know nothing about me – in fact we’ve only just met.” She shook her head with a sigh.
“Forgive me, but it’s just very difficult for me to understand why you would want to marry me.”
“Look around you, Lady Nuit. I’m shunned by everyone. Finding a wife will be a chore, and I must find one eventually.” Looking down at her, he was once again aware of how comfortable he felt in her company. He could never have had this sort of conversation with any other lady – it would have been preposterous to even consider it. “I will be Marquess of Wolvington one day, and as such, I will need an heir.”
The blush that crept into Lady Nuit’s cheeks was beyond charming. There was no denying that he affected her – not when she blushed so easily in his presence. This at least was reassuring.
They’d reached the far side of the lawn. It was dimmer here with trees lining one side of the path – the perfect place to steal a kiss. Ordinarily, he would have grasped the opportunity with open arms, but the fact that she probably expected him to do just that, gave him pause. He had one chance to get this right, and while he was certain that she would be putty in his arms and that they’d both take pleasure in the moment, instinct warned him against acting rashly, for it would only prove him to be precisely the irresponsible cad she suspected him of being. No, better to find out where she lived and woo her properly. After all, he was competing with a bloody viscount. If he wanted to win her hand, he’d have to get her to like him enough to make her doubt her decision to accept Brekenbridge once he offered – which he would, no doubt about that.
He almost laughed. How the hell was he supposed to survive this ordeal unscathed when just walking along like this, her hand tucked in the crook of his arm, was enough to heat his blood? Damned if he knew, but at least there was comfort to be had in knowing that if he succeeded, he’d be engaged to her within three weeks, and then he’d be able to spend the rest of his life kissing her. “Come,” he said as he guided her onto the lawn, the April grass springy beneath their feet. “Let’s liven things up a bit, shall we?”
“What on earth do you mean?” Her eyes had grown large with merriment, her features brightening just as a burst of light exploded in the sky.
“Walking is for the old and ailing. Let’s dance instead beneath the fireworks.” And before she could protest, he unhooked her hand from his elbow and spun her into his arms, the momentum carrying them both forward in the direction of the pumpkin carriage while Lady Nuit squealed with laughter.
“May I call on you tomorrow?” he asked, taking advantage of the lighter mood that had descended over them. “I’ve enjoyed your company this evening.”
For a split second, her features turned serious, but then she smiled at him and nodded. “You can always try, I suppose, but I must warm you, my aunt and uncle are not the easiest people to get along with. They may not even admit you.”
Daniel wouldn’t be so easily discouraged. He could charm even the worst of dragons – had done so on more than one occasion. “I will need to know where you live if I am to pay a social visit,” he said. “Your real name would be helpful too.”
Her smile widened and turned to a grin of pure and utter delight – as if she was enjoying a private joke. “My real name, Mr. Neville, is Lady Rebecca, and I live at Roselyn Castle – in the tower room, to be precise.”
Lady Rebecca from Roselyn Castle? Surely not. She was supposed to be completely cracked in the head – a perfect candidate for Bedlam from what he’d heard. Yet there was nothing crazy about the woman whose company he’d been keeping this evening. Instead, she was fun and lively and easy to talk to, not to mention of perfectly sound mind. He smiled down at her. The minx. She’d almost had him duped, but he should have known from her inability to keep a straight face that she’d only been jesting with him. Well, he wouldn’t be so easily brushed aside. “Nice try,” he said, “but –”
A loud crack sounded, the lady in his arms went limp with no more than a low utterance, and whatever Daniel had been about to say, trailed off into the night. Time ground to a halt and everything else around him fell away. In that instant, Daniel Neville was conscious of only two things: himself and the lady in his arms. And as he stood there, suspended in that split second of a moment, feeling more helpless than ever before, he knew that if she died here tonight – if she drew her last breath as he held her against him – his life would be over too.
Stay with me. Please, for the love of God, stay with me.
Be sure to read the first 4 too!
Monday 12/16- Serialized Excerpt #1
Tuesday 12/17- Serialized Excerpt #2
Wednesday 12/18– Review, Serialized Excerpt #3
Thursday 12/19- Serialized Excerpt #4
- CK2S KWIPS & KRITIQUES
Now there is also a giveaway going along with the tour!