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Authors: Elizabeth Thornton

Dangerous to Kiss

BOOK: Dangerous to Kiss
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In one smooth movement, Mr. Gray caught her by the wrist and held her fast.

“And what if, my dear Mrs. Mornay,” he said, “my sister should find herself in this predicament? What advice would you offer then?”

Deborah dimpled up at him. “Assuming the girl has lungs, I would advise her to use them. Scream, Mr. Gray.”

“You have an answer for everything,” he said in a slow, sleepy voice. He edged closer. “I know how to prevent a scream. What if … what if the gentleman in question were to kiss her?” His eyes dropped to Deborah’s mouth.

He was close, so very close, and she could feel his warm breath on her cool cheek. It wasn’t fear or curiosity that held her captive, nor yet the restraining grasp on her wrist. A strange yearning uncurled inside her, then spread out in ripples, till she was shivering in anticipation. Slowly, inexorably, he tugged on her wrist, bringing her closer. Her lips parted and she forgot to breathe….

D
ANGEROUS TO
K
ISS

Books by Elizabeth Thornton

Almost a Princess
The Bachelor Trap
The Bride’s Bodyguard
Dangerous to Hold
Dangerous to Kiss
Dangerous to Love
The Marriage Trap
The Perfect Princess
The Pleasure Trap
Princess Charming
Shady Lady
Strangers at Dawn
Whisper His Name
You Only Love Twice

PROLOGUE

She came awake on a cry of terror, momentarily disoriented, as if she had been flung back in time to another house, another place. As awareness seeped into her, her heartbeat gradually slowed. She was safe. No one was hunting her. No one knew who or where she was.

The hiss of the rain lashing against the windowpanes had almost soothed her into sleep when lightning flashed and thunder exploded overhead. She raised herself on her elbows in anticipation of Quentin flinging himself into her room. He wouldn’t admit that he was afraid of thunderstorms, of course. At eight years old, Quentin was beyond admitting that he was afraid of anything. It would be an amusing charade. Having discovered that his governess was terrified of storms, he would pretend that he had come to comfort
her.
She, none better, understood his bravado.

When the storm increased in ferocity, and still her young charge had not appeared at her door, Deborah felt for the candle on the table by her bed. After several unsuccessful attempts to get it lit, she gave up, and slipping from the bed, reached for her wrapper. It took her only a moment or two to traverse the corridor to Quentin’s room, and a moment after that to discover that the boy’s bed was empty.

She hesitated, debating whether her employer, Lord Barrington, could have got there before her and carried his son off to his own chamber, or whether Quentin was playing tricks on her again. Deciding on the latter, she groped her way into the corridor, her hand trailing along the handrail, till she came to the banister at the head of the stairs. In that darkly shadowed interior, the light spilling from under the door to his lordship’s library on the floor below shone like a beacon. It was then that she remembered her employer had an appointment with Lord Kendal that night. Quentin would not be in the library with them. Then where was he hiding?

She hesitated when she came to the turn in the stairs. “Quentin?” she called softly. “Quentin?” There was no answer.

With a small sound of annoyance, she went to investigate, her mind already jumping ahead to the possible consequences of Quentin’s rash prank. His health was not robust. He was just getting over a fever. If he had not donned his robe and slippers, she would give him the rough edge of her tongue.

As she was passing the door to the library, she heard voices, and her steps slowed. She couldn’t make out what was being said, but she knew that one of those voices belonged to her employer, and he sounded distraught. The thought that something awful had befallen Quentin leapt into her mind. Her hand reached for the doorknob, then froze in midair as Lord Barrington’s voice rended the silence.

“Let the boy go,” he pleaded. “For God’s sake, have pity. He is only a boy. You of all people. Kendal, Lord Kendal … Don’t harm him!” The timbre of his voice thickened as his anguish increased. “Quentin, run for it!”

There was a thud, and Deborah was galvanized into motion. A gun went off as she flung the door wide and Quentin came bounding into her arms. The picture of her employer slumped on the floor with a shadowy figure standing over him flashed through her brain, but
beyond that she registered nothing. Instinct had already taken over. She slammed the door shut and grabbed for Quentin’s hand.

Then they were off and running, running, running, running …

CHAPTER 1

John Grayson, the Earl of Kendal, had broken one of his own cardinal rules, and now he was paying the toll. In Paris, he’d had a brief affair with a married woman, the wife of one of his colleagues at the Foreign Office no less, and now she was making a royal nuisance of herself.

“Affair” was too grand a word for it. He’d spent the night with her, and that’s all it amounted to. He’d felt sorry for her. Her husband’s infidelities were common knowledge. He’d been tipsy, and Helena had been lonely, and beautiful, and oh so available. But damn it all, that had been almost three months ago! He’d given her the obligatory trinket, signifying the end of the affair. He’d expected Helena to follow the rules of the game, not corner him in his own house. She was a sophisticated woman of the world. Her string of lovers read like the register of the
House of Lords.
She knew the score.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t avoid her altogether. She moved in his circles. And somehow she had worked her way into his mother’s coterie of friends. When he’d walked into his mother’s drawing room that afternoon and had come face-to-face with Helena, he’d known that the only way to deal with her was to be brutal.
That’s why he had offered to escort her home. What he had to say was better said in private.

Being brutal to women, however, did not come easily to him. He should have said something in the carriage. Now he was ensconced in
her
drawing room, in
her
house in Cavendish Square, drinking her husband’s prime cognac. It left a bad taste in his mouth.

“I had no idea,” he said, “you were so friendly with my mother.”

Lady Helena Perrin reclined in languid splendor among the feather cushions on the long white sofa, where she knew her dark beauty was displayed to advantage. “Didn’t you, Gray? We met in Paris and took an instant liking to each other.” Through half-closed lids, she enjoyed the pleasurable spectacle of her former lover. Sunlight from the window behind his back glinted provocatively in his golden hair. As he stretched, catlike, to adjust his long length to the delicate gilt armchair, she watched the powerful play of muscles in the lean flanks and the long muscular legs.

Now that the earl had parted company with the opera dancer he’d had in his keeping, she was hopeful that she could resurrect their affair. To her knowledge, the little house in Hans Town, which Gray kept for his succession of mistresses, had lain vacant for more than a month. He was between mistresses and that gave her a clear field. She was aware that he was reluctant, and put it down to scruples. Gray and her husband were colleagues. She wasn’t going to let that stand in her way.

“Gray,” she said confidingly, “Eric is very broad-minded. I am free to come and go as I please, as is he.”

Gray’s lips curved in a cynical smile. Discretion—that was the cardinal rule of their class. Though the whole world might know that he had slept with Helena, as long as they maintained appearances, no one would bat an eyelash, least of all a husband who paraded his conquests as if they were trophies. This was the way of their world. But it wasn’t his family’s way. His mother, he knew, would be deeply shocked if she suspected he had taken up with a married woman. Hell, it shocked even
him.

A faint current of irony colored his voice. “Evidently I am not as civilized as he. Helena, that night in Paris was a mistake. It should never have happened. It won’t happen again.” And he could not be more brutal than that.

He made a movement to rise. “No doubt,” he said, “I shall see you at the reception tonight.”

“And after the reception?”

“After the reception, I am engaged to attend a private party at Carleton House.”

“Then perhaps I shall see you at the Horshams’ on Thursday?”

God, did the woman never give up? How brutal could a man get? “That won’t be possible,” he said. “I shall not be here.”

His tone was not encouraging, but Helena was too experienced a player to let that deter her. “Gray,” she said, laughing to soften the rebuke, “we have hardly begun to talk, and already you are leaving?”

“What do you wish to talk about?”

“Well … your ward, for a start, and Miss Weyman. I have not seen them since we were all in Paris. How are they?”

Gray looked up, his eyes suddenly very wide, very alert on her face. “I was not aware that you knew Miss Weyman.”

“I met her once, before the tragedy.”

A moment before, he had been pressed for time. Now, his careless posture told her, he had all the time in the world. One booted foot came to rest on a low mahogany table. The other he negligently crossed over one ankle.

“You met her?” said Gray. “Where in Paris did you meet her?”

He couldn’t be interested in Deborah Weyman, she told herself. For one thing, the woman was thirty if she were a day. For another, she was a dowd. Now that she remembered it, however, Lord Barrington had seemed to like the woman well enough. He had hovered in the background, smiling a lot, bringing Miss Weyman forward as if she were his protégée, and not his son’s
governess. Poor Lord Barrington. A week later, he was dead, murdered by a robber whom he had surprised in the act the night before he was due to leave Paris.

It was a horrible business, and all the more shocking because it could have happened to any of them. They were all connected to the diplomatic corps; they had all been in Paris at the time, trying to get out of France before the borders were closed. Lord Barrington had sent his wife on ahead, but had delayed his own departure because his son was not fit to travel, and that delay had cost him his life.

The French had acted with surprising generosity. Though war had been declared between their two countries, they had informed the Foreign Office of the tragedy and had gone so far as to send Lord Barrington’s body home for burial. After the funeral, Lady Barrington, Quentin’s stepmother, a girl who was hardly out of the schoolroom, had gone back to her family in Devon. As for Quentin and his governess, they were fortunate not to have been detained in France for the duration of the war, as, indeed, had happened to other English visitors who had delayed too long. Once again, the French had acted with surprising generosity, or perhaps not so surprising when one considered that Gray was a personal friend of Talleyrand, the French foreign minister. For whatever reason, Miss Weyman and Quentin had been allowed to leave France and were now residing in one of Gray’s estates to allow them a period of tranquility to recover from their ordeal. She had hoped to see them at Lord Barrington’s funeral, but the boy’s health had prevented them attending. She thought of her own children, and suppressed a shudder.

BOOK: Dangerous to Kiss
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