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Authors: Linda Conrad

Seduction by the Book

BOOK: Seduction by the Book
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The Worse Thing About The Storm Was Knowing He Had To Spend The Rest Of The Day… And Night…Alone With Annie.

She got under his skin and he didn't like it one bit. He was a one-woman man and his woman had been violently taken from him. Other women, no matter how inviting, were distractions he just didn't need.

He needed to remain frozen and apart. Distance let him maintain his emotional balance. Cold hearts didn't feel guilt. Being numb meant keeping the pain at bay.

Nick had spent two long years keeping his distance from life, and damned if Annie didn't bring that tempting heat right on to the island with her.

Heat and wanting.

Dear Reader,

Welcome to another fabulous month of novels from Silhouette Desire. Our DYNASTIES: THE ASHTONS continuity continues with Kristi Gold's
Mistaken for a Mistress
. Ford Ashton sets out to find the truth about who really murdered his grandfather and believes the answers may lie with the man's mistress—but who is Kerry Roarke
really? USA TODAY
bestselling author Jennifer Greene is back with a stellar novel,
Hot to the Touch
. You'll love this wounded veteran hero and the feisty female whose special touch heals him.

TEXAS CATTLEMAN'S CLUB: THE SECRET DIARY presents its second installment with
Less-than-Innocent Invitation
by Shirley Rogers. It seems this millionaire rancher has to keep tabs on his ex-girlfriend by putting her up at his Texas spread. Oh, poor girl…trapped with a sexy—wealthy—cowboy! There's a brand-new KING OF HEARTS book by Katherine Garbera as the mysterious El Rey's matchmaking attempts continue in
Rock Me All Night
. Linda Conrad begins a compelling new miniseries called THE GYPSY INHERITANCE, the first of which is
Seduction by the Book.
Look for the remaining two novels to follow in September and October. And finally, Laura Wright winds up her royal series with
Her Royal Bed
. There's lots of revenge, royalty and romance to be enjoyed.

Thanks for choosing Silhouette Desire. In the coming months be sure to look for titles by authors Peggy Moreland, Annette Broadrick and the incomparable Diana Palmer.

Happy reading!

Melissa Jeglinski

Senior Editor

Silhouette Desire

SEDUCTION BY THE BOOK
LINDA CONRAD

Books by Linda Conrad

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The Cowboy's Baby Surprise
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The Gentrys: Cinco
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The Gentrys: Abby
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*
The Gentrys: Cal
#1524

Slow Dancing with a Texan
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The Laws of Passion
#1609

Between Strangers
#1619

†
Seduction by the Book
#1673

LINDA CONRAD

Award-winning author Linda Conrad was first inspired by her mother, who gave her a deep love of storytelling. “Actually, Mom told me I was the best liar she ever knew. And that's saying something for a woman with an Irish-storyteller's background,” Linda says. In her past life Linda was a stockbroker and certified financial planner, but she has been writing contemporary romances for six years now. Linda's passions are her husband, her cat named Sam and finding time to read cozy mysteries and emotional love stories. She says, “Living with passion makes everything worthwhile.” Visit Linda's Web site at www.LindaConrad.com or write to her at P.O. Box 9269, Tavernier, FL 33070.

For Captain Jeremy Steele-Perkins,
thanks for the long-distance sailing lessons!
If there are still mistakes in the terms, it's my fault!
And my most sincere appreciation to his wife,
my dear agent Pattie, for her ultimate assistance
with this Gypsy series. She knows why.

Also, a big thanks to the great women
at the e-Harlequin Desireables monthly chats, especially
Marilyn, Bren and Emilie for all their wonderful
suggestions of Gypsy titles. Thanks again, guys!

Prologue

T
he smells of French pastry, boiled crayfish and scented table candles filled the sultry air. Paper lanterns, laughing couples strolling wide sidewalks and twinkling lights all made for a merry party atmosphere.

But none of it made a difference to Passionata Chagari. It was her duty to be here in the French Quarter this evening. Her duty to fulfill her father's dying wishes.

She swung the multicolored shawl around her shoulders to protect against the crisp December night and looked down under the table to be sure the old treasure chest was safe and unseen. Her father, the late king of the gypsies, had left a chest full of bequests of magic to the young men of the prominent Steele family. Young men the king had never met. He had also directed Passionata from his grave to see the gifts delivered and used to their proper purpose.

And that she would do gladly. After all, she too owed much to the late Lucille Steele. So Lucille's blood descendants were about to receive a boon, in payment for the ultimate act of kindness.

From Passionata's position, sitting at the white-draped table with her crystal ball directly in front of her, she could see the approach of her current target— Nicholas Scoville, great nephew of Lucille—as he used a cane and limped in her direction.

A tall and quite handsome young man dressed in a dark gray European suit, Nicholas was strong of heart yet currently weak of body and soul. His old knee injury was acting up tonight, she knew. But what Passionata had in mind for him would eventually take away all his pain.

Passionata smiled to herself. This young descendent of Lucille Steele, who needed help so desperately, should be the easiest one to assist.

He wouldn't admit it readily, but deep in his soul Nicholas already believed in the power of magic. The passion of her father's legacy should be quite a relief to this young man who was so controlled by obligation and guilt.

She saw Nicholas in the distance as he leaned heavily on his walking stick and looked around the crowded square for someplace to wait. Passionata directed her thoughts toward bringing him closer.

With his attention turned elsewhere, Nicholas absently sat down at her table. She waited for him to become aware of her presence.

Finally, he turned to her with a start. “May I rest here a few minutes, old woman? I have an appointment and
need to kill some time, but I don't need my fortune told.”

“Welcome, Nicholas Scoville,” she whispered. “I have been waiting for you.”

“You must recognize me from photos of my great-aunt's funeral in the papers.” He scowled at her. “But don't think you can con me just because you know my name. I only need a spot to rest for a few minutes. Nothing more.”

She grinned with a knowing and sly smile. “You need a great deal more than that, young friend.”

For example, later tonight she knew that he would be going in search of a personal trainer to work with him toward his knee's recovery. Passionata had already placed the
right
person in his path and the wheels of fate were set in motion. But that would only be the first step to his ultimate legacy.

“I have something to help you.” She reached into the chest under the table and produced a book with a heavy, inlaid covering. “This is but one part of the legacy left to Lucille Steele's heirs. It has been bequeathed to you from my father in payment for a debt owed to her.”

“Great-aunt Lucille? If you have something owed to her, you need to contact her estate attorneys.”

“No,” she argued. “This book is a special gift, made for you alone.” Passionata shoved the journal-sized book toward him, and he automatically reached a hand out to take it from her.

Nicholas looked down at the original edition of
The Grimm Brothers' Children's and Household Tales
with its exquisite gold-and-ivory inlaid cover. She could see his fascination and curiosity grow.

“You must be mistaken,” he said once again, without looking away from the book. “Perhaps someone in my mother's family is a first edition collector. But I am not.”

“Look for your name burnished on the back, Nicholas Scoville. This book will lead you to accept your destiny. Accept it. Cherish it.”

She watched him slowly turn the cover over in his hand before she silently took her leave. When he finally looked up with questions in his eyes, he found himself sitting all alone at the table.

But Passionata would be watching. Watching and waiting for her father's legacy to weave its magic for Nicholas Scoville.

One

Six months later

S
ome battles even the bravest, strongest human being on earth should not attempt.

Annie Riley sighed and held the phone away from her ear. Facing the wrath of her mother, Maeve Mary Margaret O'Brien Riley, even just on the telephone from all the way back home in South Boston, was one of those battles.

But her mother was over a thousand miles away, and Annie had grown up and become stronger in the past six months that she'd been away from home. She put the earpiece back to her ear and tried to interrupt the steady stream of half Gaelic, half English words, spoken with determined but soft and lilting tones.

“Ma, please listen,” she begged. “I'll be perfectly
safe, staying on the island. The weatherman says the storm will probably miss us by fifty miles.”

“Your brother, Michael, tells me that this hurricane is a hundred miles across and headed right in your direction.”

Bless her older brother's devilish little Irish heart. So what if Michael worked at a television station and probably had access to good weather information. He was
so
not a weather forecaster. He'd only mentioned the storm's width to their mother in order to cause trouble.

She missed her family, but having so many older brothers and sisters was one of the very reasons Annie had decided she needed to leave home—leave South Boston—leave the entire continental United States.

“Does that boss of yours insist that you stay?” her mother demanded. “I'll bet he's already left, hasn't he?”

“No. As a matter of fact, Nick refuses to leave the island even though two of the research facility team leaders have volunteered to stay.” Annie wouldn't tell her mother that she'd had a difficult time convincing Nick that she too should stay on the island. The man was just plain stubborn.

“Oh, I hadn't thought of those lovely fish. What will happen to them in the storm?”

“Not fish, Ma. Dolphins are mammals. They even breathe air, just like people do. And there's a big elaborate plan for what will happen to them in the storm.” This conversation was getting her nowhere.

“Well, your boss
should
stay,” her mother declared forcefully. “The Scoville family owns most of that island. But you're just an employee. You have nothing there to lose…but your life.”

“Please don't be so melodramatic, Ma. I'll be fine. Caribbean islands come through hurricanes all the time with no problem. The islanders here have already boarded up everything for us, and I've put extra food, water and batteries in the big house's pantry. We're all set.”

“Ah,
dervla,
” her mother sighed, using the old Gaelic word for daughter. “Must you stay on that private island? You'll give your poor mother a heart attack with such worry.”

Her mother was pulling out all the big guns now. Hide, Annie Riley, she warned herself. A thousand miles away wasn't far enough when her mother began her pity routine.

Annie took a deep breath and decided to try a different tactic altogether. “You have six other kids and nine grandchildren to worry about, Ma. Some of them have real problems. This is just a hurricane. You know no Riley would ever let a little storm stop them.

“By the way,” she continued, sure her plan to distract her mother would work. “How is Da doing with his rehabilitation after the heart attack? It's been nearly a year. Is he sticking to it?”

The mention of her grandchildren and her husband's close call with death slowed down Maeve Riley's words. Annie knew she had won this battle by diversion, even though every member of her family was truly just fine. But she could never hope to win the war. Her mother would forever be overprotective of her baby daughter. Annie had accepted that fact long ago—and had finally found a way to leave home so she could live her own life.

As she listened with one ear to her mother go on about her loved ones not practicing the Irish good sense God gave them, Annie turned her thoughts to what she could do to best help the man she'd come to think of as a lost storybook prince—Nicholas Scoville, the man for whom she would gladly face a hurricane any day.

 

Annie stuck her head out of the one door left ajar and glanced hesitatingly up at the deep gray sky. It was a funny shade. Not the ugly black that the skies here sometimes became during a wild tropical thunderstorm.

No, this sky was the color of her father's Sunday suit, a kind of pigeon-gray. And huge beige clouds swirled so quickly past above where she stood that they made the whole heavens look as if some leprechaun had hit the fast forward button on a DVD player.

The storm must be getting closer. She would have to turn on the radio and check its position—just as soon as she checked her boss's position.

The last time she'd seen Nick he was headed down the beach toward the dolphin research and rehabilitation facility to check on the pod. But Annie was positive that the dolphins would be safe in their lagoon.

One of the team members who had volunteered to stay with them through the storm was a former Navy SEAL. The other was a woman who had scientific credentials from seven international universities. It was rumored she could talk to the dolphins in their own language.

Annie smiled at the thought. She liked the dolphins. The few times she'd been able to go down to the research center had been wonderful fun. The dolphins seemed happy to be playing with the handlers.

Easing out of the doorway, she almost lost her balance. The winds were so strong they nearly knocked her to the ground. She set her feet and held herself erect the same way she would've done back on the high school gymnastic team's balance beams.

She faced the wind and thought it was exhilarating, pitting herself against nature. The salty air and the roar of the winds and ocean made her feel so alive. The only problem Annie had with the winds now was keeping her unruly hair out of her eyes long enough to see where she was going.

She hadn't had the darn mass of curls trimmed for the whole six months she'd been Nick's personal trainer. This was as long as her hair had grown since she was ten—when her mother cut off her braids because she kept getting them caught in things. Things like the kitchen door as she was heading outside at a dead run.

As Annie made her way to the edge of the enormous patio, she held back her hair and squinted out toward the ocean. Moving her gaze past the shallow cliff where she stood, she searched the wide, white sand beach.

She saw him, standing on a spit of sand at the ocean's edge with his back to her. Nick faced into the wind as he stared out at the water.

Trying to call out to him, her voice was lost in the roaring winds. He needed to come back to the main house. The storm must be very close, and she had given her promise to his mother that she would watch out for him. She took that duty very seriously.

The longer she stayed in his employ, though, the stronger her reactions to the sight of him. As usual, today he was a solitary figure surveying his kingdom.

She flew down the steps to the beach and ran headlong into the wind to reach him. “Nick! Come inside now.”

He must've heard her, or perhaps just sensed her presence, because he turned around. “What do you want? Dammit! You should be in the main house,” he said tightly.

His voice was thunderous, his face distorted in a scowl. But he was still so handsome and such a masculine presence, standing there with his arms crossed over his chest, that her breath caught in her throat.

It was bad enough that he lived in an enchanted castle, high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. But he'd always reminded Annie of a bewitched fairy-tale figure, one who pinned away for a lost lover to come break the spell that he had been put under by an evil witch.

Except that this fairy-tale figure could sometimes be the most infuriating person on earth. He was aloof and demanding. She'd given him a lot of leeway when they'd first begun training because of his circumstances and because she knew he was in pain.

But many times recently she had been ready to call it a day and walk out on him. At this point in his recovery he was nearly healed and his pains were nothing but echoes.

Only two things had kept her here on his island, putting up with his irritating manner. First was her promise to his mother to try to bring him out of his shell. The damn man fought her at every turn on that score. It was like he enjoyed wallowing in his misery.

And secondly, Nick was just plain hauntingly gorgeous. That probably shouldn't matter, but it certainly
did. His hair, a mixed shade of golden blond with silver streaks, had grown slightly too long, like hers, and brushed his collar. He had a slender build, and at six foot two he towered over her five foot four inch frame.

Nick usually wore boring but expensive gray or navy clothes, even to work out in. But even in dull-colored clothes, the spectacular blue of his eyes always fascinated her. Just as it was doing now, while he shot her a forbidden look that blazed with anger at her interruption.

It couldn't be helped. Irritating as he may be, it was her job to stick with him and make sure he took care of himself. She was nothing if not loyal and trustworthy. But heaven help her, this was a man who stirred her senses like no man had ever done before.

“I'll go indoors if
you
will,” she told him when she got close enough to be heard. “The storm is almost here. It's too dangerous to be outside.”

The waves had grown tall all of a sudden, she noted. Ever since she'd come to the island, Annie had loved the quiet easy way the surf here rolled in, baby-soft against the beach. The waves were usually like a child, tenderly caressing its mother's hair with long smooth strokes.

But today the adult waves crashed and thundered against the shallow depths of their sheltered cove. Angry white caps rose up to impossible heights and smacked down with fury against the bottom. The beautiful blues and greens she'd grown accustomed to seeing when she looked out at the ocean had disappeared—replaced by tan-colored water that boiled and stirred, and resembled her grandmother's chicken gravy.

Despite the heat and humidity, Annie shivered.

“The dolphins will be all right, won't they?” she asked, holding out her hand to him.

“I'm concerned about Sultana,” Nick said roughly. “She is expected to give birth within days and it will be our first live birth at the center. But every precaution that could be taken seems to have been completed.” He didn't accept her hand, but clasped his own hands behind his back instead.

The storm was in his eyes today, and it made him seem so much more human. And at the moment, much more annoying.

 

Nick desperately wanted a few more minutes by himself. It was bad enough that the storm had ruined his plans for the day—this day of all days. The thought of being helpless to assist the research team during the storm also made him remember too clearly another time when he had not been able to help.

Absently rubbing his temple, he felt the familiar ache of memories.

But the worst thing about this storm was knowing he had to spend the rest of the day…and night…alone with Annie. Damn the storm. And damn her.

She got under his skin and he didn't like it one bit. He was a one-woman man and his woman had been violently taken from him. Other women, no matter how inviting, were distractions he just didn't need.

He needed to remain frozen and apart. Distance let him maintain his emotional balance. Cold hearts didn't feel guilt. Being numb meant keeping the pain at bay.

Nick had spent two long years keeping his distance
from life, and damned if Annie didn't bring that tempting heat right onto the island with her. Heat and wanting.

Hell, he just hated these emotions. But he knew his mother would have a fit if he fired Annie. She thought Annie was good for him. Another few weeks of Annie's perky helpfulness, however, and he might just explode.

His only hope tonight was if he could talk Annie into remaining in her room at the back of the house while he spent the long hours of the storm by himself in his office. He was already restless but it had nothing to do with the coming storm.

The anniversary of Christina's death made him feel unsettled and uneasy. He wanted to be left alone so he could bring back the sharp pain of missing her.

That pain brought her memory into clear focus and reminded him of all his vows and promises. All the promises he had never been able to keep while his wife was alive. He needed those memories to stay focused now.

“But she'll be okay, won't she? Sultana is healthy, you said.” Annie withdrew her hand but took a step closer.

Her voice brought him back to the moment with a thud. Nodding, he backed up a step to keep from touching the vibrant personal trainer.

Lately, every time Annie touched him, he burned—and he was surprised by his growing attraction to her. He didn't want any part of the lustful urges.

Nick had tried desperately to keep his distance from Annie over the past few weeks, and had worked hard to manage his exercises by his own strength. But she
was
a personal trainer, and had kept her watchful eyes and sensual hands on his body as he exercised in his home gym.

He groaned silently at the very thought. His unruly desire for her was getting so bad, he had actually considered risking his mother's wrath by hiring someone else in her place.

Though Annie was strictly his employee, on his mother's frequent visits, the two women had become friends. Coconspirators against him, he supposed.

It was bad enough that his father was furious with him for quitting the business to come live on the island and devote himself to Christina's project. Nick didn't want to risk losing his mother's support, too.

Family was all important. But as much as he loved his mother, she was a meddler.

Since his wife's death two years ago, his mind was often distracted. That was only one of the several reasons he'd left his home in Alsaca and given up everything he'd ever worked to achieve. He'd come to honor Christina's memory and wishes in the very place where she had died.

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