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Authors: Kathryn Jensen

The Earl's Secret

BOOK: The Earl's Secret
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Sending The Staff Home To Leave Himself Alone In The Castle With A Female Guest Had The Makings Of A Classic Seduction.

Jennifer wasn't sure if she was nervous or excited as Christopher led her upstairs. But she was out of breath by the time they reached the top.

“Is something wrong, Jennifer?” The earl's eyes narrowed with suspicion. “If I'd wanted to attack you, don't you think I would have done it before now?”

“Oh no, I wasn't thinking—”

“Yes, you were. You've read too many gothic novels, luv. Here—”

Before she could pull away, his lips settled tenderly over hers. It was over as quickly as it had begun. “What was that for?” she gasped.

“To prove I could kiss you without being driven mad by passion.”

“I see.” As to her own passion or sanity, Jennifer couldn't presently vouch for either. Because with his arms enclosing her, she felt as near to heaven as she'd ever been.

Dear Reader,

Happy New Year from Silhouette Desire, where we offer you six passionate, powerful and provocative romances every month of the year! Here's what you can indulge yourself with this January….

Begin the new year with a seductive MAN OF THE MONTH,
Tall, Dark & Western
by Anne Marie Winston. A rancher seeking a marriage of convenience places a personals ad for a wife, only to fall—hard—for the single mom who responds!

Silhouette Desire proudly presents a sequel to the wildly successful in-line continuity series THE TEXAS CATTLEMAN'S CLUB. This exciting
new
series about alpha men on a mission is called TEXAS CATTLEMAN'S CLUB: LONE STAR JEWELS. Jennifer Greene's launch book,
Millionaire M.D.
, features a wealthy surgeon who helps out his childhood crush when she finds a baby on her doorstep—by marrying her!

Alexandra Sellers continues her exotic miniseries SONS OF THE DESERT with one more irresistible sheikh in
Sheikh's Woman.
THE BARONS OF TEXAS miniseries by Fayrene Preston returns with another feisty Baron heroine in
The Barons of Texas: Kit.
In Kathryn Jensen's
The Earl's Secret,
a British aristocrat romances a U.S. commoner while wrestling with a secret. And Shirley Rogers offers
A Cowboy, a Bride & a Wedding Vow,
in which a cowboy discovers his secret child.

So ring in the new year with lots of cheer and plenty of red-hot romance, by reading all six of these enticing love stories.

Enjoy!

Joan Marlow Golan

Senior Editor, Silhouette Desire

The Earl's Secret
KATHRYN JENSEN

Books by Kathryn Jensen

Silhouette Desire

I Married a Prince
#1115

The Earl Takes a Bride
#1282

Mail-Order Cinderella
#1318

The Earl's Secret
#1343

Silhouette Intimate Moments

Time and Again
#685

Angel's Child
#758

The Twelve-Month Marriage
#797

KATHRYN JENSEN

has written many novels for young readers as well as for adults. She speed walks, works out with weights and enjoys ballroom dancing for exercise, stress reduction and pleasure. Her children are now grown. She lives in Maryland with her writing companion—Sunny, a lovable terrier mix adopted from a shelter.

Having worked as a hospital switchboard operator, department store sales associate, bank clerk and elementary school teacher, she now splits her days between writing her own books and teaching fiction writing at two local colleges and through a correspondence course. She enjoys helping new writers get a start, and speaks “at the drop of a hat” at writers' conferences, libraries and schools across the country.

One

L
ife had taken a wrong turn somewhere. And no matter how hard the young earl of Winchester tried, he couldn't seem to put it right.

At the top of the castle's north turret was his favorite room, his refuge and place to be alone with his most private thoughts. As a small child he and his brothers had played here. All through adolescent summers, this was where he came to read of valiant knights, courageous battles and beautiful yet desperate princesses. He was always victorious in his daydreams, and he had been comforted when his young spirit was troubled.

But these adult days, when he spent time within the thick granite walls, the thoughts that curled round him like the mists off Loch Kerr only blackened his already dark mood. His frustration and anger grew day by day, gathering power like a storm rolling
across the Scottish moor, until he came perilously close to lashing out at anything or anyone who crossed him.

Stepping out onto the stone balcony, Christopher Smythe glowered across the fragrant purple heather. Three hundred miles to the south lay London, where most of his elite circle of friends would spend a few days before drifting en masse for the month of August to the Côte d'Azur. His houseguests were frequent and usually an effective distraction, but eventually they left for a new foxhunt, the next polo match or house party. Then he had no choice but to face his helpless fury, because he was unable to act on man's deepest instinct.

Christopher's strong hands gripped the stone balustrade as he lifted his face to the morning sky and loudly cursed it and fate, too. Instead of feeling better for unleashing his rage, he experienced something else. An almost overwhelming sense that his life was about to become still more complicated before he could hope for peace of mind.

It was then that he thought he saw something move at the distant end of the narrow gravel drive leading up the hill from the main road. It appeared to be a van of sorts: red, squat and dusty. His housekeeper didn't drive, and his caretaker was off for the day. The stable master and his lads were busy tending to his horses. He wasn't expecting the stone mason's crew to return for another few days. In fact, no one he knew drove a boxy little vehicle like that.

As the crimson monstrosity rumbled closer, kicking up dust and pebbles like a skittish mare, he squinted at a brightly colored magnetic sign attached to one side: Murphy's Worldwide Escapes. A lost party of
tourists, he thought grimly. There was nothing to do now but go down and give them directions back to the highway.

Irritated that his brooding had been interrupted—or because the interruption promised to be so brief and unexciting—he hurried down the turret's tight coil of steps to the landing. In long, purposeful strides he took another flight, two ivory marble steps at a time to the great hall on the ground level. Christopher flung open the weighty, iron-nubbed oak door and stepped outside to see a young woman climb down from the driver's seat of the van and cheerfully wave her passengers out onto his property.

This was too much.

“What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?” He rushed at her, feeling heat rise up from his collar and settle like a steaming blanket over his face.

She spun around, staring at him, lips parted in surprise. Her eyes were the color of new leaves. Fresh, green, virginal. They darkened the instant they settled upon his scowl. “Excuse me?”

“Didn't you see
the sign?

“What sign?” There was a note of challenge in her voice, which surprised him. Usually he was able to send intruders scurrying with a simple glare.

“The one that says this is private property,” he growled. “‘No Trespassing.”'

She blinked at him twice, nibbled at her lower lip and sighed. “Well, I guess I just assumed we weren't…” Peering into her purse, she rummaged around inside. “Here it is.” She shook a piece of paper in his face. “We have reservations for 11:00 a.m.”

“Reservations?” He snapped the paper from between her fingers and unfolded it.

It seemed to be some sort of confirmation letter, indicating that her party had arrangements to tour Bremerley Castle. He opened his mouth to inform her Bremerley was a good twenty kilometers to the north along the coast, nearly as far as Edinburgh. But he could see her customers were looking expectantly up at the castle walls, and behind her brave front those green eyes appeared worried.

The outer layers of his anger sloughed away: he felt his brow cool, the tense muscles of his shoulders settle. He didn't have the heart to tell her in front of the others that she was as lost as a little mole out of its hole.

Besides, she looked adorable, standing there in front of him, running her tongue over her upper lip and gazing up at him with those lovely pale-green eyes. A sudden, inexplicable finger of lust poked at his insides.

“I'll be happy to show you around,” he growled with as good a nature as any bear woken from hibernation.

Her expression immediately brightened. “Oh, good. You must be the caretaker. Is Lord MacKinney in residence this time of year?”

The unexpected chance of a game pleased him, almost to the point of bringing a smile to his lips. Why not pretend to be someone else for just a little while? And if it helped out this misplaced but lovely young American—so much the better. “Occasionally,” he said. “When he isn't off playing polo or attending theater in London. He's not here today.”

She winked at him conspiratorially. “You're probably happy to have him out from underfoot.”

He bent down close to her ear and caught a whiff
of vanilla-scented perfume. “Oh, he can be quite a handful, he can.”

“Well then, I'm glad he's not around.” She turned to admire the soaring stone fortress, her eyes wide, sparkling and delightfully childlike. “Will you show us the rooms that are open to the public?”

The long curve of her throat drew his attention, summoning a momentary vision of his lips trailing down the delicate flesh, that lust finger poking him again. She was petite—a natural blonde, he guessed, though that wasn't a sure thing these days. She stood only as high as his shoulder, even in her conservative heels. As she studied the structure that had belonged to his family for nearly three hundred years, her fingers played lightly with the tassels at the bottom of her tapestry purse. A momentary frown puckered her brow, and she looked with more concentration at the right wing, which remained in ruins.

Clever woman,
he thought. Bremerley had been fully restored, and if she were a competent guide, she would know that. He wondered how long it would take her to figure out her mistake.

Meanwhile he took pleasure in her interest in his legacy. Usually, when tourists took a wrong turn off the A7 and ended up on his grounds, he or his groundskeeper brusquely sent them on their way. But she was so damn fascinating to watch.

“What is your name?” he asked, gesturing with one hand toward the steps.

She started walking, and her group of ten chattering travelers followed their shepherdess like docile lambs. “Jennifer Murphy, and you?”

“Christopher.”

“Christopher,” she repeated thoughtfully as she
climbed the granite stairs, worn low and smooth in their centers by past generations. “Is that a Scottish name? I would have thought English. As in Christopher Robin.”

“I was born in Sussex. I grew up in that area, and in London.”

“How exciting!” Her eyes danced in the morning light.

“Sometimes,” he admitted. He certainly hadn't fretted about where his next meal was coming from, and there had always been plenty of money with which to do anything he liked. His father, the earl of Sussex, had been grudging with his affection, but he'd placidly doled out cash to Christopher and his two brothers whenever required, as well as titles. They each could legitimately claim to be an earl—although of lesser importance than their father. The family held a collection of aristocratic nametags dating back centuries, gathered from various ancestors on their father's side.

“What about you? You're obviously an American. What part of the States are you from?”

“I grew up in Baltimore, and I've lived there all of my life. My mother and I own a travel agency. We specialize in European tours.”

“And you personally guide each tour?”

She smiled. “Not every one. Most, though, since my mother prefers to keep watch over the office. And since I majored in history in college, I have the background for the on-site lectures we offer.”

“Is that so?” Not only was she pretty, she was smart, too. He itched to find out more about her. But by now they were standing in the middle of the great
hall, and her group was getting restless and starting to investigate.

He was about to ask her to warn her clients not to touch the paintings he'd just moved out of storage and propped against one stone wall to await hanging. But she was staring at his clothing, a frown softly rumpling her forehead. “Is something wrong?”

“I was just curious how much caretakers are paid these days.” She flicked a finger at the lapel of his favorite cashmere blazer.

She was catching on fast. Christopher nearly chuckled.

He had dressed to drive into Edinburgh for a meeting with his solicitor. That was the way he and his father communicated these days. The old earl disapproved of his youngest son's lifestyle—as recorded in elaborate detail by the British paparazzi. His father considered him a playboy with a weakness for fast polo ponies and faster women. When Christopher had asked a year ago to be given Castle Donan as part of his inheritance, he had agreed in the hope Christopher would settle down in the North Country and find himself a bride. But he had been living at Donan for over nine months and that hadn't happened.

In actuality, the young earl thought to himself, he had only
one
weakness—which would remain a secret until the moment he was released from his promise. He hoped with all his heart that day would come soon.

Christopher forced a smile for the young woman's benefit. “The jacket is a gift from my employer.”

Jennifer studied him for a moment longer through narrowed eyes, paling almost to buttercup-yellow. He wished he could tell what she was thinking. Suddenly
she spun around and, with a quick clap of her hands above her head, summoned her group and began talking about the architecture of the Middle Ages. He listened to her, enthralled more by the sound of her words than by their meaning. Her voice was gentle and sweet, reminding him of a time in his distant past when a nanny, whose name he couldn't recall, had read him to sleep with stories of a time when honor meant everything.

He tried to imagine how Jennifer might look dressed in the garb of a fifteenth-century noble-woman. Today she wore a simple denim skirt and a pink cotton top. Back then it would have been a sweeping gown of Flemish damask, ribbons and jewels woven through her long, flaxen hair. Back then a man could legally shut away his woman behind stone walls, safe from the wandering eyes and lustful urges of other men.

Politically incorrect for the modern world, true…but the male fantasy intrigued him nonetheless. He envisioned himself alone with the Lady Jennifer, free to touch her where he desired. His body responded to the intriguing images playing across his mind. He tried to remember how furious he had been when she'd parked in front of his door, but it was no good.

“Are you coming?”

Startled, Christopher focused on Jennifer's voice, which suddenly seemed distant. He turned to find her moving briskly through the doorway that led into his library. “We need to move along pretty quickly,” she called back at him. “We're scheduled to lunch at a pub just south of Edinburgh. And—” she cast a knowing look at him over her shoulder “—the notes
I'd prepared on Bremerley's interior don't seem to match up with your rooms.”

Now he did laugh. A booming laugh to let her know he had no regret he'd been found out so soon. Clever, clever woman indeed.

He hurried to catch up with her.

Listening to her lecture in earnest now, he was surprised by how much she knew of the history of the Borders, the Scottish county whose southern edge touched England, where the battles between the two countries spanned hundreds of years and had been the fiercest. Castle Donan had been a crucial link in the line of defense. She had exchanged hands a dozen times at great cost to both sides. He was so enthralled by her discussion he didn't at first notice one of the men moving apart from the group to investigate a pair of dueling pistols mounted on one wall.

Out of the corner of his eye, Christopher glimpsed a hand reaching up. A shout burst from his lips before he could stop it. “Don't!”

Everyone turned to stare at him. Jennifer tipped her head to one side and observed him with a look of triumph sparkling in her eyes.

Taking three long steps across the room, Christopher moved the man's raised hand away from the pistol. “The earl wouldn't like you touching his things,” he said, trying to keep his voice level.

“Sorry, I wasn't going to hurt it,” the tourist objected.

“That's an excellent rule to follow anytime you're in a museum or building of historic importance,” Jennifer suggested cheerfully. “Many items you'll see are irreplaceable, and age has made them fragile. Let's move along now.” She flashed him a wicked
smile in passing. “I'm sure there are many more intriguing things to discover here.”

By the time they had finished viewing the first floor, Christopher was sure Jennifer not only knew she wasn't in Bremerley, she also had determined he wasn't who he pretended to be. He felt her watching him whenever the little group entered a new room. Repeatedly he caught himself standing between the group and his most cherished possessions, as if unconsciously shielding them from clumsy hands. He was certain she added this mistake to her collection of clues.

BOOK: The Earl's Secret
13.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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