* * * *
This is for Audrey. I miss you, Mom, and think of you often.
* * * * *
“Wicked men are a weakness of mine.”
“Good heavens, Julienne.” Lady Caroline Seton smothered a laugh as she entered the
Dempsey ballroom. “You are incorrigible.”
Julienne La Coeur arched a brow. “You have no notion of how fortunate you are to be
unhindered by the rules of Society. You may do and say whatever you wish. You can associate
with the rakes you prefer and marry whomever you like. I, however…” She paused and shot a
glance at her aunt behind her. Lowering her voice, she continued, “Am destined to do whatever
Caroline offered a quick commiserating smile as she waited at the top of the staircase for
the majordomo to announce their party. Her gaze drifted across the occupants below, taking in
the various gowns and the number of guests in attendance. At one time she had attended such
events with her own family, but they had passed on to their reward long ago and she had learned
to manage on her own. Her comfortably sized trust funds and lack of familial ties afforded her a
freedom other women of her station, women like Julienne, did not enjoy. Unfortunately, it was
also very lonely.
With her thoughts elsewhere, Caroline might have passed over impressively broad
shoulders and hair as dark as night had the tiny hairs on her nape not stood at attention and her
jaw not begun to ache in a wholly unfamiliar way.
She stilled, her attention riveted on the tall man whose powerful torso tapered to a nar row
waist and lean hips. His black hair gleamed under the golden glow of the chandeliers, the ends
curled lovingly around the top of his starched cravat. The evening attire of stark black and white
appeared to have been made with him in mind, showing off the austere beauty of his features to
perfection, a beauty enhanced by the statuesque blonde who clung to his arm.
Caroline stared at the man shamelessly, knowing that even if the animal inside her had not
felt the singular attraction, she would have wanted him anyway.
With his full lips and intense gaze, he was gorgeous, his face so perfect as to outshine any
classical painting or statue of her recollection. She’d never witnessed a more resplendently
masculine being in her life. Ther e was something about him, a dangerous edge, a predatory
alertness she found utterly mesmerizing. Just looking at him made her nipples hard, her body
soft, and caused moisture to pool between her thighs, readying her for his possession.
Just one look and she was nearly undone.
Caroline glanced aside at Julienne. “Beg your pardon?”
“The man you are presently drooling over is Jack Shaw, an American. Obscenely wealthy
I’ve been told, due to his shipping interests.”
“He’s…stunning,” Caroline murmured, acknowledging even as she spoke what an
understatement that was.
“Yes,” Julienne agreed. “With a fabulously wicked reputation. How I envy you your choice
of men such as him.”
Caroline shivered with desire. She knew he would be, just from the sight of him.
As if he could feel the longing and need in her regard, he looked up and caught her gaze,
revealing the molten silver color of his irises.
The connection was devastating. Caroline was unable to halt her instinctive reaction. Her
own blood flooded her mouth before she realized her fangs had descended.
It took everything she had to prevent leaping f rom the staircase and biting deep into his
neck. The desire to pierce his skin, to drink him in, was so overwhelming she didn’t trust herself
to be around him. In the century she’d been vampire, she’d never experienced such a soul-deep
pull to another being.
Startled, confused, and deeply afraid she would do something she’d regret forever, Caroline
covered her mouth and spun blindly away. She ran past gaping guests in the crowded foyer and
fled to the safety of the night beyond.
* * * * *
“You’re coming with me, Caroline. Whether you like it or not.”
Caroline watched Julienne pace across the Aubusson rug in her parlor and released a deep
breath. Arguing with Julienne La Coeur about anything was a chore. Her friend was too stubborn
“I told you, Jules. I’m not feeling well.” Settling more comfortably into her seat, Caroline
attempted to look ill.
“Nonsense,” Julienne scoffed, coming to a halt directly before her. “You look the picture of
health as always. Besides you’ve been convalescing for a week, plenty of time to recover from
what ailed you when you ran out of the Dempsey affair.”
Shaking her head, Caroline knew she couldn’t continue to hide in her residence forever, but
the fear she would chance upon Jack Shaw again was strong enough to make the idea appealing.
He’d come calling twice already, bearing lovely bouquets of flowers, and both times he had been
turned away. Any notion she might have held that she’d gone unnoticed was completely
dispelled. He knew her name. Worse yet, he wanted to court her. The thought sent her into a mild
panic. Even if she could control the animal within her, she was not free to accept his attentions as
long as she was promised to another.
Julienne sighed. “You are attending the Moreland ball with me. I won’t take no for an
answer.” She dropped to a crouch beside the settee. “Please, Caroline,” she begged. “These
events are positively dr eadful when you’re not around. Aunt Eugenia fusses all evening.”
“Why is the Moreland ball so important to you?”
Blushing, Julienne admitted, “Lucien Remington is rumored to have been invited.”
“Good grief. Talk about wicked men, Jules.”
“Ummm…isn’t he? So you see, you must come with me and distract my aunt so I can ogle
Remington at my leisure.”
Staring into her friend’s hopeful features, Caroline couldn’t find the heart to refuse. “Oh,
very well then,” she gave in with a laugh. If she was very careful and very fortunate, she might
be able to survive the evening without crossing paths with Jack. “But I’m taking my leave early.
So ogle with haste.”
* * * * *
Jack traversed the lamp lit garden trails with his customary noiseless tread, his heart rate
quickening as he followed the woman who had occupied his mind ceaselessly for the last
sennight. He turned a corner on the gravel walk and paused, staring at the dark-haired beauty
who stood drenched in moonlight. Dressed in ice blue satin with pearls in her hair, Lady Caroline
Seton was a vision he almost doubted was real.
His gaze drank in every detail of her–the creamy swell of her breasts above the pearl
encrusted bodice…the graceful curve of her spine…the delicate arch of her throat that begged for
the brush of his lips…
“Breathtaking,” he breathed, awed by the sight of her.
She turned to face him.
Slender, with shoulder length raven curls surrounding a face of such beauty he was robbed
of his breath, Caroline caused a sharp stab of recognition deep within him.
“Mr. Shaw,” she whispered, taking a stumbling step backward. She’d seen him in the
ballroom, he was certain of it, but she’d quickly turned and headed in the opposite direction. He’d
had a devil of a time finding her after that.
Smiling, he sketched a low bow. “Lady Caroline. It is a pleasure to finally make your
acquaintance.” He straightened and then stepped closer.
Caroline backed away, but seemed unaware of the hedge at her back that would soon halt
her retreat. Jack saw no reason to point it out.
To the untrained eye, she might seem frightened, but the heat in her gaze betrayed her. She
stared at him with a burning intensity so hot it sparked a fiery awareness.
She looked beyond his shoulder, her fingers twisting restlessly in her skirt.
“We are alone,” he said softly, taking another step. “I won’t harm you. I simply wish to
speak with you.”
That wasn’t entirely true. He’d wanted to meet her, yes, and talk with her. But if they suited,
as he suspected they would, he also wanted to claim her.
“Wh-what is it you wish to discuss with me, Mr. Shaw?”
“Jack,” he corrected, stepping closer still.
She smelled like vanilla and spice, a scent that was at once f amiliar and unknown, a scent
that urged him to bridge the gap between them until nothing separated his body from hers.
Caroline swallowed and Jack’s entire body hardened. Her gaze was ravenous, filled with a
hunger that ignited a similar need within himself. No woman in his life had ever looked at him as
“Mr. Shaw, it’s best that you stay away from me.”
His mouth curved. “You could ask anything of me, sweet, and I would do my best to grant
your desire. To stay away, however, is not something I’m capable of doing.”
“You don’t understand–”
“Are you still unwell?” he asked gruffly, frowning with concern.
“No.” The low tone of her voice made his blood heat in his veins. Eyes wide, Caroline took
another backward step only to be brought up short by the hedge.
Jack tugged off his glove and reached out to her, brushing a finger along the edge of her
bodice. His breathing deepened at the f eel of her satiny skin. “Your heart races as fast as mine.”
He stared into her eyes and saw the longing there, a longing he reciprocated. “If you have a
care for me at all, love, you would ease my torment.”
“Jack…you must go. Forget I exist.”
“Tell me I’m not what you want, Caroline, and I will walk away. Otherwise, I intend to kiss
She started to speak, her eyes wide and pleading, but in the end she said nothing.
With unsteady hands he reached for her, lowering his mouth to hers. Her taste, sweet and
ripe, flooded his senses, and Jack groaned, clutching her more tightly to him. He had not been
mistaken. The fit of her body against his was perfect.
Caroline melted into his embrace, returning his kiss with welcome fervor. Her lips parted
and her tongue slid along his, licking and tasting the deepest recesses of his mouth. Jack
shuddered, his entire body aching as her gloved fingers curled around his nape, holding him to
And then suddenly he was alone, his arms empty.
Bewildered, Jack spun about, searching the garden around him. He found no trace of the
woman he’d just held.
Like a dream or misty apparition, Caroline was gone.
* * * * *
Two years later
Caroline closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Standing on the foredeck of the merchant
, the misty salt air bit at her skin and caused her to clutch her shawl more
firmly around her. She’d left the warmth and comfort of her cabin to find a reprieve from
thoughts of Jack, but it was impossible. Beneath the smell of the ocean she could still detect his
evocative masculine scent, a scent that heated her blood and made forgetting him impossible.
He owned this ship, as well as a dozen others, and his presence lingered here, taunting her
with the promise of what she wanted most, but could never have.
Under more ideal circumstances Caroline would have found berth on another vessel, but
time had been of the essence. Jack had returned to America months earlier than she had
She’d heard word of his return at almost the exact moment she’d sensed him. Rushing to her
lodgings, she’d gathered up her belongings and boarded the first ship back to England. It was her
misfortune that the earliest departing vessel had been one of Jack’s, because her haste had cost
These last days at sea had been torture. Jack’s essence had seeped into every pore of the
ship. He haunted her dreams, would give her no peace. Every night as she attempted to sleep he
visited her, begging in his velvety voice for her to return to him.
Come back to me, Caroline
. The heat of his nocturnal car esses and the ravishment of his kisses drove her
Opening wear y eyes, Caroline gazed out over the water. Swirls of mist partially obscured
the cloudy sky, the silvery gray color reminding her so much of Jack’s eyes.
From the moment she’d first seen him in the Fontaine ballroom, she’d been lost. The
passionate kiss a week later had destroyed her. Even now she could feel the heat of his expert
lips against hers, and the remembrance of his taste made her mouth water.
She wanted him so desperately she knew she would never be able to control the animal
within her. It would bleed him dry; she would not be able to stop it. She had to stay away, far
away. A man as beautiful and magnetic as Jack Shaw did not deserve to die in such a heinous
manner. He radiated life and vitality, and she would flee to the ends of the earth before she
drained him of the very things that had caused her to fall in love with him. A love that had been
doomed long before she met him.
And so she ran. From France to Italy to America, she’d barely catch her breath before Jack
would arrive, the expansion of his shipping interests causing him to visit all of the places she fled
This last missed encounter had come too close. Caroline could only hope his overseas
business was resolved and he would remain in America. She was tired, lonely, and hungry for
him. Misery was sapping her strength and resolve. If Jack came near her again, she wasn’t certain
she had the will to resist him.
And he would pay for her weakness with his precious life.
* * * * *
It was nearly two o’clock in the morning when Jack Shaw strode down the gangplank of his
ship in London. Thick fog swirled around his boots as he left the dock and vaulted into his
waiting carriage. He looked at his man of affairs who sat across from him. “She’s in residence?
“Yes, Mr. Shaw. Lady Caroline is here. I saw her myself, just to be sure.”
Jack breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed into the squabs. He’d deliberately timed his
docking, aware that if he arrived during the day word would spread of his arrival and Caroline
would hear of it. For the sake of his ego, he’d denied for years that she was running from him,
but after this last occasion in Virginia he could no longer delude himself.
Lady Caroline Seton didn’t want anything to do with him.
At the age of five and twenty Caroline was considered a spinster by choice. Highly sought
after for her beauty and unaccountable wealth, she rejected all suitors. She was an enigma in
every respect, a beautiful and vivacious young woman who had taken the
Her origins were unknown, her courtesy title derived from a tenuous tie to a title now held in
abeyance. Jack appreciated her mysterious appeal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which
was the pleasant notoriety that allowed him to find her wherever she was.
Unfortunately, he’d caught only fleeting and rare glimpses of her over the last two years.
Yet every time he saw her Caroline attracted him on some deep, primitive level he’d never
experienced before. She traveled with no abigail or companion to lighten her journeys and he
respected her strength of will and intrepidness. No other female of his acquaintance would travel
the world alone, flaunting convention and unafraid of censure. He appreciated her individuality
and admired her for it.
“You’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to locate Lady Caroline,” his man of affairs
Jack’s chest expanded on a deep breath. Caroline was the only woman he had ever pursued.
He hungered for her, desired her on a level that went far beyond the physical. She felt their
unusual connection as well, or she wouldn’t be avoiding him. But running was futile. There was
truly no choice for either of them. After that night in the Moreland garden their fate had been
sealed. Soon she would see that.
“I missed her in Virginia by only an hour,” he brooded, remembering the nearly unbearable
frustration he’d felt when he learned she’d fled to London on one of his own ships. But he had
come for her. She would not be getting away again. This time he would soothe her concerns.
This time he would be catching Caroline.
The carriage rolled to a halt and Jack alighted. He paused on the street and gazed up at the
home where his love slept. Three storied and Georgian in design, it was situated in a part of town
that was not quite fashionable. The street was quiet and dark. It was a location that suited
Caroline–mysterious and on the fringes of society.
“Here is the key, Mr. Shaw.”
Jack turned and held out his ungloved hand, his fingers curling around the metal that would
grant him his deepest desire.
His carriage moved away, the clopping hooves of his team of four and the rolling of the
wheels echoing eerily around him. Climbing the front steps of Caroline’s townhouse, Jack gained
entry with the key he’d ordered made from a wax impression.
Once inside he moved unerringly through the darkened house, following her scent and
traversing the galleries without light until he found her.
Testing the door to her bedchamber, he was relieved to find the portal unlocked and he
entered, sliding the bolt home behind him.
The room was shadowed in almost complete darkness. The fire in the grate was banked and
barely gave off light, but he had no difficulty seeing. It was a small room, but perhaps that was
merely the impression he received from the massive bed that dominated the space. Before the
fire waited two wingback chairs. A book and blanket rested upon the arm of one; a cozy picture
that warmed him as surely as the coals.
As if she sensed his presence, Caroline stirred restlessly. “Jack,” she breathed in a sleep-
throaty murmur that made his skin mist with sweat and his cock swell.
Stepping away from the door, he moved toward her, the tight knot of longing he’d felt these
last years loosening with her proximity. He lit the taper on the nightstand and paused at the fierce
reaction of his body to the sight of her in the bed. In the golden glow of the candle Caroline was
Her soft, creamy skin was flawless. Against the white linen pillow, the gleaming curls of
her hair were spread with wanton abandon. His fists clenched against the powerful urge to run
his fingers through them, to cup her head in his hands and hold her still for his ravishment. Her
full lips were parted with the deep, rhythmic breaths of slumber, which lifted her chest and
outlined her ripe breasts against her night rail.
He smiled. Within moments those breasts would be bare and pressed to his chest, that
sweetly parted mouth would be panting and crying out his name as he made love to her like he’d
wanted to do for years.
It was time for her to see him as well, to remember and feel the powerful attraction between
them, an attraction so overwhelming that time, distance, and unfamiliarity had not affected it.
Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, Jack brushed the back of his hand across her cheek.
She nuzzled into the caress, but slept on. His smile widened. Using the sheer power of his will,
he called to her,
Caroline, come back to me.
* * * * *
Caroline sat up, and discovered Jack Shaw once again invading her dr eams. Dressed simply
in sweater, breeches and boots, his casual attire bred a familiarity far removed from the glittering
ballrooms and Society events from which she knew him and dreamed of him. His hair was
slightly longer than she normally pictur ed it, the dark ebony strands falling across his proud
forehead and curling at his nape.
But some things were constant. The sharp silver of his irises glowed with sexual intent and
his full, firm lips were curved in the wicked smile that made her heart race.
She took a deep breath, resigned to her torment. He was so achingly gorgeous she had no
defenses against him, and the tenderness of his gaze shattered what was lef t of her heart. Pushing
her curls away from her face, she asked mournfully, “Why must you torture me?”
He blinked as if she’d startled him. “What are you talking about, sweetheart?”
“You know very well what I’m asking you. Why can’t you allow me even one night of
restful slumber? I think of you ceaselessly during my waking hours, why must my sleep suffer as
Already her body ached far worse than usual. Her skin was tight and hot, her breasts heavy
and tender. She licked her lips, desperate for a taste of him, and watched his eyes flare with
desire at the movement.
Jack rubbed the line of his jaw thoughtfully before answering. “If you would cease to run
from me, your dreams would be less troubled.”
Caroline shook her head. “You know I cannot do that.”
“You know why,” she snapped. “We have this conversation nightly. Why must we discuss it
“Because we must, love,” he said patiently.
“I will hurt you, Jack. I’ve told you before. I will hurt you terribly and I couldn’t bear to do
He reached for her hands, then appeared to think better of it and withdrew. “Hurt comes in
many forms. It hurts that you run from me.”
Rising from the bed, Jack began to pace, the powerful muscles of his thighs flexing beneath
the tight breeches, making her mouth water. She was reminded of how vital it was that she resist
her desires, but she longed for him to understand.
“As long as I stay away from you, you’ll remain safe. I love you enough to do what is best,
despite how it pains me.”
He stilled mid-stride, his smoky gaze locking with hers. “Beg your pardon?”
His sudden shock chilled Caroline to the bone. Ever y night she confessed her love to him.
Never had he responded in such a fashion. She slipped out the opposite side of the bed, putting
the large piece of furniture between them. He cursed as he watched her reaction.
“You are not a dream! ” she accused.
Jack rounded the bed.
“Stop!” She held up her hand to ward him off. “Remain where you are.”
“Allow me to explain.”
“No!” She shook her head vehemently. “You must go.
He raised a sardonic brow. “You just confessed to loving me. I’m certainly not going to
Caroline damned herself for not paying heed to the throbbing that permeated her entire
being. But she slept hard, like the dead. Even now she struggled into full wakefulness. “How did
you gain admittance to my home?”
“I have a key.”
Her eyes widened. “How did you…? No. Never mind. Don’t explain. Leave it on the
nightstand and go.”
Suddenly, he stood directly before her, having moved so quickly as to be undetectable.
“Jack–” she began, but he silenced her with his mouth.
Just like that night in the Moreland garden, every nerve ending in her body reacted instantly
to Jack’s kiss. Heat scorched through her veins and melted her resistance. He urged her closer,
and then closer still, until her breasts were crushed against his powerful chest and his cock
burned through their clothing to heat the skin of her stomach.
His hands, work roughened and callused, came up to cup her f ace, his thumbs brushing
across her cheeks and prodding her mouth to open. Caroline complied helplessly and he groaned,
his head tilting to the side to deepen the contact.
Jack’s taste was intoxicating, rich and heady, and his scent… She wanted to drown in it.
Virile and masculine, it was uniquely his and it called to her. Everything about him called to her.
Her mouth moved feverishly beneath his, her tongue sliding past his lips, drawing the taste
of him deep inside her. Clutching fistfuls of his sweater just to remain standing, Caroline lost all
ability to move or think, her animal springing to the fore with a surge of triumph. And then, just
as quickly as he’d grabbed her, Jack released her.
“Damnation,” he muttered, his hand going to his mouth. When he pulled it away it was
She had pierced him with her fangs.
Caroline stumbled backwards, horrified. “Oh, God, Jack. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t help it…”
Backing into the corner, she fought the beast inside her, a beast that had tasted a blood so rich it
was desperate to drain the being that contained it. Panicked, she began to cry. “Go, Jack. Please.
I’ll hurt you if you stay.”
He came toward her inexorably, undaunted by her distress or her pleas. She sank to the
floor, tears flowing down her face.
“Love, don’t cry,” he soothed. “I can’t bear it.”
“Go away.” She tucked her knees up to her body and wrapped herself around them.
“Shhh… ‘Tis nothing, a small nick that will heal soon enough.”
Her tortured gaze lifted to his and he smiled, a heart-stopping, gorgeous grin.
A grin that revealed a sparkling pair of fangs.
* * * * *
“You didn’t know,” Jack breathed, noting the obvious shock on Caroline’s face.
She began to tremble all over. “All this time…”
He staggered as everything became clear. “Is that what these last years have been about? Is
that why you’ve been running from me?”
“Oh, God, Jack…”
He pulled Caroline to her feet and into his arms, his heart swelling with emotion and relief.
He’d begun to wonder if he were mad, chasing a woman who didn’t want him across three
continents. Now he was gr ateful he’d continued the pursuit. Her motivation had been love, just as
his had been.
Wrapping a slender arm around his waist, Caroline pressed a kiss to his jaw, the sweetness
of the gesture making him cherish her all the more. Her scent, that warm combination of vanilla
and exotic spice, intoxicated him. The press of her body… the softness of her curves… the long,
slender fingers that cupped his nape and ran through his hair… All of it was beyond what he
remembered. He’d had centuries’ worth of women. None had burned him with their touch as
Her mouth, moist and hot, traveled across his throat, her tongue laving at his skin, tasting
him and warning him of what was to come. Jack hissed as her fangs sunk into his neck, piercing
with practiced skill and flooding his entire being with a sexual pleasure so intense he almost
spilled his seed. He gripped her hips and ground his cock against her, the desire that
overwhelmed him almost bringing him to his knees.
He’d never been bitten before. As a pureblood he had been born the way he was, not turned.
It was a novel and completely rapturous sensation to give to her in this way, the soft suction of
her mouth spurring his ardor until his cock ached with the need to be inside her. Bending his
head, Jack nuzzled the neckline of her night r ail away and with a growl of possession bit into her.
Instantly a connection snapped into place between them. It was the kind of affinity he’d
heard of before, most notably f rom his parents, but after centuries of existence Jack had thought
he would never find such a love for himself. Yet by some miracle he had. Caroline belonged to
him now and he belonged to her. The thought filled him with such joy he could hardly contain it.
Caroline purred with contentment as she drank from him and Jack understood completely.
Her blood was pure and sweet like a thick wine of excellent vintage. His entire body turned hard
and aroused as the strength of her essence poured down his throat, filling him with her heat just
as he longed to fill her with his. He’d waited so long and spent so much of the last two years
searching for her that holding her now simply wasn’t enough.
When her nails scratched his back through his sweater and her body writhed against his, he
sent out his Calling, probing deep into her mind until he saw her Hunger. It held her in its grip,
urging her to feed and claim him, to become one with him, devour him. And through the need he
witnessed her fear that she would hurt him and he felt the love she held for him. A love that had
grown unbidden, but was precious to her nevertheless. It was precious to him as well.
Caroline was confused by the depth of her need for him. She didn’t understand it, mistaking
the need to join with the need to consume. He tried to calm her, tried to explain, but the heat of
her desire was such that he couldn’t get through.
Jack tore at the placket of his trousers, freeing his erection. Tugging up her night rail, he
gripped her bare waist and lifted her. With a few strides he pinned her to the wall, his cock
seeking her heat. She clutched him tightly to her, moaning against his throat, giving him the
permission he hadn’t asked for, but had needed anyway.
Clenching his buttocks, he thrust into her, deep and hard. Her pleasured cry vibrated against
his neck. His answering groan tore str aight from his loins, the burning tight grip of her body
nearly more than he could bear.
Releasing her throat, Jack cursed, his entire body shaking with the need to finish this, to
ravish her, to fill her with his seed. Her flesh was silk under his hands, her scent permeated the
air around him, seeping into his very pores, branding him as surely as he would be branding her.
“Don’t move,” he growled, as she tried to crawl into his skin. The need to go slowly, to
pleasure her, was foremost in his mind. He had an eternity to fuck her in whatever manner he
desired. This time would be for her.
He gasped as her cunt tightened around him. Slipping out of her damp, clinging depths, Jack
thrust forward again, gritting his teeth as the need to come nearly overwhelmed him. Heat
wrapped around his spine, swelling his cock and drenching his skin with sweat. Pleasure
inundated him in waves, each crest more power ful than the last. Her desire flooded his mind,
making his own that much more difficult to contain.
Caroline whimpered and released his throat. “Jack…”
Her breath gusted across his ear and his cock jerked inside her, his arousal so acute it was
painful. His large hands cradled the delicate curve her spine, drawing her closer, hugging her to
him. He was afraid to move, afraid to hurt her with the force of his passion.
“My love.” His arms shook as he nudged deeper into her, hoping to relieve the tightness of
his sac and nearly sinking to his knees instead.
Caroline’s fingers entwined in Jack’s silky hair and then tugged as her body shivered around
the throbbing shaft that stretched her deliciously. “You have to move, Jack,” she whispered
against his skin. He was huge, wondrously huge, filling her completely and she wanted more
than just this fullness. She wanted movement, friction–a hard, deep fucking that would end this
biting craving she’d felt for years. “You have to move
Thrusting his hips hard against her, he held her to the wall, impaled on his cock, as his hand
left her buttocks and moved between them. “If I move, this will all be over before either of us is
“I don’t care,” she cried.
His thumbs brushed across the lips of her sex, then dipped inside. Finding the hard point of
her pleasure, he rubbed softly, massaging the cream-drenched skin that was taut with the effort to
accommodate him. “Come for me, love.” His tongue swirled along the shell of her ear and then
dipped inside. “Milk me,” he whispered, his voice dripping with sin.
Spurred by his words, Caroline dug her nails in his shoulders and held on as rapture, sharp
and searing, shattered her, shivering through her in rippling spasms.
With a harsh groan of relief, Jack released his desire. She wr apped her legs around his hips,
using the curve of his buttocks as leverage, rising and falling with his thrusts, taking as much of
his cock as she could.
He was killing her with pleasure, taking her as if he couldn’t get deep enough, couldn’t
stroke her fast enough. She sobbed, struggling against him.
“Yes, sweet,” he rasped, pumping into her with astonishing speed. “Scream my name, come
for me again.” He thrust hard and then ground against her, sending sparks of sensation from her
core to the tips of her toes. His thrusting grew more frenzied, his cock thickening magnificently
until she was certain she was losing her mind.
Crying out his name, she came again, her body gripping him rhythmically until he followed
her with a haunting moan, flooding her with his seed. Panting, shuddering, he buried his face in
the curve of her shoulder as he emptied himself inside her.
When he finished, he pressed a reverent kiss to her skin. “Caroline,” he murmured as he
carried her to the bed. “All these years…centuries I’ve waited.” He lay her down gently, his semi-
erect cock slipping from her sated body.
“How old are you?” she asked, snuggling into the pillows.
“Too old for you.” He brushed the curls back from her face, his own visage tender and
flushed with passion in the candlelight. “But I hope you’ll have me, nevertheless.”
Straightening, he yanked his sweater over his head, revealing a torso rippling with strength.
Unlike the indolent aristocrats she associated with, Jack was strong and fit, a hunter forever in
Caroline sighed at the sight of him. “How did you come to have a key to my home? And
why? You just recently returned to America.”
“I went to America in pursuit of you. Just as I went to Italy and France and a dozen other
locations.” Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Jack tugged off his boots. Unable to help it, she
reached out and caressed the flexing muscles of his back. As her fingers brushed across the top
of his shoulder, he turned his head and kissed her fingertips.
“Truly?” Her heart skipped and then raced, resuming the same feverish pace she’d
experienced just moments before in his arms.
He tossed her a careless smile over his shoulder. “Truly. I’ve been chasing you for years, my
lovely Caroline. I acquired the key through nefarious means because I knew of no other way to
reach you, and I don’t regret it. From this night on, we’ll weather the years together.”
Her heart aching, Caroline curled back into the pillows. Now that she knew the depth of
Jack’s affection it would be even more difficult to leave. The smell of him, the taste of him, the
skin she’d felt beneath her hands would haunt her forever.
Tonight was all she had. Selfishly she clung to it, determined to enjoy what little happiness
fate would allow her before the dawn rose and for ced her to go.
* * * * *
Arching his back from the bed, Jack awoke to pleasure so intense it hurt. “Bloody hell,” he
gasped, his eyes flying open to find his love straddling his hips, his cock held tightly within her
Caroline smiled down at him, her fingertips drifting across his chest and swirling around the
flat points of his nipples. Riotous, disheveled curls surrounded her face, which he saw as clearly
in the darkness as if the room were lit with a hundred candles.
“God you are so beautiful,” he breathed, lifting his hands to cup her breasts, his thumbs
returning the favor she had just paid to him. She moved on him, lifting with her lithe thighs and
then sinking to claim his cock again. His fangs descended as the Hunger took over.
Jack dropped his head back on the pillow and allowed Caroline to have her way with him.
Through heavy-lidded eyes he watched her fucking him, watched the lust and love that drifted
across her porcelain features, watched the pleasure she took in his body, and reveled in the fact
he could give it to her.
There was so much he had to teach her about their kind, so much he could sense she didn’t
yet know, but they had an eternity for such sharing. At the moment he considered nothing but
this joining. His hands dropped to her thighs, his thumb brushing across the mark that adorned
How he loved her
! Loved how she hungered for him, hungered enough that the hours he’d
just spent pleasuring her senseless had not been enough to sate her. Jack imagined all the endless
mornings ahead of them, his body hardening further at the thought of waking again to this
delight. Caroline whimpered at his added girth and rode his cock faster, her firm, high breasts
bouncing with her motions.
His orgasm followed hers, draining him until he sank into the mattress, exhausted. Caroline
sprawled across his chest, her sweat slicked skin bonding with his. “I love you,” she sighed,
snuggling closer. “Never forget that.”
“Ah, sweet.” He crushed her to him, wishing he could explain how he felt, but knowing
there were no words to express the deep need she appeased. “How could I? I expect you to
remind my in just this way for the rest of eternity.”
But when he woke just after dawn, he was alone again, just as he had been that fateful night
in the Moreland garden. He closed his eyes and searched for her, but the echoing reply he’d
basked in all night was gone. He sat up and the sheets rustled behind him. Turning, he spotted
the missive on her pillow…
I cannot ask you to wait for me, however I pray that you do. There is something I must resolve,
but I cannot say how long it will take me. Once I am free, I will come for you.
Yours forever, my love,
The warm languor in Jack’s veins turned to icy fear as he read. And then the fear buckled
under the weight of his grim resignation.
Caroline had run again.
* * * * *
Caroline stared out the porthole window and brushed the tears from her face. An eternity
without Jack was a prospect so devastatingly bleak she could scarcely think through the pain of
it. It couldn’t be borne. She wouldn’t allow it. Somehow she would find a way to have him.
She glanced over her shoulder at the young seaman who waited beyond the open door of her
“Do you have any trunks to be brought aboard?”
Her throat clenched tight with misery, Caroline could only shake her head and look away,
her vision blurred by the tears that welled ceaselessly. Ther e had been no opportunity to pack,
not with Jack sleeping just a few f eet away from her wardrobe. She’d have to acquire new clothes
when she arrived in France. It was there she decided she would begin her search.
“Very well then,” he said cheerfully. “We’ll be casting off soon.”
“This ship is not leaving the dock.”
The carefully controlled voice behind her sounded nothing like the one that had murmured
so sweetly to her just hours ago, but Caroline knew it was one and the same. She spun about and
stared at the apparition that dominated the slender doorway. Jack stood there, his breathtakingly
handsome face so harshly set she took a step backward in fear.
His silver gaze burned into her and never left her face as he ordered the young sailor to
leave them. Entering the tiny cabin, Jack kicked the door closed and thumbed the lock.
“Wh-what are you doing?” she asked, her voice faltering.
“There will be no more running, Caroline.”
“You don’t understand–”
“No!” he barked. “You are the one who fails to comprehend. I am weary of chasing you,
Caroline, but I won’t stop. Not ever. I will hunt you down, I will run you to ground. There is no
place where you can hide from me.”
Frightened at his vehemence, Caroline twisted her fingers in the skirts of her traveling suit.
“There is something I must finish before we can be together.”
“The hell you say.”
“I was told to wait for another,” she blurted, hoping desperately that he would forgive her
once he knew. “The woman who changed me did so with a purpose. She said something about
time and love–”
“Love will find a way against time itself.”
Caroline gaped. “How did you know?”
“‘Tis is an old vampire proverb. One of the many things I planned to share with you.”
Fresh tears fell as she explained further. “The woman felt I would be a perfect spouse for
her son. She said love might take time, but it would find me.
would find me. One day he will
come for me, Jack. But I intend to find him first. I will tell him of my love for you, how I cannot
imagine my life without you. I will never belong to another man. Never!”
The words tumbled out of her mouth in her haste to tell all. “She placed a mark on me. She
said he would know me by it. He will believe me, Jack, and I will make certain he understands
that there can never be anything between us.”
Studying Jack’s face, Car oline saw that her words did not soften him. Instead his ire
appeared to grow before her eyes.
“And you didn’t feel that you could share this with me?” he asked sharply. “You couldn’t tell
me this, discuss this with me and allow me to help you? What of the love you professed to me,
Caroline? Where is the faith that my love for you would see you through any challenge you
Stung, she retorted, “What good will it serve for you to see another man’s claim to me?”
His jaw clenched as he thrust out his hand displaying his signet ring. “This claim?”
She gasped at the crest that mirrored the mark on her hip. Her eyes lifted to his. “You
“My mouth and hands caressed every inch of your skin. Did you think there was any part of
you that escaped my notice?”
“You said nothing!”
He gave a sardonic laugh. “I had other more pressing matters to attend to last night. With an
eternity ahead of us, I saw no need for haste.”
“That woman…was your mother?” Caroline shook her head, her heart aching. Her hand
gestured between them. “So this feeling…this
…has been arranged?”
“No one can force love to grow betwixt two people, not even a master vampire like my
She frowned. “But you came for me. Why?”
“From the moment your lips touched mine in the Moreland garden I knew what you could
become to me. It was that potential that drove me these last two years, nothing else.”
“Why didn’t I know?”
“She left you the choice, Caroline. In the end the decision is yours to make. Whether or not
I am the man you want is a conclusion you must draw for yourself. Nothing binds you to me.
The mark she gave you was simply to guard you from those of our kind who prey upon the
unprotected. That crest shows that you were chosen by an ancient family, that you are important
to someone and would be missed.”
Shocked, she looked away, afraid to believe that she could indeed have him, even as hope
welled up within her. “My love binds me to you,” she whispered, chancing another glance at
him. “I cannot survive without you in my life. I’ve been miserable without you.”
Jack took a deep breath, the silver of his irises molten with a hurt that she had caused. “How
could you have left me so easily?”
“Oh, Jack… Leaving you was many things, but easy is not one of them. I thought it was the
only way. How could I come to you fettered by the chains of another?” She held out her hands
and walked toward him. “I would have searched the world over, left no stone unturned–”
Gruff voiced, he cut her off. “This habit of yours to run must be broken.”
“I would not have left if you’d told me you were the one,” she pointed out with an arched
brow. “Your silence led me to false conclusions.”
“I won’t tolerate it again,” he said, his voice softening but deadly earnest.
“I won’t run.” Her arms encircled his taut frame. “I shall never leave your side. You’ll never
be rid of me.”
He crushed her to him and rested his cheek atop her head. “I want to throttle you for leaving
that damned letter.”
“I’m so sorr y. Please, you must believe that. If I didn’t love you it wouldn’t have mattered.
For a brief affair, I wouldn’t have bothered. But to have you forever I had to be free.”
“You can have me now. In that bed behind you.”
Caroline tilted her head back to look at him. ”
?” she asked, incredulous.
He growled and she felt a tremulous excitement grow within her.
“Here.” Jack stalked forward, forcing her to retreat toward the tiny bed. “You’re going to
prove everything you just said to me.”
“Won’t be going anywhere.”
His wicked smile made her shiver. “Lift it.”
The backs of her knees connected with the mattress and she fell on her back, her hands
yanking and pulling franticly at the many layers of her skirts.
Jack’s expression of pure possessiveness made her heart race. When he tore open the placket
of his breeches and his cock sprang free, hard and long and impressively thick, she flooded with
moisture and licked her fangs.
He spread her legs wide and began to slip inside her, taking his time, making her feel every
inch. Lacing his fingers with hers, he pinned her arms above her head. “Never again,” he warned.
With a gasp, she arched upward. “Never.”
“You’ll marry me as soon as we can arrange it.”
He began a luxurious rhythm, slow and sensual, an erotic dance of hardness into softness,
and it swept through her in a gentle wave. Holding both of her hands with one of his, he reached
for her knee and anchored it to his hip, opening her further so he could drive his cock deeper.
He fucked with such skill, such breathtaking expertise, and she loved him so much she cried
with it. The loneliness she’d felt for so many years was gone, replaced by Jack’s strong, steadfast
presence in her heart and mind. The connection was deep, one that awed and amazed her.
Closing her eyes, she touched him back, and felt his love surround her in tender embrace.
“God, Jack. You feel so good…”
He groaned and quickened his pace, the soft sucking sound of their lovemaking making her
ache with the need to come.
“Please…” she begged.
“You’ll wait for it,” he growled. “After what you did to me this morning, you’ll wait.”
“I love you.”
Jack pressed his lips to hers as he shuddered at her words. “Damn you.”
She cried out his name as he brought her to orgasm with a powerful thrust. She felt his cock
jerk inside her as he came, hot pulsing bursts of semen that pushed her over the edge until she
shivered beneath him in another, more power ful release.
* * * * *
The gentle rocking of the ship brought Caroline out of the deep drugging pleasure to a
gradual awareness of their surroundings. She laughed at the feel of linen beneath her cheek, a not
so subtle reminder that they were both still fully clothed. “Jack. Tell me this isn’t one of my
“If it is, my love, don’t wake up yet. I’ve only just begun.”
is the national bestselling, award-winning author of a dozen novels written across
multiple sub-genres, under multiple pen names–
A wife and mother of two, she is a former
Russian linguist for the U.S. Army Military Intelligence. Sylvia s work has been called
“wonderful and passionate” by WNBC.com and “wickedly entertaining” by
. Her stories
have been translated into Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Czech, and Thai. She s been
honored with the
Reviewers’ Choice Award, the EPPIE award, the National
Readers Choice Award, the Readers Crown, and multiple finalist nominations for Romance
Writers of America s prestigious RITA Award of Excellence.
Sylvia also writes under the pseudonyms
S. J. Day
Connect with Sylvia Day online:
Caroline s friend, Julienne, has her stor y told in Sylvia Day s award-winning
Bad Boys Ahoy!
(single-author Historical Romance anthology)
Kensington Publishing Corp.
* * * * *
“What the devil are you doing in my club?”
Julienne looked across the massive mahogany desk into blue eyes the color of which she d
never seen before. Somewhere between deep blue and purple, they were fringed with thick black
lashes that were shamefully wasted on a man. “I need to find my brother,” she said, lifting her
chin in defiance.
One black brow arched. “A message left with the doorman would have been simpler,
“Lady. Julienne. And I attempted to leave messages. I have yet to receive a response.” She
shifted in her chair as the broadcloth trousers chafed the delicate skin of her derriere. The wig
itched, too, but she refused to embarrass herself further by scratching.
“Dressing as a man was an original touch.”
She heard the laughter in the velvety voice and scowled. “How else was I to gain admission
to a gentleman s club?”
Julienne resisted the urge to flee as Lucien Remington rose from behind the desk and
rounded it. She licked suddenly dry lips as she took in his height and the breadth of his
shoulders. He was even more devastating up close than he had been across crowded ballrooms.
Black hair and tanned skin displayed his extraordinary eyes to perfection. A strong jaw and
generous mouth bespoke of his sensual nature, which was lauded far and wide by well-pleasured
ladies of his acquaintance.
“Exactly, Lady Julienne. A gentleman s club. Those garments do not disguise the fact that
you are all woman. Ridgely s foxed, or insane, not to have noticed.” His perusal paused briefly
on her breasts before rising to meet her gaze.
“No one noticed,” she muttered.
And so he had. Almost immediately. She d been in the club only five minutes at most
before he d grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her in his office. But then, it had only taken her
five minutes to make a mess of the whole affair.
His voice softened. “What is so urgent that you would take such drastic measures to speak
with your brother?”
As he leaned against his desk directly in front of her, the material of his trousers stretched
over firmly muscled thighs. He was so close she could feel the heat emanating from his body.
She smelled a hint of tobacco and starched linen, and another delicious scent that could only be
the man himself.
Remington cleared his throat, drawing her attention. Julienne flushed at the knowing smile
that curved his lips.
She straightened her spine, refusing to be cowed despite how beautiful he was or how
flustered he made her. “My reasons are my own.”
Remington bent, bringing his mouth inches away from hers. “When your reasons include
my club, I reserve the right to know what they are.”
Julienne s gaze was riveted to his lips. If she leaned forward just a tiny bit, she could touch
them with her own.
Would they feel as soft as they looked?
He pulled away, then lowered to his haunches and placed his large hands on her knees. She
jumped at the heat that burned through the broadcloth. “Who is your brother?” he asked.
Julienne s mouth parched the instant he touched her, making speech difficult. Lucien
Remington was simply gorgeous. She d always thought so, always compared her suitors to him
and found them lacking in all respects. No one was as handsome, or as interesting, or
Her tongue flicked out to wet her bottom lip, and his eyes followed the movement. An ache
came to the place between her legs. Julienne attempted to push his hands away, but when she
touched his skin, her palms burned. She pulled away quickly. “A gentleman does not put his
hands on a lady,” she scolded.
His hands slid higher, squeezing gently, his mouth gifting her with a roguish smile. “I never
claimed to be a gentleman.”
And he wasn t, she knew. His determination and ruthless business acumen were the stuff of
legend. If it wasn t precisely prohibited in writing, Lucien Remington would do it. He showed no
leniency when it came to expanding his empire. He was widely disparaged for his “vulgar pursuit
of money”, but Julienne found it rather thrilling. He cared nothing for the regard of others, a
nonchalance she wished she could affect herself.
“Now, about your brother…?”
“Lord Montrose,” she blurted.
A devilish smile teased the corners of Remington s mouth. “That explains why he hasn t
answered your messages, sweetheart. The earl owes me a great deal of money. I suspect he s
She said nothing, but she clenched her fists. Their situation must be worse than she d
thought. It was common for Hugh to carouse and spend days on end with his scapegrace
associates. From experience she knew he most likely wasn t in danger. But that didn t ease her
worry. Or their predicament.
“Why don t you tell me what you need?” Remington coaxed, his long fingers rhythmically
kneading her lower thighs. “Perhaps I can help.”
The sensations he elicited spread up her legs and into her breasts, flushing her skin. Her
nipples hardened. “Why would you want to do that?”
His powerful shoulders flexed as he shrugged. “You are a beautiful woman. I like beautiful
women. Especially troubled ones who require my assistance.”
“So you can take advantage?” She stood, her thoughts and body in turmoil, and his hands
fell away. “I should not have come in here.”
“No, you shouldn t have,” he agreed, his voice soft. Remington rose at the same time,
towering over her. The top of her head barely reached his shoulders and Julienne was forced to
tilt her head back to look at him.
She turned to leave, but his grip on her elbow stayed her. Heat radiated f rom his fingers and
spread through her body.
“Unhand me,” she ordered in an unsteady voice. “I wish to leave.”
She didn t, not truly, but she must. Remington s proximity was doing terrible things to her.
Wonderful, terrible things. Things it most likely did to countless other women.
He shook his head and grinned. “Pity that, since you re not going anywhere. Not until
morning. You ve created enough of a stir as it is, coughing brandy all over Lord Ridgely.
Returning to the floor, however briefly, would stir up the whole mess again. You ve wounded his
pride and he s a pompous ass.”
“What do you suggest I do then?”
The amusement in his eyes never wavered. “You ll stay the night in one of the rooms
upstairs. I ll entertain Ridgely and his cronies until the whole debacle is forgotten.”
She gaped. “You re mad! I cannot remain in this establishment overnight!”
Remington laughed. The deep, rich sound gathered around her like an embrace and made
her shiver. But she wasn t cold. To her dismay, she was growing hotter by the moment. She
couldn t help it with the way he looked at her… Julienne had seen that look before. But no man
had ever dared to give it to her.
She found she rather liked it.
“You went to a hell of a lot of trouble to get in here,” he purred. “And now you re anxious
Julienne sidestepped, but he didn t release her. “My need was especially dire. I apologize
for any trouble I-”
“You don t sound ver y sorry.”
“I ll leave immediately,” she offered.
“You ll leave in the morning. The hour is late. The streets aren t safe.”
“My aunt will worry,” she argued.
“I ll send Lady Whitfield a note. She ll know you re well.”
She stilled, her eyes narrowing. “How do you know about my aunt?”
“I know everything about every one of the members of my club. Especially those who enjoy
lines of credit.” Remington s thumb began an absentminded caress of the hollow of her elbow.
Julienne felt the warmth of his touch all the way to her bones.
“I know your parents died when you were very young and your Aunt Eugenia s been your
guardian for years. You and Montrose are always running roughshod over her. Your brother is
brash, hotheaded, and still too young for the responsibilities of his title. You re always bailing
him out of one mess or another. And now I know how seriously you take that responsibility.”
She looked away, flustered that he knew such intimate details. “Do you also know how sick
to death I am of that chore?” she said finally, surprising herself with the admission.
His voice turned soft and sympathetic. “I m certain you must be. But you ve done an
admirable job. There s not been even a breath of scandal attached to the La Coeur name.”
Julienne looked up at him, overwhelmed by his nearness. She felt slightly tipsy, but she
couldn t blame it on the brandy. Lord Ridgely was presently wearing most of it.
Remington led her across the room and pulled the bell. “I ll have one of the courtesans give
you a night rail. You ll be comfortable. My hospitality is legendary.”
She scowled. “That s not all that s legendary.”
Now, enjoy the first chapter of Sylvia Day s
Pride and Pleasure
Kensington Publishing Corp.
* * * * *
London, England, 1818
As a thief-taker, Jasper Bond had been consulted in a number of unusual locations, but
today was the first in a church. Some of his clients were at home in the rookeries his crew
haunted. Others were most comfortable in the palace. This particular prospective client appeared
to be one of strong faith since he d designated St. George s as the location of their assignation.
Jasper suspected it was considered a “safe” place, which told him this person was ill at ease with
retaining an individual of dubious morality. That suited him fine. He would probably be paid
well and kept at a distance: his favorite sort of commission.
Alighting from his carriage, Jasper paused to better appreciate the impressive portico and
Corinthian columns of the church s façade. Muted singing flowed outward from the building, a
lovely contrast to the frustrated shouts of coachmen and the clatter of horse s hooves behind him.
His cane hit the street with a thud, his gloved palm wrapped loosely around the eagle s head top.
With hat in hand, he waved his driver away.
Today s appointment had been arranged by Mr. Thomas Lynd, a man who shared Jasper s
trade and confidence for many r easons, not the least of which was his mentorship of Jasper in the
profession. Jasper would never presume to call himself a moral man, but he did function under
the code of ethics Lynd had taught him–help those in actual need of it. He did not extort
protection money as other thief-takers did. He did not steal goods with one hand in order to
charge for their return with the other. He simply found what was lost and protected those who
wanted security, which begged the question of why Lynd was passing on this post. With such
similar principles, either of them should have been as good as the other.
Because Jasper had an inordinate fondness for puzzles and mysteries, he was too intrigued
by Lynd s motives to do anything besides follow through. This, despite the location being one
that necessitated his handling the inquiry personally, which was something he rarely did. He
preferred to work through trusted employees to retain the anonymity necessary to his greater
Mounting the steps, he entered St. George s and paused to absorb the wave of music that
rolled over him. Near the front on the right side was the raised canopied pulpit; on the left, the
bi-level reading desk. The many box pews were empty of the faithful. Only the choir occupied
the space, their voices raised in musical praise.
Jasper withdrew his pocket watch and checked the time. It was dir ectly on the hour. In his
profession, he found it highly useful to be a slave to punctuality. He moved to the stairs that
would take him up to the right-side gallery for his appointment.
When he reached the landing, he paused. His gaze was drawn to and held by wild tufts of
white hair defying gravity. One hopelessly overworked black ribbon failed to tame the mass into
anything but a messy, lopsided queue. As he watched, the unfortunate owner of the horrendous
coiffure reached up and scratched it into further disarray.
So fascinated was Jasper with the monstrosity of that hair, it took him a moment to register
the petite form beside its owner. Once he did, however, his interest was snared. In complete
opposition to her companion, the woman was blessed with glossy tresses of a reddish-blond hue
so rare it was arresting. They were the only two people in the gallery, yet neither had the tense
expectation inherent in those who were awaiting an individual or event. Instead they were
singularly focused on the choir below.
Where was the individual he was scheduled to meet?
Sensing she was the object of perusal, the woman turned her head and met Jasper s
weighted gaze. She was attractive. Not in the exceptionally remarkable way of her hair but
pleasing all the same. Deep blue eyes stared at him from beneath thick lashes. She had an
assertive nose and high cheekbones. When she bit her lower lip, she displayed neat white teeth,
and when her lips pursed, she revealed a tiny dimple. It was a charming f ace rather than
beautiful, and notable for her seeming displeasure at the sight of him.
“Mr. Bond,” she said, after a slight delay. “I did not hear you approach.”
One could blame the choir s singing for that. However, the truth of it was that he walked
silently. He d learned the skill long ago. It had saved his life then, and continued to do so in
Standing, she moved toward him with a determined stride and thrust out her hand. As if
cued, the singers below ended their hymn, leaving a sudden silence into which she said, “I am
Her voice surprised him. Soft as a summer breeze, but threaded with steel. The sound of it
lingered, stirring his imagination to travel in directions it shouldn t.
He shifted his cane to his other hand and accepted her greeting. “Miss Martin.”
“I appreciate your courtesy in meeting with me. However, you are exactly what I feared you
“Oh?” Taken aback by her direct approach, he found himself becoming more intrigued. “In
“In every way, sir. I contacted Mr. Lynd because we require a certain type of individual. I
regret the need to say you are not he.”
“Would you object to my request for elaboration?”
“The points are too numerous,” she pronounced.
“Nevertheless, a man in my position seeks predictability in others but fears it in himself.
Since you state I am the epitome of what you did
want, I feel I must request an accounting of
the criteria upon which you based your judgment.”
Miss Martin seemed to ponder his response a moment. In the brief time of introspection,
Jasper collected what his instincts had recognized upon first sight: Eliza Martin was intensely
aware of him. Without her cognizance, her baser senses were reacting to him much the way his
were to her: her delicate nostrils flared, her breathing quickened, her body swayed with the
undercurrent of agitation… A doe sensing the hunter nearby.
“Yes,” she said, with a catch in her voice. “I can see why that would be true.”
“Of course it s true. I never lie to clients.” He never bedded them either, but that was about
“You have not been engaged,” she reminded, “so I am not a client.”
The man with the frightening hair intruded. “Eliza, marry Montague and be done with this
With the voicing of that one name, Jasper knew why he d received the referral and how
little chance Eliza Martin had of dismissing him.
“I will not be bullied, my lord,” she said firmly.
“Invite Mr. Bond to sit, then.”
“That won t be necessar y.”
Skirting her, Jasper settled into the pew behind the one they occupied.
“Mr. Bond…” Miss Martin gave a resigned exhalation. “My lord, may I present Mr. Jasper
Bond? Mr. Bond, this is my uncle, the Earl of Melville.”
“Lord Melville.” Jasper greeted the earl with a slight bow of his head. He knew of Melville
as the head of the Tremaine family, a lot renowned for their eccentricities. “I believe you will
find me to be highly suitable for any task in want of a thief-taker to manage it.”
Miss Martin s blue eyes narrowed on him in silent reproach for attempting to circumvent
her. “Sir, I am certain you are capable in most circumstances. However –”
“About the many points…?” he interjected, circling back. He disliked proceeding when there
were still matters left unaddressed.
“You ar e overly tenacious.” She remained standing, as if prepared to show him out.
“An excellent trait to have in my profession.”
“Yes, but that doesn t mitigate the rest.”
The earl s gaze darted back and forth between them.
She shook her head. “Can we not simply leave it at that, Mr. Bond?”
“I would rather we didn t.” He set his hat on the seat beside him. “I have always taken pride
in my ability to manage any situation put before me. How will I provide exemplary service if I
can no longer make that claim?”
“Really, sir,” Miss Martin protested. “I did not say you are unsuitable for your trade as a
whole, only in regards to our situation–”
“A matter of some delicacy.”
“I cannot assist you if I am ignorant of the details,” he pointed out.
“I do not want your assistance, Mr. Bond. You fail to collect that.”
“Because you refuse to explain yourself. Mr. Lynd thought I was suitable and you trusted
his judgment enough to arrange this meeting.” Jasper would pay Lynd handsomely for the
referral. It had been far too long since he d felt this level of interest in anything beyond his need
“Mr. Lynd does not have the same consider ations I do.”
“Sir, you are exasperating.”
And she was fascinating. Her eyes sparkled with irritation, her right foot tapped against the
floor, and her fisted hands moved often as if to rest on her hips. But she resisted the urge. He
found her resistance most appealing. What would it take to break it and see her unrestrained? He
couldn t wait to find out.
“I will compensate you for your time today,” she said, “so all is not a complete loss to you.
There is no need to continue this discussion.”
“You overlook the possibility that I might have intended to assign a member of my crew to
you, Miss Martin. I would, however, need to know what your situation is so I can determine
whose skills would best suit your requirements.” He intended to service her himself, but he
wasn t above a little subterfuge when the prize was this delicious.
“Oh.” She bit her lower lip again. “I hadn t considered that.”
“So I noted.”
Miss Martin finally sank back onto the pew in a movement of eminent grace. “Just so we
are clear you won t do.”
“It isn t clear.” He set his cane between his legs and placed his hands atop it, one over the
other. “At least, not to me.”
She glanced at his lordship, then–reluctantly–back to Jasper. “You force me to say what I
would rather not, Mr. Bond. Frankly, you are too handsome for the task.”
He was stunned into momentary silence. Then, he relished an inner smile. How delightful
she was, even when cross.
“Mr. Lynd was less conspicuous than you,” she continued. “You are quite large and, as I
said, far too comely.”
Lynd was a score of years older and average in height, features, and build. Jasper looked to
the earl and found the man staring at his niece with confusion. “I fail to see what bearing my f ace
has on my investigate skills.”
“In addition–” her voice gr ew stronger as she warmed to the topic of his faults, “–it would
be impossible to disguise the air about you which distinguishes you.”
“Pray tell me what that is.” He was beginning to find it difficult to hide his growing
enjoyment of the conversation.
“You ar e a predator, Mr. Bond. You have the appearance of one, and you carry yourself like
one. To be blunt, you are clearly capable of being a dangerous man.”
“I see.” Fascination deepened into captivation. Perhaps she wasn t so innocent after all. He
spent obscene amounts of coin on his attire, deliberately crafting an appearance so polished very
few saw past it to the rough edges underneath.
“I doubt you would be effective at your profession if you were not possessed of both
predator y and dangerous qualities,” she qualified in a conciliatory tone.
“And many others,” he offered.
Miss Martin nodded. “Yes, I suspect the trade requires you to be well versed in a multitude
“It certainly helps.”
“However, your masculine beauty negates all of that.”
Jasper was ready to move forward. “Would you get to the point, Miss Martin? What–
exactly–did you intend to hire me to accomplish?”
“Quite a bit, actually. Protection, investigation, and… to act as my suitor.”
* * * * *
“I beg your pardon?” Bond s voice rumbled through the air between them.
Eliza was flustered and out of sorts, and her state was entirely his fault. She had not
anticipated that he would be so persistent or so curious. And she had certainly not expected a
man of his appearance. Not only was he the handsomest man she had ever seen, but he was
dressed in garments fit for a peer and he carried his large frame with a sleek, predaceous grace.
He also regarded her in a manner that would only lead to trouble.
To receive such an examination from a man who looked like Jasper Bond was highly
disconcerting. Men such as he usually dismissed women of average appearance the moment they
saw them. That was why she took such pains to be as unobtrusive in her attire selections as
possible. Why encourage responses she was ill-equipped to deal with?
Perhaps his interest was engaged by the color of her hair? Her mother had posited that some
men had a peculiar preference for specific parts of the female body and for tresses of a certain
“Repeat yourself, please, Miss Martin,” Bond said, watching her with those dark and intense
It was her curse to feel compelled to gaze directly at the person with whom she was
speaking. She found it difficult to think quickly when awed by Jasper Bond s perfection.
Stunning as he was from the shoulders down, he was more so from the shoulders up. His hair
was as thick and dark as her favorite ink, and blessed with a similar sheen. The length–slightly
overlong–was perfect for framing his featur es: the distinguished nose, the deep-set eyes, the
stern yet sensual mouth. It was a testament to the way he carried himself that he could be so
formidable with such a pretty face. He was very clearly not a man one wished to cross.
“I need protection–” she said again.
“I heard that part.”
“And–” her chin went up, “–a suitor.”
He nodded as if that were a mundane request, but the glitter in his eyes was anticipatory.
“That s what I thought you said.”
“Eliza…” The earl stared at his clasped hands and shook his head.
“My lord,” Bond began in a casual tone. “Were you aware of the nature of Miss Martin s
“Trying times these are,” Lord Melville muttered. “Trying times.”
Bond s precise gaze moved back to Eliza. Her brow lifted.
“Is he daft?” Bond queried.
“His brain is so advanced, it stumbles over mediocrity.”
“Or perhaps it s tangled by your reasoning in this endeavor?”
Her shoulders went back. “My reasoning is sound. And sarcasm is unproductive, Mr. Bond.
Please refrain from it.”
“Oh?” His tone took on a dangerous quality. “And what is it you hope to produce by
procuring a suitor?”
“I am not in want of stud service, sir. Only a depraved mind would leap to that conclusion.”
“Is that not what you are thinking?”
A wicked smile came to his lips. Eliza was certain her heart skipped a beat at the sight of it.
“It wasn t, no.”
Wanting to conclude this meeting as swiftly as possible, she rushed forward. “Do you have
someone who can assist me or not?”
Bond snorted softly, but the derisive sound seemed to be directed inward and not at her.
“From the beginning, if you would please, Miss Martin. Why do you need protection?”
“I have recently found myself to be a repeated victim of various unfortunate–and
Eliza expected him to laugh or perhaps give her a doubtful look. He did neither. Instead, she
watched a transformation sweep over him. As fiercely focused as he d been since his arrival, he
became more so when presented with the problem. She found herself appreciating him for more
than his good looks.
He leaned slightly forwar d. “What manner of events?”
“I was pushed into the Serpentine. My saddle was tampered with. A snake was loosed in my
“I understand it was a Runner who referred you to Mr. Lynd, who in turn referred you to
“Yes. I hir ed a Runner for a month, but Mr. Bell discovered nothing. No attacks occurred
while he was engaged.”
“Who would want to injure you, and why?”
She offered him a slight smile, a small show of gratitude for the gravity he was displaying.
Anthony Bell had come highly recommended, but he d never taken her seriously. In fact, he had
been amused by her tales and she d never felt he was dedicated to the task of discovery.
“Truthfully, I am not certain whether they truly intend bodily harm, or if they simply want to
goad me into marriage as a way to establish some permanent security. I see no reason to any of
“Are you wealthy, Miss Martin? Or certain to be?”
“Yes. Which is why I doubt they sincerely aim to cause me grievous injur y–I am worth
more alive. But there are some who believe it isn t safe for me in my uncle s household. They
claim he is an insufficient guardian, that he is touched, and ready for Bedlam. As if any
individual capable of compassion would put a stray dog in such a place, let alone a beloved
“Poppycock,” the earl scoffed. “I am fit as a fiddle, in mind and body.”
“You ar e, my lord,” Eliza agreed, smiling fondly at him. “I have made it clear to all and
sundry that Lord Melville will likely live to be one hundred years of age.”
“And you hope that adding me to your stable of suitors will accomplish what, precisely?”
Bond asked. “Deter the culprit?”
“I hope that by adding
one of your associates,”
she corrected, “I can avoid further incidents
over the next six weeks of the Season. In addition, if my new suitor is perceived to be a threat,
perhaps the scoundrel will turn his malicious attentions toward him. Then, perhaps, we can catch
the fiend. Truly, I should like to know by what methods of deduction he formulated this plan and
what he hoped to gain by it.”
Bond settled back into his seat and appeared deep in thought.
“I would never suggest such a hazardous role for someone untrained,” she said quickly.
“But a thief -taker, a man accustomed to associating with criminals and other unfortunates… I
should think those who engage in your profession would be more than a match for a nefarious
Beside her, her uncle murmured to himself, working out puzzles and equations in his mind.
Like herself, he was most comfortable with events and reactions that could be quantified or
predicted with some surety. Dealing with issues defying reason was too taxing.
“What type of individual would you consider ideal to play this role of suitor, protector, and
investigator?” Bond asked finally.
“He should be quiet, even-tempered, and a proficient dancer.”
Scowling, he queried, “How do dullness and the ability to dance signify in catching a
“I did not say „dull, Mr. Bond. Kindly do not attribute words to me that I have not spoken.
In order to be acknowledged as a true rival for my attentions, he should be someone whom
everyone will believe I would be attracted to.”
“You ar e not attracted to handsome men?”
“Mr. Bond, I dislike being rude. However, you leave me no recourse. The fact is, you
clearly are not the sort of man whose temperament is compatible with matrimony.”
“I am quite relieved to hear a female recognize that,” he drawled.
“How could anyone doubt it?” She made a sweeping gesture with her hand. “I can more
easily picture you in a swordfight or fisticuffs than I can see you enjoying an afternoon of
croquet, after-dinner chess, or a quiet evening at home with family and friends. I am an
intellectual, sir. And while I don t mean to imply a lack of mental acuity, you are obviously built
for more physically strenuous pursuits.”
“Why, one has only to look at you to ascertain you aren t like the others at all! It would be
evident straightaway that I would never consider a man such as you with even remote
seriousness. It is quite obvious you and I do not suit in the most fundamental of ways, and
everyone knows I am too observant to fail to see that. Quite frankly, sir, you are not my type of
The look he gave her was wry but without the smugness that would have made it irritating.
He conveyed solid self-confidence free of conceit. She was dismayed to find herself strongly
attracted to the quality.
He would be troublesome. Eliza did not like trouble overmuch.
He glanced at the earl. “Please forgive me, my lord, but I must speak bluntly in regard to
this subject. Most especially because this is a matter concerning Miss Martin s physical well-
“Quite right,” Melville agreed. “Straight to the point, I always say. Time is too precious to
waste on inanities.”
“Agreed.” Bond s gaze returned to Eliza and he smiled. “Miss Martin, forgive me, but I
must point out that your inexperience is limiting your understanding of the situation.”
“Inexperience with what?”
“Men. More precisely, fortune-hunting men.”
“I would have you know,” she retorted, “that over the course of six Seasons I have had more
than enough experience with gentlemen in want of funds.”
“Then why,” he dr awled, “are you unaware that they are successful for reasons far removed
from social suitability?”
Eliza blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“Women do not marry fortune hunters because they can dance and sit quietly. They marry
them for their appearance and physical prowess–two attributes you have already established I
“I do not see–”
“Evidently, you do not, so I shall explain.” His smile continued to grow. “Fortune hunters
who flourish do not strive to satisfy a woman s intellectual needs. Those can be met through
friends and acquaintances. They do not seek to pr ovide the type of companionship one enjoys in
social settings or with a game table between them. Again, there are others who can do so.”
“No, they strive to satisfy in the only position that is theirs alone, a position some men make
no effort to excel in. So rare is this particular skill, that many a woman will disregard other
considerations in favor of it.”
“Please, say no–”
“Fornication,” his lordship muttered, before returning to his conversation with himself.
Eliza shot to her feet. “My lord!”
As courtesy dictated, both her uncle and Mr. Bond rose along with her.
“I prefer to call it „seduction, ” Bond said, his eyes laughing.
“I call it ridiculous,” she rejoined, hands on her hips. “In the grand scheme of life, do you
collect how little time a person spends abed when compared to other activities?”
His gaze dropped to her hips. The smile became a full-blown grin. “That truly depends on
who else is occupying said bed.”
“Dear heavens.” Eliza shivered at the look Jasper Bond was giving her. It was… expectant.
By some unknown, godforsaken means she had managed to prod the man s damnable masculine
pride into action.
“Give me a sennight,” he suggested. “One week to prove both my point and my
competency. If, at the end, you are not swayed by one or the other, I will accept no payment for
“Excellent proposition,” his lordship said. “No possibility of loss.”
“Not true,” Eliza contended. “How will I explain Mr. Bond s speedy departure?”
“Let us make it a fortnight, then,” Bond amended.
“You fail to understand the problem. I am not an actor, sir. It will be evident to one and all
that I am far from „seduced. ”
The tone of his grin changed, aided by a hot flicker in his dark eyes. “Leave that aspect of
the plan to me. After all, that s what I am being paid for.”
“And if you fail? Once you resign, not only will I be forced to make excuses for you, I will
have to bring in another thief-taker to act in your stead. The whole affair will be entirely too
“Have you had the same pool of suitors for six years, Miss Martin?”
“That isn t–”
“Did you not just state the many reasons why you feel I am not an appropriate suitor for
you? Can you not simply reiterate those points in response to any inquiries regarding my
“You ar e overly persistent, Mr. Bond.”
“Quite,” he nodded, “which is why I will discover who is responsible for the unfortunate
events besetting you and what they d hoped to gain.”
She crossed her arms. “I am not convinced.”
“Trust me. It is fortuitous, indeed, that Mr. Lynd brought us together. If I do not apprehend
the culprit, I daresay he cannot be caught.” His hand fisted around the top of his cane. “Client
satisfaction is a point of pride, Miss Martin. By the time I am done, I guarantee you will be
eminently gratified by my performance.”