Set a criminal to catch a criminalChristopher St. John and Maria, Lady Winter are infamous in Society for their misdeeds and their charming allures. Wherever they go, scandalized whispers and covetous glances follow. A ruthless pirate and a widow whose two husbands have met untimely deaths, the wickedly renowned figures are even more intriguing to the authorities. Now they’ve been set on the most provocative of tasks–St. John is released from prison to learn the “Wintry Widow’s” intimate secrets, while Lady Winter is charged with performing a similar deception in reverse. One will succeed. One will hang.
From ballroom to bedroom, they're perfectly matchedWith the fate of loved ones in the balance, the unlikely couple embarks upon a battle of wills and wits that takes them from glittering ballrooms to the depths of the underworld to the candlelit pleasures of the bedroom. As they fall helpless to a desire and startling affinity neither expected, the deadly web of their subterfuge closes in, forcing them to make a choice. Individual freedom? Or an audacious scheme to keep an impossible yet irresistible love…
Passion for the Game:
Maria rose to her feet without haste, her movements leisurely as she set the post of her parasol to her shoulder and began to stroll. A carelessly affected glance behind her found Simon intercepting a couple intent on the same gravel pathway she took. Secure in the knowledge that he would handle things beautifully as he always did, she set her mind to the task ahead.
Rounding a large hedge, Maria quickened her pace, her appearance of lazy perusal discarded. She took note of various markers along the way to keep her bearings–a pyramid here, a statue there. A few moments out, she spotted the pantheon up ahead and abandoned the trail, closing her parasol before weaving through the bordering copse. She circled the small building, looking through the pillars to the interior and then through the rear door.
“Looking for me?”
She spun about and found St. John leaning casually against a tree she had passed mere seconds before. Seeing the arrogant curve of his lips, Maria recovered quickly, removing all traces of surprise from her features with a wide smile. “No, actually.”
The effect was what she had hoped for. His grin faltered, the smug gleam in his eyes flaring with a spark of awareness. She took that moment to study him in the dappled sunlight, her first clear viewing. His obviously powerful frame was draped in dark blue velvet that matched his irises and set off the golden strands of hair he kept neatly restrained in a queue. His eyes were not the bright blue of Simon’s, but a deeper, darker shade. They were startling in contrast to the unsurpassed beauty of his face.
“I do not believe you,” he challenged in that delicious rasp that moved like rough silk over her skin.
“I do not care.”
He had the countenance of an angel, a man so handsome he seemed almost unreal. It made a woman’s brain stumble to see those jaded eyes and hear that husky, earthy voice from an otherwise ethereal masculine creature.
And he was definitely male, regardless of that perfection.
White stockings clung to firmly muscled calves, and she could not help but wonder what activities he engaged in to bear the form of a laborer. A build she admired on Simon, but even more so on St. John, who lacked Simon’s softer edge.
“Why, then, are you traipsing through the forest?” he asked.
“Why are you?” she tossed back.
“I am a man, I do not traipse.”
“Neither do I.”
“I noticed,” he murmured. “You, my Lady Winter, were too busy spying.”
“What do you call what you are doing?”
“I have an assignation with a lady.” He pushed away from the tree in a dangerously graceful movement and she resisted the urge to step back.
“Is she a bit…icy, perhaps?”
His gait was slow and blatantly seductive. She admired it even as she marveled at his daring. Her stomach fluttered, but she hid her response.
“Chilly enough to lure men who enjoy a challenge. But I think it’s a façade.”
She laughed. “Has she given you any reason to doubt?”
St. John came to a halt before her. A warm, gentle breeze blew past her, carrying with it a faint hint of the bergamot and tobacco she remembered from his embrace in the theater. “She is meeting me here. As an intelligent woman, she knows what will happen if she seeks me out.”
“You made sure I would come,” she said softly, her head tilting back so their gazes stayed locked together. In such close proximity she saw the lines that bracketed his mouth and eyes, signs of a rougher life than his immaculate garments would suggest. “I’m certain you noticed that I did not come alone.”
Moving so quickly he took her unawares, St. John caught her waist and nape in his large hands and tugged her into his body. “I noticed you are no longer fucking him.”
For a moment his rough possession and the harsh edge to his crude speech startled her into silence. Then she found her voice.
“Are you mad?” she asked breathlessly, panting softly within the unyielding prison of her corset, her parasol dropped to the leafy floor.
The day was warm, but that was not what sent heat racing across her skin. As had happened before, nerve endings flared to painful life at the feel of his arms around her. The mass of her skirts forced her off balance, their chests touching, but yards of material separated his thighs from hers. That did not alter her knowledge that he was aroused. She did not have to feel his cock to know it was erect for her. She could see it in his eyes.
And when he kissed her, she could taste it.
Closing her eyes, Maria told herself to ignore the feel of his lips against hers. Soft, with a brushing touch of the tip of his tongue. But the taste of him–dark and dangerous–was delightful and she indulged, opening to him, and was rewarded with his soft rumble of approval.
He took her mouth as if they had all the time in the world. As if a bed were nearby and he could deliver on the promises made by his deep licks. There was something about the way he handled her, both harsh and tender, that affected her deeply. He stole what he wanted by force, but in a gentle manner so completely at odds with his approach.
For long moments, she allowed him to intoxicate her, her senses reeling behind her closed eyelids. His thumb circled lazily at the back of her neck, an easy rhythmic caress that made her back arch and her toes curl. Her nipples ached, her lips trembled. The quivering in her belly was reflected in her hands, forcing her to cling to his coat to hide the depth of her reaction.
Then she reclaimed her wits and divested him of his illusions.
His posture stiffened the instant the point of her blade pressed against his thigh. Lifting his head, he took a shuddering breath. “Remind me to disarm you the next time I wish to seduce you.”
“No seducing, Christopher.”
As his embrace slackened, Maria stepped away. “I may call you Christopher, yes? Truly, that was one of the best kisses I have ever had. Perhaps the best. That thing you do with your tongue… But unfortunately for you, I make it a habit to learn the business end of my liaisons before I even consider the pleasure end of them.”
Later, when she was alone, she would reward herself for sounding so strong when her knees were so weak. At the moment, however, she had to face a man who was dangerous in more ways than one. “Tell me what you want from me.”
His slow, easy smile kept her heart racing. “Is it not obvious?”
Perhaps it was her inability to breathe properly that prevented clear thought, but no matter how she looked at their situation, she could not comprehend why he affected her the way he did.
“The woman you arrived with can relieve that for you,” she reminded.
She had her pick of handsome lovers, like Simon. Dark-haired men were her preference. She disliked scoundrels and rogues and consummately arrogant men. There was absolutely no reason for her to be so aroused by the criminal before her.
“I attempted that substitution the other night.” His laugh was a joy to hear. Unlike hers, it sounded as if he gave it freedom often. “I adore Angelica, but sadly, she is not you.”
The image that came to mind of the brunette writhing beneath the golden god before her made Maria’s teeth clench. A silly, stupid, sentimental response she had no desire to feel. “You have one moment to tell me how I fit into your plans for revenge,” she warned.
“I’ll tell you in bed.”
Her brows lifted. “You think to extort sex from me? When it is you who needs help, and not the reverse?”
“You must need me for something,” Christopher drawled, “or you would not have come this weekend or sought me out now.”
“Perhaps it was curiosity,” she argued.
“You have investigators to handle that.”
Maria took a deep breath and slipped her blade back into its sheath in a hidden pocket. “We are at an impasse.”
“No, you are at an impasse. I am ready to move on to the sex.”
One corner of her mouth tilted in a wry smile. “You do realize that the sex is supposed to come after we settle what we can do for one another. If it comes at all.”
Christopher stilled, finding his unwanted fascination for the Wintry Widow sharpening to near painful acuity. Physically, he was staring at the exact opposite of himself. Where he was fair, she was dark. Where he was tall, she was petite. Where he was hard, she was luscious softness. But the brain inside her head was so similar to his, he could scarcely credit it. He had known she would circle the pantheon like a huntress seeking prey, because it was exactly what he would do. And the knife…
…well, he would have been prepared for that if she had not melted in his arms.
What he had not known was that he would reach for her. Until she had tossed her lover in his face, a man he knew was not warming her bed any longer simply by watching their posture together. Christopher had planned to keep things light. Draw her closer. Not frighten her.
But obviously she was not a woman who was easily frightened. She was presently returning his stare with one finely arched dark brow raised in silent query. “Your time is up.”
Then she collected her parasol, moved to the pathway, and headed back toward the manse.
He stared after her, debating whether to stop her or not and then deciding that her egress was so magnificently affected it was too much of a joy to end. So he leaned against a tree and watched her until the flashes of ice blue could no longer be seen. The mere thought of the entertainment ahead made the wait for her almost bearable.
Passion for the Game is Book 2 in The Georgian Series. The full series reading order is as follows:
Passion for the Game takes 1st place in the historical category of the Laurel Wreath contest, which is judged by booksellers.
Passion for the Game has been named a finalist for Best Historical in the National Readers’ Choice Awards.
Romantic Times magazine has nominated Passion for the Game for Best Historical Romantic Adventure!
The Courier Mail named Passion for the Game one of three “Best of the Year” in romance!