Just letting you know…
I’ve dropped price of The Bewitching Hour to $0.00!
Free promotion lasts from 3/21 to 3/24
I’ve included an exerpt so you can give it a look.
Mayfair London, England 1815
Bloody hell! Eugene Terrance Rutherford, Viscount Stratton, ducked back into his office, closed the door and turned the key. The clattering of the parade of miniature, asthmatic dogs and rustling of stiff skirts that signified his Aunt Mirabella in full sail grew louder. He froze as one of the creatures began scratching and whining at the door.
“Come, Hercules,” Mirabella called. “Come away from there, you naughty boy.” Paws frantically scrambling for a toe hold could be heard along with a grunt as his aunt scooped up the stray. “I’ve told you time and again not to wander.” She began a count of heads, stopping when she reached eleven. “Where did Ulysses go? It seems everyone is disappearing.” Continuing her prattle, she swept down the corridor with her panting, wheezing entourage following behind.
Stratton waited until the sound of rustling skirts and scrambling nails were long gone before heaving a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that he was a coward. He simply didn’t want to deal with his Aunt Mirabella right now. Or those damned dogs of hers.
Moving as quietly as possible, he left his office and headed down the back steps. He crossed the service area, passed two well stocked pantries and entered the kitchen where he took an appreciative sniff. Hannah was baking. She made the best apple tarts in all of England and a fresh batch had been laid out on parchment paper to cool.
“Ah, Hannah. How did I survive without you?” He snatched a pastry and the tiny white haired woman made an unconvincing attempt to swat his hand.
“You ‘aven’t changed a bit you little thief. Those are for tea time.”
“Don’t be so hard-hearted,” he said. “I haven’t been little for over twenty years and no one bakes like you. I simply can’t help myself. I’ve a mind to whisk you off to Surrey.”
“You just take yourself somewhere else. I’ll have no meddlin’ in my kitchen.”
Grinning, the viscount pushed open the back door and stepped outside. The sun had made only a half-hearted appearance, but it was warmer than he expected. Muggy and stale, the air closed around him and by the time he had walked the short distance to the small private garden on the west side of the house, sweat was trickling down his back. He unfastened the top buttons of his jacket and loosened his cravat before devouring Hannah’s apple tart, then pulled a cheroot from his pocket, struck flint to light it and took a puff. The heavy foliage on the walnut tree provided dense shade but not much relief from the heat. Stratton blew a wreath of smoke and leaned back against its trunk. He closed his eyes, shut out the sounds of the city and for a brief moment pretended he was enjoying a day in the country. But the blessed quiet was broken by a man’s shout, followed by shrill yapping and a string of colorful curses. Bloody hell, could a man not have a moment’s peace?
He pushed away from the tree when a petite young woman with an admirable expanse of white bosom above her light green muslin bodice and a tumble of golden-blond curls escaping a lace bonnet, stepped inside the open gate. He was so taken with her white bosom and golden hair that it took another second or two before he realized that the beribboned dog she held in her arms was one of his aunt’s ridiculous miniature terriers. The young woman was as fetching a young lady as he had seen in some time and the dog must have thought so as well, because he was wiggling with excitement against her and attempting to lick her face. Stratton couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy.
Laughing, she held the dog away from her and said, “I don’t wish to have my face washed. Would you please stop?” Her voice was soft and cultured and her sprigged muslin and pelisse were well made. She was a young woman who likely moved in his circles but he couldn’t think who she might be. True, most of his time was spent outside London, but someone this well endowed would have been known to him. Should he continue to watch unobserved or should he approach her? He had just decided he would remain hidden in the shade a bit longer and see what she would do next, when she set the beast down and it scrambled under the fence.
“Oh drat!” Her dismay was such that he barely refrained from laughing out loud. She hurried out of the gate and a few moments later, he heard tearful protests and the young lady uttered with impatience, “Oh, for heaven’s sakes, Sally, he won’t hurt you. If you won’t take him, I will. We can’t leave him running loose.”
She returned with the wriggling, face-licking terrier in her arms then stopped a few paces inside the stone fence in obvious difficulty as to what to do next. He could almost see the thoughts running through her head. If she put the dog down it would no doubt escape again. Sally, presumably her maid, sounded most uncooperative in handling the dog which would rule out the maid taking it to the door, and as the young lady appeared to be of good breeding she couldn’t very well take it to the door on her own. The obvious choice would be to find some street urchin and send him to the door with the animal. She turned back toward the gate and he realized that she had likely reached that conclusion as well. Since he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to speak with a young lady who possessed such a fine bosom he decided to make his presence known.
Stubbing out his cheroot he ambled toward her. “Good afternoon, miss. You appear to be in a quandary. May I be of service?”
Startled, she looked up at him with deep, blue eyes. He had to resist the sudden urge to tilt that lovely face up to his and kiss her. He decided it was a just and generous God who would create such a delightful creature.
It seemed she was not as favorably impressed with him. Lips pursed, her disapproving gaze fell on the loosened cravat and unbuttoned jacket and she wrinkled her nose at what he presumed was the scent of cheroot smoke that lingered on his clothing.
“You may help me by taking your dog and then filling the hole he has dug beneath the fence so he won’t continue to run away,” she said. “He was almost run over by a vegetable cart. He has my maid terrified, though I can’t understand why as he’s such a tiny thing. I wasn’t able to send her to your door and thought to take the matter into my own hands.” When he made no move to take the animal from her arms, she added, “Sir, I simply cannot stand here and hold him all day. Please, take your dog.”
It was obvious she thought him some libertine who had not yet been to bed after a night of cavorting and gambling. Still, she was a feisty little thing and he was enjoying her ire tremendously. He decided to make it last a bit longer. “I’m afraid I can’t.”
The sweep of long golden lashes fluttered as she blinked. “You refuse?” she exclaimed in an incredulous tone. “You would rather see him run down in the street?”
He found the flush of anger on her cheeks very attractive. “I didn’t say that. It’s only that he doesn’t belong to me. Do you really think I would own a bit of fluff no larger than the palm of my hand?”
She glanced down at the miniature terrier and then back up at him. He was a large man, broad and well muscled and not at all the type who would own a lap dog. The flush on her cheeks turned bright crimson. “I beg your pardon, sir. Had you told me that to begin with I would not have bothered you. Have you any idea where he might belong?”
“It was no bother.” His gray eyes crinkled with mischief and he waited another moment before adding, “And he belongs to my aunt.”
“Your aunt,” she said slowly. “And does she live nearby?”
“She lives with me.”
He grinned. “Here.”
Understanding swept over her and her eyes flashed. “I don’t appreciate your having a bit of fun at my expense. Please, take your aunt’s dog.”
“I’d rather not.”
She struggled to contain the excited terrier. “For heaven’s sake, why not?”
“If I take the dog, you’ll leave and I’m rather enjoying your charming company.”
“This was not intended to be a social visit. I merely meant to return your aunt’s dog”
“My friends call me Stratton.”
She looked at the townhouse and back to him. Recognition had obviously set in. “My lord,” she said. “Please take your aunt’s dog.”
Undaunted, he flashed a cheeky smile as he reached out and took the dog from her arms. “I bid you good day and hope for a formal introduction in the near future.” He bowed, turned on his heel and left her sputtering with indignation.