Thursday, September 8, 2016

Giveaway for MY FAIR PRINCESS: The Improper Princesses #1 by: Vanessa Kelly

Releasing August 30, 2016.

First, Vanessa Kelly brought readers The Renegade Royals. Now, in a delightfully witty new series, she introduces The Improper Princesses—three young women descended from royalty, each bound for her own thrilling adventure . . .
Despite being the illegitimate daughter of a prince, Gillian Dryden is happily ignorant of all social graces. After growing up wild in Italy, Gillian has been ordered home to England to find a suitable husband. And Charles Valentine Penley, the excessively proper, distractingly handsome Duke of Leverton, has agreed to help transform her from a willful tomboy to a blushing debutante.

Powerful and sophisticated, Charles can make or break reputations with a well-placed word. But his new protégée, with her habit of hunting bandits and punching earls, is a walking scandal. The ton is aghast . . . but Charles is thoroughly intrigued. Tasked with taking the hoyden in hand, he longs to take her in his arms instead. Can such an outrageous attraction possibly lead to a fairytale ending?

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Author Info

Vanessa Kelly is an award-winning author who was named by Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, as one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her Regency-set historical romances have been nominated for awards in a number of contests, and her second book, Sex and The Single Earl, won the prestigious Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her current series, The Renegade Royals is a national bestseller. Vanessa also writes USA Today bestselling contemporary romance with her husband, under the pen name of VK Sykes.

Author Links: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter Goodreads 

Rafflecopter Giveaway (a Grand Prize winner to get a $25 Amazon gift card;  and four runners up to receive a copy of CONFESSIONS OF A ROYAL BRIDEGROOM and HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER.)

Her grandmother let out a heavy sigh, and even Griffin shook his head. The duke, however, simply regarded her with a perfectly unruffled manner, as if she were some recently discovered species, only vaguely interesting. Gillian began to get quite a bad feeling that she’d finally met her match.
She’d been hearing for weeks how Leverton was the key to solving Gillian’s little problem, as her family called it. According to them, he was perfectly suited to guide her into society’s good graces, and perfectly capable of managing away even the most troublesome elements of her background.
He must be a bloody perfect miracle worker, if that was the case.
As she cautiously eyed him, she couldn’t help concluding that he did seem rather perfect in some respects. He was certainly prettier than she was, with thick, tawny-colored hair, striking blue eyes, and a face straight off a Greek statue. And he was certainly a good deal more stylish than she was, although that was true of almost anyone. But even she could appreciate the way his beautifully tailored coat showcased his broad shoulders, and how his breeches clung to his muscled legs with nary a wrinkle. As for his cravat, it was practically a work of art.
In fact, he was so damn perfect it made her stomach hurt. She’d been drawn in by perfection before, and it had almost ruined her.
Stop trying to shock us, Gillian,” her grandmother said. “You know quite well it won’t work.”
Au contraire, Lady Marbury,” Griffin said. “I find myself quite riven with horror.”
He flashed Gillian the conspiratorial smile that always made her feel someone truly did understand her. And, more important, Griffin didn’t find her wanting, unlike apparently everyone else in London. She couldn’t wait to shake the dirt of England from her boots and return to Sicily—the sooner, the better.
Miss Dryden is quite right,” Leverton said.
Gillian frowned. “I am? About what, exactly?”
He slowly crossed the room to her. He didn’t prowl, precisely, but something in the way he moved made her think of . . . a wolf, perhaps. Slipping silently through the night as he hunted in silence.
An exceedingly clever wolf, she guessed. One with very sharp teeth well suited for ripping apart a person’s carefully ordered life.
Leverton’s height forced her to tilt back her head to meet his gaze, and she found herself staring into eyes a beautiful shade of cobalt. She had to admit they were really quite amazing.
Please believe me, Miss Dryden, when I say I meant no insult. I was merely surprised by a few details regarding your situation. It caused me to forget my manners.” A glint of amusement lurked in his gaze.
Her stomach twisted at the notion that he might be laughing at her. But when he smiled, her stomach seemed to untwist and start dancing with butterflies.
Come, my dear girl,” he said in his beautifully cultured voice. “I beg you to forgive me before I’m compelled to do something drastic—like throw myself at your feet. That would be embarrassing for both of us.”
Bloody coxcomb,” Griffin muttered.
Leverton ignored the aside, keeping his attention on Gillian. Her heart began to thump and heat crawled up her neck. “Oh, very well,” she grumbled. “I forgive you.”
You are most gracious,” Leverton said. “Now, perhaps we can start over and leave all this awkwardness behind.”
What a splendid idea,” Grandmamma said. “Your Grace, my granddaughter, Miss Gillian Dryden.”
The duke bowed as if she hadn’t just tumbled through the door, and as if they hadn’t just spent the last few minutes insulting each other.
Gillian, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the Duke of Leverton,” Grandmamma added.
Good Lord. I know who he is,” Gillian replied, not hiding her exasperation.
Then make him a curtsey, my dear. A proper one.”
Repressing the urge to roll her eyes—one curtsey was as good as another, as far as she was concerned—Gillian dipped down and quickly came up.
Leverton’s eyebrows ticked up. On him, she rather expected it was the equivalent of a horrified gasp.
Well, nobody ever said she was graceful, at least when it came to that sort of silliness.
Hmm,” he said. “We’ll have to work on that.”
It’s all nonsense, if you ask me,” Gillian said. “All this bowing and scraping like a peasant before his master. Perhaps you’d like me to polish your boots while I’m at it.”
His disapproving gaze made her blink, and she almost took a step back. This was a man who did not like being crossed.
Gillian Dryden, you will cease acting like heathen,” her grandmother rapped out.
I had no idea you had revolutionary tendencies, Miss Dryden,” the duke said. “How very interesting. And no, I would not like you to polish my boots. My valet would not approve.”
Now he sounded bored. And if he was bored, he would be more likely to go away and leave her alone. Splendid.
Still, she couldn’t help feeling irked by his dismissive tone and demeanor. The Duke of Leverton was certainly a snob and probably a fop. She didn’t know which was worse.
Why would you think I have revolutionary tendencies, sir?” she added in a sugary-sweet voice. “Is it because I think I’m as good as anyone else, despite my unfortunate social status?”
Gillian braced herself for the expected put-down. She’d grown used to being labeled a prince’s by-blow, or worse. It was best to simply accept it and then do her best to avoid anyone who looked down on her because of her parentage. She’d learned that hard lesson a long time ago.
The duke studied her for a few moments before replying. “Of course you are.”
Of course I am what?” she asked.
As good as anyone else. Any sensible person must think so,” he said.
That eliminates most of the ton,” Griffin said.
Leverton seemed to weigh her brother’s droll comment. “I believe your assessment is too pessimistic, Steele. Shall we say, perhaps fifty percent?”
The exchange was so silly that Gillian had to laugh. Leverton’s eyebrows ticked up again, but not, she thought, with disapproval. Then he flashed her another dazzling smile that made her feel like the floor had just tipped sideways.
That’s much better,” he said.
She shook her head, exasperated. “I don’t understand any of this.”
Excerpt #4
They stood on the quiet street, locked in a silent contest of wills. Gillian half expected him to begin lecturing her again. Yet his gaze warmed with understanding—and sympathy.
I am not the first man to ask you to trust him, am I?” he asked.
She winced. “Blast. Is it that obvious?”
He started her forward again, for which Gillian was grateful. It would be easier to discuss such an embarrassing topic if he wasn’t looking at her.
I put two and two together,” he said. “And, as a reminder, I would suggest you refrain from using terms like blast when in polite company.”
All right, but only on the understanding that I can say whatever I want to immediate family.”
I suppose I can’t really stop you, can I?
I doubt it. Some things are just bloody difficult to change.”
You can’t shock me, you know. Although I think I must drop a word in your brother’s ear, all the same.”
Ha. That’s not much of a threat. I was using bad language long before I ever met Griffin.”
No doubt.”
Gillian pretended to ponder for a moment. “Perhaps if you write down all the words I’m not supposed to say, I can commit them to memory.”
I’m quite sure you know exactly what you should and shouldn’t say,” he said.
Gillian couldn’t help giving him a little smirk.
Very well,” he said. “We’ll leave the language lessons for some future date. We have again been diverted from our main topic, which is—”
Mr. Stratton.” The duke clearly wasn’t going to let it go, so she might as well get it over with. “From your reaction, I imagine you already have a good idea of what he said.”
Did he insult you or importune you?” he asked in a hard voice.
Mr. Stratton would be walking with a limp right now if he had. Or not walking at all, depending on my aim.”
Leverton made a slight, choking noise, then cleared his throat. “Then what did he say, exactly?”
He asked me to meet him for a walk or a drive in the park.”
By yourself? And without telling your grandmother?”
Bastard,” Leverton muttered.
She couldn’t resist. “Language, Your Grace. But don’t worry. Why would I want to go driving in the park with a married man? I’m supposed to be finding a husband, not larking about with ineligible men.”
You’re not to be engaging in such behavior with an unmarried man, either. Not unless you have the expression permission of your mother or grandmother, and only after they’ve met your escort.”
I’m not a half-wit, nor am I naïve. I know exactly what men like Stratton are after. I’m quite familiar with the type.”
That silenced him for half a block. “I’m sorry you even have to worry about that,” he finally said.
Grandmamma warned me some years ago what to expect.” After Pietro. Because of that gentleman, Gillian would never be naïve again. “I have no intention of allowing myself to become a member of the demimonde. I would not enjoy such a life.”
I should bloody well hope not,” Leverton said.
Gillian feigned astonishment. “Sir, I am truly shocked. Perhaps I should draw up a list of words for you.”
I would ask for your apology, but I doubt very much that I offended you.”
Of course not. I’m as tough as old boots.”
No, you’re not. And you’re as deserving of respect as any young woman. I regret that we even need to have this unfortunate discussion.”
She couldn’t help smiling. “I know you’re trying to help. And I don’t mind at all. Truly.”
You should mind,” he said. “But back to Stratton.”
Gillian groaned. “Must we?”
I need you to understand that he might well not be the only cad who tries to take advantage. I want you to be well armored against that possibility.”
Of course. But Mr. Stratton is harmless, you know.”
He shook his head. “He’s exactly the type you have to worry about.”
Gillian heard something in his voice that gave her pause—an undertone of bitterness. This was more than a well-intentioned warning. It sounded personal to Leverton. “I’ll be careful, Your Grace.”
You’re to come to me or to your grandmother if you have any concerns of this nature at all.”
Yes, I promise.”
He let out a reluctant laugh. “Now you’re patronizing me. Or behaving as if I’m a fussy old maid who sees a rake lurking behind every tree.”
No, you’re behaving like someone who cares. But why are you doing this?”
Warning you about bounders like Stratton?”
She tugged on his arm. “Now you’re being deliberately obtuse.”
Perhaps just slightly evasive,” he said with a wry smile. “But now let me ask you a question. Do you want this little experiment your grandmother cooked up to actually work?”
You mean teaching me not to swear, and how to curtsey without falling on my ear?” she asked in as innocent a voice as she could muster. Sadly, Gillian didn’t do innocent very well.

Excerpt #5
Letitia, I’m the one who should be insulted. You rejected me once, and now you’re propositioning me in the middle of a ballroom. Did you really believe I would fall for your tricks again?”
She struggled to control her temper and made a credible job of it. “Poor Charles, you always were a fool. That, I see, has not changed.”
Well, now that we’ve exchanged a sufficient number of insults, I think—”
Before he could finish, Jack materialized from behind a nearby pillar. “Excuse the interruption,” he said brusquely, “but I need to borrow Leverton.”
Letitia sneered. “You may have him. He’s quite as rude as you are, Lendale, which I had not thought possible.”
Jack laughed. “Up to the old game again, eh, Letitia?” He looked at Charles. “She tried it on me a few weeks ago, if you can believe it.”
Her pale blue gaze brimmed with hatred. “You are no gentleman.”
And you are no lady, so we’re even,” Jack said in a cheerful voice.
Charles thought she would choke on the spot. And he thought he would choke on the laugh he decided to swallow. “I suppose I should be annoyed that I was her second choice. Again.”
Consider yourself lucky,” Jack replied. “But enough of this nonsense, old boy. You need to rejoin your party immediately.”
The vague anxiety that had been lurking around the edges of Charles’s consciousness sprang into sharp definition.
Dear me,” Letitia said in a catty voice. “There is a commotion on the other side of the dance floor, and I believe I see your protégé, Your Grace. She seems to be engaged in some kind of dispute with my husband and Lord Andover.”
When Charles took a hasty step toward the dance floor, Letitia grasped his arm. “Are you sure you want to do that? You know how much you hate scandal, my dear Charles.”
Letitia, what did you do?” he asked.
She shrugged her beautiful white shoulders. She’d almost destroyed him years ago, and now she’d apparently decided to do it to Gillian.
Why?” he demanded.
Because she decided she wanted you, old son,” Lendale said. “And she clearly thought Miss Dryden was an impediment.”
I don’t have time for this,” Charles said, disgusted. He stalked away, trying to ignore Letitia’s mocking laugh. He wove his way through the crowd, moving as quickly as he could without knocking anyone over.
Why the hell weren’t you keeping on eye on Gillian?” Charles snapped when Lendale caught up with him.
I’d just gone off to get some refreshments, for God’s sake. I’d snagged a footman with a tray of drinks when I saw that Letitia had trapped you in her evil snare.”
You shouldn’t have left Gillian on her own, Jack.”
She’s your damn responsibility, not mine. Besides, she was with her grandmother the last time I saw her. How the hell was I supposed to know she would get into an argument with one of the greatest morons in London?”
You have no idea how many ways that blasted girl can get into trouble,” Charles said. “And speaking of Lady Marbury, where is she?”
There she is,” Jack said, all but pushing a corpulent earl out of their way. They ignored his protests as they hurried to join her.
Charles, there you are,” she said in a relieved voice. “I stepped away to the retiring room, and I came back to this. You must make Lord Andover go away before Gillian does something dreadful.”
I intend to,” he said in a grim voice. Unfortunately, he was still several feet away when he saw Gillian’s lips curve up in a smile that made it clear mayhem was about to occur.
By the time he got clear of a gaggle of excited debutantes, Gillian was practically standing on Andover’s toes, saying something that Charles couldn’t hear over the din of the crowd. A moment later, she delivered an outstanding right hook that caught Andover under the chin.
Since the earl was well-known at Gentleman Jackson’s for having a glass jaw, the effect was both predictable and profound. He toppled like a felled tree, straight into a cluster of bystanders, including a footman carrying a tray of champagne goblets. The poor footman tumbled into a middle-aged matron possessed of a well-padded figure, and both went crashing down to the floor, along with the champagne.
What a nice, flush hit,” Jack said in an admiring voice.
Do not tell her that,” Charles growled as he elbowed past a pair of girls who were shrieking and fanning themselves in a dramatic fashion.
Jack shot a sly grin at Charles. “I don’t mean to interfere, old boy, but you might want to drop a word in Miss Dryden’s ear that boxing isn’t usually the done thing in the middle of a ballroom.”
Thank you for that extremely helpful bit of advice, you idiot,” Charles said in a blighting tone.
Jack simply laughed.
Charles stalked up to Gillian, who stood over Andover, flexing her hand. When she glanced up at him, she let out a sigh. At least he thought she sighed, since it was hard to hear anything in the growing pandemonium.
Gillian clasped her hands at her waist and patiently waited, a picture of serene beauty in the midst of chaos.
Well, Miss Dryden,” Charles said, “now that you’ve provided the main entertainment for the evening, what have you planned for an encore?”
She flicked a glance around the crowded ballroom that seethed with excitement and gossip. Then she looked back at him and shrugged. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead, Your Grace. I am, however, entirely open to suggestion.”

Excerpt #6
No thanks are necessary. I am happy to assist in any little way I can,” he said.
That was balderdash. Leverton had been incredibly helpful, especially in dealing with all the commotion at Lady Barrington’s ball. He’d brought the situation quickly under control after Honoria and Sarah had explained how Andover had insulted them all in the grossest manner. The duke had glared down at the still unconscious earl before plucking a goblet of champagne from the tray of one of the footmen. Much to the delight of the crowd, Leverton had poured the cold beverage onto the earl’s face.
After Andover came spluttering to life, Lord Lendale and Mr. Stratton had hauled the earl to his feet and carted him off. Leverton, meanwhile, had herded Gillian and her friends back to their respective grandmothers as if nothing untoward had occurred.
But the damage from Gillian’s knockout had been done. Clearly, a young lady was simply expected to stand meekly by while a man insulted her. Well, people who subscribed to that philosophy would continue to be sadly disappointed if they thought she would ever put up with that sort of behavior. That didn’t mean, however, that she wasn’t embarrassed, mostly for her grandmother’s sake. Poor Grandmamma had been mortified, and furious with Gillian for drawing even more attention to the Marbury family with her impulsive behavior. According to her grandmother, Gillian and the girls should have simply excused themselves and walked away from the caddish earl.
Gillian had never been very good at walking away.
I’ve not yet properly thanked you for taking my side of things,” she said. “I think Grandmamma would have murdered me if you hadn’t come to my defense. According to her, no man of sense will ever wish to marry me. ” In fact, her grandmother had told Gillian that her actions had now made her toxic. And while something like that had been a key component of her plans, it still hurt to be described in those terms.
The situation is far from hopeless,” Leverton said. “But I should have done a better job of looking out for you.”
You didn’t exactly drop me in the Mongolian Desert to fend for myself. Lord Lendale didn’t leave for long, and Grandmamma was lurking about somewhere.”
He looked disgusted with himself. “I didn’t expect Lendale to leave you alone at all. I should be apologizing to you for failing to protect you from a cad like Andover.”
Well, you did seem fairly distracted at the time.”
He shot her a sharp glance, but didn’t answer as he steered her around a group of nursemaids and their charges on their way home from the park.
It’s easy to get distracted at large gatherings,” he finally said in a cool voice.
Ah, I see. You’re trying to warn me off this particular topic of conversation.”
He gave her a reluctant smile. “Is it working?”
No,” she said. “You already know I have deplorable manners.”
That is rather an understatement.”
Think of it as yet another opportunity for a lesson in my social schooling. You’d given me the impression the other day that you didn’t particularly like Lady Letitia.”
Gillian knew she was being shockingly nosy, but she had to ask. She’d been thinking about the intimate scene between Leverton and Lady Letitia ever since the ball—when she wasn’t stewing over her own idiotic behavior, that is.
Is there a question in there, Miss Dryden?”
Now you’re being deliberately dense. Of course there is.”
Then I suggest you cease beating about the bush and just ask it.”
Very well. Not to be too blunt—”
Which I feel very sure you will be,” he interjected.
As I was saying,” she said firmly, “it seemed to me that you and Lady Letitia were, hmm, exceedingly friendly with each other at the ball. Now, I understand that married ladies, married gentlemen, and unmarried gentlemen all engage in affairs with one another quite regularly. It seems rather taken for granted in the ton.” She frowned. “Now that I think about it, the only people who don’t engage in such affairs are unmarried ladies. I understand why, of course. But it doesn’t seem all that fair, does it?”
When he didn’t answer, she glanced up at him. His expression suggested she’d just starting flapping her arms and crowing like a rooster.
Miss Dryden, are you by any chance a devotee of Mary Wollstonecraft? Because that would be most unfortunate, I assure you. As is the tone of this disturbing conversation.”
Gillian waved a hand, banging her reticule into her elbow. “Yes, I know I’m not supposed to talk about things like this, but I have to ask someone if I’m to learn how to get along with all the silly people you’re forcing me to meet. Grandmamma certainly won’t discuss anything with me.”
Nor will I, except to say that there are many, many people in society who do not engage in illicit behavior.”
She eyed him dubiously, but he clearly wasn’t going to budge. “All right. But I would still like to know about you and Lady Letitia.”
There is nothing to know about me and Lady Letitia,” he said in an austere voice. His face was like a mask.
You’re very good at that,” she said.
Hiding your feelings.”
The only feeling I hold toward this particular topic is irritation.”
Hmm,” she said. “You don’t like to even talk about scandals, do you?”
No.” He lifted an imperious eyebrow. “Do you?”
She shrugged. “I’m rather agnostic on the subject. By definition, I’m a walking scandal, so I’ve had to get used to it.”
Miss Dryden, you are not a walking scandal. You are a young lady with a happy future ahead of you. In order to achieve that future, you simply need to listen to your elders and obey them. That includes me.”
That’s no fun,” she said.
Young ladies are not supposed to have fun.”
Gillian stopped, forcing him to stop too. “And that attitude is exactly why young ladies get into trouble, sir. You treat us like hothouse flowers and refuse to explain things to us. I assure you, ignorance is not bliss. It would be much better to treat us like sensible human beings with the capacity to understand what is in our best interest.”

Excerpt #7
The next thing Gillian knew, he was shoving her down onto the sand. He came down on top of her, mashing her flat.
It took her a moment to catch her breath, since there wasn’t a particle of air between them. She was certainly becoming intimately acquainted with various parts of Leverton’s impressive anatomy.
Who is it?” She felt a spurt of hope. Perhaps some of the smugglers had returned. Now that Teddy was safely out of the way, Leverton might even help her track them. They might not see eye to eye on everything, but he would be furious that smugglers were trespassing on his lands.
Wait,” he breathed out.
He cautiously lifted his head to peer over the rise of sand between them and the beach. The sound of a cantering horse, hooves thudding into the hard-packed flats, quickly grew and then faded away down the beach. Leverton still didn’t move, his attention focused in the direction of the mysterious rider.
Could you please get off me,” she finally said. “You are completely squashing me.”
He looked down at her and frowned, as if surprised to see her there. Gillian raised a sardonic brow.
I beg your pardon,” he murmured, as if they were on the dance floor and he’d simply trod on her foot.
He rolled off, but kept an arm slung across her waist. Gillian tried to push it away, but it felt like a tree trunk was pinning her down. She let out an aggrieved sigh and dropped her head back onto the sand.
Whoever it was, he’s long gone,” she said. “Why are we still lying here?”
I just wanted to make sure,” Leverton answered. “I think it’s now safe to get up.”
I should hope so. I feel like I’ve spent half the night lying on this blasted beach.” With nothing to show for it but sand in her breeches and an irate duke.
Leverton rolled into a crouch and then smoothly rose. He reached down a hand to pull her up. “And whose fault is that?”
Gillian pulled the tails of her coat back in place and started brushing herself off. “Not mine. If you hadn’t shown up, I could have tracked the smugglers back to their lair. That, as you must admit, would have been very helpful.”
Their lair? Good God, you’ve been reading too many lurid novels. Wait, I forgot,” he said, holding up a hand. “You actually believe you’re living in one. You fancy yourself some sort of heroine, dashing about, trying to right all the wrongs of the world.”
No, I fancy myself as the hero.” She wiggled a leg, hoping to at least shake some of the sand from her backside down to her boot. “The heroines are always moaning and falling down in a faint, waiting for the men to rescue them. I don’t have time for that sort of nonsense.”
That is quite obvious to anyone who knows you. Well, I think we’ve both had enough larking about for one night. Are you ready to go, Miss Dryden, or shall we wait to see the sunrise?”
There’s no need for sarcasm, Leverton,” she said as she bent to retrieve her cap. It had fallen off when he tackled her. “And you still haven’t said if you recognized the rider. It wasn’t one of the smugglers, was it?”
No, it was a riding officer, on patrol. He was obviously too late to be of any use.”
Why didn’t you flag him down?” she snapped.
As I just said, there was no point,” he replied with exaggerated patience. “The smugglers were long gone.”
No point? He was on a horse. He could have easily caught up with them. What were you thinking to just let him go by like that?” Her mother would be horrified at the way Gillian was speaking to him, but she couldn’t help it. Leverton had let another opportunity slip away. What was wrong with the blasted man?
I was thinking I didn’t want to expose you to more scurrilous gossip,” he said, clearly growing irate again. “I am trying to protect your reputation, Miss Dryden. Explaining your presence here in the middle of the night to a riding officer would hardly assist me in achieving that goal.”
I don’t give a hang about my reputation,” she shouted. “That was our best chance to find my jewels, and you ruined it.”
It is blindingly obvious that you care not a whit for your reputation. You take every occasion to be outrageous, to behave like a—”
He bit off whatever insult it was he was going to level. Then he sucked in a deep breath, as if trying to calm himself.
Gillian,” he said.
She waved an impatient hand, ignoring the way her chest seemed to twist and tighten. His tone practically reeked with disdain. “Light-skirt? Doxy? Which is it? Go ahead and say it if it makes you feel better. It won’t bother me in the slightest.”
It was a lie. She’d spent a lifetime learning to ignore the acidic little jabs and the steady drip of smirking insults, but the pain they’d caused was nothing compared to knowing he felt the same. It seemed to hollow her out, leaving an empty darkness that could never be filled.
I wasn’t going to say any such thing,” he said. “I never would.”
Well, it doesn’t matter. Now, can we please go?” She needed to move, to get away from him. Tears stung her eyes, and she could feel her throat going thick. The notion that she would cry over this—over him—was simply appalling. Gillian hadn’t truly cried since the death of her stepfather. That Leverton had the power to call forth such a dreadful sign of weakness infuriated her.
Perversely, that made her want to cry even more. What in God’s name was wrong with her?
She tried to shove past him again, but he stepped in front of her and grasped her shoulders.
Let me go.”
Not until you let me apologize,” he said in a gravelly voice.
She tried to wriggle out from under his grip. His gloved fingers held her tight.
I don’t need any apologies from the likes of y-you.” Gillian almost fainted in horror to hear the break in her voice. She’d called him a coward, and yet here she was acting like a silly female with the vapors. As if his words truly had the power to harm her.
Sadly, it appeared they did.
She sniffed as she tried to steady herself. Unfortunately, one exceedingly defiant sob seemed intent on forcing itself out.
Damn and blast.
Are you crying, Gillian?” Leverton asked in a voice of soft amazement.
Don’t be ridiculous. As if I would cry over something as stupid as this.” As if she would cry over the mistaken assumption that he liked her, when apparently he did not.
Then what is this I see on your cheek?” He gently brushed a gloved finger over her face. “Yes, there is a tear, sparkling like a jewel. How extraordinary.”
Don’t you dare make fun of me.” She glared up at him, rather a tricky feat when one was trying not to bawl.
He barked out a laugh. “Believe me, I find this situation anything but amusing. Painful would be a more apt description.”
That dried her tears. “If you don’t let me go this instant, I will make you very sorry. And I don’t give a damn if you are a bloody duke.” He wouldn’t be the first man she’d kneed in the bollocks, and she didn’t suppose he’d be the last.
Right now, I don’t give a damn either.” And with that, Leverton hauled Gillian up on her toes and covered her mouth in a fierce, smoldering kiss.