A Midsummer's Kiss Excerpt & Giveaway
A Midsummer's Kiss, book 4 in my best-selling Farthingale series has arrived! Though the book officially released a month ago, we're still celebrating. In honor, one lucky reader will win signed paperbacks of all of my Farthingale books. You can enter to win at the bottom of the post.
First, let me introduce you to A Midsummer's Kiss.
Here's a special excerpt just for you...
Laurel settled in one of the two red silk chairs placed beside the open window. The stool was tucked beside his bed, and kept out of the way as it had been for her last few visits. She suspected that maintaining identical chairs beside the window was Graelem’s way of keeping them on equal footing. Equals in the marriage. Equals in their seating arrangement. Equals in everything but the decision on whether or not to marry.
She was eager to learn why they had to wed by Midsummer’s Day. The more he confided in her, the better the plan she could devise to thwart him. She watched him settle into the seat beside hers, her heart tightening as he held his breath and tensed his shoulders while easing against the bright red silk with slow, painful movements.
She knew that she could never be completely angry or indignant with him. He was suffering and she was the cause of it. “Tell me why we must marry.”
“Because I’ll lose my inheritance if I don’t have a wife by Midsummer’s Day.”
That was simple and direct. She frowned. “So that’s all I am to you? A means to an inheritance? No noble reason? You want the wealth and standing in society.”
“I don’t give a damn about society. I give a damn about the people who live and work the Moray lands, the families that have called it their home for generations. The title is mine whether or not we marry, of course. So is the manor house since it is entailed. However, that house needs a lot of work to bring it back to its former glory. Silas, the old Baron Moray, was not one to spend on basic comforts.”
She tipped her head, confused. “So you’re marrying me for my dowry?”
“No. Silas died a wealthy man. He could have left it all to me without restraint or restriction since I’m his closest surviving male heir, albeit through the maternal line. But he wanted to be sure I’d continue the Moray bloodline, hence the requirement for me to marry within the month.”
“And if you don’t?”
He ran a hand roughly through his hair. He’d obviously washed it shortly before she’d arrived so that it was clean and shining, and yet a few thick curls remained damp and refused to behave. The style was not elegant, but his slightly too-long hair and those few wayward curls suited him to perfection. Drat!
He cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. Clearly he did not like to speak about himself. “I’ll lose the farms and other land holdings, the bonds and investments, the mining and shipping partnerships. I’ve spent most of these last fifteen years building them up for Silas and I’ll be damned if I’m to quietly turn everything over to some worthless popinjay distant cousin who’ll gamble through the assets within the year.”
“Fifteen years? He put you to work by the time you were, what... about ten years old?” She gasped. “He treated you like an orphan in a workhouse.”
“He treated me like a strict, elderly uncle who believed in working for one’s supper. That’s all. Don’t make more of it than that.”
But for one brief moment, she saw the loneliness and bitter struggles of his childhood years reflected in his gaze. “So Silas gave you only a month to find a wife?”
Once again, he shifted uncomfortably. “He gave me a little longer than that. He died almost three months ago.”
She pursed her lips, struggling to rid herself of all sympathetic feelings for this man. It wasn’t quite as easy as she had hoped, but she finally managed to do it. After all, he really didn’t need her. Any girl would do. “Three months is still not a very long time to find a proper wife. However, you have a wide field of prospects available to you in London. If you’re truly to inherit wealth in your own right, and don’t need mine—”
“I don’t. Lass,” he said, his dark green eyes rounding in surprise, “I’d never touch a shilling of yours. What comes from your family is yours to keep.”
She was relieved he wasn’t after her trust fund, but that only heightened her confusion. “If you don’t need my funds—”
“All I need is Moray.” There was a stubborn set to his jaw, a nice jaw that any young lady would be tempted to caress. Just not her, because no matter how appealing he might be under other circumstances, he had unfairly trapped her into a betrothal and she could never forgive him for that.
“Then any young lady will suit your purpose.”
He cast her a hard stare that caused her to blush by its heat and intensity. “I won’t be meeting any of them for another week or two at the earliest. I can’t take the risk of running out of time. Moray means too much to me.”
But I don’t.
“Can’t take the risk or won’t?” she asked, repeating the same question Eloise had asked of her when discussing their impossible situation and their not-going-to-happen marriage.
The solution to this problem was so simple that Laurel wanted to grab Graelem by his shirt collar and shake him soundly. “I’ll speak to your grandmother and we’ll arrange a small tea party right here. I’ll also speak to my parents and insist on our hosting a dinner or musicale in our own home. I’m sure you will easily manage to walk next door given a few more days.” The ideas continued to whirl in her head. “I have several friends making their come out this season. They’ll trip over themselves to meet a wealthy baron.”
He arched an eyebrow and leaned closer. “If they’re so eager, then why aren’t you?”
She tipped her chin upward in indignation, the common ending to most of their conversations. “As I said, I’m in love with another.”
“Ah, yes. Devlin, the man who’s kissed you with the ardor of boiled socks.”
Her face began to heat. “If ever he were to kiss me, I can assure you it would be with more ardor than that of boiled socks!”
“If ever he...” He shook his head as though confused, then gaped at her and laughed. “You mean to say that he hasn’t kissed you yet? Not even one stolen kiss under a Yuletide bough?”
She didn’t think that her cheeks could grow any hotter, but they did. “No. Not yet, but—”
“Blessed Scottish saints,” he said in a husky murmur. “Are you saying that I’m the only man who’s ever kissed you?”
“In that crude and plundering way. Yes.” In that wonderful, fires-of-hell-take-me-I’m-yours way that still had her blushing and wanting to rip the shirt off his body and run her hands along his hot, golden skin? She cleared her throat. “In any way at all? Yes. You’re the first.”
A solemn quiet came over him, but he shook out of it quickly. “Laurel, lass.” He spoke with a gentleness not present before. “You can’t possibly love him.”
“I knew you were going to say that.” She curled her hands into fists and returned his gaze with a scowl of exasperation. “I do love him. I don’t love you. The kiss we shared was a mistake. I wasn’t myself. I was distraught and uncertain.”
She paused a moment and swallowed hard. “But thank you for not taking advantage of me. Had you tried, I think I would have let you.” Because she was crazed and hurting. No other reason. Certainly not because she felt any desire for the oaf.
Goodness and mercy! Why would she feel anything for him?
“I know, lass,” he said with a nod. “But I gave you my promise that I wouldn’t touch you against your will and I’ll keep to it. You wanted the kiss and it was harmless enough.” He leaned closer still. “Granted, you wanted more. But I will not have you shamed or living with regrets for your actions on one of the most difficult days of your life. When you marry me—”
“If I marry you. Which I won’t.” Drat! The words sounded uncertain even to her ears.
“I’ll make you a bargain.”
She shot to her feet, instantly wary. “What sort of bargain?”
“I’ll agree to attend these bloody teas and musicales if you stop dismissing the idea of our marriage.”
She nibbled her lip in thought and noticed that Graelem’s eyes darkened as he watched her. Honestly, why did the oaf have to be blessed with dangerously seductive eyes? They should have been watery or rimmed in red. They weren’t. His eyes were clear and magnificent. “No more dismissing the idea of our marriage? I’ll agree not to mention it when we chat”—but I’ll still think it—“so long as you don’t dismiss out of hand the young ladies I plan to invite to said teas and musicales.”
“Agreed.” He gave her a heart-melting smile. “Care to seal it with a handshake?”
No, she’d much rather seal it with a kiss. A lips-locked, tongues-plundering string of kisses to be precise. “Blessed Scottish saints,” he said in a hoarse whisper and rose from his chair to stand beside her. “Don’t look at me that way, lass.”
“What way?” She felt her heart beating faster and the heat in her cheeks was now spreading through her body, blazing a fiery trail through her veins. Graelem stood too close. She put her hand on his chest to nudge him back, but somehow her hand curled against the front of his shirt and she found herself tugging his big body closer instead.
Oh, dear. The wrong way.
“What’s it to be, lass?” His mouth felt feather soft against her ear. “Do we seal our bargain with a safe and proper handshake?” His cool breath sent very hot tingles up and down her spine. “Or would you rather we seal it with a dangerously improper kiss?”
She let out a soft gasp. Did the man have no shame?
“A handshake, of course.” But her wanton hands moved up to cup the back of his head and draw his mouth down to hers. She rose on her wanton tiptoes and leaned her wanton body into his because... all right... yes, she wanted the thrill of his mouth on hers. He was remarkably good at kissing, and who knew how many more kisses she’d get from this big oaf before they parted ways before Midsummer’s Day? The two of them unmarried because she wasn’t going to be leg-shackled to a stranger for the rest of her days.
For now, she loved the way he looked at her in that I’m-so-hungry-for-you way. And loved the way he held her as though she were the most precious thing to him on this good earth. Were all men this good at pretending? And loved the feel of his lips as they descended on hers, the low groan as he captured her mouth, the deeper groan as he ran his tongue across her teeth and gently parted them to plunge inside and explore her mouth.
He overwhelmed her senses.
She couldn’t get enough of him, of his fresh, lather scent. Of his muscled arms and hard chest. Of his—
“Laurel!” Aunt Hortensia called to her in a raspy shriek that shook candles out of their sconces and resounded like a trumpet blare throughout the house. “Step away from that villain at once!”
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