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She had been compromised by the worst rake in all of England...

Ladies, let me be the first to confess--I have an abiding fondness for those wonderful old Regency historicals in which the poor-but-virtuous heroine finds her reputation compromised by the handsome rake--who needs reforming. Of course, the handsome rake must do the right thing--and inevitably, he does.

And of course, the strictures of society dictate that the virtuous lady, ruined as she is, has no choice but to wed.

But what if she simply...won't?

In a long-ago life, Lady Cecilia Markham-Sands was ruined by the worst rake in all of England. But she found the thought of marriage to such a man appalling. And so she simply refused him. Adamantly. Repeatedly. And much to the rake's surprise.

So why wasn't the rich and ruthless Lord Delacourt relieved? Fate had been miraculously circumvented, saving him from a lifelong leg-shackle to a poor little country nobody. He should have been counting his blessings along with the next night's hazard winnings.

But to his shock and shame, he was not. And for the next six years, Lady Cecilia's refusal ate at him, needling him with hidden doubt and secret jealousy as the arrogant viscount grew ever more bitter--and ever more dissolute. Still, fate will have her way. Particularly when she's helped along by a scheming sister and a vicar who's not above a little card-sharping--but only when God approves, of course.

And so somehow, a cocky bet and a bad night at the gaming table delivers Delacourt into the midst of an East End charity mission for wayward women--and face-to-face with the woman he'd come to loathe. Little does he suspect that Cecilia is going to teach him a lesson about redemption, and perhaps, about love...



Excerpt from A WOMAN OF VIRTUE

Delacourt clasped his hands behind his back until his fingers felt numb, but his voice was perfectly smooth. "Do you somehow imagine, Cecilia, that I've been suffering from unrequited love these last six years?" He threw back his head and forced himself to laugh. "Unrequited lust, perhaps."

Cecilia's eyes darted about the room. Suddenly, their gazes locked. He stepped nearer. And then, hidden deeply in her wide blue eyes, he saw it. Loathing, yes. And fury. But there was something else, too. Desire? He could sense its keen edge tormenting her, for Delacourt was a master of seduction.

He slid his finger beneath her chin. One flame-gold curl brushed the back of his wrist like a trail of silken fire. And suddenly, something--another confusing emotion--welled up inside him, threatening to choke the very breath from his chest. But he resisted it with his infallible arsenal. Cool flirtation. Biting sarcasm. "Yes, I desire you, Cecilia," he finally admitted, forcing a blasi tone. "What man with blood in his veins wouldn't?"

"No!" she growled, backing away. "Oh no! You said--" Delacourt leaned into her, crowding her. "I said what, my dear?" he murmured, fascinated by the long, dark lashes which fringed her eyes.

Cecilia's brows snapped angrily together. "I believe, my lord, that you vowed you'd sooner cut it off and pickle it in a cask of ha'penny gin than offer it to me again!"

Delacourt chuckled sardonically. "Oh, but what if I lied, Cecilia?" he whispered, snaring her hand in his and dragging it to his mouth. "I may have." He pressed his lips to her wrist. "I often do. And I do it so very well."

Cecilia's breath had sped up to short, desperate pants. Yes, she was afraid. And enthralled. Quite deliberately, he drew a tiny bit of her flesh between his teeth and nibbled ever so gently. He watched, spellbound, as her eyes dropped nearly shut and her delicate nostrils flared wide.

Good God, he wanted her.

And she wanted him.

He was not perfectly sure which truth frightened him more.



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