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SECRETS OF A PROPER COUNTESS
by Lecia Cornwall

Genre: England, Historical Romance

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Isobel tried to move past Blackwood, but he bowed and offered her his arm.

“Allow me to escort you back to the pond, countess ” he said, his tone horribly polite. She laid her hand on his sleeve, instantly dizzy at the physical contact. She felt the play of his muscles under her hand, breathed in the scent of his soap. She glanced sideways at the line of his jaw and noted several tiny red marks at the edge of his cravat. Had she bitten him, scratched him? The little injury spoke of passion, reminded her of the taste of his skin, the feeling of his body moving within hers, as rhythmic a thing as walking.

She stumbled.

He righted her without the slightest change of expression, a firm and impersonal hand cupping her elbow momentarily.

Her heart pounded, and she concentrated on each step, on keeping her hand flat on his sleeve, and resisting the urge to curl her fingers around his arm and shake him until he looked at her, really looked at her. She shot another quick glance at his profile. Damn him, he was completely and utterly unaffected, while she was nearly panting with desire.

A frisson of annoyance shot through her. The daft man had no idea he’d made love to her only hours ago. Of course, a rogue like Blackwood was probably so used to such encounters that he forgot his lovers the moment they left his bed, or in this case, his borrowed bench.

She swallowed a hysterical giggle. It was a very good thing he did not recognize her. “Silly,” she murmured under her breath.

“Your pardon?” he asked, his eyes on her at last.

She felt her face heat. “Oh, it’s nothing, Lord Blackwood,” she looked straight ahead, hiding under the brim of her bonnet. “Nothing at all.”

“You were Robert Maitland’s wife?”

“Yes,” she replied simply, focusing on the movement of his polished black boots next to her grey skirts as they took each step. “He’s dead,” she said, unsure of what else to add, feeling the butterflies beginning to circle her stomach again at the very idea of making polite conversation with Blackwood about her husband, of all topics.

He didn’t offer condolences. In fact, he hardly seemed to have heard. She fumed silently. Really, the man hardly deserved his reputation as a charming rogue. In the light of day, he was a complete boor. His gaze roved over every other woman in the park.

Blackwood made it clear he found her dull in the extreme. Pride poked at her, goading her to anger. He did not even find her worth the effort of polite conversation.

She withdrew her gloved hand from his sleeve as if it burned, and made a fist so tight the fine kid leather squeaked a protest. He paused to look at her, his expression patiently polite, the way one might look at an elderly and annoying dowager.

Her mind worked to come up with a suitable excuse not to attend Miranda Archer’s debut ball, but her brain was filled with only one thing.

Blackwood.