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THIEF OF SHADOWS
by Elizabeth Hoyt

Genre: Georgian Period, England

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Isabel swallowed at Mr. Makepeace’s low words. His voice sent a shiver across her nerves, making her nipples tighten. Had she heard correctly? Had he just confessed to being a virgin? He was unmarried, true, and by his own admission had never had a sweetheart, but still. Many men resorted to prostitutes—and he lived in an area where they abounded.

But one look at Mr. Makepeace’s proud, stern face disabused her of that notion. Somehow she knew: he would never pay for such an intimate act.

Which meant he was a virgin…and he’d just asked for her tutelage. Surely he didn’t mean—

“Your silence is uncharacteristic, my lady,” he said, still in that deep, precise voice that feathered across her senses. “I hope I have not shocked you with my inexperience…in flirting.”

Flirting. Of course. That was what they were discussing. But she hadn’t imagined the gleam in his dark eyes—or the subtle pause before he’d said “flirting.”

Isabel straightened. She was the experienced one here, after all. “I believe we must work on your introduction, then.”

He merely raised one eyebrow.

She cleared her throat. When had she last been this out of sorts? And over a plain, rigid schoolmaster—a man younger than she! “Flirtation is best begun immediately, even before the introduction. Can you show me your bow?”

He stood slowly and, still holding her eyes, bowed shortly.

She frowned. “No. Something more elegant. Shall I demonstrate?”

“No need.” His gaze was ironic.

This time he backed up a step and pretended to doff an imaginary hat, bowing from the waist, his arms outstretched gracefully.

Isabel’s eyes widened. “If you’ve known all along how to give a proper bow, why haven’t you?”

He straightened slowly and shrugged broad shoulders. “A simple nod of the head gives enough deference without such silly flourishes.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, from now on flourish, please, when in polite company.”

“As you wish,” he said gravely.

“Now.” She had to stop to inhale, for oddly she found herself out of breath. “Now, I would like you to practice kissing the hand of a lady.”

She extended her hand, hoping he wouldn’t notice the faint tremor of her fingers.

He paced toward her, took her hand, and bent over it. For a moment, his bowed head obscured their hands, but she felt the brush—warm and intimate—of his lips on her knuckles.

She gasped. “You’re supposed to kiss the air above the lady’s knuckles.”

He raised his head, still bowed over her hand, the position bringing his face much closer to hers. She could see tiny shards of gold in his brown eyes. “Isn’t this a lesson in flirtation?”

“Yes, but—”

He straightened to his full height. “Then it seems to me that a real kiss is more to the point than a pretend one.”