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A TOUCH OF SCANDAL
by Jennifer Haymore

Genre: England, Historical Romance

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You seduced this poor man. You’re a wicked, wicked woman.

The words flowed through Kate’s mind like the cod liver oil Mama had always tried to force down her and her brothers’ throats.

The good thing about cod liver oil was that once swallowed, it was gone, leaving only a fishy residue, which could, in theory, be ignored. Or obliterated completely by a spoonful of honey.

That’s what Garrett’s kiss was like. The softest, sweetest, smoothest, warmest honey that had ever crossed her lips.

Kate’s eyelids fluttered shut. Tiny shudders began at the tips of her toes, worked through her legs and spread up her torso. She raised trembling arms and grasped on to his shirt, curling her fingers in the damp white linen and fitting herself against his body. His big, warm hands cupped her cheeks, holding her face tilted up so that their lips aligned perfectly, his callused fingertips gently scraping her skin. He sipped at her lips as if he were the bee and she the nectar.

It was unfathomable that such a large, hardened man could touch her so delicately. As if she were fragile, precious, something to be revered.

Kate gripped his shirt even tighter and released a shaky breath. His nose bumped hers gently as he adjusted position, and his tongue brushed the inside of her lip in the tiniest of caresses.

Slowly, he pulled away. Keeping his hold on her face, he tilted her head so that they were nose to nose, their foreheads touching.

“Kate.”

Kate opened her fists and flattened them against his shirt. The muscles running up and down his sides vibrated against her fingers.

She couldn’t talk. All the places her body made contact with his tingled.

She wanted this man. How could it be?

Mama would say she was silly and wanton. Willy would be horrified—he’d probably duel Garrett for her honor. Protocol demanded she slap Garrett for his forwardness, then flee for her life and pray no one would discover her depravity. For if any outside observer saw her at this moment, he would cast one glance at her and denounce her as a brazen whore.

Yet she didn’t care about any of it. All she cared about was how Garrett made her feel. Unbelievably safe, warm, comforted. She wanted to explore him. Remove his breeches and shirt, and taste every single hard inch of him. Crawl right into his body, curl up and stay. She never wanted to let him go.

 “You must go home now.”

“No,” she breathed. “I want to stay here . . . with you.”

“You cannot.”

She didn’t want this impossible, beautiful dream to end. She didn’t want to travel to the harshness of her life. Not yet.

Every evening for the past eight days, she’d hurried to the pool to see if he had come, and if he was here, she’d watched him raptly, silently. Later at night, she’d dreamed of touching him, of those big arms closing around her body. Holding her.

The reality of him, however, was so much more than her fantasy. When he spoke to her, when he looked at her with those sky blue eyes, all the muscles in her body melted like butter, and when he touched her, every one of her nerves sang with pleasure.

The pads of his thumbs stroked over her cheekbones, and her cheeks warmed. She clutched him tighter.

“You must go. It’s almost dark. Your family will worry.”

He pulled back. His hands dropped away from her face and gently disentangled her fingers from his shirt.

She opened her eyes, tasting the bitterness of his rejection. But one glance at his face told her the decision cost him as much as it cost her. Maybe more. He didn’t want her to go, either.

She forced a smile. “Why are you such a gentleman? I almost wish you were as bad as those men you tried to warn me about.”

His face darkened, and a muscle ticked in his jaw. “No. You don’t.”

He was right, of course. From the beginning, something had told her he wasn’t a bad man. It was that duality in him, that rugged body and those scathing blue eyes contrasted with an innate honor that shone around him like a nimbus. She felt like she already knew him, but she wanted to know him better. Understand how he could be so hard and scarred, and yet remain so tangibly gentle, so honorable.

She gave a rueful shake of her head. She hadn’t known him long enough to be so confident in her assessment of him. Yet she trusted herself. As willful and as lacking in common sense as she’d been, she truly wasn’t as stupid as her behavior might lead one to believe. If she’d sensed danger, she would have run the first time she’d seen him, and she wouldn’t have returned.

 “I just . . . ” Her voice dwindled. She licked her lips nervously. “I wish to let you know . . . I’m usually not so . . . uhm . . . ” She pushed out the last word in a whisper. “Ardent.”

“Is that so?” He seemed mildly amused. She stole a glance at him from beneath her lashes and saw a lightness in his expression she hadn’t seen before. She relaxed a little.

“It’s true,” she confirmed. “It’s just that you’re . . . you’re . . . ” She swallowed down the lump in her throat and gazed down at the muddy toes peeking from the mud-crusted hem of her dress. “Well, as I said before, you’re interesting to me. I . . . like you.”

A knuckle grazed her cheek, but she couldn’t look up at him. Her cheeks burned with mortification, but it seemed important to let him know she wasn’t prone to gallivanting about in the woods and kissing every stranger she met. Not that she’d ever encountered a stranger out here before.

“I find you interesting, too.”

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