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Excerpt of More Than A Stranger by Erin Knightley

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Sealed with a Kiss #1
Signet
June 2012
On Sale: June 5, 2012
Featuring: Lady Evelyn Moore; Benedict Hastings
336 pages
ISBN: 0451237714
EAN: 9780451237712
Kindle: B0073XV358
Paperback / e-Book
Add to Wish List

Romance Historical

Also by Erin Knightley:

Learning To Ride, July 2016
Paperback / e-Book
The Viscount Risks It All, January 2016
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
The Duke Can Go to the Devil, July 2015
Mass Market Paperback / e-Book
The Earl I Adore, January 2015
Paperback / e-Book
The Baron Next Door, June 2014
Paperback / e-Book
Flirting With Fortune, September 2013
Paperback / e-Book
A Taste For Scandal, December 2012
Paperback / e-Book
More Than A Stranger, June 2012
Paperback / e-Book

Excerpt of More Than A Stranger by Erin Knightley

"Oof!"

The air was knocked right from her lungs as Evie collided at full speed with an unmoving brick wall that she knew for a fact should not be there. She stumbled, almost falling backward when a pair of large strong hands grasped her upper arms and steadied her.

"I beg your pardon. Are you quite all right?"

The brick wall spoke surprisingly good English for an inanimate object.

Evie's gaze traveled up the dark gray greatcoat, past the sharp, lightly stubbled jaw, and settled briefly on a very inviting set of masculine lips before reaching the man's dark, velvet brown eyes. Words failed her completely. Where had this gorgeous man come from? For endless seconds she stood stock–still, held not only in his grasp, but in his curious gaze as well. He had the loveliest eyes she had ever seen, like the burnished mahogany of her father's heirloom desk.

"Miss? Are you injured?"

Evie blinked. She should say something. She should really say something. "Um. . . quite."

His dark eyebrows scrunched together as he tilted his head slightly. "Quite . . . injured?"

"No! Quite all right. I'm fine, really. Um, thank you." Oh Lord, why must she lose her wits, now of all times? Here, now, with a gorgeous stranger very nearly holding her in his arms? She finally understood what it meant to be struck dumb by something, and at the worst possible time.

And now he was looking at her as if she was one horse short of a matched pair. "You're certain?"

Evie almost laughed. Was she certain? Not in the slightest. She felt as though she had just been spun around in circles, but there was no way she would tell him as much. She took a quick step back, pulling away from his steadying hands. It was far enough to miss his warmth, but at least she could still detect the subtle, enticing hint of leather and sandalwood. She took a slow breath and offered him a smile. "Yes, I'm certain. Please accept my apologies for not watching where I was going, Mr. . . . ?"

"Evie!"

Evie jumped, whirling around at the unexpected voice from behind her. "Richard! What on earth are you doing here?"

She wouldn't have been more surprised if Prinny himself had been standing in her stables. Joy swooped through her, and she opened her arms to her brother. Grinning, he came forward and scooped her up in a bear hug. When he released her, Evie looked him over, taking in his tousled blond hair and wind–reddened cheeks.

"Well, it's good to see you, too, Little Bit. Are you headed out for a ride?"

"Yes, I was before I ran into our visitor. A friend of yours, I presume?" She motioned toward the stranger but froze when their eyes met. He was watching her with such intensity, she instinctively took a tiny step back. The look was gone in an instant. Evie blinked in confusion. How completely odd. Could she have possibly imagined the fierceness of his gaze? Surely she had—she had only just met the man! He'd have no cause to care one way or another about her. Nonetheless, a tiny shiver raced down her spine.

A chuckle drew her attention back to Richard. He flashed a broad, cheeky grin her way, shaking his head slowly. "I can't believe I haven't introduced the two of you yet."

Evie raised an eyebrow. He was up to something.

She cut her eyes toward the other man. She did not want to embarrass herself in front of him any more than she already had. Fortunately, he paid her no mind at all. The whole of his attention was focused sharply on Richard.

For some reason, her brother seemed to enjoy the moment. With his usual flare for dramatics, he said, "My dear Evie, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to my friend, the venerated, the enigmatic, the long–aw—"

And at that moment the stranger stepped forward.

* * *

One second, Benedict's brain had been frozen from the shock of discovering that the incredibly beautiful blond goddess before him was, in fact, Evie. His Evie. The Evie who was supposed to be in London, far away from the house he sought refuge in.

The next thing he knew, he was jerking into action, opening his mouth without a clue about what he would say, only suddenly very sure that Evie could not know he was Hastings. "Mr. James Benedict, at your service, my lady."

The lie was like vinegar in his mouth, and he gritted his teeth with the effort to keep his expression neutral. God, what had he done? His gaze shot to Richard, who stood just to the right of his sister. At any other time, his face would have been comical. Not then. No, at that moment, Benedict could do nothing but pray his old friend wouldn't call him out right then and there.

Blessedly oblivious to the silent battle between the men, Evie grinned. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Benedict. And thank you for speaking up; my brother does tend to like to hear himself speak." She bumped Richard with her shoulder teasingly. Thank God she didn't look to his face. With his mouth frozen open and his eyes akin to those of a startled owl, she would have known in an instant something was not right.

Benedict met Richard's gaze straight on, willing him to go along with the ruse. The damned lie had just come out, as natural as taking a breath of air. Really, what the hell else could Benedict have done? Bits and pieces of that dreadful last letter came rushing back to him. If she knew who he was, she would probably eviscerate him—with words, if he were lucky, though he deserved worse.

Damn it all, he had too much to handle as it was; adding in an irate ghost from his past would make the situation unbearable.

Loosening the muscles of his jaw, he offered her his best impersonation of a lighthearted smile. "Yes, I was beginning to wonder if he'd simply forgotten who I was."

Richard's mouth snapped shut then, and he gave Benedict a considering look. "No," he said slowly, "I for one, have not forgotten who you are, Mister Benedict."

The emphasis was subtle, but unmistakable. Still, Benedict's galloping pulse slowed a little. Richard would go along with him—for now, at least. Even as he tried to concentrate on the farce in front of him, Benedict's mind raced to think of an explanation for when he and Richard were next alone. Whatever it was, it had to be damned good.

"Well, allow me to welcome you to Hertford Hall." Evie gave a small flick of her wrist, encompassing the whole of the house and grounds past the stable door. Obediently, Benedict wrenched his gaze from her attractive form and surveyed the scenery as any normal guest would. It truly was impressive—even more so than his own family's estate in Leicestershire. With the massive stone facade rising from the gently sloping hill, it had the effect of somehow presiding over the neatly manicured lawns and rolling forestland beyond. There was no mistaking the pride the family took in the place.

"Thank you, my lady. It is a pleasure to finally see the place for myself." He could have bitten his tongue. Finally?

Her hand went to her trim waist, which was nicely emphasized by the cut of her light blue riding habit. "I hadn't realized you'd been acquainted so very long. How is it that you and my brother know each other, Mr. Benedict?"

A very good question. Beside her, Richard crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side, the first hint of amusement coloring his expression. With both siblings waiting expectantly, Benedict decided to go with the most obvious answer. "Eton, actually. We met in the early days."

As a person who spent half his time living a lie, he knew it was best to stick as close to the truth as possible.

"When was it, exactly?" Richard asked, the very picture of innocence. "I can't seem to remember."

Oh yes. Clearly he was starting to enjoy himself.

Benedict opened his mouth to respond, but the distant thunder of an approaching horse gave him pause. Whoever it was, he had Benedict's undying gratitude. He turned in time to see a lone rider on a very handsome red mount rapidly approaching. Though the man sported gray hair to Richard's blond and a slightly stockier build, the resemblance was impossible to miss. "Richard, is that your father?"

"Indeed it is," he responded, waving hugely at the older man. The marquis returned the gesture, and the siblings hurried forward to greet him.

Benedict hung back, glad for a second to try to gather his wits. Granville had no idea how indebted Benedict was to him for his timely—and inadvertent—rescue. He took a long, slow pull of air, trying to calm his overworked nerves.

After all these years—after all those letters—it was nothing short of shocking to see Evie in the flesh. To hear her smooth, clear voice and fleetingly feel her lithe body pressed against his.

Even toward the end, when she had invaded both his thoughts and his dreams as an ethereal, indistinct beauty, he could have never imagined how lovely she would be in person. All those emotions he had pushed into the far recesses of his mind almost a decade earlier now roared through his body, heating his blood. Her luminous, nearly crystalline blue eyes, her open yet somehow enticing smile—even her slightly tanned skin added to her allure. It was as though the forbidden fruit had been placed before him, perfect in all its untouchable glory.

Benedict swallowed, cursing his wretched luck.

Excerpt from More Than A Stranger by Erin Knightley
All rights reserved by publisher and author

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