Evelyn Whyte has never forgotten the night she first met
Justin Powell--or the shocking indiscretion that left the
raffish military hero eternally in her debt. Now,
desperate to save her aunt’s foundering nuptial planning
enterprise, she’s ready to call in her IOU. All she needs
is Justin’s scenic ancestral home, where she’s determined
to show the world that even a woman innocent in the ways
of love can turn a simple wedding into the social event of
Ten years earlier, Evie single-handedly saved him from
scandal-wagging tongues, and Justin never reneges on a
favor. Now, unaware of the daring double life he conceals
behind a cloak of amiable gentility, Evie and her wedding
party descend on North Cross Abbey, where her curiosity
and forthright manner could imperil them both. Pursued by
enemy agents amid a whirl of festivities, Justin vows to
keep Evie safe. But who will protect him from the charms
of this alluring woman--and the promise of a matchless
love worth any risk?
Ten years later
"If you do not want blood all over your carpet, I suggest
you call a physician," Evelyn called out from where she
lay flat on her back. She pushed her spectacles back into
place and turned her head to look at the unbroken window.
The reflected image of the tall man who'd walked into the
library abruptly stopped, caught in a pool of bright mid-
morning sunlight. He wore shirtsleeves, the white cuffs
rolled halfway up sinewy, tanned forearms, the collar open
at the throat.
"Which carpet?" he asked, looking about for her.
Ten years had passed, but it might have been yesterday
that she'd last seen him. The easy, imperturbable voice
was the same, as was his loose-limbed build and disheveled
"Here," Evelyn called. "On the floor by the window. The
Justin Powell closed the book he'd been carrying and came
round the side of the desk. Looking up past his expensive
shoes, she could see the subtle changes a decade had
wrought. Thin lines radiated from the corners of his eyes
and little comma-shapes bracketed his wide mouth. A
dusting of gray threaded through dark brown hair in dire
need of a good clip.
Mutely, he gazed down at her. Just as mute, she returned
What was wrong with a man when even the sight of a woman
bleeding on his floor couldn't excite him to action?
"I understand how the sight of a woman lying in a pool of
her own blood might be off-putting, Mr. Powell," she
said. "But can I do anything to dispel the paralysis that
seems to have gripped you and encourage you toact?"
"Woman, eh?" he murmured, calmly setting his book on the
desk. He hunkered down, his elbows on his knees and his
hands hanging between his legs. Gingerly, he lifted the
torn flap in the knickers she'd borrowed from her nephew
She dared a glance at her leg, saw the red blood, and
averted her face. She looked up at him in order to read in
his expression the severity of her injury, but instead
found herself staring in fascination at his eyes. They
were just as she remembered, too, a fascinating, glinty-
soft bluish-green. Forest pond beneath brilliant autumn
sky. Gold leaf swirling through liquid jade--
"You aren't bleeding to death," Justin said matter-of-
factly. He released the flap of twill. "And that spot
isn't a pool." He frowned at his fingertips, looked
around, and ended up wiping them on her pant leg. "Though
the cut is long, it's not very deep."
"Thank heavens!" She released the breath she'd been
holding. She was, admittedly, a bit of a sissy where blood
"Not much more than a scratch," he said calmly. "A tad
messy, but nothing any English schoolboy hasn't suffered a
dozen times over."
His lack of sympathy made her bristle. "I am not an
"Since Mrs. Boyle's Finishing School opened in the
neighborhood, I have learned that the difference between
the average English schoolgirl and the average English
schoolboy isn't all that great." His gaze drifted in a
purely impersonal manner over poor Stanley's blouse,
knotted kerchief, and ruined knickers.
She frowned. "I dressed this way only because I expected I
would need to crawl up the trellis outside your library
window in order to get in."
"Now that you explain, it makes perfect sense."
She was wounded and he was being sarcastic. She lifted
herself to her elbows, preparing to deliver him a stinging
set-down, but as soon as her head rose above her chest and
she saw the sticky red flap of cloth, her head swam. She
dropped back with a moan.
"Are you hurt elsewhere?" Justin asked quickly.
"No. It's just that . . . Blood." She shuddered. "I'll be
fine as long as I don't look at it."
"Then by all means, don't look. You're as white as Devon
sand." He uncoiled. "Just lie there quietly while I nip
off and raid the old medicine cabinet. I'll be back in a
Only after he'd left did it occur to Evelyn that he hadn't
asked why she was lying in such a condition on his library
floor. Most men would have demanded to know. At the very
least, they would have been unnerved by her appearance.
But then, she recalled, Justin Powell had no nerves.
She twisted her head, looking about the library. A small,
untidy working library, just the sort she'd have loved to
explore--and put in order. A pair of deep leather club
chairs faced a ceiling-high bookshelf outfitted with a
rolling brass ladder. Across the room, a library desk
basked in the light pouring in through a now permanently
open east-facing window.
She was squinting through her glasses, trying to read some
of the titles on the bookshelves, when she heard returning
footsteps. A second later Justin came in with a tray
filled with medical paraphernalia: a bowl of water,
scissors, a brown bottle, a roll of bandages, and a cloth.
Without wasting time fussing about proprieties, he simply
knelt beside her and proceeded to cut off the right leg of
her nephew's knickers five inches above the knee. He
wadded the ruined material and tossed it into the
wastebasket, then dipped the towel into the water. "I'm
going to clean you up a bit, all right?"
Before she could answer, he started dabbing at the wound.
She took a deep breath and stared bravely at the coffered
"Nice wood, that," she said in a high, thin voice.
"Cherry," he muttered distractedly.
She winced as the warm water seeped into the cut. "You're
sure it's not deep?"
She sucked in as his dabbing became more pronounced--very
like scrubbing, in fact. "It feels as though it's been cut
to the bone. Tell me. I can take it."
"True, you're slender, but it's nowhere near the bone," he
replied, sitting back on his heels and tossing the
washcloth after the pant leg. "There. All nice and clean.
Have a look for yourself."
"Thank you, no. If you'd be so kind as to put a bandage
over it, I'm sure I can finish tying it up." She began
struggling to a seated position but he stopped her, his
big hand enveloping her shoulder and gently pushing her
"Not a bit of it, m'dear," he said cheerfully. "Besides,
always finish what you begin. Or so me old granny used to
She breathed a heartfelt "thank you." She hated being
brave about blood. She'd never seen any real value in it,
except that it made everyone else feel better just when
you were feeling your worst, which was generally the time
a girl needed a bit of sympathy.
"You just rest easy and think of something else. I know,"
he said, as if a novel idea had only just occurred to
him. "Why don't you tell me why you broke into my house?"
"Broke . . . ? Oh. That. The insufferable person who
answers your door kept insisting that you were not at
home. As I had to see you, I had no choice but to find an
"Beverly told you I wasn't in? How reprehensible!" Justin
said and then, "I suppose there was some good reason you
didn't believe him?"
"Of course," she answered. "I saw you."
"Saw me?" Justin repeated mildly. He opened the little
amber bottle and withdrew a small glass wand from it.
Carefully, he guided it along the cut.
"Ow!" Evelyn squealed, pulling away and glowering at him
with the air of one grossly betrayed. "You hurt me!"
He grimaced apologetically. "Sorry. Carbolic acid. Should
have warned you it would sting a bit."
"I should say," Evelyn muttered bad-temperedly.
"Almost done. Just a bit of bandaging and you'll be right
as rain. Now, then," he began unrolling a linen
bandage, "you were saying how you spied me in the house
and thus deduced Beverly to be the lying knave he
undoubtedly is. Where did you see me?"
"Through the back window here."
"Ah." Justin nodded. "So, having been told I was not at
home, you at once became suspicious of Beverly's
villainous mien and decided to walk around to the back of
the house, climb the alley wall, and look through the
windows. Most enterprising."
Evelyn frowned. "Put that way, it sounds rather . . .
"No, no," Justin said affably. "I'd say the actual
intrusive spot came when you broke into the house. Up to
that point I'd call you merely . . ." He looked at her
hopefully, as though she would supply the word that eluded
"Ah, prying," he said happily. "Yes. That might do."
She couldn't detect the least bit of sarcasm in his tone,
but it was there, as was his amusement. She thought over
all the reports she'd heard of him through the years,
which were few enough.
Eccentric. Reclusive, or was it exclusive? Clever.
Unflappable. Some people had deemed him inattentive,
others preferred oblivious. Obviously none of them had
ever spent any time with him, for clearly a razor-sharp
intellect lurked beneath his pleasant, obliging manner.
"And exactly why were you prying?" he asked.
"Because," she replied, "it was absolutely essential that
I speak to you."
"Me? How flattering! Young girls are so seldom so
resourceful. Or persistent." He clipped off a length of
linen and deftly wound it around her thigh, securing it
with a piece of sticking plaster. He admired his
work. "The medical field will ever feel my loss, I'm
She grinned at his nonsense. He definitely had a way of
getting around a girl.
He uncoiled with feline grace and she was reminded of
another adjective that had on occasion been associated
with him. He seemed so gentlemanly, without being the
least stiff, that for a moment she'd forgotten the
circumstances under which they'd originally met. But being
the recipient of his indisputable charm and seeing him
move with such fluid ease, it all came rushing back. A
dark hall long past midnight, another man's wife, another
He was a Lothario.
Not that for one second she feared she was in danger of
exciting any romantic efforts on his part. Heavens, no!
But that didn't mean she couldn't see why other women
found him hard to resist.
Though, now that she thought of it, it was odd that since
that night she hadn't heard any sordid stories about him.
Perhaps it was because one only heard stories about the
incompetent Lotharios, the ones that got caught--
She gasped as he suddenly stooped down and scooped her up
in his arms. She blushed, warmed by the notion that he'd
read her thoughts.
"You can put me down. I can easily walk."
"Of course you can, if you want," he replied in the tone
one would use on a recalcitrant child. He didn't stop,
however. He strode into the narrow, carpeted hall, heading
for the back of the town house. "But why should you? A
lift is the least I can offer you by way of making
reparation for owning such shoddy, easily broken windows,
as well as for employing such a scoundrel for a butler."
She searched his face. "You're mocking me."
"Never!" he denied. "I'm perfectly serious. I'm just
thankful you aren't this very minute sending for your
parents' lawyer in order to press suit, and I wish to
express my gratitude by offering you a nice glass of
lemonade. Which is in the kitchen. Which is where I am
Gads! Listening to him she could almost believe she was in
the moral right and he ought to be making amends, when she
knew very well that she should be offering him every
apology she could think of to keep him from ringing up the
local constable and having her carted away to the jail for
breaking into his home.
"Besides," he was saying, "I should dearly love to hear
why it was 'essential' that you speak to me."
She hesitated, knowing she should protest further. But he
didn't seem to mind carrying her and she didn't seem to
mind being carried, not in the least, so she relaxed in
his arms and sank comfortably against his chest.
It was a nice broad chest. And warm under the starched,
white shirt. He smelled fascinating, too: sharp astringent
soap, earthy warmth, and something else, something unique.
She closed her eyes, trying to pinpoint the aroma and
finding instead a whole new vista of sensations opening
before her. The easy, rhythmical motion of his stride
carrying her, the gentle swing of her legs in
counterpoint, the soft feathering of his breath on her
face. She held herself still, soaking up impressions.
She smiled and opened her eyes just as he looked down and
knocked her glasses askew with his chin. She shoved them
back into place, the movement causing her to shift in his
embrace. He jounced her up, settling her more comfortably
and in doing so his hand slipped up her rib cage and his
fingers brushed the curve of her breast. His hand jerked
back. His brows suddenly dipped in a scowl.
"You're not from Mrs. Boyle's school, are you?" he asked
in a voice tinged with accusation. He looked down into her
upturned face, peering past the faintly smoked lenses,
touching on her mouth and moving to the dark tumble of
hair that had come undone during her escapade and now
swirled like a gorgon's tresses around her shoulders. "Why
you're not a girl, at all!"
"I beg your pardon." Evelyn stiffened.
"You are a woman."
By God! He'd thought she was . . . a child! That's why he
hadn't castigated her, or sent for the authorities, or
treated her as a real person at all. He'd thought she was
from this girls' school he'd been babbling about, and that
this was some girlish prank!
Evelyn, who had spent the last decade fighting the
prejudices roused by her youthful appearance, who was
always, in spite of her best efforts, a little too aware
of her lack of female curves and thus a tad defensive
about her womanliness, spoke before she thought. "Heavens,
you're perceptive! I bet that you might even be able to
find your way to the front door!"
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