Dominick Manton once had his heart’s desire within reach — a bright future as a barrister and engagement to Jane Vernon, a wealthy baron’s daughter — then a shattering betrayal by his vindictive brother George snatched away Dom’s inheritance and his hopes of offering Jane a secure future.
Now George is gone, and the viscountcy has been restored to Dom, since his brother’s widow, Nancy — Jane’s cousin and closest confidant — never bore an heir. But when Nancy goes missing, a panicked Jane calls on her former fiancé to track down her cousin. Dom knows the mistakes of the past may be unforgivable, but now, entangled together in mystery and danger, will they rekindle a passionate longing that was never lost to begin with?
“So that’s it,” she bit out. “You’ve got your mind made up. Nancy ran off with a lover, and you’re washing your hands of the whole thing.”
“Can you give me a good reason why I shouldn’t?”
Something in his voice made her glance at him. He was regarding her as a naturalist regarded a beetle he intended to dissect.
That’s when it dawned on her—Dom wanted to unearth her secrets. Nancy’s secrets. And somewhere between Winborough and here he’d deduced that she was hiding some. A shiver ran down Jane’s spine, and she jerked her gaze from him, fighting to hide her consternation. “Merely the same reason I gave you before. Nancy could be in trouble. And it’s your duty as her brother-in-law to keep her safe.”
“From what?” he demanded. “From whom? Is there more to this than you’re saying?”
Ooh, that he was so determined to unveil the truth about Nancy while hiding his former collusion with her scraped Jane raw. “I could ask the same of you,” she said primly. “You’re obviously holding something back. You have some reason for your determination to believe ill of Nancy. I wonder what that might be.”
Two can play your game, Almighty Dom. Hah!
He was silent so long that she ventured a glance at him to find him looking rather discomfited. Good! It was about time.
“I am merely keeping an open mind about your cousin, which is more than I can say for you,” Dom finally answered. “She isn’t the woman you think she is.”
“Because she wouldn’t give in to your advances twelve years ago, you mean?” Jane would make him admit the truth about the night they parted if it was the last thing she did! “Perhaps that’s why you’re determined to blacken her character. You’re angry that she resisted you and went off to marry your brother instead.”
“That’s a lie!” When several people on the street turned to look in his direction, Dom lowered his voice. “It wasn’t like that.”
She stifled a smile of satisfaction. At last she was getting a reaction from him that was something other than levelheaded logic. “Wasn’t it? If you’d convinced Nancy to marry you, you might not have had to go off to be a Bow Street runner. You could have had an easier life, a better life in high society than you could have had with me if you’d married me. Without being able to access my fortune, I could only have dragged you down.”
“You don’t really believe that I wanted to marry her for her money,” he gritted out.
“It’s either that or assume that you fell madly in love with her in the few weeks we weren’t able to see each other.” They were nearly to the inn now, so Jane added a plaintive note to her voice. “Or perhaps it was her you wanted all along. You knew my uncle would never accept a second son as a husband for his rich heiress of a daughter, so you courted me to get close to her. Nancy was always so beautiful, so—”
Without warning, he dragged her into one of the many alleyways that crisscrossed York. This one was deeply shadowed, the houses leaning into each other overhead, and as he pulled her around to face him, the brilliance of his eyes shone starkly in the dim light.
“I never cared one whit about Nancy.”
She tamped down her triumph—he hadn’t admitted the whole truth yet. “It certainly didn’t look that way to me. It looked like you had already forgotten me, forgotten what we meant to each—”
“The devil I had.” He shoved his face close to hers. “I never forgot you for one day, one hour, one moment. It was you, always you. Everything I did was for you, damn it. No one else.”
The passionate profession threw her off course. Dom had never been the sort to say such sweet things. But the fervent look in his eyes roused memories of how he used to look at her. And his hands gripping her arms, his body angling in closer, were so painfully familiar . . .
“I don’t . . . believe you,” she lied, her blood running wild through her veins.
His gleaming gaze impaled her. “Then believe this.” And suddenly his mouth was on hers.
With her eyes sparking fires, she leaned up to whisper in his ear, “You have no idea how thoroughly I’ve killed my feelings for you.”
That was definitely bravado in her voice.
“Well then, let’s see how thorough that is, shall we?” And catching her by the chin, he tipped her head up for his kiss.
She froze. Snaking an arm about her waist, he pulled her up against him and proceeded to kiss her most ardently.
Curiously, though, she neither fought nor responded. She just let him kiss her, as if waiting for him to finish.
Damn her. He’d hoped that a surprise attack might give him the advantage, but clearly he’d put her too firmly on the defensive. It maddened him. He was sure her impassive acquiescence was an act. It was his own fault, too, for making the kiss into a challenge in the first place.
So be it. He would alter the challenge.
When he drew back to see the smug triumph in her face, he schooled his own expression to boredom. “It appears you really did kill your feelings for me. And now you’ve very nearly killed mine for you, too, because that had to be the most insipid kiss I’ve ever experienced. Though I suppose I should have expected that from a spinster of some years.”
Her eyes narrowed on him. “Spinster?” Her voice rose. “Of some years? Oh, it’s just like you to turn that back on me as if somehow it was my fault I’ve stayed unmarried. Next you’ll be claiming that my ‘insipid kiss’ is why you found me so easy to toss aside.”
She set her shoulders. “Well, Dom the Almighty, when I’m done with you, you will never dismiss me as a ‘spinster of some years’ again. But you will heartily wish that you could.”
Then, clasping his head between her hands, she drew him back for a most un-insipid kiss. Now that was more like it. Her lips were soft, her mouth luscious, and her lavender scent swirled about him so sweetly it made him dizzy with the delight of being this close to her again.
He fought the rampant urge to yank her up against him and kiss her with all the pent-up passion of their years apart. Better to let her control the kiss for as long as he could stand it.
He did, however, open his mouth. When she accepted the invitation to make their kiss more intimate by exploring inside with little darting thrusts of her silky tongue, he exulted.
When a moan sounded low in her throat and she threaded her fingers through his hair possessively, that was all he could take. He wrapped his arms about her waist and dragged her flush up against him.
She went still, and for half a second he feared he’d acted too hastily. But then she melted against him and slipped her arms about his neck to anchor him to her, and his mind went blank.