New York Times bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries is back with an original ebook novella in her fabulous Sinful Suitor series! We’re so excite to devour A TALENT FOR TEMPTATION because we’re struggling to be patient while we wait for the next full-length installment in this delightfully charming series next spring. Keep reading for a sneak peek at A TALENT FOR TEMPTATION, and be sure to download it today!
Mrs. Meriel Vyse hurried down the stairs of the Fulkham town house in a most unladylike manner. If she could complete this task for her brother-in-law, Gregory Vyse, the Baron Fulkham, before midnight, perhaps—
“Madam?” their butler, Nunley, said, giving her velvet ball gown a once-over. “His lordship’s mother told me you’re attending an exhibit at Somerset House while she’s playing cards with her friends down the street.”
Blast, she’d forgotten to tell the servants about the change in plans. “I had intended to, yes.” She jerked on her gloves. “Until Lord High-and-Mighty Undersecretary to the Office for War and the Colonies decided that since he had to be at some secret meeting until the wee hours of the morning, I had all the time in the world to trundle off to a ball and assess some foreign princess for him.”
Nunley’s lips twitched as if he badly wanted to comment.
“What?” she demanded. “I know what you’re thinking, so you might as well just say it.”
“It is not my place—”
“Oh, don’t play that game with me, Nunley. You and I have been through too much to stand on ceremony now.”
He huffed out a breath. “Madam, I am trying to improve my skills as a butler for the day when the master ascends to the cabinet. And one of those skills involves not blurting out the first thing that comes into my head.”
“You’re right, Nunley. I’m sorry.” The last person she should be snapping at was him. “Still, you needn’t be discreet with me. I rely on you for your frank opinions.”
He softened. “As you wish, madam. If you must know, my opinion is that since you were looking forward to the exhibit, you should perhaps, just this once, refuse to do as his lordship asks.”
“Nunley! It is most unlike you to suggest such a thing.” And decidedly not what she’d assumed he was thinking. “I can’t refuse Gregory. I owe him too much. Both of us do.”
“And you have repaid him for it repeatedly in the past four years.”
“Not enough.” She shook her head. “Never enough.”
“I believe Lieutenant Vyse would have said otherwise.”
“Possibly.” And Nunley would certainly know. Before he’d come to work for Gregory, he’d been a sergeant under John. He probably knew as much, or more, about her late husband as she did.
And an awful lot about her, too. Like the fact that she craved a normal life free of schemes and spying and subterfuge, something that Gregory didn’t see to realize. Something she was too much of a coward to tell him.
She sighed. “In any case, he’s merely asking me to attend a ball. What woman could reasonably complain about that?”
Though Nunley raised an eyebrow, he dutifully helped her on with her blue velvet cloak. “I called for the carriage before you came down, but we shall have to inform the coachman of the change in direction.”
“Of course,” she said dully. Nunley was right—she had been looking forward to the exhibit. Or rather, to her tryst.
As if Nunley had read her mind, he said, “What about your young man? You said he’d be going to the exhibit as well.”
She winced. “Quinn Raines is not my ‘young man.’” At nearly thirty, he wasn’t even all that young. And at twenty-seven, neither was she. “He’s a friend, nothing more.” When Nunley narrowed his gaze on her, she rolled her eyes. “All right, he is more of a . . . flirtation.”
Nunley could be entirely too perceptive sometimes. “I should never have told you about him,” she complained. “And you’re sure Gregory hasn’t guessed that I spend time with Mr. Raines?” Which was the only reason she’d involved Nunley—so he could keep an ear out for what Gregory knew.
“I’m sure. But you should tell his lordship yourself.”
“I can’t. If he knew I was engaged in a flirtation that will go nowhere, he wouldn’t approve. His sister-in-law must behave above reproach, or how can he rise in politics?”
“Why must your ‘flirtation’ go nowhere? Why not just marry your young man?”
She stared out the window. “Because we’re from different worlds. His mother is the daughter of a Spanish count, for pity’s sake! You can well imagine what she’d think to hear the truth about me.”
“She might not care. And if Mr. Raines cares that much, he’s not the man for you anyway.”
Meriel was afraid to find out how much he cared. Because Quinn was the wealthy scion of the prominent
Raines banking family, while she . . .
. . . was indebted to Gregory. As a result, she felt she must support his furtive work, if only just in the planning. She was his secretary, so to speak. And sometimes his spy.
Quinn could never be part of that. She wouldn’t want him to be. As the director of his father’s bank, Quinn had to be discreet and cautious and averse to the sort of risks Gregory’s minions took regularly in service to their country. Not to mention that having a wife with her sordid past would ruin him if it ever got out.
She should never have taken up with Quinn. But it had begun as a flirtation, and by the time she realized it was something more, she’d become so addicted to their little trysts . . . to him . . .
“Anyway,” she went on, squaring her shoulders, “he may not be at the exhibit now even if I did go. I sent a note by the footman a few hours ago, telling him I couldn’t attend because of a prior engagement.”
Quinn would be furious at being put off again, but it couldn’t be helped.
Perhaps this was a sign it was time to end things.
But then there would be no more shared conversations about the small idiocies of high society. No more stolen walks, where he listened to her rattle on about nothing and seemed to enjoy it. No more “accidental” encounters at balls, where they would sneak out to balconies or gardens so Quinn could put his warm mouth and clever hands on her and make her melt as John never had. It hadn’t gone beyond caresses, but she dearly wished—
Nunley cleared his throat, and she started. Oh, Lord, had she made some sound to give away her thoughts? How mortifying!
This obsession with Quinn was absurd. Nothing could come of it except an illicit affair, which was impossible.
Then again, perhaps if she and Quinn could share a bed just once, he would be content to let her end things. After all, once men had what they wanted from a woman, they generally lost interest in her.
Perhaps it would work for her, too, and she could go back to concentrating on her missions for Gregory.
Right. And perhaps the sun would turn into the moon, and the stars fall out of the sky. Sadly, making love with Quinn was unlikely to banish her feelings. She was just grasping at any chance to have him in her bed.
A footman entered the foyer to whisper something in Nunley’s ear, and the butler turned to her. “There’s an issue with the carriage, madam. I shall return in moment.”
While she waited for him, she watched out the front door. A man strolled by whose size and gait looked familiar. For a second, she was almost certain it was Quinn, but it had to be a trick of the gaslights, amplified by the fact that her thoughts were filled with the man. Quinn wouldn’t come here—he knew she wanted to keep their association secret from Gregory.
After pacing the foyer for a few moments, she glanced out again and saw that their carriage had finally drawn up in front. She walked out and headed down the steps.
She was nearly to the coach when she realized something was wrong. This was not the Fulkham family carriage. Confused, she halted, and a stranger leapt out and dashed up the steps, seizing her by the arm and dragging her down to his equipage.
She tried to scream, but the man clamped his hand over her mouth. She tried to bite him, but he had gloves on and she merely got a mouthful of leather.
That left her only one alternative. As he hauled her toward the carriage, she fumbled in her reticule for the knife she’d carried ever since that horrible night when Gregory had saved her.
She’d just managed to pull it free of its sheath and was lifting it to stab her assailant over her shoulder when a man came running up the street and cried, “Unhand her, you scoundrel!”
In a flash, her attacker thrust her at her rescuer, who unfortunately got the brunt of her blade when she fell into him, embedding her knife in his arm. As the brave man grunted in pain, the villain fled to his coach, which raced away.
Meanwhile, her rescuer was now cursing a blue streak as he jerked her blade free. She barely had time to register the dark red stain spreading over his coat sleeve before the light from the gas lamps fell full upon his face and she gasped.