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Seduction is something Fionna Hawkes knows nothing about. So when she encounters a sexy stranger on a moonlit street, her first instinct is to defend herself against her darkly handsome suitor. But letting go of suspicion and allowing herself to fall for Lord Aidan McBride brings even greater danger. In his eyes, she glimpses a powerful passion she longs to fulfill. In his arms, she aches with the secret she longs to unburden. A secret that could cost her livelihood—and her life.

Aidan McBride could never resist a mystery, especially one as mesmerizing as the lovely Miss Hawkes! Drawing her into the shelter of his embrace, he won’t rest until he convinces her to reveal everything. Braving the danger that stalks Fionna at every turn, Aidan is determined to defend her—and just as determined to claim her as his own

 


 

March 25, 2008
Avon

ISBN-10: 0060896493
ISBN-13: 978-0060896492

 

His Wicked WaysA little tidbit about the creation of Fionna, the heroine . . . One of my daughters is a HUGE fan of horror novels. So Fionna’s occupation as a writer (and the sort of novels she writes) was a sort of natural progression. It didn’t take me long to decide on her real name—Fionna Josephine Hawkes. Sometimes a name is just THERE, and there’s no changing it. That’s how it was with Fionna Josephine Hawkes.

So with that in mind, and completely logical to me--I wanted to have a little fun with naming one of Fionna’s continuing female characters as well. And since Hawkes is a type of bird (yes, I know, different spelling, but no matter), the name that immediately came to mind was Raven. Honestly, it had nothing to do with another horror writer, Edgar Allan Poe, or his poem “The Raven”. It was simply in keeping with birds and Fionna’s surname—plus the fact that it completely and utterly “fit” Fionna’s fictional heroine . . . that is how Raven was born.

I was chuckling to myself as I continued in that vein and the matter of choosing Fionna’s pen name, the last one to pick. I wasn’t a particularly avid bird-watcher—about the only birds I recognized were robins and crows and finches. And those weren’t going to work. But it happened, I didn’t have to pore over books with species and types of birds. Because at the time I was formulating ideas for The Seduction of an Unknown Lady, the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was just hitting theatres. Many trailers on TV. Much fanfare. Much hoopla. Much oohing and ahhing over one devilishly captivating, drool-worthy pirate . . .

I think you know where I’m going with this.

So yes, I owe the selection of Fionna’s pen name to Johnny Depp—and Captain Jack Sparrow. Or is it Captain Jack Sparrow—and Johnny Depp? Either way, I had Fionna Josephine Hawkes’s pen name and it fit so perfectly. . .

F.J. Sparrow.

I have to admit, coming up with those names (Fionna’s surname, her character Raven, and especially Fionna’s pen name) was a heck of a lot of fun.

Thanks, Johnny!

Fionna also happens to share a few of my own personal writing quirks. And you may find a poke or two about those who criticize genre works . . .

My original title for this book was The Seduction of Aidan’s Lady.

 

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The Seduction of an Unknown Lady hits the bestseller lists.
#16 on the New York Times bestseller list for the week ending April 5
~ it spent a total of four weeks on the NYT!
• #50 on the USA Today bestseller list
• #9 on Publishers Weekly
• #8 on Borders Mass Market

#9 on Waldenbooks Mass Market

“Steamy sensuality and sassy repartee sizzle across the pages of James’s latest page-turner.” -- Library Journal (posted 3.20.08)

“A wonderful romance wrapped around a suspenseful mystery. Neat plotting and irresistible characters compel the reader to quickly turn the pages and follow Fionna and Aidan’s captivating story, which is a delight on so many levels . . . Ms. James consistently delivers top quality romances . . . I highly recommend The Seduction of An Unknown Lady.” -- Sandra Brill, Romance Reviews Today (posted 3.20.08)

The Seduction of an Unknown Lady is a Romantic Times Top Pick with four and a half stars!

“a star of the genre. She completely captivates . . .” -- Romantic Times (posted 3.20.08)

 

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His Wicked WaysFrom Chapter Two...

Word spread quickly, as I knew it would. That somehow he has escaped that place where no one said he could escape. No matter that it was an accident. That it was never meant to be.

In walked a man.

And out slipped a demon.

I will need help with a creature as vile as this.

A message, I thought. I must dispatch a message to Rowan. And quickly.

Demon of Dartmoor

--by F.J. Sparrow

Someone is watching me, Fionna thought, trying desperately to determine if she was right.

She was. She felt it in every fiber of her being, every pore of her soul.

She was being followed.

Something was afoot. Someone was afoot, for she knew she was not alone. And this had nothing to do with the fearful creatures created by Miss Fionna Josephine Hawkes.

Ah, yes, Fionna was a teller of tales, tales of the dark side of the soul, of supernatural beings that transcended belief. Without question, she possessed an imagination most vivid. Yet every sense inside screamed a warning. And Fionna had the terrifying sensation that someone lurked near.

Following with stealthy step. Moving when she did. Stopping at almost the precise instant that she did.

This was not within the pages of a novel. This was here.

This was real.

This was now.

Thoroughly unsettled, Fionna whirled, ready to confront whoever it was.

There was about the night a sense of eerie stillness. Even now, the darkness seemed to creep in, closing all around her. Indeed, as she had oft written, the depths of the night could be terrifying—though Fionna did not find it so. What she did find terrifying—no, disturbing, for terrifying was far too strong a word--was that absolute stillness. That sense of waiting—for something to happen, knowing not what would happen . . .

The world seemed to have stopped in time, like a heart that had ceased to beat. There was nothing, no breeze to stir the air, ruffle the treetops, for the limbs were barren of life, and would remain so until spring. There was no moon to cast out even the most feeble slice of iridescence. What light there was came from a trace of snowfall that had fallen earlier; it was as if all the earth were laden with silvery crystals, frozen in time. Beautiful, almost unearthly so. Yet cold—so very, very cold . . .

She shivered, yet this was a shiver that came from the innermost depths of her being—and had not a whit to do with the bone-chilling temperature. She even thought the stark, withering limbs of the trees seemed to stretch out toward her, seeking to close around her, to squeeze the life and breath from her—though she well knew that was given to sheer imagination.

Yet all the while her eyes strained, as if to see through every tree, through the heavy darkness, around every corner.

All that she heard was that chilling, absolute silence.

Then, the hollow chimes of a clock tolled through the night . . . the very stroke of midnight. So unexpected was the sound that Fionna actually started.

Turning on her heel, she began to walk once more.

It came again, the sound of footsteps, almost attune with hers—no, it was more of an echo. As if when she stopped, he stopped.

Had she been running, she’d have felt . . . pursued. As it was, she felt . . . violated.

And furious. Yes, most of all, she was furious.

For Fionna relished the night, cherished its solitude. When darkness veiled the world, she felt . . . free. Oh, but there was no other way to describe it! As if the dark let free her imagination.

Yet she was certain she heard footsteps for—oh, perhaps at least three times. Sensed a presence that made her skin prickle—and that not an easy task, to be sure, given her occupation.

It had crossed her mind to speak to a constable. But she hadn't actually seen anyone, so how silly would that sound? No doubt he would merely gaze at her as if she were an hysterical female. Besides, if she contacted the police, she could not—would not—convey her alternate identity. Oh, but someone would have a rousing good chuckle with his comrades. He’d surely have laughed in her face. For all that Fionna was firmly grounded in reality, they might consider her . . . mad. No doubt a constable would boorishly advise that she remain indoors, which would only make her fume.

No, Fionna Josephine Hawkes wouldn't hide behind closed doors. She wouldn’t cower.

She had a living to make. Her nightly jaunts allowed her to think, to shuffle and ponder and plot.

Steeling herself, she stopped again. Her gaze swiveled in all directions. She held her breath, not even daring to breathe. All she could hear was the drumming of her own heart pounding hard in her ears.

Chiding herself for her folly, she gathered herself in hand, turned and resumed her journey toward home.

But she couldn't lie to herself. She was nervous. Skittish. Was it folly after all? Was it nonsense?

Rubbish! she chided herself. What would Raven do if she were being followed? she asked herself. What would Raven do? Raven, she reminded herself, was unafraid of anything, adventurous to the point of being reckless . . .

And Rowan would have been directly behind her, ready to step in should she need him.

There! She heard them again, firm, rhythmic footballs, quickening now with their approach.

Rounding the corner, Fionna ducked behind the next doorway—it shielded her from view. She lived in one of the very best neighborhoods of London. There was little crime, either day or night. She was still frightened, but suddenly angry as well.

The footsteps halted. The intruder was close. She could just make out the outline of his form—shoulders wide and brawny beneath the layers of his greatcoat. Between his top hat and the shadows, she could detect virtually nothing of his features, his age or naught else. Only that his face was a mass of shadows, and his form a powerful one.

She braced herself, both inwardly and outwardly. Drat! He was almost upon her now.

She gripped her parasol hard, with both hands, bringing it up to rest near her shoulder. It had been snowing lightly when she’d left home. Thank heaven she’d brought it! Her heart was beating like a fury. By heaven, if necessary, she would use this as a weapon. She would--

“Hello?” came the sound of a man’s low baritone. “Madam, are you--”

Fionna didn’t wait to hear any more. Here was her tormentor, in the flesh. Gritting her teeth, she sighted his midsection . . .

And swung her parasol with all her might.

Aidan’s conversation with Alec was still fresh in his thoughts when he departed Alec’s town house that night.

No matter how he tried, the memory of that night in the Punjab never quite left him. Neither his mind . . .

Or his heart.

Bitterly he wondered if it ever would.

Rajul.

Even dead, the man had the power to fire the blood in his veins to boiling. The rebel leader’s imagine filled his brain--the arrogant tilt of his turbaned head, that ever-taunting gleam in coal-black eyes.

He’d wanted Rajul too badly. Glory or gain had nothing to do with it. When word came that Rajul was near, he’d reacted too rashly. Unthinkingly. He should have waited for the troops he knew were less than half a day’s ride away.

His steps continued, echoing through the frigid London air.

Turmoil raged in Aidan’s breast. Self-loathing poured through him, boiling through his veins. He’d never had any shortcomings when it came to his abilities. After all, he was Colonel Aidan McBride, the pride of the British Empire. The man whose military career had been built by the fact that every decision he made was thorough and calculated and deliberate; the fact that he anticipated with an almost uncanny perception the actions and reactions of the enemy.

But not that night. Not then.

Rajul had escaped.

His mouth twisted. God, how he’d fooled them all. His men. His superiors. Even himself.

And to think he’d been offered a medal. Offered a promotion, for the Command considered the toll on the rebel forces a major blow.

To Aidan, it was a travesty. A joke.

It changed nothing. It didn’t erase the deaths of forty-seven men whose blood had been spilled needlessly. Whose blood would forever stain his hands.

And that was why he’d forsaken his so-called brilliant career.

Deliberately he forced the tension from his jaw. Alec was right. He needed to forget. This was London, and by God, that part of his life was no more.

The merest trace of a smile broke the taut line of his lips. A strong healthy dose of lust had been Alec’s precise words. Well, perhaps he was right. Perhaps he needed a woman whose skilled lips and warm hands would shatter the past. Purge the ache inside and replace it with another, one that might be filled, at least for a while.

Rounding the corner, a muffled sound brought his head up sharply. He spied a lone figure gliding along the walkway before him. Almost in spite of himself, he couldn’t help but be reminded of Alec’s admiration of F.J. Sparrow’s ghoulish tales.

“Bedamned!” he thought. He squinted a little. Granted, his distance vision wasn’t what it used to be, but . . . speak of the devil . . . By heaven, it was a woman!

But this wasn’t a neighborhood that was frequented by ladies of the evening, selling their bodies. And if he weren’t mistaken, this woman appeared to be respectably dressed. He was suddenly impatient, almost angry. So why the devil was she out walking alone, with no escort . . . at the hour of midnight?

He began to walk faster. Then she disappeared from view around the corner.

Aidan hastened his pace.

“Hello? Madam, are you--”

Aidan had one single view of her clutching her parasol—as if it were a cricket bat.

That was his last thought before he heard a whoosh of air.

He sensed it, more than he saw it. His hand shot out, propelled by sheer instinct, at precisely the right instant. He caught the parasol squarely in the middle, holding it away from his body—squarely between them. His attacker gave a little scream of frustration at being thwarted and sought to yank it from his grasp.

Had his reflexes not been so quick, he realized, he might have suffered a good wallop in the belly. The woman twisted the parasol fiercely. Aidan refused to release it.

“My good woman, it’ll take more than a parasol to bring me down.” Aidan hadn't yet decided if he was more amused or angry.

It was as if they had faced off against each other in order to do battle. Indeed, she appeared ready to do exactly that. Her expression was fierce, her determination evident as he caught a glimpse of her face beneath the wide brim of her bonnet. She was still grappling with him, trying with all her might to wrest the parasol free. “Let go!” she cried.

“Not until I’m assured you won’t try to use it against me again,” he stated grimly. “For all I know, you’ve a pistol in your reticule.”

“I’m not carrying a reticule! And you were following me!” she accused. “Why?”

“I wasn’t following you. I was merely on my way home when I saw you. I thought to lend assistance if you were in need of it.”

Something flashed in her eyes. She made a small, choked sound—a sob? Was she trembling? He couldn’t quite tell, but he suspected she was on the verge of it.

Something within him softened. “I was concerned,” he said again. “I thought perhaps you were hurt.” He paused, then added quietly, “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“I wasn’t!” she denied, yet with such vehemence that he knew very well she was.

He released his grip from the parasol. She immediately snatched it back.

Aidan indicated the parasol with a swirl of a gloved fingertip. “May I suggest the very tip might be quite useful as a weapon if need be.” He lifted two fingers upward. “Lunge at the face. The eyes, if you are able. The chest or belly or . . . parts thereunder.” Another swirl below his waist.

He ignored her gasp of shock.

“A knee there is particularly effective, if you are not carrying your parasol. It will bring a man down to his knees in a heartbeat, if not to the ground itself. And if you are carrying it and if you were behind your assailant, then swing as you did. At the back. The head. Or squarely behind the knees. Vulnerable areas, all of them. And if you are in front, then swing at you did with me. At the belly, hard as you can. It likely won’t bend a man completely double, but it just might give you the chance to bring your knee up and into his face. Hopefully that, at least, will give you the chance to run and scream your bloody head off.”

“Really. And what if I’d intended to do all of those things?”

What a defiant little creature she was! “Then I should call you a resourceful woman—a woman well prepared indeed.”

His observation seemed to reassure her. But she was still a trifle frightened, though he sensed she was doing her best not to show it.

His eyes flicked over her. “Do you have any idea of the hour?”

She blinked. “What?”

“A woman like you should not be strolling alone at this time of night.” His tone was sharp. He didn't care.

Her eyes lit like sparks again. He couldn’t quite make out their color—and suddenly wished that he could.

Aidan arched a brow and continued. “My dear lady, when a woman is alone at night, wandering the streets . . . ” He paused, that she might take his meaning.

He recognized the very instant she did. “I am not wandering,” he was haughtily informed. “I know precisely where I am going. Nor, sir, am I a light skirt. So if you’re in an amorous mood--”

“I am not,” he interrupted coolly. “And I was not inferring that you are. Were that the case, I imagine you would be trying your best to lure me close—not bring me down instead.”

She said nothing, merely matched his stare with a boldness that bordered on fury.

“As for you, young woman, it’s after midnight.”

Her chin came up. “I’m well aware of the time. Not that it’s any of your affair, but I . . . had a late engagement.”

Aidan assessed her with an unflinching regard, taking in the way her eyes flitted away. He studied the slim line of her jaw, slightly square—and also noted the way she flitted nervously with her parasol.

She was lying. Furthermore, she wasn't accustomed to lying.

“Then you should have hired a hack,” he said bluntly. “At the very least, your gentleman friend should have sent you home in his coach.”

His censure sharper than he intended. She didn't like it—not one bit, he saw. Not that it appeared there was anything she liked about him . . .

“Well, sir,” she stressed, “not that it’s any of your affair, but I wasn't with a gentleman. Nor do I take kindly to strangers—or anyone else--telling me what I should and should not do. I’m quite able to take care of myself, thank you very much.”

I’m quite able to take care of myself, thank you very much. Aidan discovered himself unexpectedly amused. Wasn’t that what Alec had said the lovely Raven told her counterpart Rowan?

He conceded that women were changing. They were more independent than when he’d left for India, capable of seeing to themselves and their needs.

“So I see. As for who I am, my name is Aidan. Aidan McBride.” He bowed low. “And now I am no longer a stranger.”

Judging by her silence and the set of her jaw, she didn’t agree.

Aidan gestured over his shoulder, and went on pleasantly. “A pity we must make introductions at this time of night. I’ve just moved into the town house down the street, you see.”

“Excellent.” She spoke through her teeth. “Then it won’t take long for you to get home.”

“And I won’t be returning home until I escort you home.” He held up a hand. “I see you are tempted to argue. However, I insist.”

Her back was ramrod-straight. “Sir, as you must surely be aware, this is a highly respectable neighborhood. Therefore, you may leave.”

Drat, but the woman was stubborn! “I couldn’t call myself a gentleman if I left a woman alone on the streets at this hour of the night, no matter how respectable the neighborhood. I should imagine my mother would be quite disappointed were I to do so.” He didn’t bother disguising the steel beneath his polite statement.

He knew that she knew it too. “While I should hate for your mother to be disappointed in you, I say again, sir, you may leave.”

They continued to lock horns.

“Nonetheless, I am compelled to escort you to your home,” he said quietly. “I warn you, it will do no good to argue.”

She wanted to—oh, how she wanted to. Aidan saw it in the way she tightly compressed her lips. Yet the strangest thing happened—something flitted over her face. He had the oddest feeling that she was warring within herself.

“There is no need to escort me further. You see, I . . . am home.”

It was a grudging admission.

Aidan glanced up at the sign dangling above. “Every Book and Cranny,” he read aloud. He squinted, then looked down at her. “But--this is a bookshop.”

“So it is,” she returned pleasantly.

His gaze narrowed. “You live here?”

“I do.”

“Abovestairs?”

“I don’t believe that is any of your business, sir.”

“Well--” Aidan was at a rare loss for words. “Then at least allow me to know that you are safely inside, Miss . . . ” He paused expectantly.

“Hawkes,” she said finally. “Fionna Hawkes.”

Yet another grudging admission. Lord, but it seemed the chit guarded herself closely!

“The pleasure is all mine, Miss Hawkes.”

Somehow he didn’t expect her to return the courtesy.

And she did not. She merely regarded him with that same wariness that marked the whole of their encounter.

“What makes you so sure it is miss?”

“You denied having a gentleman friend. I believe if you had a husband, you’d have very promptly pointed it out to me. And,” he said smoothly, “you are not wearing a ring.”

“I am wearing gloves! You couldn’t possibly see whether or not I wear a ring!”

“A vehement denial,” he said softly. “And you’ve just now given me good reason to believe I am right.”

Her entire body stiffened. “You presume too much, Mr. McBride.”

Her lips barely moved. She had fire, Aidan decided. She had spunk.

And Aidan liked that. The admission startled him a little. Moreover, the woman piqued his interest more with every word.

“Perhaps,” he said with a shrug. “But you’ve taken a dislike to me, I see.”

He was surprised when her gaze flitted away. He heard the ragged breath she drew. “It is not dislike, sir,” she said. “I . . . We do not know each other. I am, by nature, protective of my private life.”

Aidan was silent for a moment. He could respect that, he found himself admitting. God knew, he’d grown protective of his own. “Well, then,” he gave a slight bow, “I shall bid you good night.”

The words declared an end to their encounter. He executed a slight bow.

The chit said no more. His hands behind his back, Aidan remained where he was, watching as she retreated a few steps, then extracted a key from the inside of her cloak.

He noticed the way she glanced over her shoulder several times as she fumbled a little with the key before the lock finally turned and she opened the door. He also noted the way she did not turn her back on him fully, as though to make certain he made no sudden move to follow as she slipped inside.

The click of the lock seemed unusually loud.

Only when he saw the glow of a lamp inside the shop did he turn and amble toward his town house, his mind on the woman he’d just met.

Fionna Hawkes was a most untrustworthy woman. A most cautious woman. All in all, a most curious one, to be sure.

And, he realized with a vehemence that was almost startling, quite the most fetching one he’d seen in a long, long time.

Of that, he was most certain of all.

Fionna loved the dark, for it lit her mind, her muse; it was truly her inspiration. It fired her imagination as nothing else could. She had never feared the depths of night, not even as a child. She reveled in it, particularly on those moonless nights when all the world lay closed and sleeping, while she lay awake and dreaming—of legends and myths, and stories yet to be told. That was when her mind came alive, when she came alive.

Climbing the stairs to her apartments above the bookshop, she couldn’t forget the incident. Had she acted like a fool? No, she decided, it was better to be prepared. And she would not remain closeted behind closed doors, cowering like a frightened little mouse. She'd never been the sort to frighten easily, else she could never write the stories she did.

No, she was not easily frightened, which made her wonder if she had been followed last week.

There was no logic to it, unfortunately. She had sensed a presence, with all that she possessed. She’d known, even before she whirled to confront whomever it was that followed, that she would see nothing. Yet that very same sense warned that something—someone—was near. Following. Watching.

It was quite unnerving.

Distinctly unsettling.

Too much like Demon of Dartmoor for her peace of mind.

And Aidan McBride . . . he was nearly as unsettling as well, though in a far different way. She pictured him again. His manner grated somewhat. So confident, so sure of himself, so determined to play the gentleman/protector. She’d caught a glimpse of his profile, arresting and handsome, from what she could see of him. Somehow she sensed that had they met in the light of day, she would have found him a most striking man. His image swirled anew in her mind.

In irritation, she wrenched thoughts of him far away, relegating him to the distant corner of her mind. Mr. Aidan McBride was gone. And she vowed to give him no further thought.

Her dander rose as she recalled his insistence that he escort her home. His manner conveyed displeasure at her refusal—that she was out at midnight. She would certainly not entertain the notion that she cease her nightly walks. She’d been doing it for several years now, even before she’d moved to London. She never ventured far from home. By heaven, she would not be confined! She couldn't. She wrote of all that lay secluded in the night, of all that lay hidden in the darkness of the soul, and . . . well, it put her into the proper mindset. It helped to set her thoughts to rights, for she was at her most creative at night.

Even when she was very young, Fionna had always been given to dreaming; an only child, she and her parents lived in a village just south of London. Once in church she’d sat through the service and hadn’t even noticed when at last the church had emptied, or even the sound of Vicar Tomlinson’s voice until he shook her shoulder, startling her. In school, she’d been scolded soundly for her lack of attention. But oh, how she loved the hours between sunset and sunrise! How she loved the night! And from the depths of the dark her dreams of becoming something more than she had ever aspired had been achieved.

The neighbors in the village would have been shocked to discover that Fionna Josephine Hawkes was the authoress of tales dark and twisted and tormented—of the fiends and monsters and demons conjured up. So would her neighbors in London! She suspected. No doubt all, everyone considered her quite bizarre, for Fionna had little interest in finding a husband, either then or now. At six-and-twenty, she supposed she was now consigned to the role of spinster—not that she cared a whit.

Snug at home in familiar, comfortable surroundings, her earlier anxiety seemed rather silly now. Sternly she reminded herself that she’d never actually seen anything, nor had she been approached by anyone threatening—except for Aidan McBride. True, she’d been frightened, and yes, he’d nearly scared the very wits out of her. But he had not been frightening.

 Annoyed with herself for thinking about him again, she headed to the kitchen. She boiled a kettle of water, brewed a pot of tea, and walked to her desk. In her hand was a dainty, flowered teacup that was part of her mother’s china set.

No, Fionna thought. She would not be cowed. She was a woman of routine, of regularity. She was, she admitted, a very private woman. A young girl, Glynis, came several days a week to do the occasional chore and see that her gowns were kept clean and pressed. Fionna preferred to do her own tidying up. So, she cooked for herself, and cleaned for herself, though her monetary situation was hardly such that she must watch her pocketbook. Indeed, quite the opposite at present.

Perhaps, she decided, she was even wrong about being followed.

A tiny little smile curved her lips. It had long been a dream of hers to explore the world to her heart’s content. The pyramids in Egypt. To turn her ear to the chattering sing-song of Chinese and wander amidst the markets as she wished, fingering lavish, delicate silks. Perhaps even to experience the wildness of an African safari—or see the majestic rise of the towering peaks in the American west.

But not now. Not just yet. For this was a dream that would simply have to wait . . .

Her mother must come first.

For now, she must be content. She had a responsibility to her mother. When she’d brought Mama to London, they’d had to sell the house and lands. They had lived in comfort but not in luxury, for Papa had been but a modest landowner—and, as she discovered upon his death, he’d been a most lenient squire, dismissing many a debt from his tenants. But now that she was well established in her chosen vocation, her work had proved to have its rewards. She was well paid. She lived in ample comfort. And so did her mother.

That was the most important thing of all.

Slowly she lowered the teacup. An empty ache spread in Fionna’s breast. Her throat caught. Her mother . . . ah, but it hurt so to think of her! And her father . . . He had been her staunchest champion.

Rising, she went to the bookshelf next to her desk and pulled out a copy of Satan’s Path. How proud he’d been when she’d torn open the wrappings around that very novel. That moment was etched in her mind forever. Papa had been beaming, so very, very proud! And she had been so happy, happier than she’d ever been in her life.

A twinge of bittersweet pain closed around her chest. Her mother had always possessed a certain fragility about her. Rising, she raised a hand and moved aside the lovely lace curtains to stare into the frigid night. When she thought about her mother, her throat clogged tight with emotion.

It had been serendipity, she supposed, when the offer to serialize Demon of Dartmoor had come through. By then Fionna had authored four novels, but this offer surpassed all others by far. She could hardly refuse.

She had already sought help for her mother from the best physician in London, Dr. Colson. When he had suggested he could care for her better in London, Fionna knew it must be done. And if her mother must be moved to London, then she would move as well, for she must remain close to her mother.

It was also then she came up with the idea of opening Every Book and Cranny. Her position as bookshop owner afforded her the opportunity to maintain her anonymity as F.J. Sparrow. Coupled with the moderate proceeds from the sale of the house--assured that she could keep her mother in comfort.

Until the time until Mama was well once more, she told herself firmly.

Gathering her manuscript in hand, Fionna tapped the sheets on the desktop, and gathered her thoughts as well. It was taking a little longer than usual to settle in tonight after her walk, for she was still a trifle nervous. Her gaze was drawn to the window--her glance through the frosted pane lingered.

Yet tonight had been different. Tonight had stepped forth a man named Aidan McBride. And it certainly didn't appear as if he had been trying to hide either his identity or his presence. Fionna fancied herself a fair judge of character and details—it helped immeasurably in her work.

Aidan McBride’s image danced before her eyes—her vivid recall was most irritating. His mouth was set in a stern line, yet there was something about his manner that warned he could be quite the rogue if he wanted.

And if ever there was a bold, aggressive man who was sure of himself and all within his world, it was Aidan McBride.

Damn the man anyway! Why did he persist in cropping up?

Squaring her shoulders, Fionna drew up her chair a bit closer to her desk, then picked up her quill. There was, after all, she reminded herself pointedly, the need for gainful employment. She twirled the quill between her fingertips, her eyes narrowed in thought.

An instant later, the tip of the quill dipped into the pot. She began to write:

            I knew, of course, that Rowan . . .

 


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