Virginia, Lady Dulverton, feels safer keeping the world at a distance. One man sees through her reserve to the woman beneath: the infamously rakish Francis, Earl of Wolverley. Now a widow, Virginia is wrangling with the terms of her late husband’s will. When she realizes Francis is in danger because of his connection to her, she feels compelled to help, regardless of the hazard to her own heart.
Francis has worked hard to strengthen his inheritance. But he’s also found time to play. Despite his many dalliances, his affections have never been involved. Those belong entirely to a woman he could never have. When he’s attacked in the street and told to leave Virginia alone, he decides to do exactly the opposite . . .
With the help of the Society for Single Ladies, they set out to discover who is targeting Virginia, and why. It’s a race that will lead to the Devonshire coast, a smuggling ring, and a love that, however perilous, is worth waging countless battles . . .
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Extract from Virginia And The Wolf
A hush fell at the end of the room, as Virginia was talking to Miss McLennon, her back to the company. Alerted to the tension around her, Virginia turned around, taking her time. Until she saw who had entered the room.
At the far end of the white and gold room, with its feminine curlicues and twists stood two men. Two extremely masculine men. But they did not look as if they didn’t belong there. They looked as if they owned the place.
Despite his elaborate silks and lace, the Duke of Colston Magna fooled nobody. He was no namby-pamby idiot. Inside that outrageous pink silk coat resided a powerful male with a fearsome reputation for never losing a duel, or a bout of fisticuffs. Those lily-white hands had pounded Col’s opponent into oblivion more than once in the boxing studio.
“One wonders why he is so angry. Beneath that pretty surface he is simmering,” Angela murmured.
The Earl of Wolverley wore scarlet and gold, the brilliants sewn into his waistcoat flashing as he moved. But not as much as his eyes. Those eyes held the promise of murder, and Virginia was afraid it was for her. Although they had parted in ostensibly amicable terms, he had not fooled her with his soft talk of pins and neighborly concern.
Virginia and Angela stood together, facing the incoming storm. The men fixed their eyes on them and did not look away as they made their way past all the other guests toward them.
The diamond dangling below Wolverley’s earlobe flashed as he turned his head when a woman laughed nervously. Then he returned his attention to Virginia. As the men walked up to them the women switched places, a swift rustling of skirts loud in the suddenly quiet room. The quartet accompanying the dancers had paused between sets. Conversation around them was muted. Or perhaps Virginia only imagined it that way.
The men made their bows, beautiful pattern-cards of obeisance.
Col asked for Virginia’s hand in the next set of country dances. Shooting a triumphant glare at Wolverley, she accepted, graciously placing her hand on Col’s chilly satin sleeve.
“Hasn’t the weather turned cold?” she inquired, as he led her on to the floor.
“It has, and after the wonderful sunshine we’ve been having lately!” he answered, full of bonhomie, but glancing past her to where Angela and Wolverley were standing, waiting for the dance to begin.
When she glanced at Angela, she caught a lovelorn gaze from Wolverley, there for all to see.
Virginia gritted her teeth. That one, fraught glance told Virginia what he was at. Retribution would not be long in coming. And well, she would have to learn to live with it. How dare he make his intentions so obvious? The whole of London would be talking about his approach tomorrow. His volte-face would be noted and gossiped about in every house in the country.
Before this night, their connection was known, but not remarked upon, since they behaved in a suitably neighborly way. But if he made his change of heart so obvious, that opinion would change in a flash.
Tonight, Wolverley gazed at her from afar, the wistful longing of a suitor. Or a lover. All the way through the dance he never let his attention stray, gazing at her as if she was all he could see, watching her dance with her other partners.
She wanted to slap that stupid expression off his face, and Virginia did not consider herself a violent woman.
Ladies gossiped behind their fans, and gentleman laughed softly as they watched. By the end of this evening they would believe that she and Wolverley were lovers.
Damn him to hell and back. She could curse all she liked in her mind, but outwardly she kept the polite smile on her face and her attention on her partner in the dance.
Unfortunately country dances meant changes of partner. They were social dances, until they ended with their original partner at the end of the piece. Short of stalking away from the dance floor, which would create a scandal all its own, she would have to face Wolverley and dance with him. Avoiding gossip was all but impossible.
The remaining company in London were avidly waiting for a scandal, something to enliven the gossip over the teacups. Virginia refused to provide it. Utterly refused.
When Wolverley faced her in the dance, he smiled in that way she’d seen when he flirted with women. No, not flirted, but indicated something deeper.
As they crossed in the dance, she hissed at him, “I am not your mistress and I will never be.”
“Did I ask you that?” His deep voice resonated through her, thrilling those parts of her she worked hard to keep dormant. “I would not suggest such a thing.” He paused, while they executed steps that separated them then brought them back together. “Unless I thought you wanted it.”
That last was delivered in such a sultry tone that her palms itched. That would have thrilled the spectators. Two more measures and she was done with him. “I would never wish for it. You know that, Wolverley.”
“I know no such thing. We have been dancing around each other for years, rather like we are doing now. Isn’t it time we faced what lies between us?”
For a moment, a fraction of a second, he gazed at her as if she was his world, as if he meant the nonsense he was parroting. Then it was gone, frustratingly covered by a flirtatious smile, as if she’d said something witty.
So she laughed. A little too high-pitched, but it would serve to persuade people that nothing was serious here. Move along, people, find the next show. “You’re angry with me, but this is unfair.”
“Is it? Nothing is unfair in war or love. Surely you know that.”
She turned the old saying back the right way. Love came first. “I know nothing of love or war.”
She had said too much. Virginia bit her lip, desperately finding something to cover her sentence. But she was too late.
As she made to move on in the dance, back to Colston Magna, Wolverley said, his voice soft and low, “Then I shall teach you.”
His breath grazed her ear, making her gasp.
Somebody else had said that to her once. Revulsion filled her, so sudden that she recoiled from it, and the duke had to catch her elbow to steady her. She pretended she’d stumbled, and thanked him, forcing another light laugh. “My mother always said I could trip on a speck of dust. Thank you, sir.”
“Think nothing of it,” he said somberly. “Madam, if the Wolf troubles you too much, I will stand your friend.”
The last thing she wanted to do was to draw any more attention to this atrocious business. “Wolverley? No, we have known each other for years.”
Damn the man.