For all the latest news about Madeline's books, join her newsletter mailing list.
Ravishing in Red
"Richly spiced with wicked wit and masterfully threaded with danger and desire, the superbly sexy first book in Hunter’s new Regency historical quartet is irresistible and wonderfully entertaining." —Booklist starred review
Armed with her cousin’s pistol, Audrianna travels to a coaching inn, to meet with a man who may have information that will clear her dead father’s name. She does not realize that the handsome man of commanding sensuality who shows up is not the person she expected, but instead Lord Sebastian Summerhays, one of her father’s persecutors, lured to the inn by the same advertisement that brought her there.
When the pistol accidentally fires, the situation becomes mortifyingly public, and thoroughly misunderstood. Audrianna is prepared to live with the scandal. Lord Sebastian has other ideas. . .
Oh, goodness. Oh, heavens.
This day was definitely not unfolding the way she had pictured.
She had not expected the Domino to be a gentleman.
She had certainly not expected a tall, handsome, young gentleman with such a winning smile.
She was not sure what she had anticipated instead. She only knew that it was not this.
He seemed not at all concerned by her presence instead of her father’s, or by her declaration of having a pistol.
His manner remained amiable while he warmed himself in front of the fire. He kept flashing those brief, stunning smiles of reassurance.
They did not reassure her at all. Instead he struck her as very dangerous.
That could be due to the way the fire’s light turned him into a collection of hard angles, or the way his eyes appeared much more intense and alert than his demeanor required.
It could be the result of his wealth, evidenced in the cut and make of that dark gray riding coat he had removed, and the quality of the high boots and snug doeskin that encased his legs. Even his dark hair was expensive, with the short, wispy, flyaway cut that damp and wind enhanced rather than ruined.
His appearance was the least of it, however. She could not ignore the way the atmosphere in the room had altered with his arrival, as if he gave off tiny, invisible lightning bolts of power.
“Sir, I think that we should get on with the purpose of this meeting.”
“With the weather, there is no hurry. Neither one of us is going anywhere soon.”
She wished that she had not allowed him to come so close. He stood no more than six feet away and towered above her. She could not ignore his size, or the way he made her feel small and vulnerable and at a bigger disadvantage than was fair.
“I would still like to finish this in good time.”
One of those smiles half-formed, a private one that reflected some thought in his head. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Does it matter?”
“It may matter a great deal. For all I know, you thought I wanted to meet a different Kelmsleigh, and you will leave here with facts that you should not have. That could cause an innocent, unsuspecting man grief.”
“I should say that is unlikely.” Her voice sounded sharp to her own ears. He spoke as if his information would not be good news. “However, since you fear making revelations to a disinterested party, I will identify the Kelmsleigh who interests me. He was employed by the Board of Ordnance. I am hoping that your information relates to his position there.”
His smile proved less amiable this time. A tad predatory, if truth be told. It could be the harsh light, of course, but— To her dismay, he stepped toward her with his attention fixed on her face.
“I insist that you stay where you are.” She hated the way her demand came out a fearful bleat.
He continued toward her.
She jumped to her feet. The shawl fell to the ground.
She did not aim the pistol but she gripped it soundly. “Do not come any closer. I do know how to fire this.”
He halted an arm’s span away. Close enough that she could see that his eyes were dark. Very dark. Close enough that if she did fire, she could not miss. He ignored the pistol and instead studied her face.
“Who are you?” he asked again.
“You call yourself something as silly as the Domino, and you demand that I reveal my name? My identity is no more important than yours.”
“What is your part in all of this? Are you an accomplice? A lover? Perhaps you are a relative of one of the soldiers who died? I would not want this meeting to start a vendetta.”
His gaze all but skewered her and his scrutiny unsettled her in the oddest way. For all his suspicions he kept flashing that vague, appealing smile that offered . . . friendship and . . . excitement and . . . things that she should not even be thinking about at this moment. He had the kind of face that made women silly, and it annoyed her that she was proving more susceptible than this situation should ever allow.
She raised the pistol just enough, so it did not point down but instead out from her hip. He glanced at the weapon, then his gaze was all for her face again. Only now he looked like a man who had been challenged but knew he would win the contest.
“What information do you have?” she demanded.
“How much money do you have?”
“How much do you think is enough?”
“I am not so stupid as to bargain against myself. Name your price.”
“And if you don’t have it?” He nodded to the pistol.
“Do you think to force me to reveal everything, no matter what?”
Suddenly he was even closer. His body stood an inch from the pistol’s barrel, and only a few more from her. She looked up at him in surprise.
Her breath caught. He appeared very dangerous now, in ways that had nothing to do with pistols. His gaze and smile were intended to charm and seduce and he had released something invisible to that end as well.
She doubted any woman would be immune to this man.
It was as if his masculinity spoke to her primitive self and her mind had no say in the conversation.
She physically reacted even while she clung to a mental shield. Wicked little arrows of stimulation shot around her body. She valiantly fought to thwart his effect, but those arrows just flashed along their exciting paths, ignoring her ladylike dismay.
“It would be better if you put that gun down,” he said quietly. “We met to be allies, not adversaries. Friends, not enemies.”
He spoke the word friends in a velvet voice. She grasped the pistol more firmly.
“Give the gun to me.” He spoke gently, but in a firm command. His eyes reflected confidence that he would have his way on this matter, or on any other that he chose. In desperate rebellion, she cocked the hammer.
“Two clicks. You do know how to use it.” He scowled.
No longer a “friend,” he appeared hard and angry. “You are being foolish. At least point it away from me. It might go off accidentally now.”
“I will use it if I must. Do not test my resolve on that.”
“It is not resolve that I sense in you right now.”
“Then your senses fail you.”
“Where women are concerned, my senses never fail me. Not this sense at least.”
He alluded to those stupid arrows and her breathless fear and the shocking stimulation. He knew. Worse, he had actually broached the matter out loud.
He studied her, weighing something. His gaze both lured and frightened her.
That smile again, intended to put her at ease and to flatter without words. “I dare not confide what I have unless I know your role in this. You are an unexpected player.”
“If you are paid, what do you care who hears your story?”
“I doubt you have enough money to buy, even if I were selling.”
She worried that he was correct. Everything about him spoke of the very highest quality. A golden chain arced on his tastefully embroidered waistcoat, no doubt attached to a golden watch. The ten pounds and gold locket hiding in her reticule would not impress such a man.
She may have come all this way, risked molestation and ruin, only to fail because the Domino’s demands were too expensive.
He watched her as if he heard the calculations in her head. “How badly do you want this information? You are so pretty that I may give it to you in exchange for a kiss.”
“A kiss! I am beginning to think that you are a charlatan if you would accept such little payment.”
“You value your kisses so poorly?”
“The value of any kiss is fleeting, no matter what its worth.”
“What a sad moral. Also an untrue one, I hope. The poets say there are some kisses that can sustain a person’s soul forever.”
“The poets are idiots.” This conversation had taken a most peculiar turn.
“I fear you are correct, but I hope not. Hence my offer. My soul tells me that you may be the one woman whose kiss will be of eternal value.”
What ridiculous nonsense. They both knew he was flattering to his own ends, and a kiss was not even the goal. His expression admitted the game even while he shamelessly played it.
She should put him in his place and let him know that she was not some silly woman who swooned and gasped just because a handsome man with stunning eyes and a seductive smile flirted.
Except, despite her mental scolds, she did feel a little light-headed and giddy, if truth be told. She was close to gasping. The flattery made her blood hum and sparkle.
“I must find out if you are that woman, of course,” he said. “Since you do not want to trade, I am forced to steal.” His head angled and dipped. His lips brushed hers.
Shock paralyzed her. A thousand flutters beat in her chest. The thrilling little arrows multiplied and aimed through her entire body. Roger had kissed her a few times, and while the kisses had been very nice, the effect had been nothing like this. But then Roger had not been a stranger and the kisses had not been scandalous, dangerous, and deliciously forbidden.
His lips did not just rest on hers. They subtly teased and moved and pressed. A wicked little nip made her heart flip and rise.
A new touch distracted her. Astonished her. A new softness, moist and devilish. Good heavens, the tip of his tongue was tickling the sensitive underside of her lower lip, evoking shivers that cascaded down her body.
Within her daze she felt him gently grasp her wrist. He moved her arm aside so the pistol aimed at the wall to her right.
The weapon no longer separated them or protected her.
His grasp controlled her and the weapon, but this kiss interested her much more than the voice of caution in her mind that gave one panicked protest.
He moved closer. Her heart rose to her throat.
His right hand slowly moved around her neck with a stunning caress of physical connection. Careful, but controlling. Warm, but not entirely soft. The sensation of his skin on hers, and the slight roughness of his touch, mesmerized her. His hand evoked wonderful chills, until it cupped her nape. He kissed her again.
Harder this time. More demanding. More aggressive.
He toyed with her vulnerability and asserted a dominance that, heaven help her, she did not begin to know how to resist. She no longer even noticed that she was being wicked to permit this, or note that she had inexplicably become stupid. A chaos of pleasurable sensations obscured such sensible thoughts.
His left hand moved and covered hers over the pistol grip. With caressing, careful fingers, he seduced the weapon from her hold.
Her suddenly empty hand caused one thread of sense to reassert itself.
What was she doing?
She opened her eyes, literally and metaphorically. What she saw jolted her out of her daze.
The door stood open. And they were not alone. Another man stood behind the Domino.
Her seducer stopped the kiss. Frowning, he followed the direction of her distraction and glanced over his shoulder. Alarm crashed through him.
The intruder saw the pistol and rushed forward. The Domino pivoted and thrust her out of the way. She fell with a thump back in the chair.
A turmoil of movement blurred in front of her. The new man threw himself against the Domino, sending them both onto the floor. Another hand grasped at the gun while they tumbled and grappled in a heap.
A loud crack snapped through the chamber. Then the intruder was up and running, and the dark threshold swallowed him.
Ravishing in Red, copyright © 2010 Madeline Hunter