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Secrets of Surrender
"Hunter's captivating, compelling story of two people succeeding against all odds." —Booklist
"With each new book, Hunter displays more of her unique ability to draw readers into a heated romance that speak to the body, mind and heart. . . .Her exceptional story-telling is mesmerizing." —Romantic Times BOOKclub, 4 ½ Stars, Top Pick
First he'll learn her most intimate secrets. Then he'll arouse her deepest passions. He's the lover she's been waiting for: the man who can rescue her from her wicked past—for a price—in Madeline Hunter's tale of sin, seduction, and irresistible, impossible love.
He catches her eye across the dining room—a handsome stranger who stands out among the lewd noblemen and bawdy painted women. But their worlds are about to collide in a way Roselyn Longworth could never have imagined. For before the night is out, she will be auctioned off to the highest bidder...and Kyle Bradwell will lead her from one kind of hell to another. Yet from the moment he wins her, Kyle treats Rose with a gentleness she hasn't known since a family scandal destroyed her reputation. And when she finally learns what is really driving Kyle, it's too late. For Rose has fallen for the man who knows her most intimate secrets. Now he has stunned her with a proposal of marriage—the first step in a seduction that will demand nothing less than her complete surrender....
Lord Norbury stood to address his guests. Silence slowly fell among them.
"It occurs to me that some of you may not know one of the guests here very well," he said. "I would like to enable you to make a better acquaintance."
Rose waited for him to introduce the new man at the end of the table. Instead he held out his hand to her.
"Stand, my dear."
There was nothing to do but rise. Every eye fixed on her. The only sober ones belonged to the new guest.
"You fair damsels may be wondering why this proud lady is among you," Norbury said. "Miss Longworth is the sister of a man who fled his debts, and considerable they were indeed. She is of good birth but not good enough, of fortunes long gone and relations too distant to signify. Her final fall, into my bed as it happens, was perhaps too precipitous a one. She preferred gifts to money so that she could pretend it was other than it was. She inferred romantic notions when I merely suggested a good trading agreement."
Rose clenched her teeth to avoid crying or screaming. Everyone was watching, laughing. Even Katy. All the whores nodded in understanding. Yes, Miss Longworth was one of those ladies who like to pretend. These women who never pretended had little sympathy.
No, not everyone was watching. The new guest appeared not to hear. He drank his wine as if oblivious to this performance.
"Now, here is the thing. I've this woman here, but I tire of her. I regret the indulgence and gifts that permit her to appear so lovely among you. Indeed, I've my eye on another." Norbury leered at Katy who tried to look coy and surprised. "George there seems to be thinking a simple trade is in order. Don't demur, George, I've been watching you flirt. I'm thinking, however, that maybe I can recoup my losses for this dress and whatnot. So, what do you say, gentlemen? Shall I auction off Miss Longworth?"
The party thought an auction would be wonderful fun. Laughter and calls rang off the ceiling as everyone prepared for a grand diversion.
Rose could not hide her appalled shock. She turned on Norbury and allowed him to see it. That only fed his satisfaction.
"I will not stand for this outrage." She moved her chair back and turned to leave. A hand on her arm stopped her.
"She has spirit and still needs taming, gentlemen. That alone should be worth a few shillings to some of you." He gripped tightly. Despite his laughter his glare contained a threat.
A few of the men sat up and took notice. She sickened at the evidence that an unwilling woman actually appealed to them.
"Let me see, I should hawk her a bit, shouldn't I?" Norbury made a display of thinking it over.
She wanted to hit him. No, she wanted to kill him. She tried to pull her arm away but his fingers only dug deeper. "You will not do this."
He ignored her. "Well, as all can see, she is very lovely. I have always thought she was among the most beautiful women in London."
"That beauty won't last much longer," a bawd warned. "She is older than me by a few years, I'd say."
"It is true she is of maturing years, but the man who wins her will have shed her long before her delicious beauty dims." He scratched his head. "In the interests of fairness I need to describe the defects too, don't I? How do I put this delicately? No damned way, I guess. I am honor bound to reveal that she is not an especially warm woman, if you gentlemen know what I mean."
She held onto the anger so she would not swoon. The faces seemed to multiply and move anyway, until she was on the block in front of a hundred leering masks.
"I am also bound to say that due to her late initiation, she still requires considerable training."
"I could give her a few lessons," a whore offered confidently.
Norbury bowed to her. "My dear, in the book of carnal knowledge you are writing chapter twenty and Miss Longworth has not yet studied chapter two. There are men who enjoy the role of schoolmaster, and it is they who should open their purses."
Rose refused to react. She did not look at any of them. But she could see them. A few more of the men's interest suddenly piqued. Norbury's grip tightened yet more, almost numbing her arm.
"To her credit, however, I can offer several points," he said. "One, she is not greedy. Second, for those of you who, like me, were inconvenienced by her brother's ruin, her favors are one repayment—"
Shocked anew, she could not hold her pose of indifference. She turned and stared at him. She had no idea that he had been touched by that. No idea at all.
She had not misunderstood nearly as much as she was telling herself. He had deliberately pursued and seduced her for revenge.
She tried to pull away again. He held her in place.
"—and third, she has the most erotic dark nipples for one so fair."
They went wild. Amidst the shouts, a few called demands to see the charms that Norbury had just promised.
She spoke so only he could hear. "Do not even think to degrade me further by complying with that suggestion. If you dare to try it, I will do violence to you and gladly go to the gallows for it."
Lord Norbury's smirk wavered. He opened the bidding.
"Twenty-five pounds," George offered.
"Thirty-five," George countered after an ungallant pause.
"Sixty." A sly-eyed gentleman joined in. Rose recognized him as Sir Maurice Fenwick. His interest horrified her. It was unlikely that her willingness would matter much to this one.
"Sixty-five," George said in a tone of finality.
"Seventy-five," Sir Maurice said immediately.
"Nine hundred-and-fifty pounds." The calm, even-toned bid seemed to come out of nowhere.
Shocked silence hung for a long moment, then a low buzz swarmed through the chamber. Everyone looked around to see which besotted gentleman had lost all sense.
Roselyn was as astonished as the rest. And very worried. It would be one thing to deny a man his seventy-five pounds worth. A man who paid nine-hundred-and-fifty would probably force a different accounting.
The party's attention found its way down the table to where the new guest drank some wine.
Lord Norbury aimed a frown at him. "Nine-hundred-and- fifty, Bradwell? No doubt you misspoke."
The guest called over a footman and whispered something, then looked back very soberly. "Not at all. Feel free to continue the bidding."
Norbury's gaze darted around the table, but the high bid had taken the wind out of the auction's sails. Mr. Bradwell waited like a man in no hurry. He appeared to be more interested in admiring the candelabra on the table than on the progress of the game he had entered.
When the silence had stretched long enough, he rose and walked down the room.
Rose assessed his size and demeanor. Her instincts warned that she would have been better off with corpulent, happy George or even dangerous Sir Maurice. She might have even been better with Lord Norbury whom, she had just discovered, believed her capable of the violence she had threatened.
There was nothing visibly untoward about Mr. Bradwell. His very presentable garments and perfectly styled, wavy dark hair marked him as a man of wealth even more than his bid had. His face appeared rough-hewn in the candlelight. If people called him handsome, which he was, they would tend to add "in his way."
His skin had more color than the other men here, as if he spent time out of doors, and the fit of his coats revealed that he engaged in sport. Strength could be seen in his tall frame and in his confident, fluid movements.
There was nothing specifically threatening about him, but he alarmed her anyway. She sensed that the air parted to make room for him. The ripples of its retreat eddied over her, and she wanted to float away on them. The caution in her was similar to what one experiences when one meets unknown dogs on the road. Her instincts said it would be wise to give this particular animal wide berth.
He came up beside Norbury and the candlelight illuminated his face. She saw the bluest eyes she had ever seen. Those deep set pools did not look at her at all. Instead they fixed on the man still holding her arm in a vise.
"Are we done?" Mr. Bradwell asked quietly. "Or do you feel obliged to knock her down?"
While "knock down" was an auction term, Lord Norbury seemed to think another entendre was intended. His face flushed. "You are a fool to spend such a sum."
"To be sure, but if a man can't be a fool about a beautiful woman, what good is money?"
"You just did it to—" Norbury caught himself before the petulant accusation was finished. Icy reflections lit his eyes. "See where your pride has gotten you, Rosie. From a viscount to a man born in the pits of Durham. Your fall may be the most rapid one in the history of whoring."
Mr. Bradwell did not react to the insult. "You can release her now. She is coming with me. The money will be delivered to your London house in two days."
Lord Norbury let her go. Rose saw the imprints of his fingers marking her. Mr. Bradwell did as well. Subtle anger flexed beneath his calm expression. The animal energy contained in this man leaked out. This was not someone who liked others to damage his property.
"Impatient are you, eh?" Norbury said loudly, to let the others enjoy the denouement.
"Absolutely," Mr. Bradwell said. "Come with me, Miss Longworth."
She did not want to go with him. She did not expect him to continue acting like a gentleman once they were alone. Her stomach turned violently at what might be waiting.
He leaned toward her. Dear heavens, he was going to kiss her! Right here in front of everyone.
The kiss was no more than a warm breath, but the dining room erupted into applause and hoots. While his face was close to hers, and his mouth near her ear, he spoke again. "Do not resist. They have had enough sport at your expense. I am sure that you do not want to give them more."
She had no choice but to accept his escort or he would make good on his threat to give them more sport. Dragging the tattered rags of her dignity together as best she could, steeling herself to fight the battle soon to come, she accompanied the man who had bought her out of the dining room.
Secrets of Surrender, copyright © 2008 Madeline Hunter