Christy Carlyle here. I’m so excited about the release of One Dangerous Desire! This is the third book in my late Victorian era Accidental Heirs series from Avon Impulse.
Though it’s the third book, it stands alone in the series and tells the story of American heiress May Sedgwick, who has come to London to find an aristocrat husband. When her first match goes awry, she begins to consider whether she wishes to marry at all. Yet she can’t resist a wager, especially when it pits her against the man who broke her heart years ago.
Rex Leighton has left his dark past behind him in New York and remade himself as a successful businessman and entrepreneur in London. Only one thing would help him rise in London society—an aristocratic bride. There’s just one problem with his plan. One petite American heiress still owns a piece of his heart.
Here’s an excerpt from the book’s first chapter!
London, March 1892
When you’ve come to plunder, blending into the crowd is no longer a possibility.
“He’s an American,” one lady whispered.
“Dangerous,” another added.
“Wild,” the third insisted.
The ladies’ whispers carried through the din of chatter in the Bridewells’ crowded drawing room, and Rex Leighton tightened his grip on the ridiculously tiny glass a footman had deposited in his hand. He longed to shatter the damned thing. Instead, he raised it to his lips and downed the sickly sweet claret in one swig.
Overlong gazes and speculative murmurs shouldn’t irritate him. Why attend a posh soiree if not to be noticed and make an impression?
It wasn’t as if he could deny any of the words they called him.
Dangerous? Oh yes, even if his day-to-day existence was no longer a matter of survival but a question of strategy. These days, the dangers he faced related to his bank account. Risks written in ink, rather than blood. Businessmen, he’d found, preferred to battle with their wits.
Wild was the word that soured in his gut. He’d heard the claim before, at the orphanage he’d been sent to after his mother’s death. Perhaps he had been a wild creature once, but it rankled to hear the accusation now, when he was trying his damnedest to play the gentleman.
Moving away from the gaggle of women assessing him from behind fluttering fans wouldn’t stop the whispers. They—women and whispers—trailed after him no matter where he positioned himself. He’d already circled the room once and secured the dimmest corner. No one at his back and a prime position from which to appraise the crowd of titled lords and well-bred ladies. Especially the ladies.
From among the bounty of pampered females at this party, or the next ball or dinner he attended, he’d choose a wife. Only an aristocrat’s daughter would do. One whose titled father and brothers and cousins possessed connections with other titled men. Men who sat in the House of Lords and served on influential committees or the boards of corporations. After five years in London, wealth and business success had finally begun to earn Rex invitations to a few upper-crust events. One realization had come, swift and unwavering, after his first taste of high society. He could accept every invitation extended to him and still remain an outsider. Unless he married into their world, he’d always hover at the edges. An oddity to spark whispers. An exotic almost-gentleman with strange eyes and hair longer than fashion allowed to titillate bored women.
Yet no matter how expensively tailored his suits or well-fitted his boots, his bulk did not fit in their polished world. Literally. His broad shoulders and overlong legs weren’t suited to their dainty furniture. He’d taken to staying on his feet.
“I wonder if he carries one of those ferocious Bowie knives.”
“A stiletto, actually.” He turned to face the trio of ladies hovering nearby. “Much smaller, far sharper, and easier to wield in a hand-to-hand scrabble.” He flexed his right hand, stretching the crisscross of faded scars. He’d learned to revere stiletto knives at the wrong end of such a blade.
For a fleeting mischievous moment, he considered truly scandalizing the group by rolling up his sleeve and letting them spy the sheathed weapon he hid under his evening clothes. But one young lady had already skittered away. The second gasped and, as far as he could tell, hadn’t taken another breath since. The third lifted her fan and began flapping it wildly.
A footman stopped in front of Rex and offered another puny glass of claret. Barely a mouthful. He declined and approached the doors leading to the Bridewells’ spacious balcony, considering an escape into the inky darkness beyond for a breath of fresh air.
The three whispering ladies reassembled just over his left shoulder, their murmurs lower but infused with a kind of frantic giddiness.
“Do you think he carries a gun?”
He did, though they might be surprised to learn it wasn’t an American Colt he favored but a small, powerful English Webley revolver.
“He prowls the room like a tiger.”
“Tigers aren’t native to America,” the breathless miss reminded the others.
“A mustang, then.”
“Horses don’t prowl,” Miss Breathless insisted.
Good God, they fashioned him some industrialist version of Wild Bill Hickok. A reformed Artful Dodger would be a far more accurate assessment.
The host’s eldest daughter approached, a lush young widow with a shockingly direct gaze and a husky timbre to her voice.
“Is there something amiss with our claret, Mr. Leighton?”
“Not at all, Mrs. Thackeray. I simply desire something with more bite.”
After glancing over each shoulder to ensure no one was close enough to hear their exchange, she leaned in as far as her corset and a semblance of propriety would allow. “Down the hall, second door on the left. Join me there, and bring your desire with you.” As she swiveled to move away, the wide skirt of her gown dragged across the front of his trousers.
Despite how his body twitched to life in response, Rex held his ground, resisting the urge to follow after the seductive swish of the widow’s hips as she sauntered away. He didn’t require the fine education most of these gentlemen had been given as a birthright to know that joining her in that room down the hall would be a mistake. He needed to find a wife, not pass an evening sating some gentlewoman’s urge for a quick, heated tumble in a dimly lit parlor. No matter how she might cry his given name when he tipped her over pleasure’s edge, the lady would have no interest in taking his surname.