New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

of Contemporary Women's Fiction, Romantic Comedies, and Historical Romances

 

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My first Historical Blaze!  Touch Me features as the heroine Genevieve Ralston, who was first introduced in Love and The Single Heiress 

Pleasing a man is something former mistress Genevieve Ralston does very well.  But after her lover callously dumps her, she's definitely off men...until she meets Simon!  He's brooding.  Sexy.  And she can't keep her hands off him...

But Simon Cooperstone, Viscount Kilburn, is a spy.  His mission: retrieve a mysterious letter in Genevieve's possession.  Intent on seducing her secrets from her, he forgets to guard one thing: his heart.

Each stroke of Genevieve's talented fingers unleashes his deepest desires.  Too late, he realizes that while he may be a master of the art of seduction, he's no match for a sensual mistress...

 

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She wore only a chemise.  A wet chemise.

Simon’s breath halted, and for several seconds he completely forgot he was in hiding.  Forgot what was at stake.  After all, this woman might have been involved in a conspiracy to commit murder.  It was imperative he learn all he could about her.

And God knows he was learning plenty given the way that drenched material clung to her.  Clearly Mrs. Ralston had indulged in a dip in the hot springs.  It was well documented that taking the waters was good for the body, and she absolutely was testament to that.

     She moistened her lips and his gaze was drawn to her mouth.  Were her lips naturally so plush or were they kiss swollen?  Had someone joined her at the hot springs?  An unexpected mental image flickered through his mind...of her, standing in the gently bubbling water...and of him, joining her-- 

     Suddenly the object of his fantasies moved toward him.  Simon’s breath halted--partly due to the great risk of discovery and partly because the sight of her rendered his lungs incapable of functioning.  He’d seen many alluring sights in his life, but he’d be hard pressed to name any that could compare to the sight of a wet, nearly naked Genevieve Ralston.  His gaze flicked down to the erection straining against his snug breeches.

And speaking of hard...

 

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Chapter One

 

Little Longstone, Kent, 1820

    

Genevieve...alabaster box...letter inside proof who did this...

The Earl of Ridgemoor’s dying words echoed through Simon Coopertone, Viscount Kilburn’s mind as he stealthily approached the cottage nestled among the soaring elms, words the earl had gasped out with his last breaths to Simon’s urgent question: Who shot you?

With any luck, Simon was about to find out the answer.  And catch the killer trying to frame him for the earl’s murder.

The radical social reforms advocated by the earl--a man rumored to be the next Prime Minister--weren’t universally popular.  An attempt had been made on Ridgemoor’s life two weeks earlier, an act Simon had already been investigating as part of his duties for the Crown.  Now it was too late.  Whoever had wanted Ridgemoor silenced had succeeded on their second attempt, something that filled Simon with a sick sense of guilt and failure.

Since becoming a spy for the Crown eight years ago, he’d suffered several unsuccessful missions, but none that had cast suspicion on Simon himself.  Unfortunately, this failure had done just that after Ridgemoor’s butler discovered him standing over the earl’s dead body, holding a pistol.  Simon had gone to the earl’s town house after receiving a note from him stating he had important information to share.  Sadly, Simon arrived too late.  The butler swore to the authorities that no one other than Simon had entered the house, and indeed all the windows were locked from the inside.

When Simon saw the flickers of suspicion in his superior’s eyes, he knew trouble was brewing.  James Waverly, the man to whom he reported, hadn’t said anything to indicate he doubted Simon’s account, but Simon sensed the man’s hesitancy, a fact which hurt more than he cared to admit.  Eight years ago Simon had known nothing about being a spy, had indeed known nothing other than the wealth and privilege afforded to him thanks to his exalted title and family name.  He’d wanted, needed a change--needed to do something useful with his life and John Waverly had taken him under his experienced wing and taught him the intricacies of the spy game. He’d always considered Waverly more than merely a boss--he admired and respected him, and thought of him as both a trusted friend and mentor.

As if Waverly’s uncertainty in him didn’t rankle enough, Simon also saw the glimmers of mistrust in the eyes of William Miller and Marc Albury, his two closest colleagues, men he considered more like brothers.  Indeed, he often felt closer to Miller and Albury than his own brother as the Simon’s spying activities weren’t something he could confide to his family or friends.  If Miller, Albury, or Waverly were in an untenable situation like the one in which Simon now found himself, would he give them the benefit of the doubt--regardless of the evidence pointing toward his guilt?  He liked to think so, but perhaps, in the face of such damning evidence, he’d doubt his friends as they were doubting him.

With both the king and the Prime Minister demanding the swift capture of Ridgemoor’s murderer, Simon feared speed would take precedence over accuracy and the wrong man could hang for the crime--namely him, especially as there were no other leads or suspects.  Based on several missions gone wrong over the past year, Simon, Miller, Albury, and Waverly, as well as other colleagues believed someone in their ranks was a traitor, but had so far been unsuccessful in discovering who.  All Simon knew was that it wasn’t him.  Now, unfortunately, it appeared as if he stood alone in that knowledge.

Not knowing who he could trust, who had his best interests at heart, he lied when asked if Ridgemoor had divulged anything to him.  Since Waverly, as well as Miller and Albury could smell an untruth at twenty paces, Simon’s prevarication had only made matters worse and deepened the suspicion he saw in their eyes.  No charges had been leveled against him yet, but his instincts warned him it was only a matter of time.  Which was why he needed the alabaster box Ridgemoor spoke of.  Now.  So he could reveal the identity of the guilty party before he faced his own execution.

With time short, he’d asked Waverly for a leave to clear his name.  His superior had studied him at length, then finally nodded and said, “I believe you’ve lied--and you’d better have a bloody good reason for it--but I don’t think you killed Ridgemoor.  Still, the evidence against you is damning and if the top demands your head, there won’t be much I--or anyone else--will be able to do to help you.

“I’ll give you a fortnight, Kilburn.  I’ll tell everyone you’re recovering from a fever believed to be contagious--that should temporarily keep them away.  Do what you have to do to clear your name, and for God’s sake do it quickly.  I’ll do what I can from this end to help you, and see to it that Miller and Albury do as well.”

It was all Simon could ask for and he hadn’t wasted any time.  His investigations over the past two days since Ridgemoor’s murder had led him here--to the home of Mrs. Genevieve Ralston, the woman who, until a year ago, had been Ridgemoor’s long time mistress.  Had Ridgemoor’s final words meant Mrs. Ralston was involved in the plot to kill him?  Or had she perhaps shot him herself?  It seemed a good possibility.

From what information Simon had ferreted out, he’d discovered that Ridgemoor had abruptly ended his decade-old arrangement with Mrs. Ralston a year ago.  Could she be a woman scorned who’d sought revenge?  Or could her motives be of a more political bend--was she an enemy to the Crown who’d helped get rid of Ridgemoor before he could become Prime Minister?

Mrs. Ralston rarely left her property in the small country village of Little Longstone, and the earl had been murdered in London.  But then, London was only a three hour carriage ride away.  What better ruse than to be a recluse and sneak away unseen to commit crimes?

Such as tonight.  Mrs. Ralston had left her cottage five minutes ago.  She had only one servant, a giant of a man named Baxter, who Simon had ascertained was currently sitting in a booth at the village pub, a tankard of ale in his hand.  So long as Mrs. Ralston returned home before Baxter, no one would know she hadn’t spent the evening in her cottage.

No one except whoever she may have gone to see.

And Simon. 

Standing in the deep shadows cast by tall trees surrounding her home, Simon had watched her walk down the path which eventually led to the hot springs on her property as well as and a pair of neighboring cottages.  He’d learned that one of the cottages was currently unoccupied, and the other had been let several months ago to an artist, Mr. Blackwell.  Was Mrs. Ralston heading for the hot springs, or a visit with the artist?  Or did she have another destination in mind?  Simon didn’t know, and as much as he’d wanted to follow her, right now the cottage was empty and he needed to take advantage of the opportunity to find the alabaster box containing the proof that would clear his name.

Crouching low, he sprinted the short distance to the cottage.  Slipping a thin strip of metal between the nearest French windows, he expertly finessed the tool over the lock.  Good fortune was with him as clouds momentarily obscured the stars and moon, casting the area surrounding the cottage in unrelenting black, which suited his purposes perfectly. 

He pulled in a slow, deep breath of cool air scented with the first hints of autumn, opened the window, and slipped inside a well-appointed sitting room.  As he searched, taking care to leave everything exactly as he found it, he noted that Mrs. Ralston had an eye for excellent furnishings and a weakness for artwork.  Framed pieces adorned the cream colored walls, everything from landscapes to sketches to framed poetry to portrait miniatures. 

Based on the little he’d been able to find out about her since he’d first heard her name just two days earlier, Genevieve Ralston was not a rich woman, yet her possessions bespoke of understated wealth.  How did she afford such trappings?  Gifts from a generous benefactor--or payment for murder?

A loud meow broke into his thoughts and he looked down.  An enormous black and white cat stared up him, fluffy tail twitching. 

“Are you friend or foe?” he murmured.

The cat rubbed its whiskers against his boots then twined its furry self between his feet.

“Friend, then.”  He crouched down and scratched behind the beast’s ears and was rewarded with the loudest purr he’d ever heard.

“You like that, don’t you.”  A smiled pulled at his lips when the cat answered with what sounded like a feline sigh of bliss. 

“You must be a lady cat.  You’re much too pretty to be a boy.”

She flicked her tail and moved just out of his reach, then looked at him as if to say, “If you want to continue to pet me, you’ll have to come over here.”

A chuckle tickled Simon’s throat.  Definitely a female.

He stretched out his arm and gave the cat one last scratch, then rose.  “As grateful as I am that you’re not a large, snarling dog, I’m afraid I have no more time for you.”

Precisely.  Time was ticking and the alabaster box was no where in the sitting room.  He moved on to the dining room, library, and morning room, with the cat following him, weaving between his legs.  Artwork and finely crafted furniture filled each room, but no box.  Tamping down his frustration, Simon climbed the stairs and made his way to Mrs. Ralston’s bedchamber.  After closing the door behind him to keep out the overly curious cat, he glanced around, noting it was the most richly appointed room in the house.  Moonlight now streamed in through the windows flanking the four poster bed covered with a pale green counterpane and accented with fluffy pillows.  Opposite the bed was a dresser and an oval cheval glass.  A massive carved wood wardrobe and dressing screen occupied the far wall, while a feminine escritoire and chintz covered chair lined the other.

More framed artwork hung on the pale gray walls, but the most striking object in the room was a life-sized statue of a woman wearing nothing save a secret smile.  She stood in the corner beside the escritoire, a reigning goddess of pure white marble that glowed in the moonlight.  One of her graceful hands extended outward in invitation, and Simon could almost hear her teasingly whisper touch me.  In her other hand she held a bouquet of flowers between her breasts, the petals of one bloom curving to touch her nipple.  She was so lifelike Simon found himself tempted to actually touch her to assure himself she wasn’t real.

Pulling his gaze from the statue, he pushed off the door and crossed to the wardrobe.  An examination of the contents revealed that Mrs. Ralston preferred simple yet exquisitely made gowns from fine materials and owned more bonnets and shoes than any woman could possibly require.  His brows raised when he discovered a small, pearl-handled pistol tucked inside a boot in the back of the wardrobe.  Clearly in spite of living in a sleepy little village, Mrs. Ralston felt the need for protection.  From what--or whom?  Did she fear for her safety because she was guilty of something--such as the death of her former lover?

So many questions regarding this woman...questions he suspected would lead to the answers he sought regarding Ridgemoor’s death, thereby proving Simon’s innocence and saving his neck from the hangman’s noose.

He continued on to the dresser.  Based on the several pale strands trapped in her brush, Mrs. Ralston was blond.  He lifted the cut crystal perfume bottle to his nose, and sniffed.  And she liked the scent of roses.  Several ceramic pots on the dresser top contained an array of feminine creams and potions.

The first two drawers revealed dozens of pairs of gloves, in a dizzying variety of styles, materials and colors.  Bloody hell, her weakness for shoes and bonnets didn’t begin to compare with her apparent addiction to gloves.  The other drawers revealed chemises and stockings so sheer they were nearly transparent.  Simon well knew that the more sheer the underclothes, the more costly they were.  Obviously Mrs. Ralston had done very well for herself.  Because she traded in secrets and murder plots that impacted national security?

He slipped his hands beneath the filmy undergarments and stilled when his fingers brushed something hard.  Pulse kicking with excitement, he slipped the object from its hiding place.

     An alabaster box.

     With a rush of satisfaction, he moved closer to the beam of silvery moonlight and turned the book-sized box in his hand.  A quick examination revealed it wasn’t an ordinary box, but a puzzle box.  Bloody hell.  He’d opened boxes such as this--depending on the intricacy of the pattern involved, it could require anywhere from a few minutes to several hours to find the correct combination of moves to release the top. 

     He hoped like hell it would only require a few minutes.

Employing the calm patience that had served him well through the years, he pressed his fingers over the cool, smooth surface, searching for a panel that would slide.  The previous boxes he’d opened had been made of wood inlaid with intricate designs, which had made finding the sliding panels a bit easier.  This box, however, looked like a solid piece of alabaster and contained no markings other than the pale swirls of color that naturally occurred in the mineral.

Several minutes passed before he finally touched the right spot and a slim section of alabaster slid forward.  He continued on, painstakingly touching the box again and again until he discovered the next small section to slide into place.

     For the next quarter hour, the only sound in the room was the ticking of the mantel clock as he turned the box over and over, working the intricate pattern of sliding pieces.  Finally he slid the piece into place that released the top of the box. At last.  The evidence he needed would, in mere seconds, be his.  Simon drew a deep breath then slowly slid back the top panel.

     And stared into an empty cavity.

     A frown jerked down his brows and he slipped his fingers all around the inside the chamber, but it was indeed empty.  Bloody hell.

Where was the letter?  The proof he needed to present to Waverly to keep from hanging?  His lips flattened into a grim line.  It seemed clear that Mrs. Ralston had found the evidence before he could.

Why would she remove it?  Her doing so certainly pointed directly toward guilt of some sort.  Had she acted alone in the plot to kill Ridgemoor, or was she in cahoots with others?  What role did she play in this circle of death closing in on him?  And what the bloody hell would she have done with the information?  Hidden it somewhere else in the house? 

Another quick examination of the box confirmed his belief that no other opening existed.  With a sigh of frustration and disgust, he slid the panels back into place, replaced the box among the sheer underclothes and closed the drawer.

What next?  Where to look?  His gaze landed on the night table, and he strode across the room.  A bouquet of flowers in a small crystal vase rested on the table’s polished wood surface, along with an oil lamp and a book.  Simon peered at the title.  A Ladies’ Guide to the Pursuit of Personal Happiness and Intimate Fulfillment by Charles Brightmore.

Interesting.  He’d noted that same title during his search of the library.  There had recently been some scandal attached to the book, although he hadn’t paid particular attention as he had no interest in a ladies’ guide.  Still, it was curious that Mrs. Ralston would possess two copies.  Could the letter from the box be tucked inside?  He picked up the book and leafed through the pages, but unfortunately his hope was in vain.  He was about to close the book when a phrase caught his attention and he frowned.  Tie up her man?

     Turning so he could better capture the light streaming through the window, he read:  Today’s Modern Woman should not hesitate to insist upon getting what she wants, be it in the drawing room or in the bedchamber--even if she has to tie up her man to get it.  Indeed, tying him up in the bedchamber will most assuredly lead to very intriguing results... 

     His brows shot upward.  Clearly he’d been mistaken to assume that a ladies’ guide would merely contain information about fashion and etiquette.

“No wonder there was a scandal,” he murmured.

An image flashed through his mind...of his hands being tied with a silken cord to a bedpost.  He couldn’t see his captor’s face, but her voice was ripe with sensual promise when she whispered, “You’re going to give me everything I want.”

     He blinked and the image evaporated, leaving him feeling slightly stunned and--he winced and shifted--more than slightly aroused.  Unable to stop himself, he flipped to a different page and read:  Today’s Modern Woman must realize the importance of fashion in her quest for intimate fulfillment.  Simon nodded.  Ah, yes.  This is more like what he’d expected.  There are times to wear a fancy ball gown, times to wear a negligee, and times to wear nothing at all... 

     So much for what he’d expected.

     Another image materialized in his mind, this one of the same woman who’d tied his hands, her face still blurry and indistinguishable, shrugging her negligee from her shoulders.  The satin puddled at her feet, leaving her bare to his avid gaze.  Coral nipples erect, the pale curls between her legs glistening, she stepped from the pool of material and walked slowly toward him with a sinful sway of her hips.  Where have you, been?  she whispered.  I’ve been waiting for you...

     Simon shook his head to dispel the sensuous image.  Bloody hell, no wonder a scandal had erupted surrounding this book.  He’d never read anything like it.  Of course he wasn’t in the habit of reading ladies’ guides.  At least he hadn’t been until now.   Even as his mind ordered him to put down the damn book and resume his search, he found himself again turning the page.  Just as he peered at the words he heard the unmistakable sound of a door opening then closing.

     Bloody damn hell.

A feminine voice softly crooned, “Hello, sweet Sophia.  Did you miss me?”  Sweet Sophia answered with a loud meow.  “I missed you, too.  We’ll play tomorrow.   I’m tired and off to bed.”

     Double bloody damn hell.

 

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Chapter One

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Reviews

 

"...the perfect blend of romance, humor and mystery.  The relationships (both platonic and romantic) are very real and full of heart and the romance sizzles!  Make room on your keeper shelf for this delightful gem!

– Andrea Williamson, Romance Novel TV

 

Though I hate to see this series come to an end, I love seeing all four couples interact in this installment.  I my opinion, the author has saved the best for last.  I actually devoured this story in one sitting.  To stop reading was simply NOT an option.  Each character is unique and I feel as though I know them personally.  An entertaining romp that I will never forget.

– Detra Fitch, Huntress Book Reviews

 

Top of Page

Excerpt

Chapter One

Reviews

Reader Comments (coming soon)

Awards

 

Reader Comments

 

Coming Soon

 

Top of Page

Excerpt

Chapter One

Reviews

Reader Comments (coming soon)

Awards


Awards

 

 

 

Top of Page

Excerpt

Chapter One

Reviews

Reader Comments (coming soon)

Awards

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and blogging with the Whine Sisters -- stop by and say hi!

         

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