Eleanor Collins knows that her beautiful younger sister will have wealthy, powerful men falling at her feet in her first London season. But Eleanor is surprised to discover that one man's attentions are utterly focused on her.
As delicious as Sebastian Dodd, Viscount Benton, finds the eldest Collins daughter, his true motive is darker than mere seduction. Until he has avenged his mother's death, he will be unable to think of anything else. Or so he believes, until he takes his first taste of Eleanor's inviting lips, and finds his mind--and his body--utterly consumed. . .
"Basso has a gift for creating. . .stories tinged with simmering passion and poignancy." --Romantic Times on How to Enjoy a Scandal
"Sinfully sensual." --Booklist on The Christmas Countess
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January 01, 2011
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Excerpt from A Little Bit Sinful by Adrienne Basso
Chaswick Manor, Kent, England, early spring, 1819 "Everyone, please gather closer." The minister's voice, deep and solemn, echoed among the well-dressed group, shattering the stillness. Jaw clenched, eyes dry, Sebastian Dodd, Viscount Benton, took a step forward, swaying slightly as the bright sunshine momentarily blinded him. Following his lead, the sparse crowd of mourners standing behind him also moved, yet kept a respectful distance.
How very wrong it all feels, Sebastian thought, shifting his stance to block the sun's rays from his eyes. The weather should be chilly and damp and gray, with raindrops pelting their faces, the ground beneath their feet soaked and muddy. Instead there was warmth and sunshine, with a sky as blue as a robin's egg, solid, thick green grass, and a profusion of exuberant spring wildflowers.
Though he stood alone, Sebastian was mindful of the people gathered behind him. A few distant relatives, whom he wished had not bothered to make the journey, and an even smaller group of friends, whose presence made him feel a profound sense of gratitude.
"The Countess of Marchdale was a noble woman, possessing a strong character and a charitable heart. She was a pillar of the community, a shining example of a fine and genteel female," the minister proclaimed. "Heaven will most assuredly welcome this good lady with open arms."
Sebastian could not hold back his smile. His grandmother had been a feisty, opinionated woman who had ruffled more than her share of feathers, especially in the later years of her life. She would have laughed out loud upon hearing the minister's words, and then rapped his knuckles sharply before scolding him for exaggerating. The countess was never one to suffer false praise. Even at her own funeral.
As for her heavenly ascent, well, if such a place did exist, the countess's admittance was hardly guaranteed. She had not led an angelic life, nor a particularly pious one. She had enjoyed fully the excesses and privileges of her rank and wealth as well as--Sebastian always suspected--the delights of the flesh. After all, she had buried three husbands, each younger than her.
If, by some divine miracle, his grandmother did pass through the gates of St. Peter, Sebastian was confident that within minutes of arriving she would be expressing her opinion on how things could be improved in that world. And this one, too. "Let us pray," the minister commanded. Behind him, a soft chorus of voices blended together. The familiar words sprang from Sebastian's lips as he joined in, marveling at the power of memory, for it had been a very long time since he had spoken any words of prayer. At the conclusion, Sebastian lifted his bowed head and for the first time looked into the deep, dark hole that had been dug in the ground.
A shudder rippled through him. It seemed impossible to imagine his grandmother spending eternity in that darkness, cut off from everything she had once loved.
At the minister's command, four burly workmen took up their positions and began lowering the casket. Farewell. Sebastian voiced his final good-bye silently, yet the moment the thought solidified, a wave of sorrow rose from deep within his chest, catching him unawares. He had never been a man who allowed sincere emotions to easily flow. The tragedies of his life had taught him that true feelings were meant to be private. It was best to hold them close and keep them hidden.
The countess's death had not been unexpected. She was an elderly woman whose normally robust health had been compromised by a persistent winter illness. The day before she died she had told him that she was weary of feeling unwell and melancholy over the loss of her active, buoyant lifestyle. She confessed she was at last ready to leave this earth and begin her final adventure.
Sebastian took a deep breath. She might have been ready to depart, but he wasn't prepared to see her go. She had pestered and plagued him all of his adult life, attempting to dictate everything from the meals he ate to the clothes he wore, from the items on which he spent his money to the company he kept. She was quick to find fault and even quicker to express her displeasure.
But the countess had also protected her only grandchild with a maternal tenacity that had no equal. Her loyalty was unmatched, her love always given lavishly. Accepting the finality of her death was difficult and thus Sebastian forced himself to stare at the casket as it was slowly lowered into the ground.
It seemed to take forever.
Sebastian heard a sob, then a loud sniffle. One of the female mourners was crying, most likely his grandmother's cousin Sarah. She was a self proclaimed delicate woman who never missed an opportunity to showcase her sensitive nature. He wondered idly if she attended many funerals, since clearly that would be the best venue to demonstrate her frail constitution.
The sobbing grew louder. Though he dismissed it in his mind as pure artifice, the mournful sound struck a chord. Sebastian felt the tightening in his chest increase. A combination of grief, coupled with the need to suppress it, he decided. He scowled, wanting desperately to turn and walk away, but that would be unpardonably rude. He owed it to his grandmother's memory to act as she would have wished, with dignity and decorum. Two qualities she often lamented he lacked in sufficient quantity.
As he fought to capture and tame his rioting emotions, Sebastian became aware of someone standing very near. Apparently one of the mourners had broken ranks and approached him. Who would dare to be so brave?
Please, dear Lord, let it not be cousin Sarah. Sebastian inhaled and gritted his teeth. Yet before he could turn and face this unknown individual, he felt the gentle brush of feminine fingertips against his gloved hand, then caught a whiff of fresh lemons. Emma. The tightness twisting in his chest eased.
Dearest Emma. She was such a compassionate girl. He imagined she had spent the entire service with her eyes trained upon him, waiting for the precise moment when he faltered, ever at the ready to come to his aid when he needed her most. Heedless of the proprieties, Sebastian accepted Emma's comfort, intimately entwining his fingers with hers.
Strange how such a small, dainty hand could instill such strength inside him, letting him know that he was not entirely alone. At least not for the moment.
Cousin Sarah's lusty sobs abruptly ceased, her sniffles replaced by an indignant gasp. Apparently the scandal of holding a woman's hand--an unmarried woman, to whom he was not engaged--was enough to shock the sorrow from Sarah's breast and replace it with horror. Sebastian felt Emma sway slightly and realized she too had heard that gasp of disapproval.