Ellen Drake has seen firsthand how dangerous scandal can be. Her family was torn apart by an unjust accusation ten years ago, and now, working as a paid companion, Ellen must keep her reputation above reproach. Catching her employer's betrothed in a sizzling tryst is bad enough; even worse that Ellen should find herself so infernally enthralled by the spectacle! Ellen intends to prevent Alex Marshall, Lord Stanton, from dallying with other women before his wedding day, but the rogue turns the tables--with an invitation to be his paramour. It's a proposition that is too outrageous, too indecent...and strangely irresistible. With a single touch, Alex opens the door to a secret world of sensual desire, a world Ellen is burning to explore...
Alex intends to be faithful once he's married, but in the meantime, London offers so many tempting bed partners. Giving the prim Miss Drake a taste of the excitement she clearly craves will be a delightful diversion, nothing more. But their secret dalliance unleashes the vengeance of someone who is plotting revenge, someone whose own erotic pursuits are twisted with madness. And the scandal that destroyed Ellen's family is about to come calling once again...
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St. Martin's Paperbacks
March 06, 2006
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Excerpt from Too Tempting to Touch by Cheryl Holt
london, england, 1812 . . .
"Do you feel sorry for me?"
"Dreadfully sorry, darling."
At the sound of voices, Ellen Drake halted in shuffling her deck of cards. She'd been anxious for a quiet interlude and a chance to rest after a trying day, but apparently, no privacy was to be had. She was huddled in the shadows of the earl's library, hiding and playing solitaire at a writing desk that was situated behind a large potted plant. She peeked around it.
From her discreet location she couldn't see who'd entered, but it was a man and a woman. Considering that they'd sneaked away from the crowded party--as had she--and that they were cooing and purring, it was obvious that a romantic tryst was commencing.
When the man spun the key in the lock, Ellen's suspicions were confirmed. He was bent on seduction, and his partner eager for it to happen.
Of all the rotten luck!
Ellen glanced about, searching for a rear door by which she could escape, but there wasn't one. She was trapped, and the sole means of exit was her bumbling into the middle of the torrid scene, which she was loathe to attempt.
Though she'd been in London but a few hours, she was aware of how the members of the Quality were prone to amorous mischief, and she couldn't bear to witness which wife was consorting with which husband. She had a firm moral constitution, had had a decent and respectable upbringing, and when she knew a person had a penchant for adultery it was difficult to be civil.
Her host, Alex Marshall, Lord Stanton, was the prime illustration of how arduous it was to pretend nonchalance. A decade earlier, when she was a girl of eighteen, Stanton had been in the country, merrymaking at a local estate. She'd stumbled upon him in the woods, doing all sorts of things he oughtn't with a neighbor's daughter. Ellen had never forgotten a single detail of the spectacle, so how was she to exhibit any courtesy toward him?
For months, since the moment she'd learned that she'd be traveling to London and staying in Stanton's home, she'd been panicked. In light of her post as a lady's companion, she couldn't have refused to accompany her employers, Rebecca and Lydia Burton. Nor could Ellen voice her opinion as to why she was opposed to Rebecca's betrothal to Stanton. As the disaster unfolded, she could only observe and stew.
As she was a spinster who'd been forced to make her own way in the world, Ellen's reputation had to be beyond reproach. She could never mention Stanton's base character, for then she'd be compelled to recount how she'd spied on him.
Fortunately, during the brief period they'd been in his house, Stanton hadn't deigned to appear, so she'd avoided meeting him, and she hoped to delay an introduction for as long as she was able. Rebecca was Stanton's cousin, their marriage arranged when they were children. Rebecca had spent most of her twenty-two years waiting for Stanton to decide he was ready to tie the knot, which he finally had, so at his behest they'd scurried to the city to set the process in motion. Rebecca was thrilled and excited, but Ellen was convinced that Rebecca would be miserable with such a rampant libertine for her husband.
"The nuptial noose is tightening," the man was commenting. "I'm about to have my wings clipped."
"Poor dear," the woman soothed. "Matrimony can be so tedious."
"Can't it, though?"
An engaged man! Ellen fumed. Who was about to be wed! The cad!
There was a lengthy pause, a rustle of clothing, some giggling; then the woman said, "You're a beast to lure me away from the festivities."
"Why did you let me?"
"You're so . . . tense."
"Oh, I'm definitely tense," the man agreed. "Very, very tense. I need to relax. And soon!"
"I thought I should offer my assistance."
"Oh, you should!" the man replied. "You absolutely should."
Each sentence was punctuated by intervals of silence, and though Ellen would have poked her eyes out rather than look, her curiosity was piqued. What--precisely--were they doing?