The war-scarred Thornton Lindsay, Duke of Penborne, can scarcely believe the news when a beautiful stranger comes to London proclaiming to be his lover.
Caroline Anstretton is on the run and desperate. Her gamble that the reclusive duke won't leave the sanctuary of his home is lost when he coolly confronts her.
Courtesan or charlatan, this mysterious, sensual woman intrigues Thorn. There's a vulnerability beneath her smile and easy laughter. Could she be the one to mend a life he'd thought damaged beyond repair?
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November 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Masquerading Mistress by Sophia James
April 1816 Penleven Castle, Cornwall
'She said what...?' The Duke of Penborne's shout echoed around the antechamber and Leonard Lindsay stepped back.
'Caroline Anstretton said that she had once been... intimate with you. She did qualify that it was no longer the case, but her tone of voice was such that most people present guessed that she still harboured at least some affection.'
Hearing the words a second time made little difference to the scale of Thornton's anger and, making an effort to temper it, he tried again. This was hardly his cousin's fault, after all, and he was long past the stage of caring enough to shoot the messenger when the news was bad.
'You are telling me this woman said that I was her lover?'
'Is she simple?'
'She definitely does not give that impression.'
'Ugly, then?' He hated to even utter the question given the state of his own face, but he had to know what he was up against.
'She is one of the most beautiful women to have ever graced London. I have heard that said time and time again since she arrived here and I would guess that, even given the enormity of her confession, she would have a hundred takers for her favours were they given half the chance.'
'The chance to get close to her. Whether anyone is enjoying her favours already is anyone's guess, for she is somewhat...experienced in her pursuit of men.' His voice lowered as he continued in the fashion of one who would hate to be thought of as a gossip, but who, in fact, relished the scandal and prattle of society. 'It is said that she was married briefly to a French general.'
'A busy woman, then.' Thornton's irony was lost on his cousin and, smiling, he brought one hand up across his cheek, the scarred ridge of raised flesh rough against his fingers. Cannon fire had a way of making certain that you never forgot its power, and even two years after the church had been blown up in his face he could still smell the singe of burning flesh, still feel the agony of his melting skin and the blackened weeks of delirium that had followed.
Five months of fighting his way back out of hell. And then a further seven months of seeing that hell reflected in the mirror every time he looked at himself while convalescing in L'H�pital des Anges in the south-west of France.
He grimaced. He had never been a vain man, but he was not ready to return to society and to all that it entailed.
Closing his eyes against the thought, he moved towards the window, liking the sound of the wild sea echoing beneath the ramparts of Penleven Castle.
A place where he could hide and lick his wounds and regroup. He had not left it for close on twelve months now, ignoring the whispered rumours that swirled around his name.
Reclusive. Damaged. Solitary.
And now to be thrust back into society because some feather-brained woman had decided to lie about her sexual favours and others had decided to listen...?
Caroline Anstretton. Her face was not difficult for him to imagine. She would have alabaster pale skin and eyes that were threaded in pity.
He had come home for peace and quiet and solitude. And to hide.
There. He admitted it to himself as the fragile first beams of spring sunshine slanted across the skin on his left hand. Spring. A new beginning, and all he could feel was the bone-cold chill of winter and the stripped bareness of scars opaque against the slight warmth of sun.
Leonard moved uneasily behind him. Reaching out for the brandy, Thornton imagined, and topping up on courage. His cousin's complexion looked more sallow each time he had seen him of late and he wondered if he was ailing. Perhaps Penleven brought out the worst in him with the lost possibility of any inheritance. He had, after all, been the custodian of the castle for five years when military duty had kept him in Europe. Thorn wondered how he would have felt had the situation been reversed and decided that Leonard's melancholy was probably wholly understandable, for a family stipend of limited means and the necessity to be beholden to the wealthier members of the family could hardly be easy.