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Meet Annette “Malachite” Blair
Annette Blair is a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author. In her forty plus books, she’s explored nineteenth-century Amish Country, Regency England, and madcap, modern Salem MA, where bold women follow the Celtic faith with heart. There, she fought dragons, and fell in love with an angel. She’s solved mysteries beside Connecticut’s Mystic River, and the first of her new Wishing Well series, set near Salem, will be out this summer. Wherever she’s landed, she’s thrived. An adventurer and storyteller at heart, Annette lives in New England with her husband and an assortment of dust bunnies.
HOLY SCOUNDREL Annette’s 4th Scoundrel has been nominated as a Best Indie Book of 2014 in the New Adult Category at Indie Romance Convention.
For more information about Annette, visit her at http://www.annetteblair.com Friend or Like her on Facebook & sign up for her newsletter.
Excerpt follows the entry form!
Knave of Hearts, four
by Annette Blair
Arundel, The South Downs
West Sussex, England, Summer 1830
Dwarfing his surroundings, Gabriel bent to keep his head from an intimate encounter with a raw-oak barn beam while protecting the newborn lamb in his keeping, a smile in his eyes, if not on his face . . . until he saw her. Gabriel the indomitable—named for the bright angel, when he should have been named for the dark—stood frozen in vulnerability.
A heartbeat, no more, and the scoundrel narrowed his eyes, stepped forward, stretched to his full staggering height, and squared his shoulders to a stunning span. Lucifer, sighting prey, spreading charred wings.
His chiseled features, graven in shadow, sharpened to unforgiving angles as his dark-fire gaze singed her.
Lacey stepped back. In that moment, despite her resolve, she wanted nothing more than to turn tail and run . . . except that she could not seem to move.
Here stood the father of her child, while between them stood the lie she’d told to deny it—saving him and tormenting him in one horrific stroke.
A horse snuffled and shuffled in its stall, freeing the scent of hay musk into the grip of silence, injecting reality into unreality, replacing the past with the present, and allowing her finally to draw breath.
As forbidding as her nemesis appeared in lantern light, dressed entirely in black, the tiny white lamb tucked into his frock-coat humanized him, the contrast bringing his cleric’s collar into conspicuous and bright relief.
A Vicar’s trappings, a scoundrel’s heart, and no one seemed to know, save her.
He no longer fit the image of the young man she had carried in her heart. His features familiar, despite the firmness of his jaw, had been lined and bronzed by time and parish responsibilities to a mature and patrician air. His leonine mane, still an overlong tumble of sooty waves, thick and lush, bore strokes of gray at the temples. No phantasm here, but the bane of her existence in the flesh, more daunting, more vitally masculine. More a threat to her sanity than ever.
As if he could read her, Gabriel shifted his stance, on guard, watchful, yet before her eyes, a hard-won humility replaced his natural arrogance. But he did not do humble well, and his attempt jarred her.
He’d always been proud, even when they were children—he, the indigent Vicar’s son, she, the daughter of a Duke. But now, their roles had been reversed, and the Duke’s daughter stood, impoverished, disowned, before the boy who’d adored her, then hated her, with all his heart, face to face for the first time in five years. “Gabriel,” she said, wishing her voice did not tremble and her body did not remember.
Gabe foolishly wondered if the sum and substance of all his dreams, good and bad, could hear the sound of his cold stone heart knocking against his ribs, bruising him to his core. “Lace,” he said, her name emerging raw and raspy.
Mortified at his self-betrayal, he cleared his throat to try again, but a shadow fell between them cutting the anguish of the moment.
Gabe focused on the newcomer, Yves “Ivy” St. Cyr, stood there beaming, his little red dog at his heels, Ivy, whose puppet wagon they’d once chased giggling down High Street. The happy vagabond grasped Gabe’s hand and pumped it, making him feel the dolt for failing to extend it. “Ivy,” Gabe said, relieved his voice worked again.
The puppet master beamed. “I see you found the surprise I brought you.”
Found it? Gabe could not take his eyes from it.
“Yes, Gabriel,” Lacey said. “I have come home.”
As was her habit, and his curse, she answered his unspoken thought. Whether her words eased or deepened his anxiety, he could not decide, but he hoped fervently that his shock and yearning were not as plainly writ on his brow for her to read.
“She’s staying with me for now,” Ivy said. “Helping with my puppet shows until she finds a place here in Arundel to live. There’s plenty of room in my wagon.”
Gabe worked to comprehend Ivy’s words and form a coherent response, while the horrible gladness burgeoning inside him begged release to the point it constricted his chest and stole his breath. He found concentration necessary to fill his lungs. “You’ll stay at Rectory Cottage,” he said. “Both of you. More room than in that gypsy wagon.” Gabe raised a hand while Ivy prepared what would be nothing more than a token protest.
Gabe shook his head. “No argument, now.” He had always suspected that Ivy enjoyed making people as well as puppets dance, though with the best of intentions. So of course the puppeteer offered no argument, but he did grin and wink at Lacey. “Took pity on my old bones, he did.”
As Lace had once commanded, Gabe bowed before her. “Lady Ashton.” His insolent use of her title, a reminder of her status before her fall from grace, pierced her, he saw, and for that reason, it pierced him as well.
“I apologize,” Gabe said. “That was . . . unforgivable.”
“Yes, it was.”
She tried, and failed, to mask her distress.
Gabe watched, heart racing, as she turned to their friend. “Ivy,” she said, “I can’t stay. I’ll sleep in the wagon while I look for— No, I’ll take the morning coach back to Peacehaven in Sussex. This won’t do.”
Handing the lamb to Ivy, Gabe placed the flat of his hand against Lacey’s back to stop her retreat, turn her, and propel her toward the vicarage before she objected further.
Her familiar heat warmed his palm and spiraled like smoke from a chimney to surround his icy heart, causing a painful thumping nudge in the center of his chest.
He retrieved his hand and fisted it in self-preservation as he looked about him as if for an answer to his dilemma.
The vicarage kitchen, friendly, welcoming, pleased him absurdly, seeing it as he was through Lacey’s eyes. But she stepped away from him. “I won’t stay. I won’t.”
Gripped by panic, Gabe knew he could not let her go. Not again. Just thinking about the possibility seared him deep, like a knife had sliced him open and left him bleeding.
To save himself, he turned and bent on his haunches to stoke the fire in the grate, chase the damp, and warm the undersized lamb.
Ivy’s pup, a German Dachshund, placed her front paws against his thigh seeking attention, its tail beating an amiable tattoo, yet Gabe could concentrate on nothing, save Lacey.
Lacey was home, here, in his house, where he’d pictured her a hundred times. A thousand.
His Lacey. As beautiful as ever. More beautiful. His.
No, not his. Never again his. That was past.
He was a proper Vicar now, staid, unemotional, his passion, a vice overcome. Long-buried. Dead. Except that it was not.