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       The Temptation of Your Touch, p.1

           Teresa Medeiros
 
The Temptation of Your Touch


  New York Times and USA Today

  bestselling author

  TERESA MEDEIROS

  is one of a kind!

  “One of my all-time favorite authors.”

  —SHERRILYN KENYON

  “Few authors have Medeiros’s storytelling talents.”

  —RT BOOK REVIEWS

  “Try a novel by Teresa Medeiros and you will swear it was written just for you.”

  —LISA KLEYPAS, New York Times bestselling author

  “A superb storyteller. . . . Medeiros can pull every last emotion from the reader with tear-inducing scenes and laugh-out-loud dialogue.”

  —BOOKLIST

  “Medeiros is a premier novelist!”

  —SINGLE TITLES

  “Medeiros is magic!”

  —CHRISTINA DODD

  Turn the page for more critical acclaim for Medeiros’s charming romantic adventures!

  Praise for

  THE PLEASURE OF YOUR KISS

  “A fun, adventurous book with a unique setting.”

  —USA Today

  “A spellbinding tale. . . . The story’s unusual setting is both exotic and luxurious. The lush descriptions of Middle Eastern food, dress, and culture will absolutely enchant readers. But beware, what starts out as a quick, fun read turns into a much deeper story that will have you reaching for the tissues.”

  —RT Book Reviews

  “A seductive delight and a witty adventure overflowing with swift action, a lusty, exotic setting, and plenty of hilarious, sometimes bawdy moments.”

  —Library Journal

  “An enjoyable story.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A cold shower might be necessary after reading this one. A delightful combination of humor, drama, and romance!”

  —Seduced by a Book

  “Wonderfully romantic. . . . Teresa Medeiros has now become one of my absolute favorites!”

  —Night Owl Reviews

  THE DEVIL WEARS PLAID

  “A sinfully sexy hero who is more than he seems; a strong-willed, intelligent heroine who is nobody’s pushover; and an engaging plot richly imbued with danger and desire all come together brilliantly.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “From the first page to the last, she holds you enthralled with an enchanting plot, charismatic characters, and strong sensuality. It’s another deep-sigh keeper from a master!”

  —RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!)

  “Both primary and secondary characters are vividly three-dimensional; her plot is full of tasty twists.”

  —Booklist (starred review)

  “Charming. . . . Readers will enjoy the appealing, self-reliant heroine. . . . Quick-paced, clever dialogue lightly sprinkled with Scottish slang moves things along.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “[A] funny, gently poignant historical that revitalizes the well-worn feuding families plot with wit, sizzle, and twists that turn expectations on their heads. A delightful diversion that deserves a sequel.”

  —Library Journal

  “An entertaining historical love story which mesmerizes by keeping the surprises and humor continuously coming.”

  —Single Titles

  “A beautifully written historical romance with all the right ingredients for a passionate, thrilling story.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “An adventure ride through the Scottish Highlands, with plenty of twists and turns, secrets, surprises, laughter, and sighs along the way. . . . I read it in one day, then turned around and read it all over again the next. It’s Teresa Medeiros at her finest!”

  —The Romance Dish

  Thank you for purchasing this Pocket Books eBook.

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  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Epilogue

  About Teresa Medeiros

  To Luanne, my sweet sister of the soul.

  And for Michael, the man who made all of my dreams come true.

  Acknowledgments

  I’d like to thank Garnet Scott, Stephanie Carter, Tina Holder, Gloria Staples, Veronica Barbee, Diane Alder, Richard Wimsatt, Janine Cundiff, Ethel Gilkey, Nadine Engler, Nancy Scott, Elliott Cunningham, Tim Autrey, and all of my tennis buddies for keeping me smiling (even when I’m on deadline).

  And my heartfelt thanks to the city of Metropolis, Illinois, for keeping the dreams of Superman alive and for being my home away from home whenever I need to rediscover my creative soul.

  Chapter One

  MAXIMILLIAN BURKE WAS A very bad man.

  He watched a tendril of smoke rise from the mouth of the pistol in his hand, trying to figure out exactly when he had embraced the role of villain in the farce his life had become. He had always been the honorable one, the dependable one, the one who chose each step he took with the utmost care to avoid even the possibility of a stumble. He had spent his entire life striving to be the son every father would be proud to claim as his own. The man any mother would want her daughter to marry.

  At least that’s what everyone had believed.

  It was his younger brother, Ashton, who had gone around getting into brawls, challenging drunken loudmouths to duels, and facing the occasional firing squad after stealing some priceless relic—or woman—from a Middle Eastern potentate. But now Ash was comfortably settled in the family’s ancestral home of Dryden Hall with his adoring wife and their chattering moppet of a daughter. A daughter, according to gossip, who had been blessed with her mother’s flaxen hair and laughing green eyes. A daughter who should have been his.

  Maximillian briefly closed his eyes, as if by doing so he could blot out the image of the niece he would never see.

  While Ash enjoyed the domestic bliss that should have been Max’s with the woman Max had loved for most of his life, Max stood in a chilly Hyde Park meadow at dawn, his expensive boots coated in wet grass and the man he had just shot groaning on the ground twenty paces away. Ash would have laughed at Max’s predicament, even if a drunken slur cast on Max’s sister-in-law’s good name had prompted it.

  Max could not seem to remember Clarinda’s honor was no longer his to defend.

  When he opened his gray eyes, they were as steely as flints. “Get up and stop whining, you fool!” he told the man still writhing about in the grass. “The wound isn’t mortal. I only winged your shoulder.”

  Clutching his upper
arm with bloodstained fingers, the young swell eyed Max reproachfully, his ragged sniff and quivering bottom lip making Max fear he was about to burst into tears. “You needn’t be so unkind, my lord. It still hurts like the devil.”

  Blowing out an impatient sigh, Max handed the pistol to the East India Company lieutenant he had bullied into being his second and stalked across the grass.

  He helped the wounded man to his feet, gentling his grip with tremendous effort. “It’s going to hurt more if you lie there whimpering until a constable comes to toss us both into Newgate for dueling. It will probably fester in that filth and you’ll lose the arm altogether.”

  As they crossed the damp grass, the young man leaned heavily on Max. “It wasn’t my intention to give offense, my lord. I would have thought you’d have thanked me instead of shooting me for being bold enough to say aloud what everyone else has been whispering behind your back. The lady in question did jilt you at the altar. And for your own brother, no less!”

  Max deliberately stripped his voice of emotion, knowing only too well the chilling effect that always had on his subordinates. “My sister-in-law is a lady of extraordinary courage and exceptional moral fiber. If I should hear you’ve been speaking ill of her again, even in so much as a whisper, I will hunt you down and finish what we started here today.” The lad subsided into a sulky silence. Max handed him off to his white-faced second and the hovering surgeon, relieved to be rid of him. Resting his hands on his hips, Max watched them load the young fool into his rented carriage.

  If Max hadn’t been so deep in his cups when he had overheard his unfortunate dueling opponent loudly tell his friends that legendary adventurer Ashton Burke had married a sultan’s whore, Max would never have challenged the silly lad to a duel. What the boy really needed was a sound thrashing before being sent to bed without supper.

  Despite his regrets, Max had to admit that relinquishing his heroic mantle was almost liberating. When you were a villain, no one looked at you askance if you frequented seedy gambling hells, drank too much brandy, or neglected to tie your cravat in a flawless bow. No one whispered behind their hands if your untrimmed hair curled over the edge of your collar or it had been three days since your last shave.

  Max gave the sooty stubble shadowing his jaw a rueful stroke, remembering a time when he would have discharged his valet without a letter of recommendation for letting him appear in public in such a disreputable state.

  Since resigning his coveted chair on the Court of Directors of the East India Company in the aftermath of the scandal that had sent the society gossips into a feeding frenzy for months, he was no longer forced to make painfully polite conversation with those who sought his favor. Nor did he have to suffer fools graciously, if not gladly. Instead, everyone scurried out of his path to avoid the caustic lash of his tongue and the contempt smoldering in his smoky gray eyes. They had no way of knowing his contempt wasn’t for them but for the man he had become—the man he had always secretly been behind the mask of respectability he wore in public.

  He would rather have people fear him than pity him. His ferocious demeanor also discouraged the well-meaning women who found it unthinkable that a man who had been one of the most eligible catches in England for over a decade should have been so unceremoniously thrown over by his chosen bride. They were only too eager to cast him in the role of wounded hero, a man who might welcome their clucks of sympathy and fawning attempts to comfort him, both on the ballroom floor and between the sheets of their beds.

  Shaking his head in disgust, Max turned on his heel and went striding toward his own carriage. He needed to get out of London before he cast an even greater stain over his family’s good name and his own title by killing someone. Most likely himself.

  The lieutenant returned the pistol to its mahogany case before trotting after Max. “M-m-my lord?” he asked, his stammer betraying his nervousness. “W-where are you going?”

  “Probably hell,” Max snapped without breaking his stride. “All that remains to be seen is how long it will take me to get there.”

  Chapter Two

  “ANNIE! ANNIE! I’VE SOMETHING you must see!”

  Anne Spencer withdrew her head from the castiron oven as young Dickon came racing into the kitchen of Cadgwyck Manor, all gangly limbs and boundless enthusiasm. With its low ceiling, exposed rafters, massive stone hearth, and scattering of faded rag rugs, the kitchen was by far the most cozy chamber in the drafty, old manor and the one where its residents chose to spend most of their free time.

  “Mind your tongue, lad,” Anne scolded as she slid a large wooden paddle from the stove and swung it toward the sturdy pine table, depositing two loaves of freshly baked bread topped with buttery, golden crusts on the table’s scarred top.

  Having never dreamed she would excel at such a domestic pursuit, she could not resist sparing a moment to admire her handiwork. Most of her early efforts at baking had resulted in the ancient stove’s belching black clouds of smoke before it coughed up something that looked more like a smoldering lump of suet than anything fit to be consumed by humans.

  By the time she returned her attention to Dickon, he was bouncing up and down on his heels with excitement. “How many times have I told you how important it is to stay in the habit of addressing me as Mrs. Spencer?”

  “Even when there’s no one around to hear?”

  “Beer? There’s no beer, lad, and if there was, you’d be too young to drink it.”

  They both turned to look at the old woman rocking in a chair in the corner of the kitchen. Nana squinted at them through her rheumy eyes, the merry click of her knitting needles never faltering despite her gnarled fingers and swollen knuckles. They had long ago stopped trying to guess what she could be knitting. It might have started out as a stocking or a scarf, but now it trailed behind her wherever she shuffled, growing longer each time Anne scraped aside a few pennies to buy another skein of wool at the market.

  Anne exchanged an amused look with Dickon before saying loudly, “Don’t fret, Nana. Our young Dickon here has always preferred brandy to beer.”

  Harrumphing her amusement at Anne’s jest, Nana returned to her knitting. Her hearing might be failing her, but her mind was still sharp as the proverbial tack.

  Setting aside the paddle and dusting the flour from her hands, Anne nodded toward the rotund pooch napping on the rug closest to the hearth. “Nana might be too deaf to hear you, but what about dear old Piddles over there? He’s always been an insatiable gossip.” Piddles, the rather ill-favored and ill-tempered result of a sordid tryst between a pug and a bulldog, lifted his grizzled head just long enough to give them a disdainful snuffle through his flattened nose before curling himself back into a ball. Anne pointed at the calico cat who was treating the threadbare cushion of the other rocking chair as if it were his own private throne. “And then there’s Sir Fluffytoes. Who knows what secrets the rascal might reveal to his numerous ladyloves to coax them out of their drawers?”

  Dickon wrinkled his sun-freckled nose at her. “Now you’re just being silly. Everyone knows cats don’t wear drawers—only bibs, boots, and mittens.”

  Laughing, Anne gave Dickon’s already hopelessly tousled tawny hair an affectionate rumple. “So what treasure have you brought for me today? Another dinosaur egg perhaps or the mummified corpse of a shrew that met its tragic fate at the merciless claws of Sir Fluffytoes?”

  Dickon gave her a reproachful look. “I never said that was a dinosaur egg. I said dinosaurs had a right number of things in common with birds.”

  As the lad reached into his jacket, Anne recoiled out of habit. She had learned from bitter experience to check his pockets for snakes, frogs, mice, or any other reptile or rodent likely to send Lisbeth or one of the more squeamish housemaids into a fit of shrieking hysterics. Her smile faded as Dickon’s freckled hand emerged with an expensive-looking square of vellum sealed with a daub of scarlet wax. “It was waiting for us in the village.”

  Anne took the letter
from his hand, almost wishing it were a snake.

  In her experience, the post rarely brought good news. A quick perusal of the exclusive Bond Street address on the outside of the missive confirmed today was going to be no exception to that rule.

  Just as she had expected, the letter wasn’t addressed to her but to Mr. Horatio Hodges, the butler and de facto head of the household whenever the manor’s current master was not in residence.

  Ignoring that small fact, Anne slipped one chipped fingernail beneath the wax seal and unfolded the cream-colored sheet of paper. As she scanned the letter’s contents, her face must have revealed far more than she intended for Dickon immediately snatched the missive from her unsteady hands, his lips moving as he struggled to decipher the elegant handwriting. Anne had patiently been working with him on his letters, no easy feat when he much preferred to be out roaming the moors or scouring the steep cliffs for long-forgotten smugglers’ caves or cormorant nests.

  Even with his limited reading skills, it didn’t take Dickon long to understand the gravity of their situation. When he lifted his eyes to her face, dismay had darkened their caramel-colored depths. “We’re getting a new master?”

  “Disaster?” Nana echoed loudly, her needles still clicking. “Is there a disaster?”

  “So it seems,” Anne replied grimly, swiping a smudge of flour from her flushed cheek. Given that she had sworn no man would ever be her master, the irony of their predicament did not escape her. “I was so hoping they would leave us to our own devices for a while.”

  “Don’t look so worried, Annie—I mean, Mrs. Spencer.” At the exalted age of twelve, Dickon considered himself a man full grown and more than capable of looking after them all. Anne wondered if she was to blame for forcing him to grow up too fast. “I doubt the gent will be here long enough to trouble any of us. We made short enough work of the last one, didn’t we?”

  A reluctant smile canted Anne’s lips as she remembered the sight of their former master bolting over the hill toward the village as if the Beast of Bodmin Moor were snapping at his heels. Since he had publicly sworn he would never again set foot on the property, she had anticipated he might sell the manor or foist it off on some unsuspecting relative. She just hadn’t expected it to be so soon.

 
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