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       The Pleasure of Your Kiss, p.1

           Teresa Medeiros
 
The Pleasure of Your Kiss


  Legendary adventurer Ashton Burke has roamed the globe for ten years trying to forget the spirited woman he left behind in England. His devil-may-care pursuits are interrupted, though, when he reluctantly agrees to retrieve his brother’s kidnapped fiancée from a sultan’s harem. Too late, he discovers his quarry is none other than Clarinda Cardew, the very same girl who made off with his jaded heart.

  The last thing Clarinda wants is to be trapped in a palace of sensual delights with the man whose irresistible kisses still haunt her sleepless nights. She quickly realizes that allowing Ashton to rescue her may put her yearning heart in even greater peril. In a journey both tantalizing and treacherous, Ashton and Clarinda resume the impetuous steps of their dangerous dance only to discover the most seductive pleasure of all may be love itself.

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

  —Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author

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  SimonandSchuster.com

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  Also visit Romance.SimonandSchuster.com

  “Few authors have Medeiros’s storytelling talents” (RT Book Reviews), which are on full display in this swashbuckling romance that tempts readers from the exotic intrigues of a sultan’s court to the glittering ballrooms of Regency London.

  Thank you for purchasing this Pocket Star Books eBook.

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  “Teresa Medeiros is one of my all-time favorite authors.”

  —SHERRILYN KENYON

  “Nobody writes humor with more heart or passion with more pleasure.”

  —CHRISTINA DODD

  Praise for

  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

  “Few authors have Medeiros’s storytelling talents. 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!)

  “Medeiros is a superb storyteller. Both primary and secondary characters are vividly three-dimensional; her plot is full of tasty twists, and Medeiros can pull every last emotion from the reader with tear-inducing scenes and laugh-out-loud dialogue.”

  —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

  “Medeiros is a premier novelist! 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 exciting historical with a hero that will make your heart skip a beat and a heroine who is as smart as she is beguiling.”

  —Heart to Heart: The BN Romance Blog

  “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

  GOODNIGHT TWEETHEART

  “In her latest delightfully inventive novel, Medeiros writes with effortless grace and addictive wit about the importance of love and hope in every person’s life.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “A very clever love story for the technological age!”

  —Fresh Fiction

  “Exactly the book to warm you up on a cold winter’s night. Tender, funny, and poignant, this novel will make you laugh out loud one minute and reach for the tissues the next.”

  —Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author

  “Measures out equal amounts of lightning-fast wit, wry intelligence, and haunting tenderness. Medeiros shows that in any era, by any means of communication, love will find a way.”

  —Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author

  “Medeiros gives her well-matched Twitter couple some very funny exchanges.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “A shrewd depiction of romance in an era of instant connection. … The mysteries and questions Medeiros puts into play are timeless, and they give extra depth to this cleverly crafted tale.”

  —BookPage

  “Quick-witted and romantically heartwarming. Goodnight Tweetheart is crazy good. I loved it from its first tweet to its last one.”

  —Night Owl Reviews

  “Exceedingly clever writing. … There is so much hilarity in this fun tale. … Goodnight Tweetheart is imaginatively unique and will touch the reader on a variety of levels.”

  —Single Titles

  “This novel is unique.…Medeiros expertly keeps the reader entertained to the very end.…A winner!”

  —The Romance Readers Connection

  These titles are also available as eBooks

  Also by Teresa Medeiros:

  The Devil Wears Plaid

  Goodnight Tweetheart

  Pocket Star Books

  A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Medeiros

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

  First Pocket Books paperback edition January 2012

  POCKET STAR BOOKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

  ISBN 978-1-4391-5789-3 (print)

  ISBN 978-1-4391-7073-1 (ebook)

  To Doris Medeiros. I’m so glad God sent you

  into my life along with your amazing son.

  You have always been more than a

  mother-in-law to me. You have been,

  and always will be, my friend.

  For my darling Michael, whose kisses will

  always be the greatest pleasure in my life.

  Acknowledgments

  My heartfelt thanks to Lauren McKenna, Louise Burke, and Andrea Cirillo for giving me my creative wings and encouraging me to fly. Thanks to the entire amazing team at Pocket. You are simply the best!

  Thanks to all of my beloved baristas at my local Starbucks. When I say I could
n’t have done it without you, I mean it! And a special thanks to Ashly Wickham for always serving me smiles with my coffee and asking when she can model for the cover of my next book.

  Contents

  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

  The Temptation of Your Touch

  The

  Pleasure

  of Your

  Kiss

  Chapter One

  1834

  Oh, Clarinda! Have you seen the latest edition of the Snitch? I picked one up at the docks before we sailed and there’s an absolutely delicious article about Captain Sir Ashton Burke!”

  Clarinda Cardew felt her fingers tighten involuntarily, biting into the leather binding of the book she was reading. Despite the balmy warmth of the sea breeze caressing her cheeks, she could feel her face freezing into the mask of calculated disinterest it always wore whenever That Name was mentioned. She didn’t require a mirror to know how effective it was. She’d had nine long years to perfect it.

  “Indeed?” she murmured without lifting her eyes from the page.

  Unfortunately, Poppy was too enamored of her subject matter to notice Clarinda’s marked lack of encouragement. Adjusting the wire-rimmed spectacles perched on the tip of her nose, Poppy leaned forward in her deck chair. “According to this article, he’s fluent in over fifteen languages, including French, Italian, Latin, Arabic, and Sanskrit, and has spent most of the last decade journeying from one corner of the globe to the other.”

  “Strictly speaking,” Clarinda said drily, “globes don’t have corners. They’re round.”

  Undaunted, Poppy continued, “‘After leading his regiment in the East India Company army to a stunning victory in the Burmese war, he was awarded a knighthood by the king. Based on his ferocious skill in single combat, the men under his command gave him the nickname Sir Savage.’”

  “So much more intimidating than Sir Unfailingly Polite.” Feeling rather savage herself, Clarinda flicked to the next page of her book and stared blindly down at words that might as well have been written in Sanskrit or some other ancient tongue.

  “‘Rumor has it that while he was in India, he rescued a beautiful Hindustani princess from the bandits who had kidnapped her from her palace. When her father offered him her hand in marriage and a fortune in gold and jewels as a reward, Burke informed him that he would be content with nothing more than a kiss.’”

  “Her father must have been a most excellent kisser,” Clarinda replied, lifting the book to hide her face altogether.

  Poppy dragged her rapt gaze away from the Snitch long enough to give Clarinda an exasperated glance. “Not from her father, silly. From the princess. According to the article, Captain Burke’s romantic exploits are nearly as legendary as his military ones. It says here that after requesting a discharge from the army, Burke was engaged by the African Association to lead an expedition deep into the continent’s interior. His alliance with the association was severed three years ago when he returned from Africa with copious notes on the carnal habits of the primitive tribes he discovered there. Even the most sophisticated of scholars were scandalized by the attention to detail evidenced by his findings. Some of them even dared to suggest he might have participated in these rituals himself!”

  Clarinda winced as Poppy’s scandalized titter threatened to pierce her eardrums. The image of a man lowering himself into the sleek arms of some ebony-skinned beauty while flames leapt around them and native drums beat out an irresistible rhythm made her own temples begin to throb. She briefly considered throwing the scandal sheet overboard. Or perhaps even Poppy herself.

  Normally Penelope Montmorency, known as Poppy to both Clarinda and to their former classmates from Miss Bedelia Throckmorton’s Seminary for Young Ladies, was a most amiable companion. She might be overly fond of society gossip and iced tea-cakes and have a tendency to speak as if her every utterance was punctuated by an exclamation mark, but she was also good-natured and loyal, without an ounce of genuine malice in her short, plump frame.

  Poppy was usually content to read to Clarinda from the sacred pages of the Ladies’ Fashionable Repository. But Clarinda supposed the ornate plumes, stuffed birds, and clusters of ribbons the French were wearing on the brims of their bonnets that summer couldn’t hope to compare to the legendary exploits—romantic or otherwise—of the dashing Captain Sir Ashton Burke.

  The gentle pitch and roll of the ship’s deck beneath their chairs no longer felt soothing to Clarinda’s nerves. Although she’d never suffered so much as a twinge of seasickness, she was starting to feel distinctly queasy. Hoping to ease the sensation, she set aside her book, rose from the deck chair, and made her way forward to the bow of the ship. Although there was nothing but sea and sky as far as the eye could see, there was still nowhere she could go to escape Poppy’s fascination with the subject of the article.

  “‘Since severing his ties with both the East India Company and the African Association,’” her companion read, “‘the aura of mystery surrounding Burke has only deepened. There are some who speculate he now spends his time acquiring priceless archaeological treasures or that some foreign government may have even engaged his services as a spy.’”

  Clarinda forced a yawn. “He must not be particularly adept at it if everyone suspects he’s a spy.”

  “The article even includes a sketched likeness of him.” There was a cheerful rustling as Poppy turned the scandal sheet this way and that, studying it from every possible angle before announcing with great conviction, “I fear the artist must have flattered him. No man could possibly be that good-looking, could he?”

  Clarinda clutched the ship’s railing, fighting the temptation to whirl around and snatch the newspaper from Poppy’s hands. She didn’t need a sketch to remember amber irises rimmed in black and flecked with sparks of the purest gold, a devil-may-care dimple slashed in one lean cheek, beautifully sculpted lips that always seemed to be on the verge of quirking in a teasing smile before softening to steal a kiss … or a defenseless heart. Perhaps Michelangelo or Raphael could have done justice to those details, but it would be impossible for a few careless strokes of a pen to capture the irresistible vitality of such a man.

  “He may have been absent from England for many years, but you grew up on adjoining estates, did you not?” Poppy asked. “Surely you must have caught at least a glimpse of him.”

  “It’s been years since I laid eyes on him and he was little more than a lad then. My recollection has grown somewhat hazy,” Clarinda lied. “But I do vaguely seem to remember a long, hooked nose, a pair of spindly bowlegs, and protruding teeth like a beaver’s.” It took Clarinda a moment to realize she had just described their least favorite dancing master from their days at Miss Throckmorton’s. Poor Mr. Tudbury had also had an unfortunate tendency to spray spittle when snapping out commands for them to pirouette or perform a battement glissé.

  Poppy sighed wistfully. “I wonder where the captain might have disappeared to this time. Do you suppose he’s gone off to rescue more princesses?”
<
br />   Betrayed by the treacherous twinge of yearning her friend’s mooning had stirred in her own heart, Clarinda swung around to face her. “Really, Poppy! There’s no need to fawn over the man as if we were both still a pair of simpering schoolgirls! He’s nothing but a greedy soldier of fortune who makes his living robbing tombs and selling his sword to the highest bidder. The press may choose to glorify him but that doesn’t make him a hero.” Clarinda dampened the smoldering fuse of her temper with a cool sniff. “Most men who cloak themselves in rumor and innuendo do so because there is nothing of real substance to hide. They spread these tall tales themselves simply to cover up their own … shortcomings.”

  “Shortcomings?” Poppy’s periwinkle blue eyes widened behind the thick lenses of her spectacles. “Surely you don’t mean … ” The corkscrewed clusters of apricot-tinted curls gathered at her temples danced like the ears of a spaniel as she clapped a plump hand over her mouth to smother a shocked giggle. “Why, Clarinda, you wicked thing! You must learn to mind that naughty tongue of yours. After all, you’ll be the wife of an earl in less than a fortnight!”

  Poppy’s chiding words reminded Clarinda of exactly what—and who—awaited her at the end of their journey through the choppy waters of the North Atlantic. She hardly needed Poppy to remind her she was the envy of every eager young debutante and scheming mama whose hopes had been crushed by the recent announcement of her engagement. She had somehow managed to snare England’s most eligible bachelor—and one of its most beloved sons—at the relatively advanced age of twenty-six.

  Her fiancé was a marvelous man—handsome, kind, intelligent, and noble in both name and character. He was everything a woman should want.

  Which didn’t explain the hollow ache in Clarinda’s heart as she turned back to the sea to escape Poppy’s teasing gaze. Or her desperate desire to tear off her wide-brimmed hat, pluck out her mother-of-pearl hair combs, and let the wind have its way with her long wheaten tresses.

  The sun shimmered off the crest of the distant swells, its uncompromising brightness stinging her eyes. “When I am a countess,” she said with determined cheer, “I shall never have to curb my tongue again. Instead, I shall expect everyone around me to curb theirs.”

 
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