A Dangerous Love
From The Swanlea Spinsters
A Dangerous Love
Griffith Knighton has found the perfect way to avoid being trapped into marriage with one of the Earl of Swanlea’s daughters: he’ll swap identities with his man of affairs during their visit to Swan Park, and then he’ll be free to search for the hidden document that will prove his legitimacy. After all, Griff is not about to marry some homely spinster just to fulfill a bargain for what is rightfully his. But he didn’t reckon on the brazen voluptuous Rosalind, who could tempt even a saint into sinning—and God knows Griff is no saint.
Rosalind balks at the plan to marry her off to her father’s wealthy heir—and his man of affairs is even more intolerable! The arrogant oaf is clearly up to something with all his sneaking about Swan Park, but she can’t deny the heat when they’re together. He’s a bit dangerous and a lot mysterious. Dare she risk her heart on a man whose secrets could destroy her love?
Griff stared shamelessly at the Amazon flashing a sword in his face. By God, this was the third Swanlea sister? This astonishing creature armed with weapons as ancient as the house itself? She couldn’t be anyone else—her outrageous orange wrapper of Chinese silk could only belong to the same woman who’d defaced Swan Park’s entrance hall.
And who seemed bent on defacing him.
He held up a hand as he edged around the desk. Swords were nothing to sneeze at, especially when wielded by a madwoman. “You are Lady Rosalind, aren’t you?”
“You have the advantage of me, sir.” Tossing back a head of thick, russet hair that fell nearly to her waist, she hefted the enormous slab of steel a notch higher. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
Not mad perhaps, but certainly madcap. Time to begin his masquerade. “I beg your pardon. I’m Knighton’s man of affairs. Daniel Brennan at your service, madam. Most people call me Griff.” He eyed her curiously. “Didn’t your sisters tell you I’d joined your cousin for this visit?” When her sword wavered and confusion spread over her face, he suppressed a smile. “I take it they did not.”
She recovered herself quickly. “They said nothing about a man of affairs.”
“Ah.” He nodded toward the weighty weapons she defied gravity to control. “That explains your…er…entrance. I wondered if you greeted all your guests with dramatic displays of the Swanlea arms.”
If he’d thought to embarrass her, he’d failed. Her sword didn’t waver. “Only when I find those guests rummaging through Papa’s desk.”
“Oh, that.” Thank God he’d changed places with Daniel. He wouldn’t have wanted to see how Daniel handled the Amazon. “I needed to jot down some notes, but I left my writing implements and paper behind. This seemed a likely place to find some.”
She cocked her head, her hazel eyes alive with suspicion. “Do you often work so late?”
“I’m used to town hours—this is early for me.” He glanced at the clock. “It’s not yet midnight.”
“I didn’t know men of affairs kept town hours. I thought they had to be at work early every day.”
Clever woman. And wary, too. She’d keep him on his toes. “My employer is casual about such things. I often attend late night social affairs with him, and he allows me to keep what hours I wish. But you would know that if you’d joined us for dinner.”
She grimaced. “I’d intended to be there. Papa had other plans, however.”
The mention of her scoundrel father made him stiffen. “Does he often keep you at his side when guests arrive?”
A scowl marred the freckled brow fringed by short curls. “I’ll ask the questions here, Mr. Brennan. You’re the one in the wrong, after all.” To emphasize the point, she thrust the sword out in front of her as easily as if it were a parasol.
By God, the woman was strong—most women wouldn’t even be able to lift the thing. However gaudy its trappings, her lush body held surprising power.
Resting a hip on the desk, he said, “Ask what questions you like. Though now that we’ve introduced ourselves, you might dispense with the weapon. Unless you’re afraid of a mere man of affairs.”
“I’m afraid of no one.” She spoke the words without a hint of boasting, as if stating a plain fact. A second later she lowered the sword to stand it on end like a cane. Leaning on the hilt, she surveyed him from head to foot. “I thought you were a gypsy thief.”
“No, merely an Irishman,” Griff quipped, remembering his role. “Though some would say that’s nearly as bad.”
“I have nothing against Irishmen, Mr. Brennan. Except when they’re skulking about in the private areas of my home.”
Casually, she bent to set down the shield. Without that obstruction, the candle on the hall table behind her sifted amber light through her flimsy garments to silhouette her body in astonishing detail. An image of large, rounded breasts, generous hips, and a nicely curved waist seared itself into Griff’s suddenly distracted brain. Another not so distracted part of him responded instantly.
That annoying appendage knew what it wanted; tonight it apparently wanted the warrior queen. He shifted uncomfortably on the desk. Obviously it had been far too long since he’d had a woman. Why else would this one attract him? He liked quiet, elegant ladies with good taste and prudent tongues, not brash Amazons with penchants for flaming silk.
Yet when she straightened, it took a supreme effort to tear his gaze from her body and focus it on her face. Not that it helped. Her face interested him as much as the erotic shadow play of her body. Separately, each of her features seemed overdone, as if the Creator had gotten carried away with embellishments. Her chin was a bit protruding, her cheeks a little plump, her brows a shade darker and thicker than fashionable. Altogether, however, her face contained an arresting charm that reminded him of Titian’s beauties. Indeed, he owned a Titian nude whose face resembled hers to an amazing degree.
Especially the lips. They were art come to life. He had a sudden insane urge to taste that erotic mouth, an urge he squelched ruthlessly by reminding himself of his purpose. A dalliance with the daughter of his enemy would certainly not serve it.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” Griff said in a futile attempt to draw his thoughts from baser considerations, “what would you have done if I had been a gypsy thief?”
She shrugged. “I would have held you here while I called for help.”
He choked down a laugh. “Held me here?” At the sight of her raised eyebrow, however, he refrained from voicing his disparaging thoughts. This was his chance to elicit information, and he wouldn’t get it by insulting her. “I see. Your father’s desk must contain a great many treasures for you to show such concern over it.”
Alarm flickered briefly in her face. “No! I mean, that’s not the point. I don’t want anyone stealing from Papa, even if it’s only notes to the steward.”
How intriguing. Did the desk indeed contain the certificate? He hadn’t seen it there, but he hadn’t had long to search before the warrior queen barged into the room. He shoved away from the desk. “Nonetheless, you took great pains to protect the desk’s contents, so they must have value to someone.”
“You seem inordinately interested in my father’s desk. May I suggest that you wait until my father actually dies before you inventory your employer’s inheritance?”
Damnation, he’d been careless and given her the wrong impression. “This has nothing to do with my employer’s future inheritance. I simply wondered if your father knows that his daughter risks her life for…whatever is in that desk.”
A stubborn look settled over her face. “I wasn’t risking my life. I was armed.”
This time he didn’t restrain his laughter. “Lady Rosalind, if you think you could have held off a gypsy thief with that relic of a sword for more than five seconds, you’re a fool. You couldn’t even have held me off with it if I hadn’t let you.”
“Hadn’t let me?” She snatched up the sword again and brandished it in the air. “You think not, do you?”
How could he resist the challenge? Although prideful indignation swelled her chest, it was too lovely a chest to be exposed to the cruelties of any real thief she might encounter some day. The woman lacked common sense—she needed lessons in the world’s dangers.
With the speed he’d honed during his days consorting with smugglers, he ducked under the sword and pivoted behind her, chaining her waist with his arm while his free hand wrenched the sword from her grip. Then he pressed the blade to the pulse in her neck and echoed her words, “I think not.” He lowered his voice and bent his head so close his lips brushed her ear. “Never challenge a thief, my lady, unless you’re well prepared to best him.”
The rosewater scent in her hair clouded his thinking, not to mention the feel of her soft, trembling belly against his forearm and the curve of her waist beneath his hand. Insanely he wanted to inch his hand lower, to find the secrets between her thighs and fondle them until she trembled with pleasure instead of fear.
The thought further inflamed the part of him that shouldn’t rear its lusty head. Not now, not with one of Swanlea’s daughters.
Eager to make his point and escape her tempting body, he added, “You have more to worry about than the contents of your father’s desk when you confront a man alone, especially as you are dressed. ‘Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold,’ you know.”
She took a shaky breath, then whispered, “As You Like It.”
“So you agree with me.”
“No, you blasted idiot,” she hissed. “As You Like It, the play by Shakespeare. That’s what you quoted.”
Her statement so astonished him that he lowered the sword. That’s when she struck, jabbing her elbow into his ribs with uncanny force.
Howling in pain, he released her. “Goddamn it to hell!” He doubled over, the sword slipping from his hand to thud on the carpeted floor. A string of words leapt from his lips that he wouldn’t normally speak in front of any woman, especially a lady. By God, the witch knew just where to place her blows! And she had an arm on her, too.
As Griff clutched his abdomen, she darted forward to snatch up the sword again, then backed away warily. They now stood in reversed positions, with her by the desk and him nearer the door. The Swanlea coat of arms sat above her head on the wall behind her, mocking him.
“Since you seem faintly familiar with Shakespeare,” she remarked, “you will understand me when I say that no man, gypsy thief or man of affairs, will ever pick my lock and take the treasure of my honor by force.”
He straightened stiffly. “The Tempest?” he croaked, sure he recognized her paraphrase from somewhere.
“Cymbeline.” One eyebrow arched upward. “But that was a good guess.”
“So was yours about As You Like It.”
“Mine was not a guess. I know As You Like It as well as I know my own name.”
“Do you?” Since he lacked Daniel’s glib tongue around women, he generally relied on the bard for a few standard compliments. He’d used that particular quote with many women, but none had ever guessed its source.
And to think that she knew it. How unusual. Of course, any woman who’d use force to protect her “honor” was unusual.
Rubbing his tender ribs, he nodded toward the sword. “You realize I was only trying to make a point, not ‘take the treasure of your honor.’”
“If you say so.” The sword jutted out from her fisted hands.
“You don’t believe me?”
To his surprise, she trailed her gaze down his body with the remote detachment generally used by men assessing a whore’s physical attributes. It unnerved him, although his ‘sword’ had no such compunctions and grew rampant beneath her look. What a bold vixen! Utterly unlike any peer’s daughter he’d ever met.
Then she sighed wearily. “I believe you. A man like you needn’t pick a woman’s lock to take her treasure. I’ll wager you can convince any woman to give you the key.”
“What the hell does that mean, ‘a man like me’?”
“A handsome ne’er-do-well.” She tossed down the sword. “An Irishman who quotes Shakespeare to further his purposes. I suspect you know precisely how to gain entrance into any woman’s bedchamber.”
“But not yours,” he couldn’t resist saying. He wondered what she’d think if he told her that he generally gained entrance into bedchambers using gifts and cold currency rather than Shakespeare. It was more efficient, not to mention more dependable.
She glanced away, and for the first time since she’d entered the room, she looked vulnerable and young. “No. I’m not easily persuaded by flattery. All that flummery about beauty provoking thieves…you may seduce other women with your paltry knowledge of Shakespeare, but not me. I recognize a double-dealer when I see one: the sort of man who memorizes only those lines of great literature suitable for deceiving women.”
That was harsh, even if partly true. Her other sisters hadn’t been so wary either of him or Daniel. It intrigued him. He’d never met a female who hated him on sight, at least not since he’d become wealthy. “You have a poor opinion of me. That’s hardly fair, given our short acquaintance.”
“I think it more than fair when you consider that I found you rifling Papa’s desk.”
Damnation, couldn’t he get her off that subject? “For pen and paper.”
“Yes, of course. Did you find any?” She turned, and the edges of her silk wrapper swished open to reveal a flash of shapely calf before she circled to the back of the desk.
The one glimpse reignited his lust, burning up any memory of whether he’d seen pen or paper in the desk drawers. “No. But I’d only just started looking when you leapt into the room with sword and shield at the ready.”
Ignoring his sarcastic tone, she bent forward to open a drawer, and two tempting swells of flesh threatened to spill from the wrapper. He gritted his teeth in a vain attempt to bite back his carnal thoughts. Did the woman have no modesty? He’d never survive a day in this house if she went around displaying her ample attractions with every motion.
When she straightened she held a sheaf of foolscap, which she offered to him over the desk. “Here is your paper. If you look in the drawer of the writing table in your room, you’ll find a quill and ink. All the guest rooms are furnished with writing materials. I can only assume that our last visitor depleted the store of paper in yours.”
Her challenging look roused his grudging admiration. Moving to the desk, he took the paper. Should he brazen his way through this any further? No. That was unlikely to work with this clever Amazon.
He tossed the paper down on the desk. “I see I’ve been well and truly caught.”
If you read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, you know that the Bennet’s English estate was entailed away to a distant cousin. That is why Mrs. Bennet was so eager to accept the cousin’s offer for Lizzie. But it got me to thinking: what would happen if an estate was entailed to an heir who didn’t want to marry the current owner’s daughter? What if the daughter had no interest in maintaining the family estate? That sparked my original idea. Then I gave Griffith Knighton a shady past and an aversion to the Earl of Swanlea. And what kind of regency spinster would not want to get married? Why, a woman with aspirations to a career of her own, of course!
I am a great lover of Shakespeare’s comedies, so I made both Rosalind and Griff fans of the bard. But instead of relying entirely on my spotty memory for those dueling quotes in the book, I used a Shakespeare search engine.
For the details of the scene where Griff and Rosalind play billiards, I went to sites like Billy Aardd’s Club English Billiards House Rules and The Forgotten History of English Billiards and Snooker. That is how I learned that the rules for English billiards differ vastly from the rules for our “pool.” But “Naughty billiards” was my own invention. What do you expect of a romance writer?
- Nominated for the Colorado Romance Writer’s Award of Excellence for Best Historical Romance of 2000
- Nominated for the Maggie Award for Best Historical Romance of 2000
“But what distinguishes this lively tale is the author’s deft hand with dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed the verbal sparring between Griff and Rosalind.” —The Romance Reader
“Sabrina Jeffries has hit her stride with A Dangerous Love.” —All About Romance
A Dangerous Love now available in several countries across the globe.