A Collection of Short Fiction
The widowed Isobel Lamberton, Lady Kingsley, and Justin Antony, the Marquess Warbrooke, clash over the running of a charity they both oversee. But secretly Isobel is attracted to the marquess, even though she knows her dark past and his political aspirations would prevent them from being together. Then Isobel’s friend and fellow widow talks her into participating in a scandalous auction of masked merry widows at a gentleman’s club. When the fearsome marquess actually bids on her, she is torn between panic and an urge to give in to her desires for just one night.
Justin has other reasons for being at the club than the widows’ auction—until a beautiful masked woman named “Bella” speaks. Realizing she is the same Lady Kingsley who has bedeviled him for months, he sets out to teach the lofty Isobel a lesson about participating in dangerous private auctions.
Lord Warbrooke tossed his gloves on the opposite seat of the carriage. “I thought our first order of business should be dinner. We’ll dine in private at the Clarendon.”
Isobel relaxed against the squabs. “You mean you don’t want to throw me down and ravish me right here?”
“Is that what you expected?”
“Actually, I did. You paid a lot of money for only the one night, after all.”
“True.” He shifted on the seat to see her better. “But I’m not foolish enough to guzzle an expensive wine the moment it’s set before me. Especially when it’s so very fine.”
An unwarranted thrill coursed down to her toes. She ought to take insult at being compared to a bottle of wine. But a fine bottle of wine . . . well, that was another matter entirely, wasn’t it?
He leaned closer, his features shadowy in the faint gaslight trickling into the carriage. Lifting his hand, he traced the lower border of her mask with one finger, grazing her cheek, then the tip of her nose, then making a detour down to her lip. Idly, he outlined her mouth. “Before I indulge in a superior bottle of wine, I prefer to take a moment and admire its beautiful color.”
She tried to breathe and failed miserably. And had she imagined his emphasis on “superior?”
“Then,” he rasped, bending in to nuzzle her hair, “I sniff its bouquet and savor its scent.” He breathed in deeply, and she thought she’d shatter right then and there. He loomed so close, and this felt so intimate. She almost wished he had thrown her down and ravished her. She could have endured that easier than this inch-by-inch assault on her senses.
With the faintest touch of his finger, he tipped her face up to his. His eyes glittered at her like shards of silver. “Only after that do I allow myself the first sip . . . ”
That was all the warning he gave before his mouth covered hers, warm and sensuous and soft. His kiss blotted out the black night and the carriage and all her silly fears. It sent her pulse racing and startled a quiver in her belly. If this was a sip, God help her when he got around to drinking.
As if he’d read her mind, he did the most astonishing thing. He slipped his tongue between her lips. Her late husband Henry had never done that, to be sure. And Lord Warbrooke mustn’t guess that she had no idea what he was doing.
So she mimicked his actions and slid her own tongue into his mouth. He halted, but only for a moment. Then with a groan, he caught her to him and thrust his tongue inside with a boldness that took her off guard.
She was still reeling from the intimacy of it when he repeated the motion . . . again and again, his tongue caressing the inside of her mouth, tangling with her own tongue until she was dizzy from the dance. What an odd way to kiss . . . seductive and maddening all at once. It made her hot in strange places . . . in her breasts . . . her belly . . . in that wicked place between her legs that Henry had so rudely assaulted every time they’d coupled.
She tore her mouth free long enough to catch her breath. “Dear heaven, Lord Warbrooke. This is . . . all very . . . interesting.”
Chuckling, he pressed an open-mouthed kiss to her cheek. “Do you like it?”
“Oh, yes,” she breathed.
“Then call me Justin.”
“Justin,” she whispered and slid her hands about his neck.
With a guttural sound of approval, he took her mouth again, hard and deep, invading her as surely as any Roman conqueror. Scents of brandy and musk drifted through her senses as he dug his fingers into her arms to keep her close.
Which was entirely unnecessary. She wasn’t going anywhere, not when he was kissing her so deliciously. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe for fear that any movement might make it all end.
And she didn’t want it to end yet. Not when she was beginning to realize how very little her late husband had known about kissing. Henry’s kisses had tickled her curiosity, then failed to satisfy it. But Lord Warbrooke’s kisses made naughty, exciting promises that he clearly intended to satisfy in spades. The very thought made her sway against him.
He tore his mouth from hers to murmur, “Ah, Bella, you’re not what you seem… ”
Yes, I invented the “one night spent with a merry widow” auction. But I figure it’s not too farfetched, considering what I’ve read about the hellfire clubs and Scottish male sex clubs of the 18th century: the Wig Club and the Beggars Benison club.
There really is a Clarendon Hotel in London, the same one that was there during the time when this was set. And one of these days, I am definitely going to go stay there, if only to see how it lives up to my imagination!
The part about mill working children during the Regency is unfortunately historically accurate. Already it was becoming an issue for reformists. You can read all about it at Spartacus.
Thanks to you wonderful readers, the book spent two weeks on the USA Today bestseller lists, marking the first time any story of Sabrina’s was on that list!
- Winner of Best Romantic Anthology in the Love Romances Golden Rose Awards
- Nominated for the Reviewers International Organization’s Dorothy Parker Award of Excellence for Favorite Romance Anthology of 2002
- Winner of Honorable Mention for Best Anthology in the (Paranoramal Excellence Award for Romantic Literature given by the Paranormal Romance Site)
- Nominated for best novella for the Scarlett Letter Award
“This collection isn’t your grandmother’s romance anthology! With more than enough mastery of the genre, these sensual stories fully engage the senses.” —Romantic Times
“This anthology is not to be missed! The Widow’s Auction by Sabrina Jeffries is the first story in this anthology and it really sets the mood for the whole book… I highly recommend this anthology.” —The Best Reviews