Secrets and lies, scandals and spies.
All Lady Catharine, Viscountess Cranbrook, wants is a little excitement. Bored of playing the role of the ton’s favorite slightly scandalous widow, she jumps at the chance to go undercover as a courtesan to help with an espionage mission. After all, beneath her outrageously low bodice beats the heart of a patriot.
Social reformer James Burnham is conducting a study of vice in England’s capital. Driven by his own secrets, he is methodical, intelligent—and wickedly handsome. Catharine is the last sort of woman the upstanding James should want. But want her he does, though she stands for everything he opposes.
When Catharine and James are forced to band together to advance their causes, they’ll be drawn into a web of secrets and lies that endangers their lives—and their hearts.
“I think you should call me James,” he whispered, willing his fumbling fingers not to shake as he slid open button after button. When he’d done enough to allow her to shrug out of her sleeves, she turned and slithered the rest of the way out of the dress, allowing it to pool at her feet. Her stays laced in front and she loosened them herself. She pulled her chemise off her shoulders, letting it slide down her body, repeating the process of stepping out from the circle of fabric, leaving a second, smaller pile next to her dress.
Naked but for the mask, she lifted her eyes and met his regard. His gaze roamed over a shot of scarlet, vibrant against her lovely white breasts. A ruby pendant—now he knew what dangled from that chain. A lump formed in his throat. “You are beautiful.” It was all he could think to say, but it seemed wholly inadequate to capture the vision that stood before him—the lush curves, the dark red nipples, the mass of auburn curls at the V of her thighs.
He wanted more. “Won’t you take off your mask?”
“I thought you wanted me to see you.”
“This is me.”
“No,” he said, suddenly angry. “This is your beautiful body, but this isn’t you.”
“I cannot take off my mask.” Her voice caught, and she cleared her throat. “But I will remove my wig.” She stared at him as if she were challenging him to object, to push her further.
He understood then how vulnerable she was, standing before him like this, offering herself. Summoning a smile, he nodded, which prompted her to lift her hands to the mass of orange curls piled atop her head. Though the vibrant color was clearly artificial, the wig was otherwise convincing. It had been well made and well fitted, so she struggled a little with its removal. After a few moments, the fiery hairpiece joined her clothing on the floor.
Her own hair, tucked into a tight chignon, was auburn—not unexpected, given the curls he’d seen lower down, but they had been a surprise.
“Red hair to hide red hair?” he asked, though calling her hair red was like calling the sun luminous. Strands of copper, burgundy, and mahogany caught the afternoon light that flooded his room. She nearly took his breath away.
Shrugging, she slid her fingers along her coiffure, locating and removing a pin. “The best lie is often the truth. Or at least some version of it. That’s one of my mottos.”
“Like this.” He picked up the ruby and gently let it fall back against her chest. “Was this really a gift from your husband? Do you truly wear it always?”
“Yes. I wear it on this long chain at Madame Cherie’s so as to avoid being recognized. In the polite society, I’m known for this stone.”
“So all I need do is search the ballrooms of Mayfair for the rubied viscountess.” He meant the remark in jest—they both knew he wasn’t received in the ton—but she didn’t smile. Instead, she held out a hairpin to him. He raised a cupped palm, receiving her offering. It landed in his hand like a caress, a promise of what was to come.
Jenny Holiday started writing at age nine when her fourth grade teacher gave her a notebook and told her to start writing stories. That first batch featured mass murderers on the loose, alien invasions, and hauntings. From then on, she was always writing, often in her diary, where she liked to decorate declarations of existential angst with nail polish teardrops. Later, she channeled her penchant for scribbling into a more useful format, picking up a PhD in geography and then working in PR. Eventually, she figured out that happy endings were more fun than alien invasions. You can follow her on twitter at @jennyholi sand @TropeHeroine or visit her on the web at jennyholiday.com.