The Dangerous Lord
Ian Lennard needs a wife, and he thinks he’s found the perfect one. Until, that is, a notorious newspaper gossip columnist exposes part of Ian’s deeply troubled past—scaring off said prospective bride. Ian wants to skewer the gossipmonger, and using his skills as a one-time spy, he runs the man to ground.
The “man” however, ends up to be the fetching Felicity Taylor, who took on the moniker of Lord X, gossip columnist, only after her wastrel father left her alone to support her four younger brothers. Knowing her pitful income from the column is all that stands between the young Taylors and ruin, Felicity engages Ian in a battle of wits. Soon the former spy is embroiled in a war of words that could lay open his dark soul to the only woman who can forgive the sins of his past and teach him how to heal.
- Winner of the Holt Medallion for Best Long Historical of 2000
- Chosen by Oakland Press of Michigan as one of its top romance picks for 2000
- Winner of the Booksellers Best Award for Best Long Historical of 2000
- Winner of the Maggie Award for Best Historical of 2000
- All about Romance nominated the cover as one of the best historical covers of 2000
- Nominated for the National Readers Choice Award for Best Long Historical of 2000
“I fell in love with The Dangerous Lord. You will, too! Sabrina Jeffries writes Regency romance with intelligence and wit. The Dangerous Lord is a delightful battle of the sexes, where everyone wins. Don’t miss it!”
—Joan Johnston, New York Times Bestselling Author
“I finished reading The Dangerous Lord and had to write and tell you how much I absolutely loved it! Usually I find that in a series of sequels I have one favorite hero or heroine, but I must confess in this trilogy I couldn’t pick one! I loved them all equally… I hated to see this trilogy end! But all three books are now safely on my keeper shelf, where I can reread at will. And reread I will!” —Pat, a reader
Editor’s Note: This excerpt takes place at the same Christmas party depicted in the epilogue to The Forbidden Lord.
As soon as Felicity Taylor saw Lord St. Clair heading toward her, she braced herself for trouble. Devil take her foolish friend, Katherine! Felicity had risked discovery to prevent Katherine from marrying the degenerate St. Clair, and the woman had run off with her family’s steward instead!
That had not been her intention. Katherine was supposed to turn St. Clair down flat, then marry a man at least marginally suitable to her genteel class. The foolish girl.
Now, for all her trouble, Felicity had a hornet on her tail, one who also just happened to know she was Lord X. No wonder Lord St. Clair had spent luncheon baiting her—he must have been furious over Katherine’s elopement! Felicity watched him approach with growing unease. It was hard to tell what he felt. The man had an uncanny ability to keep his true feelings buried ten feet under, and that made him more difficult to manage than a man easy to read. If she had any sense at all, she’d run.
A pity she had nowhere to go.
“Lord St. Clair is coming this way, my dear,” Lady Brumley said beside her, with a nod of her elaborately coiffured head. “Shall I introduce you?”
“We’ve met.” No doubt the marchioness would make much of that. Felicity sometimes wondered if Lady Brumley had guessed who wore Lord X’s pants.
God knows, Felicity wished it were anyone but herself just now.
Then the troublesome viscount was upon them, wearing a smile so alarming she could barely manage one in answer. He nodded briefly at the marchioness, then bowed to Felicity. “Miss Taylor, would you do me the honor of dancing with me?”
The scoundrel. He wanted to get her off alone on the dance floor so he could rail at her, and he knew she dared not refuse with Lady Brumley drinking in every word.
Well, she must face his wrath some time or another. “I’d be happy to dance with you,” she lied, extending her hand. Though I’d be happier still if I’d never met you.
He led her to the floor with the practiced ease of a gentleman, then settled one hand on the curve of her waist as the other closed tightly around her gloved fingers.
She groaned. God preserve her, she’d agreed to a waltz, and waltzes were not her forte. Her dancing in general left much to be desired, but with some figures, like the quadrille, she could follow her fellows and hide her missteps in the crowd. That was impossible with a waltz.
“Lord St. Clair—” she began, meaning to warn him. But he’d already whirled her onto the floor. One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, she chanted in her head, futilely trying to keep from stumbling or making a misstep.
“Miss Taylor—” he began.
“Shh,” she muttered, casting an envious glance at the others who so deftly managed the dance’s intricacies. Her fingers dug into his shoulder. “I’m counting.”
“The measure. I’m very bad at the waltz.”
He eyed her with suspicion. “You must be joking.”
She trod on his foot completely by accident. “I-I’m sorry,” she stammered as she sought to find her footing again, nearly bringing them to a halt.
He half-dragged her back into step, remaining silent until she found the measure again. “How could you not have mastered the waltz? You go to a different social affair every night.”
“Yes, but I don’t go to dance.” She resumed her death grip on his shoulder. Maybe he could simply carry her about the room. He was certainly large enough, and she’d already ruined any appearance of ladylike grace by clinging to him like a drowning woman.
When he didn’t answer, she risked a glance up into his face.
It was shuttered, his eyes impersonal as gems. “I forgot—you go to hear gossip.”
“To gather material.” His condescension and obvious ease at the waltz irritated her. “You go to hunt up a brood mare. I don’t see why that’s any more acceptable.”
“A brood mare?” he choked out. “Is that what you gleaned from your interrogation of Sara this afternoon?”
She stumbled and he caught her, whisking her back into the step only moments before she collided with another dancer. It took her a second to regain her composure. “I did not interrogate Sara. She offered information.”
“And you made your usual ‘speculations’ based on hints and innuendo.”
“So you’re not looking for a wife to bear your heir?”
A long silence ensued, during which she became aware of something besides the waltz…like the broad masculine chest at her eye level…the scent of bay rum and starched linen and plain, unadulterated male…the muscled arms holding her a trifle close for propriety. At some point he’d moved his hand from her side to the small of her back. Although she understood why he felt the need to manacle her waist with his arm, given her abysmal waltzing ability, it was still most improper.
She eased back from him, then nearly lost the measure, prompting him to tighten his arm further. When she met his gaze, she found him watching her with amusement.
“You really can’t waltz, can you?” he said.
“Did you think I’d invent something like that?”
“Why not? You invent everything else.”
“Not your reasons for needing a wife, I suspect,” she said, determined to make him answer her question.
He let out an exasperated breath. “Of course I need a wife to bear me an heir. That’s why most men of title and fortune need a wife.” He paused. “So, shall I expect to see that in the next edition of the Gazette?”
She was starting to feel comfortable enough that his snide remark didn’t make her lose step. “Really, Lord St. Clair, you do have an exalted opinion of yourself. I have more interesting things to write about than your courtships.”
“Yes, like Katherine’s elopement.”
So he’d finally brought it up, had he? Tilting her head down to avoid his gaze, she focused on his expertly tied cravat. “Why should I write about that? Everyone already knows of it. Besides, despite what you think, I don’t go about trying to ruin people’s lives. Katherine is my friend, after all.”
“You’ve already humiliated her by writing about my supposed mistress. Why balk at discussing her elopement?”
The unfair accusation stung. “I’ll concede that my article might have given her some discomfort, but clearly it didn’t last. The end result was her happiness.”
“Are you so sure? This steward of hers met your impeccable standards?”
Her interest in his cravat grew amazingly acute. “I didn’t know him, but I’m sure he’s a very nice man and will make her happy.”
“I see. Which means you’re as dismayed about the elopement as I.”
He was so smug, drat him, and much too adept at reading her mind. “Not at all. At least he claims to be in love with her, which is more than I can say for you.”
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you? But I know you, Miss Taylor, and you don’t believe in love any more than I do.” He tugged her closer, plastering her to him from thigh to chest in a most indelicate manner.
She tried to shove him back, but failed. “I may not waltz very well,” she hissed, “but must you hold me so close? It isn’t proper, you know.”
“No, it isn’t.”
When he didn’t allow her so much as an extra inch in response to her criticism, she said, “Would you kindly release me?”
“I think not.”
It dawned on her that this had nothing to do with her dancing abilities. “Why?”
“Because holding you at arm’s length wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable.” He coupled his comment with a smile so wicked it made her heart stop.
“She trod purposely on his foot, but dancing slippers were no match for a man’s leather shoes. “Lord St. Clair—” she began.
“Call me Ian.” An edge entered his voice. “I see no reason we should stand on ceremony after all that you know about me.”
“Now see here, I know you’re angry with me about Katherine’s elopement—”
“No, I’m not, but I have every right to be. You wrote publicly of matters that weren’t your concern. You asked my friends about my private affairs.” She missed a step, but he jerked her back into step unceremoniously and danced on. “And you don’t even have the decency to feel remorse for what you’ve done.”
“Because I did nothing wrong!”
“Really?” They whirled into candlelight that highlighted his taunting smile. “Then you won’t mind having the situation reversed.”
An uneasy foreboding made her stomach lurch. “What do you mean?”
He bent his head close enough for his lips to brush her ear. “Have you ever been gossiped about, Felicity?”
She froze in his arms. Good Lord. That’s why he’d asked her to dance. She’d been so engrossed in not stumbling all over her feet that she hadn’t cared how closely he held her. Until it was too late.
Glancing around, she noticed for the first time the whispers and looks of interest from the dancers closest to them. No one ever danced the waltz so closely unless they were courting…or worse.
“Why, you heartless, contemptuous—”
“Careful, my dear,” he whispered smugly, “someone might overhear you. And what would they think?”
“That you’re rude and unconscionably bad-mannered!”
“Or that you’ve drunk too much wine, which is why you’re allowing me such liberties. Or you’re eager to take the place of my supposed mistress. Or any number of unsavory assumptions based on nothing more than my holding you too closely.”
Drat him for being the most logical, devious creature in breeches! “All right,” she grumbled after they’d taken another turn. “You’ve made your point. Now let me go!”
“Oh, I haven’t even begun to make my point,” he murmured in a voice as silky as it was menacing.
Her thundering heart drowned out the ebbing music. He held her trapped in his arms more effectively than any truss. To escape him, she’d have to make a scene that half the ballroom would notice. Yes, he would enjoy watching her embarrass herself before so many important people, wouldn’t he?
But what did he mean, I haven’t even begun to make my point? With the next turn, they reached the edge of the crowd, and suddenly she knew. Panic ripped through her as she realized they danced toward the closed French doors leading onto the balcony.
“No,” she whispered, vainly trying to halt their forward movement. But she might as well have been pushing against a mill wheel. Like the mighty river that powered it, he moved inexorably, taking her with him. Willing or no.
Two more deft turns and they were at the doors. He released her hand only long enough to open one.
“I won’t go out there with you alone!” she hissed, but he shoved her through the door and onto the balcony as if she were no more than a rag doll.
Yanking her hand free, she whirled and headed back toward the ballroom. With alarming speed, he stepped between her and escape, shutting the glass door with a click.
Her breath came in puffs of frost, and she shivered. “You can’t mean to keep me out here. It’s freezing, for God’s sake.”
“Take my coat—” he began as he reached for the buttons.
“Don’t you dare!” That was the last thing she wanted, the Viscount St. Clair disrobing in such a private setting.
His unrepentant grin reminded her of her brothers when they were up to mischief. “I’m merely trying to be a gentleman.”
“And failing miserably.” She tried to peer over his shoulder into the ballroom to see if anyone had noticed their retreat, but his great height blocked her view. Then she cast a furtive glance around the balcony. Thankfully they were alone. “All right, you have me out here. What do you want from me?”
“That’s simple: I want you to see what it’s like to have your pristine reputation soiled by the unjust ‘speculations’ of gossiping females.” His grin faded abruptly. “Turnabout is fair play, Felicity.”
Why, of all the shameless, obnoxious— “Fair? You don’t know the meaning of the word! My pristine reputation was achieved by pristine living, and I’m sure you can’t say the same for yourself! If you don’t like your reputation, don’t blame me! I was not the one who made it so, you…you philandering oaf!”
It was the wrong thing to say. He advanced on her, his jaw tightening dangerously. “Yes, that’s me. A ne’er-do-well who doesn’t deserve to marry any decent woman. A man whom no woman in her right mind would trust.” He caught her around the waist, tugging her into a close embrace. Sarcasm heavily laced his voice. “So why should I behave or treat you differently than the thousands of women I’ve debauched!”
“Why, you cursed—”
He gave her no chance to finish the insult. His mouth came down hard on hers.
It shocked her so utterly that for a moment she did nothing. It had been ages since a man had forced a kiss on her, not since the last time one of father’s patrons had done so.
That had been awful, however. This was not.
It commanded where the other had blustered, enticed where the other had revolted. Although he took complete charge of her person and showed no concern for propriety, she wasn’t disgusted. On the contrary, his kiss stirred strange feelings in her belly …and lower. The intimacy curled her toes and dissolved her insides into a puddle, which had certainly never happened with any other man. And to her horror, when he released her and stepped back, she felt an instant of disappointment.
A blush heated her cheeks, angering her. She never blushed, for almost nothing embarrassed her. And to think that this dratted viscount could make her do so…
“I see I’ve rendered you speechless.” His eyes smoldered as they passed over her face to fasten on her still-burning lips. “I didn’t think that possible.”
She ignored the insult. “Is this how you cow all your enemies?”
“Only the pretty ones.” He arched an eyebrow. “And you don’t look particularly cowed. I must be slipping.”
Desperate to hide her intense and bewildering reaction to his assault, she retorted, “It would take a great deal more than a rude kiss to cow me.”
“Would it really?” A devilish smile touched his lips as he once more clasped her waist. When she arched away, he caught her jaw between his thumb and forefinger to hold it still. “Then I’m certainly willing to oblige.”