(Wild Rose Press, 2018)
A shy, late bloomer, the Honorable Judith Leslie survives her debut into Regency society despite ridicule of her height and her ruddy Scottish complexion from her more delicate contemporaries. But she surprises even herself when she boldly greets the eligible yet reluctantly marriageable Peter Tenwick, Viscount Caxton, at her first ball.
Their mutual attraction is instant, but when they speak to their respective parents, they learn that opposition to the union runs deep and personal. So deep that Peter’s father arranges for him to marry instead the worst of the ill-tempered shrews who have made Judith’s season so unpleasant.
In order to marry, Peter and Judith must not only overcome their parents’ objection but find a substitute suitor for Peter’s fiancée. Those obstacles become the least of their worries when Judith is kidnapped by a gang of smugglers and Peter must act fast to rescue his heart’s treasure.
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Judith stood alone by the shore, poking at a crab with a piece of driftwood when a cloud obscured the sun.
“What are you doing to that poor crustacean?” the cloud asked in a familiar voice.
Judith shaded her eyes with a hand and peered at Lord Caxton. She leaned back on her heels. “Goodness. You are large, aren’t you?”
“There’s the refreshing candor you exhibited on the night we met,” he said, laughing. “I wondered when I might see it again.”
“I’m not sure my mother would call it either refreshing or candid. She’s much more apt to call it impulsive and obnoxious.”
“How fortunate she’s over there, then.” He waved his hand in the general direction of the pier. Judith scanned the beach for the rest of the guests. Lady Howley’s white head floated in the water, and the others roamed on various parts of the beach in groups of two, three, and four, leaving Judith quite alone with Peter. She was sure neither her mother nor Gwyneth would approve.
Excitement surged through her veins.
“Shall we explore those caves, Lord Caxton?” She pointed to a dark patch at the end of the beach.
“I doubt we’ll get there before your mother stops us, but I’m willing if you are.” He winked, and the thrill settled into her belly, where it completely overran her good sense. She looped her arm through his, and they set off down the beach.
“You seem quite at home near the water, Miss Leslie, yet I believe you come from the Midlands, do you not?”
“I do. But my mother is Scottish, and my brothers and I spent our summers on Loch Lomond. I swim like a fish.”
“How intriguing.” His gaze roamed the length of her body as if he were gauging her buoyancy. “What sort of fish?”
“Does it matter?”
“Certainly. Fish are quite different, you know. There are those which swim near the surface, stopping now and then to snatch a dragonfly. Others stay near the bottom, flitting over the sand and feeding off scraps other creatures leave behind, drab in color and usually quite ugly. Then there are fish who swim near the middle, neither too cold nor too warm, too dark nor too light. Those fish, of course, are the most vibrant and colorful.” He stopped and looked her over once again. “Yes, I believe you’d be that sort of fish. Beautiful, swift, and clever, gracefully dancing in the rays of the sun filtering through the water.”
Judith’s mouth dropped open. Never had anyone called her beautiful, let alone graceful.
“I’ve rendered you speechless. Is that a first?”
Judith snapped her mouth shut. “Yes, I rather think it is. What a lovely thing to say. I’m sure no one has ever used any of those words to describe me, let alone all of them in a single sentence.”
He reached out and stroked her cheek. “They are all true.”