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Excerpt from LADY MERCY DANFORTHE FLIRTS WITH SCANDAL
There he was, slumped over the table. Panic squeezed around her heart with cold fingers until her searching eyes adjusted to the dim, smoky light and she saw the pewter jug beside his head. Mercy exhaled in relief. Unless he’d cracked himself over the head with it, he was merely drunk. That she could deal with, thanks to experience with her brother. Since no one else was brave enough to beard the beast in his lair, the task was up to her.
She hitched up her skirt and petticoat, climbed onto the brick window ledge, and swung her legs into the room. It was an action no proper chaperon would have condoned, but Mercy could never be kept out of somewhere she intended to be.
The shutters fell back against the wall with a clatter, causing Rafe to jerk upright in his chair as if roused by cannon fire. He swore loudly, holding his hands to his brow, and then she watched his gaze tracking the pale morning light where it cleared a path through the ashen gloom. Stiffly, he turned his head, and a pair of furious, hot blue eyes burned into her, scorching her fine gown.
When he spoke, his voice cracked, and the way he set each word down like a heavy burden was more menacing even than the manner in which his eyes raked over her. "My Lady Bossy-Breeches…what the blazes are you doing here?"
She brushed dirt from her frock and checked that her bonnet remained in place. If she was going to face this man, eye to eye, and deal with the business for which she came, Mercy needed all her parts in order. This was a man who earned money by fighting with his fists, and she knew he had a hot temper. However, she thought with a sudden sly smile, he was her property now, was he not? Rafe Hartley’s boxing contract was in her hands. With this pleasing thought in mind, Mercy ran her wondering gaze over his wide shoulders, down his chest to his narrow hips and thick, hard thighs. Her eyelids grew heavy; her pulse quickened. Her teeth dug into her lower lip, and she forgot—for just a moment—what she’d gone there to do.
"Well?" he barked as he jerked to his feet and the chair fell back to the flagstones with a bang. "You’d better have a damned good reason for coming here, woman."
It did not escape her notice that this was the second time he’d said "damn" in her presence. He not only said it, he relished the word.
Mercy’s gaze fastened on the abused chair. Someone ought to pick that up before it was tripped over, she thought.
"Well?" Rafe demanded.
Back to the business at hand. "I’m here to set you straight, Master Rafe Hartley. Apparently no one else has the courage. Your father thinks you should be left to your own devices until you stop sulking. But I have no time to wait around on your whim. Oh, and I’ll take an apology, too, for those things you said to me in the churchyard. I understand I must make certain allowances for your temper in the heat of that moment, but I would like an apology nonetheless."
"Don’t hold your breath for one, meddlesome harridan."
He stood before her, shoulders braced, fists at his side—a man ready to chase her out. She might as well be ten again and guilty of aiming an egg at the back of his head. Mercy could almost see the yolk dripping down the side of his neck, as it did back then.
Assessing him slowly, inch by inch, Mercy was just as astonished by his height today as she was every time she saw him since he turned fifteen and shot up almost overnight. It never ceased to shock. Rafe Hartley continued stretching north, and his shoulders were, she was certain, wider than some doors.
His eyes were still as blue as cornflowers, his hair as black as a crow’s wing. And that sizeable chip remained on his shoulders, possibly growing in unison with their width.
copyright Jayne Fresina 2013 LadyMercyDanfortheFlirtsWithScandal.