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    The Price of Desire by Leda Swann **Feb 2007**
    From Leda Swann:
    And then THE PRICE OF DESIRE, a full-length novel, comes out with Avon Red in February next year. Again it's Victorian set, this time in the world of the workhouse.

    Caroline Clemens pasted a smile on her face as she gazed belligerently over the assembled company.

    Her insides cramped with fear, but she did not let any sign of her discomfort show on her face. Any sign of weakness, and the pack would race in for the kill. They did not deserve the satisfaction of watching her crumble. She would outface all the malicious gossip from those old spinsters who had always envied her and all the false condolences from pretend friends who had come to crow over her misfortune.

    Heaven help her, but tonight she could even bear the unfeigned sympathy of the handful of people who genuinely loved her.

    She cast her eyes over the sea of color in front of her, looking for the red and gold jacket of Captain Bellamy. He, at least, loved her well. The small matter of her family’s bankruptcy would not matter to him a whit. Only last week, when the rumors of her family’s financial troubles were starting to make the rounds, he had sworn to her that he would love her even if she were a pauper.

    The Captain’s earnestness had made her smile at the time, but she clung wistfully to the memory now. Last week she had known only that she could not afford the new pair of kid gloves she needed, even though her old ones were worn and stained. Tonight she knew the whole nasty truth. Her entire family was ruined. Utterly and irretrievably ruined.

    At the end of the month, their house in Mayfair and all their household effects would go under the hammer. Her father’s untimely death had made absolutely sure that nothing would be left for them to live on. Nothing.

    Were it not for her impending marriage to Captain Bellamy, she and her all younger brothers and sister would be facing the workhouse. She shuddered. There was no point in dwelling on the horrors of the workhouse – the rough clothes, the hard labor, the poor food that scarcely kept body and soul together, and the disease that carried you off in the end if starvation and exhaustion didn’t claim you first. The Captain would save her from that. He would save all of them.

    As she scanned the crowd looking for her savior, her gaze was arrested by that of another man. He was a stranger to her, which in itself was enough to catch her attention. Few strangers successfully braved the close-knit society of London merchant bankers to which her family belonged. Though they took carefully calculated risks in their business dealings, when it came to making acquaintances for their wives and daughters they eliminated any chance of risk. Only the most impeccably respectable personages were ever allowed to visit or to mingle with them in their infrequent evening soirees.

    Caroline allowed herself a wry smile. Those same impeccable personages were now watching avidly from the sidelines, salivating at the thought of ripping her to shreds.

    The stranger caught her smile and evidently thought it was meant for him. He raised his eyebrows at her in a friendly, if somewhat surprised, acknowledgement and returned her smile with one of his own.

    Caroline caught her breath at the sight. His smile transformed his face from that of an eminently respectable personage into an enticement to sin. Devilry danced in his eyes, promising delights that she had never dreamed of. His face, tanned a deep brown by the sun, no longer looked weather-beaten and oddly out of place in an English autumn, but somehow full of dangerously alluring mystery.

    He stepped forward as if he would claim the right to make her acquaintance. Though his figure was stolidly dressed in a dark suit similar to those worn by nearly every other man in the room, underneath the drab clothes he moved sinuously, gracefully, with the barely controlled energy of a panther. He radiated an energy too powerful to stop, wrapped in a gorgeous pelt that begged to be touched despite the obvious danger.

    What caught her most about him, though, were his eyes. They hypnotized her, she could not look away. With deliberate focus he held her gaze with his, not allowing her any chance to move away as he came towards her.

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    1. Perfect can't wait.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/13/2006 06:40:00 PM  

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