Authors: Stefanie Sloane
Grace had known the power to be found in affecting someone with a glance or a smile. She’d practiced such naïve seduction as a debutante, giddy and filled with butterflies when the victim fell under her spell.
This was altogether different. Butterflies did not flit back and forth in her belly. No, from the feel of it, a tiger prowled within her, inspiring fear—and need.
He opened his eyes.
Grace suddenly realized that she’d leaned in and was staring at him, much too close.
His honesty touched her and urged her on. She swallowed hard, attempting to stifle her reply. It was no use.
“Do not ever regret those parts of you that are good, Mr. Clark,” Grace whispered, lost in his eyes. “They’re what separate you from men like my husband.”
At that very moment, Grace felt she’d never expressed anything more important in her life. She needed him to understand. She needed, desperately, to touch him more intimately.
Grace continued to hold his gaze as she closed what little space existed between them and pressed her lips tentatively to his. For one brief moment, he went perfectly still. Then he responded to her touch with careful coaxing, returning her kiss while asking for more.
The Wicked Widow Meets Her Match
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Ballantine Books eBook Edition
Copyright © 2014 by Stefanie Sloane
The Saint Who Stole My Heart
by Stefanie Sloane copyright © 2012 by Stefanie Sloane
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
BALLANTINE and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53888-8
Cover design: Lynn Andreozzi
Cover illustration: Alan Ayers
OME OF THE
“It is not permitted,” Langdon patiently reminded his younger brother, Nicholas, and their friends Sophia and Dash.
Nicholas rolled his eyes and grunted in disgust. “Well, of course champagne is not permitted. That is why we should most definitely try a glass. Each.”
The festive sounds from his parents’ dinner party floated up the main staircase of the stately townhouse and down the hall to where the friends sat on the floor, illuminated by the glow from the beeswax candles in the wall sconces. Conversations intertwined, making it difficult to understand anything that was said beyond a few words here and there. The men’s deep voices rolled roughly through the oak floorboards. The women’s laughter tinkled like so many bells and occasionally made the children laugh themselves. And fourteen-year-old Langdon wondered if he was the only one of the four who pictured himself downstairs, among the adults, doing what adults do.
He could not remember a time when his father had
not been preparing him for his future as the Earl of Stonecliffe. Langdon would inherit the title and manage the family estate and fortune just as the current earl had taken on the responsibility from his father. He would marry Sophia, as their parents planned. She would give birth to an heir. And Langdon would find the person responsible for the death of Sophia’s mother. His future was meticulously planned out—and much too far away.
“One person cannot possibly carry four glasses of champagne,” Langdon advised his brother. “Besides, you know as well as I that Greaves will be watching very carefully. Not one drop of the quality wine will be spilled on his watch. I heard him say so with my very own ears.”
Dash and Sophia dutifully nodded in agreement, their overgrown shadows upon the wall doing the same.
Nicholas did not. “Really, two servings could be carried in one glass, and one glass in each hand. As for Greaves, we’ve managed to get by the butler before. Who’s to say we can’t this time? He is getting on in years. Surely his hearing or vision will be going soon—maybe both. Tonight, if we’re lucky.”
Sophia gave Nicholas an admonishing look. “Really, Nicholas. Rather mean of you to wish such a plight on a man—even someone as prune-faced as Greaves. Take it back.”
“Oh, all right,” Nicholas grumbled, his face reddening with shame. He dug his fingers into the Persian runner and clawed at the carpet. “I take back either the blindness or being struck deaf. But not both. It’s champagne, Sophia.”
It was well past their bedtime. And Langdon felt sure his parents would be most disappointed to know that the four were not asleep.
“Be reasonable, Nicholas,” Langdon pleaded. “Mother is frightfully out of sorts because Lady Denham refused to come to the party. And Father is on edge because Mother will not stop discussing Lady Denham’s refusal—even though she knows the woman is angry with her for having ordered a dress in the same fabric.”
Dash playfully punched Nicholas on the arm. “He is right, as usual. We’re young. There will be plenty of time for champagne. We needn’t be in such a hurry.”
Nicholas hung his head as he was wont to do whenever he did not get his way. “And if we die in our sleep tonight? What then? There is no champagne in heaven. Only angels and endless singing.”
“I believe he is right—about the champagne, that is,” Sophia chimed in sheepishly.
Et tu, Brute?
” Langdon asked the girl. “And after agreeing with me about Greaves?”
Sophia held up a finger in warning. “I agreed that four glasses could not be carried by one person. That was all.”
“If it helps, I agreed with everything,” Dash offered amiably. “Greaves scares me. He’s all beetle-bug eyes and sloping forehead. But I would hate to die without having at least tried champagne.”
Langdon looked at the three and sighed, knowing he was outnumbered yet again. “One glass and no more.”
“Huzzah!” the three cheered, belatedly clamping
their hands over their mouths when Langdon shushed them.
“One glass, no more, and then to bed,” Langdon instructed sternly. “Otherwise, I won’t do it, I swear.”
All three nodded this time, but Langdon wasn’t going to fall for their tricks. “Say it. Out loud.”
“I have heard champagne can have strange effects on some, including sleeplessness,” Nicholas offered. “It would be impossible to make any promises
even setting our lips to the glass.”
“One glass, no more, and then to bed,” the three children recited in near perfect unison, Nicholas’s voice lagging just a touch behind the others.
“Very well,” Langdon said, picking himself up off the floor and walking toward his room.
“But the stairs are
way, Langdon,” Nicholas said, pointing in the opposite direction.
“Yes,” Langdon acknowledged patiently. “But the stairs would lead me straight to the heart of our parents’ party. Which is why I’m going to climb out the window to the tree, down the tree to Mother’s cutting garden, and around to the library window.”
Nicholas whistled in obvious appreciation. “I’m glad you are on my side, brother.”
“But how will you climb back up the tree with a glass of champagne in your hand?” Sophia asked skeptically.
“Very carefully,” Dash answered on his behalf. “If you break your arm, Lady Stonecliffe will have our heads. Come to think of it, Lord Stonecliffe will, too.”