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Authors: Susan Spencer Paul

Touch of Passion

BOOK: Touch of Passion
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Lifting a hand, Kian touched one of the curls that had fallen loose from the simple arrangement which she wore each day.

“You're going to cause such a stir in Town, Loris. You must be careful not to let any gentleman do anything foolish. I should hate to have to harm anyone.”

It took Loris a moment to realize what he meant.

“You can't be serious, Kian.” She slapped his hand away.

His amusement died, and he took her chin in a firm, but careful, grasp, keeping her gaze steadily on his.

“I believe I could even kill a man if he harmed you, Loris. You know how I feel, and regardless of your own emotions, you accept that I'm speaking the truth. I love you. You're mine. I won't tolerate another man forcing his attentions on you.”

Loris twisted away, furious as only Kian could make her.

“You'd best make up your mind, my lord. And when you do finally decide what you want of me, be so kind as to let me know. Until then, I'd prefer not to speak on the matter.”

“What I want of you?” Kian repeated, his own angry expression mirroring hers. “Damn you, Loris! I dread the days and nights that are to come, being parted from you. But you don't wish to speak of that, either, do you? Or of what's between us?”

“There is
nothing
between us,” she countered. “Save a seemingly never-ending conflict. Why can we never have five minutes of peace between us, Kian? God above.” She set a hand to her head, where an ache was beginning to throb. “Perhaps a trip to London will be welcome, after all. I shall have a little peace while I'm there, at least.”

“No, my love, that you won't,” Kian said, and before she could move away, he gathered her up in his arms. “And neither will I.”

He set his lips over hers, kissing her in the manner that always made her lose her senses . . .

St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles
by Susan Spencer Paul

Touch of Night

Touch of Passion

Touch of
Passion

Susan Spencer Paul

TOUCH OF PASSION

Copyright © 2005 by Susan Spencer Paul.

Excerpt from
Touch of Desire
copyright © 2005 by Susan Spencer Paul.

On front cover:
Photo of man © Phil Heffernan
Photo of landscape © Superstock
Photo of sky © PHOTODISC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

ISBN: 0-312-93388-6
EAN: 9780312-93388-6

Printed in the United States of America

St. Martin's Paperbacks edition / December 2005

St. Martin's Paperbacks are published by St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth
Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents

Prologue

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

Twenty-eight

Twenty-nine

Prologue

L
ONDON, 1811

N
ot the Red Fox again. We've gone there almost every this past month and I'm sore weary of it
. Dyfed threw a card onto the table and looked with consternation at his brother, who sat idly across from him.
And you've already had all the women there at least once, and most of them twice and three times. I don't know why you want to go to that filthy pit again
.

Kian regarded the cards he held with a smile. “Speak aloud, if you please,
fy gefell,”
he said. “You're not to use the silent speech while we're in London, remember, lest you make a mistake while we're in company with mere mortals.” With care, he placed three cards down, one next to the other. “As to the Red Fox,” he continued pleasantly, “I happen to like it. And since you
haven't
had all the women there, I should think you'd want to go. You hate unfinished business.” He glanced up at his brother with a knowing look, grinning.

Dyfed's cheeks pinked with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. “You've kept them all too occupied for anyone else to have a share. I can scarce be blamed for the outcome of your”—he cast about for the right word—“extravagance,”
then regretted the choice when Kian laughed with clear amusement.

“What's that you're saying, lad?” a gravelly voice demanded from the high-backed chair set near the fire. The next moment their father's well-lined face, framed by both a crown of shaggy, unkempt hair and an equally disheveled beard, peered around at them. “Kian's taking two at a time again, is he? I've warned you against such behavior, my boy. You're far too young for such nonsense, and will do yourself an injury. No more of that, now, or it's back to Wales for the both of you.”

“It isn't two at a time, Father,” Kian assured his parent. “It's just Dyfed being slow. His usual thorough self. He can't keep up, as ever.”

“That's all right then,” Baron Tylluan replied before Dyfed could make an angry rejoinder. “But I want you being careful. If your cousin the earl, may God bless and keep him, hears that I've let you loose in London again, he'll be at our door before we can think of any good excuse. You'll remember what he thought of your last visit to Town.”

Even Kian lost his usual smirk. “Could we ever forget?” he asked. “I've never seen Malachi so angry.”

“Have you not?” said his father. “Then I fear you've a short memory, my lad, for you've forgotten his fury after that fire you started on the docks. That was but three years past. And the riot that the two of you sparked in that gaming hell two years past. God help us, but that was a bad time. It wasn't only the earl who was obliged to keep you from the law, then, but your cousin Niclas, as well.”

“Don't speak of it,” Dyfed murmured pleadingly. “There's nothing so awful as having both the
Dewin Mawr
and Cousin Niclas furious at us.”

“I should be glad never to speak of any of those unpleasant times again,” their father replied sternly, “and far more glad if you'll give no cause for a repeat of such occasions. No fires,” he commanded. “No burning
anything
. No riots. And above all,
no
magic.”

. . .

The inn was busier than usual for a midweek night, for which Loris was grateful. The keeper and his wife were both in a foul mood, and having more customers to clean up after kept Loris from having to work either behind the bar or in the kitchen quite so much, where their hard, callused hands so often found cause to strike her cheeks.

And there was much cleaning to do, for the crowd was already unruly, spilling drinks and tobacco ashes on tables and chairs and on Loris, too, when she made the mistake of passing too close by. But she had learned to be quick and careful at the inn, especially on nights like this. Some of the rougher customers were given to touching any passing female if they had the chance, and she couldn't bear to feel their hands slapping, pinching, or roaming over her. The girls who worked above the inn called her foolish, but Loris could never accustom herself to the thought of letting any man grope her. Not even for money. The girls assured her that one day it would be otherwise, for she'd have little choice if she wished to keep eating, but the very thought made Loris ill.

And so she scrubbed the floors and tables and worked very hard, hoping that it would be enough to make the Goodbodys keep her as a servant. Her labor for them was free, excepting food and keep, but, of late, the Goodbodys had complained even about that small expense.

Two men sitting at one of the far tables rose to join a card game taking place at another, and Loris snatched up her tray and a cloth and moved quickly to clear it before anyone else sat there. Mrs. Goodbody didn't care so much about the comfort of the customers, but she kept close count of her tankards and glasses, and if one should go missing, Loris would find herself the worse for it.

She made her way through the smoke and noise, squeezing past the rough horde and striving to keep from being knocked aside.

Shifting the heavy wooden tray comfortably against her hip, Loris began to clear the table of mugs and glasses. The
battered top was wet with ale and sour-smelling wine, and it was a difficult task to wipe it clean while balancing the tray. She did so quickly, though, for she still had bruises from the slaps Mrs. Goodbody had given her that morning for being too slow in sweeping the floors.

“Where's the serving wench?” A rough hand tugged at her sleeve, nearly sending the tray to the floor.

Loris purposefully kept her eyes on the table before her. It never did to look into the faces of the patrons. They were rough and lewd, on the main, and she had discovered that paying them any attention at all could lead to trouble.

“I'll go and find her, sir,” she said loudly over the tavern's raucous din, and reached to wipe away the last few wet spots from the tabletop.

“Find her now!” he demanded, grabbing Loris by the elbow and forcibly swinging her about.

The tray slipped; Loris struggled to free herself in time to grab it, but it was impossible. She shut her eyes against the impending crash . . . only to find that it didn't happen.

“Let her go.”

She recognized the voice, and her eyes flew open. It was one of the young gentlemen who'd been causing such a stir in the Red Fox these past few weeks. Twins, they were, handsome, rich young lordlings, slender and tall, with remarkable white-blond hair and chilling blue eyes. She had never seen anyone like them before.

They seemed hardly to be much older than Loris, and yet they had proved to be equal to the most dangerous rogues who frequented the tavern. The girls above stairs fought over the twins' favors, while the men below sought their company for gambling and fighting. One night Loris had seen the one who'd just spoken take on a much older, stronger man in a contest of swords and win. Another night he had gambled thousands of pounds against a notorious pirate merely for the company of one of the upstairs girls—a girl who would eagerly greet him at any time of day or night—and had come away with both the money and the desired companionship.
The pirate had protested, a brawl had ensued, and the young lordling had still come out on his feet, laughing merrily once all the fighting was done and the pirate and his crew vanquished.

His brother, who stood on Loris's other side, was as different as he could possibly be. He was far gentler and quieter in manner and, according to the girls who had lain with him, exceedingly kind and considerate. He gambled but little and only fought if his wild brother needed aid. But that, as Loris had seen, was seldom the case, for the first appeared to be fully capable of defending himself. More often than not it was left to the gentler brother to stop brawls before they began and to make peace when his sibling had angered a rival.

“I said,” the first repeated in a soft, menacing tone, “let her go. Now.”

The grip on her elbow tightened until Loris nearly buckled from the pain, and her angry captor rose, pulling her up with him until she stood on her toes. He was a big, tall man and very strong. With a single jerk of his wrist he brought her hard up against his side.

“And I suppose you'll make me, boy?”

The noise in the tavern began to the away. With a sinking heart, Loris could see Mr. Goodbody frantically pushing his way out from behind the bar, an angry expression on his florid face.

BOOK: Touch of Passion
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