To Tempt a Rake - By Cara Elliott Page 0,2

enough Romanian to know that I have just been called a very bad name.” His wide, wicked mouth was now only a hairsbreadth from hers. “I thought you weren’t going to forget that you are a lady.”

“I—” Her words were cut off as his lips came down on hers. Their touch was shockingly sensual, like sun-warmed velvet stroking the most sensitive spot of flesh.

The sensation held her in thrall, but only for a heartbeat. Recovering her wits, Kate struck a sharp uppercut to his jaw, her knuckles landing with a good deal more force than his teasing kiss.

Marco fell back a step. His nostrils flared as he drew in a taut breath and then he let it out slowly, looking oddly bemused. “Where did a gently bred female learn to punch like that?”

“Never mind,” she muttered, surreptitiously flexing her fist. He had a very solid chin.

His nose quivered, like a bird dog on the hunt. “You smell like oranges and… something else.”


Before Marco could go on, a shadow slanted over the alcove.

“Oh, there you are, Kate.” Alessandra della Giamatti—now Lady James Jacquehart Pierson, wife of the Duke of Ledyard’s youngest son—paused in the oak-framed doorway, her new husband by her side. “Excuse me, are we interrupting a private conversation?”

“Ciao, Alessa,” answered Marco. “No, your learned friend and I were just having a very stimulating discussion on fencing.”

A tiny furrow formed between her brows as Alessandra spotted the lingering red welt on his jaw. “Fencing,” she repeated softly.

“Si, and had I known science was such a provocative field of study, I would have asked to join your little group ages ago.” He moved quickly to kiss her on both cheeks and added a rapid-fire volley of Italian. “You are more beautiful than ever this morning, cara. Marriage must agree with you.”

“And you are more incorrigible than ever,” murmured Alessandra, deflecting the sly innuendos with a wry smile. Turning to Kate, she said, “If my cousin is annoying you, feel free to tell him to va’ all’ inferno.”

Go to hell.

Kate made a face. “He’s probably been there and back several times over.”

“Aye.” James Jacquehart Pierson chuckled. With his midnight locks, olive complexion, and muscled military bearing, he was known throughout London as “Black Jack.” But Alessandra had assured Kate that he had a heart of gold. “I imagine that the devil booted him back to our world, after finding him far too obnoxious to tolerate for any length of time.”

Marco contrived to look hurt. “And here I thought we were amicos, Lord Giacomo.”

“Friends?” Jack arched a dark brow. “Don’t press your luck, Ghiradelli. Your presence here is tolerable. Barely. In fact…”

Leaving the men to their verbal sparring, Kate drew Alessandra into one of the arched alcoves and brushed a kiss to her cheek. “Much as I hate to agree with your cousin on anything, you do look glorious. And happy.”

“I am,” replied Alessandra. Which for her was a notable display of emotion. Of all the ‘Sinners,’ she was the most reserved about her feelings and her past, even with her closest friends.

With good reason, acknowledged Kate. Alessandra had a dark secret from her past life in Italy that had recently come to light and threatened to destroy both her and her young daughter. But Black Jack Pierson, a highly decorated veteran of the Peninsular campaign, had proved his mettle in love as well as war by vanquishing a cunning enemy and winning her heart.

Glancing at the rows of leather-bound books, Kate felt her lips quirk. Just like a storybook hero. What a pity that a noble knight could not transform from ink and paper to flesh and blood.

Not that any mortal man could slay her dragon. Some secrets were worse than others…

Forcing a smile, Kate gave a light laugh. “We are all so delighted for you.”

Alessandra squeezed her hand. “I am so grateful for my friendship with all of the ‘Sinners.’ I would never have survived the last few months without it.”

“That is what friends are for.” She paused, feeling a little pang of regret that she would be leaving Ledyard Manor that afternoon. “Speaking of which, I was just coming to tell you that Charlotte is anxious to return to London, on account of her upcoming lecture.”

“Of course.” Alessandra slanted a look at Jack and Marco, who were still exchanging barbs. “Come, let us fetch Ciara and Ariel from the conservatory, and visit her room while she finishes her packing.”

The idea of circling their little group, if only for a short