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Harlequin

Release Date: May 2009

ISBN: 9780373295432

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Prologue—Welbourne Manor, 1818

By Jove!  Was he naked?

Charlotte Fitzmanning balanced precariously on a thick tree branch, one hand wrapped tightly around its rough bark and the other holding the spyglass to her eye.  The glass, so very useful in keeping up with all the interesting doings at Welbourne Manor, was trained at that moment on the ornamental pond.

More precisely, on the man who swam in its blue-green waters.  Andrew Bassington.  Her true love.  Not that he knew he was, of course.  And he never would know, not if Charlotte could help it.  But the one thing she couldn’t seem to help, the one thing she seemed horribly compelled to do, was follow him out here after she had overheard his plans for a swim.

Charlotte frowned, lowering the glass so that Drew was only a distant blur.  She was a great fool to trail about after him like a puppy, she knew that well.  And, what was more, she was too old to do so now that she was sixteen.  Drew only saw her as the little sister of his friends, her half-brothers Nicholas and Stephen.  He teased her and laughed at her, but he was kind, too, putting up with her when she was bored and tagged along behind him.

Until now.  Something, something vital and mysterious, had changed on this visit.  Their conversation, so easy and joking before, had a strained quality.  He no longer teased her, or tugged at her dark hair.  And last night over dinner, she caught Drew watching her solemnly.  His beautiful blue eyes were dark and opaque in the candlelight, hiding his thoughts from her.

Then he had smiled, his usual merry grin, and winked at her, making her laugh into her soup.  Yet that strange, serious look, and the uneasy feelings it stirred within her, remained.  She lay awake all night, fretting about what it all meant.

Perhaps it meant she was becoming just like her mother, willing to make a great fool of herself for passion.  Perhaps she was fascinated by Drew Bassington, with no hope at all he would be fascinated by her in turn.  She might be as foolish as her mother, but she was not, alas, a great beauty like her!

When she finally got out of bed that morning, she had a new resolution—to rid herself of this new obsession with Drew.  How she was quite to do that, she had no idea, and she had no one’s advice to ask.  There was nothing else for it.  She would have to start by following him to the pond.

And that was how she ended up in this tree.  Feeling even more foolish than ever.  She should climb down and go home before she got caught.  But her curiosity proved stronger than her resolve.  She had to see!  To know once and for all if she was indeed a Woman of Loose Morals.

And to know if Drew looked as fine outside his clothes as he did in them…

 

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