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Love Is The Sweetest Song Of All

 

A Woman with a Future

Aspiring singer Sophie Tresilian had the world at her feet–fame, fortune, and true love–until the man of her dreams broke her heart. Four years later, Sophie is the toast of Europe, desired and pursued by countless men. And then Robin Pendarvis walks back into her life . . .

A Man with a Past

Four years ago, Robin hoped to make Sophie his bride, but secrets from his past forced him to let her go. Seeing her again revives all the old pain–and all the old passion. Unable to deny the love that still burns between them, they risk everything to be together once more. But will the things that tore them apart in the past endanger their future as well?

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Triumph–and a tryst . . .

For a moment she thought her eyes were deceiving her, that fatigue and excitement were making her hallucinate. Because the man coming towards her, his face formal and unsmiling, was the last one she’d expected to see tonight. Or any other night, for that matter.

Robin Pendarvis. Here. In London.

Like one in a trance, she watched him approach, cutting through the crowd with the swift, purposeful stride she had loved in him. A few of the fashionably dressed throng glanced at him in mingled curiosity and irritation, but none attempted to deter him. And then he was before her, close enough to touch if she stretched out her hand . . . as she must not do, lest she lose herself once more. Someone of her own, a voice half-wry, half-mocking, whispered in her head. Except that he hadn’t been–or only for a little while.

“Miss Tresilian.”

His voice was the same, deep and resonant, its slight Cornish burr more of an intonation than an accent and much fainter than her own when she’d first come to London as a wide-eyed debutante.  Nor did he look so different from the way he had four years ago. Thirty-one now, and so no longer in his first youth:  perhaps a little leaner, with some faint lines about his eyes and mouth. But his dark-brown hair was still thick, his eyes still blue and piercing. A visionary’s eyes, that saw how things might be and strove to transmute them into reality.

And how she’d loved that in him.

The only thing he hadn’t been able to envision, at the last, was a future for them, together. But that had been her decision as much as his. No rancor between them, ever–she’d been determined on that score–but regrets enough to last a lifetime, aching continually, like an old wound in inclement weather.

She was still staring, tongue-tied and transfixed. Remember who you are, Sophie told herself. If not a diva, she was still a professional singer of some note, no longer a schoolroom miss to be thrown into confusion by a chance encounter. Shaking off the paralysis, she swallowed dryly and managed to summon a response. “Mr. Pendarvis. Good evening–you are looking very well.”

The angular planes of his face seemed to relax at her words. “As are you, Miss Tresilian, and sounding even better. Magnificent, in fact–I congratulate you.”

Sophie found she could smile, though the expression felt strange and unfamiliar on her face. “Thank you.”

His eyes warmed, their cool blue brightening to a hue that reminded her of a sunlit summer sky. “I can’t say that I’m surprised, however. I knew you were destined for a great future, from the moment I first heard you sing.”

Memory stirred, seductive and dangerous as a siren’s song.  “Thank you again,” Sophie said hurriedly, “but I still have so much to learn. I am–glad to see you here tonight. It’s always good to see a familiar face. What brings you to London?”

His face grew remote again. “Some business, of a personal nature.”

“I see.” Sophie tried to sound neutral. “Well, I am honored that you found the time to attend this concert.”           

A smile softened his features. “I would not have missed it for the world.” He paused, his eyes intent on her face. “Miss Tresilian, I wondered if we might have a private word.”

Sophie felt her pulse quicken, along with a strange flutter of what was either excitement or apprehension just behind her midriff. “A private word?”  she echoed faintly.

Robin nodded. “About something that may concern us both–”

He broke off, glancing over his shoulder as the hum of conversation around them suddenly intensified. Following the direction of his gaze, Sophie saw more visitors coming in. Soon it would be impossible for that private word, if it weren’t already. And from the look she saw on Robin’s face, he’d come to the same realization.

Turning back to her, he asked almost abruptly, “Miss Tresilian, do you still ride in the mornings?”

She moistened her lips. “I do. When I can, that is.”

“In Hyde Park?”

She nodded confirmation, aware of the press of people around them, the escalating buzz of countless voices praising, exclaiming, criticizing . . .

He leaned in, his voice pitched for her ears alone. “The Rotten Row, then? Between the hours of nine and ten o’clock?”

“Yes.”  The lone syllable emerged more as a breath than as a word, but he appeared to have no difficulty hearing it.

He drew back, spoke in the same low tone. “Until then, Miss Tresilian.”

A sketch of a bow, then he was gone, threading his way through the crowd. Hemmed in by the throng, Sophie could only watch as he attained the doorway and disappeared through it.

As completely as he’d disappeared from her life four years ago.

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Available now from Sourcebooks Casablanca

Do I Hear A Waltz?

A man who never expected to inherit. A woman who never expected to wed. A choice that pits their honor against their hearts.

Crippled after a riding accident, Aurelia Newbold shuns Society—until a dashing stranger draws her into a secret waltz and changes her life forever. After a year abroad, she returns home and discovers that the one man she’s been dreaming of is engaged to her beloved twin sister.

James Trelawney is not prepared for the vibrant woman who returns to London in the place of the wounded girl he took pity on—or his growing need for her. But forbidden love is not the only danger…a chilling secret reaches out from beyond the grave, threatening both Trelawney and the woman he loves.

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A moonlit encounter, a magical moment . . .

But, at first glance, the conservatory appeared to be deserted. Moonlight poured in through the glass-paneled walls, bathing the plants and stone benches in an otherworldly glow. Loosening his collar, James inhaled the warm, jasmine-scented air and felt himself relax for the first time that evening.

Hands clasped behind him, he strolled along the nearest walkway. Feathery ferns, sinuous vines, potted palms . . . he could not identify more than a few of the more exotic species, but it scarcely mattered: here, at last, were peace and tranquility.  Then he rounded a corner, came to a halt at the sight of the figure standing in the middle of the conservatory, the moonlight frosting her golden hair and casting a silvery sheen upon the skirts of her blue ball gown. Her eyes were closed, her slim form swaying gently in time to the waltz music drifting in from the ballroom.

James wondered if he’d lost his mind. Hadn’t he just seen her mere moments ago, dancing in the arms of an earl? Then, looking more closely, he saw that the shade of her gown was closer to turquoise than azure, her hair dressed a touch less elaborately: subtle differences but telling nonetheless. What had Thomas said?  “She and her mother and her sister . . .”

He must have made some sound, some movement, because the girl suddenly froze like a deer scenting a hunter, apprehension radiating from every inch of her.

James spoke quickly, seeking to reassure her.  “Pardon me, Miss Newbold.  It is Miss Newbold, is it not?”      

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Aurelia fought down a rush of panic and an irrational urge to flee–for all the good it would do her. The stranger’s voice was deep and pleasant, with a faint burr she could not place.  She wondered if he was as attractive as he sounded; the thought made her even more reluctant to turn around.

But it would be rude not to acknowledge his presence.  Keeping her face averted, she nodded.  “I am Aurelia Newbold.”

“Miss Aurelia,” he amended. “My name’s Trelawney. Again, I ask your pardon. I could not help but stare–no one told me that you and your sister were identical twins.”

Aurelia swallowed, knowing she could no longer delay the inevitable. Best to get it over with, as quickly as possible “We are twins, sir.  But–no longer identical.”

She turned around, letting him see the whole of her face now–thinner and paler than Amy’s, despite their maid’s skilled application of cosmetics. But no amount of paint or powder could disguise the scar that ran along the left side of her hairline before curving sharply across her cheekbone like a reversed letter J.  She forced herself to meet Mr. Trelawney’s eyes, even as her stomach knotted in dread over what she would see.

And there it was–that flash of pity in his eyes; dark eyes, in a strongly handsome face that recalled portraits of dashing adventurers and soldiers of fortune. At least they held no distaste or revulsion:  a small mercy. Or perhaps he was simply better at hiding them.

“A riding accident.” she said tersely, anticipating the question he was trying not to ask. “Three years ago.  It’s left me with a limp as well.”

“I am sorry.” His voice was kind. “That must be difficult to bear. Do you need to sit down? I could escort you back to the ballroom, find you a chair.”

Aurelia shook her head. “That won’t be necessary, sir. I just–came to admire the conservatory.”  And to escape all the stares, whether curious or pitying. She’d have preferred to stay behind in their suite at Claridge’s tonight, but Amy had refused to attend this ball without her.  Beautiful Amy, who looked the way she had used to look.

“I see.”  And as his dark eyes continued to study her, Aurelia had the uncomfortable feeling that Mr. Trelawney did indeed see.

“They fade, you know,” he said, almost abruptly. “Scars. When I was a boy, I knew a man who’d served in the Crimea and had a saber cut down one side of his face.  Many saw it as a badge of honor. In later years, some even thought it made him look distinguished.”

“Scars on a man may be distinguished, Mr. Trelawney,” Aurelia said, more sharply than she intended. “On a woman, they’re merely ugly. And there was nothing–honorable or heroic about the way I acquired mine.” Merely stupid.

His brows drew together. “Surely you need not be defined by your scars, Miss Newbold.”

She felt her lips twist in a brittle smile. “It’s hard not to be, when they’re the first things about me that people notice.”

“But you are under no obligation to accept their valuation of you.  And would you judge another solely on the basis of injury or illness?”

He spoke mildly, but she heard the faint rebuke in his voice, nonetheless. Flushing, she looked away, ashamed of her outburst. She’d thought herself resigned, if not reconciled, to her disfigurement; what was it about this man that unsettled her so? “I would hope not, especially now. Pardon me, sir, I let my–disappointment get the best of me.  A graceless thing to do, and I’m sorry for it.  If you’ll excuse me, I’ll return to the ballroom.” Still not looking at him, she turned towards the conservatory doors.

“Wait.” The urgency in his voice stopped her in her tracks. “Miss Newbold, may I have this dance?”

Aurelia whipped her head around, astonished. “Dance? Pray do not mock me, sir.”

Dark eyes gazed steadily into hers. “I have never been more serious in my life. You have a fine sense of rhythm–I noticed that when first I saw you. Are you fond of the waltz?”

“Well, yes,” she admitted, after a moment; there’d been a time when she loved nothing better than to whirl about the floor in her partner’s arms. “That is, I was before. But my limp–”          

“A limp is surely no worse than two left feet–and the latter affliction has not prevented quite a number of people from dancing tonight.”

A breath of unwilling laughter escaped her; Mr. Trelawney’s eyes seemed to warm at the sound. He held out his hand.  “I do not ask this out of mockery–or pity,” he added, with a perception that surprised her. “Will you not indulge me?  We need not return to the ballroom–we can have our dance here, unseen, among the flowers. Unless you find it too physically taxing?’

He’d just handed her the perfect excuse. All she had to do was plead fatigue or discomfort, and Mr. Trelawney, gentleman that he was, would surely let her retire and not importune her further.  Instead, she stepped forward–and placed her hand in his.

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