Happy Monday and welcome to our annual Scandalous Affair. Every February we get excited about our historical romances, maybe because it’s the month of love 😉 And this year we have a schedule packed with authors that we think you should try out if you haven’t yet. There’s something for every taste, whether you like your romances light and fluffy, dark and dangerous, or even featuring same sex couples. We got you covered. So hope you find something to get you in the mood for love that will simply warm up your heart here.
Kicking things off, an author and series we’ve been telling you to pick up for a while now. The Victorian Rebels series by Kerrigan Byrne should be on your must read books of 2017 if you haven’t yet and we have a little taste from the latest release (Feb. 7, 2017) THE DUKE for you. And don’t forget to enter our week long giveaway at the end of each post. Enjoy!
Swallowing around a tongue gone suddenly dry, Imogen tried with everything she had not to pant, though her lungs felt heavy. “Would you . . . like another drink?” Failing that, she handed him the half- full glass he’d set on the table, hoping to distract him.
He paused and pulled back, as though pondering the question.
“No.” He answered with the careful diction of a man aware of his own inebriation.
“Then . . . is there aught else you need?” she queried. “I really should be getting back to my . . . to my duties.”
“I’ve kept you for quite a while without recompense for your time,” he said ponderously. “That must be why your . . . employer keeps glaring.”
“Not at all,” Imogen rushed to soothe him. Del Toro had been sending her warning looks, reminding her not to cock this up or it would be her hide.
Trenwyth’s strength astounded her once more as he lifted her bodily and settled her on the bench beside him as though rearranging a sack of potatoes. “Excuse me,” he muttered, then stood and made his unsteady way toward del Toro.
Imogen was surprised he could walk at all, as he’d imbibed enough Scotch to drown an elephant. Every tense moment he and del Toro conversed was an eternity, but they seemed to come to an understanding that pleased them both. Trenwyth paid, and dis appeared behind the curtain without a backward glance.
Imogen didn’t take the time to won der why a pang of disappointment defl ated her before she rose and made her way toward the sideboard, meaning to pick up a tray and a cloth with which to start cleaning up.
Del Toro intercepted her, and the gleam in his eyes sent her heart plummeting into her stomach with a suspicion he quickly confi rmed.
She cut him off at the pass. “You gave your word that I’d never have to—”
“That was before he gave me a twenty- pound note,” del Toro marveled.
“Twenty pounds?” Imogen’s legs gave out, and she plopped heavi ly into an unoccupied chair. “Surely you mean two pounds.” Even that sum was an unheard-of price for a place like this. Only those at Covent Garden or Madame Regina’s could charge two pounds a night.
Scratching at his thinning hair, del Toro produced the note, but wouldn’t let her touch it. “I’d sell my own daughter for twenty pounds,” he said without a modicum of shame. “Just think, this pays close to a third of what your father owes me.”
Imogen glanced at the men playing the gambling tables, seized in the grip of a desperate hope. Twenty pounds was more than half a year’s wages at the hospital. It would take her more than a year to earn that here. She had seventy and four pounds left of her father’s debt to remunerate. It would save her a year of her life working in this miserable place. Leaving her sentence, as she’d come to see it, only two years rather than three.
It would only cost her virginity.
Though Trenwyth was ridiculously handsome and desirable, Imogen shook her head before she’d quite made the decision to refuse. By now, she’d given up all her childhood dreams of Continental travel and artistic exploration to care for her family, but she hadn’t lost all hope of being able to live a normal life, eventually. She wanted to marry someday. Though he was an obsessive gambler, her father had once been a wealthy and respectable textile merchant. Her family still had many of his contacts, and she’d always thought that perhaps she’d marry a banker or a doctor, someone respectable.
But if she was no longer a virgin . . .
“You will.” Del Toro was generally a soft- spoken man, but once his temper flared, he showed a dark and violent side that illustrated just how little he cared for the women in his employ. He beat them sometimes, if they fell out of line, and Imogen had lived in fear of the day he ever raised his hand to her.
“You don’t understand, if I find myself . . . in trouble I’ll lose my other position, and thereby my way of supporting my family.” Supporting a child at this point was completely out of the question.
Del Toro shrugged, his chins wobbling with a disgusting ripple. “My kittens will teach you a few new positions, and you can work here.” He chuckled at his own terrible pun before sneering at her with derision. “Oh, I forget, you are too good for us, too reputable to be seen with us during the day.”
“That isn’t what I—”
“I won der if Isobel would think herself too good for this place. I could send Bartolomeo and Giorgio to fetch her to me, just like I did you.” Del Toro slid the bill beneath his nose, testing the scent of so much money.
“She’s only just fifteen,” Imogen gasped, a desperate fear winching the breath from her lungs. “You said you wouldn’t bring her into this, that she and my mother would never know—”
“I’ve employed girls as young as thirteen before. And I made you that promise before I was handed twenty pounds.” He shrugged. “What does your family think you do all night? Are they so stupid they don’t already suspect that you are a whore?”
“I told them I work extra shifts at the hospital and give the money to you.”
“It’s you or your sister.” His voice and color began to rise, heralding his dangerous temper. “You are getting old to be of much use to me for long, perhaps I will not need you for the two years it would take to work here, but Isobel is young and supple . . . It would be easy for me to turn her out, and there would be nothing you could do.”
A sick weight landed upon her shoulders, compounding the exhaustion caused by working and living under such stress. At three and twenty, she was indeed beginning to age out of the profession. Not only that, she was dangerously close to becoming a permanent spinster.
Reaching down, del Toro grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet, his fingers digging into her flesh with a painful pinch. “Get back there,” he snarled, shoving her toward the curtain. “You do whatever he wants, and if he doesn’t leave the most satisfied customer ever to pass through this door, I’ll have my men ugly your face after they teach you some humility, so you’ll be of no use to anyone.”
Woodenly, Imgoen turned toward the curtain; its crimson and black arabesque design was faded and dingy from so many men tossing it aside on their way back to the bedrooms.
“Room seventeen,” del Toro called after her.
Of course it was room 17. Only the best for the Duke of Trenwyth. Room 17 was one of the very few suites above stairs in the narrow, long building that housed the Bare Kitten. Climbing those stairs felt like scaling Kilimanjaro to Imogen, who was out of breath by the time she reached the top. Not because she was unused to stairs, but because her corset, combined with the band of fear squeezing her lungs, didn’t allow her to properly inhale. Room 17 might as well have been the gallows. It wasn’t that the man within didn’t appeal to her— his beauty was unparalleled— but it would mean that she’d truly become what she’d never imagined herself to be.
Reaching for the latch, Imogen paused, placing a hand low on her belly where it seemed an entire flock of birds flapped and churned their wings in equal mea sure to the violent trepidation she felt. She closed her eyes and sent a prayer for strength to a God who would condemn her for what she was about to do. Then she stepped inside, shutting the door on her innocence.
Trenwyth was already naked.
Her shock had her flattened against the door as she gaped at him with blatant stupefaction. As a nurse, Imogen had been privy to the nude male form before, and again as an artist. But nothing in her extensive experience had prepared her for the pure splendor of Collin Talmage. Not even when she’d been held against him did she comprehend the raw, corded strength he wielded. With his back to her, she was able to somewhat adjust to the sight of all that perfect bare flesh.
Before she was compelled to touch it.
One lantern sputtered dimly on the bedside table where he set a drink next to a ready decanter, completely unabashed by his own nudity. The shadows cast by the lone flame into the grooves of his long, taut muscles were just as tantalizing as the illumination.
“Would you like a drink?” He gestured to the golden liquid he’d abandoned. “I believe I’ve had quite enough.”
He turned around, and Imogen couldn’t have swallowed had liquid been poured straight into her gaping mouth. Somehow, she knew that Collin Talmage, the Duke of Trenwyth, had never in his life been afflicted with the Irish curse. His sex stood proudly erect from the sinewy definition of his lean hips. He glanced down, rather sheepishly, and flicked her a look full of pure, sinful invitation.
Surely he didn’t mean to put that . . . that . . . inside of her. It wouldn’t, couldn’t possibly fit. Her mind recoiled, but her body . . . her body responded. She suddenly felt like a rosebud about to bloom, trembling with the instinct to open. To bare herself. The impulse frightened her enough that she wrapped her arms around her middle in a foolish attempt to hold together.
Glancing at the chair where he’d discarded his uniform, she noted the gleam of a veritable arsenal of weapons. Two pistols, seven knives of alternating sizes, the saber, a strange- looking vambrace that must have been beneath his shirtsleeves, and . . . good Lord, was that a syringe? Just where had he stashed all those on his person?
Imogen glanced back at the duke with wide- eyed suspicion. What if he really was a spy?
He returned her wild gaze with a steady one. Carefully, without breaking eye contact, he lowered himself to the bed, his knees falling open slightly as he lounged. A lion at rest.
“Come to me,” he said, holding his hand out to her.
Copyright © 2017 by Kerrigan Byrne and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
Available February 7, 2017!
by Kerrigan Byrne
Released: August 28th 2018
Series: Victorian Rebels #6
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks