10 September 1824
To my most esteemed employer Lady Nicholas Asquith:
Although you assured me that you would return from your most surprising Parisian shopping excursion before any letter would reach you, as its headmistress, I consider it my most solemn duty to keep you apprised of the goings-on at The Progressive School for Young Ladies and the Education of Their Minds.
As you employ me for my directness, I’ll come straight to the multiple points of this letter.
First, we have rats. I’ve contacted the rat catcher, and he, along with his one terrier and three ferrets, will have the run of the school premises for the next week. Parents have been told that the building is to receive a fresh coat of paint and are advised to take a holiday for the duration.
To make this a partial telling of the truth, I’ve taken the liberty of hiring painters for when the rat catcher and his animals vacate the building. After careful deliberation of a variety of samples, I’ve chosen Invisible Green to be the color of our school forthwith. I have it on good authority that it is a most felicitous shade for the erudition of the mind as it invites Nature inside our walls. Only time will tell.
Second, I must relate to you the gossip flying about the school. Namely, rumor has it that you have journeyed to Paris to secure a French cook and a French French teacher. As I know you rely on my good judgement for a variety of matters, I shan’t do you the disservice of withholding it here.
In regards to the first rumor, you must consider the probable moral consequences of the introduction of French fare inside our virtuous English walls, our Invisible Green English walls, a color devised by none other than an Englishman. To my point, English foods sustain not only our corporeal forms, but our very Englishness. It is plain and solid and right. Who knows how all those French creams and butters might lead an influenceable girl down the path of licentiousness and ultimately ruin? What price the bon-bon? We mustn’t venture down that path, not even a step.
Now, about the French French teacher . . . Given my preceding point, need I say more? Need I elucidate the particulars of the path such a personage might set a naïve girl upon? We shall never speak of it.
I wish you a safe and swift journey back to London, at which time we shall discuss your niece Lucy and her penchant for most scandalous reading materials. (I shudder to think what she learned from Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue before its confiscation.)
Your trusted headmistress in the righteous bringing up of young ladies,
Mrs. Calpurnia Bloomquist
Excerpt from Three Lessons in Seduction
“Are you going to skulk behind me all night?”
They were the first words she ever spoke to him. His heart kicked up a notch, and his tongue became a sodden blanket in his mouth as a series of facts occurred to him:
He’d followed her. He was alone with her. And he wanted nothing more than to touch her and know the scent of her. His stride increased in length to catch her.
“Do we need a formal introduction before you will speak to me?” she teased, presenting him her flawless profile. The moon above limned her features in a contradictory soft, yet crisp, glow. “Or are you simply shy?”
“You must know who I am,” he called out to her back.
“He speaks.” An enchanting giggle floated over her shoulder. “I know you are one of many young men who venture out to my uncle’s estate to discuss England’s politics. But who you are specifically, I can’t say.”
They reached the ha-ha, and he watched her clear its low wall with ease before turning toward the edge of the woods, him following at her heels like a lap dog hungry for the tiniest crumb of her attention.
He found himself close behind her, close enough to catch her scent of jasmine and neroli. It struck him that this wasn’t the one-note scent of a debutante. On the surface, the floral jasmine indicated the shallow innocence of her peers, but the deep bitter-orange neroli complicated that assessment and made for a more interesting conclusion. She was different.
“Why did you leave the house?” he asked.
“I was hot.”
Three simpler words didn’t exist in the English language. Yet that one simple word—hot—sent a spike of longing straight through him. “I suppose the air was a bit stale,” he rasped.
“I wasn’t hot from stale air.” She faced him, her amber eyes, clear and unflinching, gauging his reaction. “It was you. I was hot because of you.”
No longer could he keep his emotions under a tight rein. She’d negated that control with a few careless words that struck his core with the precision of a well-aimed arrow.
“Did no one ever teach you not to say such things to strange men?”
“They tried,” she said with the assuredness of a woman with far too much experience, or maybe it was far too little. “There is nothing strange about you.”
“You should try those words on a different man,” he said, straining for a tone of paternal guidance. If she believed it, he might, too. “One who would marry you.”
“Oh, I care naught for that,” she said on a laugh.
Instinctively, protectively, he reached out and pulled her close, her upturned lips a hairsbreadth away from his, her playful eyes inviting him to bridge the distance. “Society doesn’t tolerate ladies who entertain loose morals.”
With feelings of longing, desire, and bewilderment warring inside him, he lowered his head and touched his mouth to hers, unprepared for the responding punch of electricity.
Kisses had the power to reveal truths about two people that extended far beyond trivialities like compatibility and incompatibility. This kiss revealed a single unshakeable truth: she was the only woman for him.
It was a truth that shook him clear through to his bones.
His eyes flew open, and he broke the kiss, eliciting a tiny gasp of protest from her. He watched with a mixture of self-loathing and thwarted passion as she opened desire-glazed eyes and closed kiss-crushed lips.
“A girl like you is a girl one could marry,” he murmured. They were heedless and dangerous words that fell from his lips, and he couldn’t understand why he spoke them.
“A girl like me?”
“One could marry?”
“Careful,” she whispered into the space between their lips. It was the only space that mattered in the universe. “I might hold you to such words.”
“I might hope you do.”
Again, words fell from his mouth of their own accord, and he’d proposed to her. There had been no biting it back.
And he hadn’t wanted to.
At least, not for another five seconds.
He’d proposed to Lady Mariana Montfort, a girl he didn’t know.
That wasn’t precisely true.
In the ways that mattered, he knew her.
About Three Lessons in Seduction
Paris, September 1824
Lord Nicholas Asquith needs his wife. Too bad he broke her heart ten years ago.
Can he resist a second chance at the love he lost?
When Mariana catches the eye of the man at the center of an assassination plot, Nick puts aside their painful past and enlists her to obtain information by any means necessary, even if it means seducing the enemy agent.
Even if the thought makes his blood boil.
Only by keeping his distance from Mariana these last ten years was he able to pretend indifference to her. With every moment spent with her, he feels his tightly held control slipping . . .
Can she trust the spy who broke her heart?
Mariana spent the last decade forgetting Nick. Now she has the chance to best him at his own game, an opportunity she can’t resist, even as her view of him begins to shift. Increasingly, she wants nothing more than to seduce her own husband . . .
Soon, mad passion ignites, a passion never convincingly extinguished. A passion that insists on surrendering to the yearning of the flesh and, quite possibly, of the heart.
Meet Sofie Darling
Sofie spent much of her twenties raising two boys and reading every book she could get her hands on. Once she realized that she was no longer satisfied with simply reading the books she loved, that she must write them, too, she decided to finish her degree and embark on a writing career. Mr. Darling and the boys gave her their wholehearted blessing.
When she’s not writing heroes who make her swoon, she runs a marathon in a different state every year, visits crumbling medieval castles whenever she gets a chance, and enjoys a slightly codependent relationship with her beagle, Bosco.