When Hannah's caught watching her late husband's cousin debauch the maid in the library, she's mortified--but also intrigued. An unpaid companion to his aunt, she's used to being ignored.
The black sheep of the family, Leo has nothing but his good looks and noble birth to recommend him. Hannah ought to be appalled at what she's witnessed, but there's something about Leo that draws her to him.
When Leo claims he can prove that women can feel desire as passionately as men, Hannah is incredulous. Her own experiences have been uninspiring. Yet she can't bring herself to refuse his audacious proposal when he offers to tutor her in the art of lovemaking. As the tantalizing, wicked lessons continue, she begins to fear she's losing not just her inhibitions, but her heart as well. The poorest of relations, she has nothing to offer Leo but herself. Will it be enough when their erotic education ends?
The library was my sanctuary, my refuge. It was always quiet there. So quiet that the click of the door opening and closing, then the hiss of footfalls on the plush Turkey carpet, sounded as loud as artillery fire in my consciousness.
Who had come to invade my solitude? I half rose from my seat, set aside the stocking I was darning and peered over the scrolling ironwork of the gallery railing. The interloper was stretched out in a wingback chair drawn at right angles to the fireplace, his booted feet propped up on the brass fender. I didn't have to see his face to know who it was.
Lord Alfred Frederick Leopold Wraxhall. Second son of the Marquess of Dorchester. The wastrel younger brother who'd never done a lick of work in his life and would never amount to anything, at least if one listened to his parents.
While his given name was Alfred, he'd always been known as Leo.
Cousin Leo to me, but not my cousin. Not my anything.
I'd met him for the first time on my wedding day, when he and his siblings had been introduced as my new cousins. I'd been all of twenty, in awe of my husband's grand relations; Leo had been a boy of fifteen, just beginning to grow into the man he would become.
Then as now, he lived in his brother's shadow. Arthur, so fair and noble and perfect in every way. Arthur, the apple of his parents' eye, the brother who never failed to please them, who always conformed, who always behaved. Who looked at me as if I were something he'd scraped off the sole of his boot.
Leo, on the other hand, was interesting. He was intelligent and funny and always had a kind word for everyone. He had beautiful golden-brown hair that curled when he let it grow too long, was half a head taller than his brother, had not an ounce of fat on his fit, lean body and had a dimple in one cheek when he smiled, which was often.
He also drank too much and gambled too much, raced his horses where he oughtn't and consorted with the wrong sort of women. He'd left university after only two terms, refused to buy a commission in any of the fashionable regiments, and fell asleep on those rare occasions when he could be convinced to attend church. He was, predictably, the despair of his family.
I'd watched him for years, had been half in love with him for nearly that long. But he'd never seemed to see me, not properly. If I were in the room, his gaze always seemed to slide past me, as if I were a mere shadow. Or a nonentity, which in truth I was. Why should he pay me the slightest wisp of attention, after all? Dissolute and profligate he might well be, but he was still the son of a marquess--while I was the plain, poor, insignificant widow of his cousin.
If only Charles hadn't been so deeply in debt when he died. If only my parents had been living. If only I'd had somewhere else to go, or some friend who might have helped. But there had been no one, and after Charles's debts had been settled, I'd been left with nothing. So I'd gone to Lady Dorchester and begged for help.
She was a kind woman, had even instructed that I call her Aunt Augusta. But I received no wages for my work as her lady's companion, nothing apart from my room and board. I was beneath her, dependent for every crumb that passed my lips. She knew it, and I knew it. I didn't hate her for it--I was grateful, truly I was--but it galled me.