Gabriel Fairchild's valor during battle earns him the reputation of hero, but costs him both his sight and his hope for the future. Abandoned by the fiancée he adored, the man who once walked like a prince among London's elite secludes himself in his family's mansion, cursing his way through dark days and darker nights.
Prim nurse Samantha Wickersham arrives at Fairchild Park to find her new charge behaving more like a beast than a man. Determined to do her duty, she engages the arrogant earl in a battle of both wit and wills. Although he claims she doesn't possess an ounce of womanly softness, she can feel his heart racing at her slightest touch. As Samantha begins to let the light back into Gabriel's life and his heart, they both discover that some secrets -- and some pleasures -- are best explored in the dark ...
My dear Miss March,
I pray you'll forgive me for being presumptuous enough to contact you in this rather unconventional manner ...
"So tell me, Miss Wickersham, have you any experience?"
From somewhere deep in the sprawling Jacobean mansion, a tremendous crash sounded.
Although the portly butler who was conducting the interview visibly flinched and the housekeeper standing at rigid attention beside the tea table let out an audible squeak, Samantha refused to so much as blink.
Instead, she drew a neat packet of papers from the side pocket of the battered leather portmanteau resting at her feet and held them out. "I'm sure you'll find my letters of reference are in order, Mr. Beckwith."
Although it was midday, the light in the modest breakfast parlor was abysmal. Shafts of sunlight bled through the cracks in the heavy velvet drapes, striping the rich ruby weave of the Turkish carpet. The wax candles scattered across the occasional tables filled the corners with flickering shadows. The room smelled musty and close, as if it had gone unaired for ages. If not for the absence of black swags over the windows and mirrors, Samantha would have sworn someone very dear to the household had recently died.
The butler took the papers from her whitegloved hand and unfolded them. As the housekeeper craned her long neck to peer over his shoulder, Samantha could only pray the dim light would work to her advantage, preventing them from studying the scrawled signatures too closely. Mrs. Philpot was a handsome woman of indeterminate age, as sleek and narrow as the butler was round. Although her face was unlined, silver frosted the black chignon anchored at her nape.
"As you can see, I served two years as governess for Lord and Lady Carstairs," Samantha informed Mr. Beckwith as he gave the papers a cursory thumbing-through. "Once the war resumed, I joined several other governesses in volunteering to treat sailors and soldiers who returned from sea or the front with debilitating wounds."
The housekeeper could not quite hide the faint tightening of her lips. Samantha knew there were still those in society who believed women who nursed soldiers to be little more than glorified camp followers. Immodest creatures who wouldn't even blush to look upon a strange man's nakedness. Feeling heat rise to her own cheeks, Samantha lifted her chin another notch.
Mr. Beckwith examined her over the top of his wire-rimmed spectacles. "I must confess, Miss Wickersham, that you're a trifle bit ... younger than what we had in mind. Such strenuous duty might require a woman of more ...ma turity. Perhaps one of the other applicants ... " At Samantha's arch look, he trailed off.
"I don't see any other applicants, Mr.Beckwith," she pointed out, sliding her own ill-fitting spectacles up her nose with one finger. "Given the generous, even extravagant, wages you offered in your advertisement, I fully expected to find them lined up outside your gates."
Another crash came, this one even closer than the last. It sounded as if some sort of massive beast were lumbering toward its den.
Mrs. Philpot hastened around the chair, her starched petticoats rustling. "Would you care for some more tea, my dear?" As she poured from the porcelain pot, her hand trembled so violently that tea splashed over the rim of Samantha's saucer and into her lap.
"Thank you," Samantha murmured, surreptitiously dabbing at the spreading stain with her glove.
The floor beneath their feet visibly shuddered, as did Mrs. Philpot. The muffled roar that followed was peppered by a string of mercifully unintelligible oaths.