Lia Kincaid, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of York, comes from a long line of notorious women. Raised by her grandmother, formerly mistress to the late Marquess of Lendale, she has little hope of a respectable marriage. But the new Marquess, her childhood friend, Jack Easton, would make a very desirable protector . . . if he weren’t too honorable to take her to bed. It s bad enough being saddled with a title he never desired. Now Jack must resist the beautiful woman he desires far too much. Duty calls, and he is duty-bound to choose a wealthy bride. But then Lia makes another outrageous suggestion: asking Jack to devise some tests to find her the perfect paramour. Tests that involve flirting, kissing, and other pleasurable pursuits. Tests that, in a matter of weeks, could transform friendship into the ton s greatest scandal, igniting a passion even duty can t deny. . .
It wasn’t like Lia to hedge. “Pet, we haven’t got all day. Just spit it out,” Jack said.
She sighed. “Very well. But please do remember that it wasn’t my idea.”
“I give you my word.”
Sitting up straight, she met his gaze. “Granny wants you to become my protector.”
That was a puzzling choice of words. “Of course I’ll protect you. Didn’t I make that clear yesterday?”
“Yes, but not my protector in a general way. She means protector in a rather specific way.”
The vague conversation began to frustrate him. “I’m not sure what else I can do to address her concerns, other than to say that I will provide for anything you need.”
She looked over at the window, shaking her head and muttering under her breath.
“Perhaps you could clarify what she means by specific,” Jack suggested.
Lia finally looked at him, her checks blazing as red as apples. “Granny wants me to be your mistress, you nodnock. She wants you to be my lover. Is that clear enough for you?”
Jack probably looked like a fish who’d landed on a bank, stunned and gasping for breath. And the entire time he stared at her, Lia glared back at him, looking furious and embarrassed. And anything but loverlike.
He finally marshaled the few wits that hadn’t been stunned into insensibility. “Clear? It’s insane. Take you as my mistress? How your grandmother could come up with such a ridiculous notion is beyond me. It’s simply laughable.”
He felt as if someone had knocked him on the head with a brick. And even more appalling, now that she’d put the idea into his head, some part of his brain—well, not his brain actually—thought there was some merit to the notion. How could it not, when she looked as she did now, her cheeks flushed, her gorgeous eyes snapping with fury, and her pretty breasts pushing up over the simple trim of her bodice with each indignant and huffy breath.
Get a handle, you idiot. He would no more take Lia as his mistress than he would don minstrel’s garb and caper about in Hyde Park.
When she crossed her arms under her chest, the movement pushed the plump white mounds up even higher over her bodice. Her scarf had slipped aside, and Jack fancied he might even see the edge of one nipple peeking out from behind the narrow band of lace. That lascivious hint sent a bolt of lust thrumming through his body to settle in his groin.
Argh. He’d never thought of Lia in that way and he was utterly horrified by his reaction.
He forced his gaze up to her face. The fury and hurt he saw in her eyes immediately dampened any misplaced ardor on his part.
“I’m sorry you find the notion so repugnant,” she said tightly. “Of course I realize I can’t hold a candle to all the fine ladies you’re accustomed to consorting with in London.”
“Good God. I don’t consort with fine ladies,” he exclaimed. “What sort of man do you take me for?”
“The regular kind. And don’t pretend you’re a virgin, Jack, or that you’ve never had an affair or slept with, well, you know.” She paused, suddenly looking uncertain. “You aren’t a virgin, are you?”
He dropped his forehead into his hand. “Lia, this is an entirely demented conversation.”
She let out a horrified gasp. “You are a virgin. Oh, dear. I’m so sorry, Jack. This must be thoroughly embarrassing for you. Please forgive me.”
He looked up with a scowl. “It is embarrassing, but not because I’m a virgin. I am not, by the way, though that is beside the point.”
“The point seems to be that you find the notion of me as your mistress hideous beyond imagining,” she said with irritation. “Well, let me tell you that I’m not exactly thrilled by the notion, Jack Easton.”
“Why the hell not?” he asked before he could stop himself. “Never mind, don’t answer that. And just to be clear I don’t find you repugnant in the least. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
She blinked. “Then there is a chance you would consider taking me as your mistress?”
Lia tucked her chin down and winced. “There’s no need to yell, Jack. I’m not deaf.”
He gripped the edge of his desk and took several deep breaths, trying to steady himself. Then he pushed himself out of his chair and stalked over to the drinks cart. He poured a splash of whiskey into a crystal tumbler and tossed it back. The burn hit his stomach like a gunshot, but the jolt of heat cleared his head.
“I could use one of those,” Lia said.
“I am not giving you whiskey before you’ve had anything to eat,” Jack growled. He refused to look at her before he got himself under some semblance of control. He felt as if he’d fallen asleep and woken up in a madhouse.
“Spoilsport,” she muttered.