Excerpt: Undone

Simon approached her slowly, his brow slightly furrowed.

Unable to stop herself, Angelica took in his male beauty. He, not the books, now dominated the room. How was it possible that he looked even better than before?

A few wayward strands of his dark hair played against his lashes, but it was his mouth that captured her attention.

Such an appealing mouth…

She looked away, horrified by the workings of her mind. It had to be her headache that was distorting her thinking.

He stopped before her, towering over her.

The bookshelves against her back kept her fixed in place. She was keenly aware of the limited space between their bodies, his proximity causing her body to warm.

“I asked you a question.” His voice was quiet but firm.

Gazing up at him, she tried to clear her head by taking in a deep breath, but it only served to draw in his wonderful scent. She couldn’t quite describe it, but it was tantalizing in the extreme.

What was the matter with her? She shouldn’t be reacting to him this way. She’d chosen a cloistered existence, or rather, it had chosen her. Nonetheless, she’d accepted her future long ago.

“You should not be wandering about alone.” He spoke softly, his voice deep and rich in her ears. It reverberated through her belly with wicked appeal. Lightly, he stroked his knuckles along her bruised cheek. “You should be in bed. You are still injured.”

She closed her eyes briefly. Get hold of yourself. This was the second time he’d touched her. Instead of drawing back, as she would have expected, she found herself wanting to draw near. It was a stunning reaction. As stunning as the tiny tingles that sped up her spine at his caress.

“My malady has much improved,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound as discomposed as she felt.

He lowered his arm and his gaze.

It took two wild heartbeats before she realized he was staring at something on the floor. She forced her gaze down, her insides still quivering with the residual pleasure of his small caress. The book she had dropped lay on the woven rug.

He was staring at her again, one dark eyebrow slightly cocked, before he retrieved the fallen item.

“You–I’m afraid that you startled me, and the book–I dropped it…” Definitely not your most eloquent response, Angelica. She turned her gaze away to a safer sight than the far too attractive Simon de Villette.

“You can read this?” he asked.

Her eyes darted back to his. The book was in French. She wasn’t about to divulge that she could indeed read every word in the book of love sonnets. Infact, she was gripped with the most powerful urge to devour each and every beautifully romantic line.

She quashed the silly yearning.

“No. It’s written in French, is it not? I couldn’t possibly…” His penetrating gaze made her uneasy. She wished she could read his thoughts behind those disarming light-colored eyes.

“But you can read, Angelica.” Yet again he managed to unbalance her by the way he spoke her name. It was astonishing what it did to her insides every time he said it.

He’d done nothing but show kindness toward her. His manner was gentle, attentive. His words spoke of concern for her welfare. Yet she was forced to stoop to deceit. She simply couldn’t lower her guard. Not for a moment. Not with a single soul. Keeping her secrets had kept her safe. And she wasn’t about to break with precedent.

Besides, this man was dangerous. No one had ever inspired these physical responses from her before. The sooner she left France, the better.

“I learned to read at the convent,” she lied. Again. “I teach there…the children in the orphanage…” At least that was the truth, albeit clumsily told.

He placed the book back on the shelf. “Why?”

“Why?” She knitted her brow in confusion.

“Yes. Of what use is it to teach the children of commoners?” Despite his words, she had the distinct feeling he was not expressing his personal view of literacy and the lower class. He was trying to draw information from her.

She chose her next words carefully. “At the convent, we believe everyone should have the opportunity of an education, noble or peasant. Male or female.”

“Your pardon, Captain.” The French phrase came from the doorway.

Relief washed over her when she saw the old male servant standing at the threshold of the library.

“Your meal awaits you in the dining hall, sir.”

Simon gave a nod. “Merci, Henri.” He turned to her. “Have you eaten?”

“No…”

He smiled. “Good. Then you will join me this evening for supper.” He tossed out phrases to Henri in French, ordering him to set another place in the dining hall.

Though she’d wanted to speak to him, the thought of dining alone with him was daunting. She seemed to be completely out of sorts in his presence at the moment, struggling to get her mind and mouth to work together.

“Perhaps Gabriella would like to join us?” she said with a polite smile. If he would summon her friend, she was certain she could get through the meal and convince him to return them to the convent.

“She has already eaten. We are the last to dine this evening.” Amusement flickered in his eyes. “Are you nervous to be alone with me, Angelica?”

“No.” Her smile remained frozen on her face. “Of course not.” He didn’t frighten her. Though her reactions to his physical appeal were another matter altogether.

“Do you find my company unpleasant? Would you rather dine alone?”

“Unpleasant? No, absolutely not,” she quickly assured, wishing at the moment he were old, potbellied, and missing some teeth. “I would be pleased to dine with you, if you consider this suitable attire.” She touched her garb.

A slow, gorgeous, knee-weakening smile formed on his appealing face. He leaned in, and in her ear softly he said, “You are beautiful just as you are.”

His unexpected words astounded her. As did the look in his eyes when he pulled back. He actually looked…sincere. No one had offered her a compliment, not for a very long time. And certainly not about how she looked. She touched her plain garment once more, so different from his costly attire. He was being far too kind.

He placed her hand in the crook of his arm. “Let us proceed. This will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about each other.”

Oh God…


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