Love in the Afternoon
New York Times Bestseller
Excerpt from Love In The
Captain Christopher Phelan has been corresponding with the beautiful golden-haired Prudence Mercer while he was away fighting in the Crimean War. What he doesn't know, however, is that the woman who wrote to him is actually Prudence's best friend, Beatrix Hathaway.
Upon his return home to Hampshire, it becomes clear that Christopher's experiences in war have changed him. In this scene, Beatrix and Christopher argue over the dog he brought back with him, a regimental mascot named Albert . . .
When Christopher Phelan's tall form
entered the front receiving room, Beatrix was instantly covered with a nervous, full-bodied
"Miss Hathaway," Christopher said, bowing with meticulous politeness.
The dark smudges of sleeplessness beneath his eyes made him even more appealing, if that was possible, lending a human texture to the hard contours of his face.
Beatrix managed to pull up a casual smile. "Good morning, Captain Phelan."
"Oh, is it?" She glanced over his shoulder at the mantel clock. Half-past twelve. "Good afternoon, then."
One of his brows lifted. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"The reverse, I hope. I would
like to keep Albert with me at Ramsay House while you are away to London."
His eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"I want very much to help him adjust to his new life. Albert would receive the best of care, and I would work with him, train him . . ." Her voice faded as she saw his forbidding expression. It had not occurred to her that he might refuse her offer.
"Thank you, Miss Hathaway. But I think it in his best interests to remain here with my servants."
"You . . . you doubt I could help him?" Beatrix managed to ask.
"The dog is excitable. He has need of absolute peace and quiet. I mean no offense in saying that the atmosphere at Ramsay House is too tumultuous for him."
Her brows rushed downward. "I beg your pardon, Captain, but you are entirely wrong. That is the precisely the kind of environment Albert needs. You see, from a dog's perspective—"
"I don't need your advice."
"Yes, you do," Beatrix said impulsively. "How can you be so certain that you're right? You could at least spare a moment to listen—I daresay I know more about dogs than you."
Christopher skewered her with the hard stare of a man who was not accustomed to having his decisions questioned. "No doubt you do. But I know more about this one."
"It's time for you to leave,
Beatrix was filled with a surge of bitter disappointment mingled with outrage. "What do you think your servants will do with him in your absence?" she demanded, and rushed on before he could reply. "They'll keep him shut away in a shed, or locked in a room, because they're frightened of him, and that will make Albert even more of a danger. He's angry and anxious and lonely. He doesn't know what's expected of him. He needs constant attention and care, and I'm the only person who has the time and the willingness to provide those things."
"That dog has been my
companion for two years," Christopher snapped. "The last thing I
would subject him to is that bedlam of a household. He doesn't need chaos. He
doesn't need noise and confusion—"
He was interrupted by a explosion of wild barking, accompanied by an earsplitting metallic crash. Albert had come racing through the entrance hall and had crossed paths with a housemaid bearing a tray of polished silver flatware.
Beatrix caught a glimpse of forks and spoons scattering to the doorway, just before she was thrown bodily to the receiving room floor. The impact robbed her of breath.
Stunned, she found herself pinned to the carpet and covered by a heavy masculine weight.
Dazedly she tried to take in the situation. Christopher had jumped on her. His arms were around her head . . . he had instinctively moved to shelter her with his own body. They lay together in a confusion of limbs and disheveled garments and panting breaths.
Lifting his head, Christopher cast a wary glance at their surroundings. For a moment, the blank ferocity of his face frightened Beatrix. This, she realized, was how he had looked in battle. This was what his enemies had seen as he had cut them down.
Albert rushed toward them, baying furiously.
"No," Beatrix said in a low tone, extending her arm to point at him. "Down."
The dog's barking flattened into a growl, and he slowly lowered to the floor. His gaze didn't move from his master.
Beatrix turned her attention back to Christopher. He was gasping and swallowing, struggling to regain his wits. "Christopher," she said carefully, but he didn't seem to hear. At this moment, no words would reach him.
She slid her arms around him, one at his shoulders, the other at his waist. He was a large man, superbly fit, his powerful body trembling. A feeling of searing tenderness swept through her, and she let her fingers stroke the rigid nape of his neck.
Albert whined softly, watching the two of them.
Beyond Christopher's shoulder, Beatrix glimpsed the housemaid standing uncertainly at the doorway, stray forks clutched in her hand.
Although Beatrix didn't give a fig
about appearances or scandal, she cared very much about shielding Christopher
during a vulnerable moment. He would not want anyone to see him when he was not
fully in command of himself.
"Leave us," she said quietly.
"Yes, miss." Gratefully the maid fled, closing the door behind her.
Beatrix returned her attention to Christopher, who didn't seem to have noticed the exchange. Carefully she drew his head down and turned her cheek against his glinting amber hair. And she waited, letting him feel the even rhythm of her breathing.
The scent of him was clean, summery, like hot sun and saffron. Her eyes closed as she felt his body press along hers with intriguing firmness, his knees digging into the billowing mass of her skirts.
A minute passed, and another. For the rest of her life she would remember this, lying alone with him in a bright square of sunlight from the window . . . the delicious weight of him, the intimate heat of his breath collecting against her neck. I love you, she thought. I am madly, desperately, permanently in love with you.
His head lifted, and he looked down at her with bewildered gray eyes. "Beatrix." His ragged whisper thrilled along her nerves. His hands cradled her head, long fingers weaving gently through her tumbled dark locks. "Have I hurt you?"
Beatrix's stomach went tight. She shook her head, unable to speak. Oh, the way he was looking at her, really looking at her . . . this was the Christopher of her dreams. This was the man who had written to her. He was so caring, and real, and dazzling, that she wanted to weep.
"I thought . . ." Christopher broke off and drew his thumb over the hot surface of her cheek.
"I know," she whispered, her nerves sparking in excitement at his touch.
"I didn't mean to do that."
His gaze went to her parted lips, lingering until she felt it like a caress. Her heart labored to supply blood to her nerveless limbs. Every breath caused her body to lift up against his, a teasing friction of firm flesh and clean, warm linen.
Beatrix was transfixed by the subtle changes in his face, the heightening color, the silver brightness of his eyes.
She wondered if he were going to kiss her.
And a single word flashed through her mind.
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