Scandalous DesiresBy: Elizabeth Hoyt
For my daughter, Honor, who wanted me to write a book about either a cross-dressing hero or a psycho-killer heroine. Yeah. That’s not happening, but this book is for you anyway. I love you! ;-)
One of the best things about being an author is getting a behind-the-scenes look at how books are put together. I had the exciting opportunity to attend the cover shoot for Scandalous Desires and I’d like to thank all the professionals involved: my super editor, Amy Pierpont; her excellent editorial assistant, Lauren Plude; Grand Central Publishing’s art director, Diane Luger; the photographer, Shirley Green; the cover shoot stylist, Sharon; the cover illustrator, Alan Ayers; the models, Ewa daCruz and Emmanuel Fremin; and, finally, my fabulous agent, Susannah Taylor.
I had a wonderful time and you all did a magnificent job. Thank you!
Now once there was a king who ruled a tiny kingdom by the sea. He had no sons, but he did have three nephews, and the youngest one was called Clever John….
—from Clever John
Wolves, as Silence Hollingbrook well knew, are savage beasts, little given to pity or honor. If one must face a wolf cleverly disguised in human form, it did no good to show fear. Rather, one must throw one’s shoulders back, lift one’s chin, and stare the damned beast down.
At least that was what Silence told herself as she eyed “Charming” Mickey O’Connor, the most notorious river pirate in London. As she watched, Mr. O’Connor did something far more alarming than any real wolf.
He smiled at her.
Mickey O’Connor lounged like the pirate king he was on a gilded throne of red velvet at one end of a lavishly corrupt room. The walls were lined with sheets of gold, the floor was a fabulous mosaic of different colored marbles, and around her, piled high, were the spoils of thieving: trunks overflowing with furs and silks, crates of tea and spices, and treasures from every corner of the globe, all of it stolen from the merchant ships that came into London’s docks. Silence stood in the midst of this illicit opulence like a petitioner.
Mr. O’Connor plucked a sweetmeat from a tray offered by a small boy, holding it between long, beringed fingers as he examined her. One corner of his wide, sensuous mouth curled in amusement. “ ’Tis always a pleasure to gaze upon yer sparklin’ hazel eyes, Mrs. Hollingbrook, but I do wonder why ye’ve come to see me this lovely afternoon.”
His mocking words strengthened Silence’s spine. “You know very well why I’m here, Mr. O’Connor.”
The pirate lifted elegantly winged black eyebrows. “Do I, now?”
Beside her, Harry, one of Mickey O’Connor’s guards and her escort into the throne room, shifted his weight nervously. Harry was a big man with a battered face—a man who’d obviously lived a rather rough life—yet he was just as obviously wary of Mickey O’Connor.
“Easy now,” he muttered to her beneath his breath. “Don’t want to get ’is temper up.”
Mr. O’Connor popped the sweetmeat into his mouth and chewed, his black eyes closing for a moment in pleasure. He was a beautiful man. Silence could see that even if she found him quite repugnant herself. His eyelashes were thick and black, surrounding dark, liquid eyes, his complexion a smooth olive, and when he smiled… well! The dimples that were revealed on his cheeks made him look both as wicked as the devil and as innocent as a small boy. Had a Renaissance master wanted to paint all the seductive allure of Satan, he would’ve painted Charming Mickey O’Connor.
Silence inhaled. Mr. O’Connor might well be as evil as Satan himself, but she’d braved him once before and survived—even if she hadn’t walked away entirely unscathed. “I’ve come for Mary Darling.”
The pirate’s eyes opened lazily as he swallowed his sweetmeat. “Who?”
Oh, this was too much! Silence felt her face heat as she shook off Harry’s restraining arm and marched right up to the foot of the small dais on which the ridiculous throne stood. “You know very well who! Mary Darling, that sweet little baby girl I’ve taken care of for over a year. Mary Darling, who knows only me as her mother. Mary Darling, who you took from the foundling home where we both live. Give her back to me at once!”
So great was her ire that Silence found herself out of breath at the end of her little tirade and pointing her finger nearly in Mr. O’Connor’s face. For a moment she froze, her finger only inches from his nose. Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath. Mickey O’Connor had lost his smile, and without that expression to lighten his face, he looked quite, quite frightening.
Silence let her hand fall.
Slowly, the pirate straightened from his chair, his long limbs uncurling gracefully like a predator. He stood, his polished black jackboots thunking to the floor, and stepped down from the dais.
Silence could’ve backed up, but that would’ve shown fear. And besides, she thought she might’ve become rooted to the spot. The scent of lemons and frankincense drifted in the air. She lifted her chin in defiance as Mickey O’Connor’s smooth, tanned, bare chest nearly touched her nose—the man was so vain he left his extravagantly ruffled shirt unlaced—and looked him in the eye.
Mr. O’Connor bent, his mouth lightly touching her ear, and murmured, “Well, and why didn’t ye say so in the first place, darlin’?”
And while Silence gaped up at him, he straightened, his gaze still locked with hers, and snapped his fingers.
A door opened and Silence finally found the willpower to tear her gaze from those black, impenetrable eyes. And then she forgot all about Mickey O’Connor. A servant girl had entered, and in her arms was the sweetest, most wonderful being in the whole world.
“Mamoo!” Mary Darling shrieked. She began a frantic bouncing in the servant girl’s arms. “Mamoo! Mamoo! Mamoo! Up!”
Silence rushed to catch the toddler before she could completely squirm from the girl’s arms. “I have you. I have you, my love,” she murmured as Mary Darling wrapped soft, pudgy arms about her neck and squeezed.
Silence breathed in the scent of milk and baby, tears pricking her eyes. When she’d found the toddler gone—when she’d feared that she’d never see Mary Darling again—her heart had seemed to shrivel into a tiny, frozen thing.