Scandalous Desires

By: Elizabeth Hoyt


Acknowledgments




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!





Chapter One





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





LONDON, ENGLAND



APRIL 1738



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.



Silence swallowed.



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.



Once again.



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.”