This is often the first book of mine that’s cited when people choose a favorite title or hero, but it also has a bit of a surprise!
I’m going to post one of my favorite scenes, but first a little background.
Madison Banks has just spotted an old suitor and not wanting him to find her, has decided to try to escape. In doing so, she suddenly finds herself trapped in a darkened hall with a man who will not introduce himself to her:
No lamps were lit inside and the pair stood in complete darkness.
“Thank you,” she said at last.
“You’re welcome,” a vaguely familiar voice returned behind her.
They stood together in silence for another moment, while Madison waited for her heart to slow down to normal. But the longer she waited, the more she realized it wasn’t slowing down. Robbie was still outside yelling for her and becoming crasser each time he spoke.
“Oh, why is he here?” she muttered to herself. “Why can’t he just leave me alone?” She brought her hands up and covered her face. She felt like she was going to faint. Just as she could feel herself about to crumple to the floor, two strong hands came up and pulled her backward to rest against his hard body.
“It’s all right,” the stranger murmured in her ear. “I told Townson I saw the scoundrel jump the rock wall. He’ll take care of him in a minute.”
“Thank you,” Madison said softly. Robbie was right when he pegged Andrew as too good a gentleman to guess Robbie would come back. Andrew was the sort that stayed calm and always gave people the benefit of the doubt—at first. Then, if they betrayed his trust, they normally regretted it.
She’d heard tell from more than one source that he’d been involved in a number of fisticuffs. His most notorious partner being the Duke of Gateway, the man who’d tried to pay him last spring to ruin her sister Brooke. Those two had apparently had their share of scrapes over the past fifteen years and had each broken the other’s nose at one point. She had no doubt that, with Andrew being built like a tree the way he was and Robbie being no bigger than a twig, Andrew could easily break him. “I hope he doesn’t kill him,” she remarked when she heard Andrew’s angry voice.
“He won’t,” the voice behind her said. “Do you love him?”
“Who? Andrew?” she asked, automatically ruling out the chance he could be asking about Robbie. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I? He’s always been kind to me.” Not to mention, he was her brother-in-law.
“What of Mr. Swift?”
Madison closed her eyes. “No.”
“Then why don’t you want him hurt?”
“I didn’t say that,” she corrected. “I said I hoped Andrew doesn’t kill him. In case you didn’t see him, Robbie is as big as a quill. All Andrew has to do is hit him once and he’ll snap in half.”
The man chuckled. “You think they’re unevenly matched, do you?”
“Of course,” she burst out with a nervous giggle. “I’m not a coldblooded monster or anything, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Robbie roughed up a little. At the same time, I don’t want his blood on Andrew’s hands. Anyone who’s ever seen Andrew knows it wouldn’t take any effort on his part to hurt Robbie.”
“Do you think Mr. Swift is a weakling who cannot defend himself?”
“Yes,” she answered bluntly. “I mean no offense to him in that regard, but the truth is I’ve seen the man felled by a pebble my sister shot at him from a makeshift slingshot.”
“Was this a reenactment of David and Goliath put on for your father’s church?” the man asked, his chest rumbling with a chuckle.
“No.” She shook her head and tried not to giggle at the memory. “Robbie tried to flip Brooke’s skirt up one Sunday after church, and after she kicked his hand away, he got angry and tripped her. That’s when she ran inside and took off who knows what piece of her clothing and used it to hurl a rock no bigger than her pinky nail at his head. He fell to the ground like he was a lead weight.”
The stranger laughed quietly and his hands squeezed her a little tighter. “That must have been quite a sight.”
“Oh, it was. But his wailing wasn’t. He moaned and groaned in pain for nearly five unbearably miserable minutes before he realized nobody was paying him any mind. Except me, of course. I was the only one stupid enough to fall for his theatrics.”
“You’re not stupid,” his calm voice said behind her.
Silence fell over them once again, as they listened to heated exchanges and what Madison would swear were sounds of an impending fight outside.
A sudden unmistakable crack followed by the loud thump of a body hitting the ground nearly made Madison jump out of her skin. “Perhaps I should go out there before something else happens,” she said hastily, trying to turn around.
His hands tightened. “No,” he said softly in her ear. “You’re not needed out there.”
“Excuse me?” she asked in disbelief. “Who are you to tell me where I am or where I’m not needed?”
He didn’t answer.
Who was this man anyway? Who was he to tell her what to do? Did he not realize how much worse it would all be if she didn’t stop Andrew before it was too late? “I really think I need to get out there,” she said again, trying to break his grasp. “Robbie isn’t like Andrew’s other opponents have been. He’s not able to hold his own in a fight.”
“So you want to rescue the man who loves you?” he said bitterly.
“No,” she burst out. “I’ve no romantic notions about Robbie. I just don’t want to see him dead, that’s all.”
“Because then Townson would go to prison or be exiled. Is that it?” He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back against his hard body.
“Yes,” she said sharply, trying to free his fingers from the hold they had on her. “I care far more for Andrew than I do for Robbie. I have to stop their fight. Please?”
His hands loosened a fraction, but stayed in position. “I don’t hear either of them anymore,” he said after a minute.
She heard them though. She could pick out Robbie’s pathetic whimpers anywhere. They were distant, but she could hear them all the same. “I think Andrew’s loading him into a carriage.”
“Yes,” the man agreed. “Mine.”
He didn’t answer her. Instead, he released his hold, and from somewhere Madison couldn’t place, the mysterious gentleman lit a short candle and reached around her to hand it to her. “I promised Townson to keep you out of the way,” he explained. “You may go wherever it was you were headed. Just don’t follow me.”
“Why?” she asked, attempting to turn around to face him.
“No.” He gripped her waist again, intent to keep her from turning to face him.
“Who are you?” she asked, truly curious. She’d just spend the last five or ten minutes in the dark with this man and she had no idea who he was. She’d somewhat recognized his voice, but she couldn’t place it. Not that that meant much. She’d met so many men since she’d come to England, it was nearly impossible to keep them all straight when she could see their faces. Their voices were even more difficult for her to place. As odd as it was, she thought a lot of them sounded alike with their English accents and it was hard to tell them apart, especially in the dark.
“Don’t worry about that. Just go.”
She didn’t budge. Curiosity may have been rumored to have killed the cat, but she was no weak, declawed cat anymore; she wanted to know who this man who had been holding her in the dark was. “No,” she said defiantly. “I’m not leaving until I know your identity.”
“Who do you think I am?” His voice was so close she could feel his breath fan her ear and blow her hair, making her shiver.
“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “I’m not good with voices. But I know for certain you’re not Lord Wray, Lord Drury, or Mr. Chapman. I’d know those three voices anywhere with how much I have to hear them wax and spout ridiculous poetry about my blue eyes looking like endless skies. I know you’ve spoken to me before though. I just don’t know where.”
“You don’t need to remember where. You just need to go. Now.”
“Not until I have your name.” She looked down at the candle stub she was holding. It hadn’t been very large to start with and now it looked no larger than an acorn. She really needed to get walking if she wanted to have enough light to guide her to a lighted hall. “Please, tell me. My candle is about to burn out. I need to start walking, but I won’t leave until I have your name.”
“That’s unwise,” he stated. “You need to go before someone finds us. Townson or your sister will be looking for you soon and it would be best they don’t find us like this.”
Madison fought the urge to snort. “You clearly don’t know my sister.” If Brooke found them alone in the dark, she’d turn her eyes and pretend it never happened. If Madison asked her to, that is. First, Brooke would probably try to talk her into letting the rumor slip, if the match was to Madison’s advantage.
“I know her husband well enough,” the man countered. “He wouldn’t be happy about this.”
“He’d handle it however Brooke told him to.” Andrew wasn’t one for gossip in the first place, and he loved his wife and her family well enough that she was certain he wouldn’t call this man out or start rumors about them, especially if he was the one who asked him to keep her out of his fight with Robbie.
“That’s because she leads him around by his prick,” the man said, his voice full of disdain.
If the statement had been made about anyone else, she would have dissolved with laughter on the spot. But she knew better than anyone that Andrew truly loved his wife and Brooke undoubtedly returned his love in equal measures. “That was a nasty thing to say. I demand you apologize.”
He grumbled something she couldn’t understand, then mumbled, “Sorry, I forgot for a second that I was in the presence of a lady. I’ll choose my words more carefully in the future.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it,” she shot back hotly. “Apologize for your unflattering remark about my sister and her husband.”
He scoffed. “Fine, I apologize. From now on I’ll say, ‘Of course he will, he’s the most besotted man in England.’ Does that meet with your approval?”
“You’re rather rude, did you know?” she asked sarcastically. Of course he knew he was rude. He probably prided himself on it.
“Thank you. You may not believe this, but you just complimented me.”
“It wasn’t meant as such,” she retorted. “Now, tell me who you are, so I can go before my candle burns out. The flame is already burning the tips of my fingers because it’s so close to where I’m holding it on the bottom.”
“Then you’d better start walking,” he said, giving her a gentle shove forward.
Thinking she was going to outwit him, she quickly whipped back around to get a peek at his face. But in her haste, she made an error in judgment. She forgot to block the candle flame when she spun, and the quick spinning motion put out the flame right before she was able to get a glimpse of him.
“Good work,” he said sarcastically.
She ground her teeth. This man was absolutely intolerable. Why on earth had Andrew asked him to keep her occupied while he took care of Robbie?
Either he must be a mind reader or she’d spoken her thoughts aloud, because the infuriating man said, “Because I was—”
The rest of his words were abruptly cut off, when the door behind him suddenly swung open and revealed a very displeased Andrew.