Wayward One

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He’ll protect her with every vicious bone in his body.

During her ten years at the prestigious Waywroth Academy, Sera Miller clung to a strict code of propriety to shield herself from rumors that she isn’t an orphan at all. She’s a bastard. Now she wishes she had never allowed her friends to talk her into snooping into the mysterious source of her tuition.

Her benefactor isn’t the unknown father she dreamed of one day meeting, but Fletcher Thomas—underworld tycoon, gambling den owner, and a man so dangerously mesmerizing that he could spark the scandal Sera has worked so hard to avoid.

Fletcher is only two steps away from leaving the life of crime he inherited from his father. First he plans to join an aboveboard railroad consortium, then claim the one thing his ill-gotten gains have kept safe all these years—Sera.

With every wicked caress, Sera fights harder to remember society’s rules and reject the painful memories his touch resurrects. Accepting Fletcher’s love means accepting her past—a risk too great for a woman who has always lived in the shadows. No matter how safe she feels in his arms.

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“Take a little Cinderella, add in some Beauty and the Beast, and the result is Brown’s sexy tale.”

-RT BookReviews 4 1/2 Star

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Excerpt

Sera slammed her way down the hallway. She was a woman on a mission and nothing, not even tartish maids and whore-mongering footmen, was going to stop her.

She found her goal at the very last door on the far end of the house. The room had pale blue wallpaper and a sitting room that was everything manly. Hard, looming furniture and dark colors.

Across the room, Fletcher stood stripped to his waist, bending over a basin.

His shoulders were every bit as broad as they’d appeared under his jacket. Maybe even more so, without the dark colors to minimize his impact. Golden skin was tinged ever so pinkish from scrubbing with the cloth in his hand. His waist was trim before it nudged out into a gentle swell at his hips. He gripped the basin’s mahogany table, and small muscles along his spine twitched and stretched with the movement. The white pull of a scar rounded over his thick— oh so thick and wide—shoulder.

Sera snapped shut her mouth, pulse racing. Her wrists throbbed with it, and she felt lightheaded, though she’d never been one for artful faints. She’d let her anger verge into hysteria, surely. There could be no other reason.

“I demand your assistance.”

He didn’t flinch or jump or demonstrate any other indication of surprise. His motions were as slow as honey when he straightened and reached for a length of Turkish toweling hung on a bar at the side of the table. He rubbed it first over the back of his neck, where tiny droplets of water absorbed the golden gaslight, then dragged his hand down, down over his torso while he turned.

“Y ou…demand?”

His hands kept up the idle movements over his torso, drying himself. Two heavy curves of muscle banded the top of his chest. His belly was bisected into individual ridges that were almost boxlike, except that they moved and shifted with every breath.

It was indecent to be so muscled. Surely.

Not that Sera had much experience with the male form beyond the artistic interpretations of the Greeks and Romans. Those had been more lithe and lovely than anything else. Not hard. Not everything powerful, like he could hurt her without thinking twice.

She gulped.

She was being scandalous as well. Bad enough she was in his private chambers. She shouldn’t be gawking, no matter how imperious her intentions. She forced herself to look away, at a corner in the ceiling—where a long-legged spider had spun her web. Disgraceful.

This whole household was disgraceful.

“Cat got your tongue?” he purred. Even his voice was contemptible, the way it promised things that shouldn’t be hinted, even in the dark of night between husband and wife. Evil appetites. Hot lust. “Or are you reconsidering your choice of words, considering you have established yourself in my home?”

“I reconsider nothing,” she snapped.

“Nothing?” Clothing rustled, soft linen on warm skin. Hopefully he was getting dressed. “Not ever?”

“I always mean what I say.” She risked a glance out of the corner of her eye, solely to see if he was decently attired. He’d covered his torso in a snowy white evening shirt. Turning, she folded her trembling fingers in front of her stomach. Concern over her room had faded, as if a laudanum haze had taken over her brain.

He snapped his braces over his shoulders and buttoned them inside his waistband. For the bluntness of his body, his fingers appeared deceptively elegant as they dipped into forbidden territory. He shrugged into a red-and- gold-embroidered waistcoat. Fat, opulent roses wound down the sides, like some sort of dime-story American gambler. “And you demand my time.”

She swallowed against the clutch of her throat. The air in the room had gone thin. “I wouldn’t but for the situation I’ve found myself in.”

His coat slipped over his shoulders like a loving caress. “Which situation would that be? Living in what was so recently a bachelor’s abode, with a hastily acquired old woman to chaperone? Not to mention I’ve yet to reconcile myself to your school. You’ve made very interesting choices with the life I’ve provided.”

She pressed her lips flat. His supposed benevolence lost much glamour when often mentioned. At least her body was comfortably under control now that he was dressed. She understood why propriety demanded such layers and yards of fabric—for the world’s defense. If men such as Fletcher roamed unclothed, women would throw themselves at him as he walked down the street.

“I do not have the time for placating you now. I need your assistance.” A regrettable thread of temper wound through her voice.

“I am at your service,” he said, and for an instant the hot light in his eyes fooled her into believing it was true. He was a glib man, filled with facile charm that meant less than fairy dust.

“I must impose upon you to introduce me to your staff.”

“Now?” He fastened a pair of ivory and jade cufflinks at his wrists. “If you don’t mind, I’ll leave it ’til morning. I’m expected.”

“No.” She resisted the urge to stomp her foot. “Now. It should have been done earlier, but I allowed my commitments at the school to distract me. Now I’ve the results to deal with.”

That got his attention. “Results?”

“Someone has demonstrated a petty temper upon my belongings.”