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Captain Xavier Grey’s body is back amongst the Beau Monde, but his mind cannot break free from the horrors of war. His friends try to help him find peace. He knows he doesn’t deserve it. Just like he doesn’t deserve the attentions of the sultry bluestocking intent on seducing him into bed…
Spinster Jane Downing wants off the shelf and into the arms of a hot-blooded man. Specifically, the dark and dangerous Captain Grey. She may not be destined to be his wife, but nothing will stop her from being his mistress. She could quote classical Greek by the age of four. How hard can it be to learn the language of love?
Xavier gritted his teeth. This was Operation Platonic Friendship. He was not to think about the taste of Miss Downing’s mouth or the sway of her hips.
They needed to spend the entirety of the day discussing Wordsworth and Voltaire. Or rather, something less… provocative. He didn’t want to make a good impression. Perhaps he ought to engage her in a lively debate on whether library books were best catalogued by size or color.
“What do you think of my collection?” he found himself asking, instead.
“Well…” She poked her head from around a corner. “The topics are varied enough, but at least half have never been read. The pages aren’t even sliced.”
“You can do the honors, if you’ve found something you’d like to read.” He adjusted a small pillow and stretched out upon the chaise longue. He didn’t much care who sliced the pages, but if offering her the privilege made him seem like a good friend, he’d be happy to lend his knife.
Eyes sparkling, she bounced in place. “I can read anything that I want?”
“As long as it isn’t…” He hesitated. What had she mentioned earlier? Sugar? Shogun? “…shunga scrolls.”
The corners of her mouth quirked. “Nobody reads shunga scrolls. They just look at the pictures.”
He cut her a flat look.
She gave an innocent flutter of eyelashes and selected a book from the shelves. “Lay back down. I’ll read something to you. How about the Odyssey in original Greek?”
He couldn’t even remember purchasing it. “Do you mind if I snore?”
“I hope you do. But I’ll translate aloud in case you manage to stay awake.” Rather than take another chair, she perched at the foot of the chaise longue with her back toward him. “Ahem. Page the first. ‘Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero…’”
There. Xavier relaxed his head against the cushion. Nothing could be more respectable.
Or less stimulating. He hadn’t actually intended to snore, but nor had he anticipated the level of mortal dullness in which Miss Downing read aloud. She could not have infused less life into her tone had she merely been counting sheep.
He might have told her not to bother translating, since it wasn’t doing either of them any favors, except he saw no advantage to being rude. His goal was to be perceived as a friend, not the enemy. Enemies could incite passion.
Miss Downing’s monotone could only incite slumber.
After a while, he let his eyelids drift closed. It had been a long, cold night filled with nothing but vivid waking dreams. He had been exhausted from the moment he rolled out of bed. Her tone was pacifying in its relentless uniformity, the words forgettable and relaxing.
He almost didn’t notice when she skipped from Calypso to Circe in the space of a breath. Her low words droned on without hitch. His eyes flew open. How could she have turned thirty pages at once without noticing? How could she have skipped the Trojan horse without noticing?
Sleep forgotten, he propped himself up on one elbow to glance over her shoulder at the text.
And roared. “What the devil are you reading, woman?”
She jumped, her cheeks flushing a rosy pink. “You said I might read whatever I wished.”
“You said you were reading the Odyssey!”
“I said I would read you the Odyssey.” She motioned him back to his pillow. “I’m reading something else.”
“That’s not ‘something else.’” Heart galloping, he reached for the book.
She held it aloft with her other hand. “You can’t have it. I’m right in the middle.”
“Absolutely not. That’s The Memoirs of Fanny Hill, and it’s not fit for human eyes,” he ground out.
Her brows arched. “Then why do you have it?”
“Because I’m inhuman! Give me the damn book or I’ll—”
“Oh, lay back down. You were almost asleep. I’ve already read most of what you’re afraid of, so there’s not much harm in reading the rest.”
He collapsed back against the chaise and covered his face with his hands. No wonder the woman’s storytelling abilities had been execrable. She’d been quoting from memory whilst reading an entirely different story. One in which an innocent country miss was procured by a bawdyhouse madam and then descended into a life of erotic abandon.
“What part are you at now?” he rasped, his throat dry.
© 2015 by Erica Ridley. All rights reserved. Excerpt reprinted by permission.