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Lady Sophia's Lover
by Lisa Kleypas
Avon, 2002

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Chapter One

It had been too long since he had bedded a woman.

Sir Ross Cannon could think of no other explanation for his reaction to Sophia Sydney...a response so powerful that he was forced to sit behind his desk to conceal a sudden, uncontrollable erection. Perplexed, he stared intently at the woman, wondering why her mere presence was enough to ignite such raging heat inside him. No one ever caught him off guard this way.

She was undeniably lovely, with her honey-shaded hair and blue eyes, but she possessed a quality that surpassed physical beauty: a hint of passion contained beneath the frail gravity of her facade. Like any man, Ross was aroused more by what was concealed than by what was revealed. And clearly, Sophia Sydney was a woman of many secrets.

Silently he strove to control his sexual awareness of her, focusing on the scarred mahogany surface of his desk until the flare of heat subsided. When he was finally able to meet her unfathomable gaze, he remained quiet, having learned long ago that silence was a powerful instrument. People were uncomfortable with silence -- they usually sought to fill it, revealing much in the process.

However, Sophia did not erupt into nervous chatter as so many women did. She stared at him warily and did not speak. Obviously she was prepared to outwait him.

"Miss Sydney," he finally said, "my clerk informs me that you would not disclose the reason for your visit."

"If I had told him why, I would not have been allowed past the threshold. You see, I have come about the position you advertised."

Ross was seldom surprised by anything, having seen and experienced far too much in the course of his work. However, the notion that she would want to work here, for him, was no less than astonishing. Apparently she had no idea of what the job entailed. "I require an assistant, Miss Sydney. Someone who will act as a part-time clerk and records-keeper. Bow Street is not the place for a woman."

"The advertisement did not specify that your assistant had to be male," she pointed out. "I can read, write, manage household expenditures, and keep account books. Why shouldn't I be considered for the job?"

A hint of challenge had colored her deferential tone. Fascinated and vaguely unsettled, Ross wondered if they had ever met before. No -- he would have remembered her. And yet there was something oddly familiar about her.

"What is your age?" he asked abruptly. "Twenty-two? Twenty-three?"

"I am eight-and-twenty, sir."

"Really." He did not believe her. She appeared far too young to have reached an age that was considered to be advanced spinsterhood.

"Yes, really." Seeming amused, she moved to lean over his desk, placing her hands before him. "You see? One can always tell a woman's age by her hands."

Ross studied the small hands that had been proffered without vanity. They were not the hands of a girl, but of a capable woman -- one who had known hard work. Although her nails were scrupulously clean, they were filed almost to the quick. Her fingers were marked with thin white scars that had come from accidental cuts and scrapes, and with a crescent-shaped burn that must have come from a bake-pan or pot.

Sophia resumed her seat, the light sliding gently over her rich brown hair. "You don't look the way I expected, either," she informed him.

Ross arched a brow in sardonic inquiry. "Oh?"

"I thought you would be a portly old gentleman with a wig and a pipe."

That drew a brief laugh from him, low and scratchy, and he realized that it had been a long time since he had made such a sound. For some reason he could not help asking, "Are you disappointed to find otherwise?"

"No," she said, sounding a bit breathless. "No, I am not disappointed."

The temperature in the office rose to a blistering degree. Ross could not help wondering if she found him attractive. He would soon be forty, and he looked his age. Threads of silver had begun to appear in his black hair. Years of relentless work and little sleep had left their mark, and the reckless pace of his life had left him almost rawboned. He did not have the settled, pampered look that many married men his age possessed. Of course, they did not prowl the streets at night as he did, investigating murders and robberies, visiting prisons, and putting down riots.

He saw the assessing way Sophia glanced around his office, which had been furnished in a Spartan style. One wall was covered with maps, the other fitted with bookshelves. Only one picture adorned the room, a landscape of rocks and forest and stream, with gray hills rising in the distance. Ross had often stared at the landscape during times of calamity or tension, finding that the cool, quiet darkness of the painting never failed to soothe him.

Brusquely he resumed the interview. "Have you brought references, Miss Sydney?"

She shook her head. "I am afraid that my former employer will not recommend me."

"Why not?"

Finally her composure was disrupted, a wash of color spreading over her face. "For many years I have worked for a distant cousin. She allowed me to reside in her household after my parents died, despite the fact that she was not a woman of great means. In return for her charity, I was required to serve as a maid-of-all-work. I believe that Cousin Ernestine was pleased with my efforts, until..." Words seemed to clot in her throat, and sudden perspiration lent her skin a pearly shimmer.

Ross had heard every possible tale of disaster, evil, and human misery during his ten years as Chief Magistrate at Bow Street. Although he was not callous by any means, he had learned to put a certain emotional distance between himself and those...

Excerpted from Lady Sophia's Lover by Lisa Kleypas. Copyright © 2002 by Lisa Kleypas. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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