Feb 8 2017 9:30am
Lisa Kleypas Excerpt: Devil in Spring
An eccentric wallflower…
Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.
A cynical rake…
After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.
A perilous plot…
After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy-and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven...
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Still feeling shy from their earlier encounter, Pandora accompanied Gabriel across the cool, compacted sand. Her senses were overwhelmed by a deluge of sight, sound, and sensation. Every breath filled her lungs with vibrant, living air and left the taste of salt spindrift on her lips. Farther out, the ocean rolled in wind-harried billows, trimmed with ruffles of white foam. Pausing to stare out at the vast blue infinity, she tried to imagine what might be concealed in its mysterious depths, shipwrecks and whales and exotic creatures, and a pleasant shiver went through her. She bent to pick up a tiny cup-shaped shell that had been partially embedded in the sand, and rubbed her thumb across its rough gray-striped surface. “What is this?” she asked, showing it to Gabriel.
She found another shell, round and ridged. “And this? Is it a scallop?”
“A cockleshell. You can tell the difference by looking at the hinge-line. A scallop has a triangle on each side.”
As Pandora collected more shells—whelks, a winkle, mussels—she gave them to Gabriel, who carried them for her in one of his trouser pockets. She noticed he had rolled the hems of his trousers to the middle of his calves, which were lightly dusted with glinting tawny fleece.
“Do you have a bathing-suit?” she dared to ask shyly.
“Yes, but it’s not for mixed company.” At her questioning glance, Gabriel explained, “A man’s bathing-suit isn’t like the ones Ivo and Justin are wearing. It consists of flannel trunks that tie at the waist with a string. Once they’re wet, they leave so little to the imagination that a man may as well wear nothing at all. Most of us at the estate don’t bother with them when we go for a swim.”
“You swim naked?” Pandora asked, so flustered that a shell dropped from her lax fingers.
Gabriel bent to retrieve it. “Not with ladies present, of course.” He smiled at her pink face. “I usually go in the mornings.”
“The water must be like ice.”
“It is. But there are benefits to a cold ocean swim. Among other things, it stimulates the circulation.”
The idea of him swimming without a stitch on had certainly affected her circulation. She wandered to the water’s edge where the sand was glossy. It was too wet to leave a footprint: As soon as she took another step, silt flowed into the depression. A wave rolled in and thinned until it reached her toes. She started at the biting cold of it but took a few steps forward. The next surge flooded over her ankles and almost up to her knees in a rush of chilling, bubbling lightness. She gave a little squeal and a surprised laugh at the feel of it. The wave slackened, its forward momentum halting.
As the water retreated in a long pull, towing sand back with it, Pandora had the sensation of sliding backward even though she was standing still. At the same time, sand eroded from beneath her feet, as if someone were yanking away a rug she happened to be standing on.
The ground tilted sharply and she staggered, her equilibrium lost.
A pair of strong hands caught her from behind. Blinking, Pandora found herself pulled back against Gabriel’s hard, warm chest, with his thighs braced on either side of hers. She heard the baritone of his voice, but he spoke near her bad ear, and the sound of the surf muffled his words.
“Wh-what?” she asked, turning her head to the side.
“I said I have you,” Gabriel murmured at her other ear. The brush of his lips at the delicate outer rim sent an electric feeling through her. “I should have warned you. As the waves ebb, it can make you feel as if you’re moving even when you’re standing still.”
Another wave approached. Pandora tensed and backed up against him more tightly, and she was vaguely annoyed to feel him chuckle.
“I won’t let you fall.” His arms slid securely around her front. “Just relax.”
He steadied her as the wave broke and surged around her legs, its eddies raking up sand and shells. As the water retreated, Pandora considered fleeing to higher ground. But it felt so pleasant to lean back against Gabriel’s sturdy form that she hesitated, and then another surge was coming. She gripped his arm hard, and it tightened reassuringly across her middle. Shoaling water rose and broke with the sounds of shattering crystal, followed by swooshes as if something were being mopped. Over and over, in hypnotic rhythm. Gradually her breathing turned deep and regular.
The experience began to feel rather dreamlike. The world had become nothing but coldness, heat, sun, sand, the scent of brine and minerals. Gabriel’s torso was a wall of muscle at her back, flexing subtly as he adjusted for balance, keeping her braced and supported and safe. Random thoughts drifted through her mind, the way they did in early morning, in the margin between sleep and wakefulness. A breeze carried the sounds of the children laughing, the dog barking, Phoebe’s and Seraphina’s voices, but they all seemed removed from what was happening to her.
Forgetting herself entirely, Pandora let her head loll back against Gabriel’s shoulder. “What kind of glue does Ivo use?” she asked languidly.
“Glue?” he echoed after a moment, his mouth close to her temple, grazing softly.
“For his kites.”
“Ah.” He paused while a wave retreated. “Joiner’s glue, I believe.”
“That’s not strong enough,” Pandora said, relaxed and pensive. “He should use chrome glue.”
“Where would he find that?” One of his hands caressed her side gently.
“A druggist can make it. One part acid chromate of lime to five parts gelatin.”
Amusement filtered through his voice. “Does your mind ever slow down, sweetheart?”
“Not even for sleeping,” she said.
Gabriel steadied her against another wave. “How do you know so much about glue?”
The agreeable trance began to fade as Pandora considered how to answer him.
After her long hesitation, Gabriel tilted his head and gave her a questioning sideways glance. “The subject of glue is complicated, I gather.”
I’m going to have to tell him at some point, Pandora thought. It might as well be now.
After taking a deep breath, she blurted out, “I design and construct board games. I’ve researched every possible kind of glue required for manufacturing them. Not just for the construction of the boxes, but the best kind to adhere lithographs to the boards and lids. I’ve registered a patent for the first game, and soon I intend to apply for two more.”
Gabriel absorbed the information in remarkably short order. “Have you considered selling the patents to a publisher?”
“No, I want to make the games at my own factory. I have a production schedule. The first one will be out by Christmas. My brother-in-law, Mr. Winterborne, helped me to write a business plan. The market in board games is quite new, and he thinks my company will be successful.”
“I’m sure it will be. But a young woman in your position has no need of a livelihood.”
“I do if I want to be self-supporting.”
“Surely the safety of marriage is preferable to the burdens of being a business proprietor.”
Pandora turned to face him fully. “Not if ‘safety’ means being owned. As things stand now, I have the freedom to work and keep my earnings. But if I marry you, everything I have, including my company, would immediately become yours. You would have complete authority over me. Every shilling I made would go directly to you—it wouldn’t even pass through my hands. I’d never be able to sign a contract, or hire employees, or buy property. In the eyes of the law, a husband and wife are one person, and that person is the husband. I can’t bear the thought of it. It’s why I never want to marry.”
Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Kleypas.
Learn more about or order a copy of Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, available February 21, 2017:
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New York Times bestselling author Lisa Kleypas graduated from Wellesley College with a political science degree. She’s a RITA award-winning author of both historical romance and contemporary women’s fiction. She lives in Washington State with her husband Gregory and their two children.