Not Quite a Lady (Regency-set historical)

Independent and unconventional, Indira disregards the rules of Regency society at every turn. She’s sensual, wanton and completely alone in the world. But when she seduces Sebastian Dare, she gets more than just a night of passion.

Dare has never known anyone like Indira—a woman who understands his deepest desires. A woman who knows how to satisfy them. One night of sensual abandon arouses Dare’s predatory instincts, and he’s a man used to getting what he wants. But the brazen temptress of his dreams vanishes without a trace.

When circumstances force Indira to seek help from Dare, sparks fly. For Indira Stuart is no lady, and beneath his polished facade, Sebastian Dare is no gentleman. In stately London ballrooms, Indira and Dare fight their growing passion, and when a man from Indira’s past reappears, a firestorm of power and possession ignites. Indira knows that Dare desires her, but is passion enough to make her surrender her heart?


Copyright © ERICA ANDERSON, 2010

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

Chapter One

Sebastian Dare tossed a few coins to the stable lad and shouldered through the door of the Leaping Hare as though he owned it. This evening the taproom was crowded, and Dare swore under his breath. He had no desire for conversation. Only a good meal and a good bed. In that order.

He slapped his crop against his boots in annoyance, his well-formed lips expressing the precise level of his dissatisfaction.

“Your lordship, I do apologize!” said MacGillivray, the innkeeper, who approached with a distracted look on his face. He straightened when he met the man’s dark and steady gaze. “I’ve only the one private parlor available. There was a wedding in town and, as you can see, the celebratin’ is still going on.”

Dare tightened his grip on the crop, just as a mug went flying off a nearby table. He stepped aside in time to miss the worst of it. The diners seemed not to have noticed, for they were roaring at some joke, oblivious to the rivers of ale that dripped to the floor. Dare scowled at the droplets now marring his boots.

“Jenny,” MacGillivray shouted. “Come and clean up this mess!”

A flustered looking barmaid glared at MacGillivray as she hurried by, but the innkeeper had already turned away and missed the admiring glance she threw the tall gentlemen behind him. Dare ignored her flirtatious smile; all he wanted from her was his meal. He wasn’t in the mood to strain the limits of his manners should she invite herself into his bed.

“This way, sir,” MacGillivray said, gesturing for Dare to precede him down the hall. Just then, there was a loud crash, followed by laughter and a shriek, presumably from Jenny. The innkeeper flashed a glance toward the taproom, clearly trying to decide between his aristocratic guest and the likelihood of property destruction. “Beg yer pardon, but . . .”

Dare waved him away with one gloved hand. “I know my way,” he said. “Only send in my meal without delay.”

“Yes, sir. Of course,” said the innkeeper, already halfway down the hall.

Dare allowed himself a huff of irritation as he stepped into the parlor, bending to avoid smacking his head on the frame. His dark eyes scanned the candlelit room, and he realized, too late, that the room was already occupied. A young woman sat at the table, a book in one shapely hand.

“I do beg your pardon,” he said, in his deep voice.

The woman glanced up, taking in the perfect cut of his coat, the mass of dark hair crowning his head. “I don’t imagine you can procure a decent cup of tea, can you?” She spoke English with an odd accent.

Dare stared at her, nonplussed. “Do I appear to be a kitchen maid?” he asked in glacial tones.

“No, then,” she said, “I thought not. Do sit down.”

“I beg your pardon,” he repeated, giving her a look that several generations of his forebears had worked to perfect. It reduced most men to stammering imbeciles. It would certainly serve to discourage such appalling familiarity.

The woman sighed, completely oblivious to the setdown he’d given her, and pushed a strand of hair from her face. Despite her atrocious manners, she had quite magnificent hair. It was warm brown shot with auburn, and she had tied it back with—good God—was that a piece of string?

His surprise must have shown on his face, for she gave a soft laugh.

She gestured to the chair across from her. “You’re still welcome to share the parlor. I believe all the other rooms are taken.”

Dare narrowed his eyes. As she made her offer, she pushed out the chair with her foot, quite bare of any shoe. It was a rather nice foot, with a high arch and delicate ankle. With an effort, he drew his gaze back to her face.

“I’m quite harmless, I assure you,” she said.

“Your assurances are completely unnecessary, madam.” Dare made a slow perusal of the room before continuing. “I see no traveling companions. If, in fact, you have any.” His tone left no doubt of his opinion on that issue. “Under the circumstances it would be improper to share the parlor. Despite your kind offer.” The final phrase was loaded with condescension. Really, had the woman been raised by wolves?

She appeared to be immune to his tone, only widening her eyes slightly, as though she’d heard something that surprised her. Her eyes were brown, and he was reminded of the color of the moor when the autumn sun hung low in the sky. She was not pretty. Not exactly. Dare had experience with beauty in all its feminine forms, and this woman defied classification. Her nose was a bit too large, her chin too well defined. There was nothing soft and pliable here. Except . . .

She was still staring at him, as though she were stripping away the layers of politesse he cultivated in order to reveal whatever lay beneath his scowling features.

“As you wish,” she said simply, and turned back to her book.

Dare ground his teeth. He did not care to return to the taproom where drunken wedding guests rubbed arms with unwashed plowmen. Perhaps this woman, whoever she was, at least had enough sense not to chatter. “I must beg your pardon,” he said gruffly.

She pressed a finger to the page to mark her position and looked up. “Oh?”

“I have been unconscionably rude.” He gave her the merest hint of a bow.

“I own that my own manners are quite shocking,” she said. “You are still welcome. If you wish.” Her voice curled around the words, lending them an undertone that he usually associated with sexual satisfaction.

He raised his eyebrows and let his eyes wander, quite deliberately, over her body. “Surely you have a reputation to preserve. A maid or companion, perhaps.” Or not. She was wearing a red dress, for God’s sake. It complemented her coloring, but still—red?

“Ah, yes. My maid.” She gave a little flick of her wrist. “She became ill and I was forced to leave her behind.”

Though her eyes were guileless, Dare knew, without a doubt, that she was dissembling. Rather than put him off, the realization only whetted his curiosity. “I see,” he said. He turned and made a show of removing his gloves, pulling the skin-tight leather from each finger.

He tried again to place her. Perhaps she was a member of the demimonde. It was a sorority with which Dare was familiar, but she had none of the blowsy excess he associated with such women.

This train of thought reminded him of how long it had been since he had enjoyed a woman. It was regrettable that the dashing Mrs Finley had become demanding of late.

Dare tossed his hat and gloves onto the sideboard and returned his attention to the mannerless creature across the room. She spoke the English of the upper classes, but with an odd, lilting rhythm.

Perhaps she was an expatriate from the continent. The accent, however, represented no language with which he was familiar.

Vexed, he strode across the room to the hearth, where he stoked the fire, though the room was pleasantly warm. Her shoes lay discarded beneath the table. He straightened and realized that her eyes had followed him. He merely lifted his brows, the expression acknowledging her overt scrutiny and communicating his distaste for it.

“May I offer you a glass of wine?” she said. “I have tried to drink the tea, but it is too awful.” Without waiting for his reply, she reached for a glass.

Her hands were slender, but her skin had been darkened by the sun, as though she spent most of her time outdoors. Definitely not a whore, then. Not a lady, either.