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Miranda Neville
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EXCERPT: NEVER RESIST TEMPTATION

On the run from a murder charge, Jacobin has found a job as pastry cook to Anthony, Earl of Storrington. He is unaware that his new cook is the same young woman he won in a card game with her uncle. Busy in the wee hours, preparing delicacies to impress her new employer, she is discovered by the earl who wanders into the kitchen during a sleepless night.

She busied herself setting water and sugar to heat on the range, then looked for vanilla. She was pleased to find a supply of castor sugar already infused with vanilla beans. Mrs. Simpson might be difficult, but she ran an efficient kitchen.

She peered at Lord Storrington through her lashes. He was the epitome of informal masculine grace in his full length claret velvet robe. Her mind recoiled from speculation about what he might be wearing beneath it. She eyed her jacket which she'd taken off when the fire heated the room. Accustomed to working in frigid confectionary kitchens, she'd quickly become uncomfortably warm. But putting another garment on now would draw attention to her state of dishabille. It wasn't as though her shift was particularly indecent. It was made of sturdy muslin, she thought optimistically.

Giving the syrup a good stir, she decided not to initiate further conversation. Any form of intimacy with Lord Storrington would be unwise or worse.

Apparently he didn't have the same compunction.

"Have you ever been in love, Miss Castle?"

Had he really asked that? It seemed so unlike the cool aristocrat she was acquainted with. She turned to examine him. He seemed oblivious that he'd said anything untoward. He looked at her with an air of disinterested curiosity that might be inspired by a question about the weather. She wanted to jolt his complacency.

"Yes, I have," she replied, looking him full in the eye. "Once. But it didn't end well."

"What happened?" He cocked his head forward with an intent look.

"Our feelings were not the same. It ended." She infused her tone with subdued tragedy and summoned moisture to her eyes by dwelling on sad thoughts of maimed Parisian beggars and the hungry-eyed cats that haunted the Luxembourg Gardens. It was a trick she'd learned as a child and often put to good use when bending her doting parents to her will. To make sure he noticed her tears she moved closer to the table.

She expected him to be embarrassed; instead he stood and took her hand.

"I'm sorry," he said softly. "I've distressed you with my questions. Please forgive me."

His hand cradling hers felt large and firm and warm. She looked down and noted the contrast between his well-manicured nails and her own fingers, which were roughened by work and bore several tiny scars from cuts and burns, the inevitable bounty of the cook. His regret sounded genuine and she was ashamed of her manipulation.

"It doesn't matter. Don't think anything of it." She meant to smile reassuringly, but met his eyes. Dark gray in the dim light, they held sympathy and a warmer emotion she didn't want to identify. Breathless, she could only stand there, captured by his gaze and feeling a flush suffuse her cheeks. She wasn't much given to blushing and the sensation was alien. She wasn't sure she liked it.

The aroma of baking roused her from a confused silence.

"The oven," she muttered, retracting her hand and hurrying to the range. As she removed the tray from the oven she could still sense the pressure of his fingers gliding over hers as she'd pulled away.

He followed her to the stove and looked over her shoulder. She could feel his warm breath at her ear, mingling with the steam arising from the tray of pastries.

"Little puffy things," he said, his voice husky and amused.

Never Resist Temptation is available from bookstore and online sites in printed and ebok formats

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