His Scandalous Kiss
Secrets at Thorncliff Manor #3
By: Sophie Barnes
Releasing July 26, 2016.
Thorncliff Manor is the perfect setting for a masquerade ball . . . where the heart’s secret desires are about to be uncovered in this scintillating Regency romance from Sophie Barnes
Richard Heartly has exiled himself from society since the war, plotting his revenge for a terrible betrayal. A masked ball at Thorncliff Manor is intended to be a brief diversion. Instead, he encounters a fascinating young woman as entranced by the music as he is. He can’t reveal his identity to Lady Mary. But her siren song keeps drawing him back, and their clandestine meetings could be hazardous to his plan—and to her virtue . . .
Avoiding an unwanted marriage was easy when Lady Mary was ignored by the ton. Thanks to her dazzling appearance at the masquerade, she’s a wallflower no longer. Eligible suitors abound, yet the only man she wants is the brooding, seductive companion who keeps his face hidden. A man who tempts her to disclose her own shocking secret, one that could divide them forever . . .
Thorncliff Manor, 1820
A gentle breeze stirred the air, carrying with it the smooth murmur of violins as Richard gazed out over the terrace of Thorncliff Manor. The grand estate and guesthouse where his parents and siblings had chosen to spend the summer while their own home was being renovated, sat solidly at his back—a welcome retreat for those who were wealthy enough to afford it. Standing to one side, Richard watched the guests, their gemstones scattering the torchlight while feathers bowed and swayed.
Although they wore masks, he was able to recognize a few of those present. Certainly, he had seen many of them from his bedroom window since arriving at Thorncliff a few weeks earlier. But there were those whose acquaintance he’d never had the pleasure of, like the young ladies who’d made their debuts since 1815—a year he would not soon forget. In any event, it was a long time since he’d spoken to any of these people. Some, he reflected, had been friends once . . . His heart beat slowly, dulled by the lead that now flowed through his veins.
It was briefly forgotten when a gentle voice spoke at his shoulder. “Your company is much appreciated this evening, Mr. Heartly.”
Turning his head, Richard glanced down at his hostess, the incomparable Lady Duncaster. “After all . . .” His words faltered—no doubt from lack of usage. Inhaling deeply, he took a moment to compose himself before trying again, more slowly this time. “After all the effort you have gone to on my behalf, it would have been rude of me to stay away.” Rigidly, he glanced in her direction, his nails digging against the palms of his hands as he clenched his fists. There was more to be said. “I . . .”
“Yes?” she queried.
“Please don’t use my real name, Countess. Tonight I am Signor Antonio.”
“Of course.” Her eyes gleamed with the mystery of a shared secret. “As to all the effort you mentioned, your presence here after so many years of absence has made it all worthwhile.” A wry smile appeared beneath the edge of her over-embellished mask. “Besides, I have always wondered what it might be like to restore the masquerade ball to its former glory.”
Dipping his head, Richard acknowledged her comment, the gesture encouraging her to continue.
“In my youth, my husband and I experienced a traditional one in Venice—before the Venetian Republic fell. . . . Masquerades have since become popular in other parts of Europe, though they generally lack the flamboyance that I initially fell in love with.” She shook her head somewhat wistfully, then straightened herself and earnestly asked, “What do you think, Signor? Is it grand enough?”
In Richard’s opinion the extravagance was overwhelming, but since he knew this was probably the effect Lady Duncaster was aiming for, he said, “I think you have outdone all other masquerades, my lady. I am certainly impressed.”
Chuckling, Lady Duncaster slapped his arm playfully with her fan. “You are quite the charmer. Do you know that?”
“It is accidental, I can assure you,” he told her dryly, belatedly realizing that he probably should have thanked her for the compliment.
She tsked in response. “I sincerely doubt that.” Taking him by the arm, she guided him slowly along the periphery of the terrace while the orchestra on the opposite side struck up a new tune. In no time at all, the center of the terrace had been occupied by guests who wished to participate in a country dance, their theatrical garments a testament to originality rather than taste. “I know your parents, Signor, and I very much doubt that your mother would have raised a son capable of being anything but a perfect gentleman.”