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Release Date: July 26, 2016
Series: Secrets at Thorn Cliff Manor #3
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 . . .
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Richard grunted disagreement. “I have lived a solitary life these past five years,” he said slowly. “My brother and secretary have been my only contacts to the outside world since my return.”
“Which is why I am so honored to have the pleasure of your company. Truly, it is greatly appreciated.”
“Even if I am not as polished as I once was?”
Her mouth tilted a little. “You are just a little rusty.” She patted his arm with her gloved hand. “It will come back to you soon enough.”
He wasn’t so certain. “I feel as though I no longer belong.”
“Nonsense. But if we can find your brother then perhaps you will feel more yourself. Hmm?” She looked around.
“I must confess that he is unaware of my attendance this evening.” When she turned to him, eyes wide in question, he said, “I should like to keep it that way.”
“May I ask why?”
Breaths came and went in slow succession before he settled on the right words. “The last thing I want is for him to get the wrong idea—to presume that I have come for the purpose of socializing or, God forbid, dancing.”
Her eyebrows rose in two sharp points. “Dancing is not so bad and neither is socializing.”
“I am only here because of your insistence. As Grandmamma’s dearest friend, it would be difficult for me to deny you. Which is not to say that I am unhappy that I came.”
“She would be proud of you, if she were still alive.”
“I hope so,” he muttered. “You have offered me a refreshing change, but I am afraid that dancing and socializing would serve no purpose.”
“I suppose that explains why you have not asked me to dance,” Lady Duncaster said as they moved toward a shadowy corner where a stone bench stood vacant.
“You see! My manners have completely deserted me.” He waited for Lady Duncaster to sit before lowering himself onto the empty spot beside her. “Perhaps a minuet would not be too appalling, if I can still recall the steps, mind you.”
“Forgive me, but was that an invitation?” In spite of her advanced years, it was impossible to deny that she had spirit.
Richard grimaced. “Lady Duncaster, would you please do me the honor of dancing the minuet with me?” As much as he dreaded it, he owed her the courtesy of asking.
“I would be delighted to,” she said, looking pleased. “See, that was not so difficult, was it? But if you step on my toes I shall slap you.”
Although Richard feared that she might have to follow through on that threat, her words eased his tension. “In public? Surely not!”
“I find that the older I get, the less I care about protocol, or the opinion of others, for that matter.”
“Then we are of like minds, my lady.”
Lady Duncaster snorted. “My dear boy, you are entirely mistaken! If you were really as indifferent as I, then you would not feel inclined to hide away as you do. That said, however, I must compliment you on your choice of costume. The complete concealment of your face beneath your Bauta mask and tricorn does add a distinct air of mystery to you.”
“I am not the only one here who has chosen to dress in traditional style,” he said as he watched a couple strolling in their direction. Both wore full masks with silver lips and eye-slits outlined in blue. Just like Richard, their hair and necks had been covered by tightly fitted silk hoods, revealing not an inch of skin and making it impossible to discern their identities.
“True,” Lady Duncaster agreed, “but unlike everyone else here this evening, there is a certain darkness about you that I am sure the ladies will find compelling.”
“I have no interest in attracting any woman’s attention.” The evening black had been a given. He could not imagine himself in anything else. And the mask . . . well, he had his reasons for that as well. “I am not a coward,” he told her gruffly. “I am just not ready for all the attention my return to Society will likely incur.” She nodded in understanding, but said nothing further. He was grateful for that.
Other Books in the Secrets of Thorncliff Manor series:
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About the Author:
Born in Denmark, Sophie Barnes spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish and Romanian. She has studied design in Paris and New York and has a bachelor’s degree from Parsons. But, most impressive of all, she’s been married to the same man three times—in three different countries and in three different dresses.
While living in Africa, Sophie turned to her lifelong passion: writing. When she’s not busy dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading. She currently lives on the East Coast.
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