"A room without books is like a body without a soul."
July 3, 1816 - "The Year Without a Summer"
Tama Phillips forced fear to the back of her mind. Her heart raced. Yet she fought to keep her breath even, fought to maintain an outward calm as she followed the man down the long corridor toward the last carved door.
"Your appointment has arrived, my lord."
With these words, the butler ushered her into the most impressive gentleman's office she'd ever seen. Then he stepped out, closing the door behind him. Her body, chilled from her long walk in the inclement weather, relaxed a bit in the welcome heat flowing from the great fireplace. However, she couldn't focus on the room.
Sunlight streaming through tall, arched windows not only glinted off polished furniture and mahogany bookshelves. It also glinted off the raven hair of the person silhouetted against those windows.
Standing with his back to her was the dangerous man she must convince to hire her if she wanted to be free, to have a home, to not be at the mercy of others. She drew a deep breath and braced for his anger the second he transferred his gaze from the window to her.
He turned - and went still. Set deep in his hawkish face, those cat-green eyes narrowed as he stared at her in utter silence. Pinned in place like a butterfly in a shadow box by those eyes, she returned his gaze.
That he was shocked was - well - understandable. He didn't face the male scholar he'd expected to hire to organize his library. Instead he faced a woman, one well past the first blush of youth at the age of five and twenty.
He wouldn't remember her, of course. But she remembered him.
Even with his crippled arm, suffered at the Battle of Waterloo, Devlin Le Claire remained the striking physical specimen he'd always been. With his great height, broad shoulders, elegant yet powerful body, and the face of a fallen angel, he embodied the rake extraordinaire that society whispered he was.
Out of her past rose the memory of Lady Castlereagh's advice to her at her come-out, those many years ago, to avoid that nortorious man if she wished to protect her reputation.
Well, she'd have to deal with him now. She'd dressed for this interview in a plain, dark, out-of-fashion gown, pulled her hair into a severe bun at her nape, and even worn her spectacles though she never needed them except for reading. No sense letting this rogue consider her another woman to hunt. Even fortified with all that armor, she'd need to weather a verbal assault on her temerity and deception. Otherwise, she wouldn't have even a ghost of a chance to persuade him not to dismiss her out of hand.
He didn't explode in anger as she'd expected. Instead the man took a few quick strides to his desk and sat. His face now molded into a forbidding mask, he lounged back in his chair and continued to stare at her.
She held his gaze. If he thought he'd make her flinch, he'd soon find otherwise. Still her breathe caught, and her fingers tingled as she braced herself for battle.
In his impeccable, black coat of Bath superfine and his golden-yellow silk waistcoat, Lord Braedonford resembled nothing so much as an Indian tiger she'd once read about, stalking his prey.
"So you are T. M. Phillips. Is it Miss or Mrs.?"
The suppressed snarl she sensed under his question added to the sensation of being stalked by a feral cat. He gestured toward the chair facing his desk.
"Whichever it is, be seated."
"I'm a widow, my lord. And I will remain on my feet until we are both sure I'll not be ordered to leave."
His left eyebrow arched at her tart reply.
"I won't send you away, at least until the mystery of why you applied for the position is explained to my satisfaction. Indulge me so I can talk to you without straining my neck. When she didn't move, the order was followed by a curt, "Please."
"Of course, my lord. I would not want you to injure yourself."
As she sat, she caught the flicker of a smile at the corner of his mouth. She prayed that amused flicker was a good omen.
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