HQN Books (NA)
Book 2 in the Brides of Fortune Series
Miss Alice Lister is the most scandalous heiress in Fortune's Folly. A housemaid who has inherited her late employer's money, Alice is courted by every penniless adventurer in town. When Miles, Lord Vickery, seeks to blackmail her into marriage, Alice is not going to give in without a fight. Challenging him at every turn, Alice forces the handsome rake to reconsider every cynical tenet of his life. Meanwhile Miles has other problems to contend with. The conditions attached to Alice's inheritance are designed to foil him — for how can such an insufferably attractive but deceitful scoundrel be completely honest with her for three whole months?
Let the duel of hearts commence!
Excerpted from Chapter One
Alice scrambled up, lost her footing on the slippery folds of material and fell to her knees. The man was quicker. His arms went about her, scooping her up and then holding her fast against him, so that all her kicking and pummelling was quite in vain. His grip was too tight to break, as taut as steel bands about her waist and back. Her struggles were embarrassingly puny against such quiet, almost casual, strength.
"Hold still, urchin," he said. His voice was mellow and deep, and he sounded carelessly amused, but there was nothing careless in the way that he held her. Alice could tell she was not going to be able to break his grip. She also sensed by instinct that this was no drunken lord returning home after a night's entertainment at the Morris Clown Inn. There was something too powerful and purposeful about him – something too dangerous to dismiss easily.
She was in deep trouble.
Fear clawed at her chest as she frantically tried to think of a way to escape him. Her whole body was shaking with fear and panic and a desperate need to flee. She stopped struggling and went limp in his arms in an attempt to trick him into loosening his grip, but he was evidently too old a hand to fall for the ruse, for he simply laughed.
"So docile all of a sudden? Listen, boy-" He stopped.
Held so close to him Alice could feel the hard muscles of his body tense against her own and she recognised the precise moment that he realised, despite the evidence of her attire, that she was not a boy at all.
"Well, well..." The amusement was still in his voice but it had a different quality to it now. He shifted, his chest unyielding against the betraying softness of her breasts, his hand moving intimately over the curve of her bottom where the rip in her britches exposed rather more bare skin than she would have wanted. His grip on her slackened, not much, but enough for Alice to wrench herself from his arms and turn to run.
It was the treacherous wedding dress that foiled her again. Wrapping itself about her ankles it tripped her so that she staggered and almost fell. The man caught her arm in a savage grip, wrenching her around so that her back was against the rough brick wall of the alley. Alice gasped as the pain jolted through her, and gasped again as he deliberately brought his body into closer contact with hers, holding her pinned against the wall with his hips, his hands braced on either side of her head. She was trapped, caged. A long shiver went down her spine that was neither fear nor cold.
The man took her chin in his hand and turned her towards the pale light of the lantern. His face was only inches away from hers, the harsh lines and planes shadowed in the darkness. She could feel the beat of his heart against her breast; feel his breath against her skin and the press of his lower body, lean and hard, against hers. It filled her with a strange, unfamiliar kind of ache and a weakness she did not much care for. Alice hated to feel out of control. She had never experienced such waywardness from her body before.
The man pushed the hat roughly back from her brow and her hair escaped its confinement and fell down about her shoulders. He brushed the tangles away from her face. Then his fingers stilled. She felt the shock rip through his body.
"Miss Lister?" There was flat disbelief in his tone.
Oh dear. So much for her desperate hope that whoever he was, he would not be able to identify her. And she recognised him too. Miles Vickery. She knew his voice now. She had loved his voice. It was so smooth and mellow Alice had sometimes thought that he could have seduced her with his words alone. He almost had.
She had been such a fool to believe even for a moment that his attentions to her had been sincere...
Even as her treacherous body responded to the touch of his hand against her cheek, the knife twisted within her as she remembered that she did not like Miles Vickery very much at all. In fact, she absolutely detested him.
Nevertheless, they stood staring at one another for what felt like a very long moment whilst Alice's heart beat in her throat and the heat washed through her body and left her trembling. She could not move. She could not even tear her gaze from his. She was captured in the moment and the fierce, intent look in his eyes and in the strange, aching demand of her body where it touched his.
Then a carriage rumbled across the cobbled road at the end of the passageway and the sudden noise made them both jump. Alice took advantage of the moment to raise her elbow in a sharp and persuasive jab into Miles's ribs and as he doubled up in pain she ducked away and ran, leaving him standing staring after her, the wedding dress still in his hand.
End of Excerpt. Like It? Order It!
• The Scandals of an Innocent was chosen as a Library Journal Recommended Summer Read! Winner of the 2009 Cover Cafe Contest Two Image Category!
• The Scandals of an Innocent was the third place winner of the FCRW Beacon Contest 2010.
• The Scandals of an Innocent was awarded the 2009 SingleTitles Reviewers' Choice Award.
• The Scandals of an Innocent was a recipient of the HRC Reviewers' Choice Award.
• The CataNetwork awarded The Scandals of an Innocent the CataNetwork Single Title Reviewers' Choice Award for 2009.
"The second instalment of the Brides of Fortune series, The Scandals of an Innocent, raises the bar for all other historical romances, proving once again that Ms. Cornick is first-class, Queen of her game. The Scandals of an Innocent could easily be my Read of the Year."
— Romance Junkies
"Fast-paced, enchanting and wildly romantic!"
"An emotional and sensual delight!"
— Romantic Times
"Cornick deftly imbues the latest witty addition to her Regency-set Brides of Fortune series with dangerous intrigue and simmering sexual chemistry."
"It has every aspect of a perfect romance."
— Mary J Gramlich, Historical Romance Club
"An engrossing story with a few unusual twists and turns for some very interesting characters."
"This second chance at love historical romance hooks the audience from the moment brazen Miles decides to go after Alice a second time and it never looks back."
— Genre Go Round Reviews
Alice, the heroine of The Scandals of an Innocent, is unique amongst my heroines for having a tattoo. I've no idea why I gave Alice some body art – the idea just came to me one day and seemed appropriate for my heroine!
In Regency England tattoos for ladies were extremely unusual but not unheard of. The art of the tattoo has a long history and is thought to date back at least 5000 years. In Europe it was the Celts who brought with them to Britain the widespread use of body art, painting themselves with woad in patterns of spirals, knots and braids to symbolise the interconnectedness of life. Research by Newcastle University also shows that Roman soldiers on Hadrian's Wall had a military tattoo. A written record from the 10th century traveller Ahmad Ibn Fadlan records a meeting with Viking traders in which they are described as being tattooed with dark blue or dark green "tree patterns" and other "figures."
It was not until the eighteenth century and the voyages of Captain Cook and other explorers to Polynesia that tattooing was re-introduced into the European cultural consciousness. During the Georgian and Regency period it was the travelling fairs and circuses that promoted the popularity of tattooing. It became the norm for every major circus to employ several tattooed people. Some were displayed in sideshows and others were performers. But it was mainly via the local fairs that body art spread to the mass of the working classes.
Alice may be an heiress but she is a former housemaid whose eccentric and lonely employer left her a fortune. Alice belonged to a class for whom the fair was a treat from the drudgery of normal life. A respectable woman would be unlikely to venture there and if she did then it would be with a heavy male escort. Alice, in contrast, goes with a gaggle of other maidservants on their night off. She sees the sideshows, the giants and freaks and dwarves, some with their tattoos. She drinks mead, sweet with honey, and then, encouraged by her giggling friends she is tempted into the tattooist's tent where the old woman tells her a tattoo won't hurt much and her lover will like it. Alice is naïve and thinks the picture will eventually wash off. But two years later when she is by fortune if not by birth a lady of quality, the tattoo is something scandalous and shocking. In the immortal words of the Duchess of Cole on hearing the scandalous rumour: "My dear Miss Lister, tattoos are for circus freaks and sailors..." Poor Alice! Already struggling to adjust to life in a different level of society, she feels that the possession of a tattoo literally marks her as a woman who is unsuitable to be a marchioness!