James Devlin is a bastard, a respected barrister—and now, thanks to the death of his negligent father, a newly-appointed duke. His world is completely different from widow Bella Sinclair's, and yet, these two strangers have suddenly found themselves living under the same roof.
It's all a terrible mistake, of course. Somehow, they are both the legal owners of Wyndmoor Manor, and because the property means so much to them—for James, it's a symbol of childhood happiness; for Bella, of long-awaited freedom—neither is willing to give the place up. But with chemistry like theirs, James and Bella seem just as likely to get down and dirty in the bedroom as in the courtroom...
The following excerpt of In the Barrister’s Bed sees James and Bella open up about their pasts. As they discover their common ground, they feel their animosity slowly turn into lust. But will it ever turn into love?
Read on for an excerpt of In the Barrister's Bed, and then download the book!
“I know very little about you other than the fact that you are a widow. Were you born in Hertfordshire?” Blackwood asked.
Bella leaned back on her hands in the soft grass. “No. I was born in London, but my father moved to the country when I was seven. We settled in Plymouth when I was sixteen, and I was married a year later.”
“Did you remain in Plymouth after your marriage?”
“I’m an admirer of the architect John Rennie’s work on the mile-long Breakwater in Plymouth Sound. Did your husband work on the project or on the dockyards?”
Her heart skipped a beat. How much to tell? Blackwood was proving to be intelligent and intuitive. Years of experience hiding her inner thoughts from her husband had taught Bella to be forthright with the basics while concealing the heart of the matter. Bella dare not reveal the extent of Roger’s greed.
Treason, her inner voice cried out. When Roger’s business ventures had failed to produce a lucrative profit, he had turned to illicit, illegal activities.
Making a show of arranging the wildflowers on her lap, she chose her words carefully. “Roger was a merchant; his livelihood was import and export. Mostly timber, coal, barley, and grain.”
“How long were you married?”
“Do you miss him then?”
She stayed silent, again uncertain what answer to give. Miss Roger? She gave thanks for every day that his shadow failed to cross the threshold of her bedchamber.
“I’ve come to accept his passing,” she finally answered.
Blackwood picked up another flat stone and rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger.
“Are your parents alive?”
She knew he was prying for information. He wanted to know if she had family she could reside with should he succeed in his plans of eviction. “No,” she said. “My mother died when I was an infant, and I am an only child. My father died in a carriage accident soon after I was married.”
“You must have been distraught. I’m sorry for your loss.”
The sincerity in his tone made her speak. “Father was a wonderful, loving parent, and I am grateful that God gifted me with him for as long as he did.”
Blackwood threw the stone in his hand and it skipped across the water’s surface four times. She turned to look at him then and was surprised to see some unfathomable emotion—pain? Regret?—in his eyes.
“You must have fond memories of your parents,” she said. “You had mentioned that Wyndmoor Manor reminded you of your family.”
“I never knew my mother. She was a parlor maid who caught the eye of my father, the old duke, when she was in service to the family. She died when I was born. I grew up believing I was illegitimate, and I was never officially acknowledged by my father,” he said coolly. “I have a half brother who, until weeks ago, believed he was the heir and treated me with as much brotherly love as one does a stray dog, and a grandmother who is a rigid dowager duchess whose only redeeming quality was to pay for my boarding school as a boy and my education at Eton years later.”
He plucked another stone from the ground. His fingers, long and tapered, caressed the smooth surface.
She was as stunned by his speech as the light bitterness in his tone. She had not expected such a story from him. He appeared so confident, so sure of his rightful place in the world.
One question plagued her: If he was illegitimate, then how on earth could he have inherited a dukedom?
As if reading her thoughts, he said, “It turned out that I was not the illegitimate son but the proper heir all along. Too bad I spent a lifetime ostracized by my family as the bastard.”
A frisson of pity rose in her breast. Bella didn’t know why she felt sorry for him. James Devlin was now a duke, with great wealth and power at his fingertips. Yet he had never known a mother’s love or a father’s loyalty. Bella’s father had loved her unconditionally and it was those treasured memories that had allowed her to survive the horrors of her marriage.
She didn’t want to know more about James Devlin, truly she didn’t. She did not want him to become a person to her, rather than a demanding, spoiled aristocrat. But the truth was, he wasn’t spoiled and had known true hardship. There was an air of isolation about him that tugged at the core of compassion inside her.
He was rejected, just like me. Only I was betrayed by a brutish, selfish husband, and he was betrayed by his family.
“How did you become a barrister?” she found herself asking.
“I could not fathom a life of begging for every shilling as the illegitimate offspring in order to survive. After Eton I attended Oxford, where I met students who desired to enter one of the four Inns of Court and find willing pupilmasters. I was accepted into Lincoln’s Inn. After I became a barrister, I joined the chambers of my colleagues whom you met today. I was quite successful and had no need to ever request anything from my family again.”
Never had she suspected he was a self-made man. She assumed all of the nobility were handed a fortune and never had to toil a day in their lives.
“Why do you insist on reclaiming Wyndmoor Manor? If you have no fond feelings for your family, then why on earth would you seek to reclaim the country estate?” Bella asked.
“It was the only place the old duke treated me as his son. I know the land like the back of my hand. I feel at home here. Can you say the same?”
She looked at the stream, the twin swans, and the peacefulness of the landscape. “Yes, I feel safe here.”
They sat in silence, observing the view; then he rose to his feet and offered her his hand.
She placed her hand in his and felt the warmth of his fingers as they wrapped around hers. Slowly he pulled her to her feet.
“Yes, I feel safe here.”
A wan shaft of sun struck his hair and it gleamed like ebony. His strong features held a certain sensuality that she now realized was not entirely arrogance, but pride.
Nervous beneath his steady gaze, she lowered her eyes to the stone he still held in his hand. “How do you manage to throw the stones so far?”
He looked surprised, then laughed. “It’s simple. You need to find a flat stone, preferably one with a smooth surface.”
He reached down and plucked another stone from the bank, then showed her how to hold it. Standing behind her, he held her arm and imitated the proper throwing motion. She felt a tremor as the front of his body grazed the back of hers.
He leaned down until his mouth was close to her ear. “You try now. Throw the stone.”
Her flesh prickled at the nearness of his touch, and she raised her arm to throw. The stone bounced off the water’s surface once before sinking. “Yours bounced four times!”
“It takes practice. I used to come here as a boy, skipping stones for hours.”
She made several more attempts, succeeding in bouncing the stone twice. “I don’t believe I shall ever be able to compete with you.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized they may be incorrectly interpreted to imply their property battle ahead.
He turned her by the shoulders, and she was suddenly looking into his indigo eyes.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” she said softly.
His gaze searched hers before dropping to her lips. “I know.”
“I should head back.”
His eyes darkened, and he reached out to cup the side of her face with his hand. “No,” he said softly. “Not yet, Bella.”
Whatever rational thought she had flew from her mind as his head slowly lowered. Then his mouth covered hers in a kiss as tender and light as a summer breeze. For several heartbeats he simply shared her breath. Then his lips brushed hers, back and forth, and he traced her full bottom lip with the sweep of his tongue. Her response was shameless, instant and total. A wild surge of pleasure spiraled through her.
Her lips parted of their own accord, and his tongue slid into her mouth. His kiss was skilled and seductive, coaxing and encouraging her response. Tentative at first, she met his tongue with her own, and her heart fluttered wildly in her breast. Then his kiss changed, became more demanding. He turned her head to one side as he plundered her mouth, sending fire through every nerve in her body.
Never had she been kissed like this by a man. Her experience was limited to Roger, and he had been demanding and hurtful. His affections had been a brutal performance of dominance. He had never been concerned for her pleasure, only her capitulation. She had learned early on to tamp down her defiance, or he would prolong his torment.
But James. He didn’t touch her with anything but his lips and the hand cradling her face. She was free to step away should she wish to. Only she did not.
For the first time in her life, she felt true lust. It was a heady emotion, a dangerous weapon in this battle of wills. A small warning voice cried out in the back of her mind that if she allowed him to treat her like a common dalliance she would lose whatever footing she had at Wyndmoor Manor. Yet, this rising passion could not be denied. How could a kiss be this potent, trigger such primitive yearnings?
Leaning forward an inch, she brushed against the harness of his chest, felt the warmth of his body, and inhaled the alluring scent of his cologne, sandalwood and cloves.
A groan rumbled from deep in his throat. His lifted his head, his dark eyebrows slanted in a frown, and looked down at her.
“I hadn’t expected that,” he said.
“No, your response.”
Enthralled by the gleam of desire she saw in his eyes, she tried to still the wild pounding of her heart. “It was a mistake.”
He laughed hoarsely. “Living together is a mistake, but neither of us is inclined to change our minds, are we?”
She shook her head.
He sighed, then reached for his jacket. “Shall we go back, then?”
He waited for her to pick up her discarded wildflowers, and they headed back to the house in silence.
Bella’s brain was in tumult as she hurried to keep pace with his long stride. What had come over her? Not only had she allowed him the liberty of a kiss, she had enjoyed it. The Duke of Blackwood was a complex man, and the fervent passion she had experienced in his arms alternately thrilled and frightened her. This attraction, this lust was entirely new—a first for Bella—exciting, yes, but also utterly dangerous.
He stopped to help her over a fallen log, and his fingers grasped hers. Their eyes locked, their breathing came in unison, and the tingling in the pit of her stomach was quick to return. She must avoid being alone with him in the days to come, but how could she accomplish such a task when they shared a residence?
She was still contemplating the question when they approached the stables, and a boy with bright red hair and a gap-toothed smile waved and called out for Blackwood.
“Coates mentioned the lad is your stable boy,” Bella said.
“Bobby may only be twelve years old, but he’s quick, intelligent and exceptional with the horses. He keeps an immaculate stable, and he will care for your mare as well as my horses. Anything you require in the stables, you have only to ask.”
“I shall keep that in mind, Your Grace.”
He stopped and looked down at her. “It’s James, remember?” he said, with a grin.
Her heart gave a little lurch.
He bowed. “The boy needs to speak with me. Until another time?”
She bobbed a quick curtsy and fled to the house.
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