Miss Chelsey’s Secret Night (Regency)

From: Chapter 1

Miranda walked into the shop, and nearly slammed into Lady Floyd’s back.

A group of young ladies and gentlemen clustered around the desk to block the way. No one seemed to care. Attention centered on one figure in their midst

Miranda forgot to breathe. At the group’s heart loomed the most arresting man she had ever seen. He seemed to literally tower over the others. It was the way he held himself. Shoulders back, chin up, arms folded over his broad chest.

She saw him in profile, strong straight nose, sharply angled jaw. The chin might be square, but she couldn’t tell from the position. Chocolate brown hair waved thickly back from a broad forehead. When he laughed at a remark, his warm voice shot sparks down her spine. Even her palms tingled. She rubbed them against her skirt before she realized what she’d done, then glanced around to see if any noticed. All eyes were on him. No wonder. The masculine power of the man overshadowed every other male present, even the classically gorgeous Lord Jessup Neels, who stood at his shoulder. Miranda shivered.

“That’s Rand Thompson, Towe’s brother.”

Miranda jumped, uttered a soft, “Umm!” then shook her head. “Letty. For heaven’s sake. Where did you come from?” She leaned toward her best friend. “What are you doing here?”

“There same as everyone else, it appears. Fawning over the latest addition to the ranks of eligible bachelors.” Lady Leticia Samuels wrinkled her pert nose. “I must admit, he looks like a man I’d like to see more of.”

Miranda caught the double entendre of her friend’s comment and turned to look her in the eyes. “Letty, you’re incorrigible.” She couldn’t help but laugh at the lascivious expression on the other’s face.

The lady leaned forward. “The perks of widowhood, my dear friend,” she whispered. “I highly recommend it.”

Laughter gurgled from Miranda. Unfortunately, it echoed into that very moment when all conversation paused for the next breath. The man in question turned to identify the sound.

Oh, dear heavens, I’m mortified. But the man’s gaze stopped short on Beatrice. Awe raised his black brows and froze his mouth half open. It was the look of every man who saw her sister for the first time.

The crowd shifted as the he recovered to saunter toward Bea. Lady Leticia moved away. “Are you going to Almack’s tonight?” she whispered to Miranda.

“No. Call tomorrow. I need your help for a project.” Miranda got no more out before the two were separated, but she saw her friend nod.

She braced herself for the onslaught of her sister’s admirers, but he held her attention. He looked—polished. Each hair in place; face shaved sleek; form molded by a stylish blue jacket with a sleek ‘new’ glaze. The hand he extended to Bea was covered in a proper glove, but Miranda could make out its outline—strong, square palm; long tapered fingers.

He represented the ton’s ideal vision of manhood.

The picture was fake.

Forced to watch while others acted over the years, Miranda had perfected the ability to observe. She’d learned to catalogue expressions, actions, words, intentions. She could spot a phony within a turn of the head. And Randall Thompson was not what he pretended.

The smile was calculated, the saunter affected—curiously tight, as if his muscles longed to spring free. This morning’s sharp razoring had left a curiously lighter pattern, as if a beard recently covered the jaw, a jaw she observed bordered on inflexible. His chin—yes, square—carried a slight vertical indentation in the center. And his skin bore a tan any self-respecting indolent lord eschewed.

Rand Thompson may have barbered-up like a ton darling, but beneath the surface lay a dangerous warrior, who looked as if he could rip the juggler from any challenger. A man who could storm any wall, overcome any weakness. A man who could, perhaps, see past masks, and limps, to the real person beneath.

Definitely dangerous.