Where's My Hero? by Lisa Kleypas







  Where’s My Hero


  Lisa Kleypas

  Against the Odds


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4


  Kinley MacGregor

  Midsummer’s Knight


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6


  Julia Quinn

  A Tale of Two Sisters

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7


  About the Authors

  Lisa Kleypas

  Kinley MacGregor

  Julia Quinn

  Don’t Miss These Other Books


  About the Publisher

  Lisa Kleypas

  Against the Odds


  If any man knew how to hold his liquor, it was Jake Linley. God knew he’d had a lot of practice at it—and it was a good thing, too, otherwise he’d be staggering drunk at the moment. Unfortunately, no matter how much he drank this evening, it was not going to numb the bitter awareness of what he could never have.

  Jake was tired, and hot, his caustic resentment seeming to rise with each moment he spent in the luxurious, crowded cavern of a ballroom. Separating himself from a group of friends, he wandered to a gallery that bordered the room, glancing at the sky that loomed dark and cool beyond a row of glittering windows. At the end of the gallery, Robert, Lord Wray, was surrounded by a smiling throng of friends and well-wishers, all of them congratulating him on the betrothal that had been announced an hour ago.

  Jake had always liked Wray, a pleasant enough fellow whose combination of intelligence and unoffensive wit made him welcome in any company. However, at this particular moment, a feeling of contempt coiled inside Jake’s stomach as he glanced at the man. He envied Wray, who didn’t begin to realize the extent of his good fortune in having won the hand of Miss Lydia Craven. It was already being said that the match was more to Miss Craven’s advantage than to Wray’s, that her social position would be greatly advanced when her fortune was joined to a well-respected title. Jake knew better. Lydia was the true prize, regardless of her family’s common origins.

  She wasn’t a conventional beauty—she had her father’s black hair and his wide mouth, and a chin that was a bit too decisive for a woman. Her figure was slim and small-breasted, falling short of the voluptuous standards that were considered so desirable. But there was something irresistible about her—perhaps it was the charming absentmindedness that made a man want to take care of her, or the intriguing touch of playfulness that lurked beneath her pensive facade. And of course there were her eyes… exotic green eyes that seemed out of place in such a sweet, scholarly face.

  Sighing grimly, Jake left the overheated gallery, stepping out into the cool spring night. The air was humid and fecund, weighted with the fragrance of damask roses that burgeoned from the terraced gardens below. The wide, stone-flagged path stretched along a series of narrow box-edged beds filled with geraniums and a heavy misting of white feverfew. Jake wandered aimlessly along the path, almost to the end, where it curled gently into a set of stone steps descending to the lower gardens.

  He stopped suddenly as he saw a woman seated on a bench. Her profile was averted as she hunched over something she held in her lap. Being a veteran of London soirees and balls, Jake’s first assumption was that the woman was probably waiting to meet a lover for a few stolen moments. However, he experienced an instant shock of recognition as he saw the dark silk of her hair and the decisive lines of her profile.

  Lydia, he thought, staring at her hungrily. What in God’s name was she doing out here alone, so soon after her betrothal had been announced?

  Although he had made no sound, Lydia’s head lifted, and she beheld him with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. “Dr. Linley.”

  Drawing closer, Jake saw that the object in her lap was a little wad of notes, which she had been scribbling with a broken pencil stub. Mathematical equations, he guessed. Lydia Craven’s obsession with such masculine pursuits as math and science had been gossiped about for years. Although well-meaning friends had advised the Cravens to discourage such unorthodox interests, they had done the opposite, taking pride in their daughter’s adroit intelligence.

  Shoving the objects hastily into her reticule, Lydia sent him a frowning glance.

  “Shouldn’t you be inside with your fiancé?” Jake asked in a gently mocking tone.

  “I wanted a few minutes of privacy.” She sat up straighter, the shadows playing softly on the sleek lines of her body and the molded white silk of her bodice. The indentation between her winged black brows and the moody set of her mouth were so antithetical to the image of a starry-eyed bride-to-be that Jake couldn’t restrain a sudden grin.

  “Wray doesn’t know that you’re out here, does he?”

  “No one does, and I’ll thank you to keep it that way. If you will kindly leave—”

  “Not before I offer my congratulations.” He approached her lazily, his heartbeat accelerating to a swift, strong rhythm. As always, her nearness aroused him, quickening his blood and sending frantic messages to his nerves. “Well done, Miss Craven—you’ve caught an earl, and a rich one at that. I suppose there is no greater achievement than that for a young woman in your position.”

  Lydia rolled her eyes. “Only you could make congratulations sound offensive, Linley.”

  “I assure you, my good wishes are sincere.” Jake glanced at the space on the bench beside her. “May I?” he asked and sat before she could refuse him.

  They studied each other intently, their gazes locked in challenge. “You’ve been drinking,” Lydia said, catching the scent of brandy on his breath.

  “Yes.” His voice had thickened slightly. “I’ve been toasting you and your fiancé. Repeatedly.”

  “I appreciate your enthusiasm for my betrothal,” Lydia said sweetly, pausing with expert timing before adding, “or is it enthusiasm for my father’s brandy?”

  He laughed gruffly. “Your betrothal to Wray, of course. It warms my cynical heart to witness the ardent devotion you display for each other.”

  His mockery brought a flush of annoyance to her face. Lydia and the earl were hardly the most demonstrative of couples. There were no intimate glances, no seemingly accidental brushes of their fingers, nothing to indicate even a modicum of physical awareness between them. “Lord Wray and I both like and respect each other,” Lydia said defensively. “That is an excellent foundation for a marriage.”

  “What about passion?”

  She shrugged and tried to sound sophisticated. “As they say, that is only fleeting.”

  Jake’s mouth twisted impatiently. “How would you know? You’ve never felt a moment of real passion in your life.”

  “Why do you say that?”

  “Because if you had, you wouldn’t be entering into a marriage that contains all the warmth of last night’s table scraps.”

  “Your characterization of my relationship with Lord Wray is completely wrong. He and I desire each other a great deal, if you must know.”

  “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Oh, yes I do! But I refuse to divulge details of my private life merely to prove you wrong.”

  As Jake stared at Lydia, his body
was flooded with longing. It seemed impossible that she would be wasted on a man as civilized and bloodless as Wray. He let his gaze fall to her mouth, the soft, expressive lips that had tempted and tormented him for years. And he reached out to close her upper arms in his hands, her flesh warm and supple beneath the layer of silk. He couldn’t help himself—he had to touch her. His fingers moved in a slow upward glide, savoring the feel of her. “You’ve let him kiss you, I suppose. What else?”

  Lydia inhaled sharply, the framework of her shoulders light and tense in his hands. “As if I would answer such a question,” she said unsteadily.

  “It probably hasn’t gone much farther than kisses. There’s a certain look about a woman who’s been awakened to passion. And you don’t have it.”

  In the four years of their acquaintance, Jake had rarely touched her. Only on occasions of obligatory courtesy, such as helping her across a rough patch of ground, or when they had exchanged partners during a country dance. Even during those perfunctory moments, his response to her had been impossible to ignore.

  Staring into her shadowed green eyes, Jake told himself that she belonged to another man. And he cursed himself for wanting her, even as his body hardened with desire and all rational thought began to dissolve in a swirl of heat. He faced a lifetime of nights without her, of kisses they would never share, of words that could never be spoken. In the scheme of things, the next few moments would not matter to anyone but him. He deserved to have at least this much of her—he had paid for it with years of longing.

  His voice was low and unsteady as he spoke. “Perhaps I should do you a favor, Lydia. If you’re going to marry a cold fish like Wray, you should at least know what desire feels like.”

  “What?” she asked faintly, her gaze bewildered.

  Jake knew it was a mistake, but he didn’t give a damn. He bent his head and touched her lips with his, softly skimming, his large body trembling with the effort to be gentle. Her mouth was tender and sweet, her skin gossamer-smooth as he spread his fingertips along the edge of her jaw. Catching a light, elusive taste of her, he searched for more, the pressure of his mouth intensifying. Lydia’s hands fluttered against his chest…he sensed her indecision, her surprise at the reverence of his embrace. Grasping her wrists carefully, Jake pulled them around his neck. His tongue searched the hot silken depths of her mouth, the slight penetration bringing him infinite pleasure. He wanted to fill her in every possible way, to sink inside her until he found the relief he had craved for so long.

  Lydia’s helpless response destroyed the remainder of his self-possession. She leaned hard against his chest, one of her slim hands sliding beneath his coat to find the body heat that was trapped between the layers of his garments. Her touch excited Jake beyond bearing, beyond sanity, and he realized incredulously that it wouldn’t take much more than this for him to explode in climax. His body was clenched and hard all over, his veins throbbing with unspent desire. The effort of making himself let go of Lydia drew a groan from behind his tightly clenched teeth. He tore his mouth away from hers, breathing harshly as he fought for self-control. Sardonically he reflected that with all his experience, he had never been so unraveled by a mere kiss…one from a virgin, at that.

  Struggling to her feet, Lydia tugged at her gown and straightened her skirts, while the night air made her shiver. After a long time, she spoke with her face averted. “That was quite instructive, Linley,” she managed to say breathlessly. “But from now on, I shan’t require any more lessons from you.” And she left him with impetuous strides, as if she could barely keep from breaking into a run.

  Chapter 1

  There were two ways to pick a husband—with your head or your heart. Being a sensible young woman, Lydia Craven had naturally done the former. Which was not to say that she didn’t care for her future husband. As a matter of fact, she was very fond of Robert, Lord Wray, who was kind and affable, with a quiet charm that never grated on the nerves. He was handsome in an approachable way, his refined features providing the perfect framework for a pair of intelligent blue eyes and a smile that was employed somewhat judiciously.

  There was no doubt in Lydia’s mind that Wray would never object to her work. In fact, he shared her interest in mathematics and science. And he mingled easily with her family—her unconventional, close-knit family, which had been blessed with enormous wealth but possessed a singularly undistinguished pedigree. It was a high mark in Wray’s favor, that he could so easily overlook Lydia’s ignoble ancestry…but then, as she had reflected wryly, a prospective dowry of a hundred thousand pounds would be a savory condiment to even the most plebeian of dishes. Since Lydia’s come-out at the age of eighteen two years earlier, she had been ardently pursued by a legion of fortune hunters. However, as a peer who had come into his own size-able inheritance, Wray had no need of Lydia’s money—another mark on his side.

  Everyone approved of the match, even Lydia’s overprotective father. The only mild objection had come from her mother, Sara, who had seemed vaguely perturbed by her determination to marry Wray. “The earl seems to be a fine, honorable man,” Sara had said while she and Lydia had wandered through the gardens of the Craven estate in Herefordshire. “And if he is the one that you’ve set your heart on, I would say that you’ve made a good choice….”

  “But?” Lydia had prompted.

  Sara had stared thoughtfully at the rich planting of golden kingcups and yellow irises that lined the neat, brick-paved walkway. It had been a warm spring day, the pale blue sky embossed with fleecy clouds.

  “Lord Wray’s virtues are indisputable,” Sara had said. “However, he is not the kind of man that I imagined you would marry.”

  “But Lord Wray and I are so much alike,” Lydia had protested. “For one thing, he is the only man of my acquaintance who has actually bothered to read my article on multidimensional geometry.”

  “And well he should be admired for that,” Sara had said, her blue eyes sparkling with sudden wry amusement. Although Sara was an intelligent woman in her own right, she had freely admitted that her daughter’s advanced mathematical reasoning was far beyond her own understanding. “However, I had hoped that you would someday find a man who might balance your nature with a little more warmth and irreverence than Lord Wray seems to possess. You are such a serious girl, my dearest Lydia.”

  “I’m not that serious,” she had protested.

  Sara had smiled. “When you were a little girl, I tried in vain to coax you to paint pictures of trees and flowers, and instead you insisted on making lines to demonstrate the difference between obtuse angles and orthogonal ones. When we played with blocks and I began to build houses and towns with them, you showed me how to construct a dihedral pyramid—”

  “All right, all right,” Lydia had grumbled with a reluctant grin. “But that only serves to demonstrate why Lord Wray is perfect for me. He loves machines and physics and mathematics. In fact, we’re considering writing a paper together about the possibility of vehicles being powered by atmospheric propulsion. No horses necessary!”

  “Fascinating,” Sara had remarked vaguely, leading Lydia away from the paved path and wandering to a wildflower meadow that stretched beyond a grove of fruit trees.

  As Sara had lifted her skirts ankle-high and waded among the thick carpeting of violets and white narcissi, the sun shining on her chestnut hair, she had looked far too young to be a matron of forty-five. She had paused to scoop up a clump of violets and inhale their heavy perfume. Her speculative blue eyes had regarded Lydia over the brilliant knot of flowers. “In between all these conversations of machines and mathematics, has Lord Wray ever kissed you?”

  Lydia had laughed at the question. “You’re not supposed to ask your daughter things like that.”

  “Well, has he?”

  As a matter of fact, Wray had kissed Lydia on many occasions, and Lydia had found it enjoyable. Of course, she had led an extremely sheltered life, and she’d had no basis for comparison, except…

uddenly the image of Jake Linley had appeared in her mind, his dark golden head bending over hers…the sweet, dark fire of his kiss, the pleasure of his hands on her body…and Lydia had shoved the thought away immediately, as she had a thousand times before. That night had been an anomaly that she would do well to forget. Linley had only been toying with her—the kiss had been nothing more than a prank fueled by one glass of brandy too many. She had not seen Linley at all in the three months since then, and when they next met, she would pretend to have forgotten all about the episode.

  “Yes,” she’d admitted to her mother, “the earl has kissed me, and it was very pleasant.”

  “I’m glad to hear it.” Sara had let the violets spill from her fingers in a vibrant shower of fluttering petals. She’d rubbed her perfumed fingertips behind her ears and darted a slightly mischievous glance at Lydia. “I would not wish for your marriage to be mostly cerebral in nature. There are many joys to be found in a husband’s arms, if he is the right man.”

  Lydia had hardly known how to reply. Suddenly she’d felt heat gathering at the crests of her cheeks and the tips of her ears. Although Sara was discreet about such matters, it had always been obvious that Lydia’s parents were a passionate couple. There were times that her father would make an oblique remark at the breakfast table that would cause Sara to splutter in her tea…times when their bedroom door was inexplicably locked during the middle of the day…and then there were the private glances her father would sometimes send her mother, somehow wicked and tender at the same time. Lydia had to admit that Wray had never looked at her that way. However, few people ever experienced the kind of love that her parents shared.

  “Mama, I know what you are wishing for,” Lydia had said with a rueful sigh. “You want all of your children to find true love, as you and Papa have. But the odds of that happening to me are approximately one in four hundred thousand.”

  Long accustomed to her daughter’s habit of translating everything into numbers, Sara had smiled. “How did you decide that?”

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