At The Spy's Pleasure --Out Now! -- From Entangled Publishing
Book II, The Crown’s Secret Service Series
Every gentleman has his secrets...
After years of marriage to a selfish man who preferred gambling to his young bride, Jane, the widowed countess of Stanwell, now seeks what she was long denied-a satisfying lover. Naturally, a lady needs a list of eligible candidates, which doesn't include the dangerously handsome (if far too arrogant) Gareth Ramsey...until he steals a sinful kiss from Jane's all-too-willing lips.
Reputed as an arrogant barrister, Gareth's real occupation is as a spy in the service of His Majesty, and his suspect is on Jane's list of possible lovers. With her life in danger, there's no safer place for Jane than with him-and in his bed. But Jane is as distracting as she is infuriating, and keeping her by his side while he pursues his mission might just endanger them both...
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"Historical romance readers will revel in the sizzling, very palpable chemistry between Gareth, the ruggedly handsome spy, and Jane, the feisty widow, the latest Crown's Secret Service novel."
—4 Stars! Romantic Times Book Reviews
"A devilishly entertaining read, with plenty of sizzling sensuality and dangerous exploits, to keep the readers attention. Tina Gabrielle's characters are full of depth and emotions, and it was easy to love both Jane and Gareth. With a few twists and turns, and love scenes that set the reader on fire, AT THE SPY'S PLEASURE is sure to set your pulse racing and I recommend it to Regency romance fans everywhere."
"Passionate and fast-paced...Tina Gabrielle kept me turning the pages."
—USA Today bestselling author, Sally MacKenzie
"It is such a great book, it will hook you from page one...Get it today!"
"The chemistry sparking between Gareth and Jane is practically combustible."
June 10, 1821
Tonight I will find a lover.
Jane’s pulse skittered with excitement as she stepped into the glittering ballroom. Tonight, for the first time, the widowed countess of Stanwell would abandon her mourning and find a man who could satisfy her needs, her secret desires, her pleasure.
Dozens of chandeliers holding hundreds of candles illuminated the ballroom. The elite of London society was present to celebrate the betrothal of the earl of Newbury’s daughter to the Duke of Westmont. Jane knew the guests well. They were the same people she’d mingled with ever since her own debut ten years prior—aristocrats, powerful members of parliament, society hostesses, as well as the newest crop of debutantes and their marriage-minded mamas.
The same people who now smiled politely to her face and gossiped maliciously behind her back.
Jane wove through the crowd and halted by the refreshment table.
“Thank goodness you’ve finally discarded that horrid black.”
The words came at her shoulder. Jane turned to find Lady Olivia, her close friend and the bride-to-be, smiling at her.
“I wouldn’t call my mourning gowns horrid,” Jane protested. Her current gown was deep purple, and she’d chosen it because the dressmaker insisted the rich shade accentuated her blond hair and fair complexion. Looking around the room, Jane realized her dress was still far from the vibrant colors of some of the other women’s gowns.
“Well, I’m glad to see you’re not in widow’s weeds. It’s been well over two years since Lord Stanwell’s death. Tonight is my engagement ball, and I hope that your dance card will soon be filled,” Olivia said.
Jane rolled her eyes. “Few gentlemen will approach to dance no matter how I’m garbed.”
“You must give them a chance.”
“I’ve tried. Society is not ready to forget.” At Olivia’s silence, Jane shrugged. “It makes no difference anymore. I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands.”
Olivia’s blue eyes widened. “What on earth does that mean?”
“Charles is gone. It’s time I moved on.”
Olivia smiled in approval. “I wholeheartedly agree. As your best friend, I’ve been praying for this day. Many eligible gentlemen are in attendance tonight. It’s no secret Lord Bromley dislikes the notion of a fresh-faced debutante just out of the schoolroom.”
Jane wrinkled her nose. “Not Bromley. He wants a wife.”
“You don’t want to remarry?”
Jane leaned close and whispered. “I want a lover, not a suitor. And most definitely not a husband.”
Olivia’s mouth opened and closed, then she pulled Jane behind a potted palm. Glancing both ways to make certain they were not overheard, she spoke urgently, “A lover? You’ve been mostly secluded in your town home, suffering from melancholy, only wearing mourning gowns since…since…”
Olivia couldn’t seem to say the words, so Jane took pity on her friend and said them for her. “Since Charles’s suicide?”
Olivia swallowed. “Well, yes. And now you seek a lover?”
“Not just any lover. A skilled, experienced lover who has no interest in finding a wife.”
Before Olivia could respond, Lady Newbury walked past their hidden spot calling for her eldest daughter. She was accompanied by the Dowager Duchess of Westmont, a tall woman with a long, bony face and sour expression.
“Your mother is searching for you,” Jane said.
“Mother has been relentless tonight and insists on currying favor with the Dowager Duchess.”
“The dowager seems taut as a bow.”
“She’s miserable and quite opinionated. She believes that at five and twenty, I’m too old to be marrying her grandson. She’s demanded an heir and spare to the dukedom straightway, and measured my hips to see if they’re sufficient to the task of child bearing.”
Jane burst out laughing. “You’re jesting!”
“I wish I were,” Olivia said dryly.
“You don’t have to marry the duke if—”
“No. It’s not like that,” Olivia said. “I adore Edward.”
“And the dowager?” Jane asked.
“Will live in the dower house away from the main estate. But I’ve told Edward it doesn’t matter where we live. I’d be happy in a country cottage as long as we are together. Despite what everyone thinks, I’m not marrying him to become a duchess.”
Jane hugged Olivia. “Edward is the fortunate one.”
Lady Newbury and the dowager strolled past once again. An anxious expression crossed Olivia’s mother’s face as she looked about the room for her wayward daughter.
“I must speak with them,” Olivia said, with a meaningful look at Jane. “But I shall return quickly. We must talk about your shocking plan.”
Olivia hurried off, and Jane remained behind the cover of the ornamental greenery. Scanning the ballroom, she spotted a group of relatively young gentlemen conversing. The men were bachelors and widowers, and any one of them would be eligible candidates as lovers, as she was seven and twenty.
Simon Marbury was particularly handsome, with a full head of fair hair and deep blue eyes. She wondered if he would be discreet enough to handle an illicit affair. He was known to care more about the folds in his cravat and the cut of his coat than intellectual pursuits, so she needn’t worry about him delving into her soul. She had no intention of ever losing her heart or head to a man again.
The result had been disastrous.
A burst of laugher followed by hushed whispers from the nearby refreshment table drew her attention away from the men. Jane pushed aside a large palm frond to glimpse a group of ladies assembled by the punch bowl.
“Can you believe it? Lady Stanwell is present tonight and she’s not wearing her customary black,” a feminine voice said.
A giggle followed. “Perhaps she’s husband hunting,” a second lady said.
“What man would have her? After all, her husband shot himself in the head,” a third woman added.
“And over a horse,” said the first woman.
Jane froze as fingers of ice seeped into her every pore.
Oblivious to her presence, the women ruthlessly continued.
“She was first to find his body.”
“Rumor has it she drove him to do the deed.”
“She’s cursed. No man will risk being with her.”
Jane longed to spring from her hiding place to confront the malicious women face-to-face. She opened her mouth in dismay, but instead a suffocating sensation tightened her throat.
Her chest rose and fell with her labored breathing. The walls of the ballroom were closing in on her. Her bodice was too tight, her corset preventing any air from reaching her lungs. She felt light headed and ill.
This couldn’t be happening. Not here, not tonight.
She looked around frantically and her gaze homed in on the open French doors leading onto the terrace.
If she could make it so far…
Stepping from behind the palm, she rushed past the refreshment table and headed for the cool outdoors. Two, three, four… Eight more steps and she would make it.
She sucked the fresh night air into her lungs. The soft soles of her ballroom slippers were silent on the stone terrace. Hurrying to the ornate balustrade, her fingers wrapped around the iron.
After the brightly lit ballroom, the terrace was dim save for the garden torches below and the sliver of a half moon. She breathed deeply, her eyes adjusting to the dark, her heart rate slowing. The fragrant scent of rose bushes wafted to her. The barbs from the cruel and hurtful insults ebbed, but the ache in her chest did not completely ease.
She doubted the pain would ever entirely go away.
“Are you going to let them win so easily?”
Jane whirled at the masculine voice. She had thought the terrace was empty, but to her surprise she saw a man leaning against the doorway, legs crossed, arms folded…watching her. Candlelight from the ballroom behind him cast his features in shadow.
“Pardon?” she asked.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to let those magpies distress you?”
A sliver of alarm raced down her spine. “Who are you, sir?”
He stepped into the light from the torches. Jane sucked in a breath as recognition swept over her.
It couldn’t be.
Sweet Lord, up close he was a sight to behold. Just as she remembered. He was a barrister, the estranged son of Baron Suffolk. She had met him over a year ago when her cousin Sophia had married an earl, Lord Kirkland, who happened to be Gareth Ramsey’s friend.
Amidst the refined gentlemen at the ball, he had the rugged look of an unfinished sculpture. Well over six feet tall, his broad shoulders, chiseled features, and solid stance gave him the appearance of a seasoned boxer. He wore black and white evening attire, stark colors that would make most men of her acquaintance appear sallow, but on him emphasized his masculinity.
He was a dark figure of a man, big and powerful, and his face had a confidence that bordered on arrogance. He certainly was not the kind of man a lady would want to be caught alone with on a ballroom terrace. On the few occasions they had spoken in the past, they had never gotten along.
She stiffened. “I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Ramsey.”
His eyes sharpened. “Ah, you remember me, Jane.”
Jane. Not Lady Stanwell. His complete disregard of social decorum was one of the reasons he’d unnerved her.
“I was nearby and overheard those women. I watched you flee the ballroom,” he said.
“I didn’t flee,” she blurted out, then bit her lip as she realized she had revealed too much.
He knew about her, of course. Everyone knew. She was highly conscious of his scrutiny. Mercifully, the moonlight hid the extent of her discomfort.
He took another step forward. “You shouldn’t care.”
“I don’t,” she said sharply.
He arched a dark eyebrow. “Then why are you hiding?”
“I’m not,” she snapped.
Jane glanced back into the ballroom, wanting to run again. But this time from Gareth Ramsey’s overbearing presence.
The orchestra began a waltz and the strains of the music drifted onto the terrace. Jane glanced into the ballroom. Olivia was dancing with Edward, and the young couple twirled across the parquet floor. Their faces were flushed with happiness, anticipating their wedding day and marriage with gleeful ignorance.
Oh, to be so innocent.
Mr. Ramsey chuckled and Jane raised her eyes to find him studying her. A corner of his full lips turned upward in a mocking expression, and she felt a strange pull low in her stomach.
For a fleeting instant, she imagined what kind of lover he would be.
Dark, dangerous, all consuming.
He may be the most masculine man she knew, but he was too intense, and instinct told her that he was not a man to be trifled with. A woman could easily lose control of an affair with Gareth Ramsey.
And that wasn’t at all what she wanted.
She’d be far better off with the Simon Marburys of the ton.
Gareth took a step closer and Jane was suddenly nervous. She could smell his cologne, sandalwood and bergamot, and feel his black eyes taking in her features.
“I must return,” Jane said.
“Why so soon after your mad flight?”
She refused to allow him to bait her. “There is to be a champagne toast to the future happiness of the engaged couple.”
“Ah, and you are eager to participate?” he asked, noting her interest on the dance floor.
She shrugged. “Yes, of course. They are fortunate to have found true love.”
Gareth scoffed. “Come now, my lady. Only fools believe in true love.”
Her gaze narrowed. “Are you calling me a fool?”
“It depends,” he drawled.
Jane had come to the same conclusion regarding affairs of the heart after Charles’s suicide. But something about Gareth Ramsey’s rudeness and dark scowl irked her. She had an overwhelming urge to argue with the intimidating man.
“Are you saying His Grace doesn’t love Lady Olivia?” she asked.
“I know the duke. I’m not questioning his motives.”
Jane couldn’t recall the last time she had felt anger toward someone other than herself or Charles. The feelings of vulnerability and dismay that had encompassed her moments ago as she hid behind the potted palm dissipated like a puff of smoke. In its place was a simmering fury.
“You think Lady Olivia is manipulating her betrothed?” she asked.
“It has crossed my mind. Westmont is a duke, and the lady has much more to gain from the match.”
“Then your mind is demented,” Jane snapped. She had never met such a maddening man in her entire life. Charles had been charming and handsome; Gareth Ramsey was like a bear. “You’re wrong about Lady Olivia,” Jane argued. “She is my closest friend, and she is an innocent young lady who has never been married.”
“Where females are concerned, I believe age and experience have nothing to do with their ability to manipulate men to do their bidding. They are born with the knowledge.”
She cocked her head to the side and narrowed her eyes. “What happened to turn you into such a bitter man, Mr. Ramsey? Did a woman break your heart? Or leave you at the altar?”
He laughed. “Hardly such nonsense. I would recover from such a trifle mishap. No, Lady Stanwell. As a barrister, my practice has opened my eyes.”
“Pray tell me, sir, what type of legal practice could possibly result in your backward beliefs?”
“I dispose of unwanted wives.”
Whatever answer she had expected, it wasn’t that.
She’d known of his chosen profession, of course. All of London knew. Gareth Ramsey had obtained the near impossible—the coveted divorce for an influential viscount. News of the wife’s torrid adulterous affairs—which had led to the Act of Parliament—had been in the newspapers for months afterwards. But Jane had forgotten about Mr. Ramsey’s reputation and she could only surmise her faulty memory was due to the stress of tonight’s events combined with his intimidating presence.
Gareth chuckled. “You are quite fascinating, Jane. It’s good you’re widowed.”
She gasped. A gentleman would never dare say such a thing to a lady. Especially to a woman with her past.
She raised her chin a notch. “Why is that?”
He stepped close and leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Because if you were my wife, I wouldn’t allow you to speak to a man alone on a ballroom terrace for any extended period of time.”
She experienced a spark of excitement at his barbaric and possessive words and his warm breath against her cheek. A tingle of awareness ran down her spine, and her heart gave an involuntary jolt. Looking up, she met those dark eyes without flinching.
“Would you care to dance?” he asked.
“After voicing such harsh opinions, you are asking me to dance?” she asked incredulously.
“Why?” he demanded.
Jane measured him with a cool appraising look. “Because you are too cocksure, too arrogant, and far too jaded for me, Mr. Ramsey.”
To her surprise, he burst out laughing.
She whirled and walked away. His deep chuckle followed her, the sound rippling down her spine.
It wasn’t until she was back in the ballroom, passing the gossips who’d sent her fleeing onto the terrace, that she realized she was now too preoccupied with thoughts of Gareth Ramsey to care about the women’s furtive glances and hushed whispers.