Possessed of a brilliant mind and a love for puzzles, Dashiell Matthews, Viscount Carrington, is a crucial member of the elite Young Corinthians spy league. Assuming the façade of an addle-brained Adonis, he hunts for a notorious London murderer known as the Bishop. When fate causes him to cross paths with Miss Elena Barnes, Dash discovers an enigma that will prove delightfully intoxicating to unravel: a voluptuous beauty as intelligent as she is fearless.
Only the lure of a collection of rare books bequeathed to her family by Dash's late father could tempt Elena from her cozy rural life to the crush and vanity of London. But if Elena finds his lordship to be the most impossibly beautiful man she's ever seen, he also seems to be the stupidest. Which made her body's shameless response to his masterful seduction all the more unfathomable. Yet when she discovers Dash's mission to track the dangerous Bishop, she willingly risks everything—her trust, her heart, her very life—to join him.
In this excerpt from THE SAINT WHO STOLE MY HEART, our heroine, Miss Elena Barnes, is busily reading—something she is quite fond of doing. And then her dear father arrives with a request that she return to London—something she's quite loathe to do. But there are books in London! FOND! And a viscount who'd never bothered to notice Elena during her coming out season. UNFOND! It's a bit of a difficult day for Elena. But she's about to embark on the adventure of her life. Read on!
Miss Elena Barnes, the only child of Henry Barnes, Baron Harcourt, wrinkled her nose in unconscious protest when her father's voice intruded upon her reading.
"I saw that."
Elena smiled with warm affection. "You always do."
"And yet," he replied, taking a seat next to her on the chilly stone bench piled high with brocade pillows, "you continue to give yourself away. Attempting to deceive me is a hopeless habit, if there ever was one," he added amiably, settling his small frame comfortably on the makeshift settee and sighing with relief.
Elena slipped a satin ribbon between the pages to mark her place and reluctantly closed her book. Her gaze moved past the folly columns to the lake beyond and the white stone of Harcourt House shining brightly in the distance. "Really, one would think twitching my
nose would be far easier to hide, even from you, considering that fact that everyone seems to agree that I always have my nose in a book."
Her father turned to her and cleared his throat, his eyes twinkling with wry disbelief.
"Oh, all right," Elena ceded with a smile, looking at the dear man. "It is true that I spend much time reading. It's my favorite indulgence. But must Lady Van Allen mention
it at every dinner party? Even Lord Van Allen sighed when she brought it up again, and he never hears a word the woman says."
Her father reached out and took one of her hands in his, the weight and familiar feel acting as a gentle balm to Elena's stinging pride.
"Actually, I believe he does hear every word," she amended. "But it's not like the man to reveal he's heard her comments, which only proves my point. Really, I have no illusions about my status as a bluestocking. Nor does anyone else in Dorset— or the whole of England, I would venture to guess. Perhaps even the entire world, though I would have to consult Lady Van Allen on that point," she finished, winking conspiratorially.
Last evening's spring gathering had gone well and exactly as planned— with the glaring exception of Lady Van Allen's comment. The turbot had been braised to perfection, the wine her father's favorite, and those in attendance the best of friends. Elena adored every single person present, including Lady Van Allen, a bosom friend of her mother's before the baroness's death.
It was this very connection that drove the well intentioned woman to say such things, Elena reminded herself. Lady Van Allen's conviction that Elena would eventually find her prince was both endearing and vexatious. Elena was all for perseverance. She thought it a commendable trait in the right situation. But when it came to her marital status, one would have to be an absolute lackwit to hold out any shred of hope for a happy announcement in the Morning Post.
She was five- and- twenty. If there'd been a prince for her, he'd long ago gone in search of greener pastures, Elena thought philosophically. She calmly met her father's gaze, and then pointedly turned her attention to the fine day.
Brilliant yellow daffodils and creamy Lady Jane tulips bloomed in clusters about the folly. A sea of bluebells spread out before her, their miniscule heads bobbing on the breeze. And just past the lake, a doe and her speckled fawn nibbled at the sweet spring grass.
Elena contemplated the beauty of her pastoral home. She was content, in her own way. Hours spent relegated to the ranks of older women and wallflowers in ballrooms during her one season had firmly beaten down any hopes she may have harbored for a life in London. She'd been plain. And even worse, curved where she should have been straight. Heavy, when she should have been light. None of which had mattered a whit in Dorset.
But in London, everything about her appearance and comportment was taken into consideration. And the women of the ton had judged her harshly— as if her inability to attract a man somehow made her completely undeserving of kindness or friendship.
She discreetly eyed a long curl of her brown hair where it lay against her shoulder, thoughtfully studied the formless moss- green muslin gown that hid her generous curves, and finally looked at the leather-bound book in her lap.
Bluestocking. Elena could still recall the first time she'd heard a fellow debutante call her that. She'd questioned whether the funds used to sponsor a young woman's season wouldn't be better spent on the poor. The room had fallen eerily quiet at her temerity, like a Dorset winter's morn after the first snowfall.
Elena mentally shook herself from the cold, crystalized memory. She'd left London shortly after. Turned tail, some surely said. Elena, in her darkest moments, might agree.
She'd been fully aware that returning to Dorset permanently would, most likely, end any chance of a suitable match. Again, perseverance was all well and good.
But Elena was no fool.
Her father stretched his legs, the effort causing him to wince from pain.
The movement drew Elena from her musing and she slipped the cashmere shawl from her shoulders to tuck it around her father's. "What on earth possessed you to risk inflaming your gout by venturing this far afield? It is spring, but still cold enough to do you harm."
"The lure of seeing you smile was too great to resist," he replied cryptically.
Elena narrowed her eyes. "Come now, I do so all the time. Surely you could have waited until dinner."
"Oh, but this smile . . ." Lord Harcourt paused, grinning knowingly, "This smile will rival that of Euphrosyne."
Elena's heart leapt at the mention of the Greek goddess of joy. Her father knew better than to invoke one of her favorite mythological characters without just cause.
"You've my complete attention. Please, amaze me with your news," she proclaimed eagerly.
Reaching into his waistcoat, he drew out a letter. He slowly opened the thick, cream-colored paper and began meticulously smoothing out the folds— every last one of
"You torture me for the fun of it, don't you?" Elena admonished, craning her neck in a vain attempt to read the inverted script.
Lord Harcourt chuckled and mercifully handed the letter to her. "Just a touch. You do make it so easy— and enjoyable. No one would blame me."
Elena righted the letter and began to read. The elegant handwriting was unfamiliar, but soon enough, the names mentioned within the lines began to make sense. As did the message itself. Thrilling, fantastic, perfect sense.
"Am I to understand . . ." Elena asked, carefully setting her book on the bench between them before abruptly standing with the correspondence in her hand.
"I'm afraid I won't be of much use until you complete your sentence, my dear."
Elena reread the letter, turning in slow circles as she did so. "That the fifth Viscount Carrington has died— "
"Rather a sad fact for you to be so happily contemplating, wouldn't you say," her father interrupted to point out.
"Oh, of course," she agreed remorsefully, stopping in front of him. "He was a dear friend, was he not?"
Her father grinned again. "That he was, Elena. And he'd lived an interesting life, which is a blessing, indeed. I'd venture to guess the man is sitting at the right hand of the Almighty at this very moment, happily setting to work on one puzzle or another, as he was wont to do."
Elena realized he'd only been teasing her further and frowned at him before continuing. "Am I to understand," she began again, "that the fifth viscount Carrington died and his son has offered you the late lord's entire collection of antiquarian books?"
Lord Harcourt appeared to be contemplating her words. "Yes," he finally confirmed.
"Including the Paolini?" she ventured, not stopping to scold him as she held her breath.
"Including the Paolini."
Giacomo Paolini's Abecedary Illustrations of Greek Mythology dated back to the fifteenth century. A single copy had survived. And it resided in the Carrington library.
Elena felt the rush of excitement bubble from her belly to her chest, and finally her face.
"Ah, that is the smile I was waiting for," her father said, standing with some difficulty.
She automatically offered her arm just as the sun's rays began to slant toward the horizon. "When will you go?"
"Go where, my dear?" Lord Harcourt asked as he allowed Elena to assist him down the steps of the folly.
"To Carrington House in London, of course," she replied distractedly, her mind already contemplating where the valuable tome would be placed in the library at Harcourt House.
"Oh, there. Yes, well, you see, I won't be."
Elena stopped, forcing her father to do the same. "What do you mean? Lord Carrington is expecting you."
He gestured ahead to where a cart and horse waited, and they set off once again. "That may be, but I can hardly travel with this gout plaguing me so. You will have to go in my stead."
"Father, is that really necessary?" Elena countered. "Could we not send Mr. Ghent after the book— that is, books?"
Lord Harcourt patted his daughter's hand. "And are you aware of my estate manager's knowledge of such things, my dear?"
"No," she admitted, already anticipating what would come next.
"Mr. Ghent knows no more of priceless books than a robin does," her father replied. "He's a good man, Mr. Ghent, but not the sort one sends to collect such valuables. Your expertise is needed, my dear."
Elena could hardly argue. She would not risk her father's health by insisting that he travel, and she'd not risk the safety of the books by employing Mr. Ghent.
Besides, there was no one more uniquely qualified to catalogue the tomes than herself. Their own library was a thing of beauty, if Elena did say so herself. From the time she could toddle along with the help of her dear nurse's hand, the baron had welcomed Elena into the enormous room that housed his most prized possessions. She'd come to love not only the books themselves, but the respectful process that was required for the care and safekeeping of the delicate volumes. They were an extended family of sorts to her, each one with its own unique place in her heart.
And Lord Carrington's books? Could she leave them in the hands of an unschooled individual? Elena envisioned rare books being tossed hither and yon, thrown into trunks without the benefit of even the most basic of lists to distinguish one collection from the other. It was too much to bear.
"I see," she answered practically, relishing the warmth of the sun's fading rays. "Of course, I'll go. We've no other choice, do we?"
"No," her father confirmed, patting her arm reassuringly.
Elena looked again at the letter in her hand. She'd met Dashiell Matthews once, which had been quite enough for her. She couldn't recall much about him, but she did remember the man had caught the attention of eligible females within the length and breadth of London— and quite a few ineligible ones as well. He was tall and broad, with golden hair and a face that could only be described as beautiful.
If you liked that sort of thing, Elena thought, feigning disinterest.
"And so I shall go," she agreed resolutely. They reached the aged farm cart and Elena allowed the groom to lift her onto the seat. She attempted to smooth her wrinkled skirt, ultimately accepting defeat and folding her hands tightly in her lap.
Returning to London had not been in her plans— ever. But neither had acquiring Paolini's Abecedary.
She would travel as soon as possible, catalogue and pack the books, then return to Harcourt House before her father had time to miss her.
Simple. Straightforward. Just as Elena preferred.
"Ms Sloane has a unique voice that allows you into her addictive Regency world where you never want to leave. With characters like Elena and Dash and drama that keeps you turning the pages, THE SAINT WHO STOLE MY HEART is sure to posses enough magic and appeal to steal your heart. " ~ Lisa Jo
Stefanie Sloane is giving away all four of the Regency Rogues books to one winner (open internationally). Awesome! Thanks, Stefanie!
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Contest ends May 20.
Winner will be announced by May 25.