Read Trial by Desire Online

Authors: Courtney Milan

Trial by Desire

Praise for
USA TODAY
bestselling author
COURTNEY MILAN
and
Proof by Seduction

“One of the finest historical romances I’ve read in years. I am now officially a Courtney Milan fangirl.”


New York Times
bestselling author Julia Quinn

“A brilliant debut…deeply romantic, sexy and smart. I couldn’t put it down.”


New York Times
bestselling author Eloisa James

“Historical romance fans will celebrate Milan’s powerhouse debut, which comes with a full complement of humor, characterization, plot and sheer gutsiness.”


Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“A dazzling debut by a multitalented author who thrills readers with a twist on a traditional plot and truly unforgettable characters.”


RT Book Reviews

“With a tender, passionate romance, a touch of sly humor, and a gruff and incredibly sexy hero, Courtney Milan’s
Proof by Seduction
is a delicious read from the first page all the way to the very satisfying ending.”


New York Times
bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt

“Sexy, hilarious, and deeply, deeply touching. Courtney Milan writes with the keenest understanding of the heart. It is a cliché to say so, but I laughed and I cried. And I cannot wait to read her next book.”

—Sherry Thomas, author of
Private Arrangements
(a
Publishers Weekly
Best Book of 2008)

“Courtney Milan is a blazing new talent in the romantic stratosphere…Warm, witty, wonderful and wise,
Proof by Seduction
will steal your heart away.”

—Anna Campbell, multiple-award-winning author of
Tempt the Devil

 

Dear Reader,

If you are anything like me, you’ve done something in your past that you wish you could forget. No matter how successful you may be, you still remember that one time (if you’re me, it’s more like those twenty-seven times) you did that really embarrassing thing.

You desperately hope nobody else remembers.

Ned Carhart, the hero of this book, has made mistakes in his past. Those of you who read my first book,
Proof by Seduction,
already have some idea what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, rest assured you’ll find out soon enough.

Imperfect as Ned was, I knew those same mistakes would make him an extraordinary hero once he had time to mature. He would be strong, sensitive…and very, very determined to prove that he’d moved beyond his past.

I give all my books code-names as I am writing them. This book was called “Dragon Slayer,” even though there are no dragons in it. I hope you have fun finding out why!

Courtney Milan

C
OURTNEY
M
ILAN

Trial by Desire

Also available from
COURTNEY MILAN
and HQN Books

Proof by Seduction

And coming in spring 2011

Unveiled

Acknowledgments

I’ve heard before that second books are hard. This one was…very hard. I am first and foremost grateful for all the readers who contacted me demanding Ned’s story. Without your encouragement and enthusiasm, I might have given up on this.

As always, I am deeply grateful for Tessa and Amy, who offered support, encouragement and advice. Elyssa Papa and Kris Kennedy gave valuable feedback on various drafts. Franzeca Drouin saved me from about a billion errors. Nancy, my mother-in-law, answered a thousand questions about horses for me. And Kim Castillo truly is an author’s best friend.

Kristin Nelson, my awesome agent, and all the Nelson Agency staff—Sara Megibow, Julie Kerlin, Anita Mumm, and Lindsay Mergens—provided the absolute best support an author could want.

A great many people who put up with my whining about this book: the Pixie Chicks, the Vanettes, the Bon Bons, and my favorite debut loop ever.

Margo Lipschultz, my wonderful editor, provided the proper balance of encouragement and gentle prodding, and Ann Leslie Tuttle let me know when I was going off the rails. I wish I had space to thank everyone on the entire team at Harlequin by name for the amazing job they have all done launching my career—from the extraordinary sales force, to the marketing department, to the editorial enthusiasm at HQN Books—but that would take pages and pages.

And last but never least, there’s my husband, who never once complained about my writing while he did the dishes, made me dinner and took care of the dog.

Trial by Desire

For Teej. Because when I had to make Ned a hero, I gave him a little bit of you.

Contents

PROLOGUE   

CHAPTER ONE   

CHAPTER TWO   

CHAPTER THREE   

CHAPTER FOUR   

CHAPTER FIVE   

CHAPTER SIX   

CHAPTER SEVEN   

CHAPTER EIGHT   

CHAPTER NINE   

CHAPTER TEN   

CHAPTER ELEVEN   

CHAPTER TWELVE   

CHAPTER THIRTEEN   

CHAPTER FOURTEEN   

CHAPTER FIFTEEN   

CHAPTER SIXTEEN   

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN   

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN   

CHAPTER NINETEEN   

CHAPTER TWENTY   

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE   

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO   

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE   

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR   

EPILOGUE   

AUTHOR’S NOTE   

PROLOGUE

London, 1838

L
ADY
K
ATHLEEN
C
ARHART
had a secret.

Truth be told, she had more than one—but the secret she had in mind as she sat across from her husband at breakfast had arrived only today. It was wrapped in paper and had been set carefully atop her chest of drawers. And if her husband knew what it was…

She suppressed a faint smile.

Across the table from her, he set the paper down and fixed his gaze on her. His eyes were a liquid brown, three shades beyond her breakfast chocolate. They stood out, uncannily dark against the sandy brown of his hair. He had no notion what it did to her when he looked at her like that. Her toes curled. Her hands clasped together. All he had to do was look at her, and she found herself wishing—wanting—no,
desiring.
And therein lay the root of her problem.

“I had a talk with my cousin a few days ago,” he said.

Around London, a thousand couples might have been having a similarly prosaic conversation. Kate’s mother had cautioned her to be practical about marriage, to accept
that she and her husband would share a genteel, friendly politeness.

But then, Kate hadn’t married the average London gentleman. Mr. Edward Carhart did nothing properly or politely—nothing, that was, except his newly acquired wife.

“What did Blakely have to say?” Kate asked.

“You know that some of our holdings are in the East India Company?”

“Aren’t everyone’s? It’s a good investment. They trade in tea and silk and saltpetre….” Her voice trailed off into roughness.

If he’d known what flitted through her mind when she said the word
silk,
he’d not sit there so sanguine. Because she’d purchased a filmy night rail on Bond Street. It was made of imported silk and fastened together in front by means of lavender ribbons. Those scraps of opaque fabric were perhaps the garment’s only concession to modesty. It lay on her chest of drawers, simply beseeching Kate to wear it one evening.

“Silk,” Ned said, looking off into the distance without seeing her lean forward, “and other things. Like opium.”

“Opium was not on my shopping list.”

He didn’t smile. Instead he glanced away as if uncomfortable. “In any case, Blakely and I were talking about the recent events in China.” Ned shook his paper at her. “And we decided it would behoove someone to personally inquire into what was going on over there.”

For once, he sounded serious. Kate frowned at him.
“By
someone,
you mean Mr. White, and by
over there,
you mean the office on—”

“By
someone,
” Ned said distinctly, “I mean
me,
and by
over there,
I mean China.”

He set the newspaper down and bit his lip. The morning sun suddenly seemed too bright. It blasted in from the window behind him, casting his features into shadow. She couldn’t make out his eyes. He had to be joking. At any moment, he was going to grin at her.

She gingerly relinquished her hold on her teacup and essayed a small smile. “Have a lovely journey. Will you be home in time for tea?”

“No. The
Peerless
is leaving St. Katharine’s at noon, and I intend to be on it.”

Not just the light was blinding. She raised her eyes to him, and his sincerity finally penetrated. “Oh, God. You really meant it. You’re leaving? But I thought—”

She’d thought she had time for that silk night rail, folded carefully in paper.

He shook his head. “Kate, we’ve been married three months. We both know that the only reason we wed was because people found us alone together and imagined more had happened. We married to stave off the scandal.”

Put so baldly, her impractical hopes sounded even more foolish than she’d supposed.

“The truth is,” he continued, “neither of us is ready to be married, not really.”

Neither of them?

He stood and pushed back his chair. “I’ve never had the
chance to prove myself to anyone. And…” He trailed off, his hand scrubbing through his hair. “And I want to.”

He set his serviette atop his plate and turned around. The world swirled around Kate.

He was walking away, as if this had been normal breakfast conversation on a regular day.

“Ned!” Kate vaulted to her feet. The word seemed as like to hold back the breaking floodwaters of her marriage as the insubstantial silk gown waiting upstairs.

His shoulders tensed, two sharp blades beneath the wool of his coat. He stopped in the doorway on the verge of escape.

She didn’t have the words to capture the cold tremor that ran through her. She settled on “I wish you wouldn’t. I wish you would stay.”

He tilted his head, just enough to see her over his shoulder. For just that one second, he looked at her the way she’d dreamed about: with a deep hunger, an almost open yearning, as if she were more to him than a name written under his on their marriage license. He exhaled and shook his head.

“I wish,” he said quietly, “I
could,
too.” And then he turned and left.

She wanted to run after him, to say something,
any thing.
But what rooted her in place was a realization. He was as restless as she’d once been.

And she knew well enough that she couldn’t fill that up, not with any number of silken gowns.

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