New York Times Bestselling Author Kasey Michaels


The Passion of an Angel

The Passion of an Angel

An Excerpt

Prudence heard the knock on her door, but ignored it, as she had a half hour earlier; just as she was prepared to ignore it for the remainder of the day.

How could anyone ask her to rise when she was so bloody comfortable? She could not recall ever feeling so clean, or lying against sheets so soft and sweet smelling. How long had it been since she had listened to a gentle rain hitting the windowpane without worrying that the roof might this time cave in on her? At least not since she had been a very young girl.

There was a small fire still burning in the grate across the room, her appetite was still comfortably soothed by the roast beef and pudding she had downed last night when first they had arrived at the inn, and if she felt a niggling urge to avail herself of the chamber pot, well, that could wait as well.

Giving out a soft, satisfied moan, she turned her face more firmly into the pillows and settled down for at least another hour's sleep, a small smile curving her lips as her naked body sank deeper into the soft mattress....

"Rise and shine, slugabed! The sun's shining, the air smells fresh as last night's rain, and I'm in the mood for a picnic. It's either that or I'll have to hide out in the common room, away from Rexford's incessant groaning now that I've told him we don't travel again until tomorrow."

Prudence sat bolt upright in the bed, clutching the sheets to her breasts, her eyes wide, her ears ringing from the slam of the door against the wall inside her room. "Daventry!" she exclaimed, pushing her badly tangled hair from her eyes and glaring impotently at the idiot who dared barge in on her just as if he were her brother Henry, come to tease her into a morning of adventure. "Are you daft, man? Go away!"

Banning turned around — not before taking just a smidgen more than a cursory peek at her bare back and shoulders, she noticed — and said, a chuckle evident in his voice, "Sleep in the buff, do you? Is this a natural inclination, or wouldn't Shadwell spring for night rails, either? I suppose I should be grateful you have boots."

"You're a pig, Daventry," Prudence spat out, tugging at the bedspread, pulling its length up and over the sheets in order to drape it around her shoulders. "And consider yourself fortunate I didn't sleep with my pistol under my pillow, or you'd be spilling your claret all over the carpet now rather than making jokes at my expense." And then her anger flew away as she leaned forward slightly, asking, "Did you say something about a picnic?"

Still with his back to her, he nodded, saying, "As long as we're forced to make our progress to London in stages, taking time to find you some proper clothes and allowing Lightning to gather strength, I thought it might be amusing to indulge in a small round of local sight-seeing. I haven't picnicked since I was little more than a boy, but for some reason I awoke this morning with the nearly irresistible urge to indulge in some simple, bucolic pleasures. However, if you'd rather play the layabout..."

"Give me ten minutes!" Prudence exclaimed, her feet already touching the floor as, the bedspread still around her, she lunged for her breeches. "I'll meet you downstairs, and we can be off."

"Agreed," Banning said, heading for the door. "Only remember to tie back your hair and wear that atrocious straw hat you insisted upon bringing with you, or otherwise we'll be forced to drag Miss Prentice along as chaperone, a prospect that leaves me unmoved. Dressed as a boy, you and I can tramp the countryside quite unencumbered, perhaps even dabble our bare feet in some cool stream while we lie on our backs and search out faces in the clouds. There will be time enough tomorrow to begin your metamorphosis."

"There are moments I really could like that man," Prudence told herself as she searched in her small valise for fresh underclothes. "Of course, he is still arrogant and overbearing, deucedly bossy, and takes this guardian business entirely too seriously," she added, remembering that he had all but broken into her bedchamber. "Oh well, Angel. Think of it this way. It won't be for all that long, and he has promised to buy you some gowns."

* * *

"According to the guidebook, and I dare to quote," Banning told Prudence in a comically pompous tone some two hours later as she perched on a low pile of rubble, contemplating the ruin before her, '"Cowdray House was erected in approximately 1530 by the Earl of Southampton.'"

"The earl wasn't much of a housekeeper, was he?" Prudence asked facetiously as she pulled a length of sweet grass from between her teeth, looking up at the roofless structure, half its walls tumbled down, its windowpanes gone, the stone turrets that remained blackened and thick with moss.

They had already visited a stream and wriggled their toes in the water, had discovered a chariot and two white horses in a cloud formation, and she was feeling very much in charity with the world, and with the man who stood close by, reading to her from the guidebook he'd purchased at the inn. "Makes MacAfee Farm, although worlds smaller, seem almost comfortable."

"Hush, Angel." Banning scolded in his best imitation of a schoolmaster. "This is vastly educational and adds a modicum of moral tone to our outing. Let's see, where was I? Oh yes, with the Earl of Southampton. Oh dear. It seems he left the picture in time for one Lord Montagu to take up residence. Lord Montagu? Isn't he the fellow who drowned somewhere in Germany? Yes, yes, here it is. Montagu drowned only a week after Chowdray House mysteriously burned down in 1793. And all because of an ancient curse."

"Rotten run of luck, I'd say," Prudence put in, for she was not one to believe in curses, ancient or otherwise. "Go on, please. Are there ghosties and ghoulies here as well? Should I be making signs against the evil eye, or can we just spread out that blanket now and have our picnic? My belly's thinking my throat's been sliced."

"Gowns, shoes, discovering a lotion that will remove the stain of manure from your fingernails, some ribbons for your hair — and intense lessons in speech and deportment," Banning said pleasantly, sitting down beside her. "Freddie will certainly be able to keep herself busy. I can't decide if I am the best or worst of brothers to have discovered for her such a challenging project."

"Oh stubble it, Daventry," Prudence groused good-humoredly, then hopped down from her perch, as the marquess was suddenly entirely too close for her comfort. Why couldn't she keep thinking of him as her guardian, instead of seeing him as a man? "Tell me more about the curse while I unpack the basket."

She kept her back to him while she worked, painfully aware of his proximity, and the fact that the two of them were distinctly isolated here among the ruins.

What was the matter with her? She couldn't care less about the man, who was older than God, even if his face gave the lie to his silvered hair. Perhaps he dyed it? No. That was a ridiculous notion. Who would purposely dye more than half their hair a bright, glistening white, leaving the back of it still deeply black, with only a few silver threads layering the top of it, like sweet cream icing dribbling down over the sides of a dark plum pudding?

And would he stop staring at her? She could feel his eyes boring into her back, so that she deliberately sat down on her haunches, aware for the first time that her breeches fit her nearly like a second skin.

"Daventry?" she prompted when the only sound she could hear was the buzzing of some nearby bees. "If you're still reading, your lips have stopped moving. You were going to tell me more about the curse."

"Hum? Oh! Oh yes. The curse. Well, it says here that the curse was put upon the family by a monk."

Prudence swiveled around to look up at him, her hands deep in the basket as she went about unearthing the roasted chicken the marquess had promised her she would find there. "That doesn't seem very Christian."


The Passion of an Angel

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