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In contrast to her colourful companions, she was dressed in an ill-fitting, Quakerish grey gown, long-sleeved and high to the neck, and she carried a dark brown cloak over her arm. Ashe grinned. She was carrying the pose of innocence almost too far.

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Few gentlemen in search of a bit of fun would pay her the least heed--which was all to the good, since it meant he'd have few or no rivals for her favours. Except for Teague. Damn the fellow, he was heading straight for her, a determined look in his protuberant blue eyes. The hint of competition whetting his blood, Ashe hastened his pace, but he was farther off by several feet and several obstructive couples intent on their own affairs.

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Teague stopped, his arm caught by an acquaintance. Ashe forged on. Close to, she appeared not a day older than she had on the stage. The top of her head scarce reaching his chin, she gazed up at Ashe with combined defiance and appeal. He frowned. Melissa Findlay. You'll not keep his interest long, my dear. Do better with me.

It's just possible I may still be interested. Ashe took her cloak and draped it about her shoulders, which drooped a little beneath the weight of the thick, heavy duffel. If she satisfied him, if they reached a satisfactory arrangement, he would clothe her in velvet and cashmere against the chill of the spring nights, he thought. Tentatively she laid a hand light as a butterfly on his proffered arm. He noted with complacency that she had let Teague's card drop to the floor.

As big as a bed, it loomed threateningly beyond the table in the centre of the room.

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She had assumed a change of scenery before the third act of this farce. No matter, she assured herself stoutly. Nonetheless, she could not quite suppress a tremor of anxiety. What if the principal actor refused to retire into the wings, turning her planned comedy into a tragical drama?

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Though Lord Ashe had thus far treated her with courteous consideration, she could not but be aware of a forceful masculinity held in check. The heat of his gaze contradicted the mildness of his tone as he handed his hat and gloves to the obsequious waiter and said, "Allow me to relieve you of your cloak and bonnet, Miss Findlay. Divested of her outer clothing, she somehow felt as exposed in her modest kerseymere gown as she had in the diaphanous stage draperies.

She crossed to the fireplace and held out her hands to the flames.

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He turned to the waiter. Miss Findlay, do you care for creams and jellies? After a moment of yearning, Lissa said firmly, "I prefer pastries, sir. We shall serve ourselves. She had counted on frequent interruptions from servants. Lord Ashe nodded dismissal at the waiter and came to join her by the fire, smiling.

Lissa was swept with a wave of longing to be truly loved by this man, or at least to be able to trust him, to let his broad shoulders share the weight of her self-imposed burdens. Impossible dream.

He laughed, but turned the subject as a pair of waiters came in to set the table with a snowy white cloth, gleaming silver and sparkling crystal. It is very difficult to get a place in the established companies. I guessed it. To her relief, he merely asked whether she had yet viewed many of the sights of the city. He seemed rather startled to learn she had seen nothing but St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. She nearly explained that, after visits to the great churches upon her arrival, all her time and energy had been spent on the search for work.

How close to despair she had often come! How close to despair she was now, for even if tonight's scheme succeeded, the success would be no more than a temporary remedy. She nearly explained, but she could not bear that Lord Ashe should suppose her to be making a deliberate play for sympathy. So she smiled, with an effort, and said she had heard there was to be a balloon ascension from Hyde Park tomorrow which she hoped to attend. Ah, here is our supper. Will you be seated, ma'am?

She tucked her feet back under her chair for fear of colliding with his ankles. However, the savoury odour rising dizzyingly from the tureen before her drove all fears of the baron's expectations from her mind. Whether to eat her fill was the only remaining doubt.

She glanced calculatingly from the dishes crowding the table top to the figure of her host. Broad shoulders and powerful chest tapered to slim waist and flanks: Lord Ashe did not look as though he was given to overindulgence in food. There would be plenty left whatever inroads she made, and she would regret not having taken full advantage of the bountiful supply should he fail to fall in with her plans.

Turtle soup; asparagus to dip in melted butter; turbot in lobster sauce; cutlets of spring lamb with minted new peas and new potatoes; a fricassee of chicken and mushrooms; stuffed fillet of veal in a pastry case--Lissa sampled everything. She had never eaten such well-seasoned, deliciously sauced, beautifully garnished dishes before.

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Lord Ashe watched with an air of amused tolerance. Recalling Minette's jest about his wishing to feed her up, Lissa almost giggled aloud. He himself ate little, though emptying his glass with some regularity.

Lissa took a sip or two of wine after a rather salty mouthful. She did not care for the taste, so was not tempted to drink more, despite his lordship's occasional gentle urging. He was a charming host. Besides keeping her plate filled, as promised, he made her laugh with a droll review of the Coburg Theatre's melodrama, ballet, and harlequinade, always exempting her own performance from his wit.

He went on to tell fascinating stories of the London theatre world, of Sheridan and Byron, of Kemble, Siddons, and Kean, and the great soprano Catalani. I daresay I could arrange for one of the best teachers to accept you as a pupil.

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Ah, you have reached the sweets stage, I see. Try one of these petit puits d'amour. Lissa took one. No, of course you don't. On the point of informing him that, though ignorant of French, she read Greek, Lissa held her tongue. It was bound to lead to unwanted curiosity, and he already sensed something smoky about her antecedents, or he would not have unconsciously expected her to know French. Before she could think of some way to distract him from the subject, Lord Ashe pushed back his chair and took her hand in his.

At the touch of his lean, warm fingers, a shock ran up her arm. She froze. She had almost forgotten his purpose in treating her to supper. If you have eaten your fill, it is past time to plumb the Well of Love. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book!