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The Most Wicked of Sins

September 29, 2009
Avon
isbn: 0061491012

Book II in The Seven Deadly Sins series.


The Most Wicked of Sins

Lady Ivy Sinclair can't live without funds much longer, so she vows to land a sensible, serious husband her father will accept. But just when the gentleman is about to pop the question, another woman snatches away his attentions. Furious, Ivy hatches a plan—make him jealous by hiring a handsome man to impersonate a marquess—a marquess who happens to be madly in love with her.

The moment Ivy boldly kisses Dominic Sheridan—to test his fitness for the task at hand—she's sure he's perfect. What Ivy doesn't know is that the blue-eyed rake isn't acting at all, but intent on seducing her into committing the most wicked of sins.

 


'...a wonderfully witty and sexy romance.'

“Lady Ivy Sinclair is used to being the envy of every woman in London, until Miss Fiona Feeney arrives in town. Before Ivy knew what hit her, Fiona was not only the talk of the town; the upstart Irish beauty had also stolen away Ivy’s fiancé, Viscount Tinsdale. Ivy isn’t about to let Fiona take Tinsdale away from her, so she concocts a plan to hire an actor to impersonate the Marquess of Counterton, whose subsequent courtship of Ivy will incite Tinsdale to a jealous rage. There is only one small flaw in Ivy’s plan: she doesn’t realize that Dominick Sheridan, the “actor” that she hires, really is the new Marquess of Counterton. The second title in Caskie’s captivating The Seven Deadly Sins series featuring seven Scottish siblings is a wonderfully witty and sexy romance.”

-- Booklist
John Charles
(posted 9.18.09)

The second book in Caskie's Seven Deadly Sins series shines!

“Lady Ivy Sinclair strolls through London society causing heads to turn with her wild antics. Ivy, along with her brothers and sisters, are known as the 'Seven Deadly Sins.' Their father cast the lot of them out of Scotland for their wicked ways with a vow that if they did not regain respectability, he would cut them off without a dime. Ivy has her eyes set on Lord Tinsdale, a staid member of society. She believes he will offer for her, until he throws her over for Miss Feeney, the newest Irish beauty. Envy overwhelms Ivy and she plots to win back his affection. Ivy hires a handsome actor to impersonate the Marquess of Counterton. He will woo Miss Feeney away from Tinsdale, leaving Ivy an opening to win back Tinsdale's affection.
After unexpectedly inheriting his title, Dominic Sheridan, the Marquess of Counterton, leaves quiet rural Lincolnshire to settle his affairs in London. He never expects a beautiful woman to grab and kiss him. She offers him a proposition and he cannot turn it down. Nic turns on his famous Counterton charm. It is a talent or fault the Counterton males have passed down. He agrees to the impersonation, believing that Ivy needs to be taught a lesson for her cockeyed scheme. He never imagined he fall in love with Ivy.
Ivy cannot face the possibility of permanent disapproval from her father. She convinces herself she has no other options but to marry the predictable Tinsdale. Her heart rebels and pleads with her to trust Nic and walk away with him, even if it means losing her family.
This second book in Ms. Caskie's Seven Deadly Sins series shines as the envious Ivy learns hard lessons about what is truly important in family and love. Nic is the perfect foil for her as the charming rogue who learns his own lessons about love. Adding to the richness of the story, Ms. Caskie begins each chapter with a quote regarding envy giving readers different insights into the sin of envy.”

-- Fresh Fiction
Suan Wilson
(posted 9.17.09)

Top Rating~ 5 Cups!

“Lady Ivy has an idea that will thwart her father's disownment plans for her. In order for her to be re-established in the family's honor, she must marry within thirty days or forfeit not only her family, but her home as well. She has set her eyes upon the most eligible bachelor, Lord Tinsdale, and all signs point toward matrimony until a rival shows up.
Nick is minding his own business after spending the day at the theatre until he opens the door into the alley and hits a woman in the head. The beautiful woman has a proposition for him, one that can make him some quick money but also happens to be highly illegal.
The plan is to have Nick, being the great actor he is, to play the part of Dominic Sheridan, Marquees of Counterton. Even though he is by no means a titled gentleman, the object is for Lord Tinsdale to realize what a catch Ivy is and leave her rival's clutches to come to her and offer for her hand. There is just one problem -- Ivy did not expect Nick's kisses to be so explosive and leave her wanting more of him and not Lord Tinsdale!
Kathryn Caskie continues her exciting Seven Deadly Series with The Most Wicked of Sins. Ivy has the sin of envy and wants nothing more than to reclaim the man she thinks should be hers. Nick goes along with the plan because it sounds like an interesting idea. Suddenly though he finds himself falling for the beautiful Scottish woman and wants nothing more than to make their pretend love into something more. This amazing and wonderful tale is full of sexual tension, plans going awry, crazy schemes, hilarious outtakes, and a love story that will have you sighing in contentment and waiting impatiently for the next book in this series by this outstanding and gifted author!”

-- Danielle, Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance and More
(posted 9.01.09)

'...a winning combination of poignancy and humor' Four Stars!

“Caskie's irresistible and irrepressible Sinclair siblings, better known as the Seven Deadly Sins, liven up any season with audacious actions, witty repartee and wild escapades. Caskie sprinkles their stories with a winning combination of poignancy and humor that's sure to charm her fans.

Summary: Lady Ivy (Envy) has one month to find a suitable husband to satisfy her father's demands. She's ready to snare Viscount Tinsdale when another woman captures his attention. To make Tinsdale jealous, Ivy counters with an outrageous plan to hire an actor to impersonate the Marquess of Counterton and pretend to court her.

Recently arrived in London, Dominic Sheridan is shocked when he's accosted, kissed and hired as Ivy's 'suitor' in the blink of an eye. He's intrigued enough to play along with her charade. Soon Ivy's game gets a bit too hot to handle as she realizes she desires Nick's kisses much more than Tinsdale's. Caught in her own web, Ivy has to find a way out, but what happens when her scheme comes back to bite her in the end?”

-- RT Book Reviews Magazine
Kathe Robin
(posted 8.25.09)

Reviewer Top Pick ~ 5 hearts!

“This is the second of a series of historical romance novels about the Scottish Sinclair siblings. This book can stand alone.

The Sinclair children have been thrown out of their family home until some major changes are made. They were given a minimum allowance, enough to live on if they're careful but not enough to live in style. The Sinclair children are known as the seven deadly sins, with just cause. Each seems to personify one of the sins.

Ivy has problems with envy. Ivy had Lord Tinsdale's attentions until recently when they moved to an Irish beauty. Ivy has received a letter from her father. He will arrive in 30 days and expects her to marry Lord Tinsdale within the week! In desperation, she comes up with a plan. She will hire an actor to shower her with affection to make Lord Tinsdale return his affections while at the same time get this Irish wench to move her affections to the actor. Her sister, Siusan has seen an actor that will work, all Ivy has to do is convince him.

Dominic Sheridan, Marquess of Counterton, has come to London to see his cousin perform the lead role in a play. He doesn't expect a beautiful woman to kiss him and then make him an offer to play himself. She obviously has no idea who he is but she's peaked his interest. Dominic agrees to this wild scheme only to find that he has feeling for Ivy that he never expected. Can he win her affections when she thinks he's only an actor?

Ivy never expected to attracted to the actor she hired. This just won't do. An actor is not anyone her father would approve of. She's just going to have to forget love and marry Lord Tinsdale.

As I previously stated, this is the second book in the series. Unlike many series that just go down the line of characters based on age, oldest to youngest, Ivy is 3rd to the youngest but has the second book. This makes this series even more interesting as you're never sure which sibling will be next.

The characters are very well written and have wonderful full personalities. The Sinclair siblings are all unique. Obviously as each is paired with a deadly sin you find characteristics related to that sin with each but you also find a close family relationship with each supporting each other even if they don't agree with everything that their sibling may do. Other characters in the book are also well written. Lord Tinsdale and Dominic are described so you can tell that they are not only individual characters but not anything alike. Secondary characters may not be as developed but are described so you can instantly recognize their role such as older matchmaking matrons.

Throughout this story is a pleasant subtle humor. Dominic is asked to play himself. This in itself sets up for some interesting happenings. Felix, Dominic's first cousin and the actor that Ivy thought she was hiring, becomes a footman for Dominic. That combination causes some stir when Dominic is forced to wear Felix's colorful clothes. Things only get better from there! Other incidences occur throughout the book, which adds a light hearted feeling.

As this is a historical, getting the history correct is important. Here it seems to shine. The waltz is introduced and becomes all the rage though many find it to be indecent. Different conveyances are used, again keeping within the period. Everything from the daily everyday undertakings to special events are currently portrayed.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ivy's story. At points it was all I could do to read on as I could see disaster waiting to happen and at others, all I could do was laugh. Once started, I couldn't bear to put this book down. I was immediately drawn into a romance waiting to happen if the lead characters could only see it for themselves.

The worse thing that I can say about this book is readers are given a glimpse into the next book in this series and I can't wait to read it!”

-- Night Owl Romance
Reviewed by Terri Doughty (Postmaster of Loveville, MD) for NightOwlRomance.com
(posted 7.21.09)

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Read Between the Lines

Lady Ivy Sinclair, the heroine—I named the heroine Ivy in The Most Wicked of Sins after an Envy incident in my neighborhood years ago. A woman down the street had the most amazing garden, and yet I never saw her do any more than water it. One day, the flowers were lying all over the front yard and my neighbor was busy raking up the mess. She guessed some kids had torn up the garden at night as a prank—but wished she could thank them for pulling up all of the poison ivy too. Now she could work in her garden again. A couple days later, I saw the woman who lived next door to her with a horrible red rash all over her arms and face.

Dominic Sheridan
, the hero—I lifted the name Dominic Sheridan from my husband's British long time friend and business partner. Great name, eh? I thought so. I still need to send him a signed copy. He said he was going to set it in the loo, so visitors will be sure to see it.

The Featherton Sisters, matchmakers extraordinare—Eagle-eyed readers spotted the outrageous matchmaking Featherton sisters, Letitia and Viola, at the Argyle Rooms. The two elderly sisters were main characters in my first four books (aka the Featherton Sister series), Rules of Engagement, Lady in Waiting, Love Is In the Heir and A Lady's Guide to Rakes.

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Read an Excerpt

The Most Wicked of Sins

Prologue

July 30th, 1816
The Sinclair residence
No. 1 Grosvenor Square, London

The day had begun like any other.

Lady Ivy Sinclair rose at noon for breakfast, still weary from a late-night gala at Covent Gardens. She spread the Times out upon the dining table and giggled with her sisters, Siusan and Priscilla, over the outrageous and much-exaggerated society gossip in the weekly on dit column.

And when Poplin, one of only two servants in the household, set a sterling salver before her, Ivy sorted through the disappointingly few invitations and letters their family had received. She sipped weak, twice-strained tea, setting the more interesting of the invitations to her right as she munched on a wedge of toasted stale bread dabbed with a lick of comb honey.

Aye, as far as Ivy was concerned, the day had been entirely unremarkable. Perhaps even a bit mundane.

Until, that is, she broke the crimson wax wafer and released from its folds a letter from Scotland—one that would change her life forever. Of course, she didn’t know this for certain at the time, though the first sentence sent an unmistakable torrent of panic through her body.

Of late, ye, Ivy, more so than any of my other children, have brought shame upon the Sinclair name.”

Oh God. Her eyelids snapped high. Each word had very nearly been carved into the foolscap, and Ivy recognized the angry, heavily inked script as belonging to the Duke of Sinclair, her father.

Her vision blurred with a rush of accumulating tears and her hands went cold as she raised the foolscap closer to her eyes.

“Will anything ever be enough for ye, or will ye continue to spend yer life peering hungrily over yer neighbors fence, coveting her life, her possessions, wishing her ill?”

She lifted cup of tea to her lips to stifle the whimper rising in her throat, but her hand began trembling fiercely, forcing her to return the cup clattering to its dish.

I willna accept yer spoiled behavior any longer. Reform at once. Raise yerself up as a true example of decorum and respectability. Become a lady deserving of yer Lord Tinsdale’s admiration and standards—worthy of his troth instead of merely his amusement. Earn the respect the Sinclair name deserves—or when I return to London next month, ye will be regret it.”

Ivy’s jaw fell open and the whimper she had tried to contain suddenly slipped from her mouth. Even in his brevity, her father had reminded her of his expectations—and his harsh penalties for not meeting them—perfectly clear.

“Siusan,” Ivy jerked her head up to her elder sister. Though she tried to school her voice, to sound nonchalant, Ivy’s words sounded think with alarm and this frightened her.

Siusan’s elbows were propped upon the table, her chin resting wearily in her palms. “I already told you. No, to the Cockburn tea. Aye, to the Whitehall picnic.” Her eyelids looked heavy and she forcibly blinked her pale blue eyes. Her sigh made clear her boredom as she blew away a wisp of dark hair that had become ensnared in her thick lashes.

“N-not that.” Ivy tucked a lock of copper hair behind her ear and swallowed, hoping the extra moment would allow her to rein in her nerves. “This.” She started to pass the letter to Siusan, but Priscilla, the youngest of the Sinclair siblings, playfully snatched it from her hand and began to read.

“It’s from Da!” Priscilla leaped to her feet the moment she made the realization. Her vivid blue eyes immediately began shifting wildly from left to right as she read the letter.

Siusan’s eyes widened with worry and she slowly straightened her spine. She reached out and took Ivy’s hand and squeezed it. “What is it? The expression on your face is...well, positively ghastly. Though her eyelids were raised high her eyes were also seeming to squint. “Why, those are tears in your eyes.”

Ivy sucked her lips into the seam of her mouth for several seconds before speaking. Blood seem to drain from the rest of her body and into her restless legs. She came to her feet, unable to sit for a moment longer. “Tell me true, Siusan. Do you think it possible to convince Lord Tinsdale to offer for me—within a month?” She paced nervously back and forth behind Siusan’s chair.

The Most Wicked of Sins“A month?” Siusan sat up straight in her chair and swiveled to look at her. “I was under the impression you had grown bored with him.”

Ivy’s feet stilled and she stared at Siusan, astounded by the comment. “Bored? You could not be farther from the mark. He has my full attention and rightly so. He is a good man, titled and respectable. Why, Da commented upon Tinsdale’s upstanding nature when he met the family at Sterling’s wedding.”

Siusan tilted her head and studied Ivy. “Hmm.”

“You haven’t answered me. Do you think it possible to secure an offer from him within a month?” Ivy asked, clutching at Siusan’s hand. “Please. Answer me.”

“Alright,” Siusan replied, wrenching her hand away from Ivy. “Tinsdale may be somewhat smitten with you, I’ll concede that, but he’s hardly at the point of getting leg-shackled. A month, Ivy? Are you completely mad?”

Priscilla slowly lifted her gaze from the letter. “No, Su, she’s not.” She rushed to Siusan and thrust the letter at her. “One month. It’s all the time she has.” She pointed at the letter. “I daresay there is no misunderstanding Da’s meaning. Read it!”

Siusan lowered her gaze to the foolscap and quickly read down its length.  

Ivy resumed pacing the short distance behind Siusan’s chair. “I have one month to change my life, Su. If I fail, Da will surely keep the promise he made the night he forced us from our home for...this pauper’s existence in London.” Tears welled up anew in Ivy’s eyes, “and I’ll be disinherited...and cast from this very house to the workhouse.”

Siusan dropped the letter on the table as she rose, grabbing Ivy and hugging her tightly to her. “Dinna fash, Ivy. It willna come to that. I promise.”

Ivy took Siusan’s shoulders and leaned away from her. Through her tears, she peered at Siusan, then at Priscilla too. “How can you make such a promise?”

Her sisters exchanged meaningful glances and then Siusan took Ivy’s chin in her palm and tilted it upward, not allowing her to look away. “Because we will do whatever we must to prevent this, Ivy. Anything we must to see Tinsdale’s ring upon your finger,” Siusan said.

“Anything?” Ivy’s voice broke.

Priscilla nodded in agreement. “Aye, Ivy— anything. You have our promises.”

Chapter One

"Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all."
Joseph Epstein

August, 1816
Almack’s Assembly Rooms
London

To Sin with a StrangerLady Ivy Sinclair’s moss-hued eyes were flecked with gold, and quite honestly closer to hazel in color, but she felt the green-eyed monster rising within her just the same.

Her gloved fingers nervously clenched around her fan’s ivory handle as she narrowed her gaze at the Irish beauty who had just entered the assembly room and was now entirely surrounded by a rush of adoring gentlemen. The same doting cluster of men that had been lavishing admiration on her only a week before.

Blast! She’s not supposed to be here. Not tonight! She could ruin everything.

Fretfully, Ivy’s gaze tore through the ring of men encircling the ebony-haired miss before scanning the rest of the assembly room. She couldn’t risk it. She had to find him before he saw Miss Feeney. Och, where is he?

And then she spied him emerging from the guests packed around a refreshment table. Her worry lifted away. There he was, her own Viscount Tinsdale...and he was headed back to her.

His thick golden eyebrows were drawn toward the bridge of his nose in a scowl. Struggling to balance the contents of two crystals of lemonade, he was attempting to squeeze his way between two hefty gentlemen who appeared to be in the midst of a heated discussion. She could see that Tinsdale’s lips were moving as well, but the men clearly didn’t notice him or realize his predicament.

Just then, a gourd-shaped woman with a feather-stuffed crimson turban backed straight into Tinsdale. He lurched forward a step. A flourish of liquid sprang up from one of the glasses and licked his face.

Ivy clapped her gloved hands to her mouth and concealed an amused grin as the viscount’s left eyelid fluttered. His full, pale lips puckered as he frantically shook his head to rid himself of the drops coursing down his cheeks. He turned briefly and appeared to pardon himself to no one in particular before gauging his path anew.

Ivy giggled softly. He was so very polite. And completely ridiculous...no...adorable in his efforts to remain, at all times, the consummate gentleman. Why, she could learn a great deal from Tinsdale if she only allowed herself. And she would.

She had no other choice. After all, she had only twenty-seven days before her father returned to London. Her mouth became dry from nerves just thinking about it. Ivy focused again on Tinsdale.

Now raising both glasses high over his head, Tinsdale was taking advantage of a momentary gap between the two men. He edged his narrow hips between them, lest, Ivy decided, he was bumped and splashed again.

Ivy raised her chin proudly. She flashed a glance at Miss Feeney, who was idly tugging at one of the lace sleeves of her gown, seeming to ignore the three gentlemen who appeared to be speaking to her at the same time. The edges of Ivy’s lips gave a little upward triumphant jerk. Ha! Perhaps not every man is as enamored with you as you’d like to believe.

Aye, Ivy realized that this week she might no longer be the undisputed toast of the ton, but Society’s taste was as fickle as that of a miss just out for her first Season.

She was confident that the ton would soon become bored with Miss Fiona Feeney. They’d no longer find her quips quite so clever, or her delicate features so perfect. It was only a matter of time.

Ivy was being a goose worrying about her own popularity at all. What did it matter?

Inevitably, London Society would return their favor to her. After all, she was always entertaining, witty and pretty enough to draw male eyes—without eliciting even a modicum of jealousy from the women of London.

An abrupt shift in Lord Tinsdale’s direction snared Ivy’s attention. Hmm. Likely just lost sight of me. Nothing to fret over. His eyes are probably still stinging with lemonade.

But, he was still moving in the wrong direction. An anxious ache started to build in her middle. She rose on her toes, ever so slightly.

It would not do for anyone to think she was even the least bit concerned that Tinsdale would not return to her.

Och, he canna see me, that’s all, she told herself. Nothing more.

The Most Wicked of SinsUnlike the members of the Sinclair family, Tinsdale had not been blessed with commanding stature. But it hardly mattered. Everything else about him was absolutely perfect.
Aye, the viscount’s impeccable bloodline, coupled with his most sensible, frugal and agreeable nature, met every single requirement her father demanded he expected in a potential husband for Ivy. Her father informed her of this within moments of meeting Tinsdale and his family during his first visit to London not long ago.

He had made sure that Ivy understood that her course was quite clear. And it was. Marry Viscount Tinsdale, and, for certain, her father would see how responsible and respectable she had at last become—and he would forgive her. He would welcome her back into the Sinclair family, just as he had done with her brother Sterling only two months ago.

It was only a matter of time until she saw her betrothal announcement in the Morning Post.

Only, it had to be soon. She couldn’t live like a pauper scraping for tuppence while pretending she was a Sinclair heiress for much longer. She, nor her cast-out brothers and sisters, had the funds to carry on the ruse indefinitely. Time was fast running out.

No matter, though. Ivy was fairly certain that her increasingly pointed hints—that she would accept Tinsdale— had at last fallen on eager ears. She hadn’t been so coy this eve about her wish to marry him, and this time she was sure he finally understood her, for the size of his eyes doubled by time she had finished speaking.

Aye, soon, he would request an interview with her older brother to ask for her hand in marriage. Perhaps...as soon as tonight.

Och, now where was he going?

Blast! I’m over here. A frustrated squeal slipped through her lips. Dozens of pale-hued fans, flapping in the hot air like butterfly wings, gradually stilled as ladies in heavy silks and gentlemen in dark coats turned to look at her.

Despite her worry, Ivy didn’t dare call out to Tinsdale, despite her worry, for she knew that would mark her as common. So she simply raised her chin higher so that her face might be visible to him over the heads of the other guests.

Her scheme seemed to work for he met her gaze...for a moment. She was sure of it. But now Tinsdale seemed to be trying to pretend that he had not seen her.

It was all quite confusing. Damned odd, actually—until she saw where his intended course had led him.

No. Oh, God, no. He cannot have chosen her company over mine. No. Please, no. We are meant to be married!

Ivy’s chin dropped to her chest and a hard lump fixed itself inside of her throat.

It was not humiliating enough to be stripped of her celebrity amongst the gentlemen of the ton—but now her own Viscount Tinsdale was hovering at Miss Feeney’s side. Lud, he was even giving the lass her lemonade. He was acting entirely besotted.

At that very moment, Ivy’s older sister, who was wearing the most pitiful of expressions on her pretty face, came to stand beside her. “I wish to leave. Shall we locate Grant and away? I fear Lachlan isn’t about to leave just yet. Not while he’s ringed by a circle of infatuated misses.”

A growl pressed between Ivy’s clenched teeth. “Och, I can’t bear it, Siusan. I simply can’t.” She swiped the corner of her eyes with her knuckles and desperately swallowed back her despair.

“Nor can I. The heat is unbearable this night.” Siusan futilely swiped her cut-work fan through the thick, humid air.

The Most Wicked of SinsIvy dragged in a deep breath and glared off in Miss Feeney’s direction, not quite hearing what her sister had said—nor caring. Her situation was far direr than whatever Siusan was whining about. “What say you, Su, do you think the patronesses would hear of it if I took Miss Feeney into the withdrawing room and throttled her?” She nodded toward the Irish lass, shifting her wilting sister’s attention to the doorway. “I believe I have just cause—theft.”

“What? Oh, lud, you mean her.” Siusan’s eyes rolled an exasperated circle in their sockets. “Ivy, if you are serious about accepting the viscount’s offer—should you actually convince him to make one—then for god sakes do something about it instead of allowing the chit to steal him away. You haven’t much time as it is.”

“What do you suggest I do?” Ivy turned her body toward Siusan but her head remained facing the doors leading to the staircase. She was not about to let Miss Feeney and Tinsdale stray from her sight.

“I haven’t a notion. It is impossible to think in this infernal heat.” A sprinkling of perspiration beaded along Siusan’s brow and she drew as deep a breath as she could. “Gads, my chemise is positively sticking to my skin.” She gripped Ivy’s wrist and tugged, until she had retrieved her attention. “Let us away and think about it outside in the fresh air. Our thoughts will be much clearer.”

Ivy glanced across the assembly room toward the refreshment table where she immediately saw her brother Grant, who towered above the other men. As if he felt her notice he turned and looked her way, allowing Ivy to capture his gaze.

She lifted her chin, silently summoning him, before returning her gaze to Siusan. “You go. Grant is coming now. I am sure he will happily leave the assembly and escort you home. I will stay here with our brother Lachlan. I cannot leave just yet anyway. Not until I know Lord Tinsdale’s heart is still mine to claim.”

Grant sidled up to his sisters. “I cannot tell you how relieved I am that you finally wish to leave. I have been basting in my waistcoat and coat for more than an hour and I am certain I am tender through and through by now. Come, shall we away.”

Siusan waved her fan before Grant, urging a swish of heated air over his face. “Can’t.”

He grimaced and lowered his tone. “Why the hell not?” Grant batted Siusan’s fan away.

Siusan fashioned an overwrought sigh. “Because Ivy will not leave until she is certain of the viscount’s affections—and I promised to help her.” She nodded toward the doorway where Lord Tinsdale stood with the enchanting Miss Fiona Feeney.

“Of all the bleeding nonsense, Ivy,” Grant huffed. “We shall be here forever because even I can see that Tinsdale’s attentions have strayed from you. Why, he’s entirely taken with her.”

Ivy twisted a tendril of her copper hair in her agitation. Grant had the right of it. How could she possibly compete with Miss Feeney?

Her own hair was practically the color of a hothouse orange, while the Irish lass’s was like the sky at midnight. Ivy was taller than most Englishmen, and though she possessed the sort of curves that drew gentlemen’s eyes, she was not a fragile bird of a creature, like Miss Feeney, built to fit perfectly into a man’s embrace.

She hadn’t a chance.

“You’re right.” Ivy’s eyes began to well with tears. “I can’t compete with her for Tinsdale’s affections. What will I do now?”

Grant offered up an arm to each of his sisters. “Och, dinna fret over it. You don’t need to. All you need to do is find a gentleman to compete with Tinsdale...for hers.”

“Compete...for her affections.” Suddenly, a jolt coursed throughout the entirety of Ivy’s body and her eye’s widened, the tears inside them instantly receding.

The Most Wicked of SinsSiusan chuckled at Grant’s joke, then took his proffered arm and turned to leave.

Ivy didn’t budge. Her thoughts were moving too fast.

Her brother and sister stopped. Siusan sighed as if she already knew the answer to the question she was about to ask. “Aren’t you coming?”

“No, I’m not.” Ivy spun around, her flame-licked hair whirling around her like a cape as she turned this way and that, scanning the assembly room most earnestly.

“Ivy, what are you doing?” Grant lowered his head as if sensing defeat already. “Come, let us leave. Please.”

“Please, I beg you both, go on ahead without me.” Ivy rose on the tips of her toes and surveyed the shifting sea of dark coats. “I think I would rather stay here for a little longer.”

Siusan groaned. “Now you’ve done it, Grant.”

“What are you going on about?” he protested. “I’ve done nothing.”

“Aye, you have. You’ve given me the answer.” Ivy set her hand on Grant’s shoulder and leaned up to press a grateful kiss upon his cheek.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

Ivy grinned up at him. “If I can’t compete with Miss Feeney, then I will simply find the perfect gentleman to compete with Lord Tinsdale—for her.”

Three days later
The Theater Royal Drury Lane

The Most Wicked of SinsLady Ivy Sinclair silently lowered the carriage window and then pressed back against the seat cushion, concealing herself from passersby in the inky shadows of the cab. Outside, the carriage lanterns glowed in the darkness, their soft halos of light just reaching the stage door of The Theater Royal Drury Lane.

Come now, I know you are in there. Show yourself. Ivy shifted anxiously.

The play had ended nearly an hour past, and, since tonight marked the final performance, the actors were only now beginning to quit the theater.

Small clusters of boisterous merrymakers exited through the stage door and passed by the carriage. Ivy leaned forward and studied each of the actors as they emerged, watching, waiting for him to appear.

She felt confident that she would know her Marquess Counterton the moment her eyes fell upon him. She knew this with the same surety that he would be found here tonight. Her sister Siusan had glimpsed the perfect man for the job onstage only two evenings past.

Siusan didn’t manage to gather his name, but she’d said he would stand out from the others. His height would set him head and shoulders apart from the other men. And, though she hadn’t given much else in the way of describing him, Ivy was sure that those shoulders would be impossibly broad and as hard-muscled as his chest and his capable arms.

She smiled at the handsome image pinned in her mind.

The marquess’s hair would be wavy, with rakish wisps fringing his entirely too handsome face. His eyes would be the color of a moonlit sea at night.

She sighed. He would be the sort that would make a woman’s gloved hand tingle when he took it and guided her through a dance. And, when he gazed down at her, she would feel completely under his masculine control. He need do nothing more than raise a single ebony eyebrow or lift the edges of his lips seductively, and she would be utterly powerless to refuse him. Just being seen in the company of the man would make any woman the envy of Society.

Aye, Ivy would know him by sight, though they’d never met, but it would be his kiss that would identify him beyond all doubt.

Ivy sighed inwardly. The touch of his lips would be firm, a claiming sort of kiss, one that would reduce a woman’s knees to melted wax, making her collapse into his embrace. Making her never want to leave his arms.

She sighed again and eagerly leaned closer to the open window.     Her driver was muttering to the horses, and the sound from the street echoed off the outer walls of the theater. Ivy’s pulse quickened as the departure of actors and patrons grew steadily.

The stage door flung open again and again. He was coming, she knew it...it was only a matter of moments now. She bit into the flesh of her lower lip and chewed it in anticipation.

Then, the stage door closed and, to her dismay, remained that way for several minutes. She grew more and more impatient.

As the moments passed, Ivy’s stomach muscles began to tense, and after a minute more, the backs of her eyes began to sting.

No, no. He has to be here. He must be. He must.

Lud, she didn’t have time to look anywhere else! The play had closed tonight.

She had to find the perfect actor, the perfect foil, willing to accept her coin to woo the Irish beauty away from the man she might still marry.

Precious time was slipping away. Her future was evaporating.

Ivy’s heart double-thudded in her chest and she felt faint. She set an unsteady hand on the latch and flung the carriage door open. Lifting her silk skirts to her knees, she leaped down to the pavers and ran toward the stage door.

The Most Wicked of SinsShe lunged for it, just as it opened. Suddenly, her skull exploded with pain. Flashes of light blotted out her vision. And then, everything became black.

“Damn it all, answer me!” A deep voice cut into her consciousness, rousing her from the cocoon of darkness blanketing her. She could feel herself being lifted, and then someone shouting something about finding a physician.

She managed to flutter her lids open just as her coachman opened the door and she felt her back skim the seat cushion inside the carriage.

Blinking, she peered up at the dark silhouette of a large man leaning over her.

Definitely not her coachman.

“Oh, thank God, you are awake. I thought I killed you when I slammed the door into your head.” He leaned back then, just enough that a flicker of light touched his visage.

Ivy gasped at the sight of him.

He shoved his bronze hair back away from his eyes that looked almost silver in the dimness. A cleft marked the center of his chin, and his angular jaw was defined by a sprinkling of stubble. His full lips parted in a relieved smile.

There was a distinct fluttering in Ivy’s middle.

It was he. The perfect man...for the position.

“It’s you,” she whispered softly.

“I apologize, miss, but I didn’t hear what you said.” He leaned toward her. “Is there something more I can do to assist you?”

Ivy nodded and feebly beckoned him forward. He moved fully back inside the cab and sat next to her as she lay across the bench.

She gestured for him to come closer still.

It was wicked, what she was about to do, but she had to be sure. She had to know he was the right man. And there was only one way to truly know.

He turned his head, so that his ear was just above her mouth. “Yes?”

“I assure you that I am quite well, sir,” she whispered into his ear, “but there is indeed something you can do for me.”

She didn’t wait for him to respond. Ivy shoved her fingers through his thick hair and turned his face to her. Peering deeply into his eyes, she pressed her mouth to his, startling him. She immediately felt his fingers curl firmly around her wrist, and yet he didn’t pull away.

Instead his lips moved over hers, making her yield to his own kiss. His mouth was warm and tasted faintly of brandy, and his lips parted slightly as he masterfully claimed her with his kiss.

Her heart pounded and her sudden breathlessness blocked out the sounds of carriages, whinnying horses, and of theater patrons calling to their drivers on the street.

His tongue slid slowly along her top lip, somehow making her feel impossible things lower down. Then, he nipped at her throbbing bottom lip, before urging her mouth wider and exploring the soft flesh inside with his probing tongue.

Hesitantly, she moved her tongue forward until it slid along his. At the moment their tongues touched, a soft groan welled up from the back of his throat, and a surge of excitement shot through her.

Already she felt the tug of surrender. Of wanting to give herself over to the passion he tapped within her.

And then, it was as if he knew what he made her feel, made her want—and he suddenly pulled back from her.

She peered up at him through drowsy eyes.

“I fear, my lady, that you mistake me for someone else,” he said, not looking the least bit disappointed or astounded by what she had done.

“No,” Ivy replied, “no mistake.” She wriggled, pulling herself to sit upright. “You are exactly who I thought you were.”

“I beg your pardon, but I know we have never met. I am quite certain I would remember meeting you.”

The Most Wicked of SinsIvy smiled at him. How perfect he was. How absolutely perfect. “I am Lady Ivy Sinclair.”

He peered back at her most casually, as if waiting for her to say something more.

How curious. He didn’t react at all to the mention of the Sinclair name. Could it be he truly did not know she was one of the scandalous Seven Deadly Sins?

“I am—” he began, but Ivy raised her hand, abruptly silencing him. He raised a quizzical eyebrow.

Ivy straightened her back and looked quite earnestly into his eyes. “You are the Marquess of Counterton...or rather you will be, if you accept my offer.”

 

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