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PATIENCE
by Lisa Valdez
ISBN: 0425210545
Publisher: Berkley

On sale date: April 6, 2010
Available now from Amazon.com, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble, or Powells.

PATIENCE... Second in The Passion Quartet

Best Romantica 2010 (AAR Reader Poll)

A WOMAN CALLED PATIENCE. A DESIRE THAT WOULD PUT HER NAME—AND HER LOVE—TO THE TEST.

Known for her exceptional beauty, Patience Emmalina Dare has been pursued by admirers ever since coming of age. But suitor after suitor fails to inspire her love — or her desire. Certain she will never find a man who touches her deeply, she decides to forgo marriage in favor of pursuing her music. But just when Patience thinks she has her life well in hand, a passionate kiss with her enigmatic brother-in-law awakens a powerful need in her. How will she reconcile her desire for him and her desire for a life that's her own — and what will she do when he shows her a deep and hidden part of herself that she never knew existed?

When the secret of his illegitimate birth pushes Matthew Morgan Hawkmore from his place in society, the darkly handsome half-brother of the Earl of Langley plots his resurrection and his revenge. Betrayed and abandoned by the women he believed loved him, he swears to never again be controlled by love. But despite his vow, he is unable to resist the beautiful Patience, whose strength and self-reliance hide a need that he is perfectly suited to fulfill. Can he have her without loving her? What will he give up to keep her? And will her passionate surrender be the one thing that can stop him from making a tragic mistake that could destroy them both…

 

excerpt

A LETTER OF LITTLE CONSEQUENCE

June 13th, 1851
My Dear Henrietta,

You simply can't imagine all the scandalous goings-on! You're missing everything! Of all the times for you to be in Italy! I tell you, my dear, there isn't likely to be a grander entertainment than this in all our lifetimes. And wait until you hear who is at the center of it all. I daresay you shall never guess. For until his engagement, he was considered one of the most eligible bachelors in England. Have you guessed? It is none other than the very man who you had once hoped to match with your daughter. Yes, Mr. Matthew Morgan Hawkmore!

Oh, Henrietta, where shall I begin? Let me just say that once you have heard what's happened, you will be thankful that Mr. Hawkmore never took to your Amarantha. Had he, you would now be embroiled in a scandal from which you would never recover. Never, I tell you!

Are you ready, my dear? (You should sit down if you aren't already seated.)

It turns out that the rich, handsome, charming and popular Mr. Hawkmore is a bastard! Yes! And to make matters ever so much worse, his real father was a gardener! It's really true! And the whole thing came to light in a most shocking and unseemly way.

patience

You remember from my last letter that Mr. Hawkmore's brother (I must say half-brother now, mustn't I), the Earl of Langley, had become engaged to a commoner by the name of Charlotte Lawrence? Well, it turns out that the chit's mother was blackmailing the Earl into marrying her daughter. The woman had in her possession some letters that revealed the truth of Mr. Hawkmore's parentage—letters written by none other than the Earl and Mr. Hawkmore's mother, Lady Lucinda Hawkmore! Yes, she wrote the letters that damned her bastard son and herself!

Henrietta, how a mother—a Lady—could write such disgusting letters, I'll never know. One was actually printed, my dear, and spread all over London. I saw it myself in Lady Winston's parlor, and it was perfectly awful. In it, the Countess gloated, and spoke of how it pleased her to see her little bastard in the Hawkmore linens. She even spoke of the possibility of him inheriting the earldom one day! Can you imagine?

Anyway, the whole blackmail scheme was revealed in the society pages of The Times. Though no names were mentioned, everyone knows exactly who was being referred to. Oh, and it turns out that the revelation of the truth was very fortunate for Mr. Hawkmore's brother, the Earl of Langley. Who knew, but it seems that he really is in love with a commoner—only it isn't Miss Charlotte Lawrence. It's some widow from Lincolnshire! A Mrs. Passion Elizabeth Reddington (have you ever heard such an outrageous name?). Apparently he is head-over-heels for her, and is to marry her within the next fortnight. Some have the idea that she's a distant relation of this Miss Lawrence, but I don't have that on any authority. Anyway, it's all too romantic, and everyone is just dying to meet her.

But as for the unfortunate Mr. Hawkmore—well, his fiancée, the Lady Rosalind, has broken with him. And her father, Lord Benchley, is in an absolute fury over the whole thing. He believes Mr. Hawkmore knew of his bastardy all along; which might be true. This, of course, would make Matthew Hawkmore not only a bastard, but a liar and a fraud as well.

God knows what the truth really is. Right now, opinions do seem to be split on the matter. Some agree with Benchley, some are uncertain, but everyone is striking Mr. Hawkmore from their guest lists, so I suppose it doesn't really matter. He is now persona non grata—an exile, an outcast.

If you come home now, Henrietta, you won't miss whatever is to come—for, surely, there is more to come. Who is this bride of the Earl's? Does she have any family? Will the Lady Rosalind get engaged again? If so, to whom? And most interesting of all, what will become of Mr. Matthew Morgan Hawkmore?

Yours,
Augusta

 

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CHAPTER ONE — PATIENCE

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair, thou hast doves' eyes. Song of Solomon 1:15

June 30, 1851
Wiltshire, England ~ Hawkmore House, County Seat of the Earl and Countess of Langley

His cock throbbed and his blood coursed.

Clenching his jaw, Matthew Morgan Hawkmore drew in a slow, silent breath. He'd been seething beneath a deluge of fury and resentment. But then she had walked in, and her presence had pulled his passions in an entirely different direction.

He watched her pause just inside the broad entrance as moonlight, soft and pearlescent, filtered through the windows that lined one side of the long portrait gallery. She strolled slowly forward, her satin dressing gown glowing softly, as she stopped here and there to study the faces of the Hawkmores, to whom she was now related by marriage.

Patience Emmalina Dare, his new sister-in-law.

With his emotions already running high, his reaction to the beautiful sight of her moving in and out of the bright moonlight was strong and immediate. Avidly, he followed her slow walk through the gallery. His heart quickened and his cock swelled. Like a wolf watching a stray sheep, he sat quiet and tense in the shadows as she came closer and closer. He watched her glance up at the two life-sized portraits—his mother and the man he'd formerly called father.

A narrow table separated the two portraits, as if to keep them apart. He watched as Patience stepped forward, reaching for the paper he'd left there. Picking it up, she lifted it to the bright moonlight.

His shoulder cramped. He should stop her.

But he didn't. He said nothing as he watched her read the words that had been burned into his brain.


Mr. Hawkmore,

I resent the necessity for this letter. But as you refuse to accept my father's word regarding the dissolution of our engagement, I find myself in the unpleasant position of having to write to you myself. Please accept all that I shall say as my true and sincere sentiments.

It should be obvious to you that we will not suit. The shocking revelation of your parentage, the publication of your mother's disgusting letter in which she revels over your illegitimate birth, and the scandal which accompanied its disclosure, have made a match between us utterly impossible. It should also be obvious to you that I could never, ever, marry the son of a gardener.

Now, while I once felt a measure of appreciation for you, I no longer harbor any such sentiment. Indeed, I believe you will come to realize that you always cared more for me than I for you. So, perhaps your disgrace is actually a blessing, as it has saved me—and you—from a marriage that would have proven unsatisfactory in time.

Finally, as my father has already told you, we find your protests of innocence in this matter to be completely unbelievable. Were you a man of honor you would admit that you knew all along of your bastardy, but clearly your ill breeding disallows such honesty.

Mr. Hawkmore, I demand that you do not write to me again, or attempt to visit. My father has already informed you that neither you nor your missives will be permitted past our threshold. Do not embarrass me with further attempts.

Sincerely,
Rosalind Benchley

Post Script ~ Your mother would do well to stay in Austria where I hear tell that she has fled. Perhaps you should join her there.


patience

With a short exhalation, she lowered Rosalind Benchley's missive.

Why had he let her read it? "Now that you've had a look, I'll take that."

Patience started. Whirling around, she stared into the shadows that hung heavy around him. Her head tilted and he could tell the moment she saw him in the dimness. She took a step toward him.

His frown deepened. Accustomed to the shadows, he could see her well. But what did she see?

A bastard?

A gardener's son, posing as a gentleman?

A man forsaken by the women who had claimed to love him?

She took a step closer.

His shoulder pulled tighter. He should leave.

But as she took another step, he couldn't seem to move. As much as his mind urged him, his body had no will to go. Her moonlit skin called for his touch. Her lips, full and soft, beckoned kisses and more. And her thick red curls, falling down her back in wild disarray, begged the grip of his hand.

Her beauty was potent with an uncontainable sensuality. And yet—his cock pulsed as she drew closer—she was completely contained. Her eyes had told him that from the beginning—her deep, verdant eyes that reminded him of unsheared grass. Though he couldn't distinguish their color in the moonlight, they held him now, unflinching and unshakeable.

His heart beat faster as she closed the distance between them. Pausing before him, she held out the letter.

The fucking letter. Snatching it, he crushed it into the couch cushion beside him.

"Forgive me for reading your private correspondence, Matthew."

He stared at her and wondered at the calming affect her voice had upon him.

"Shouldn't I call you Matthew?" she asked. "I know we've never actually conversed. But, since your brother married my sister this morning, I think it not unseemly of me to use your Christian name." She spoke with such a casual tone, as if it weren't the least bit unusual for them to be alone together in the gallery in the middle of the night.

A muscle in his arm jumped as she stepped toward the settee. He watched her and his hands twitched. His ears registered the soft swish of her dressing gown. His mouth watered.

She sat down beside him. He couldn't pull his eyes from her. Little more than the span of a person separated them. He took a deep breath. God, she smelled of gardenias, sweet and heady.

She leaned against the high couch-back but didn't look at him. "It's a beautiful night, isn't it? One not made for sleeping."

Matthew gripped the arm of the couch. No, not for sleeping.

She tucked one of her curls behind her ear. "My younger sister always says nights like these are made for secrets and magic." She paused for a moment before finally turning her head to look at him. His heart pounded as he stared into the shadowy beauty of her face. "I don't know if she's right. But just in case she is, would you like to tell me a secret?"

At another time, he would have smiled. But not now. His cock was hard and ready and his body was tense with restraint. He wanted her. He'd wanted her since he first saw her, when he was still engaged to Rosalind. And now he was affianced to no one. Now, his heart was near to bursting, and his body was in agony.

Her head tilted. "Perhaps not then." She looked away.

His body trembled as she leaned forward to go.

"Stay, Patience." His voice sounded terse. He clasped her hand and drew a shallow breath. "Stay," he said more gently.

Patience stilled. She looked down at his hand on hers before lifting her eyes back to him. God, had he ever looked upon a more gorgeous face? "Stay," he murmured again.

Keeping her gaze fixed on him, she leaned back. Rather than release her hand, he curled his fingers over hers. He thought she might pull away, but she didn't.

He rested his head against the couch-back when she rested hers. They sat still and quiet, their eyes locked.

The silence drew out. His prick throbbed and his skin felt alive. "I have no more secrets." Though he tried to keep his voice calm, his fury lay as close to the surface as his desire, and it infected his words with a hard edge. "Everything that ought to be secret, or private to me, is fodder for public gossip."

A frown creased Patience's smooth brow. "I know." Her hand moved slightly beneath his. "But you mustn't concern yourself too much with gossip. It will pass. Gossip never sticks to good people."

He looked at her and something in his chest pulled tight. "How do you know I'm a good person?"

She stared at him for a long, quiet moment. Her eyes looked dark in the shadowy light. "I have a sense for people," she finally said. "Besides, my sister thinks the world of you." A brief smile turned her lips. "And if Passion believes you're good and decent, then you are."

Matthew's heart thumped. So long as you think so.

patience

Pulling his eyes from her, he nodded toward the moonlit portrait of the man he'd always thought was his father. "You spoke of magic. Is there any magic that can make me that man's true son?"

Patience's beautiful, intelligent eyes never left him. "Is that what you want, Matthew? If you could have only one wish?"

Yes.

But then he thought of his brother's wedding. Mark and Passion would stand together through everything. Their love was absolute. "No. I would have wished for love—love and loyalty." He stroked his thumb over Patience's hand. Her skin was so soft. "I could have borne anything then."

"You 'would have wished?' You don't anymore?"

The ruthless sting of Rosalind's rejection coursed through him. "No, not anymore." He looked into Patience's tranquil gaze. His shoulders relaxed. Right now, I only want you. "Perhaps I would wish for revenge," he said more quietly.

"Revenge?" A small frown turned her brow. "But I say unto you, Love your enemiesŠpray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute youŠ Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." She paused. "The Gospel according to St. Matthew."

Did she really think him capable of such beneficence? A calming warmth seeped through him. And did she know how beautiful she was—quoting the gospels in her dressing gown? His prick felt full as he rolled onto his hip to face her. "I'm not St. Matthew, Patience." He sensed her tension at his sudden proximity, but she didn't move or look away. "I'm not St. Matthew, and I'm not perfect."

Her lashes fluttered. "None of us is. But we must aspire to perfection." She regarded him for a moment. "Tell me you won't seek revenge, Matthew. Revenge is never free."

Her hand felt warm beneath his and her expression held a gentle seriousness. He stared at her full, luscious mouth. What would it feel like to kiss such beautiful lips? "Very well," he murmured. What would it feel like to taste her and hold her close?

"Good." She released a sigh then looked back across the gallery at the portraits. Matthew studied her moonlit profile while the silence drew out between them. Was her cheek as soft as it looked? He wanted to touch it.

Finally, she turned back to him. "You know, Matthew, I think one day Rosalind will regret her decision to break with you."

Matthew thought of the letter crushed beside him. "I doubt that," he replied, bitterness seeping into his tone.

"No, I think she will," Patience insisted softly. Her eyes looked past him as she continued. "One day, she will see you somewhere, perhaps even from a distance, and she will pause to watch you. Memories will flood through her. She will remember how it felt to be in your presence—how it felt to know your touch and your smile. She will yearn for you, and 'what if' will reverberate in her head. For she will know that she could have had you, had she not thrown you away."

Patience stared into the distance. Then her long lashes flickered and she seemed to return to him. She lifted her shoulders in a small shrug. "And you shall walk blithely on—unknowing, yet content in the life you have made without her."

Matthew regarded her intently and couldn't ease the frown from his brow. She spoke from experience. Who had hurt her? And who carried intimate memories of her—her touch and her smile? Did she yearn for him still? A ripple of jealousy moved through him.

His frown deepened. "Kiss me, Patience."

Her gaze swept over him and her lips parted. A soft sigh escaped her.

Matthew's blood rushed and his cock ached. He forced away his frown then repeated his command. "Come. Kiss me, Patience."

Her lovely eyes were dark with desire and uncertainty. Such a beautiful contrast. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"Why not?"

patience

"Because you and I ought not do anything that might cause us strife in the future. You're my brother-in-law, Matthew. I want no regrets between us." She paused and her eyes rested for a moment on his mouth. "Besides, even when I think I want kisses, I am invariably disappointed by them."

Matthew released her hand and slowly stretched his arm across the couch-back. "I don't want to speak of regrets right now. I just want a kiss, Patience." He fingered one of her thick curls. It was soft. "And if our kiss is disappointing... Well, we won't do it again, will we?"

She seemed to consider his words as she held him in her searching stare.

He sat tense and waiting. Would she reject him? "Kiss me," he whispered.

Her gaze flickered to his mouth. Then, slowly, she turned toward him and eased forward.

Matthew's heart thudded and his breathing grew shallow. She stopped only a few inches from him. He breathed the scent of gardenias that clung to her. Had it only been three weeks since he'd first laid eyes upon her? Why did it feel like he'd wanted her forever?

"What are you waiting for?" he managed.

She shook her head. "I don't know. Many men have asked to kiss me. Many men have kissed me without asking." She paused and a tiny frown creased her brow. "But none has ever demanded that I kiss him."

He stared into her lovely face and realized he'd stopped breathing. Demands were what she needed. He inhaled. "Do it now."

He saw her indecision weaken. Then her hand smoothed slowly over his shoulder and her lips parted. Matthew's heart hammered in his chest as her lashes lowered. Her warm fingers touched his nape, pulling him to her with a gentle pressure. And then her mouth touched his—not in a purse-lipped peck, but fully, softly, and searchingly.

A burning heat surged through Matthew's body, igniting something deep inside him. Yet, he sat still as a statue as over and over, between breathy sighs, she pressed her soft, parted lips to his. With each kiss, she lingered longer. His eyes closed and her other arm came around him. He drew a sharp breath and his hands began to shake as she drew even closer. And closer...

With a moan he swept his arms around her, pulling her fully against him and capturing her tender mouth with his. Desire flamed through him, hot and fierce. Fueled by his suppressed longing for her, fueled by emotions he couldn't even name, it ravaged him. He thrust his tongue. Her lips parted and her embrace tightened. She tasted of tea and lemon—and want. His heart pounded. She was wearing her stays, but even so, he felt the press of her breasts and curves of her body. She was soft yet firm and the scent of gardenias filled his head as he kissed her and kissed her, pushing his tongue a little deeper into her warm mouth with each thrust.

His blood rushed in his veins and his prick ached. He held her even tighter and stroked his hands over the curves of her bottom, gripping it as he surged against her. Her open mouth clung to his, and her fingers curled in his hair. She moaned and then gasped, but he couldn't stop kissing her. Couldn't stop...

For in that moment, she was the balance against everything he couldn't have—Rosalind, the man he'd always thought was his father, his so-called friends who had abruptly become so scarce, his old life. All were gone. But this kiss was his—this kiss, with Patience. He crushed her against him and pulled her down with him on the couch. He pressed his body to hers. If he could keep her, then maybe...

She groaned and shuddered. Tearing his mouth from hers, Matthew gazed down at her as he drew ragged breaths.

He'd rolled her beneath him. Christ, her half-closed eyes glittered with passion and soft pants escaped her kiss—swollen lips. Though her hands gripped the sleeves of his shirt, she lay limp and breathless beneath him, her bright curls spilling everywhere. His cock throbbed hungrily against her thigh. She drew a deep breath and her eyelids fluttered.

He could take her now. Right on the couch.

A dark lust moved in him.

patience

Do it! You're in control.

Take her and triumph.

With a groan, he bent close and threaded his fingers into her hair. But the moment he did, a sharp sting cut across his knuckle. He froze as the nasty little pain sliced through his desire. Pushing aside Patience's heavy curls, he stared at Rosalind's crumpled letter and the sharp corner that had cut him. Just above it, he could see her tight, perfect signature.

Bitch!

His anger boiled. He crushed his hand over the thing as he returned his gaze to Patience. Looking at her, his lust flared immediately. But that only served to anger him more. He wasn't in control. He was completely out of control. How the hell could he be so damned weak—so pathetically desperate for a woman's arms? His fist tightened around the letter. He'd learned nothing!

"I told you..." Patience's soft voice was almost a whisper. "...we shouldn't have done it."

Matthew frowned into her gaze. He saw tension in her beautiful eyes, but no censure. His cock throbbed and he hated himself for wanting her so badly.

Her hands fell away from him. "Go."

Yes. Go.

Why wasn't he?

Patience's eyes never left him as he forced his muscles to move, forced himself to pull away. Had his body a voice, it would have groaned in protest and resentment as he peeled himself slowly apart from her. And the more he withdrew, the more those feelings escalated. Until, by the time he got to his feet, he was stiff with a bitter fury.

Turning slowly, he faced the portrait of his mother—the beautiful, deceitful woman who had always claimed to love him. She was the source of all his pain. He wanted to rip the picture off the wall. He wanted to tear it to shreds and throw the remnants out the window.

He hated her. And he'd despised being 'loved' by her. For even before the scandal, her character had been well known. What had it said of him to be loved by such a woman?

Christ, he'd spent his whole fucking life trying to make up for the fact that he was loved by her. He'd been honest and honorable—gracious and good humored. In school, he'd tended to his studies. Once out, he'd built a fortune. He'd moved in the highest of social circles. And, all the while, he'd searched for a love he never need apologize for—a decent love, a noble love. A loyal and unconditional love.

Lifting his fist, he squeezed Rosalind's crumpled letter into a tight airless lump. His entire bloody existence had been either a reaction against the love he'd had, or a search for the love he'd wanted. He'd allowed himself to be governed by love—to be controlled by his desire for it. How little that had served him.

He dropped his hand. Never again!

Drawing a deep breath, he caught the barest note of gardenia.

Not even for her?

Patience...

His heart paused and his body trembled with want.

Fuck! Just go. Go and don't look back.

Squaring his shoulders, he put one foot in front of the other until the gallery—and Patience—were far behind him.

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* * *

 

Patience stared at the high ceiling. Her limbs were trembling and her quim was aching. Her nipples felt tight and her skin tingled. The feelings were familiar in their tenor, but completely unfamiliar in their intensity. She closed her eyes and lay completely still.

Everything is going to be fine. You're alone and everything is fine.

She clenched her hands into fists.

It was just a kiss. You've been kissed dozens of times. Just a kiss...

But no matter how she tried to reason with her racing heart, it would not slow. Her body seemed strangely unresponsive to her mind's commands.

Forcing herself to sit up, she pressed her shaking legs together as she rubbed her temples. She tried to delineate her feelings—to break them into understandable and recognizable parts—to separate the physical from the emotional.

But she couldn't.

With a frustrated gasp, she got to her feet and walked purposefully from the gallery. She registered that her thighs were wet and her stomach was quivering, but she forced herself to ignore the sensations. Passing the balconies that overlooked the silent ballroom, she strode to the stairs and descended two flights at an even pace. Once on the main floor, she walked down the hall and didn't pause until she had turned into the wide double doors that opened upon the music room.

Large palladian windows allowed the moonlight to stream into the expansive chamber. She saw her cello clearly. Resting in the pearly light, its maple-wood shoulder gleamed. Just beside it, sat her cello case.

Keeping her eye diverted from the large portrait over the mantel, she crossed the room. Her slippers tapped softly against the parquet floor, Her dressing gown billowed as she dropped down and settled onto her heels. She opened the lid of her case. Inside, the buff-colored silk lining was old, but she had mended all the small tears that had come with age.

All but one.

Slipping her fingers behind the section of loose lining, she pulled out the folded paper that she had first put there seven years ago. She paused only briefly before unfolding the well—worn creases and lifting the letter to the light.

Her eyes fell over the words she'd read a thousand times.


Patience,

I caught you watching me yesterday, and I realized immediately why your performance of late has been so unpleasant. Though you tried to hide it, I saw love in your eyes. I was repulsed. Your love for me has infected your music. Your playing has become soft and insipid, and I can no longer endure listening to it.

I told you when you became my student that the pursuit of art and the pursuit of love are antithetical. I thought you understood this. Yet, look what you've done. You've ruined a fine talent, and you've stolen almost a year of my life, during which I might have taught someone more worthy.

I ought to have known better than to have placed my confidence in a fifteen year old girl. I made the mistake of believing that you were above the emotional responses so common to females. Clearly, I was wrong—you are all the same.

Since you have proven yourself incapable of perfection, and therefore greatness, you would do well to quit playing altogether and marry one of those eager faced young men who are always running after you. Yes, give your love to one of them, and take your joys from the more simple pursuits allotted to your sex—marriage and breeding.

Henri Goutard


Patience stared at the scrawling script. Over the years, the pain of the letter had faded into nothingness. But tonight, she felt a brief stab of the old pain. And though it came and went in an instant, it worked upon her like a douse of cold water, dampening the heated emotions Matthew's kiss had inspired.

She drew a deep, calming breath, and slowly re-folded the paper. As she returned it to its hiding place, she thought how similar Henri's letter was to Lady Benchley's. Matthew would hurt for some time.

She closed the lid of her case.

patience

But eventually he would recover—just as she had.

And perhaps he would find love again. An image of Matthew embracing a faceless, dark-haired woman suddenly appeared in her mind. She frowned at the sour feeling the vision gave her. Pushing it from her thoughts, she looked at her cello.

Her instrument was her love. Getting to her feet, she stared at it for a moment. It was her comfort. Sitting, she placed it between her knees. It was late, but if she played quietly...

Drawing and releasing another deep breath, she banished Matthew from her mind and pictured the opening notes of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. Carefully—exactly—she pressed the proper strings against the fingerboard, then drew her bow. Faultlessly executed, the first notes filled the empty room with sound. Patience proceeded from one note to the next—playing each in pure and perfect succession. She heard the music with her ear, but she also saw it in her head, almost as she would a series of mathematical equations—each to be solved with unerring exactness and, of course, in proper order.

As she played, Patience prevented any error, any miscalculation that might disturb the perfection of the piece. It gave her immense pleasure to play precisely. Indeed, every moment that she sat with her cello, her goal was to get closer to the perfection Henri had claimed her incapable of.

Letting the final notes fade into the still air, Patience sighed with satisfaction. This was what she loved—her music and the pursuit of perfection.

She gazed at her instrument. Romantic love wasn't for her.

Again, Matthew's beautiful, penetrating eyes flashed in her mind.

She shivered.

But what of desire?

Getting to her feet, she returned her cello to its stand. Desire served a physical need that she would not be able to avoid forever. And she desired Matthew more powerfully than she'd desired any man. There was something between them—something strong and inevitable.

Turning, she raised her eyes slowly to the life—sized portrait that she'd avoided looking at earlier. Matthew, seated with his cello, stared back at her. Her sister had told her that he played the instrument brilliantly. A warm flush heated Patience's skin as she looked at him.

His pose was open, with his right arm falling indolently over the back of the chair. His bow hung from lax fingers, and his other hand rested on the shoulder of his cello, which was tipped between his widely spread legs.

Patience moistened her lips as her blood quickened. Matthew stared directly out from the painting, his expression idle and sensual. The full curve of his mouth had been depicted well. But nothing could surpass the incredible beauty and intensity of his dark eyes. Tonight, they stared at her with a knowing regard. Tonight, they seemed to say, you're mine.

Patience drew in her breath as her lips tingled. She touched them lightly. Not just a kiss.

No. Their breathless embrace had been a prelude...

...a prelude to something more.

 

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