Kat Martin The Fire Inside

ISBN 13: 9780743419154

The Fire Inside

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9780743419154: The Fire Inside
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Reckless and rebellious, Kassandra "Kitt" Wentworth, the disobedient daughter of a viscount, has no intention of every marrying or falling in love, never expecting to be pursued by the rakish Clayton Harcourt, the bastard son of a wealthy duke. Original.

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About the Author:

Kat Martin is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including Heartless, The Secret, Perfect Sin, Silk and Steel, and Night Secrets. She is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she majored in anthropology and history. She currently lives in Montana.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

London,England
1805

Reckless -- that's what she is. The girl is simply too wild and reckless for any respectable young man to marry." Thin gray eyebrows lifted in disapproval, Lady Dempsey peered through her jeweled lorgnette to examine the red-haired girl standing next to the punch bowl. "There was a time, you know, she was the darling of the ton. Her father must be terribly disappointed."

"Indeed," Lady Sarah agreed. "Why, the rumors I've heard..." She shook her head. "It's a good thing her mother -- poor dear woman -- isn't alive to see."

Over the top of a potted palm in the Earl of Winston's ornate Mayfair town house, Clayton Harcourt studied the object of the women's scorn. He knew Kassandra Wentworth, had met her four years ago when she was first introduced into the marriage mart. Now, well on her way to one-and-twenty, Kitt had been on the shelf far too long to be fashionable, and her father, the Viscount Stockton, was determined to bring the matter to an end.

Clay watched her as he had a dozen times in the past few months, with frank male interest and a faint, mildly disturbing heaviness in his groin. She was an incredible mix of woman and girl, innocently seductive with her lush breasts, big green eyes, and glorious red hair. When she laughed, there was nothing missish about it. The sound rang with a husky note that spoke of blossoming womanhood and a candor he somehow found refreshing.

Not that he would ever let her know. From the moment they had met, the two of them had been oil and water. As Lady Dempsey said, the girl was far too reckless, too stubbornly independent. What she needed was a man strong enough to take her in hand.

Unfortunately, since he was definitely not in the market for a wife, he wouldn't be that man.

"She is quite something, isn't she?"

Clay recognized the timbre of his father's voice but his eyes remained on the girl. "She's something, all right. Stubborn and willful. Too bloody outspoken for her own good."

"Yes, she is. Perhaps that is the reason I liked her from the first moment I met her."

Clay looked over at the man who had sired him, Alexander Barclay, sixth Duke of Rathmore. The father who had been generous in his financial support, in some ways even his affections, but refused to grant him the legitimacy of his name.

"You've always had an eye for beauty, Your Grace. The girl is certainly that."

"That and more," the duke agreed. He took a drink of brandy from the snifter he cradled in a still-strong hand. "Stockton wishes to see her wed."

"I believe you've mentioned that."

"I suppose I may have done so."

"And seeing as how you and the viscount are in business together, as well as politically aligned in the House of Lords, you would like very much to please him."

"I presume you are referring to the fact I suggested you make an offer for her."

A corner of Clay's mouth curved up. "You may presume that, yes."

"I like the girl, blast it! For the right man, Kassandra Wentworth would make a very fine wife."

"I believe you mentioned that as well."

"Since you are so bloody good at remembering what I mentioned, do you also remember the proposal I made you some months back -- the very lucrative proposal -- concerning the matter of a marriage between the two of you?"

"How could I forget?" Clay lifted a glass of champagne from a passing silver tray. The servant, in blue and silver livery, disappeared in the crush around them. "You and Stockton are that eager to see her settled?"

"Dammit, just once, is it possible you might believe I simply have your welfare in mind? You need a wife. Kassandra needs a husband. I believe the two of you would suit very well."

Clay scoffed. "You're not serious? We can't be alone in the same room without wanting to kill each other."

The duke's features softened and a look of fond remembrance crept into his eyes. "Your mother and I were that way. We loathed each other on sight -- or tried to convince ourselves we did. We battled the attraction, the incredible pull between us. We wouldn't even admit it to ourselves." He sighed and shook his head. "God, I miss that woman. I've missed her every day since the day she died."

Clay studied his father's face, still handsome, though the man was over sixty. The duke rarely spoke of Rachael Harcourt, Clay's mother, the woman who was his mistress for more than twenty years. She had died sixteen years ago, when Clay was just fourteen. The memory of the lonely years that followed still lingered, though he kept them neatly locked away.

His thoughts drifted back to his father and Rachael Harcourt. Was it possible to love a woman that much? If it was, Clay had certainly never experienced the feeling, though he was surely no stranger to lust. He returned his gaze to Kassandra Wentworth and felt the same pull of attraction, the soft tug of desire that she always seemed to stir.

Rathmore's gaze followed his. "She has spirit, that girl. She would give you strong, intelligent sons."

"She's wild and headstrong. Someone needs to take her in hand."

The duke cocked a silver-brown eyebrow. "Are you saying that you, a man of your vast experience with women, aren't up to the challenge?"

Clay laughed. "Oh, I'm up to it. If she weren't an innocent -- and your friend Stockton's daughter -- she would likely find herself in my bed."

Rathmore chuckled softly. "So you do find her attractive." He was nearly as tall as Clay with the same wide shoulders and dark brown hair, though the duke's was now dashed with gray.

"I'm not blind, Your Grace." Clay looked so much like the duke there was no denying his parentage, yet Rathmore had never openly acknowledged him or publicly called him son. As a boy, he'd been resentful. As a man, he understood. Or at least told himself he did. "With all that curly red hair, and skin like fresh cream, the girl is quite lovely. If she only had a disposition to match."

Rathmore's gaze flicked toward the punch table, where Kassandra stood talking to their host, the stout little Earl of Winston. He laughed at something she said.

"She's full of fire, I'll grant you that."

Kitt smiled, her lush mouth parting, showing a row of small white teeth, and a soft lick of heat curled low in Clay's belly.

"Personally," the duke went on, "I've always rather liked a little fire in a woman."

Clay made no reply. He liked that, too. Perhaps it was the reason he found Kitt so attractive. But dammit, he wasn't willing to marry the girl just to satisfy his itch to have her.

Across the way, Kassandra accepted the arm the earl offered and gave him another of her warm, sunny smiles. Turning, she let him lead her away.

"They're headed for the gaming room," his father said, watching their progress across the crowded floor. "Girl loves to gamble. Your mother did, too. Would have broken a less wealthy man, though she finally learned to play well enough not to lose."

Clay watched Kitt Wentworth disappear down the hall to Winston's gaming room. Unlike his mother, Kitt had a natural aptitude for cards. She was a damned good player; not as good as he was, of course, but better than most of the men he gamed with at the club. He set his glass down on an ornate silver tray.

"If you'll excuse me, Your Grace, I think I feel the urge to play a few hands myself."

This time his father frowned. "May I remind you -- as you, yourself, so cleverly pointed out -- the girl is yet untried. If you have any notion of seducing her, you had better bear that in mind."

Clay just smiled. He wasn't completely convinced Kitt was as innocent as his father believed. He remembered the night he had stumbled across her at a boxing match in Covent Garden. At first he hadn't realized the young lad staring into the ring with such fascination was a girl. Then he had heard her laughter, noticed the feminine curves outlined by a pair of snug men's breeches, looked behind the gold-rimmed spectacles perched on the end of a very small, slightly freckled nose, and recognized Kassandra Wentworth.

He had hauled her and her young companion, Lady Glynis Marston, out of there as fast as he could, though Kitt argued all the way, and ushered them safely back home.

That was three years ago, but she was still just as daring, and a woman who took those sorts of chances -- well, who knew what else she might be willing to do. Unfortunately, whether or not she was a virgin, Kitt was the daughter of a viscount and unwed, which, without marriage, put her well out of his reach.

And yet Clay kept walking, striding across the noisy salon toward the room down the hall, anticipating a game of cards that was certain to keep him entertained.

Copyright © 2002 by Kat Martin

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