~ The Synopsis ~Born into privilege, Katherine Bainbridge never thought the day would come when she would be happy to find work as a maid. But having fled London to avoid being tried, convicted and hanged for murder, she will take whatever work she can get, even if the offer comes from the most beautiful man she has ever seen.
Garrett McKenzie needs to staff his new home, but when he sees Katherine, the position that comes to mind does not involve mops and buckets. Determined to woo his lovely new maid into his bed, he will do whatever necessary to keep her there.
But when Katherine’s past comes back to haunt her, Garrett will do whatever he has to in order to prove to her that she can trust him with her life, as well as with her love.
~ The Excerpt ~
Garrett watched as the tall woman ran at him, priming himself for the imminent impact. A short, barrel-chested fellow was close at her heels, but Garrett wasn’t concerned about the man. Perhaps he had good reason to be chasing the lady. If not, Garrett would know soon enough and remove her from harm’s way before making scraps of the little bastard giving chase.
So he waited, his blood pounding in his ears, pulsing through his veins. A muscle tensed in his back, but then the little man looked up from his quarry. As quickly as he appeared, he halted his chase and simply melted away into the shadows.
Unfortunately, the woman failed to notice she was no longer being pursued. She didn’t so much as glance over her shoulder. Whump!
He caught her easily, although she slammed into him with hard enough to knock him back several steps. His left ankle twisted as he braced that foot to halt his momentum, but he held on. For a long moment, her body pressed against his. With her generous height, they matched up almost perfectly, setting off a ripple through his entire body. He savored the soft feel of her for an all-too brief moment. “Easy, love. Easy. I mean you no harm.”
Her body heaved against him as she fought to catch her breath, her arms limp at her sides. The peace only lasted a minute or so before she jerked free and shoved him away. “Unhand me!”
He held up both hands. “I said I’ll not hurt you.”
She spun about to stare into the shadows behind her. “Where is he? Sanders? Where did he go?”
“That I can’t say. He looked up, probably saw me, and thought better of continuing his pursuit. Disappeared into the darkness and skulked away, I assume.”
Her gasps slowed, and she shoved a loose curl away from her face. “Bloody hell…”
He tugged his handkerchief from the pocket of his frock coat to press into her hand. “Tell me, who was that you were running from? The devil, perhaps?”
“No. The devil isn’t nearly as frightening.” She snatched the handkerchief from him and dabbed it against her brow as she straightened. “I thank you.”
The handkerchief came away from her face. “Did you say he disappeared?”
“I did, and he did. Now, do you wish to tell me why he was chasing you? Did you snatch something of his, perhaps?”
Her brows met as she scowled up at him. “Absolutely not.” She shoved the wrinkled handkerchief at him. “I thank you for this, apologize for running into you, and now I think I will go back inside.”
“Very well, if you didn’t steal something from him, why was he chasing you? Do you owe him money?”
At first, she seemed to be on the verge of confessing but caught herself, pressing her lips together. “Of course not. Now, if you will excuse me—”
He didn’t know what madness possessed him to lean toward her other than the overwhelming urge to feel her lips against his. An urge he couldn’t ignore, didn’t want to ignore. He wanted to kiss her.
Lights exploded before his eyes and pain lit up the inside of his skull as her fist connected solidly with his jaw.
A perfect punch.
He staggered back a step. “Jesus!”
“There’ll be none of that now, sir! I don’t do that!” She shook out her hand as if the blow hurt her as much as it hurt him.
He resisted the urge to rub the sore spot on his jaw, even as bells clanged against the inside of his skull. “Beg your pardon, my lady, but I’m not about to rape you.”
Her hand went still. Wide-eyed, she stared at him. “Oh dear…I apologize, of course, sir. I—I suppose I panicked.”
He chuckled, giving into the urge to rub his jaw with one hand. “You hit the way a man would.”
“I apologized, didn’t I? Now let me see if I’ve done any damage.”
He got his first good look at her as she lifted her face to his. “You’re that barmaid, aren’t you? The redhead Jefferson was giving a hard time.”
She lifted her hand to his jaw, brushing him where her fist met his face moments earlier. “I do believe you’ve the beginnings of a bruise. Again, I apologize.”
“Please don’t. It’s nice to see you could defend yourself if the need ever arose—for the most part, anyhow.”
Her eyes glittered in the moonlight like black opals, but he knew they weren’t black. They were hazel. A lovely combination of brown and green, although earlier he thought they seemed more green than brown. “Even so, I apologize just the same.”
As his jaw hurt only a bit, he managed a smile. “There is no need. I must admit, this isn’t exactly how I hoped to meet you but the end result is what I wished for. Have you a name, then, my lady?”
“I thank you for catching me, but if you will excuse me, I must get back inside.”
He caught her by the wrist as she stepped back. “Ah, but you will at least tell me your name, won’t you? I did save you from a fate worse than death, didn’t I?”
He threw back his head and laughed. “So grateful, sweetheart. So grateful, indeed.”
She gave him a sour look. “My name is not sweetheart and I’d appreciate it if you’d not keep calling me that.”
“Then what is it?”
Taking a deep breath, she said, “Kat-ah, I mean, Katherine. Katherine Bainbridge.”
“Kat, eh?” He repeated it as if tasting it slowly. “I like it, even if it is unusual. It goes quite well with strong arm of yours.”
“Yes, I suppose it does.” She sighed, softening her sharp tone. “I apologize for my rudeness. I should be thanking you.”
“Think nothing of it. I’ll put it down to being frightened.” He offered her his arm. “Come, let me at least see you inside—to make certain no more harm befalls you. Tell me, did you know that man chasing you?”
“Oh, no. Not at all. I’ve never seen him before this evening,” she replied, averting her gaze and taking a quick step back. “Most likely one of Miller’s drunken louts who thought nothing of his pawing earlier or trying to take that pawing further still.”
Garrett thought her reply a bit too quick, too vehement, to be the truth. But, if she knew the man, it was her business. If she wished to tell him, fine. If not, it was fine with him as well.
Katherine cleared her throat softly. “I do appreciate your catching me, however, Mr.—”
“McKenzie,” he replied easily, his gaze holding hers for a long moment. “Garrett McKenzie.”