Today's Reading

"Any deficits this town may have are more than made up for by your charms," he said with a predictably wicked grin. But he was mistaken if he thought she'd be swept off her feet with a pretty compliment. After all, courtship was a perilous game for an heiress with ambition, and she refused to engage feelings or allow herself to be backed into a corner. Her plans and dreams were too precious to risk. 

"Perhaps one day I shall design a maritime museum for Bellehaven," she said as they glided across the dance floor. "A building to celebrate our rich history and vibrant culture."

The marquess missed a step, but quickly recovered. "You? Design a building?" he asked, clearly perplexed.

She pasted on a smile. "I worked as an apprentice for several years and plan to start my own architectural practice soon."

He shook his head as if he must have heard her incorrectly. "I was under the impression that you... that is, I thought you were..."

"Wealthy?" she provided, issuing a challenge with her direct gaze.

He shot her an apologetic smile. "Fortune aside, why would a woman with your beauty choose to dabble in trade?"

Dabble? She opened her mouth to issue a scathing retort but decided to save her breath.

Lord Hadenwood was not her sort of rake, but no matter. There were plenty more rogues in England. Surely one of them would meet her criteria.

They danced the rest of the set in icy silence, and when the music finally ended, Kitty lifted her chin. "You needn't worry about returning me to the duchess's side. I shall find my own way."

"Very good," he said, mumbling apologies as he slunk away.

Free at last, Kitty turned and located Poppy on the perimeter of the dance floor. The fiery-haired duchess was a dear friend. She, Kitty, and Hazel, who had been her teacher and friend even before she'd married Kitty's uncle, had formed a close-knit trio called the Belles. Initially they'd bonded over their grief, as all three young women had lost their mothers far too soon. But they'd found strength in each other and now shared everything from gowns, to books, to secrets. Kitty was the youngest of the three and the only one who was unmarried. She was also, unfortunately, the most likely to find trouble, despite her recent attempts to get her life in order.

Eager to tell Poppy about her disappointing dance partner, Kitty glided toward the duchess, only to find her deep in conversation with a strange man.

He was a buttoned-up sort, with hair so closely cropped that it revealed an inch of tanned skin at the back of his neck. He wore a nondescript blue jacket, buckskin trousers, and plain polished boots. She couldn't see his face, and yet, there was something familiar about the way he stood, arms crossed, feet shoulder-distance part, weight on his heels. Almost as if he were scouting a potential property or overseeing a construction site. In fact, he looked rather 

Bloody hell.

But no. Leo Lockland didn't possess shoulders that broad. He certainly didn't have those muscular thighs or that chiseled jaw. His hair was lighter—the bright yellow of pineapple pulp, not the dusky-brown of driftwood. It couldn't be him, and yet, it seemed fitting that Leo would barge his way into her thoughts, unbidden.

She found herself thinking of him at the oddest times. Last week, when she'd finished designing a new addition for the cottage where Poppy's father lived, she wondered if Leo would have teased her about the mermaid carved into the peak of the roof, which lent it the look of a great ship's prow. And whenever she smelled freshly baked strawberry tarts, she couldn't help but recall his annoying habit of shoving a whole tart into his mouth at once. If she didn't know better, she'd think he'd been raised by heathens.

In truth, Leo was not so different from the blasted blister on her heel. Irritating. Maddening. Distracting.

To make matters infinitely worse, he was a brilliant architect. He had a gift for numbers, measurements, and calculations. Give him a drawing, a pencil, and a quarter of an hour, and he could compute the precise length of the beams needed for a ceiling, the number of planks needed for the walls, and the number of stones needed for the chimney. Then he'd go a step further and figure the price of the building materials down to the halfpenny.

Numbers had never been her strong suit, blast it all.

Determined to put him out of her mind, she crossed the room to join Poppy and ask for an introduction to the stranger.

"Kitty," her friend said brightly, "look who's returned to Bellehaven!"

The man turned, met her gaze, and held it. Though she'd never participated in a duel, she imagined this was how it must feel the moment after taking one's paces and facing one's opponent. On guard. Ready to do battle. Oddly exhilarated.

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...