Stefanie Sloane
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The Saint Who Stole My Heart Exclusive Excerpt

Dash drummed his fingers on the arm of the upholstered chair as he looked about the library. He’d promised to give Miss Barnes the grand tour of the massive room. Actually, Bell had offered him up, and then conveniently disappeared upstairs with the woman in tow. He couldn’t help but admire the man. A right, good agent, Bell would have made, Dash thought as he studied the room. Literally hundreds of books lined the shelves, the topics they covered as wide as his father’s interests—which had been vast, indeed.

Mathematics, religion, astronomy, history—the list went on and on. Dash had always admired his father’s thirst for knowledge, but his subsequent love affair with the mountain of volumes before him? That was something Dash had never understood.

Oh, Dash devoured books as voraciously as his father—if not more, when it came to particular areas of interest. But once he’d read a book, he had no need of it any longer. His mind captured the information so precisely that Dash could conjure up exactly what was printed on any given page at any time.

“How on earth will you be able to part with them?”

Startled, Dash looked to the entry. Miss Barnes stood in the doorway, her curvaceous form framed by the heavy oak molding. She looked at the room with wonder in her eyes.

“Easily,” Dash answered, standing and walking to her side.

She nodded in understanding, a small, pitying “Oh,” escaping from her lips as she took his arm and allowed him to escort her across the room.

Dash fought the urge to add “because I’ve read each and every one—and committed them to memory, no less” but he didn’t, of course. To do so would be counterproductive.

And why should he care what she thought of him, anyway?

He led Miss Barnes to the shelves where the books on mythology were housed. “The Greek gods and such live here,” he explained in a bored tone, pointing to the volumes. “Well, they don’t live here of course,” he added, laughing at the poor joke. “Romulus and Remus and all of that. Father said you were a student of such things. Is that true?”

Miss Barnes patted him gently on the arm before pulling away. “Romulus and Remus were Roman, my lord,” she gently corrected, “But yes, it’s true, I am a most enthusiastic student of mythology.”

Dash watched as she reverently ran her fingers over the volumes, stopping on a deep blue book and carefully easing it from its place.

Of course he knew that Romulus and Remus were Roman. But she’d taken the bait. That was always satisfying when it came to deceiving the bluestockings.

And what a bluestocking she was. Her knot was so severely fastened that Dash wondered if she was actually able to close her eyes. The tension provoked by applying such a number of pins surely caused the skin about her eye sockets pain.

The color of the hair so ruthlessly imprisoned within the tortuous style was not precisely muddy brown, as he’d originally estimated so many years before. Actually, it was closer to a rich sable, he realized, with hints of gold intertwined throughout. He decided it would no doubt be stunning if it were ever set loose and allowed to fall naturally about her shoulders.

Intrigued, he continued to study her as she returned the book to the shelf and walked slowly down the long, carpeted aisle, unaware of his perusal.

Her face was more fetching than he’d given her credit for, her hair color reflected in her eyes. Large and fringed in thick, sooty lashes, they were expressive and quite striking. Her nose was charmingly pert, and her mouth . . . Dash paused at her mouth, noting the movement of full, pink lips as she silently read off the titles of books to herself.

She bent to examine the lower row of books, giving Dash a nice view. He could have sworn the woman had been entirely too plump to be fashionable when she came out, but here she was, her deliciously curved backside perfectly complementing rounded, firm breasts. An hourglass. A wonderfully proportioned hourglass with the sand in just the right spots.

Dash ignored the flash of heat that suffused him and focused on being annoyed. His memory was a thing of beauty—or so he thought. Of course, the chit’s hideous dress was what he’d expected of her. Bluestockings were known for being bookish. And yet, he’d never once made the acquaintance of even one who’d ever cracked the covers of La Belle Assemblée. No, her unfashionable dress did not surprise him in the least.

But the curves? Now, that was completely unexpected. As were her lush mouth and the silky hair . . .

“Oh!” Miss Barnes exclaimed in a hushed tone, her excited intake of breath pulling Dash from his thoughts.

She rushed toward the end of the aisle, skidding to a halt in front of a glass case situated against the wall.

Dash couldn’t help himself. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and he followed.

“Giacomo Paolini’s Abecedary,” Miss Barnes whispered, as though speaking a sacred prayer within the walls of a grand cathedral.

Dash moved closer to the case, studying the book. Its presence was wholly surprising. His father must have acquired the volume shortly before his death. “Have you read it, Miss Barnes?” he asked, breathing in her delicate floral scent as he did so. He couldn’t readily identify the flower.

“Hardly,” she replied, leaning closer to the case, her brow nearly skimming the glass. “This volume—the only one still in existence, mind you—was lost for years. Your father was incredibly fortunate to find it, my lord.”

“Mmh,” he replied, distracted. Rose? No, the scent was more complex than that. Lavender? He discreetly breathed deeper, dragging in more of her elusive scent, suddenly desperate to know.

Bergamot.

“Ha,” he declared.

Miss Barnes jumped. “I beg your pardon, my lord?” she asked, looking at him as though he were mad.

Really. I’m not the one gushing over an old book.

Dash fought the urge to say the sentence out loud and instead, straightened his crisp cravat. “Funny that, wouldn’t you agree? My father found a book that so many could not,” he replied, looking at the volume with what he hoped was childlike glee. “Were there many people looking for it?”

“Oh, yes,” her voice brimmed with enthusiasm. “The late Lord Carrington was not the man who actually found the volume, of course. But we can all be thankful he had the foresight to provide such an admirable and efficient home for it. Look here,” she gestured at the case. “See how it is perfectly situated away from the sunlight . . .”

Dash hardly heard a word she said. He couldn’t pull his gaze away from the fascinating quality of her skin and the flush of color from her cheeks, down the curve of her throat, to the neckline of her dress.

“And the case? Why isn’t it stacked with the rest of the books?” he wondered aloud.

He knew exactly why, of course. Direct sunlight would compromise the already fragile pages. But he wanted to watch her hands as she talked, gesturing and pointing this way and that, as expressive as the excited cadence of her speech and tone.

Dash wondered why he was noticing her hands. They were, after all, only hands. She possessed a pair just as nearly every other human being on the planet did.

What was he doing? He wasn’t supposed to be interested in Miss Barnes. He just needed her to pack up the books and go back to Dorset, as soon as possible.

“Fascinating stuff,” he interrupted her careful explanation, needing to be anywhere but next to Miss Barnes. “But I’m afraid I must be off. I’ll leave you to your books.”

She smiled at him shyly. “Of course, my lord. This must all be terribly boring to you,” she replied, curtsying.

Dash bowed and turned to go.

“Thank you, my lord,” she added. “You’ve no idea what these books mean to me—and my father, of course.”

Dash paused, but did not turn around, fearful that she’d draw him back. “Oh, don’t thank me, Miss Barnes. It’s all my father’s doing.”

It was the truth, after all. Though Dash was having a hard time being thankful to his father for anything at the moment.

“I look forward to seeing you at dinner, my lord.”

The woman could not bear to relinquish the last word. “Yes, Miss,” he replied.

“Excellent.”

Christ Almighty.