One Kiss from Ruin Sneak Peek


A crewman had delivered Daniel’s missive to Emme barely an hour before the captain’s dinner was to begin. A command, more like it. After an afternoon of innocuous chatting and decorous behavior, Daniel had made a decidedly indecorous demand as Emme’s next payment for his silence. She was to claim she’d fallen ill again and take to her room for the rest of the evening. That had proven exceedingly easy, as the headache she’d fought all afternoon had lent her a pallor that had concerned Aunt Juliana, who had only left Emme’s side after she promised to summon the medic if the pain increased.

A knock on the door made her instinctively check that her hairpins were in place and her dress was in order. She opened the door to a cabin boy with a cloth-covered cart laden with silver-lidded plates. The boy silently wheeled the cart into the room, bowed to Emme, and took his leave. He was barely out of the room when another figure appeared in the doorway.

Daniel looked striking in his short-jacketed, black silk evening suit and white shirt and bow tie. When she’d seen him last, he’d been in tan pants and striped brown coat of a promenade suit, which had been close-cut and far too well-fitted for her own good. But the memory of that sight paled in comparison to seeing him in his finery. She swallowed a lump in her throat and glanced down at her own attire, glad she’d deigned to “dress for dinner” as his note had requested. She’d retired her dove-gray, princess-cut morning dress for the finest gown she had with her, this one also dark green, but made of silk, with an off-the-shoulder bodice edged with lace, complemented by a matching skirt with a sumptuous bustle in the back. Everyone who had seen her wear it in Barcelona had felt moved to compliment her milky complexion and bright green eyes.

“Lady Emme, you look stunning.” Daniel took one of her ungloved hands and fluttered his lips over the back of it.

She found herself wishing he would turn her hand over and lavish attention on her palm as she so vividly remembered him doing in her parents’ library. The memory made her blush with embarrassment and something much more base and powerful. She snatched her hand from him.

“You’re looking quite well yourself,” she said.

She meant to make polite conversation, but found it difficult to speak as he openly and lasciviously appraised her from the tips of her satin slippers to the top of her simply-coiffed head and back down again.

“Thank you.” The low, throaty sound of his voice made her mouth go dry. “Here, let me help you into a seat.”

After doing so, he slowly removed two lids from the plates on the cart. The rich, creamy scent of turtle soup wafted up from the tureens. He then uncovered the remaining dishes of fruit, cheese, and cream pastries. And finally, the pièce de résistance, a center platter of salmon surrounded by lobster salad and roasted vegetables. Their meal must rival or even surpass anything the captain was serving for the ship’s other passengers. Then again, why shouldn’t it? This ship was every bit as much Daniel’s as it was Captain Percival’s. Grayhall. Granville and Hallsworth. That she hadn’t realized it immediately vexed her. She could have proceeded much more cautiously if she’d truly believed Daniel might be on board the ship. Now it was much too late.

As he took his seat across from her, she found her voice again. “I hadn’t heard you were part owner of a shipping line. The captain didn’t see fit to start that rumor, one based on a bit of truth.”

He smiled. “Don’t be so sure there was no truth in any of the other rumors.”

He was baiting her, but Emme wasn’t about to fall into the trap of asking a question that might lead to salacious details best left unknown and unsaid.

He poured a glass of claret for each of them and lifted his in a toast. “To our continuing reacquaintance.”

“Indeed,” was all she managed to mutter before taking a sip.

She barely tasted what was surely delicious food, she was so nervous. But as dinner progressed, Daniel said nothing less proper or innocuous than the things he’d shared that afternoon. Instead, he regaled her with tame but entertaining stories of the adventures he’d had since he’d left England, some of them involving Granville and Swimmer, as the Five affectionately called the duke.

“There, now you know the most interesting things that have happened to me since we were last acquainted. So, Lady Emme, tell me more about what has occupied your time for these past many years.”

She saw his smile freeze. The kindness of his concern moved her to touch the back of his hand. “Don’t worry Daniel, I won’t break at the thought of Eleanor’s death. But to get past it, perhaps we should discuss it.”

He turned over his hand so they were palm to palm. “I had no intention of making you recount the details.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t mean to imply you had. But I can only assume Edward never wrote to you about what happened. You were Eleanor’s friend once, too. You deserve to know. It happened in early spring, at my parents’ estate in the country. You remember. It’s where you visited us.”

He had done so much more than visit. He’d made her fall in love with him. He’d found her alone every chance he could. He’d given her kisses that she’d happily returned. He’d invited her to a midnight rendezvous where those kisses had led to touches that woke something primal deep inside her. She pressed her eyes closed for a moment to push back the memories.

He gently grasped her fingers. “If it’s too much…”

“No.” She came back to herself, back to the present moment and the terrible story she needed to share. “It happened there. It was early in the morning. There was a terrible fog. Later it would become such a beautiful day. I remember being angry, furious really, at how beautiful all of nature could be on the day it took my sister’s life.”

He furrowed his brow. “It took her life? You mean nature?”

“Yes. The lake, specifically. You might recall Eleanor didn’t swim.”

“I do recall that. Quite the opposite of you.”

She looked away from him. “Yes, well, she was on an early morning walk around the lake and she lost her footing. She slid into the water so fast.” She couldn’t say it. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him the most awful part. “No one could get to her in time. Edward said between the fog and the frigid water, it was a wonder no one else died trying to rescue her.”

“Very good of him. He didn’t want her rescuers to feel any worse about not saving her.”

“Of course he didn’t. He’s a very kind man. I think that’s why the two of you were such good friends.”

He abruptly withdrew his hand and she immediately regretted her words. She didn’t know if it was the mention of Edward or the insinuation of Daniel’s kindness that had done it, but their closeness had evaporated. Still, she needed to know.

“You must tell me what happened between the two of you.”

He clenched his jaw. “Why must I tell you anything? Surely you know all you need to know. You and every other member of the gossip-mongering ton.”

“This is about the scandal? The real one?”

“Yes, Emmeline, the real one. The one that caused you and Meriden to cast me out of your lives.”

“Cast you out?” She jumped to her feet, shaking with a rage she hadn’t realized she possessed. “You left without a word. You never sent a letter or a note, or even a second-hand message through some mutual acquaintance. And Edward and my father, with their heads bent together, talking in whispers, said not one word every time I entered a room. Even Mother and Eleanor seemed to be part of the conspiracy.”

Daniel stood slowly and narrowed his eyes. His voice was low and deadly calm. “Conspiracy to do what, kitten?”

Emme shuddered at the way he’d spit out the endearment like a curse. “To keep the truth of your betrayal from me. That’s what it was, wasn’t it? There was someone else. I know you went through such a difficult time, with your mother’s death and your uncle’s treachery. I might have even forgiven you seeking solace in someone else’s arms, someone more experienced, less naïve. But to just disappear like that.”

“Disappear?” He laughed, but not with mirth.

Emme sank back into her seat and waited for him to explain his derision.

“I sent you notes, then a long letter. I begged you to see me, or at least to respond. Then your brother told me what you said, that you wished you’d never allowed me to touch you.”

“I said no such thing!” She jumped to her feet again. “Now you’re making up stories that make Captain Granville’s pale in comparison. Edward told me you’d never be coming back to see us.”

Edward. The air forcibly left her lungs and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. Daniel stared at her as he paced like a panther preparing its attack. She turned away from him until she could take a proper breath and speak. She clasped her hands to stop them from shaking. “He didn’t say that to you. It’s not possible. That’s a lie. My brother wouldn’t lie.”

She turned to face him. Despite the conviction of her words, the stricken look on Daniel’s faced caused her belief to waver.

“Daniel, is it true? Did Edward tell you lies about me?”

He ran a hand through his hair and looked past her.

“Daniel, please, I have to know. What happened? Why would he lie?”

“To keep me away from you. To make sure I didn’t taint you with my common blood and lurid scandal. And it would seem he lied to us both.”

She took a step toward him. “Daniel—”

“No. This was a mistake. I knew it from the beginning.”

“No, it wasn’t. Please, I didn’t know you tried to see me. Of course, I would have spoken to you. Don’t leave.”

But it was too late. He’d already gone.

Ten minutes later, as Emme paced the room, wondering if she dared go looking for him, the cabin boy came to collect the dinner cart. When he closed the door behind him, her room looked the same as it had before Daniel had ever come to see her. But if he hadn’t taken another lover five years ago, if he had been sent away by Edward, or more likely by Edward doing their father’s bidding, everything she’d believed about Daniel for years was wrong.


It was past midday the next day when Granville came looking for Daniel in his cabin. Daniel did his best to ignore the infernal knocking, but when the man threatened to break down the door, Daniel conceded. He’d seen Granville do much worse when he’d felt so moved.

He cracked the door. The bright sun filtering through the thin slit assaulted his eyes and he squinted. “What do you want?”

“Hells bells, what happened to you?”

Daniel gave up on squinting and closed his eyes. “A bottle of rum. Is that it? Are we done here?”

In answer, Granville pushed past him into the room, but at least mercifully closed the door behind him. Granville picked up the empty rum bottle from the floor. “How much was in here before you pilfered it?”

“The seal hadn’t been cracked.” Daniel tried to make a good show of it by staying on his feet, but when the room started spinning, he gave up and lay on the bed. Being supine didn’t stop the spinning, but at least it made the world turn more slowly.

“The seduction went that badly, did it?” Granville’s laughter made him grimace, as much from the sting of the insult as from the pain it caused his head.

“That’s not what happened.”

“The seduction didn’t happen, or the failure of it didn’t?”

Daniel pushed himself up to a sitting position. “I abandoned my plan.”

Granville raised his eyebrows. “And came up with a new plan to sit in your cups, alone in your room. I can see the appeal.” He raised his hands like scales. “Gorgeous, nubile woman in your bed, an empty bottle of rum on the floor. That does seem like an easy choice.”

He tapped Daniel’s forehead. It was enough to make Daniel see stars.

“As I apparently didn’t teach you as well as I thought, let me clarify for you. The correct choice was the nubile woman. And did I mention, she should be naked?”

Daniel couldn’t tell Granville the reason he’d abandoned the seduction and taken to a bottle of rum had been to obliterate the memory of the pain he’d seen on her face. He’d longed to see the footloose, tomboy of a girl who’d succumbed to his flirtations all those years ago. But Daniel wasn’t the only one who’d forever lost the carefree, naïve days of his youth. He never would have wished such a loss on her, not even when he’d hated her most, when he’d left England licking his wounds and nursing his broken heart.

“I didn’t intend to change my plan,” Daniel said. “Something came up.”

“That’s quite the idea, lad. And if you’re very good and want to make said nubile woman very happy, it will ideally come up over and over again.”

Daniel groaned and ran a hand through his hair. “The depth of your ability to disgust is bottomless.”

“As is the depth of your ability to disappoint. And what of the young woman? How disappointed must she be? Perhaps she needs my assistance more than you.”

“Don’t even think it.” Daniel tried to show an intimidating glower but only succeeded in intensifying the pounding in his head. “As much as I’m going to live to regret saying this, I’m saying it anyway. I need your assistance.”

Granville rubbed his hands together. “That’s what I’ve been waiting to hear. Don’t worry Hallsy, Granville to the rescue. I’ll have the poor abandoned girl writhing in pleasure within the hour.”

Granville’s cavalier use of the term “abandoned girl” cut Daniel to the quick. “I’m serious Granville. Something came up in my conversation with Miss Trent last night.”

“That was your first mistake. You should never have attempted to converse with her.”

“How does any woman tolerate you? Actually, it was something she said earlier in the day. Last night’s conversation just solidified my thoughts. Do you suppose the ton has moved on from my family’s scandal? Might some of them remember my parents kindly?”

Granville grabbed Daniel’s shoulders. “Are you an idiot, man? Of course they’ve moved on. And those who haven’t will be silenced quickly enough, once you waltz back into town, title restored and ugly rumors permanently laid to rest. You’ve been gone so long, and there have been so many ridiculous stories attached to your name, no one worth knowing will consider the charges of illegitimacy.”

“About all those scandalous rumors, did you ever consider saying there was no real scandal?”

Granville widened his eyes and looked truly sincere. “But there was! People wouldn’t forget that, but the details could become fuzzy over time. I’ve effectively muddled the whole affair. Now all you have to do is keep it that way. Don’t give them a reason to question your honor or your legitimacy again.”

“But some of those stories…there are those who could have been hurt by rumors of my sexual improprieties.”

“No one was naming names. No young ladies were… Oh, I see. This is about the chit who broke your heart. Meriden’s little sister. Let me remind you, she told you she never wanted to see you again. If she couldn’t be persuaded to hear your side of the story, to hell with her.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. She never told me. Meriden told me. Do you suppose he would lie about such a thing to keep me away from her?”

Granville shrugged. “He was deadly protective of his sisters. He was never happy about your feelings for her, or hers for you. I remember the thrashing he gave you when he learned she’d sent you a letter at school.”

Daniel grinned. “It wasn’t even a love letter. It was something she and her friends did on a lark, sending correspondence to boys they knew.” Love would come the following summer, so Meriden’s unhappiness hadn’t been totally misplaced.

“Meriden’s not a bad sort. If he lied, he probably thought it was for the best, to protect her. But that’s been years. You can’t pine over the girl. No doubt she’s married and fat, with babes underfoot by now.”

Granville still hadn’t realized the truth about Emme. It was the only comforting thing that had come out of this conversation. “Regardless of where she is now, what do you suppose it did to her at the time, if she thought I left without saying a word to her?”

Granville patted Daniel’s shoulder. “If that’s what happened, Hallsy, I’m afraid you probably broke the girl’s heart. Tell you what, when we get to England, we’ll track her down and you can say you’re sorry. Take some flowers to her. Maybe some toys for the children. Lord knows you have the money to get them something nice.”

“That is a comfort.”

“All right, then my work here is done.” Granville jumped to his feet. “As for you, recover from your hangover today. Tomorrow we dock at our last port before Brighton, and you have some fine brandy to buy to get us through the rest of this journey.” He set the empty bottle on the bedside table. “Not to mention a bottle of rum.”