Dangerously seductive and sinfully beautiful, Susanna Burney is society’s most sought after matchbreaker. Paid by wealthy parents to part unsuitable couples, she’s never yet failed to accomplish her mission of diverting a groom-to-be. Until her final assignment brings her face-to-face with the man who’d once taught her an intimate lesson in heartache….
James Devlin has everything he’s always wanted: a title, a rich fiancée and a place in society. But the woman who’s just met his eyes across a crowded ballroom threatens it all. Not because she’d once claimed his heart, or that every sinuous swirl of her ball gown takes his breath away. But because the secrets she carries could cost him everything. To put the past to rest once and for all, Dev just might have to play Susanna at her own wicked game…
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“An emotional journey full of passion, deceit, sacrifice and regret - Highly Recommended.”
— Rakes and Rascals
Excerpted from Chapter 2
“You’re making the lady’s headache worse, Walters.” It was Dev’s voice, cold with a hard edge. Susanna saw Walters’ eyes widen, then, as Dev made a sharp gesture, the other man scuttled off. Dev watched him out of earshot, then his gaze came back to Susanna’s face and fixed there. She had wanted to scuttle away too, but she had the lowering thought that Dev would simply grab her if she tried to run out on him now. He did not appear to care much for the conventions of the ballroom since he had accosted her in the centre of the floor.
“Thank you for your assistance,” she said coldly, “but it was quite unnecessary. I can look after myself.”
Dev smiled. “I am aware,” he said. His gaze, hard and appraising, travelled over her in a manner quite different from Walters’ blatant sexual calculation. It was thoughtful, measured and infinitely more disturbing.
“I was not trying to rescue you,” he added gently. “I wanted you to myself.”
His choice of words and the look in his eyes made Susanna quiver somewhere deep inside. He had removed the feeble threat that Walters posed only to replace it with something far more dangerous. Himself. He was confronting her here, in full view of the Duke and Duchess of Alton’s guests. It was audacious. It was impossible.
“I don’t have anything to say to you.” Susanna kept her voice steady. She had had nine years of learning how to protect herself. It had never been as difficult as it was now, trying to erect defences against this man and his perceptive blue gaze and his forcefulness.
He laughed. “You can do better than that, Susanna. What the hell is going on?”
“I have no notion what you mean,” Susanna said. Her pulse was racing. She looked around but there was no refuge. She started to walk slowly to the side of the dance floor. Dev took her arm, adapting his long stride to her shorter steps. To an observer it would look as though they were doing what everyone else did between dances, strolling around the floor, chatting with the casual indifference of social acquaintances. Except that there was nothing casual in the touch of Dev’s hand.
“You owe me an explanation at the very least,” Dev said. “An apology, even-” His tone was sarcastic, “if that is not too much to expect.” For a moment Susanna saw something fierce in his eyes. A passing couple shot them a curious glance. They had caught the tone if not the content of Dev’s words and had sensed the tension in the air.
Susanna deployed her fan to shield her expression.
“It was a long time ago.” She aimed for disdain, cool and dismissive, and hit exactly the right note. “Yes, I left you, but surely you have managed to recover from the loss.” She paused; smiled. “Don’t tell me I broke your heart.”
NotoriousShe had provoked him on purpose and she expected him to tell her she had meant nothing to him. Instead she saw the heat and anger in his eyes intensify.
“I came back to find you,” he said. “Two years later.”
Susanna almost dropped her fan. Two years. She had never known. She felt a mixture of bitterness and regret. It would have made no difference. Two years was far too late. It had been too late from the moment she had run away from him. She could see that now, with the benefit of hindsight. She could see all the mistakes she had made - see too how pointless it was to regret them almost a decade later.
“I only wished to ensure that our annulment had been granted.” Dev shot her a look, contemptuous, cold. “But when I called on your aunt and uncle they told me that you were dead.” He spoke through his teeth. “An overstatement of the facts, it would seem.”
Susanna was so shocked that she almost fell. For one long terrifying moment the ballroom spun before her eyes, the music and voices fading, everything slipping away from her. She put out a hand and realised with blessed relief that they had reached the corner of the room and were standing beside one of the long, arched windows that opened on to the terrace. The cool pane of the glass was against her fingers and a breath of air stole into the overheated room.
She raised her eyes to Dev’s face. His expression was hard, his mouth a tight line. She could sense the elemental fury in him.
“Dead?” she whispered. It was true that her aunt and uncle had cast her out when she had fallen pregnant and refused to give up her child. She had been disowned, disinherited, dismissed. They had said she was dead to them. Evidently that was exactly what they had told everyone else too.
The cold crept into her heart. Her family’s callous cruelty had almost destroyed her nine years before. Now she felt their malice touch her again. She had not thought they could hurt her any more. She had been wrong.
Dev was still speaking. “Was it really necessary to go so far?” He was saying with biting anger. “It was not as though I wished for a reconciliation.”
He stopped. Susanna knew he was waiting for her reply but for a moment she could not find the words. There was so much to absorb, and so quickly; that he had come to find her, that her family had lied to him. It hurt much more than she would ever have anticipated.
“I…” Her chest was tight. She tried to breathe. She knew that she had to stop this now, before Dev realised that she had known nothing of her family’s shocking lies to him. Already he was getting too close. An instant’s slip on her part and she would give herself away. If he suspected the truth he would have endless questions for her; questions about the past, questions about what had happened to her and, more dangerous still, questions about her life now and why she was in London. She could tell him none of those things. She had to protect herself and her secrets at all costs or she would lose everything.
NotoriousSusanna straightened, steadying herself. She drew in a deep breath, searching for the right words to drive Dev away from her. He forestalled her. His voice was thick and heavy with emotion, an emotion that even after the passage of nine years cut straight to the core of her and made her feel with an intensity she had not experienced in years.
“Hell and the devil, Susanna,” he burst out, “you were my wife not some strumpet I had tumbled in a ditch! Don’t you owe me more than this? You walk out on me and then you ask your family to lie to me! Why would you do such a thing?”
There was such passion and honesty in his eyes. Susanna hated herself for what she was about to do, what she had to do in order to protect herself.
“I asked them to lie because I had to be sure to be rid of you,” she said. She made her voice light and uncaring. The words seemed to stick in her throat but she forced them out. She knew she had to finish this and make sure that Dev would hate her so much that he would never question her again. There was no other way.
“I wed you because I wanted you to rid me of the burden of my virginity,” she said. She dragged out a smile, made it vivid, convincing. She knew she was a good actress. She had had enough practice in those lean and bitter years after her family had disowned her, when her skill at dissembling was all that had stood between her and starvation.
“After one night of marriage I had everything I needed from you, Devlin,” she said. “I wanted to know about sex. You taught me.” She forced herself to meet his eyes. He was stony-faced, his jaw set hard as he listened to her cheapen the love they had shared. “It was delightful-” She gave a little shrug, matching the gesture to the dismissive tome of her voice, “but after I had seduced you I had no further use for you.”
That, she thought, should be enough to make him despise her. No man would accept such a blow to his pride. She turned to walk away.
Dev prevented her escape by the simple expedient of catching her wrist and drawing her close to him. Her body stirred to his touch, ever fibre of her being waking to him as though they had never been apart. The colour flooded her cheeks, heating her skin so that every inch of her felt alive and responsive as never before. She saw Dev’s gaze move over her slowly in precise and insolent appreciation of her state of arousal. His eyes dropped to the neckline of her gown. It had been chosen to Notoriousensnare Fitz and for the first time that evening Susanna wished it was a little more demure. It felt as though the sweep of Dev’s gaze across the curves of her breasts was a sensual caress.
“A moment,” Dev said, and his voice was very soft amidst the hubbub of the ballroom, the tinkle of the music and the clamour of voices, soft but with an edge of steel. “This time you don’t walk away from me until I am ready, Susanna. This time you stay at my pleasure.”
End of Excerpt
All of the books in the The Scandalous Women of the Ton Series Series:
Behind the Book
Ideas for books come from many different places and one of the inspirations for Notorious was Jane Austen’s wonderful novel Pride and Prejudice. When Lydia Bennet runs off with George Wickham her sister Jane laments: “So imprudent a match on both sides!” Elizabeth, in speaking to Mr Darcy about the elopement is even more outspoken, believing that Wickham will ruin Lydia and certainly not marry her: “She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him… She is lost forever.”
Mr Darcy, of course, saves the day, by compelling Wickham to marry Lydia. Money changes hands to seal the deal. The match is made. And as I was re-reading the book, the idea came into my head: “What would happen if money changed hands to ensure that a match was broken rather than made?”
In the literature of the Georgian age, in the archives and in fiction we frequently read of imprudent matches and disapproving parents. Servant girls were paid off if they became pregnant. Parents and trustees bought off fortune hunters in order to save their heiress daughters from throwing themselves away on unsuitable men or to save impressionable sons from adventuresses. Money and scandal were closely linked. Thus the idea for Notorious was born; my heroine would be a match-breaker rather than a matchmaker, paid by wealthy parents to distract impressionable young men of good family if they looked inclined to make an unsuitable marriage.She would use all her advantages, beauty, intelligence, wit and guile, to entrap and divert her quarry. Unfortunately for Susanna, the heroine, she runs up against James Devlin, the one man who, as a fortune hunter himself, is as cunning and clever and reckless as she…
“An emotional journey full of passion, deceit, sacrifice and regret - Highly Recommended.”
“A well-written, deeply emotional story, in-depth characters and hot love scenes”
“NOTORIOUS has nominated for the prestigious Audie awards for For excellence in narration, direction, engineering, mix, and an abridgment when applicable of an audiobook of historical romance. NOTORIOUS was narrated by the wonderful Katherine Kellgren”
“I hope lovers of very inventive historical romances will get this novel and experience the enjoyment I received as I read it.”
“Cornick uses every tool in her considerable arsenal to keep us interested. She writes wonderful characters, provides interesting background characters and details, with great chemistry and lovely ”
“Notorious was a scrumptious feast for this reader who practically inhaled it up her nose! The tension tightly bound like a corset, the love-hate bubbling to a delicious boil, the secrets as decadent as dark chocolate, Nicola Cornick nailed the emotional rollercoaster on the nail and I cried my eyes out”
“Nicola Cornick creates an exciting story, full of intrigue, romance, and seduction.”
“All of Cornick's signature elements are here; a deliciously creative plot, brilliantly realized characters, and an abundance of sizzling sensuality click neatly into place in the latest fabulously fun addition to the Scandalous Women of the Ton.”
“The story is indeed a good one. The plot is thick and the villains are wicked, as Nicola knows how to write villains with great aplomb. All-in-all a great read for anyone who loves a good story about love gone horribly wrong, only to be redeemed.”
“An original twist on a story that is long on passion and delicious lust!”
“A fascinating, emotional read.”
“An emotional, sensual read that will grab you and not let go.”
“A well-written, deeply emotional story, in-depth characters and hot love scenes.”
“This is a fast paced, page turning story that will leave you breathless. Notorious is a must read and a keeper.”
“Notorious is a captivating tale!”
“Beautifully written, entertaining, and very seductive.”
“A delightfully original and fun story.”
“I absolutely loved this book. It was sexy, but still incredibly sweet. I just couldn't get enough of the characters and Cornick's superb and sensual writing. One of my favorite romances.”