Meet a Shakespeare-quoting shapeshifter who wants nothing to do with love…
Cursed into the form of a lion without nightly sex, Lord Nash Hammond wants only two things—his liquor strong and smooth, and his wenches wild and willing. What he doesn’t need is a virgin!
Nash senses the man across from him in the cramped stagecoach is trouble, a danger to the veiled woman accompanying her lofty “protector”. Nash knows he’s no hero, yet she keeps asking for his help. And how is it the vexing female knows so much about his secrets? Ones that could rip her apart if she only knew it…
And the spunky “lady” from the streets who masquerades as another man’s mistress…
Blessed with the second-sight—or cursed, depending upon which relative she believes—Laney sees her two possible futures: bleak and a soon-deceased victim (ack!) or frolicking with her fellow stagecoach passenger: a golden-eyed, tawny-haired gentleman—who’s anything but.
The miserable rip who’s already stepped on her dress, who keeps staring…
Nash is surly and rude and resistant to her every effort to speak with him. When they stop for the night and she overhears him order a “strumpet” to bed, Laney takes the doxy’s place, convinced she can pretend well enough. After all, she’s pretended to be a mistress for years. She’ll satisfy his needs, but refuse his money—demand he listen and help her instead. Then she’ll be safe.
Until, along with her body, Nash starts to claim her heart as well.
Reader Advisory: While Deceived by Desire is laugh-out-loud funny in places, it contains a short *vision* of violence and brief references to past abuse. Beyond that, expect a fun and sexy good time because…
Changing into a lion is all fun and growls—until it isn’t.
Release Date: 2022
• 9781949426267 ebook
• 9781949426281 print
(Note – The excerpt below isn’t the absolute final chapter 1; I’ve already made several changes as I’m fine tuning both word choice and plot points. This sentence will be removed once the final version has been uploaded.)
The Wretched Hat and the Wretched Man
Nash roused from his latest bout of self-pity long enough to crack open his eyes and watch the new passengers climb aboard the already cramped, soggy stagecoach and settle in directly across from the corner he’d occupied for the past several hours.
He shifted and pressed his foot solidly against the floor of the coach.
Demmed inconvenient it was, having to share the dank spot he’d staked out as his own with the outwardly perfect pair. He kept his head lowered in the guise of dozing and refused to admit, even to himself, that he’d cared enough to peek.
People. Who needed ’em?
Certainly not Nash Hammond. The stagecoach, on the other hand? Now that he needed, though if the blasted sky would just cooperate, not for much longer. He had enough money that he could buy his own horse—a damn fine one if he wanted. Hell, an entire stable full if he so desired and actually had a stable. But then he’d have to care for it. Them. No demmed matter!
It was easier to put up with public transport.
Gave him something to think about other than his own contemptible problems.
“Pardon me, sir, but your foot’s snagged on my dress.” The cultured voice cascaded over him like a heaven-sent waterfall, at odds with the jarring way she tried to wrench her long, surprisingly dry skirts from beneath his boot.
Nash refused to budge, kept his boot clamped down and continued to feign sleep as he’d been doing ever since the horses had splashed to a stop, the stagecoach rolling to a sodden halt behind them when the driver paused for a fresh team and additional passengers.
Experience had taught Nash that folks usually left a sleeping man alone, thinking he was drunk most likely, and would refrain from asking him to scoot over. That was the pertinent motivation—if he was going to be trapped inside, then he’d make blame certain he had all the space he could muster. He always left a couple of extra inches between his body and the side of the coach, celebrating privately whenever he managed to secure more than the typical sixteen inches allotted to paying dolts like himself.
He’d begun his flight out of London as an outside passenger on the Royal Mail Coach—because it moved faster than lightning—but the incessant rains drove him inside and onto a public conveyance. He never could abide being exposed to the elements when it was pouring.
“Mister! My dress,” the female hissed, trying in vain to arrange herself across from him. “It’s caught under your boot!”
She pulled harder and he glanced at her through slitted lids, but the frilly contraption perched precariously atop her head completely hid her face.
Did she know that he’d stepped on her trailing hem on purpose?
Could she tell he was fighting back a smirk at her pathetically puny efforts to free her skirts? Did she have any idea of his pathetically useless existence?
Just as Nash tensed the muscles in his thigh to lift his foot, a ripping sound exploded from the floor and she plopped backward on the opposite bench, her skirts flying up to expose surprisingly inviting petticoats.
“Wretched man!” he heard her mutter under her breath.
Acting no better than an unlicked cub, he was amusing himself at her expense. He should apologize.
But he didn’t move.
Or say a word.
He was too busy rumbling a fake snore or two and inspecting the luscious treat whose lacy hem remnants lay trapped beneath his sole, and the fop who’d just climbed in after her, lurching more than a bit in the process. The fop who she appeared to be wedded to, if the dandy’s sour look toward Nash was anything to go by.
Refined thing like that. Her in her fancy hat and frilly white traveling dress—white! As if she shouldn’t be covered from head to toe with a thick layer of mud and grime. How she managed to look so pristine and proper on a day like today, with her apricot-colored kid slippers, closed ruffle-edge parasol that matched her dress to perfection and immaculately gloved fingers was beyond him.
Her generous bosom looked anything but refined though, ready to spill from the not-quite-decent neckline with just the slightest encouragement.
Nash strangled on the sudden growl of desire that threatened to erupt, turning it instead into a garbled snore.
Damn cock. Rearing up as if it needed a warm cunny, as though he hadn’t attacked his brother’s woman just hours before. Damn him! His penis deserved to be ground beneath her heel.
“All set, m’dear?” the red-haired dandy asked on a hiccup, squishing close to the woman and placing his arm across her shoulders in a proprietary move while he cast Nash a glower as if he could read minds.
Nash heard the slight hitch in her breathing, caught a hint of fear, just before she answered. “Indeed, Mr. Tate. Thank you for asking.”
Her cultured tones had turned puny. From vibrant waterfall to watered-down dribble.
Nash hunched lower, slightly lifting his lids to gaze at her from beneath the overlong fall of hair that blocked half his face. Some sort of netting hung from the brim of the ungodly confection perched atop her head, fully hiding her features. He could just make out the curve of her cheek, but that was it.
Probably had the face of a sow. God surely had to give such a one a curse to balance the bounty of figure He’d blessed her with.
The dandy patted his pocket, drawing Nash’s attention. The man pulled out a snuffbox and made a great show of meticulously placing a pinch just inside his lower lip, which he ruined with another hiccup, then did everything in reverse, returning the snuff to his pocket. His actions were ludicrous, done with one hand as the other was still firmly ensconced atop the sow’s shoulder.
Nash hadn’t seen more flounces even at court. How the dandy could even talk with so much starched linen and lace at his throat was beyond him. The clunch likely spent more time at Weston’s than he did his own dinner table.
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! his conscience taunted, compliments of Mister William Shakespeare.
Jealous? Jealous of the overdressed man and his feminine fortune? Never. Never! As if hearing the mental shouts, the man echoed…
“Never fear, m’dear,” Dandy drawled, “only two days confined in this infernal conveyance—three at the most if this Scotch mist keeps up—and we shall arrive at our destination.”
She left off gazing at the torn hem fraying in her fingers and glanced through that damn netting at Dandy. “Will you please bring yourself to tell me where we are going?” she inquired so softly if Nash’s hearing hadn’t been exceptional he would have missed it. At the dulcet sound, he realized he could never think of her as a sow again. Pig-faced or not, she had the voice of a princess. “I am quite sure it will not ruin your surprise if you—”
“No! And leave off asking!” The dandy swatted her shoulder sharply. “You will enjoy it,” he added cajolingly. “I can assure you.”
At the threatening undercurrent in the man’s voice, Nash lifted his head and uncrossed his arms. He intentionally remained slouched, giving the appearance of only casual interest. “You would not be taking the lady somewhere she prefers not to go, now would you?”
The woman flinched. Nash smelled her fear. It had grown stronger.
“Of course he is not!” She trilled a practiced laugh. “Mr. Tate is forever treating me to new experiences and surprises.”
“Mind your own bloody business!” the dandy bit out loudly.
“Here! Here!” an older man in the opposite corner grumped. “Females present and all that. Mind your mouth!”
“Forgive me,” the redhead said urbanely, but Nash saw how his knuckles whitened on her shoulder. To the others, he was all polish and shine. Slime.
Nash wanted to lose his breakfast on the man’s gleaming Hessians. Instead, he tried to see past the netting, clueless where his sudden bout of chivalry had sprung from. “Ma’am?”
He sensed her nervous smile, could almost taste how close to tears she was. “I am wonderful. My life is…wonderful.”
“See?” Dandy boasted, as if there had never been any doubt.
She was lying.
Nash cursed himself for caring. For even asking.
He didn’t want the responsibility of sheltering a damn horse. What made him think he was up for the challenge of saving a bountiful-breasted, soft-voiced princess?
Sow, he told himself. A veiled sow. Oink.
Oink, oink! so cries a pig prepared to the spit. He intentionally butchered Shakespeare’s original line, but couldn’t stop from wondering…
Did lions eat pigs?
* * *
Heavens. The look on the stranger’s face made Laney feel all twittery inside. On edge. Just like being with Reginald did, but in a not-quite horrible way. Almost a good way, for even though her stomach felt lodged in her throat and her skin buzzed at the fiery glint in his eyes, she couldn’t look away.
Mayhap ’twas simply riding backward? Squished between the side of the carriage and the man who owned her—body, not soul—until her indenture expired. If she didn’t expire first, that recent—dire—vision overriding her every waking thought and action the last few days. Until this gruff stranger demanded her attention and refused to let go.
Her stomach pitched again. Knowing the four horses and driver were just a meager distance away, barreling forward at a breakneck pace, didn’t help. Certainly, they were traveling too fast for the inclement weather. But then, Reginald had insisted they both change clothes after the morning’s coaching debacle and she’d just seen him tip their new driver substantially to “Push on, man. Horses are strong, make ’em earn their hay.”
Thanks to Reginald and his ill-timed impatience, she was now stuck enduring not only the stranger’s avid inspection, but the coach jiggling her body so ferociously it was stewing up the meager toast she’d eaten to break her fast. She’d known better than to indulge in her love of sweet breads, not when such an arduous, unknown journey awaited her.
No, Laney immediately reconsidered, the heat from the stranger’s expression warming her straight down to her previously wet toes, it wasn’t the public coach ride responsible for the feelings fluttering in her belly. It was him. The surly looking man whose knees were only scant inches from her own.
One would think the scowl on his face would do damage to his countenance, but on the contrary, his churlish expression combined with the daring lack of care he showed in his dress only piqued her interest further. His jacket wasn’t properly buttoned and his neckcloth was tied so haphazardly she could see the hollow beneath his throat where his collar bones didn’t quite touch. Absolutely scandalous!
Now if he owned her instead…
Laney groaned at her fanciful imaginings. Only one person owned her at the moment—for the next ten months, twenty-two days and some-odd hours—and that was Reginald Tate, the handsome…bastard next to her.
To distract herself, both from Reginald’s smothering arm across her shoulders and the stranger’s piercing gaze, Laney chanced a look at Reginald, confirming his attention was elsewhere, and left off tearing the torn hem to shreds to bring her reticule to her lap. She heard the comforting rustle of paper. Mary Delilah’s letter. She’d read it again this evening, after they stopped for the night, see whether she could make heads or tails of her friend’s uncharacteristically wild rambling.
Reginald patted her shoulder then removed his arm. Finally! She took a shaky breath but still felt smothered by his presence. Calling him Reginald in her mind was just one of a handful of defiant measures she’d undertaken lately to assert her independence, whether he knew it or not.
Why couldn’t the knave have remained outside and ridden on top of the coach? The loud blast of thunder overhead mocked the question even as she thought it.
“I’ll just enjoy another little nip, m’dear. I daresay it’ll help the time pass.” He scooted closer, branding her entire side, then pulled his ever-present flask from inside his coat pocket and tipped it back, pouring the contents down his gullet as if it were a race he had to win. At this rate, he’d be out before the next stop.
Would the stranger disembark there or remain on the coach? If that was his destination, would Reginald notice if she disembarked with him and never got back on?
Oh, the fanciful ideas running through her mind. The tingly quivers running through her abdomen…
Laney somehow found herself unraveling her torn hem again and trying not to notice the increased flutters in her stomach at the thought of intentionally putting herself under the stranger’s power. She should know better. She’d already put herself willingly under one man’s control and that certainly hadn’t improved her lot in life, now had it?
The man she once thought the answer to her prayers. The man she now concentrated heaven-bound prayers on nightly, requesting Divine escape.
She’d been barely sixteen when the dashing Reginald Tate had begun frequenting Mrs. Michaels Millinery and Fine Accoutrements where Laney had been indentured shortly after she turned thirteen. After three solid years making hats and waiting on “ladies” who looked down their fashionably pale noses more often than not—and pricking her fingers with milliners needles, hat pins and bracing wire just as regularly—the flattering attention the handsome Mr. Tate showered on Laney practically made her swoon.
Two scant months after they met, he’d offered to buy her papers from Mrs. Michaels. Laney secretly suspected he wanted her for his “Lady of the Night” and other than being woefully uneducated in the art of nighttime activities, she was otherwise agreeable. Since losing her grandmum and mother within a few months of each other and being passed from one relative to another until winding up on the doorstep of an aunt who was already burdened with her own gaggle of children and certainly didn’t want Laney, indenturing her at the first opportunity, Laney was nothing if not practical.
The allure of being pampered like a “lady”—even one bought and paid for—far surpassed the daily drudgery as the life of an unappreciated servant. At the time, her indenture to Mrs. Michaels was for another interminable four years, which to the young Laney was a veritable lifetime. The position offered by Reginald seemed a godsend.
Instead, the rotten Mr. Tate had only wanted her to pretend to be his amour while he’d dallied with those she’d often heard called “lower elements”. Certain men—she could hardly think the thought without blushing, even now, half a year after Reginald had parted ways with his male paramour and renounced his despicable, detestable acts—Reginald’s words, not hers—only to turn his immoral attention to her. Immoral because he didn’t want her physically, but he kept trying to take her anyway.
Although in the last few moments, since being stuffed like kippers on a plate with the other passengers, Laney’s mind swam with all manner of possibilities. What if she’d declined Reginald’s offer and remained with Mrs. Michaels? Would she have, perhaps, crossed paths with the gentleman sitting across from her?
And should he even be termed “gentleman”?
Most assuredly not. Not with the way he went without a hat when everyone knew the importance of fine head wear. “Choose your hat first,” Mrs. Michaels had always told her customers, “the rest of your ensemble will then magically follow.”
And not with the way he brazenly persisted in staring at her so intently, his eyes glowing like orange embers, causing Laney to feel as if her veil hardly shielded her at all.
“Stop staring.” The words were out of her mouth before she knew it.
Reginald had gone slack. He leaned heavily against her, indicating his slumber, and Laney supposed she’d unknowingly relaxed her guard as well. Relaxed too much, given her awareness of the man across from her and her hastily spoken command.
Judging by the increased heat in his gaze, he hadn’t stopped contemplating her either.
Did no one else notice his unusual eyes? The way they fairly shimmered with heat?
“Remove your hat.”
The lace slipped from her fingers. “I beg your pardon?”
He leaned forward and caught the scrap before it drifted to the ground. Their knees collided. “Take off your hat. You appear to be the best view around, and I want to see the rest of it.”
“Shhh!” she sputtered, never more grateful for the shielding gold netting than she was at this very moment. She tried to angle her legs from his, but between Reginald’s sleeping body weighing against her side and the stranger’s knees pressed intimately against hers, she couldn’t move. “Please. You mustn’t say such things.”
He gave Reginald’s sleeping form a disdainful glance and leaned even closer. “Why do you fear him?”
How did he know? “What?”
“You heard me.” He made a show of returning the torn hem to her gloved hands, giving hers a gentle squeeze before releasing them. She felt the touch clear to her toes, which were locked between his heavily booted feet.
“I asked why you fear him.” His rumbling voice had gone all low and smoky.
“I’m quite sure you must be mistaken,” Laney whispered, glancing at the other passengers. Everyone seemed intent upon passing the uncomfortable time as privately as possible, gazing out the windows or snoozing.
How was it no one took notice of anyone else? Least of all the intimate encounter between her and a stranger? Or how Reginald’s head lolled about his neck with every jostling revolution of the coach’s wheels? Laney couldn’t miss how Reginald’s jaw hung unattractively unhinged, his sour breath breezing over her shoulder. She had the sudden urge to upend the contents of his flask inside his mouth. Maybe he’d drown.
“You do not deny it.” The firm statement, voiced with perfect elocution, drew her attention back to the ill-dressed man before her. The most unrigged gentleman she’d ever seen.
Gentleman? Gads! She had to quit thinking of him as such. No matter that his speech was as fine as she strived to make her own, he was nothing more than a shabbaroon. But one who so boldly demanded, “Remove your hat. I will not ask again and I want to see your face.”
His tone made her think he’d be uncouth enough to rip it from her head if she refused to do as he bade. “You cannot! I cannot. Oh, do please sit back.”
She couldn’t think with his knees touching hers, with his finger idly nudging her leg. Was this desire, then? This awful achy, nervous, wonderful feeling? The need to brush his hair back, to really see his face? The need to be his?
For the thousandth time, Laney bemoaned her misspent youth and cursed her impatience. She hated Reginald and Mrs. Michaels all over again.
“How long have you been wed?”
His words startled her. “Wed? I assure you we most certainly are not!”
And just like that, he was gone. No more teasing fingers. No more obscene nuzzling of her kneecaps. No more glowing eyes.
“Ah,” he murmured once he’d straightened and returned fully to his own seat. His expression once again inscrutable, the playful, albeit intent, interest he’d shown seconds before wiped free.
“And what, pray tell, does that mean?” She couldn’t keep quiet. “Ah? You say that as if you pass judgment upon me. Are not negative judgments reserved for those of clerical persuasions?”
If anything, he looked darker, more brooding. She heard him fairly growl from his shadowy corner. “You claim not to be bound to him, yet you choose to remain,” he stated with obvious disdain. “Keep the blasted hat on, then. I no longer care what you look like.”
Unaccountably, she cared that he no longer cared. Stupid, stupid. She should be jumping from the stagecoach and running as far away from Reginald as she could instead of bantering with a moody stranger.
“You don’t understand,” Laney hissed, incensed with herself. Why in the world should it matter whether he understood or not?
Nash turned away from the shrouded feminine mystery, dismissing her and pulling the thin volume of Shakespeare from his pocket. One could only feign sleep for so long. “I no longer have the inclination to understand. Keep your protestations and your fear to yourself, madam. What you choose to do with your life is of no interest to me.”
It was a blatant lie, but Nash hoped if he said it enough, it would become the truth.
He had no business caring for anything, much less anybody, at the moment.
Damn her and infernal voice for tempting him to think otherwise.
For unlike his older brother who preferred hardened women—at least until Lady Francine came along—Nash himself had always lusted after innocence and purity. Virgins. From the moment he became cursed and realized his body was no longer his own, he day dreamed about once-upon-a-times and happily-ever-afters, envying ordinary men with ordinary wives living ordinary lives.
He dreamed of one day having a pure wife. An innocent. As long as she composed herself as he imagined a lady would—caring for her family (which, to his way of thinking, meant her man—him) and caring for her home (the one he’d never had, not since his mother abandoned them shortly after his father did the same)—she didn’t have to be a lady in truth or even very beautiful. A simple refined peasant or even a clean servant—he wasn’t overly particular—would suit him fine. A woman who had saved herself just for him. That was what he truly desired.
But those were imaginings—the two to three minutes of fantasy he allowed himself in the moments before full wakefulness intruded and reality crashed down around him. He couldn’t take a virgin. He couldn’t have a wife.
Or children, or a family of his own. He wouldn’t have peace.
Not as long as he was a monster.
Who’d practically raped his brother’s woman.
Feeling the irate attention the veiled, behatted female still directed at him, Nash moved the curtain that was drawn against the rain and peered out of the coach, making a great show of gauging the location of the sun. Asinine, as it was blocked by storm clouds. “By my reckoning,” he said as if to himself but intending that she should hear, “and barring a broken wheel or axle, or washed-out roadway, we should arrive at our overnight stop in six and a half hours.” He sighed wholeheartedly and sank back into his corner, letting the curtain drop. “Plenty of time to find myself a pretty wench for the evening, one who avoids wearing ugly hats. Or anything at all…”
“Wretched, wretched man!”
Good. He’d gotten to her. So why did he feel lower than the bottom of muddy pig’s feet?
And why couldn’t he rid himself of the unwanted concern mired in his chest?