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England, 1820

That man does not belong here, Nell Springley thought as she surreptitiously studied the only other occupant in the mail coach headed to Bath. He'd been asleep when she'd boarded in London, and he was still asleep despite the rocking and jostling of the vehicle, his tall beaver hat tipped over his eyes and his arms crossed over his chest.

He was clearly well-to-do, for he wore a fine indigo frock coat of excellent wool and buff trousers that hugged his long legs. His blindingly white cravat, tied in an intricate and complicated knot, fairly shouted a valet's skillful expertise. His slender fingers were likewise encased in superbly fitting kid leather gloves and his Hessian boots were so brightly polished, she could see the reflection of her skirts.

Surely a man who could afford such clothes would have his own carriage.

Maybe he was a gamester who had gambled away his fortune. If he was the sort who frequented outdoor boxing matches, that might explain why what little of his jaw and cheeks she could see had been browned by the sun.

Perhaps he'd been in the Navy. She could easily imagine that figure in a uniform, his broad shoulders topped by an officer's braid, shouting commands and looking very dashing on the quarter deck.

Or he could be a tosspot sleeping off a night of drunken merriment, having spent the rest of his money on wine. If that were so, she hoped he wouldn't wake up until they arrived in Bath. She had no desire to be engaged in conversation with a sot. Or anyone else.

The coach lurched over a particularly bone-jarring bump that rattled the baggage in the boot and made the guard riding outside the coach curse. Nell, meanwhile, grabbed the seat as her poke bonnet slipped over her eyes.

"Bit of a rough spot," a deep, genial male voice noted.

Shoving her bonnet back into place, Nell raised her eyes - and found herself staring at the most handsome young man she'd ever seen. Not only was he awake, his hat was now properly situated on his head, revealing amiable blue-gray eyes separated by a narrow nose bordered by angular cheekbones. He was young, and yet there were wrinkles at the corners of his eyes that suggested he'd had vastly more experience of the world than she.

But then, most people had more experience of the world than she.

Nell blushed as if she'd been caught eavesdropping and immediately clasped her hands in her lap and lowered her eyes.

As she did, out of the corner of her eye she spotted something moving on the fawn-colored, double crimson-striped seat beside her.

A spider! A big, horrible brown spider - and it was headed right for her!

Gasping, Nell lunged across the coach - and landed on the lap of the young man opposite, knocking his hat from his head.

"Steady!" he warned, his upper class accent providing more proof he was from a well-to-do household.

Blushing even more, she immediately moved to sit beside him. "I-I beg your pardon," she stammered, feeling hopelessly foolish, while noting that one stray lock of brown hair had tumbled over his forehead, making him look rather boyish and far less intimidating.

"There's no need to be frightened," her companion said. "It's only a Tegenaria parietina. They're quite harmless, I assure you."

Now completely humiliated by her childish reaction, Nell didn't know what to say. Instead, she smoothed out her skirts and glanced at the seat she had so abruptly vacated.

The spider was gone.

"Where is it?" she cried, gripping the seat and half rising regardless of the swaying motion of the coach. "Where's the spider?"

The young man held up his hat. "In here."

He had it in his hat?

He gave her an apologetic smile. "Spiders are of particular interest to me."

However handsome he was, however gentlemanly, he was definitely eccentric and possibly deranged.

"Please keep it away from me," she said, inching as far away from him and his hat as she could get. "I hate spiders."

The young man heaved a heavy sigh, as if her common aversion was a very serious failing. "That's a pity."

Considering everything she'd done in the past few days, to be condemned for disliking spiders struck Nell as completely ridiculous.

"Most spiders are harmless," the young man continued, peering into his hat as if the spider were a cherished pet. "I'm aware that they aren't as beautiful as some insects can be, like butterflies, but they are as useful in their way as butterflies or bees."

He raised his eyes and smiled, and she was immediately sure he never lacked for partners at a ball. "However you feel about spiders, you must allow me to introduce myself. I'm--"

With a loud crack, the coach flew up as if it were alive before coming down with a thunderous thud that sent Nell tumbling from her seat. Her companion reached for her, pulling her against his body, as horses shrieked and the driver shouted and the coach began to tip sideways.

It fell over, landing with another thud, and Nell found herself sprawled on top of the young gentleman and hemmed in by the seats.

He studied her in a way that sent the blood throbbing through her body as even the tipping coach had not. "Are you all right?"

She didn't feel any pain, only an acute awareness of his body beneath her and his protective arms around her. "I think so. And you?"

"I believe I am undamaged. I suspect something went wrong with a wheel or an axle."

"Yes, yes, of course," she murmured. She could feel his chest rising and falling with quick breaths, as rapid and ragged as her heartbeat, even though the immediate danger had passed.

"I should investigate and ascertain what has happened."

She nodded.

"Right away," he added, his gaze locked onto hers and his handsome, sun-browned face so very close.

"At once," she whispered, telling herself to move, yet making no effort to do so.

"I may be of assistance."

"Yes, of course."

"I wonder...?"


"If I should attempt an experiment."

"Experiment?" she repeated quizzically, having some difficulty following his line of reasoning and, at that particular moment, not really sure what an experiment was.

With no further warning, without even knowing her name, let alone being properly introduced, the young man raised his head.

And kissed her.

This Regency series has a rather different history. The first two books, KISS ME QUICK and KISS ME AGAIN, were written for Avon Books. The final two, A LOVER'S KISS and THE VISCOUNT'S KISS were written for Harlequin. All are available in ebook format and all were written to "stand alone" so you won't feel lost if you haven't read the other books in the series.

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Text copyright © 2009 by Margaret Wilkins. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and TM are tradmarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.