Chance Encounter -- Available Now
Chances Are Series --
While attending a masked ball, Miss Jean Green rushes into the dark study to share a kiss with her intended. As soon as their lips touch, she realizes she’s kissing the wrong man. She should break the kiss, yet she is so intrigued she deepens it instead.
Just having arrived in London to escort his sister for the Season, Mr. Liam Jacobson expects the events to be tediously boring. He has a change of heart when he’s suddenly being kissed by an angel. The woman is perfection in his arms.
That perfection is short-lived, however.
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London, England, Spring 1829
Liam Jacobson strolled into the dark study. He reached up to pull the mask off his eyes, then thought better of it. Anonymity was the wiser choice for the night with the marriage minded mamas in the ballroom alongside their hopeful, wide-eyed daughters.
The scent of tobacco hung in the air. Moonlight filtered in from open double glass doors on the other side of the room. He made his way across the carpet, noticing the silhouette of a desk, chairs, and a settee. Stopping just inside the doors leading to a terrace, he shrugged his shoulders, hoping to alleviate the tension in his neck. After traveling from Scotland for a week and most of the day, he would rather have rested instead of attending this event tonight. Blast his sister and her dogged pursuit of finding a husband.
He surveyed the lit gardens. The weather remained quite cool, yet the pink and yellow buds of spring were evident in the flower beds.
At the sound of rustling fabric, Liam turned toward the doorway he entered moments ago. A woman in billowing skirts hurried inside and shut the door behind her. With the darkness of the room and the feather mask over her eyes, he could neither make out the color of her hair, nor her features.
She spotted him and rushed his way.
He stood motionless.
Once close, she threw her arms around his neck, urging his head down.
Suddenly he was kissing her.
Or rather, she was kissing him.
A flash of heat pulsed through his entire body, quick and fast.
Her lips felt cool, soft, and tasted fruity—refreshingly sweet.
He sensed the instant she realized he wasn’t the man she expected. She stiffened. Her lips remained pressed to his, but were no longer confident.
Not wanting to spoil or end this enchantment, Liam took over. He rested his hands on her small waist, lightly holding her, so she understood she could back away at any time.
She leaned nearer to him.
Emboldened, he pressed his body closer, intimately brushing against hers. He wanted to carry her to the settee and find out exactly how far she would allow this to go. Only the fact she had intended to meet a different man stopped him.
He aligned their bodies to caress her with his whole frame. She made a sound of surprise, hesitated, then returned the pressure of his lips. He moved his hands to the small of her back.
Her tongue darted out and tangled with his.
By everything holy.
The heat pulsing inside of him turned into a flame.
He brought the kiss to the next level, to a place where only pleasure existed. She opened completely to him and let him have his way. A familiar, light scent of flowers surrounded her. Where had he smelled that perfume?
Her gloved palms framed his face and he forgot everything, except this incredible creature in his arms. She gently stroked his cheeks, causing chills to pebble on his skin.
Maybe the London Season wouldn’t be tedious and boring if he stumbled upon willing females like this often. Except not just any woman would please him so. He’d been with enough women to recognize a reaction like this was rare. Truth be told, it had never happened to him before. If he believed in such things, he would think this captivating stranger had been made especially for him.
He led at times and let her take the reins at others. They matched each other perfectly, like reunited long lost lovers.
In an effort to stop his hands from roaming, he tenderly took her hands from his face and moved them to her sides, then intertwined their fingers. She sighed. Again he considered navigating her to the settee, but feared interrupting their connection and losing the magic.
Really, he should pull away. She obviously expected to rendezvous with her lover or husband, and Liam might find himself on a misty field in a duel by morning.
Using all his willpower, he gradually steered the kiss back to chaste and forced himself to break away from her. They stood close, both breathing hard.
She let go of his hands, grabbed his coat, and buried her face in his chest. “Please forgive me.”
A jolt of disbelief hit him.
Her voice. He knew that voice. Knew where he’d smelled that perfume before.
“I do not know what came over me,” she continued.
His head, already swimming from desire, spun. “Jean? Tell me this isn’t ye.”
Her head popped up. “Liam?” She took a hasty step backward.
“Aye,” he growled, either from irritation or sexual frustration.
No wait, both.
He ripped at his mask as she tugged hers off. They faced one another. It was too dark to make out her expression or the color of her eyes, but Liam didn’t need light. He knew what she looked like. Jean and her sisters, triplets, shared the same coloring, from their flaming red hair to their green eyes.
“Liam, what are you doing here?”
Ignoring his inappropriate craving to drag her back into his arms, because she was Jean—God’s blood—Jean, he said, “Don’t distract me. Who the devil are ye supposed to be meeting?”
“It is of no consequence.” She whirled around like she planned to walk away.
He could have easily gripped her arm. Instead, he stepped around and in front of her, not trusting himself to touch her. Her being in his arms had set off sparks inside of him, sensations he’d never experienced, and while he loved every one of them, this was not the woman he should be having scorching interludes with or improper thoughts about. “The hell it’s of no consequence. Are ye in the habit of meeting men in dark corners at balls?”
“How is that your concern?”
She was right. It wasn’t his concern. Simply because his brother Aiken and her brother Silas were best friends and their families partnered in business together didn’t make him beholden to her.
Except he was.
She clearly required protecting if she carried on like this in Town. “Ye are my concern following that…” He couldn’t say kiss, because honestly, the embrace had been much more than a mere meeting of lips.
He concentrated on his speech. Although his brogue was undeniably Scottish, he had learned proper English at school and always made a conscious effort to speak the way he was taught. At times, vexing situations made that difficult, and this was definitely a vexing situation.
Taking a deep breath, he precisely pronounced each word. “It is my concern, at least it is now. Who is your escort?”
“I am with my aunt. I thought you and Henrietta were expected next week.”
“My impetuous sister was anxious to throw her hand into the marriage lot.” He quirked his mouth. “We arrived this afternoon and had no time to send word. I am sure Henrietta is searching for you as we speak.”
“Henrietta is here?”
“Would I be attending a ball if not for her?”
“I guess not.” He heard the playfulness in her voice. “Be mindful, once everyone learns who you are, the marrying mamas will have you betrothed by the end of the week.”
A bit of fury left him at her teasing. “I plan to be extremely careful so I do not find myself in such a predicament.”
“Do you? May I be the one to point out you have been in town a scant few hours and you are in a dark room alone with me?”
Dark room alone indeed. “Our host—”
“Lord Ellis,” she offered.
“Aye, Ellis. He invited me to visit the study. I just made my way over to see the gardens when you dashed inside and accosted me.”
“How would you describe it?”
She tilted her head to the side. “You did not seem to mind, Liam.”
Hell no, he didn’t mind being kissed by an angel.
Sounds of laughter echoed from the hallway.
Jean seized one of his hands in a tight grip, her voice in a quiet, sudden panic. “You must leave.”
Not wanting to put either of them in a compromising position, he whispered, “If you explain who you intended to meet.”
“I promise,” she vowed. “Call on me at Uncle Alton’s tomorrow.”
“Expect me.” He squeezed her hand and took off out the double doors into the garden.
Jean flushed with a desire Liam had stirred inside her. A desire she’d never experienced before. She watched Liam trot out of sight, wishing for those magical stolen moments back.
No wonder she mistook him for Archie. Both men had brown hair and similar builds. But if she had seen his eyes, she would’ve stopped cold. Whereas Archie’s eyes were somber brown, Liam’s were a most extraordinary blue-green.
Laughter pealed again.
She scurried to the desk and lit the candelabra, her fingers trembling. Then, she moved to the bookcase, set down her mask, and quickly found a book on botany. Opening to a page with pictures, she struggled to calm her racing heart. It had fervently pounded since the first touch of Liam’s lips.
To distract herself from her wayward thoughts and hopefully from blushing, she glanced around. Walls painted dark green, the room held gold treasures—the clock on the mantel, the inkwell on the desk, and the frames on the paintings of many Ellis ancestors.
The door creaked open. Lady Ellis and Lady Frances walked inside, both using their masks as fans.
“A crush, I tell you. A positive crush.” Frances, one of Jean’s most pleasant friends, appeared fresh as new fallen snow in a high-waisted white dress trimmed with black ribbon. Golden-blonde hair styled in the latest simple fashion framed her heart-shaped face and blue eyes.
“Thank you for saying so.” Lady Ellis wore a pink dress on her plump frame, making her skin appear dewy, almost youthful. Or maybe her flushed cheeks were caused by the heat in the ballroom. Or possibly she, too, had recently experienced a passionate interlude with a man.
I must put that kiss out of my mind.
Lady Ellis glimpsed around and spotted Jean. “Miss Green, Why are you hiding away?”
“Like you, I wished to escape the growing throng.” Jean closed the book and placed it back on the shelf.
“Alone?” The older woman was a gossipmonger and proud of it.
“Of course,” she answered.
The elderly woman’s gray brows rose. Jean sent up a prayer no one saw Liam leave by way of the garden, because by the expression on Lady Ellis’s face, she would investigate further. “You are too young to want to escape the crush, dearest.”
Lady Ellis’s son, Viscount Ellis, was best friends with Archie and the one person who knew the secret Jean and Archie shared. Ellis must not have known Archie sent Jean a note to meet him in the study, or he would not have suggested Liam visit the room.
“I must return.” Lady Ellis plopped onto the settee. “After I rest a moment.”
“Come, Lady Frances,” Jean urged. Liam should be back in the ballroom by now. “Let us take a turn about the gardens. The night air will cool us.”
Her friend started across the room toward Jean.
“Good evening, ladies,” a deep, familiar voice said.
Frances turned and stepped to the side, clearing the way for Jean to see Viscount Archibald Ivers, the future Earl of Brandwich, in the doorway. He took off his mask. Discovering three women instead of Jean by herself did not appear to ruffle him. “Are we moving the party in here? I fear it will be quite crowded.”
Lady Ellis laughed. “We needed a respite.”
“So did I.” Archie grinned.
“Now I must see to my guests.” The hostess rose and bustled from the room.
Archie approached Jean and Frances. “You look lovely, ladies.”
Jean wanted to say so do you, yet couldn’t with Frances in the room. She was weary of pretending, of watching her every word, and of only sharing stolen moments with him.
He bowed to Frances first and kissed the back of her gloved hand. Then he switched his attention to Jean and did the same. When he straightened, he winked so only she could see.
“Mother insisted I come help,” Lord Ellis called as he came through the doorway. Though he wore a mask covering his eyes, no one could mistake who he was, his distinctive blond hair was so light it appeared white. “Miss Green, Mother informed me of your flight from the ball. Would you like a glass of lemonade?”
“That is very kind, but I will get a glass upon my return to the ballroom.”
Usually shy and reserved, Ellis seemed more brazen as he approached them. “You ladies are much more beautiful without the masks.”
Frances blushed. “Thank you.”
“I hope you will find room on your dance cards for me.”
“Certainly.” Frances accepted for both of them.
Ellis bowed. “May we assist you back to the ballroom?”
“We are off to enjoy the coolness outside.” Frances motioned toward the double doors and put her arm through Jean’s.
There went Jean’s chance to be alone with Archie tonight. The one little wink he sent her would have to sustain her until they met in private again. For two years she’d waited for any moment to secretly share with him.
Before they strolled out the doors, she peeked back to see Archie watching her, the barest hint of a smile on his lips.
Jean held on to Frances’s arm tighter as they headed out into the night.
Why hadn’t her heart raced when Archie winked at her, like it normally did?
Perhaps because her lips continued to tingle from Liam’s kiss. Liam had teased, encouraged, and tantalized her. She should have pulled away when she realized he was not Archie. But lord help her, she couldn’t.
To learn it was Liam shocked, amazed, embarrassed, ashamed, and intrigued her all at the same time. The heady mix of emotions made her entire body throb.
Instead of strolling the gardens where someone might notice him, after he left the study Liam had taken off toward the stables. Five stablehands stopped their duties as he entered.
“Please, do not let me interrupt. Lord Ellis invited me to examine his horses,” Liam said. Although not quite an accurate statement, he doubted Ellis would mind. Men loved to brag about their horses.
Liam needed time away from the ball, and Jean, to relax and give his body time to stop aching.
“Yes, sir,” one of the hands called, and the young men resumed their duties.
Liam made a show of stopping at each individual stall and inspecting the animals.
Done exploring the stable, he started across the drive toward the house. He found entry through an open side door which led to a hallway and eventually back to the crowded ballroom. He took his place and stood behind Henrietta and his aunt. A young chap moved toward his sister and bowed. “Shall we?”
Henrietta nodded, and they headed for the dance floor. Liam stepped forward and bowed to his aunt. She was his mother’s sister, and even though his mother died when he was quite young, eight years old, he remembered what she looked like. Aunt Olivia favored her with light-brown hair and brown eyes. “Would you care to dance?”
His aunt frowned. “On the ride over, ye made it very clear ye planned to avoid dancing tonight.”
“I said I did not care to dance with strangers. You, my dear aunt, are no stranger.”
“It’s been years since I danced.”
“Then we must. This is a grand opportunity for you to scuff my newly polished boots.”
He ushered her to the dance floor as the music began. Even though she kept an eye on Henrietta, his aunt enjoyed herself enough that her cheeks were rosy by the end of the song. They returned to their earlier spot. “Oh, Liam. How happy ye’ve made me.”
“A pleasure,” he assured her.
Henrietta returned with her young man, and he bowed. “Until we meet again.”
As he watched the gentleman march away, Liam’s attention caught on two women arm in arm.
A thrill shot through him like a lightning strike.
Even with her mask back on, he recognized Jean. He had merely got a scant glimpse of her in the study because of the lack of light. Here in the lit ballroom she looked radiant. Eyes still shadowed, her red hair glinted in the candlelight and her blue gown sparkled.
She beamed at him.
All the sensations she ignited in him mere moments ago sprinted back to life.
Jean shifted her attention to Henrietta once she and the blonde lass with her drew close. “Welcome, welcome.” Jean hugged Henrietta. “I am so pleased you have arrived.”
As Jean let go of his sister, she turned to Liam and held out her hand. “Mr. Jacobson, nice to see you.”
He kissed her gloved fingers. “Miss Green.” Her scent caught him and his body, traitor that it was, reacted inappropriately, making him ache again. He straightened and gestured toward his aunt. “May I introduce our aunt, Mrs. Olivia Crane.”
“Mrs. Crane, wonderful to meet you.” Jean gestured to her friend. “This is Lady Frances Rees.”
Liam did his duty and bussed the blonde’s hand.
Jean focused on Henrietta. “When did you arrive?”
“This afternoon,” his sister said with enthusiasm.
“You did not wish to rest upon your arrival?”
He wanted to applaud Jean’s performance. She asked the right questions even though she knew the answers. Their chance encounter didn’t seem to have affected her in the least.
So why did he keep thinking about it?
Why did the sensations she evoked continue to assault his senses as if he were a green boy having been kissed for the first time?