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Improper Arrangements (The Improper Series), page 1

 

Improper Arrangements (The Improper Series)
 


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Improper Arrangements (The Improper Series)


  Improper Arrangements

  By Juliana Ross

  France, 1866

  A reckless infatuation nearly ruined Lady Alice Cathcart-Ross in her youth, but from the moment she spies Elijah Philemon Keating scaling a rock face without a rope in sight, the man awakens her long-buried desire. Alice has come to the high Alps in search of a mountaineer, and in Elijah she finds the guide of her dreams.

  Though Elijah is known as one of the greatest explorers of the age, a tragic accident has destroyed his taste for adventure and society. Elijah can’t deny his attraction to Alice, but he resolves to avoid the entanglement that could accompany it. He promises Alice one week in the Alps, and no more.

  Alice agrees, valuing her independence above all else. But as the heights they climb by day are overshadowed by the summits of passion they reach at night, these vows become harder and harder to keep...

  For more improper lords and ladies from Juliana Ross, download Improper Relations today!

  38,000 words

  Dear Reader,

  I’m on vacation, camping in the semi-wilderness. No, not when you’re reading this (well, maybe, who knows?) but when this letter is due to our production team. So I’ve chosen to hand off my Dear Reader letter responsibilities to the team for the month of November and let them tell you all about the fantastic lineup in store for you. We’re a team who really enjoys the books we acquire, and I know they’ll be glad for a chance to convince you to give one a try. In the meantime, I’ll be back next month. Happy reading!

  Angela James, Editorial Director

  Dear Reader,

  Editorial assistant Stephanie here. Since Angela is “camping” (all I’m saying is that camping seems to involve a lot of tweeting), I’ve compiled a few fun facts about this month’s new releases. What kinds of great books do we have in store for you this time? Will I get in trouble for making fun of my boss’s camping skills? These are the questions I will strive to answer for you today.

  Redemption by Stephanie Tyler, new adult, post-apocalyptic

  Stephanie Tyler returns with book two in her post-apocalyptic new-adult motorcycle club series.

  Redemption continues the story of the Defiance MC with Mathias and Jessa’s story. If you missed book one, Defiance—Cas and Tru’s story—you’re missing out on a fantastic world and some swoon-worthy romance.

  —Angela James, Editorial Director, Carina Press

  Snowbound with the CEO by Shannon Stacey, contemporary romance

  Shannon’s books are must-reads if you love contemporary romance.

  Shannon Stacey’s holiday novellas are becoming something of a delightful tradition at Carina Press, and we’re happy to have the latest in our hands!

  —Stephanie Doig, Editorial Assistant, Harlequin and Carina Press

  Chance of Rain by Amber Lin, contemporary romance

  We’re happy to welcome Amber to the Carina Press family!

  This small-town reunion romance gripped me from the first chapter and wouldn’t let go. The tortured alpha hero, who just happens to be a Navy SEAL, also didn’t hurt!

  —Tara Stevens, Assistant Product Manager, Digital Products

  Take Me Home by Inez Kelley, contemporary romance

  Inez writes contemporary and fantasy romance for Carina Press. Her new lumberjack series had the (admittedly largely Canadian) team intrigued from the start!

  Maple-syrup maker Kayla falls for a sexy lumberjack with a bitter past and a wary heart in the first of her new Country Roads series featuring loggers in the Allegheny Mountains.

  —Deborah Nemeth, Freelance Editor, Carina Press

  Slow Ride Home by Leah Braemel, contemporary Western romance

  Leah writes wonderfully sexy, emotional romances for Carina Press, including Texas Tangle and Tangled Past.

  Leah’s lovely writing drew me right along into a sensual story of love, heat and scandal. With cowboys. Look for more of the Grady family to come. Did I mention there are cowboys?

  —Brendan Flattery, Digital Production Coordinator

  Love a Little Sideways by Shannon Stacey, contemporary romance

  Shannon’s bestselling Kowalski family miniseries is a must-read for contemporary romance fans.

  What begins as the annual Kowalski Camping Trip of Doom turns into a brand-new start for an unlikely couple—charming, funny proof that what we think we want and what the heart wants isn’t always the same thing.

  —Kerri Buckley, Editor, Carina Press

  Sing for the Dead by PJ Schnyder, paranormal shifter romance

  PJ writes futuristic science fiction romance and paranormal romance for Carina Press.

  The exciting second book in the London Undead trilogy brings readers back into a world where zombies have taken over London. Now the werewolves who’ve stepped up to fight the creatures have a new ally—a member of the Fae who jumps right into the middle of the fray!

  —Mallory Braus, Freelance Editor, Carina Press

  Through the Black Veil by Steve Vera, urban fantasy

  You may remember us gushing about Drynn, Steve’s first book in this series.

  In book 2 of the Last of the Shardyn series, our fearless heroes have returned to their magical homeland to warn everyone about the danger threatening to destroy their world.

  —Rhonda Helms, Freelance Editor, Carina Press

  Improper Arrangements by Juliana Ross, erotic historical romance

  Juliana writes sizzling historical romances set in Victorian times for Carina Press.

  The follow-up to Improper Relations features a mountain-climber hero, Eli. He is my favorite type of hero: rugged, handsome, rough around the edges, mysterious. Love him!

  —Carly Chow, Assistant Manager, Digital Commerce

  Finessing the Contessa by Wendy Soliman, historical romance

  Wendy Soliman writes wonderful, exciting historical romances. The first two Forsters books are currently available from Carina Press.

  In Wendy Soliman’s Regency romance Finessing the Contessa, Lord Robert Forster is drawn to the brilliant Sicilian he meets at a chess match, but is she a spy or an innocent pawn in a game of international espionage?

  —Deborah Nemeth, Freelance Editor, Carina Press

  All In with the Duke by Ava March, male/male historical romance

  Ava March writes can’t-miss historical male/male stories for Carina Press.

  Max Arrington, the Duke of Pelham, has vowed to never again let a handsome face blind him to a man’s true intentions. But the beautiful Tristan Walsh is too intriguing for Max to resist, and it’s not long before their wicked nights together turn into something more.

  —Stephanie Doig, Editorial Assistant, Harlequin and Carina Press

  For Her Eyes Only by Shannon Curtis, romantic suspense

  This is the third book in Shannon’s exciting McCormack Security Agency series.

  For Her Eyes Only features an admin assistant pairing up with the MSA’s undercover expert to investigate a murder. I loved the sexual tension between the hero and heroine!

  —Stephanie Doig, Editorial Assistant, Harlequin and Carina Press

  Getting Rich by Monique Domovitch, cozy mystery

  Monique’s first novel with Carina Press, Getting Skinny, had us all eager for the follow-up.

  Just when she thinks she’s on the verge of getting rich, Nicky Landry finds out somebody is out to get her—and whoever it is has murder on the menu—in Monique Domovitch’s second Chef Landry Mystery.

  —Deborah Nemeth, Freelance Editor, Carina Press

  No Place Like Rome by Julie Moffett, action-adventure, mystery

  In addition to writing the Lexi Carmichael mys
teries, Julie also writes Scottish historical romances!

  Our favorite geek girl is off to Rome with the sexy and mysterious Slash to solve a case involving the Vatican, a dead body, some steamy kisses from her partner, and a top-secret encrypted file that even she can’t hack.

  —Alissa Davis, Freelance Editor, Carina Press

  Season of Seduction, erotic holiday anthology

  Five Golden Rings by Jeffe Kennedy, erotic romance

  Jeffe writes steamy erotic BDSM romance for Carina Press, as well as (also steamy!) fantasy romance.

  Jeffe Kennedy heats up the season with this sultry, adventurous Facets of Passion novella set against the balmy days—and scorching nights—of a high-powered woman’s holiday-vacation-turned-sexual epiphany.

  —Kerri Buckley, Editor, Carina Press

  Naughty Nicks by Christine d’Abo, erotic romance

  Christine’s Long Shots series, about a BDSM club and its patrons, includes a choose-your-path erotic romance!

  This sexy and emotional novella features an interesting holiday business—stripper Santas! There was so much great tension between the heroine and her hero, who also happens to be her boss.

  —Stephanie Doig, Editorial Assistant, Harlequin and Carina Press

  Ménage on 34th Street by Elise Logan and Emily Ryan-Davis, erotic ménage romance

  We are proud to welcome Elise and Emily to the Carina Press family! This is their first book with us.

  Katrina and Liam have a happy marriage, but they’ve always felt there’s room for more. When their friend Hunter returns from active duty, they know exactly what that “more” is. Now if only they can convince Hunter...

  —Stephanie Doig, Editorial Assistant, Harlequin and Carina Press

  Matzoh and Mistletoe by Jodie Griffin, erotic BDSM romance

  Jodie writes about true-to-life characters exploring their sexy sides in her Bondage & Breakfast series.

  This BDSM novella has a lot of things going for it—it’s sexy, emotional, and there’s a really hot cop. Jodie is known for writing wonderfully realistic characters, and she doesn’t disappoint here.

  —Stephanie Doig, Editorial Assistant, Harlequin and Carina Press

  Gifts of Honor, military holiday collection

  Starting from Scratch by Stacy Gail, contemporary military romance

  Stacy writes both paranormal and contemporary romance for Carina Press.

  Stacy Gail gifts us with the sweetest of holiday reunions for a wounded Army Ranger and his one true love. Patience and forgiveness meet sharp wit and sizzling attraction!

  —Kerri Buckley, Editor, Carina Press

  Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley, contemporary military romance

  Rebecca’s debut book with Carina Press, a fantastic sports romance called The Striker’s Chance¸ came out in September.

  Three days before Christmas, a surprising phone call from an old love changes absolutely everything in this compelling novella.

  —Kerri Buckley, Editor, Carina Press

  Dedication

  To my husband

  who has climbed many mountains for me

  Acknowledgments

  To my editor, Deborah Nemeth, thank you for making me a better writer, and for honoring me with your sage and insightful advice. You are an absolute delight to work with!

  To Angela James, Carina’s Executive Editor, thank you for being the first person to say yes to my writing, and thank you for continuing to support my work. I would also like to express my gratitude to Angela’s wonderful team at Carina Press for their support and advice over the past several years.

  To my literary agent, the incomparable Kevan Lyon, I offer my heartfelt thanks. Your belief in me is a constant inspiration.

  To my circle of friends, both near and far—Denise, Jane D., Jane E., Jen, Kelly F., Kelly W., Liz and Rena—thank you for your love, encouragement and treats. Especially the treats.

  Most of all I want to thank my family, in particular my sister, my husband and my children, for believing in me and never (well, hardly ever) complaining when I neglected you because I was busy with Alice and Elijah. You are everything to me.

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Author’s Note

  About the Author

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  Argentière, France

  August, 1866

  I couldn’t look away.

  We had stopped by the side of the road a few minutes before. Apparently something was amiss with one of the carriage’s wheels, or the fastening of an axle, or some such thing. I was glad of the respite, for I felt as if I’d been traveling for at least a year as we bounced and bumped along the narrow, rutted mountain roads.

  When I’d first caught sight of the Alps—last Wednesday? Thursday?—I was entranced. I filled page after page of my sketchbook with penciled views captured hastily from the carriage window, mere placeholders for my memory until I had the chance to render them fully in ink and paint.

  After a few days, however, I’d become rather inured to the splendor of my surroundings, and when the coachman started shouting I was fast asleep. My French was tolerably good, so I was able to follow most of what he said. Apparently there was a madman, and only a fool spits in the eye of death, and God did not give men wings for a reason. Since the coachman had scarcely said a word all day, this seemed to merit my attention.

  “What is the matter?” I called out.

  “Over there, madame. On the rock face to the right of us.”

  “What of it?” There was only a wall of granite, such as I’d seen any number of times over the past few days, quite clear of vegetation apart from a few stunted conifers and scrubby patches of moss.

  “Look up, madame.”

  I did so, leaning out of the carriage window, and that was when I saw him.

  High above us, at least a hundred feet from the ground, a man was climbing the rock face. That in itself wasn’t terribly unusual, for young men in the region, I’d been told, were fond of such pursuits. But he seemed to be alone and, moreover, was climbing without any kind of rope or safety harness, or at least none that I could see with the naked eye.

  I scrabbled in my leather satchel, which had fallen to the floor of the carriage, and extracted my binoculars. I was right—he was climbing the rock face on his own, with no ropes to support him, and he was doing so in a state of rather shocking undress.

  I adjusted the focus on the binoculars, just to make certain, but my eyes hadn’t deceived me: the climbing man wore nothing but a pair of breeches, or perhaps trousers cut off at the knee, and that was all. He had no shirt, not even a singlet, and his feet were bare.

  “Celui-là, il est fou,” said the coachman. “Only a lunatic would try such a thing.”

  It did seem the height of folly to climb such a height with so little regard for safety, but as I watched the man move up and across the rock face I found my initial horror giving way to admiration. There was a kind of grace to his movements, a considered decisiveness as he reached above, into the unknown, found something to grasp, pulled himself upward and then repeated the entire motion. It was so seamless, so fluid, that he might have been moving through water.

  Eventually he reached the crest of the rock face, pulled himself over the top and disappeared into the forest above. I waited for him to reappear, but he seemed to be gone for good. Unaccountably disappointed, I turned my attention back to the coachman and his attempts to repair the carriage.

  “It is no good, madame. The wheel is broken. We must wait for another carriage, o
r if you wish I can walk on to the village.”

  The village in question was Argentière, several miles north of Chamonix. From there I intended to begin my walk along the famed High-Level Route to Zermatt. Assuming, of course, that I and my baggage were ever to reach our destination.

  “How far is it?” I asked.

  “A kilometer or two. No more.”

  “Then I shall come with you. What about my trunk and my bags?”

  “Your trunk is already padlocked to the rear of the carriage. As for your bagages, I will secure them in the compartment under my seat.”

  After stowing my smaller cases, he unhitched the horses from the struts of the carriage and secured their leads to a nearby tree. He fetched them a bucket of water each from a barrel that was secured beneath the vehicle, then strapped on their nosebags and left them to their dinner.

  “Allons-y, madame.”

  I had kept my satchel and my two smallest traveling cases, which contained my art supplies and valuables respectively, and the coachman was kind enough to take all of them in hand for me.

  The road we followed was quite level, and not at all taxing. There was little traffic between Chamonix and Argentière, at least at that hour, for no carriages or wagons passed us. I soon learned the coachman’s name—Monsieur Durand—and that he had grown up in Argentière. After seeing to the repair of the carriage, he told me, he planned to stay with his sister overnight.

  We hadn’t been walking for long when I heard the sound of someone approaching from behind. I turned to see a man walking toward us, and as he drew near I realized it was the man we’d seen climbing the rock face earlier.

  He now wore a shirt, left open at the neck, with a pair of braces to secure his breeches. But he had no tie or waistcoat or coat, and his legs were bare. On his feet he had low boots, quite worn and scuffed, and he carried nothing but an empty waterskin.

  He looked to be a handsome man, although his dark, rather scruffy beard badly needed a trim, and his hair was unfashionably long, falling in unruly waves to just shy of his shoulders. Were there no barbers in Argentière?

 
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