An Award Winning Book
Marianne Nesbitt reluctantly agrees to join her friends the Merry Widows in seeking out lovers for the Season. Adam Cazenove would jump at the chance to warm the bed of his best friend’s beautiful widow, if not for his recent betrothal. But he can’t bear to think of another man in her bed, and foils her every attempt at seduction. Until a night of reckless passion changes everything.
Previous Cover: 2011
Previous Cover: 2006
The hero of In the Thrill of the Night, Adam Cazenove, is a connoisseur of art who is one of the sponsors of the British Institution. The Institution is not fictional. It played a significant role in British art during the 19th century.
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Follow the links in brackets to learn more about these real Regency references in Candice's book.
“You want me to help you find a lover?”
Put so bluntly, it did sound rather ridiculous. Marianne suddenly felt very foolish for even mentioning the idea. What had possessed her to do such a thing? She still could hardly believe she’d decided on this course. But in her mind’s eye she had seen Penelope’s glowing face on one side and Lavinia’s dark martyrdom on the other. There was no question about which of the two faces she wanted to wear.
“Forgive me, Adam. I should not have asked. I just thought . . .”
What had she thought? That he’d do exactly what he teased her about? That he would step in and do the job, providing her with ‘all the pleasure she could possibly imagine?’ She was quite sure he could have followed through on such a promise. One had only to look in those green eyes to know it. She was almost glad his betrothal precluded such an arrangement. He knew her well enough to realize she would never seek intimacy with another woman’s man.
“You thought I was your friend,” he said, “and would help you, as friends do. So, how can I help you?”
She was not entirely sure. But since the last meeting of the Fund trustees, she realized she was not as experienced in the bedroom as she had thought. She did not even know what she did not know. And that was what excited her about this whole business. What would it be like to be physically intimate with a man again, intimate in ways she could not even imagine? It sometimes thrilled her to think of it, but just as often frightened her.
“Well,” she said, “David is the only man I . . . well, you know. I never . . .” She felt her cheeks flame with embarrassment. She could not believe she was having this conversation. “Oh, Adam, I just don’t know how to go about this. I don’t know who would be a good . . . who would know how . . . Damn it all, I don’t know anything. I don’t know how to find the right man.”
Adam shook his head. “If you expect me to tell you which man would make the best lover, then you’re out, Marianne. I’m sorry, but that is asking too much. How should I know something like that? You’d be better off asking another woman.” He grinned. “The duchess, for example.”
She had thought about talking to Wilhelmina, but became too tongue-tied to do so. And yet here she was, having just such a conversation with Adam.
“You are right,” she said. “I shouldn’t be bothering you. It’s just . . . well, it’s not all about what a man does in the bedroom.”
He arched a brow. “Is it not? I thought that was the whole point.”
“Yes, but I also need a man who will be discreet. I don’t want my name bandied about at the clubs or, God forbid, mentioned in the betting books. I would like my privacy respected.”
“A gentleman of honor, then,” he said. “I would expect nothing less. And what else?”
“I do not want a man with an eye to marriage, or an eye on my fortune. It must be someone willing to accept me on my own terms.”
“A physical relationship only?”
“For the most part. No entanglements.”
“A man of the world, one who covets your body but not your fortune.” His hooded gaze followed the line of her hips and thighs, sending a sudden flush of heat through her veins. “That should not be difficult. And what else?”
Damn the man for looking at her like that. She had become much more aware lately of the words and looks and touches that passed between men and women. She had known Adam most of her life, knew him to be a seducer of women, but he had never turned those bedroom eyes on her in such a provocative way. Or had she just never noticed?
She gathered her composure and smiled at his feigned insolence. “Well, it would be nice if he was handsome, of course.”
He laughed. “Of course. A handsome gentleman of honor with some skill between the sheets who is content with an uncomplicated affair. The field narrows. And what else? A man of fashion?”
“I do not think that is important. He should be presentable and clean, naturally, but I doubt a man overly concerned with his wardrobe would be an appropriate candidate.”
“Quite right. No pinks of the ton. Too absorbed in themselves to do right by a woman. What about fortune?”
“That should not be a consideration,” she said.
“Hmm. I had not thought of it. I suppose it would not serve the purpose for him to be in his dotage.”
“Certainly not. The fellow must be able to perform, after all. And an old roué would not suit you.” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “So, we are looking for a gentleman who is handsome, discreet, and not given to dandified ways, who offers no entanglements, and is still vigorous enough to satisfy a woman’s needs. Have I got it right so far?”
She grinned and realized that he had put her entirely at ease by making a game of the whole business. “Yes,” she said, “that sounds about right to me. And also —”
“Egad, there’s more? My dear, if you become too particular in your tastes, you risk narrowing the field to the point where there is no man left standing.”
“But, Adam, this hypothetical man and I will spend a great deal of time together, and not just in the bedroom. There ought to be more than just . . . that, shouldn’t there? I would like a man I can talk to, a man who has a way with women, a man I can enjoy being with.”
A man like you.
“A gentleman with both conversation and charm,” he said.
“Yes, that’s it.”
“A tall order, my dear. And, of course, none of it matters if the chap is not also a skillful love-maker. Correct?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true. Oh, Adam, I know it sounds foolish and you are merely teasing me, but I just want . . .”
She could not admit it aloud, not to Adam, but she wanted that excitement and passion Penelope talked about. She wanted what her friends had experienced. Just once in her life.
* * *
Adam knew what she wanted, probably better than she did. And yet, out of sheer perversity, he seemed determined she should not have it. What man could possibly be worthy of her? And how could any man hope to measure up to David Nesbitt, who was no doubt as talented and skillful in the bedroom as he was at everything else he did?
Poor Marianne was doomed to disappointment.
Adam did not lack confidence in his own sexual prowess, and thought he just might be able to best the memory of David in that particular arena. Now that it was impossible to put that confidence to the test, he was strangely loathe to see any other man make the attempt.
“All teasing aside,” she said, “would you be willing to advise me on whether certain men would . . . meet my needs?”
“You have someone in mind?”
“Actually, I have a list.”
“Good God, a list? Damnation, Marianne, this will require more wine. Do you by chance have another bottle at hand?”
“You know where to find it.”
He did indeed. She still kept it in the deep bottom drawer of the kneehole desk in the corner, where David had always kept a ready supply. Adam retrieved a bottle and uncorked it. Without bothering to decant it — this business of a list of potential lovers could not wait for such niceties — he carried the bottle with him and set it on the candle stand between them. He topped off her glass before refilling his own.
After taking a restorative swallow of claret, he said, “You have a list.”
She reached for the book she’d tucked beside the seat cushion and retrieved a folded sheet of paper from between the pages. “I jotted down a few names. What do you think of Lord Peter Bentham?”
Devil take it, he was going to have to think fast. “Bentham? Younger son of Worthing? Big, strapping chap with yellow hair?”
“Yes, that’s him.”
“I would steer clear of that one if I were you.”
“I’ve heard the fellow has a hot temper and a violent streak.”
“Lord Peter? I can hardly believe it. He seems like such a kind gentleman.”
“Appearances can be deceiving. Most fellows are on their best behavior in public, especially around females. But one hears talk in the clubs. I would be uneasy if I thought you were involved with a man like Bentham. For my peace of mind, may we cross him off the list?”
“All right.” Her voice was tinged with disappointment. Had she really been attracted to that great hulking oaf?
“Sir Dudley Wainfleet.”
He chuckled softly. “You’ll have no success there, my dear.”
“Just between you and me, the man is not particularly interested in women.”
Her eyes widened. “You mean . . .”
“Precisely. Cross him off. Who’s next?”
He shook his head and laughed. “It is a good thing you sought my advice on this list of yours.”
She lifted her chin at a challenging angle. “Is there some objection to Mr. Plimsoll?”
“Only that he keeps a mistress and their five children in a house in Hampstead.”
She gave a little gasp of surprise. “You’re joking? I never heard such a thing about him.”
“Women never do. Sometimes not even wives know about their husband’s second families. Trust me, my dear. Every man of the ton knows about that house in Hampstead.”
“Oh dear. How very frustrating. It is indeed fortunate that I asked your advice.” She sighed and took a sip of wine as she looked down at her list. “Harry Shackleford?”
Adam frowned, but said nothing. This exercise was becoming more distasteful. The thought of any of these men with Marianne intolerable.
“What? Is there something wrong about him, too?”
He shrugged. “Nothing specific. Just a gut feeling.”
“And what does your gut say?”
“It may sound odd, but I don’t like the way the man treats his horses.”
A puzzled frown marked her brow. “His horses?”
“Yes. He shows no care at all for them, and is a tad too free with the whip and the spur. He is downright cruel to the poor beasts, running them until they’re lame. And I have observed that a man who mistreats his cattle often shows the same disregard for his women. I don’t trust him.”
A suspicious glint lit her eyes. “You think I should cross him off the list?”
“It is entirely up to you, my dear. I am only offering an observation.”
“Hmm. All right then. Lord Rochdale.”
Adam almost choked on his wine. ” Rochdale?” he sputtered. The fellow was one of his closest friends and a notorious libertine. The very idea of Marianne and Rochdale together was simply not to be borne. The man would use her and toss her aside without a second thought. Surely she knew that. “You’re not serious?”
She smiled. “No, I’m not.”
He heaved a sigh of relief. Thank God.
“I only wanted to get back at you for objecting to every other man on my list.”
“Wretch! You almost gave me an apoplexy.”
“Serves you right.”
Her dimples flashed and she looked adorable, all curled up and cozy in her shawl with her feet tucked underneath her like a girl. Funny. He’d never noticed what dainty feet she had. Despite Adam’s best efforts, it seemed some lucky fellow was going to tuck those pretty feet in a very different posture and wrap himself around her better than any shawl. Damn.
“Now,” she said, “shall we continue?”
“Lots more. It’s quite an extensive list, you see.”
She held up the paper and it did indeed look like there were twenty or more names on it. Adam poured another glass of wine. It was going to be a long night.