"You pass yourself off as a man of action, but now it seems that you are not that sort of man at all."
"I do not pass myself off as anything but what I am, you exasperating little--"
"Apparently you write fiction rather than fact, sir. Bad enough that I thought you to be a clever, resourceful gentleman given to feats of daring. I have also been laboring under the equally mistaken assumption that you are a man who would put matters of honor ahead of petty considerations of inconvenience."
"Are you calling my honor as well as my manhood into question?"
"Why shouldn't I? You are dearly indebted to me, sir, yet you obviously wish to avoid making payment on that debt."
"I was indebted to your uncle, not to you."
"I have explained to you that I inherited the debt," she retorted.
Matthias took another gliding step into the grim chamber. "Miss Waterstone, you try my patience."
"I would not dream of doing so," she said, her voice dangerously sweet. "I have concluded that you will not do at all as an associate in my scheme. I hereby release you from your promise. Begone, sir."
"Bloody hell, woman. You are not going to get rid of me so easily." Matthias crossed the remaining distance between them with two long strides and clamped his hands around her shoulders.
Touching her was a mistake. Anger metamorphosed into desire in the wink of an eye.
For an instant he could not move. His insides seemed to have been seized by a powerful fist. Matthias tried to breathe but Imogen's scent filled his head, clouding his brain. He looked down into the bottomless depths of her blue-green eyes and wondered if he would drown. He opened his mouth to conclude the argument with a suitably repressive remark, but the words died in his throat.
The outrage vanished from Imogen's gaze. It was replaced by sudden concern. "My lord? Is something wrong?"
"Yes." It was all he could do to get the word past his teeth.
"What is it?" She began to look alarmed. "Are you ill?"
"Good heavens. I had not realized. That no doubt explains your odd behavior."
"Would you care to lie down on the bed for a few minutes?"
"I do not think that would be a wise move at this juncture." She was so soft. He could feel the warmth of her skin through the sleeves of her prim, practical gown. He realized that he longed to discover if she made love with the same impassioned spirit she displayed in an argument. He forced himself to remove his hands from her shoulders. "We had best finish this discussion at some other time."
"Nonsense," she said bracingly. "I do not believe in putting matters off, my lord."
Matthias shut his eyes for the space of two or three seconds and took a deep breath. When he lifted his lashes he saw that Imogen was watching him with a fascinated expression. "Miss Waterstone," he began with grim determination. "I am trying to employ reason here."
"You're going to help me, aren't you?" She started to smile.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You've changed your mind, haven't you? Your sense of honor has won out." Her eyes glowed. "Thank you, my lord. I knew you would assist me in my plans." She gave him an approving little pat on the arm. "And you must not concern yourself with the other matter."
"What other matter?"
"Why, your lack of direct experience with bold feats and daring adventure. I quite understand. You need not be embarrassed by the fact that you are not a man of action, sir."
"Miss Waterstone-- "
"Not everyone can be an intrepid sort, after all," she continued blithely. "You need have no fear. If anything dangerous occurs in the course of my scheme, I shall deal with it."
"The very thought of you taking charge of a dangerous situation is enough to freeze the marrow in my bones."
"Obviously you suffer from a certain weakness of the nerves. But we shall contrive to muddle through. Try not to succumb to the terrors of the imagination, my lord. I know you must be extremely anxious about what lies ahead, but I assure you, I will be at your side every step of the way."
"Will you, indeed?" He felt dazed.
"I shall protect you." Without any warning Imogen put her arms around him and gave him what was no doubt meant to be a quick, reassuring hug.
The tattered leash Matthias was using to hold on to his self-control snapped. Before Imogen could pull away, he wrapped her close.
"Sir?" Her eyes widened with surprise.
"The only aspect of this situation that truly alarms me, Miss Waterstone," he said roughly, "is the question of who will protect me from you?"
Before she could reply, he crushed her mouth beneath his own.
Excerpted from Mischief by Amanda Quick. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.