Her Wanton Wager
Percy!" the maid took off after Alfie.
    Plimpton's gaze darted to the back curtain and back to Percy. As rehearsed, he said in a loud voice, "I'd best go lend a hand, miss. Wait here. I'll, er, lock up to keep you safe until I return."
    Before Percy could utter a word, the haberdasher scrambled out of the shop, securing the door behind him.
    "What on earth?" Percy muttered as she stared after the retreating figure.
    With stealthy steps, Gavin made his way over. He tapped her on the shoulder. She whirled around; to her credit, she didn't scream or—God forbid—faint. As usual, Persephone Fines was proving no typical female.
    " You ," she said.
    He bowed. "Good day, Miss Fines. Enjoying your shopping?"
    Against the white satin lining of her bonnet, Percy's eyes were even bluer than he remembered. Her glorious gaze narrowed. "That boy was no thief. You set this up, didn't you?"
    "I wanted a moment alone with you," Gavin said.
    "Why?"
    His lips quirked; he liked the way she cut to the chase.
    "I didn't wish for you to forget me or my wager," he said.
    "If only I could be so fortunate." She tipped her chin up. "I am, however, doing my best to put the incident behind me."
    "Come, Miss Fines, surely you've at least considered the wager? Had a moment's curiosity about the adventures you and I might share?"
    A flush tinged the curve of her cheeks. Her pearly teeth sank into her dimpled lower lip, a tell-tale sign of nerves. Aha. You have thought about me, you shameless vixen. Satisfaction expanded his chest; he'd known the animal attraction between them was mutual.
    "Or," he said deliberately, "perhaps you're afraid to take me on?"
    "I am not afraid of you," she retorted.
    The fact pleased him. He chucked her beneath the chin—aye, her skin was even softer than he'd imagined—as she gasped in indignation. "Brazen little chit."
    "Keep your paws off me." She swatted his hand away. "I am not brazen . I'm a proper miss, and I want nothing to do with you, you worthless scoundrel."
    Some of his amusement faded. "You're lying," he said.
    "I am not. You … you disgust me!"
    His jaw ticked as another's voice shrilled in his head. One day you'll find me gone, you worthless guttersnipe. Rid of you and happier for it. Who'd blame me for wanting to be free of a stupid, disgusting brat like you? His mother had made good on her threats, too. One day, he'd returned to their miserable hovel to find her and all their earthly belongings gone.
    "You want me, you little baggage, and you know it," he ground out.
    "I would never want someone like you."
    Red filtered his vision. Before he could think, he had her pressed up against the display case. Her breasts heaved an inch away from his waistcoat. Her skirts skimmed his thighs. Her little tongue darted out, wetting her lips. Lust and anger mixed, driving his breath out in harsh rushes.
    "Think you're too good for the likes of me?" he sneered.
    Her eyes wide, she said, "Are you mad? You're planning to destroy my brother—of course I don't want anything to do with you! Let me go, you oaf. "
    She shoved at him; his hands clenched the counter on either side of her. Even as her words sank through his haze of rage, he knew it was too late. Her clean, citrusy scent blossomed inside him, her ripe mouth beckoning. Hunger clawed at his gut. Just one taste …
    He bent toward her.
    Crack. The force of her slap snapped his head to the side.
    Jaw throbbing, he started at her rosy features. Her eyes shot sparks at him. Stunned by his loss of control, he muttered, "I suppose I deserved that."
    "You'll get more if you don't let me go," she warned.
    What the bloody hell is the matter with you? Get a hold of yourself. Don't scare her away, you sod. He released his grip on the counter and raked his hands through his hair. Immediately, she scooted out of his reach.
    "You cad ." Her hand fluttered to her bosom; the half-buttoned glove flapped open, and the glimpse of her slender wrist was more erotic than a roomful of

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