Secret Desires of a Gentleman
Once Upon a Time…
Maria Martingale was going to elope. But Phillip Hawthorne, Marquess of Kayne, put a stop to those plans when he learned his younger brother intended to marry a cook’s daughter. Now twelve years later, Maria discovers that the man who holds her fate in his hands is none other than the haughty gentleman who sent her packing – and he’s as handsome and arrogant as ever.
Happily Ever After?
Always the proper gentleman, Phillip will do anything to protect his family from scandal, and when Maria dares to move in right next door, he knows scandal will surely follow. She is as tempting as he remembered… and the more he sees her, the harder it is for Phillip to hide his own secret desire for her…
If there be no bread, let them eat cake.
This couldn’t be right. Maria Martingale came to a halt at the intersection of Piccadilly and Half Moon Streets, staring doubtfully at the shop on the corner. It was in an ideal location, appeared to be in excellent condition, and the sign over the doorway declared the premises had formerly been a tea shop. It was perfect, so perfect in fact that Maria was sure there had to be some sort of mistake.
She glanced down at the order to view in her hands, then back up at the engraved brass kick plate of the door to verify the address. 88 Piccadilly. No mistake. She was in the right place.
Just come into the market, the agent had told her as he’d given her the order to view. Precisely what she was looking for. Clean, he’d hastened to add, handing over the keys, and freshly painted, with a thoroughly modern kitchen.
Maria had not received these assurances with much enthusiasm. For three months now, she’d been combing through the streets of London, looking for just the right place for her pâtisserie, and though she’d had little success in her search, she had learned a great deal about property agents and their descriptions. A modern kitchen often meant nothing more than a closed range and a few gaslights, fresh paint covered a multitude of sins, and “clean” was a relative term. Even in the finest neighborhoods, she’d stepped on so many beetle-infested floors and inhaled the noxious odor of bad drains so often she’d almost given up the whole venture in despair.
But as she studied the building on this particular corner, Maria felt a spark of hope. The location was first rate. It had frontage on Piccadilly, was within the street’s most popular shopping area, and the neighborhood surrounding it was prosperous. Wealthy, influential businessmen lived here with their ambitious, social-climbing wives, wives who would willingly pay to provide their busy cooks with the best in ready-made baked goods. And Maria intended to provide the best. What Fortnum & Mason was to the picnic hamper, Martingale’s would be to the tea tray and the dessert plate.
It was all due to Prudence, of course. If her best friend, Prudence Bosworth, hadn’t inherited a fortune and married the Duke of St. Cyres, none of this would be possible. Maria wouldn’t have been able to leave her position as pâtissier to the great chef André Chauvin and strike out on her own. But Prudence had pots of money and had been happy to back her dearest friend in the venture of her dreams.
Maria folded the order to view and put it in the pocket of her blue and white striped skirt, then she walked a few steps down Half Moon Street. As she viewed the exterior of the shop, her hopes rose another notch. There were enormous plate-glass windows on both streets, and the entrance, set at an angle to the corner, boasted a door with glass panels. This design would provide plenty of opportunity for those walking past to be tempted by the delightful confections she would have on display. She could see from the window wells set in the concrete of the sidewalk that the kitchen was in the basement. Steps on Half Moon Street led down to it through a tradesmen’s entrance door.
Eager to see the interior of the shop, Maria hastened back to the corner, opened her handbag again and extracted the key given to her by the property agent. She walked up the whitened front steps, unlocked the door, and went inside.
The front room was large, with enough space for the display cases and tea tables necessary to a pâtisserie. The fresh paint extolled by the property agent, however, would have to be redone, for it was that peculiar shade known as yallery-greenery, quite fashionable nowadays, but most unsuitable for a bakery.
Maria scrutinized the floor and took several deep breaths, breathed deeply, and her hopes rose another notch. No bad drains, and not a blackbeetle to be seen. Perhaps this time the property agents had got it right.
There was only one way to be sure. She tucked her handbag under her arm, then crossed the room, the heels of her high button shoes tapping decisively on the black and white tile floor. Upon opening the door to the back rooms of the shop, she found the arrangements typical of a thousand other London establishments. There was an office, a storeroom, and one set of stairs led up to sleeping quarters and another led down to the kitchen and scullery. Maria knew she could hardly expect anything below stairs other than the damp, depressing hole that usually passed for a kitchen in London, but when she reached the bottom of the steps, she stopped in her tracks, one foot on the linoleum floor, staring into the most perfect kitchen she had ever seen.
There were oak cupboards, two full walls of them, with shelves, drawers and bins of every imaginable shape and size. Iron pot racks hung from the heavy oak beams that crossed the ceiling. Above the cupboards, the windows she’d spied from the sidewalk above not only let in some natural light, they also opened at the top for ventilation–something that would be most welcome in the heat of summer.
Maria moved forward into the room, studying her surroundings in amazement. The cement walls had been sheathed in a fresh coat of white plaster, and the linoleum floor beneath her feet was a soft, cheery yellow. To her right were the ovens, four of them, their cast-iron doors sunken into the bricks of the wall. A decorative hood of hammered copper hung above them, and the coal-fired ranges jutted out below, each one fitted with a pair of burners, a boiler and a tap.
The back kitchen was equally modern. The scullery had two sinks, a dual water tap, and a long, tin drainboard, and the larder was generous, with shelves to the ceiling. There was even an ice room for cold storage.
Maria returned to the front kitchen, pulled off her gloves, and proceeded to examine the stoves. She opened the oven doors, turned the hot water taps, and lifted the hotplates, feeling a bit like a child in a toy shop. She used the scullery taps to rinse the stove blacking off her hands, and bravely sampled the water. Of course it tasted fine. This was Mayfair.
She finally stopped tinkering with the various appliances, but she could not quite bring herself to leave. Her father had been a chef, and she’d been in all manner of kitchens during her twenty-nine years, but never had she seen a kitchen quite like this. It was a dream come true.
Here she would create masterpieces–the tenderest, flakiest pastries, the tiniest, prettiest petit fours, and the most amazing wedding cakes London society had ever seen. Countless people, her father and André among them, had told her that because she was a woman, she could never be regarded as a great chef, but here, in this kitchen, she would prove them wrong.
A shadow moved past the window, a pedestrian walking by, and Maria came out of her reverie with a start. She couldn’t stand here dithering all day. She had to go see the property agent and make arrangements for the lease. Now, this instant, before someone else caught sight of this lovely kitchen and snatched it away from her.
Spurred into action, Maria caught up her gloves and raced up the stairs, stuffing them into her handbag as she fumbled for the latch key. Outside, she locked the front door and shoved the key into her pocket, but even with her sense of haste, she couldn’t resist pausing for one last look at the shop. Stepping back from the door, she imagined how it would look when it was hers. The name, Martingale’s, prominently but tastefully displayed in gold letters over the door. Bright red strawberry tarts, delicate pink and white petit fours, and fat golden scones in the windows.
“It’s perfect,” she breathed with reverent appreciation, still looking at the shop over her shoulder as she started walking away. “Absolutely perfect.”
The collision brought her out of her daydreams with painful force. She was knocked off her feet, her handbag went flying, and she stumbled backward, stepping on the hem of her skirt as she tried to right herself. She would have fallen to the pavement, but a pair of strong hands caught her, and she was hauled up against the hard wall of a man’s chest. “Steady on, my girl,” a deep voice murmured near her ear, a voice that somehow seemed familiar. “Are you all right?”
She inhaled deeply, trying to catch her breath, and as she did, she caught the luscious scents of bay rum and fresh linen. She nodded, her cheek brushing the unmistakable silk facing of a fine lapel. “I think so,” she answered.
Her palms flattened against the soft, rich wool of a gentleman’s coat and she pushed back, lifting her chin to look up at him. When her gaze met his, recognition hit her with more force than the collision of their bodies had done.
Phillip Hawthorne. The Marquess of Kayne.
There was no mistaking those eyes, vivid cobalt blue eyes framed by thick black lashes. Irish eyes, she’d always thought, though if any Irish blood tainted the purity of his oh-so-aristocratic British lineage, he’d never have acknowledged it. Phillip had always been such a dry stick, as unlike his brother, Lawrence, as chalk was from cheese.
Memories came over her like a flood, washing away twelve years in the space of a heartbeat. Suddenly, she was no longer standing on a sidewalk in Mayfair, but in the library at Kayne Hall and Phillip was standing across the desk from her, holding out a bank draft and looking at her as if she were nothing.
She glanced down, half-expecting to see the pale pink paper of a bank draft in his hand–the bribe to make her leave and never come back, the payment in exchange for her promise to keep away from Lawrence for the rest of her life. The marquess had only been nineteen then, but he’d already managed to put a price on love. It was worth one thousand pounds.
His voice, so cold, came echoing back to her from twelve years ago. This sum should be adequate, since my brother assures me there is no possibility of a child.
Shaken, Maria tried to gather her wits. She’d always expected to encounter Phillip again one day, but she had not expected it to happen so literally, and she felt rather at sixes and sevens.
She’d long ago given up any thought she’d see Lawrence again, for she’d read in some scandal sheet years ago that he’d gone off to America. His older brother, however, was a different matter. Phillip was a marquess, and he mingled with the finest society. Given all the balls and parties where she’d served hors d’oeuvres to aristocrats while working for André, Maria had resigned herself long ago to the inevitable night she would look up while offering a plate of canapes or a tray of champagne glasses and find his cool, haughty gaze on her, but oddly enough, it had never happened. Twelve years of beating the odds only to cannon into him on a street corner. Of all the rotten luck.
Her gaze slid back upward. Phillip had always been tall, but standing before her was not the lanky young man she remembered. This man’s shoulders were wider, his chest broader, his entire physique exuding such masculine strength and vitality that Maria felt quite aggrieved. If there was any fairness in the world at all, Phillip Hawthorne would have gone to fat and gotten the gout by now. Instead, the Marquess of Kayne was even stronger and more powerful at thirty-one than he’d been at nineteen. How nauseating.
Still, she thought as she returned her gaze to his face, twelve years had left their mark. There were tiny lines at the corners of his eyes and two faint parallel creases across his forehead. The determination and discipline in the line of his jaw was even more pronounced than it had been a dozen years ago, and his mouth, a grave, unsmiling curve that had always been surprisingly beautiful, was harsher now. His entire countenance, in fact, was harder than she remembered, as if all those notions of duty and responsibility he’d been stuffed with as a boy weighed heavy on him as a man. Maria found some satisfaction in that.
More satisfying was the fact that she had changed, too. She was no longer the desperate, forsaken seventeen year old girl who’d thought being bought off for a thousand pounds was her only choice. These days, she wasn’t without means and she wasn’t without friends. Never again would she be intimidated by the likes of Phillip Hawthorne.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded, then grimaced at her lack of eloquence. Over the years, she’d invented an entire repertoire of cutting, clever things to say to him should they ever meet again, and that blunt, stupid query was the best she could do? Maria wanted to kick herself.
“An odd question,” he murmured in the well-bred accents she remembered so well. “I live here.”
“Here?” A knot of dread began forming in the pit of her stomach as his words sank in. “But this is an empty shop.”
“Not the shop.” He let go of her arms and gestured to the front door of the first town house on Half Moon Street, an elegant red door out of which he must have just come when they’d collided. “I live there.”
She stared at the door in disbelief. You can’t live here, she wanted to shout. Not you, not Phillip Hawthorne, not in this house right beside the lovely, perfect shop where I’m going to live.
She looked at him again. “But that’s impossible. Your London house is in Park Lane.”
He stiffened, dark brows drawing together in a frown. “My home in Park Lane is presently being remodeled, though I don’t see what business it is of yours.”
Before she could reply, he glanced at the ground and spoke again. “You’ve spilled your things.”
“I didn’t spill them,” she corrected, bristling a bit. “You did.”
To her disappointment, he didn’t argue the point. “My apologies,” he murmured, and knelt on the pavement. “Allow me to retrieve them for you.”
She studied his bent head as he righted her handbag and began picking up her scattered belongings. So like Phillip, she thought, watching as he gathered her tortoiseshell comb, her gloves, her cotton handkerchief, and her money purse and began placing them in her handbag with careful precision. So like Phillip, she thought. God forbid one should just toss it all inside and get on with things.
After all her belongings had been returned to her bag, he closed the brass clasp, and reached for his hat, a fine gray felt Bromburg which had also gone flying during the collision. He donned his hat and stood up, holding her handbag out to her.
She took it from his outstretched hand. “Thank you, Phillip,” she murmured. “How–” She broke off, not knowing if she should inquire after his brother, but then she decided it was only right to ask. “How is Lawrence?”
Something flashed in his eyes, but when he spoke, his voice was politely indifferent. “Forgive me, miss,” he said with a cool, impersonal smile, “but your use of Christian names indicates a familiarity with me of which I am unaware.”
She blinked, bewildered. “Unaware?” she echoed and started to laugh, not from humor, but from disbelief. “Phillip, you’ve known me since I was seven years old–”
“I don’t believe so,” he cut her off, his voice still polite and pleasant, his gaze hard and implacable. “We do not know each other. We do not know each other at all. I hope that’s clear?”
She made a sound of indignation, but before she could reply with a few scathing words of her own, he spoke again. “Good day, miss,” he said, then bowed and stepped around her to go on his way.
She turned, and her eyes narrowed on his back as he walked away. He knew precisely who she was, he was only pretending not to. Arrogant, toplofty snob. How dare he snub her?
“It was delightful to see you again, Phillip,” she called after him, her voice sweet as honey. “Give Lawrence my best regards, will you?”
His steps did not falter as he walked away.