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A cruel twist of fate changed Simon Blackwell’s life forever. A man of intense passions, he resolved to deny his emotions and desires forever—taking refuge in the wilds of the moorlands and shutting himself off from the world. But on one extraordinary night, on a rare trip to London, the unthinkable occurs. An intoxicatingly beautiful stranger stirs the sensuous hunger he has sworn to resist. Simon Blackwell believed that no woman could tempt him.

No woman…save Annabel McBride.

Annabel knows nothing of Simon’s secret pain. But one irresistible kiss plunges her into marriage with a man she scarcely knows, a man who hides a shattered past. She can feel the blistering heat of the fire that burns within this exquisitely handsome man, making her yearn for much more than the union in name only he has promised her.

But Simon dares not love again--for fragile love can be lost in an instant. And now Annabel must find a way to open his heart to the most glorious risk of all…

 


Available Now
Avon

ISBN-10 0060896450
ISBN-13 978-0060896454

 

I had so much fun writing the Sterling family series (A Perfect Bride, A Perfect Groom and A Perfect Hero), that long before I was finished with the third book, I knew I wanted to write about another family. And to be honest, while I was finishing up with Hero, bits and pieces of the new series came flashing into my brain. (I think had enough post-it notes about this new series to paper an entire wall of my office).

But the Sterlings and the McBrides (Annabel—or Anne, as her family calls her), Aidan, and Alec) have very different family dynamics. I know what you’re probably thinking. If this is a series about the McBride family, why is the title of this book The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell? Trust me, once you read the book, you’ll see. The Sterlings had a bit of a dysfunctional background . . . the McBrides do not. But the theme of family closeness and love is still there.

Now, it wouldn’t be a Samantha James book if there weren’t some angst. And you all know I love a tortured hero—and oh my, but Simon is definitely a tortured hero. He is, I think, my darkest hero to date—almost an anti-hero, at least for a time.

In the Behind the Scenes blurb in A Perfect Groom, I talked it about it being the favorite book of all I’ve written. As of right now, A Perfect Groom is running a close second behind The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell. I love this book—I adore Simon, and I hope you will too.

The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell is the first in the McBride family trilogy. Aidan’s book will be next, followed by Alec. And I have to tell you, while I’m tremendously excited about both books, Alec will be the very first Duke I’ve written—and a Scottish duke, at that!

My original title for this book was My Darling Annabel.

 

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The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell is a bestseller!!
#13 on the New York Times bestseller list ~ a total of four weeks!
Five weeks on the USAToday bestseller list
#2 on Borders Express/Waldenbooks romance list for three weeks straight - and a total of four weeks.
#2 debut on Borders Express/Waldenbooks mass market list, for a total of four weeks.
#8 on Borders Group, Inc. mass market list for two consecutive weeks
Four weeks on Publishers Weekly bestseller list. PW's starred review calls it "just about perfect: rich,
meaty, sexy and honest."

 

The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell receives a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

"...Upon meeting, the two immediately set to butting heads, but it isn't long before an instant of weakness finds them in a passionate lip lock. Just like that, their fate is sealed: Anne's reputation is compromised and the two are married. Simon, haunted by unmentionable heartbreak, refuses to consummate the marriage, planning to divorce her after a year or so; Anne is horrified at the prospect and determined to make a genuine husband out of him. Simon thwarts her every attempt until his past catches up with him, and she finds the way to bring him back from self-imposed emotional exile. Simon's dark secret, hinted at throughout, may frustrate readers, but it also lends the book an enticing gothic edge. James's writing is assured, her story moves well, and she has a fine pair of leads in Anne and Simon; their hard-won happily ever after will satisfy any historical romance fan."
-- Publishers Weekly
(posted 3.09.07)

The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell is a Romantic Times Top Pick with four and a half stars!

"a story so potent, so powerful, so stunning, it's a sure bet that readers will immediately place it on their keeper shelf."
-- Romantic Times
(posted 3.20.07)

 

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His Wicked WaysFrom Chapter Two...

Precisely at eight o’clock, the knocker at the front door sounded.

The household was in a bit of an uproar. Izzie and Jack had just been bathed, but had escaped the clutches of their nurse and scampered downstairs. From the parlor doorway, Caro heaved a sigh and crooked a finger at Izzie. Just as the maid opened the front door, Anne scooped up Jack from the stairway where he appeared intent on leaping from the last stair as his sister was so fond of doing. Anne gave him a quick squeeze, loving the feel of his small body. Fresh from the bath, his round cheeks still glowing and rosy, he was adorable as always.

And then Simon Blackwell stepped inside.

Caro flashed a beaming smile. “Mr. Blackwell! How wonderful to see you again—and right on time.”

“I’m a man of my word,” Simon murmured with a faint lift of his brows. “It would be quite rude to be tardy.”

Would it have killed the man to smile? It would be quite rude to be tardy, Anne mimicked in her mind. She felt suddenly rather cross.

She wasn't exactly pleased that Caro had been right—he had shown! And now that he had, it would be quite rude to claim illness, Anne admitted to herself, particularly when she was already here in the flesh. Well, no doubt Caro would be chortling later this evening.

He acknowledged Anne’s presence with a faint bow. “My lady,” he murmured. His countenance remained unsmiling, his tone utterly noncommittal.

Anne withheld a glare. The memory of his arrogance earlier in the day washed over her in full force. Nonetheless, she would show the grace and civility he had not.

Izzie, who had been closest to the door—and to him—turned suddenly shy. When the child slipped behind her mother’s skirts, Anne wanted to grin wickedly. Yes, poppet, you’ve decided he’s quite the tyrant too, haven’t you?

“Isabella, don’t be so shy, duckling! Don’t you remember, we met Mr. Blackwell in the park today.”

Isabella peeped out at him warily. Meanwhile, Jack had mashed his face into Anne’s shoulder, only to pop up an instant later. His eyes sparkling, he extended chubby hands toward Simon and leaned forward.

The gesture was unmistakable.

But Mr. Blackwell didn’t want to hold him. In the instant before he took the little boy, she spied it on his features; she sensed it as well. It was not distaste that flitted across his face, nor could she deem it reluctance.

She was suddenly indignant. What the devil? she wondered. He’d had no qualms about holding Jack when he’d rescued him; there had been something about his hold on the boy earlier today which indicated a familiarity with little ones. Perhaps that was why it suddenly seemed so odd now when it appeared he didn’t want to.

It might have been different had the little boy been dirty and sticky. But he wasn’t. His body was soft and sweet smelling, and all at once, Anne was brimming with fire.

Her mouth opened. Anne was fully prepared to smite him with the sting of her tongue.

“Well, I see Jack is determined to make a pest of himself again.”

It was John, Caro’s husband, fair and ruddy-cheeked and ever jovial.

Simon turned his head. “Jack?” he repeated. “Isn’t his name . . . isn’t it John?”

Anne glanced at Simon sharply.

“It is,” said Caro with a chuckle. “But my husband John here—” she offered up her cheek for the brush of her husband’s lips “—has called him Jack since the day he was born. And despite my most ardent objection, nearly everyone in the family has followed his lead in calling our son Jack—even me,” she said with a laugh.

“Papa!” Jack squealed in delight.

“Here, I’ll take him,” John said easily. John scooped up his son, and ruffled the youngster’s hair before handing him over to his nurse.

Vivian McBride, who had been napping, had descended the staircase to join them. Caro made the introductions, and then Alec strode in as well. Alec playfully chucked Anne beneath the chin, then turned to their mother.

“Mother,” he murmured, bending low to kiss one parchment cheek, “you’re looking particularly lovely tonight.”

As she did, Anne decided with a twist in her heart. Of course, Vivian McBride would have looked exquisite in a flour sack. Her frame was slight, her features porcelain and delicate. She wore a gown of pale lavender silk; it was only recently that she had come out of mourning. Her husband’s ravaging illness had been long and difficult, but throughout, Vivian was cheerful and strong—and scarcely more than a few footsteps from his bedside.

Not until she’d said her private good-byes to the man she had loved throughout the course of thirty years and six births—though only Alec, Aidan and Anne had survived—did she finally break. Only after his passing did the duchess close her eyes and weep, with only her children as witness. Yet when the duke was laid to rest, Vivian handled it as she did all else, with the utmost dignity and poise.

“Alec,” said the duchess, “may I introduce our dinner guest, Mr. Simon Blackwell? I understand Mr. Blackwell made a rather dashing rescue of little Jack today in Hyde Park. Mr. Blackwell, my son, Alec McBride, Duke of Gleneden.”

The two men shook hands. “Ah,” drawled Alec. “So Jack was being a mischief-maker, eh? I confess, I’m not terribly surprised.”

Anne was scarcely listening. She was still pondering the moment when John had appeared and called his son Jack. She wasn’t certain what had just happened, but something had.

What lay behind Simon Blackwell’s query? I thought his name was John. His voice had been so odd when he spoke Jack’s name. Rather hoarse and . . . well, just so peculiar. And his expression had been strange as well. It was as if, for a hair’s breadth of an instant—everything—including the ability to breathe, had frozen solid. Caro didn’t appear to have noticed, nor did any of the others. Was she mistaken? Anne stole a glance at his profile.

He appeared completely recovered.

Vivian directed her smile at Simon. “Mr. Blackwell, would you be so kind as to escort me in to dinner?”

“Your grace, I should be honored.”

* * *

No one would have called Simon Blackwell a man of lighthearted folly. From her place directly beside him—oh, but she had the feeling Caro was responsible for that!—Anne considered him ever so discreetly. His jaw was square and angular, cleanly shaven to the skin. He was deeply tanned; clearly he did not spend all his time in the pursuit of leisurely endeavors. There was in his demeanor a presence so strong she felt it like a jolt, an undercurrent that was almost overwhelmingly elemental.

Clearly he was a man of means. It wasn’t only his clothing that declared him such. Neither his pose nor his manner had suggested that he was uncomfortable in either their home or their presence.

He’d shed his morning coat for other attire. The collar of his shirt was high, nearly touching his cheeks, his cravat precisely tied. But for his shirt, he was garbed entirely in black. The cut of his jacket was several years behind the fashion, plainly tailored, but hewn of the finest material. Still, the cut was dark and severe, a bit like the man himself, Anne decided with a touch of wryness.

But it was his size that sent her pulse skidding oddly. The fabric of his jacket was stretched taut; beneath, his shoulders seemed enormously wide. The span of his wrists were in similar proportion, the length of his fingers curled around the frail stem of her mother’s delicate white china, strong but not meaty. The backs of his hands were liberally sprinkled with a netting of hair as dark as that on his head. All combined to make the contrast even more pronounced.

Anne was not a particularly small woman. In her younger years she’d been and thin and awkward as a cat without fur. As her father had liked to tease, that was no longer the case. Yet the man beside her made her feel quite small and petite, a feeling most unusual to Anne.

He was hardly old, and yet . . . She pondered his age, most suddenly—and most curiously. At his temples gleamed a smattering of silver. She glanced between the three men. Alec was seven years her senior, and John the same age, yet thus far neither displayed any sign of gray.

Considering her dislike of him, she didn’t expect to find him—drat it all!—so handsome. And not just handsome, but quite exquisitely handsome. Drat! Why had Caro pointed it out?

And why did she even notice? inquired a silent voice in her head.

It was most vexing. And she was decidedly short of breath. Had Agnes laced her up too tightly? Surely that was it. Still . . .

“Damnation!” she muttered, her fingers clenching her napkin in her lap.

Her mother turned large blue eyes upon her. “Anne? What did you say, dear?”

Anne swallowed. “Nothing, Mama.”

Vivian turned her regard back to their guest. “Is your primary residence in London, Mr. Blackwell?” she inquired.

“No, your grace.” He paused, “Actually, I rarely visit London. I spend most of my time in the country. The north country, to be precise.”

Anne reached for her wine. “In the country? What, sir? Are you an eccentric?” The question slipped out before Anne thought better of it.

Vivian had merely to raise a finely arched brow and fold her hands in her lap to display her displeasure. And now Alec was glaring at her in that disapproving way he sometimes had, she noticed with annoyance. He was her older brother, and he was a duke, but she certainly would never quail beneath him!

Anne could not deny she had erred. She couldn't precisely say what had come over her. At some other time she might not have been so stubborn. But tonight . . . “What,” she wanted to shout. “What?

It did not lessen when she felt the scrutiny of their guest settled on her. Their eyes met. A curious tension seemed to hum between them. “What makes you think that?” he asked pleasantly.

Her chin came up. Anne took a sip of her wine before glancing his way. “Well, sir,” she pointed out, “you did say you rarely visit London. Perhaps you’re a recluse then.”

Alec interjected. “You must forgive my sister’s forwardness,” he said lightly. “Our only excuse is that we come from the wilds of Scotland where manners occasionally fall by the wayside.”

Anne longed to give an unladylike snort. Alas, her mother continued Alec’s unwanted rescue.

“London can grow tiresome, can’t it? I’m always glad to go home to Gleneden.”

“I can imagine it is, your grace. But actually Lady Anne’s assumption is correct. I would probably not have come to London were it not for the occasion of my Aunt Leticia’s seventieth birthday.”

Vivian’s fork poised in mid-air. “Leticia,” she repeated. “Leticia Gardner? The Dowager Countess of Hopewell?”

“The very same, your grace.”

Vivian made a sound of pleasure. “Why, she was my patroness at my come-out years ago. Indeed, her birthday celebration is the day after next—at Lady Creswell’s.”

“Precisely why I’m here, your grace.”

Oh, but she should have known. What had begun as a pleasant enough day was continuing its descent. Of course Anne was aware that her mother and the countess were dear friends. They called upon each other whenever they were in London and corresponded regularly.

Gritting her teeth, Anne disguised her annoyance.

It wasn’t just Caro. Now it appeared Simon Blackwell had succeeded in winning over the heart of her mother—and with scarcely any effort at all!

But it was Caro who said brightly, “Forgive my presumption, but did your wife accompany you, Mr. Blackwell?”

Mortified, Anne longed to slink beneath the table. Beside her, she could have sworn Simon Blackwell was uncomfortable as well. But then she felt his muscles ease—no, she was mistaken. He merely rearranged his booted feet.

“No,” he answered politely.

John had been studying him. Now he tipped his head to the side. “Do we have a previous acquaintance, Mr. Blackwell?”

“I was thinking the same as well,” said Alec. “You look familiar. And your name as well. I thought perhaps we’d met before, but I don’t believe we have.”

“Nor do I, your grace—”

Alec waved a careless hand. “No need to stand on formality, man. Call me Alec.”

“Very well then, Alec. I’m certain I’d remember if we had.”

“Perhaps not. But you attended Cambridge, didn’t you?” Again John spoke.

Simon’s brows shot high. “So I did.”

”By God, you were a oarsman, weren’t you? The year the colors were chosen.”

He referred, of course, to the annual boat race between Cambridge and Oxford, and the colors of the crew. Oxford wore dark blue, Cambridge a lighter hue. John and Alec were mad for the race that was now an annual event; both made it a point to be in London every year since they’d left Cambridge.

“It was my second year at Cambridge. I always aspired to the Blue Boat, but I was told I had no technique,” Alec said.

“That, gentlemen, was eons ago.” There was a hint of amusement in Blackwell’s voice. “Though I do believe Cambridge will ever have the advantage.”

“Here, here.” John raised his glass high for a toast. “Indeed.”

Anne made a faint sound. Three pair of male eyes turned her way.

“My sister,” Alec said dryly, “is no longer fond of rowing. She and Caro were once stranded for hours in the middle of the loch at Gleneden, our home in Scotland.”

Anne sent Caro an arch look, for Caro was biting her lip, clearly struggling to hold back a laugh.

“I don’t believe I've heard this particular story before,” John remarked.

“It was after dark when they were discovered,” added the duchess. “A storm had blown in and drenched them to the skin. I recall the poor dears suffered quite a fever for some days afterward.”

Alec’s eyes gleamed as he glanced at Anne. “We laugh about it now, but my mother and Caro’s were quite frantic.”

“I can only imagine.”

“Of course it might have been averted somewhat if they had told someone their intentions.”

“True,” Caro agreed, “but I expect it wasn't Annie’s intention to lose both oars either.” Anne’s cousin maintained her silence no longer. She wiped tears of laughter from the corner of her eyes. “I shall never forget the look on your face, Annie, when you scrambled after the first oar, only to hear the splash of the other as it fell into the loch. Though you made quite the heroic effort to retrieve it,” Caro amended on seeing Anne’s baleful expression.

“Ever the intrepid adventurer, our Annie.” Alec smiled mildly.

“And yet another McBride with no technique,” John observed.

Anne was vastly annoyed. Oh, traitors, all! she decided. Rising, she dropped her napkin on her plate. “Well,” she said lightly, “it seems you are all rather easily amused.” She pushed back her chair. “Mother, perhaps it’s time we took the entertainment to the music room.”

Vivian rose gracefully to her small feet, “An excellent idea, Anne. Mr. Blackwell, you’ll join us, won’t you?”

Moments later Vivian was running her fingers nimbly across the piano keys. But Anne seized hold of the opportunity now afforded her. Before her mother could begin a melody, before any of the rest of them had even take a seat, she held back. “Oh, dear,” she said with a forced laugh, “I fear I must beg my excuses. I suddenly find I've developed quite the headache.”

Vivian looked up at her in silent question. It wasn't like her to be sickly—ever. And Caro’s mouth formed an “o” of surprise. Alec’s ice-blue eyes sharpened, and even John was frowning. As for Simon Blackwell, well, she knew the instant his regard settled on her; she felt it with every pore of her being. It was vastly annoying, she thought, wondering what the devil had come over her. Yet was it any wonder she felt like a bug beneath a glass? She kept her gaze trained on her mother—and away from him.

Vivian inclined her head. “Of course, Anne,” she said. “Feel better soon, darling.”

And with that, Anne bobbed a curtsy—and once she was out of sight, she nearly ran to her room.



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