As rebel, soldier, hero, and spy, Kenneth Wilding had never known defeat. But nothing can save his heritage when he returns from the wars to an empty title and a ravaged estate. Nothing—until a stranger offers a devil’s bargain: financial salvation in return for Kenneth’s special subversive skills. Reluctantly Kenneth enters the household of the greatest artist in England to unmask a terrible crime. Instead, he discovers something infinitely more dangerous: a tantalizing new way of life and an irresistible woman. Everything he has always wanted—and can never have.
A Scandalous Lady…
Her reputation ruined by a disastrous elopement, tempestuous Rebecca Seaton withdraws to her attic studio and buries herself in her painting. Then Kenneth Wilding sweeps into her life with his pirate’s face and poet’s soul. Warily they slide into a duel of desire that brings both searing risks and shattering fulfillment. But Kenneth’s secret mission comes between them, unleashing a danger that threatens Rebecca’s life even as passion sweeps them into a river of fire that transforms their very souls…
Reviews for River of Fire
“Mary Jo Putney once again sweeps readers into a story that captures and holds their hearts, introducing old friends and bringing us a new hero and heroine. She brilliantly capture the intricacies, mores, manners and wit of the era with panache, and with her special gift for story telling that brings readers great joy.” —Romantic Times, 4 ½ stars
“River of Fire is intense and emotional, at times dark, but never depressing. Putney has done wonders at revealing the soul, creative insight, temperament, and world of visual artists.” —Under the Covers Book Reviews
“River of Fire delivers more than enough drama and romance to entertain historical romance readers and reinforce Mary Jo Putney’s reputation as one of the best.” —The Romance Reader
“In this Regency romance, Putney offers a strong romantic relationship, good writing and memorable characters, and a portrayal of the London art world filled with jealousy and passion.” —Publishers Weekly
Kenneth Wilding has been engaged as secretary to Sir Anthony Seaton, a famous painter, and his duties include managing the household. He is instructed in his duties by his employer’s daughter, Rebecca.
The servants were relaxing over tea and buttered bread in their sitting room off the kitchen when Rebecca arrived with Captain Wilding. The buzz of conversation died down and six pairs of eyes swiveled toward the new arrivals. Everyone but Phelps, the groom, was present.
“This is Sir Anthony's new secretary, Captain Wilding,” Rebecca said tersely. “You will be taking your orders from him.” She made an ironic gesture that transferred all responsibility to the captain.
As he surveyed the group, the maid who flirted with everyone glanced slyly at her favorite footman and gave a knowing giggle. Wilding's calm gaze went to her face. Her expression instantly sobered. Not a word was spoken. Then the smaller maid, the hardworking one, got to her feet. One by one, the other servants followed her lead. Before Rebecca's bemused eyes, the casual group began to resemble a squad of well-disciplined soldiers.
Captain Wilding said in a cool voice, “Standards have been lax. That will change. Anyone who considers the work too burdensome is welcome to seek employment elsewhere. Problems and complaints are to be brought to me. Under no circumstances are Sir Anthony and Miss Seaton to be disturbed unnecessarily. Is that clear?”
It was clear. The captain went around the room and learned the names and duties of everyone before he dismissed the group. The servants filed out, looking not precisely intimidated, but certainly impressed. Rebecca had to admit that she was impressed, too.
The captain had interviewed the two candidates for cook with equal efficiency. The first applicant was a very grand Frenchman. After examining the letters of recommendation, Wilding asked the Frenchman to prepare something for himself and Miss Seaton. Offended at the idea of having to prove himself in such a lowly manner, the applicant had stalked out.
The next candidate was also French, but female, plump and placid. Her references were not quite as glowing as those of her predecessor. However, when asked to prove her skill, she had merely raised her brows for a moment, then set to work. Twenty minutes later, she sent her judges a tantalizing dessert omelette and a pot of steaming coffee.
Rebecca's doubts about the hiring process vanished with her first bite. “Lovely.” She took another bite. “Clever of her to use brandied cherries for a quick sauce. Will you hire her?”
Captain Wilding, who sat on the opposite side of the breakfast room table, swallowed a substantial bite of omelette. “Yes. Madame Brunel passed all three tests very well.”
Rebecca cut another bite. “What three tests?”
“First and most important was attitude. She was willing to do what was necessary.” The captain drank some of the excellent coffee. “Secondly, she was ingenious. In a matter of minutes, she determined what she could make from available ingredients that would be swift and impressive. Lastly, her results were delicious.”
Rebecca's fork paused in midair. “Shouldn't her ability to cook come first?”
“All the skill in the world is wasted if someone is too temperamental to do the job. A cooperative nature is doubly important in a household where there have been problems.”
Thoughtfully Rebecca finished her omelette. The new secretary had a better understanding of human nature than his stevedore's appearance implied. He also seemed fond of art. Perhaps Sir Anthony hadn't chosen so badly after all. She got to her feet. “You're off to a good start, Captain. I will see you at dinner.”
His dark brows rose. “So I've passed your tests?”
Uncomfortably aware of how skeptical she had been, she said, “You were hired by my father. It is not my place to test you.”
“You are too modest, Miss Seaton,” he said with a hint of irony. “I'm sure your father would not retain a secretary whom you found disagreeable.”
“True. But I would not quickly complain of a man who pleases my father.” She found herself staring at him again. What really went on behind those craggy features? He had been a model of courtesy, but she felt sure that blandness was not his real nature. What had made him so different from the other men she knew? She would never find out as long as he felt constrained to watch every word for fear he would be discharged.
On impulse, she said, “No one should have to be always circumspect, so I give you leave to speak freely around me. I won't use your words to persuade my father to get rid of you.”
His brows rose. “You're giving me carte blanche to be a crude, tactless soldier?”
A mischievous light glinted in his clear gray eyes. “You wouldn't object even if I expressed a desire to kiss you?”
She stared at him, hot color rising in her face. “I beg your pardon?”
“Excuse me, Miss Seaton. I didn't mean that I actually do want to kiss you,” he said smoothly. “I was merely trying to establish the boundaries of permissible remarks.”
“You have just exceeded them. Don't do it again.” She spun on her heel and stalked out of the breakfast parlor. He certainly wasn't bland.
But for the life of her, she wasn't sure what bothered her most: his outrageous comment about kissing her—or his claim that he had no desire to do any such thing.