Devil in Disguise (The Ravenels #7) by Lisa Kleypas

As Lady Merritt turned the roller to free the paper, Keir caught a glimpse of her inner wrist, where a tracery of blue veins showed though the fine skin. Such a delicate, soft place. His gaze traveled along her back, savoring the full, neat curves of her, the trim waist and flared hips. The shape of her bottom, concealed by artfully draped skirts, he could only guess at. But he’d lay odds it was round and sweet, perfect to pat, squeeze, stroke—

As desire surged in his groin, he bit back a curse. He was in a place of business, for God’s sake. And she was a widow who should be treated with dignity. He tried to focus on how fine and cultured she was, and how much he respected her. When that didn’t work, he thought very hard about the honor of Scotland.

A little lock of hair had slipped free of the complex arrangement of loops and swirls at the back of her head. The dark tendril lay against the back of her neck, curling at the end like a finger inviting him closer. How tender and vulnerable the nape of her neck looked. How good it would feel to nuzzle her there, and bite softly until she quivered and arched back against him. He would—

Bloody hell.

Desperately hunting for distractions, Keir glanced at their surroundings. He caught sight of a small but elaborately framed painting on one wall.

A portrait of Joshua Sterling.

That was enough to cool his lust.

The secretary had returned. Lady Merritt discarded the piece of typing paper in a little painted metal waste bin, and went to speak with her.

Keir’s gaze fell to the contents of the bin. As soon as the women’s backs were turned, he reached down to retrieve the typed page, folded it into a small square, and slid it into his trouser pocket.

He wandered to the painting for a closer look.

Joshua Sterling had been a fine-looking man, with rugged features and a level gaze. Keir remembered having liked him a great deal, especially after they’d discovered they both loved fly-fishing. Sterling had mentioned learning to fly cast in the streams and lakes around his native Boston, and Keir had invited him to visit Islay someday and fish for sea trout. Sterling had assured Keir he would take him up on the offer.

Poor bastard.

Sterling had reportedly died at sea. A shame, it was, for a man to have been taken in his prime, and with such a wife waiting at home. From what Keir had heard, there were no children from the union. No son to carry on his name and legacy.

He wondered if Lady Merritt would marry again. There was no doubt she could have any man she wanted. Was that why she planned to give her younger brother charge of Sterling Enterprises? So she could take part in society and find a husband?

Her voice interrupted his thoughts.

“I’ve always thought that portrait made my husband appear a bit too stern.” Lady Merritt came to stand beside Keir. “I suspect he was trying to appear authoritative, since he knew the painting was intended for the company offices.” She smiled slightly as she contemplated the portrait. “Perhaps someday I’ll hire an artist to add a twinkle in his eyes, to make him look more like himself.”

“How long were you married?” Keir was surprised to hear himself ask. As a rule, he rarely asked about people’s personal business. But he couldn’t help being intensely curious about this woman, who was unlike anyone he’d ever met.

“A year and a half,” Lady Merritt replied. “I met Mr. Sterling when he came to London to establish a branch of his shipping firm.” She paused. “I never imagined I would someday be running it.”

“You’ve done very well,” Keir commented, before it occurred to him that it might seem presumptuous, offering praise to someone so far above him.

Lady Merritt seemed pleased, however. “Thank you. Especially for not finishing that sentence with ‘… for a woman,’ the way most people do. It always reminds me of the Samuel Johnson quote about a dog walking on its hind legs: ‘It’s not done well, but one is surprised to find it done at all.’”

Keir’s lips twitched. “There’s more than one woman who successfully runs a business on Islay. The button maker, and the butcher—” He broke off, wondering if he’d sounded condescending. “Although their shops can’t be compared to a large shipping firm.”

“The challenges are the same,” Lady Merritt said. “Assuming the burden of responsibility, taking risks, evaluating problems …” She paused, looking wry. “I’m sorry to say mistakes still happen under my leadership. Your shipment being a case in point.”