Pride and dark magic left Lord Benjamin Archer horribly transformed, forced to hide from society until he finds a way to undue his curse. A good plan, had he not done the impractical --fallen in love.
Miranda Ellis fears little, but is no fool. She knows accepting a marriage proposal from the enigmatic Lord Archer is tantamount to dancing with the devil. His strange masked appearance and foul temper have all of London wary. But the eyes behind the mask promise adventure, an escape from her father who has forced her into a life of crime. What she does not expect is Archer’s sharp wit, or the way his gaze melts her insides like hot tea to sugar. Suddenly her convenient husband has become quite tantalizing.
Then elderly noblemen start turning up butchered in the most gruesome of fashion, and the ton immediately suspect the oddly attired, thus sinister, Lord Archer. Such foul logic spurs Miranda to clear Archer’s name by investigating him, only to fall into a world of intrigue, clandestine societies, and an irate husband thwarting her at every turn. For Archer knows what Miranda cannot: to protect the woman he loves from an unstoppable killer, he must give in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to keep within, even if it means losing his soul to it.
And the snip!
“You have not asked why I was following you,” she said as the cab headed up Piccadilly. It had rained while they were in Burlington House and the cobbled road glistened like black snakeskin.
Archer settled in more comfortably and his arm brushed her sleeve. “I know that well. It is because you are the most stubborn, impetuous, overtly curious creature I have ever known.”
Something rude passed over her lips and the corners of his eyes crinkled. She pulled her gloves on tighter and gazed out the side window at the massive Georgian building they passed, its limestone face painted onyx by coal’s black hand.
“I shall take that as a complement,” she decided aloud. The coach turned on Shaftsbury and into lighter traffic.
“As you should,” he answered. “There is enough complacency in this world.”
The coach slammed over a rut in the road. Just as abruptly, her good humor faded. She turned away with a frown.
Archer’s sigh of resignation broke their stalemate. “All right, I’ll play your game. Why are you following me?” Despite his jesting manner, irritation sharpened in his voice.
“Sir Percival’s murder,” she said without thinking. The black mask faced her, the eyes behind it flat as pewter as the wide expanse of his chest hardened like mortar and her heart sank with dread. Why had she prompted this conversation? Curiosity would be the death of her, to be sure.
Until Archer, she hadn’t thought of stillness as explosive. “You think I had something to do with it,” he said in even, awful tones.
“No!” She gripped the handle of her parasol. “No. But they have all made assumptions based on your appearance and…”
“You believe the mass intellect without measure?”
She flinched at the coldness in his voice. The ivory kid leather of her gloves pulled tight enough for the little lines of graining to run like tiny rivers over her knuckles. “Such skewed logic galls me. Guilt or innocence ought to be based on proof, not hearsay.”
The coach rounded a bend and his shoulder pressed into hers then moved away. His voice grew as rough as the road. “So you your boundless curiosity bids you to discover my innocence. Or is it proof of guilt you seek?”
“I’d like to believe you are innocent.”
“Why? Don’t want to lose the security of my income?”
“Our income,” she snapped back. “As you’ve stated.”
He made a sound. “Better to see me hang then and collect all of it, darling.”
“Oh for pity’s sake!” She thumped her parasol on the floor for emphasis. “I cannot believe it was you.”
“I have my reasons.”
His eyes pinned her to the spot as they jostled over the cobbles. “Which are?”
She refused to answer as she held his gaze. The corner of his eye twitched.
“I should not have to profess my innocence to my wife,” he said slowly. There was no hurt in his voice, no anger, only prodding as if daring her to reveal more. That itself lifted her heart.
“And I should not have to ask of it. Yet here we are.”
The corners of his eyes creased. The sound of laughter came from behind his mask. “A fine pickle we are in.”
“Pickle? An Americanism?”
“Yes. Five years there and my language is polluted.”
She ducked her head, trying not to smile. The coach swayed gently as it turned a corner. She faced him again and found him watching. “I shall ask it once, Archer. Whatever you say, I will believe it.”
His shoulders tensed. “Why?” he rasped. “Why give me your trust when you know it is such an easy thing to break?”
“Perhaps the easy giving of it will make it harder to break.”
He made a soft sound. “Lying is quite easy, Miranda Fair. I can assure you.”
“Amusing. But I don’t believe that of you.” She shifted to face him, the effect of which unfortunately pushed her knees against his thigh. She couldn’t move away without drawing attention so she went on as if unaffected. “You hide many things, Archer. But you do not lie. Not to a direct question, anyway.”
He leaned in and the hard swell of his thigh slid along her knee. “You’re collecting pieces of me, aren’t you?” His voice turned thick as warm toffee. “A bit here. A bit there.” A slow shiver lit over her skin. “Soon you’ll set me out on the table, try to fit me back together.”
“I’ve only got the corners,” she said, little tremors in her belly making her voice thin. “But it is a start.”
His laugh was a purr. “I believe you have the center piece as well.”
Before she could reply, he spoke again. “No. I did not kill him.”
Warmth eased the tightness in her shoulders. She dared not smile. Not yet. “Do you know who did?”
She could all but feel his grin as he sat back against the bolsters.
“I’ve only got the corners.”
Miranda’s lips twitched. Cheeky sot. “And when you have all the pieces? Then will you tell me?”
This time he did laugh, sudden and sharp. “Not if I can help it.” Her ire rose when he suddenly reached out gave the curl at her neck a gentle tug. “I sense a predilection for trouble coming from you. I’ve no desire to encourage it.” END