He always searched for her.

Call it perversity or a reckless brand of tenacity. Heaven knew he’d been accused of both.

Pacing the scuffed wooden floorboards at the edge of the stage, Christopher Ruthven shoved a hand through his black hair and skimmed his dark gaze across each seat in the main theater stalls of Merrick Theater for the woman he needed to forget.

Damn the mad impulse to look for her.

He was a fool to imagine he’d ever find her staring back. The anticipation roiling in his belly should be for the play, not the past.

Finding her would be folly. Considering how they’d parted, the lady would be as likely to lash out as to embrace him with open arms.

But searching for her had become his habit. His ritual.

Other thespians had rituals too. Some refused to eat before a performance. Others feasted like a king. A few repeated incantations, mumbling to themselves when the curtains rose. As the son of a publishing magnate, Kit should have devised his own maxim to repeat, but the time for words was past. He’d written the play, and the first act was about to begin.

Now he only craved a glimpse of Ophelia Marsden.

The four years since he’d last seen her mattered not. Her bright blue eyes, heart-shaped face, and striking red hair had always distinguished her from other women, but Kit knew they were the least of the qualities that set her apart. Clever, stubborn to the core, and overflowing with more spirit than anyone he’d ever known—that’s how he remembered Phee.

But looking for her wasn’t mere folly; it was futile. She wouldn’t come. He, after all, was the man who’d broken her heart.

As stagehands lit the limelights, Kit shaded his eyes from their glare and stepped behind the curtain. The thrumming in his veins was about the play now, the same giddiness he felt before every performance.

Hunching his shoulders, he braced his arms across his chest and listened intently, half his attention on the lines being delivered on stage, half on the pandemonium backstage. He adored the energy of the theater, the frenetic chaos of actors and stagehands rushing about madly behind the curtains to produce rehearsed magic for the audience. Economies at Merrick’s meant he might write a play, perform in it, assist with scene changes from the catwalk, and direct other actors—all in one evening.

Tonight though, beyond writing the words spoken on stage, the production was out of his hands, and that heightened his nerves. Idleness made him brood.

Rules for a Rogue