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The Governess Wears Scarlet
The old restlessness was upon him again like a serpent uncoiled from sleep and ready to strike. It did not matter that he was a gentleman with influential friends and important connections. It was of no consequence that he had a shiny new title that he'd finally managed to secure after years of peddling himself like a whore with the rent overdue. Here he was once more, prowling the streets of London in search of the justice he so desperately longed to mete out.
He recognized that he was up to his old tricks again partly in response to the frustrations of his daily profession. Being one of the most powerful barristers in England should have been satisfying enough to quench his thirst for justice. But lately the wheels of justice seemed to turn torturously slow. Endless politics interfered; the administrative bureaucracy prolonged even the simplest of cases. And when he'd tried to speed things along, he'd run into even more hurdles . . .
Here on the streets, things were simpler. Right and wrong could be easily judged and justice meted out with striking efficiency. If thieves robbed a gentleman too deep in his cups, he could chase them down and "convince them" to return the booty. If a gang attacked a woman, he could intervene and stop the assault, making sure that the men saw the error of their ways. If knaves plotted to kill the Prince of Wales, he could track them to their lair, gather the evidence, and gain confessions, all without undue complications.
After that particular intervention, he couldn't tell whether the prince had been happier that the plot had beenupset or that it had been thwarted without public notice. The Prince of Wales had very quickly and quietly granted him the title of viscount, making the night-prowling barrister into the first Viscount Steele.
In the swirling darkness of the fog-shrouded night, Steele barely withheld a snort. The irony was not lost on him. After years of striving to become the titled noble his dear Deidre had deserved him to be, he'd achieved his ambition through the vigilante work that he'd given up for her.
The image of Deidre's ethereal beauty rose up in his mind like a specter to haunt him. With her lovely dark curls, brown eyes, and milky white skin, she'd been the epitome of a refined English miss. Too bloody refined for a rough-edged country bumpkin like me. But, oh, how he'd loved her from the moment he'd laid eyes on her. He had thanked the gods a thousand times since for that rainy night when her carriage had been attacked by a highwayman. He had always relished being a Sentinel, one of the band of brothers that kept the country safe from outlaws, but until that night it had never felt like his destiny calling.
Yet the very occupation that had led him to Deidre was what he'd given up to claim her hand. And he'd surrender it all a thousand times again if he could have her back beside him.
The familiar grief constricted his chest like a vise. It had been eight years and nine months since her death, and to his utter shame, her features grew hazier with each passing year. The terrible sense of loss was still there, though.
Sighing, he welcomed the ache, knowing that he deserved it since he'd caused the end of her tragically short life. If he'd been the kind of man she'd deserved, they wouldn't have had to hide their love and meet secretly. If only he'd been the man he was today.
"The Viscount Steele." His voice was a rasping whisper even to his own ears. He looked about the empty street of Charing Cross, glad that no one was around to hear him exercise his new title.
This was not his first new identity. He wondered if it would be his last. As a testament of his love for Deidre, he'd changed his name, expunged his past, and cut himself off from his only family, the Sentinels, who had welcomed him as a brother. She hadn't asked him to do it, but she'd been delighted. She'd wanted—hell, had deserved—a better man than he'd been born to be. So he'd become another. For her. He'd become Mr. Dagwood, barrister. If only she'd been alive to see him rise to become Solicitor-General of England.
Now he was the Viscount Steele. He wondered what she'd say.
A viscount doesn't walk the streets of the worst neighborhood in town, dear. He could hear Deidre's honey-sweet voice.
As he adjusted the black scarf higher over his mouth to mask his features, he whispered to the darkness, "I'm no bloody viscount and you know it."
Then who are you? the shadows taunted.
He had no answer for them.
The moonlight barely bathed London's rooftops in an eerie gray glow as Miss Abigail West entered the alleyway to meet the woman who was supposed to have information about her wayward brother.
The fog was thick and the air damp enough to permeate her veil. She was thankful for the anonymity the widow's costume gave her, knowing that if anyone in society knew that she traveled the streets of London at night, she'd never secure a position, and she was in desperate need of a job. Moreover, no one could know that she was related to a fugitive from the law.
Despite those initial reasons for donning her widow's attire, she couldn't deny that pretending to be someone else gave her added courage. In Abigail's mind, widows seemed freer from the constraints of society and tended to have a confidence that she longed to possess.
Abigail's footsteps were muffled by the soft kid lining the bottom of her boots as she approached the woman the street urchin had assured her could be of help. She was a barmaid, the urchin had said, and knew many of the goings-on in this part of London.The Governess Wears Scarlet. Copyright © by Sari Robins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.