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In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster
By Stephanie Laurens
AvonCopyright © 2011 Stephanie Laurens
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSt. Ives House
Grosvenor Square, London
It's just not fair." Elizabeth Marguerite Cynster, Eliza
to all, grumbled the complaint beneath her breath as
she stood alone, cloaked in the shadows of a massive
potted palm by the wall of her eldest cousin's ballroom.
Tonight, the magnificent ducal ballroom was glittering
and glowing, playing host to the crème de la crème of
the ton, bedecked in their finest satins and silks, bejeweled
and beringed, all swept up in a near-rapturous outpouring of
happiness and unbridled delight.
As there were few among the ton likely to decline an
invitation to waltz at an event hosted by Honoria, Duchess of
St. Ives, and her powerful husband, Devil Cynster, the huge
room was packed.
The light from the sparkling chandeliers sheened over
elaborately coiffed curls and winked and blinked from the
hearts of countless diamonds. Gowns in a range of brilliant
hues swirled as the ladies danced, creating a shifting sea of
vibrant plumage contrasting with the regulation black-and-
white of their partners. Laughter and conversation blanketed
the scene. A riot of perfumes filled the air. In the background
a small orchestra strove to deliver one of the most
Eliza watched as her elder sister, Heather, circled the
dance floor in the arms of her handsome husband-to-be,
ex-foremost rake of the ton, Timothy Danvers, Viscount Breckenridge.
Even if the ball had not been thrown expressly to
celebrate their betrothal, to formally announce it to the ton
and the polite world, the besotted look in Breckenridge's
eyes every time his gaze rested on Heather was more than
enough to tell the tale. The ex-darling of the ton's ladies was
now Heather's sworn protector and slave.
And Heather was his. The joy in her face, that lit her eyes,
declared that to the world.
Despite Eliza's own less-than-happy state, much of it a
direct outcome of the events leading to Heather's engagement,
Eliza was sincerely, to her soul, happy for her sister.
They'd both spent yearsliterally yearssearching for
their respective heroes among the ton, through the drawing
rooms and ballrooms in which young ladies such as they
were expected to confine themselves in hunting for suitable,
eligible partis. Yet neither Heather, Eliza, nor Angelica, their
younger sister, had had any luck in locating the gentlemen
fated to be their heroes. They had, logically, concluded that
said heroes, the gentlemen for them, were not to be found
within their prescribed orbit, so they had, also logically,
decided to extend their search into those areas where the more
elusive, yet still suitable and eligible, male members of the
That strategy had worked for their eldest female cousin,
Amanda, and, employed with a different twist, for her twin
sister, Amelia, as well.
And, albeit in a most unexpected way, the same approach
had worked for Heather, too.
Clearly for Cynster females, success in finding their own
true hero lay in boldly stepping beyond their accustomed
Which was precisely what Eliza was set on doing, except
that, through the adventure that had befallen Heather within
minutes of her taking her first step into that racier world
namely being kidnapped, rescued by Breckenridge, and then
escaping in his companya plot to target "the Cynster sisters"
had been exposed.
Whether the targets were limited to Heather, Eliza, and
Angelica, or included their younger cousins, Henrietta and
Mary, no one knew.
No one understood the motive behind the threat, not even
what was eventually intended beyond kidnapping the victim
and possibly taking her to Scotland. As for who was behind
it, no one had any real clue, but the upshot was that Eliza and
the other three "Cynster sisters" as yet unbetrothed had been
placed under constant guard. She hadn't been able to set toe
outside her parents' house without one of her brothers, or if
not them, one of her cousinsevery bit as badappearing
at her elbow.
For her, taking even half a step outside the restrictive circles
of the upper echelons of the ton was now impossible. If
she tried, a large, male, brotherly or cousinly hand would
close about her elbow and yank her unceremoniously back.
Such behavior on their part was, she had to admit,
understandable, but . . . "For how long?" Their protective cordon
had been in place for three weeks and showed no signs of
relaxing. "I'm already twenty-four. If I don't find my hero
this year, next year I'll be on the shelf."
Muttering to herself wasn't a habit, but the evening was
drawing to a close and, as usual at such ton events, nothing
had come of it for her. Which was why she was hugging the
wall in the screening shadows of the huge palm; she was
worn out with smiling and pretending she had any interest
whatever in the very proper young gentlemen who, through
the night, had vied for her attention.
As a well-dowered, well-bred, well brought-up Cynster
young lady she'd never been short of would-be Romeos.
Sadly, she'd never felt the slightest inclination to play Juliet
to any of them. Like Angelica, Eliza was convinced she
would recognize her hero, if not in the instant she laid eyes
on himAngelica's theorythen at least once she'd spent a
few hours in his company.
Heather, in contrast, had always been uncertain over
recognizing her herobut then she'd known Breckenridge, not
well but more than by sight, for many years, and until their
adventure she hadn't realized he was the one for her. Heather
had mentioned that their cousin by marriage, Catriona, who,
being an earthly representative of the deity known in parts
of Scotland as "The Lady," tended to "know" things, had
suggested that Heather needed to "see" her hero clearly,
which had proved very much to be the case.
Catriona had given Heather a necklace and pendant designed to
assist a young lady in finding her true loveher hero. Catriona had said
the necklace was supposed to be passed from Heather, to Eliza, to Angelica,
then to Henrietta and Mary, before ultimately returning to Scotland, to
Catriona's daughter, Lucilla.
Raising one hand, Eliza touched the fine chain interspersed
with small amethyst beads that circled her neck; the
rose quartz pendant depending from it was hidden in the
valley between her breasts. The chain lay concealed beneath
the delicate lace of the fashionable fichu and collar that filled
the scooped neckline of her gold silk gown.
The chain was now hers, so where was the hero it was
supposed to help her recognize?
Obviously not here. No gentleman with hero potential had
miraculously appeared. Not that she had expected one to,
not here in the very heart of the upper echelons of tonnish
society. Nevertheless, disappointment and dragging dejection
Through finding her hero, Heather hadentirely unintentionally,
but nevertheless effectivelystymied Eliza. Her
hero did not exist within tonnish circles, but she could no
longer step outside to hunt him down.
"What the devil am I to do?"
A footman drifting around the outskirts of the ballroom
with a silver salver balanced on one hand heard her and
turned to peer into the shadows. Eliza barely glanced at him,
but seeing her, his features relaxed and he stepped forward.
"Miss Eliza." Relief in his voice, the footman bowed and
offered the salver. "A gentleman asked that this be delivered
to you, miss. A good half hour ago, it must be now. We
couldn't find you in the crowd."
Wondering which tedious gentleman was now sending her
notes, Eliza reached for the folded parchment resting on the
salver. "Thank you, Cameron."
The footman was from her parents' household, seconded
to the St. Ives' household to assist with the massive ball.
"Who was it, do you know?"
"No, miss. It wasn't handed to me but to one of the others.
They passed it on."
"Thank you." Eliza nodded a dismissal.
With a brief bow, Cameron withdrew.
With no great expectations, Eliza unfolded the note. The
writing was bold, a series of brash, black strokes on the
Very masculine in style.
Tipping the sheet to catch the light, Eliza read:
Meet me in the back parlor, if you dare. No, we're
not acquainted. I haven't signed this note because
my name will mean nothing to you. We haven't been
introduced, and there is no grande dame present
who would be likely to oblige me. However, the fact
I am here, attending this ball, speaks well enough to
my antecedents and my social standing. And I know
where the back parlor is.
I believe it is time we met face-to-face, if nothing
else to discover if there is any further degree of
association we might feel inclined to broach.
As I started this note, so I will end it: Meet me in the
back parlor, if you dare.
I'll be waiting.
Eliza couldn't help but smile. How . . . impertinent. How
daring. To send her such a note in her cousin's house, under
the very noses of the grandes dames and all her family.
Yet whoever he was, he was patently there, in the house,
and if he knew where the back parlor was . . .
She read the note again, debating, but there was no reason
she could see why she shouldn't slip away to the back parlor
and discover who it was who had dared send such a note.
Stepping out from her hiding place, she slipped swiftly, as
unobtrusively as she could, around the still crowded room.
She felt certain the note-writer was correctshe didn't
know him; they'd never met. She didn't know any gentleman
who would have thought to send such an outrageous
summons to a private tryst inside St. Ives House.
Excitement, anticipation, surged. Perhaps this was itthe
moment when her hero would appear before her.
Stepping through a minor door, she walked quickly down a
corridor, then turned down another, then another, increasingly
dimly lit, steadily making her way to the rear corner of the huge
mansion. Deep in the private areas, distant from the reception
rooms and their noise, the back parlor gave onto the gardens at
the rear of the house; Honoria often sat there of an afternoon,
watching her children play on the lawn below the terrace.
Eliza finally reached the end of the last corridor. The
parlor door stood before her. She didn't hesitate; turning the
knob, she opened the door and walked in.
The lamps weren't lit, but moonlight poured through the
windows and glass doors that gave onto the terrace.
Glancing around and seeing no one, she closed the door and
walked deeper into the room. Perhaps he was waiting in one
of the armchairs facing the windows.
Nearing the chairs, she saw they were empty. She halted.
Frowned. Had he given up and left? "Hello?" She started to
turn. "Is there anyone"
A faint rush of sound came from behind her.
She whirledtoo late.
A hard arm snaked about her waist and jerked her back
against a solid male body.
She opened her mouth
A huge palm swooped and slapped a white cloth over her
mouth and nose. And held it there.
She struggled, breathed inthe smell was sickly sweet,
cloying . . .
Her muscles went to water.
Even as she sagged, she fought to turn her head, but the
heavy palm followed, keeping the horrid cloth over her
mouth and nose . . .
Until reality slid away and darkness engulfed her.
Eliza swam back to consciousness on a sickening sway.
She was rocking, swinging; she couldn't seem to stop.
Then her senses steadied and she recognized the rattle of
coach wheels on cobbles.
A coach. She was in a coach, being taken . . .
My GodI've been kidnapped!
Shocked surprise, followed by pure panic, shot through
her. And helped focus her wits. She hadn't yet tried opening
her eyes; her lids felt weighted, as did her limbs. Even
shifting a fingertip took effort. She didn't think her hands or
feet were bound, but as she could barely summon enough
strength to think, that was of little immediate relevance.
Besides, there was someone . . . no, two someones, in the
coach with her.
Remaining as she had been when she'd awoken, slumped
in a corner, her head hanging forward, she reached with her
other senses. When that told her no more than that there
was a person on the seat beside her, with another on the
seat opposite, she let her head loll with the next big sway of
the coach, then forced her lids up enough to look out from
beneath her lashes.
A man sat opposite, a gentleman by his dress. The planes
of his face were austere, rather long, his chin square. His
hair was dark brown, wavy, well cut. He was tall, well built,
lean rather than heavy. She suspected it was his body she'd
been hauled back against in the back parlor. His large hand
that had held that horrible smelling cloth over her nose . . .
Her head throbbed; her stomach pitched at the memory
of the vapor from that cloth. Breathing deeply through her
nose, she pushed the remembered sensations aside and
shifted her attention to the person alongside her.
A woman. Without turning her head, she couldn't see the
woman's face, but the gown covering the woman's legs
suggested she was a lady's maid. An upper-class lady's maid, a
dresser, perhaps; the black fabric of the gown was of better
quality than a mere housemaid would have.
Just as with Heather. Her sister had been provided with
a lady's maid for her kidnapping as well. Their family had
taken that as proof that it had been an aristocrat behind the
kidnapping; who else would have thought of a maid? That
seemed the case this time, too. Was the man sitting opposite
her their aristocratic villain?
Studying him again, Eliza suspected not. Heather had
been abducted by hirelings, and althoughfrom what she
could see compared with Heather's descriptionsthis man,
and the maid, too, looked to be a cut above those who'd
kidnapped Heather, they nevertheless struck Eliza as people
employed to do a job.
Excerpted from In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster by Stephanie Laurens Copyright © 2011 by Stephanie Laurens. Excerpted by permission of Avon. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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