Read an Excerpt
A Kiss Before Dawn
By Kimberly Logan
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Kimberly Logan
All right reserved.
"I want to hire you."
Caught off guard by the surprising statement, Peter Quick blinked, then raised an eyebrow at the man seated across from him. A man who had been like a father to him for the past eight years of his life. "I beg your pardon?"
Tristan Knight, the Earl of Ellington, set aside the snifter of brandy he'd been nursing for the last hour and rose, unfolding his broad frame from the depths of the armchair closest to the hearth. Turning his back to the room, he braced a hand on the mantelpiece and stared into the flames for a long, silent moment before finally continuing, his tone gruff.
"Something must be done. This is the third robbery in less than a month, and the local constabulary is no closer to catching the thief than they were in the beginning." He glanced over his shoulder, the concern plain to see in his expression. "I'm afraid we have need of your expertise."
Propping his elbows on his knees, Peter leaned forward and studied the earl closely. He'd suspected something was afoot when his unexpected guest had arrived on the doorstep of his Fleet Street flat earlier that evening, and he'd known what it was the minute the subject of the Oxfordshire Thief had been broached. But he'd thought Tristan only wanted the benefit of his advice. Never would he have imagined that the man might actually want to engage his services as a Bow Street Runner.
"You say this most recent theft occurred during a dinner party?" he prompted.
"Yes. Several thousand pounds' worth of jewelry was stolen. And the scoundrel managed to do it with at least twenty guests just down the hall in Lord and Lady Fulberry's dining room. Ever since the first robbery at the Tuttleston estate, he's grown bolder and bolder, and the longer the authorities go without coming up with a viable suspect, the more they're pointing fingers." The earl's mouth tightened. "I don't like the direction they're pointing them in."
For Peter, the light suddenly dawned. "The Park?"
Tristan gave a sharp inclination of his head.
Willow Park. It had been the only real home Peter had ever known as a boy, a place where he'd felt safe and accepted for the first time in his life. After years on the street as the leader of a band of young pickpockets known as the Rag-Tag Bunch, it had been a warm haven from the miserable existence he'd known in the rookeries of London. And now it offered the same protection to other children. Children for whom stealing and scrapping for a living had been the only way to survive.
"We have several older boys who have come to us only recently," the earl was saying, moving away from the fireplace and crossing the tiny parlor to stand before Peter. "No one has come right out and accused them of anything, of course, but the insinuation is there, all the same." A muscle flexed in his jaw. "It's starting to upset Deirdre, and I don't have to tell you how much I dislike seeing Deirdre upset."
Peter nodded. "Especially now, I would expect."
"Yes. Especially now."
It was no secret that the Earl of Ellington was madly in love with his beautiful wife. He'd always been protective of her, but after suffering several miscarriages in the past eight years, the countess was currently in the final month of a rather difficult pregnancy, and Tristan was being ferocious in his care of her.
"Of course, it doesn't help that one of the boys they suspect is Benji."
"What?" Stunned by Tristan's words, Peter jerked his head up to meet the earl's gaze, unable to hide his astonishment. "That's bloody ridiculous! Benji would never be responsible for something like this."
"You and I both know that, but the law doesn't." The earl expelled a gust of air and reached up to rake his fingers through his ebony hair in a familiar gesture. "The truth is, Benji has been . . . different lately. Quiet, withdrawn. Deirdre's worried about him, and I don't mind admitting that I am, too."
Benji had been the youngest member of the Rag-Tag Bunch, a sprightly, charming lad who had grown into a young man of integrity and intelligence. His early love of reading had led to a love of academics, and with the proper schooling and the continued support of the earl and countess, the fourteen-year-old seemed well on his way to a bright future, despite his impoverished beginnings.
However, it had been quite some time since he'd seen the boy, Peter had to acknowledge with an inner pang of guilt. His last visit to Willow Park had been well over a year ago. And now that he thought about it, he hadn't had a letter from Benji -- who was usually an avid correspondent -- in weeks. Could the youth he'd thought he'd known so well, who had been like a younger brother to him, have changed so much?
Lunging to his feet, he began to pace in front of the sofa he'd been sitting on, his strides long and furious. "I refuse to believe it. He's not capable of it."
"I agree, and I needn't tell you that Deirdre won't even hear of the possibility." The earl crossed his arms, watching Peter with those unnerving violet eyes that had always seemed to see so much. "But you can understand why we need your help. The situation is swiftly becoming desperate."
Taking a step forward, he laid a hand on Peter's shoulder, bringing his pacing to a halt. "Come home," he said softly.
Home. To Oxfordshire. To Willow Park and the Ellington estate, Knighthaven. To the very person he'd been so diligently avoiding for the last four years.
Home to Emily.
Forcefully shaking off his thoughts before they could wander any further in a dangerous direction, Peter turned back to the earl. "I don't know. I doubt the local authorities would appreciate my interference in their investigation."
Excerpted from A Kiss Before Dawn by Kimberly Logan Copyright © 2005 by Kimberly Logan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.