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My Lord EternityIMMORTAL ROGUES
By Alexandra Ivy
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Debbie Raleigh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAlthough Miss Jocelyn Kingly had never before encountered the devil, she was fairly certain he was currently sitting in her front parlor.
It was not so much his appearance that made her think of the Lord of the Netherworld, she grudgingly conceded.
Indeed, he might have been a beloved angel with his long, tawny curls that framed a lean countenance and brushed his wide shoulders. His eyes were a pure, shimmering gold with long black lashes that would make any woman gnash her teeth in envy. His features were carved with a delicate male beauty.
But there was nothing angelic in the decided glint of wicked humor in those magnificent eyes and sensuous cut of those full lips.
And, of course, the indecent charm of those deep dimples.
She should have sent him on his way the moment he arrived upon her doorstep. Not even for a moment should she be considering the notion of allowing such a disturbing gentleman into her home.
She would have to be mad.
When she had first been struck with the notion of renting her attics, it had been with the prospect of discovering a quiet, comfortable tenant. Someone who would not disturb the peace of her household.
Unfortunately there were few such tenants who desired to live in a neighborhood that hovered on the edge of the stews. The local pickpockets and prostitutes did not possess the funds to pay the rent, even if she were to consider allowing them into her home. And the few gentlemen who possessed businesses in the area already owned their own property, usually far from St. Giles.
Which left Lucien Valin.
A shiver raced down her spine.
If only she were not in such desperate need of money.
If only it were not a full two months until her quarterly allowance.
If only ...
Her lips twitched with wry humor. She could devote the next fortnight to listing the "if-onlys" in her life. Now was not the time for such futile longings.
She better than anyone understood that the mistakes of the past could not be altered. One could only ensure that they were not repeated.
Unconsciously straightening her spine Jocelyn forced herself to meet that piercing golden gaze. It came as no surprise to discover her visitor's lips were twitching as if he were amused by her obvious hesitation.
"So, Miss Kingly, was the newspaper in error?" he prodded in that husky, faintly accented voice. "Do you have rooms to let or not?"
The voice of a devil. Jocelyn sucked in a steadying breath. Devil or not, he was the only potential tenant who offered the cold, hard coin she so desperately needed.
There had to be something said for that. Unfortunately.
"There are rooms," she agreed in cautious tones. "However, I feel it incumbent to warn you that they are located in the garret and are quite cramped. I am uncertain that a gentleman of your large proportions would find them at all comfortable."
His slender, powerful hands moved to steeple beneath his chin, the golden eyes shimmering in the slanting morning sunlight.
"Do not fear, I am tall, but thankfully, quite intelligent. I need hit my head upon the rafters on only a handful of occasions to recall to duck."
"There is also our unfortunate proximity to the slaughterhouses. The stench can be unbearable on some days."
"I have discovered that there are few places in London that are not plagued with one unpleasant odor or another. Not even Mayfair is unaffected."
Jocelyn maintained her calm demeanor with an effort. She never allowed herself to be ruffled. She had learned through painful experience that to lose control was a certain invitation to disaster.
"Unlike Mayfair, however, this neighborhood can be quite dangerous as well."
His dimples suddenly flashed. "Surely, my dear, you do not suppose Mayfair to be without its dangers? Just imagine ... marriage-mad mamas, overdressed fops fragrant with the stench of rosewater, and a prince who insists upon keeping his chambers as smothering hot as the netherworld. It is enough to terrify the stoutest of hearts." He lifted one broad shoulder. "I should be able to hold my own against a handful of thieves and street urchins."
There was no reasonable argument to refute his confident words. Although he cloaked himself in a lazy charm, there was no mistaking the fluid power of his male form or the hint of ruthless will that was etched upon the lean features.
Only a fool would underestimate the danger of Mr. Lucien Valin. And Jocelyn was no fool.
"If you say," she reluctantly conceded.
"Is there anything else?"
"There are my rules, of course," she swiftly countered, not at all surprised when his lips curled in open amusement.
"This is not a lodging house. I live very quietly. I will not countenance loud gatherings or drunken carousing."
A tawny brow flicked upward. "I am allowed no callers?"
"Only if they are discreet."
For some reason her cool response only deepened his amusement. "Ah."
That unwelcome shiver once again inched down her spine, and Jocelyn discovered herself battling back the words to order this Mr. Valin from her house.
She did not have the luxury of turning away a perfectly suitable tenant just because of some vague fear.
"And the arrangement will be of a temporary nature," she instead retorted in an effort to reassure her faltering nerve. "No longer than two months."
"That suits me well enough."
It appeared everything suited the devil.
Jocelyn narrowed her gaze. "I also must insist that you respect my privacy. You are welcome to eat in the kitchen with Meg, but the remainder of the house is not to be entered."
There was a brief pause as he studied her carefully bland countenance. Then he gave a vague nod of his head.
"As you wish. Is that all?"
It was, of course.
She was charging him an outrageous sum of money for cramped rooms and meals he would be forced to eat in the servants' quarters.
She had also made impossible rules that would annoy the most even-tempered of gentlemen.
The mere fact that he had so readily agreed made her even more suspicious.
"Why are you here?" she demanded in abrupt tones.
His hands lowered as he regarded her with a bemused smile.
"I beg your pardon?"
Jocelyn deliberately allowed her gaze to drop to the deep burgundy coat cut by an obvious expert and white waistcoat stitched with silver thread. Her gaze continued over the hard, muscular thrust of his legs to linger upon the glossy Hessians that cost more than many families could earn in a year.
At last she raised her head to discover him regarding her in a curious fashion. "It is obvious that you are a gentleman of means, Mr. Valin. Why would you desire to take inferior rooms in a neighborhood most consider fit only for cutthroats and whores?"
"Does it truly matter what my reason?" he demanded softly.
"I will not harbor a criminal."
He gave a sudden chuckle. "I assure you that I am not hiding from the gallows."
"Let us just say that there was a slight misunderstanding with my cousin."
The explanation was a trifle too smooth for her liking.
"You had a slight misunderstanding with your cousin and now you desire to hide in St. Giles? You shall have to do better than that, Mr. Valin."
The devilish glint in the golden eyes became even more pronounced. "Perhaps it was more than a slight misunderstanding. Gideon can unfortunately be tiresomely unreasonable when he chooses, and I believe there was some mention of a nasty duel. It seemed best to avoid him for the next several weeks. Just until his temper is recovered."
"What is the nature of this misunderstanding?"
His features unexpectedly firmed to uncompromising lines. "That is a private matter."
A woman, Jocelyn silently concluded, caught off guard by a traitorous prick of disappointment.
What else could she expect from such a gentleman? He was, after all, born to break the heart of susceptible women.
Then she was severely chastising herself for her unworthy thoughts.
She knew nothing of this gentleman. Certainly not enough to brand him as a womanizing letch. And in truth, even if he were, she was in no position to judge another.
"I respect your privacy, but you must understand that I have no desire to discover an angry gentleman upon my doorstep with his dueling pistol."
The incorrigible humor swiftly returned to the bronze features. "He has no means of discovering I am here. Besides, Gideon would never harm a lady. He far prefers to charm them." His smile became decidedly suggestive. "As do I."
Jocelyn carefully laid her hands upon her tidy desk. This flirtatious banter was precisely what she had feared from Mr. Valin. It was important that she put a swift end to any hopes he might harbor of a casual seduction.
"That is all very well, but do not imagine for a moment, Mr. Valin, that I am remotely interested in any charms you might claim to possess."
Far from wounded by her firm words, the gentleman stroked a slender finger down the length of his jaw.
"Surely you exaggerate, Miss Kingly? Not even remotely interested?"
He heaved a teasing sigh. "A hard woman."
"A sensible woman who has no time for foolish games," she corrected him firmly. "You would do well to remember my warning."
"Oh, I possess a most excellent memory," he drawled, reaching beneath his jacket to remove a small leather bag that he placed upon the desk. "Indeed, I even remembered this."
She eyed the bag warily. "What is it?"
"The two months' rent in advance, just as you requested."
Jocelyn made no effort to reach for the money. She knew the moment her fingers touched the coins she would be irrevocably committed to allowing this gentleman into her home.
And yet, what else could she do?
There was nothing particularly noble in bare cupboards and empty coal bins. And besides, she had Meg to consider.
Her old nurse was the only one to stand beside her when the scandal had broken. She was the only friend she had left in the world.
How could she possibly allow the older woman to suffer even further hardship?
The answer, of course, was she could not. This money would pay their most pressing creditors and put food on the table. At the moment that was all that mattered.
Grimly thrusting aside the warning voice that whispered in the back of her mind, Jocelyn gave a nod of her head.
As if thoroughly aware of her inner struggle, the devil lifted his brows in a faintly mocking manner.
"Do you not wish to count it?"
"That will not be necessary."
"So trusting, my dove?"
"You will not be difficult to track down if I discover you have attempted to cheat me."
"There is that," he agreed with a chuckle. "When may I take possession of the rooms?"
Although not always meticulously devoted to truth if a small bit of subterfuge was more practical, Jocelyn discovered herself unable to form the lie that would allow her a few days' grace from Mr. Valin's presence.
Not that it truly mattered.
She would no doubt merely waste the days brooding upon what was to come. Surely this was like swallowing vile medicine. It was best to be done with quickly.
"The rooms have been cleaned and prepared," she forced herself to admit. "You may have them whenever you desire."
"Good. I will collect my belongings and be here later this afternoon."
She absolutely refused to shiver again.
"What of your cousin?" she demanded. "Will he not shoot you when you return for your belongings?"
"I have it on excellent authority that he devoted the goodly portion of the evening to his current mistress. It will be several hours before he awakens."
She unconsciously grimaced. "I see."
An odd hint of satisfaction touched the handsome countenance. "You disapprove of such pleasurable pastimes, Miss Kingly?"
Jocelyn was swift to smooth her features to calm indifference. "I do not possess sufficient interest to disapprove, Mr. Valin."
His lips twisted wryly. "No, of course not."
Having strained her nerves quite far enough for one morning, Jocelyn rose to her feet.
"I believe we have covered everything, Mr. Valin."
Efficiently dismissed, the tawny-haired gentleman reluctantly pushed himself from his chair.
"I shall return in a few hours," he was swift to warn.
Jocelyn, however, was prepared on this occasion.
"If you have need of anything, please speak with Meg. She is quite capable and is in full control of the household."
The golden eyes narrowed as she easily maneuvered him firmly into the hands of her servant.
"More capable than you, Miss Kingly?" he demanded in those husky tones.
"Without a doubt." With a crisp nod of her head she regained her seat and reached for her ledger book. "Good-bye, Mr. Valin."
He remained standing beside the desk, but as she kept her gaze upon the pages of her accounts, he at last gave a low chuckle.
"Until later, my dear."
Jocelyn maintained her charade of distraction until she at last heard the sound of the door closing behind his retreating form. Only then did she lean back in her seat and close her eyes in an odd weariness.
There would be dinner on the table tonight.
But what was the cost?
And was she prepared to pay it?
The kitchen was surprisingly clean and filled with the delicious aroma of fresh-baked bread and drying herbs.
Seated at the scrubbed table, Lucien leaned back with a deep sigh.
His surroundings could hardly compare with Gideon's vast town house or even the elegant hotel he had chosen upon his arrival in London. The house might be tidy with sturdy furnishings, but there was no ignoring the neighborhood was a breath from utter decay and that the air was rancid with the stench of rotting trash and sewer.
Still, he was not overly disappointed that his trail had led him to this narrow house in the shabby cul-de-sac. His rooms might be cramped and his delicate senses offended by the derelict surroundings, but it all became meaningless the moment he had stepped into the small study.
Even now he could feel the shock of utter bewitchment when he had beheld Miss Kingly.
She had quite simply stolen his breath.
Her face was a perfect oval with large eyes the impossible blue of tropical waters. Her hair, which had been ruthlessly wrenched into a knot at the base of her neck, possessed the rich luster of sable that contrasted sharply with the flawless cream of her skin. She possessed the timeless beauty of a Madonna, with lush curves that could make a man's thoughts stray in dangerous directions.
As a collector of beautiful objects, he had been stirred by her loveliness.
As a vampire with his passions unleashed for the first time in two centuries, other parts of his anatomy had been stirred.
Just for a moment he had briefly considered how swiftly he could woo her into his bed. How magnificent she would be stretched upon snowy white sheets, her hair a river of silk, he had thought with a decided yearning. In the candlelight her skin would glow with the pale luster of fine porcelain. Her lush curves would fit his hands to perfection. Ah, to possess such a woman would surely bring untold pleasure.
But even as his blood had tingled with anticipation, he had gazed into those well-guarded eyes and sensed the bleak loneliness deep within.
His calculated passion had died with a regretful sigh.
This woman was not in need of a lover.
She was in need of a savior.
The knowledge had been as unwelcome as the stench of the nearby slaughterhouse, and just as inescapable.
He was here to protect this maiden.
He could only hope his rusty sense of chivalry could be persuaded to overcome the lust that even now swirled through his blood.
Pushing back his plate, he cast a roguish smile toward the undoubted general of the household. The servant was a large woman with iron-gray hair and features cast in granite. He could only hope her heart was not similarly unyielding.
"Exquisite, my dear Meg," he complimented her. "As savory as any I have ever tasted. A true masterpiece."
The charm he had once presumed irresistible appeared woefully ineffective. As woefully ineffective upon the servant as it had been upon her mistress.
"'Tis shepherd's pie, hardly a masterpiece."
"Ah, but in the hands of an artist even shepherd's pie can be a masterpiece. And you are, indeed, an artist."
If anything, the woman regarded him with even sharper suspicion. "Miss Jocelyn warned me you possessed the silver tongue of the devil. I now understand why."
Lucien was not remotely surprised.
He had known from the moment he had entered this house that the young maiden had felt uneasy in his presence.
Excerpted from My Lord Eternity by Alexandra Ivy Copyright © 2003 by Debbie Raleigh. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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