Read an Excerpt
By Gail Ranstrom
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLondon, April 1818
What could possibly be serious enough to merit such a desperate measure as summoning Ethan Travis, the Demon of Alsatia? He couldn't imagine, but it was worth the trip to Lord Kilgrew's office at half past one in the morning to find out.
A steady drizzle penetrated his black wool coat as he strode down the unlit cobbled street. He wished he could have turned his back on the formal summons, but honor required him to at least hear Lord Kilgrew out.
Ethan entered the government building and climbed the two flights of stairs to a door lettered in gold with Lord Kilgrew's name. At his soft rap, a muffled voice bade him enter. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and opened the door.
Lord Kilgrew, considerably grayer since the last time Ethan had seen him, glanced up and waved to a chair in front of his desk. "Good to see you again, Travis," he said. "Sit down."
This could not be good news if he needed to sit for it. He took a chair across from his former commander. "What is this about, sir?"
Kilgrew frowned as if Ethan had wounded him. "What? No time for pleasantries? It has been - what - two years, since last I saw you? How have you been, lad?"
Ethan gave him a sardonic grin. "You know how I've been, sir. I see your operatives around, watching me."
Kilgrew had the grace to look abashed. "Not watching, lad, just keeping an eye on you. I like to keep tabs on my friends. I haven't given up on finding the real traitor, you know."
"That's not likely to happen after all this time."
"Sooner or later, he'll slip. When he does, we shall deal with him. Surely you want to clear your name, Ethan."
"More than anything." God, what would he not give to have his life back, his good name and reputation. His honor.
He felt the familiar chill invade his vitals, settling somewhere in the region of his withered heart. His anger rose in the form of a heavy dark substance that clung to him and was such that he could not face the man. He stood and went to the window, looking into the dark street below. Rain glistened on the cobblestones like slick oil and reflected the light from the window where he stood.
"Why have you summoned me, sir?" he asked. He heard the clink of a bottle against a glass and the trickle of liquid being poured. The silence lengthened, but he waited. The past two years had taught him to be a very patient man.
Kilgrew brought him a glass of claret. "I, ah, have a favor to ask. Discretion. That's what I need. Paramount. Will you hear me out?"
"Is it a personal favor, sir, or for the Ministry?"
Drat! He'd do nothing for the government that had left him dangling in the wind. Honor required him to help Lord Kilgrew. "Tell me about it, sir."
"There is a small matter of blackmail -" Lord Kilgrew paused, seeing the frown on Ethan's face.
Ethan could not imagine Lord Kilgrew doing anything worthy of blackmail. No one who knew the man would believe it. "Deny it, sir."
"The problem is more complicated than that."
Ethan took the glass and sipped. "Go on."
"The matter is extremely delicate. The blackmailer has got his hands on some sort of evidence. Letters, I believe. He has hidden them in a secret place, leaving instructions that, should anything happen to him, the evidence is to be made public."
Ethan arched an eyebrow. "Own the error. Admission renders a blackmailer impotent. "Tis the only sure way to be rid of him." He tried not to think of the fact that simple denial had not helped him. It had made matters worse. It had ruined his reputation completely.
Kilgrew sighed deeply. "I hoped you would help. I need a man of your ... talents."
Ethan shook his head. He knew the rumors. Hell, he'd encouraged them. "I will not kill for you."
"Quite the opposite, lad. I want you to follow the blackmailer and keep him safe. Nothing must happen to him. We are searching for the letters but, meantime, he must be kept safe so the letters will not be made public."
Kilgrew rose to his feet and leaned across his desk, his palms down upon it. "Ethan, do not make me beg. If I hadn't held off charges until the damned rumors died down, you'd be on the gibbet - hanged for treason!"
"I know, sir. I haven't forgotten how much I owe you." Though his former commander did not seem to know it, he'd won the argument. He had made it a point of honor. When everyone in London thought the worst of him, Kilgrew believed the best. He had even interceded on Ethan's behalf.
"I refused to bring you up on charges. I knew we could wait the whispers out, but a trial would have spelled your end. British lives were lost because someone sold information to the Dey. You were the target because you were in charge of the advance reconnaissance. It was a witch hunt, Ethan. I was lucky to keep you out of court. You're alive, lad."
Alive, perhaps, Ethan thought, but a pariah in his circle. Most of his former friends did not speak to him. The scandal killed his father, his fiancée had jilted him and his own brother had disowned him.
Lord Kilgrew cleared his throat and looked pained. He sank back into his seat like a man defeated and stared into his glass of claret. "They call you the Demon of Alsatia for a reason, Travis. You have a legion of minions at your disposal. You have eyes in every dark squalid corner of London, and you, yourself, could follow our man into the highest drawing rooms where your spies cannot go. I can arrange invitations to every event this season. Our man must not know he's being followed, even if it is for his protection. He'd bolt, or do something foolish. We need those letters, but until we have them, he must be kept safe. No matter the cost."
Yes. Ethan had the connections to make such an undertaking possible. He had entry, if not welcome, in society, if he chose to use it, and he could command any number of ruffians and street urchins. He was the man for the job.
And Kilgrew was right. When all was said and done, Ethan was trapped by his own sense of honor. He was a man who paid his debts. No theatrics, just conviction. "Very well, m'lord. You have my word. What is his name?" he asked.
Lord Kilgrew's relief was obvious. He nodded and gave a grimace of a smile. "Mr. Harold Whitlock. Keep him safe, no matter the cost."
* * *
London, May 1818
Tension thickened the air in Lady Sarah Hunter's private parlor. The cheery blue and yellow decor and the light streaming through the tall second floor windows did nothing to brighten the mood. Four women seated around a low tea table glanced at one another anxiously. The decisions they made at such times were never easy. And rarely pleasant.
The fifth woman in the room was a virtual stranger to them. Gladys Whitlock, an agreeable but unremarkable looking woman in her mid-thirties, had been referred to them by Madame Marie, the ton's premier modiste. Periodically throughout telling her story, she would touch a thin scab at the base of her throat.
When she finished, Mrs. Whitlock dabbed a linen hankie at the corners of her eyes. "I feel so foolish telling you all this, but Madame Marie hinted that you might be able to help. In fact, you are my only hope."
Excerpted from Saving Sarah by Gail Ranstrom Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.