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Seduction Is Forever
The night air was cold and crisp, but Emily Redgrave hardly felt it as she pushed the door open and stepped silently onto the icy parapet. Tonight she didn't care about the chill of one of the worst winters on record. She was escaping her prison. Finally, months of planning, weeks of work, were about to come to fruition. In a few short moments, she would be free.
Her heart pounded as she adjusted the heavy cloak around her shoulders and insured that the dark hood covered her hair so the fair color wouldn't be obvious in the darkness. She hadn't had time to perform her usual preparations of costume and disguise. It was this moment or never if she wanted to get out.
Carefully, she pushed herself up onto the slick ledge. Balancing there, she glanced down at the garden far below. A long drop, so she hoped her makeshift rope, bound together from bed sheets she had been secreting away, would hold.
She squatted to secure one end of the rope to the stone slats on the terrace wall, then swung down off the ledge. She cupped her feet together around the knot where she'd tied the first and second sheet and let out a sigh of relief when she dangled safely.
Well, she hadn't come crashing to the ground yet. That was a positive sign. Now she just had to shimmy down fifteen feet or so and she would be on her way to blessed freedom.
Inch by inch, she scooted down the sheet, always keeping her hands or feet gripped around a knot in her homemade ladder. From time to time, she glanced down, her breath steaming up around her cheeks as the ground moved ever closer and closer.
A gust of wind stirred and the sheets swung. She clung to the soft fabric as she swayed, still far enough from the ground that a fall would hurt like a bugger if she landed improperly. She had only just recovered from injuries, the last thing she needed was more bed rest. She would surely go mad.
Finally, the biting wind died down and she continued her trek. When her boots hit the ground beneath her, it took all her willpower not to crow with triumph. One more daring escape concluded, her first in many months. She gathered her cloak closer and spun on her heel toward the garden gate and the busy street outside.
Only to find herself facing a man. Charles Isley lifted the lantern in his gloved hand and gave her a look that could not be misinterpreted, even in the dim light.
"Emily," he growled, dragging her name out in frustration.
She stomped her foot, despite how childish the reaction was. Shoving her hood away to reveal her face, she glared at him. "Good evening, Charlie."
"Come inside." He motioned to the French doors that led from the garden into the parlor. It was a command, not a request, and since he was her superior she had no choice but to follow that order.
She sighed as she entered the bright, warm room. She'd been so damn close. Charlie shut and latched the doors behind him as she flopped into the nearest wing-back chair and folded her arms in a final act of defiance.
"Emily, Emily . . ." he began with a shake of his head as he poured two tumblers of sherry. Handing her one, he took the chair across from hers and simply stared at her.
She pursed her lips as she tried to suppress the swell of emotion in her chest. Damn him. He could always make her feel so guilty when she broke protocol or became overzealous about a case. Now he was doing that in spades. She ground her teeth. She would not apologize.
"How did you know?" she asked instead, setting the untouched liquor aside.
Charlie didn't get a chance to answer before the door to the parlor opened. Emily looked up as her two best friends, Meredith Archer and Anastasia Tyler entered the room.
Meredith folded her arms and speared Emily with another glance meant to fill her with guilt. And damn if it didn't succeed.
"We told him," her friend admitted without a hint of remorse in her tone.
Emily gripped her hands into fists in her lap. Her nails bit into her palms. "And just how did you two figure out my plan, eh?"
Anastasia laughed as she and Meredith took positions on the nearest settee. "As if we would tell you!"
Meredith nodded. "Yes. The more details we provide, the more you'll use them to your advantage the next time you decide to sneak out of the house into the night."
Emily's eyes narrowed. This all seemed very rehearsed. Clearly, the three of them had known of her plans for escape for some time and had readied themselves for the showdown once she made her move. It was infuriating! Six months ago, she wouldn't have been caught by anyone.
Six months ago, everything was different.
She shook away those thoughts, along with the overwhelming swell of anxiety that accompanied them. They couldn't sense her fear or she would be worse off than she already was.
"Very well, let me see if I can deduce it. It was the bedsheets that gave me away, wasn't it?"
Ana laughed and Emily knew she'd struck onto her failure. For weeks, she had been playing a cat and mouse game with the maids. Clearly, someone had talked about the missing sheets and word had gotten back to her sister spies. Before Ana's recent marriage, she had lived with Emily for several years. No doubt the maids would report any strange behavior to her friend if asked.
And instead of confronting Emily herself, as Ana would have done in the past, her friend had gone to Meredith and Charlie. To protect her.
Protection was the last thing Emily wanted. Or needed. She was smothered by their mothering and worrying. And their doubts only made her own fears that much louder in her head.Seduction Is Forever. Copyright © by Jenna Petersen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.