The Seduction of an Unknown Lady
He was back.
I saw him once when I was very young, a creature who was not of this world. Even now I recall the way the hairs on the back of my neck had prickled—as they did even now.
Now, I stood on the balcony outside my room at Raven's Gate and gazed into the light of the moon.
For I could feel it.
I could feel him.
It is not a feeling one soon forgets.
Demon of Dartmoor, F.J. Sparrow
London, January 1852
"Your Grace," intoned Carlton, the impeccably attired white-gloved butler. "Your brother, Lord Aidan."
Aidan McBride strode into his brother's drawing room and without further ado, lowered his long body onto the soft, rich cushions of the armchair that sat before the roaring fire. He leaned forward, rubbing his hands together to warm them.
Ensconced in the adjacent chair, periodical in hand, Alec McBride hiked one dark brow.
"Brandy?" queried Alec without looking up from his reading. "Or whisky?"
Aidan certainly wouldn't refuse either. His brother Alec had a fine selection of both, including an enviable—and extensive—wine cellar. Ah, yes, his brother had both exquisite—and expensive—taste when it came to spirits. And being half-Scots, as a matter of course there was always whisky. Gleneden, in fact, even boasted its own distillery. Alec McBride, Duke of Gleneden, could well afford his pleasures.
"Brandy," said Aidan, "sounds just the thing."
Carlton returned in short order with a generously filleddecanter and two finely etched tumblers centered on a gleaming silver tray. The butler poured a perfectly matched measure into each, then retired with a bow. Aidan leaned forward and retrieved the nearest glass. His posture was perfectly erect, courtesy of his rigorous military training and his days as a colonel in the Royal Highland Regiment.
But those days were no more. Now he was once again a private citizen, on his way to making his own fortune in shipping tobacco and cotton from America, rum from the Caribbean, anywhere west of England. He wouldn't consider the tea trade. God knew he wanted no more to do with India.
His brother's pale blue eyes had finally settled on him. Aidan watched as Alec closed the periodical and laid it on the table—rather reluctantly, Aidan decided. "Well, well," he said lightly, "it appears I've interrupted you at a rather inopportune moment. Would you prefer that I leave?"
"No need. You're already here, aren't you?"
"Well, you appeared quite engrossed in your reading material—what is it? Ah, The Monthly Chronicle. But what article were you reading that holds you in such fascination?" Curious, Aidan picked up the periodical his brother had laid on the table but failed to close, as if to mark his place—as if loath to forget it.
His brows shot high. "What the devil! Demon of Dartmoor," he quoted. He couldn't withhold a laugh. "Who has taken the place of my brother? Perhaps the devil himself! Or—dare I say it?—a demon? I confess, Alec, you astound me. I rather thought you should be reading the classics."
"The devil indeed. Or just as you say, perchance a demon. And it's not an article, Aidan, but a novel. Rather, a serialization of a novel."
Aidan glanced at it once more. "F.J. Sparrow? I've never heard of him."
"Yes, well, is it any wonder?" Alec asked dryly. "You were in the Punjab so long it's a miracle any of us recognized you."
Touched by echoes from the past, Aidan managed to maintain his smile. He held himself very still. He didn't try to stop the painful tightening of his gut. He'd long since discovered that to try merely made it worse.
No, there was no turning back the past. No escaping it.
Lord knew he'd already tried.
He also knew that Alec meant no harm by the offhand comment.
Like Alec, his complexion was almost swarthy. But the Indian sun had darkened Aidan's still more, so that his skin was a dark, burnished hue that made him appear almost a foreigner—particularly when combined with the beard he'd grown, the patch he'd still worn over one eye upon his return home. Aidan recalled with a faint amusement how their poor mother had appeared severely distressed at the notion that perhaps her second son had not returned on this particular ship after all. She'd passed by him on the dock fully half a dozen times over, fretting aloud, before Aidan finally took pity on her, picking up her dainty form and whirling her around. He knew, from the hint of mirth that tugged at Alec's mouth, that Alec was thinking of that moment, too. And of course Mama had also been delighted when he shaved his beard off the following day.
It was Alec who'd told him how disappointed she had been when she'd learned of Aidan's decision not to return home immediately upon resigning his commission. In fact, nearly a year had passed before he'd come home.
It wasn't, as he'd cited to his mother in his letter not long after he'd resigned his commission, a continuing need for wanderlust that delayed his reunion with his family.
It was shame. Shame and guilt and—
And once that was done, well . . . he still hadn't been able to return.
He couldn't. Precisely why, he couldn't say. Perhaps he'd been running. Hiding. Trying to heal.
It took a moment before he realized Alec was still talking about that damned author. What was his name? Wren?
"At any rate," Alec continued, "since the publication of Satan's Path, F.J. Sparrow has enjoyed enormous success."
F.J. Sparrow. That was it.
"Spectres of the Dark followed, I believe, then The Devil's Way. Howls at Midnight was the last." Alec pointed to a cabinet in the corner. "Alas, I've the entire collection thus far except The Devil's Way. I read it, then lent it to someone and it was never returned. And now it's almost impossible to come by." The Seduction of an Unknown Lady
. Copyright © by Samantha James. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.