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Three Nights of Sin
The brass ring in the lion's mouth glimmered in the faint light of the gas lamps. Fierce yellow eyes surveyed her from above the loop, questioning her nerve. Marietta Winters curled trembling fingers around the bottom of the metal and forced it against the door knocker.
The brisk night air sliced into her skin. She adjusted her loathed shawl more tightly around her shoulders and pressed her ear closer to the door. Nothing.
She looked into the lion's eyes, swallowed, then rapped the knocker once more.
Silence echoed in the night, only the shifting breeze an answer to her desperation. She wondered if this was to be the end of her search—an empty hall and no one at home. Another closed door. The final nail in Kenny's coffin.
No. She couldn't think that way.
A faint trembling shook her. Nerves and stress and fear. She hadn't slept in days. Hadn't eaten a real meal in twice that time—a loaf of bread stretched between. Her older brother's insistence on no one knowing their straits had turned the food money into Mark's new cloak for the races, new boots for Kenny, and a shawl for her.
And yet had she just kept her mouth shut . . . not argued with Mark—their row causing Kenny to flee the house . . .
The trembling grew worse. She had to hold it together. A broken rhythm caused her head to whip up. Footsteps, not tremors. Someone had paused for a moment. The footfalls grew nearer, the heavy clack of a man's boots pounding against a marble floor.
She straightened, inclined her head and triedto still the desperate beat of her heart.
The steps stopped on the other side of the oak frame. Please, oh please, let him be at home. She had nowhere else to go. All other doors had been closed.
The oak swung with nary a sound, nary a creak.
She squinted at the sudden brilliance. A large man leaned against the door, bright light from the hall backlighting him and casting his features into relief.
His voice was gravelly. And annoyed. No pleasantries, then. Not that she had expected any. No respectable woman would be calling at this hour of the night. Rockwood had urged her to send a note in the morning to set up a meeting, but she couldn't afford to wait that long—she'd never avoid the mob during the daylight hours. And Rockwood, with his talk of this mysterious man, had given her a thread of hope that she couldn't bear for sleep to break.
"I need to speak to Mr. Noble." She wished her voice was stronger, calmer.
The man looked past her, scanning the street, before returning his gaze. She wished she could see his features beyond the shadowy contours of his face. "Bit of an odd time to be calling for tea."
She clutched her reticule. "Yes. But it is urgent that I speak with Mr. Noble." She swallowed. "Please."
"Mr. Noble isn't taking visitors this time of night. Return in the morning." His voice was still gruff, but the edge that had been there before softened into something deep and crisp.
Her pride had once been a mile wide. So fierce and strong that she'd thought she could survive on the trait alone. The constant ache in her belly, the desperation, Kenny's fate . . . allhad shown her otherwise. She fumbled in her reticule for the card she had stuffed there two hours ago. "Please. I can't return in the morning. Please. Here." She thrust the card forward. Anything, anything, to gain her entrance.
His shadowed eyes surveyed her for a long moment. Long fingers reached forward to grip the card. She let his fingers remove it from hers with reluctance, taking the chance that this man, this servant, might rip it in two. He gave the card a cursory glance and flipped it over his fingers, the card traveling down to his smallest finger and than flipping back. A game for him, but that card represented her brother's life. His eyes held hers, piercing through the shadows.
She tilted her chin up. Her pride may have been trampled, but her determination ran deep. She would see Mr. Noble.
Something changed in the man's posture, though she couldn't pinpoint what in the dark. He stepped back. She offered up a quick prayer and ducked inside.
The hall was lovely, the address expensive, so it shouldn't have surprised her, but the gold, navy, and mahogany shades were tasteful and elegant without being overstated. Mr. Noble was obviously someone who showed his wealth well.
She turned to say something and felt her mouth drop before she snapped it close.
"Thank you for letting me wait inside." She gripped her reticule to keep her hands steady. As if throwing herself on the mercy of a stranger in the dead of night wasn't enough to disconcert her . . .
Tall and rather well made, the disheveled but expensive cut of his clothing displayed strong shoulders with no padding in sight. There was considerably less clothing on thisman than she was accustomed to seeing. Jacket, vest, cravat, and anything else that he might have worn had been shed so that he sported only a white shirt, open at the collar, and black trousers. He was slimmer than the boxing brute she had first thought him, though by no means skinny. She swallowed, refining her first thought—he was extremely well made.
And his face . . . A wave of warmth caressed her from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes. Long dark lashes brushed over brilliant green eyes. Eyes that most women would kill for. But no woman would call him pretty. His cheekbones were too stark. His jaw too strong.
A compelling face, arresting, sensual. He had a masculine beauty that was nearly otherworldly.Three Nights of Sin. Copyright ? by Anne Mallory. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.