Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe-and won't back down . . .
MEETS HIS MATCH . . .
Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .
DESIRE IGNITES A DANGEROUS PASSION
Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?
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The winters in Minnesota have been known to be long and cold and Elizabeth is always thrilled to receive reader mail. You can write to her at PO Box 19495, Minneapolis, MN 55419 or email her at Elizabeth@ElizabethHoyt.com.
Read an Excerpt
Duke of Midnight
By Elizabeth Hoyt
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2013 Elizabeth Hoyt
All rights reserved.
Many a tale I've told, but none so strange as the legend of the Herla King....
—from The Legend of the Herla King
Artemis Greaves did not like to think herself a cynical person, but when the masked figure dropped into the moonlit alley to confront the three toughs already menacing her and her cousin, the hand on the knife in her boot tightened.
It seemed only prudent.
He was big and wore a harlequin's motley—black-and-red diamond leggings and tunic, black jackboots, a hat with a wide, floppy brim, and a black half mask with a grotesquely outsized nose. Harlequins were meant to be clowns—a silly entertainment—but no one in the dark alley was laughing. The harlequin uncoiled from his crouch with a lethal movement so elegant Artemis's breath caught in her throat. He was like a jungle cat—wild and without a trace of compassion—and like a jungle cat his attack held no hesitation.
He launched himself at the three men.
Artemis stared, still kneeling, her hand gripping the little blade sheathed in her boot. She'd never seen anyone fight like this—with a kind of brutal grace, two swords flashing at once through the shadows, too swift for the human eye to follow.
The first of the three men dropped, rolling to lie still and dazed. On the other side of the fight Artemis's cousin, Lady Penelope Chadwicke, whimpered, cringing away from the bleeding man. A second man lunged, but the harlequin ducked, sweeping his outstretched leg under his opponent's feet, then kicked the man to the ground and kicked him once more—viciously—in the face. The harlequin rose, already striking at the third man. He hammered the butt of his sword against his opponent's temple.
The man collapsed with a squishy thud.
Artemis swallowed drily.
The dingy little lane was suddenly quiet, the crumbling buildings on either side seeming to loom inward with decrepit menace. The harlequin pivoted, not even breathing hard, his boot heels scraping on cobblestones, and glanced at Penelope. She still sobbed fearfully against the wall.
His head swiveled silently as he looked from Penelope to Artemis.
Artemis inhaled as she met the cold eyes glittering behind his sinister mask.
Once upon a time she had believed that most people were kind. That God watched over her and that if she were honest and good and always offered the last piece of raspberry tart to someone else first, then, even though sad things might happen, in the end everything would work out for the best. That was before, though. Before she'd lost both her family and the man who'd professed to love her more than the sun itself. Before her beloved brother had been wrongly imprisoned in Bedlam. Before she'd been so wretchedly desperate and alone that she'd wept tears of relieved gratitude when she'd been offered a position as her silly cousin's lady's companion.
Before, Artemis would've fallen upon this grim harlequin with cries of thanks for having rescued them in the nick of time.
Now, Artemis narrowed her eyes at the masked man and wondered why he'd come to the aid of two lone women wandering the dangerous streets of St. Giles at midnight.
Perhaps she had grown a trifle cynical.
He strode to her in two lithe steps and stood over her. She saw those intense eyes move from the hand on her pathetic knife to her face. His wide mouth twitched—in amusement? Irritation? Pity? She doubted the last, but she simply couldn't tell—and bizarrely, she wanted to. It mattered, somehow, what this stranger thought of her—and, of course, what he intended to do to her.
Holding her gaze, he sheathed his short sword and pulled the gauntlet off his left hand with his teeth. He held out his bare hand to her.
She glanced at the proffered hand, noticing the dull glint of gold on the smallest finger, before laying her palm in his. His hand was hot as he gripped her tightly and pulled her upright before him. She was so close that if she leaned forward a couple of inches she could've brushed her lips across his throat. She watched the pulse of his blood beat there, strong and sure, before she lifted her gaze. His head was cocked almost as if he were examining her—searching for something in her face.
She drew in a breath, opening her mouth to ask a question.
Which was when Penelope launched herself at the harlequin's back. Penelope screamed—obviously nearly out of her mind with fear—as she beat uselessly at the harlequin's broad shoulders.
He reacted, of course. He turned, yanking his hand from Artemis's fingers as he lifted one arm to push Penelope aside. But Artemis tightened her hand on his. It was instinct, for she certainly wouldn't have tried to hold him back otherwise. As his fingers left hers, something fell into her palm.
Then he was shoving Penelope aside and loping swiftly down the lane.
Penelope panted, her hair half down, a scratch across her lovely face. "He might've killed us!"
"What?" Artemis asked, tearing her gaze away from the end of the lane where the masked man had disappeared.
"That was the Ghost of St. Giles," Penelope said. "Didn't you recognize him? They say he's a ravisher of maidens and a cold-blooded murderer!"
"He was rather helpful for a cold-blooded murderer," Artemis said as she bent to lift the lantern. She'd set it down when the toughs had appeared at the end of the alley. Fortunately, it had survived the fight without being knocked over. She was surprised to see that the lantern's light wavered. Her hand was shaking. She drew in a calming breath. Nerves wouldn't get them out of St. Giles alive.
She glanced up to see Penelope pouting.
"But you were very brave to defend me," Artemis added hastily.
Penelope brightened. "I was, wasn't I? I fought off a terrible rogue! That's much better than drinking a cup of gin at midnight in St. Giles. I'm sure Lord Featherstone will be very impressed."
Artemis rolled her eyes as she turned swiftly back the way they'd come. Lord Featherstone was at the moment her least favorite person in the world. A silly society gadfly, it was he who had teased Penelope into accepting a mad wager to come into St. Giles at midnight, buy a tin cup of gin, and drink it. They'd nearly been killed—or worse—because of Lord Featherstone.
And they still weren't out of St. Giles yet.
If only Penelope weren't so set on becoming daring—loathsome word—in order to attract the attention of a certain duke, she might not have fallen for Lord Featherstone's ridiculous dare. Artemis shook her head and kept a wary eye out as she hurried out of the alley and into one of the myriad of narrow lanes that wound through St. Giles. The channel running down the middle of the lane was clogged with something noxious, and she made sure not to look as she trotted by. Penelope had quieted, following almost docilely. A stooped, shadowy figure came out of one of the sagging buildings. Artemis stiffened, preparing to run, but the man or woman scurried away at the sight of them.
Still, she didn't relax again until they turned the corner and saw Penelope's carriage, left standing in a wider street.
"Ah, here we are," Penelope said, as if they were returning from a simple stroll along Bond Street. "That was quite exciting, wasn't it?"
Artemis glanced at her cousin incredulously—and a movement on the roof of the building across the way caught her eye. A figure crouched there, athletic and waiting. She stilled. As she watched, he raised a hand to the brim of his hat in mocking salute.
A shiver ran through her.
"Artemis?" Penelope had already mounted the steps to the carriage.
She tore her gaze away from the ominous figure. "Coming, Cousin."
Artemis climbed into the carriage and sat tensely on the plush indigo squabs. He'd followed them, but why? To discover who they were? Or for a more benign reason—to make sure that they had reached the carriage safely?
Silly, she scolded herself—it did no good to indulge in flights of romantic fancy. She doubted that a creature such as the Ghost of St. Giles cared very much for the safety of two foolish ladies. No doubt he had reasons of his own for following them.
"I cannot wait to tell the Duke of Wakefield of my adventure tonight," Penelope said, interrupting Artemis's thoughts. "He'll be terribly surprised, I'll wager."
"Mmm," Artemis murmured noncommittally. Penelope was very beautiful, but would any man want a wife so hen-witted that she ventured into St. Giles at night on a wager and thought it a great lark? Penelope's method of attracting the duke's attention seemed impetuous at best and at worst foolish. For a moment Artemis's heart twinged with pity for her cousin.
But then again Penelope was one of the richest heiresses in England. Much could be overlooked for a veritable mountain of gold. Too, Penelope was esteemed one of the great beauties of the age, with raven-black hair, milky skin, and eyes that rivaled the purple of a pansy. Many men wouldn't care about the person beneath such a lovely surface.
Artemis sighed silently and let her cousin's excited chatter wash over her. She ought to pay more attention. Her fate was inexorably tied to Penelope's, for Artemis would go to whatever house and family her cousin married into.
Unless Penelope decided she no longer needed a lady's companion after she wed.
Artemis's fingers tightened about the thing the Ghost of St. Giles had left in her hand. She'd had a glimpse of it in the carriage's lantern light before she'd entered. It was a gold signet ring set with a red stone. She rubbed her thumb absently over the worn stone. It felt ancient. Powerful. Which was quite interesting.
An aristocrat might wear such a ring.
Maximus batten, the Duke of Wakefield, woke as he always did: with the bitter taste of failure on his tongue.
For a moment he lay on his great curtained bed, eyes closed, trying to swallow down the bile in his throat as he remembered dark tresses trailing in bloody water. He reached out and laid his right palm on the locked strongbox that sat on the table beside his bed. The emerald pendants from her necklace, carefully gathered over years of searching, were within. The necklace wasn't complete, though, and he'd begun to despair that it ever would be. That the blot of his failure would remain upon his conscience forever.
And now he had a new failure. He flexed his left hand, feeling the unaccustomed lightness. He'd lost his father's ring—the ancestral ring—last night somewhere in St. Giles. It was yet another offense to add to his long list of unpardonable sins.
He stretched carefully, pushing the matter from his mind so that he might rise and do his duty. His right knee ached dully, and something was off about his left shoulder. For a man in but his thirty-third year he was rather battered.
His valet, Craven, turned from the clothespress. "Good morning, Your Grace."
Maximus nodded silently and threw back the coverlet. He rose, nude, and padded to the marble-topped dresser with only a slight limp. A basin of hot water already waited there for him. His razor, freshly sharpened by Craven, appeared beside the basin as Maximus soaped his jaw.
"Will you be breaking your fast with Lady Phoebe and Miss Picklewood this morning?" Craven enquired.
Maximus frowned into the gold mirror standing on the dresser as he tilted his chin and set the razor against his neck. His youngest sister, Phoebe, was but twenty. When Hero, his other sister, had married several years ago, he'd decided to move Phoebe and their older cousin, Bathilda Picklewood, into Wakefield House with him. He was pleased to have her under his eye, but having to share accommodations—even accommodations as palatial as Wakefield House—with the two ladies sometimes got in the way of his other activities.
"Not today," he decided, scraping whiskers from his jaw. "Please send my apologies to my sister and Cousin Bathilda."
"Yes, Your Grace."
Maximus watched in the mirror as the valet arched his eyebrows in mute reproach before retiring to the clothespress. He didn't suffer the rebuke—even a silent one—of many, but Craven was a special case. The man had been his father's valet for fifteen years before Maximus had inherited him on attaining the title. Craven had a long face, the vertical lines on either side of his mouth and the droop of his eyes at the outer corners making it seem longer. He must be well into his fifties, but one couldn't tell by his countenance: he looked like he could be any age from thirty to seventy. No doubt Craven would still look the same when Maximus was a doddering old man without a hair on his head.
He snorted to himself as he tapped the razor against a porcelain bowl, shaking soap froth and whiskers from the blade. Behind him Craven began laying out smallclothes, stockings, a black shirt, waistcoat, and breeches. Maximus turned his head, scraping the last bit of lather from his jaw, and used a dampened cloth to wipe his face.
"Did you find the information?" he asked as he donned smallclothes.
"Indeed, Your Grace." Craven rinsed the razor and carefully dried the fine blade. He laid it in a fitted velvet-lined box as reverently as if the razor had been the relic of some dead saint.
Craven cleared his throat as if preparing to recite poetry before the king. "The Earl of Brightmore's finances are, as far as I've been able to ascertain, quite happy. In addition to his two estates in Yorkshire, both with arable land, he is in possession of three producing coal mines in the West Riding, an ironworks in Sheffield, and has recently bought interest in the East India Company. At the beginning of the year he opened a fourth coal mine, and in so doing accrued some debt, but the reports from the mine are quite favorable. The debt in my estimation is negligible."
Maximus grunted as he pulled on his breeches.
Craven continued, "As to the earl's daughter, Lady Penelope Chadwicke, it's well known that Lord Brightmore plans to offer a very nice sum when she is wed."
Maximus lifted a cynical eyebrow. "Do we have an actual number?"
"Indeed, Your Grace." Craven pulled a small notebook from his pocket and, licking his thumb, paged through it. Peering down at the notebook, he read off a sum so large Maximus came close to doubting Craven's research skills.
"Good God. You're sure?"
Craven gave him a faintly chiding look. "I have it on the authority of the earl's lawyer's chief secretary, a rather bitter gentleman who cannot hold his liquor."
"Ah." Maximus arranged his neck cloth and shrugged on his waistcoat. "Then that leaves only Lady Penelope herself."
"Quite." Craven tucked his notebook away and pursed his lips, staring at the ceiling. "Lady Penelope Chadwicke is four and twenty years of age and her father's sole living offspring. Despite her rather advanced maiden status, she does not lack for suitors, and indeed appears to be only unwed because of her own ... ah ... unusually high standards in choosing a gentleman."
Craven winced at the blunt assessment. "It would appear so, Your Grace."
Maximus nodded as he opened his bedroom door. "We'll continue downstairs."
"Yes, Your Grace." Craven picked up a candle and lit it at the fireplace.
A wide corridor lay outside his bedroom. To the left was the front of the house and the grand staircase that led to the public rooms of Wakefield House.
Maximus turned to the right, Craven trotting at his heels. This way led to the servants' stairs and other less public rooms. Maximus opened a door paneled to look like the wainscoting in the hall and clattered down the uncarpeted stairs. He passed the entrance to the kitchens and continued down another level. The stairs ended abruptly, blocked by a plain wooden door. Maximus took a key from his waistcoat pocket and unlocked the door. Beyond was another set of stairs, but these were stone, so ancient the treads dipped in the middle, worn away by long-dead feet. Maximus followed them down as Craven lit candles tucked into the nooks in the stone walls.
Maximus ducked under a low stone arch and came to a small paved area. The candlelight behind him flickered over worn stone walls. Here and there figures were scratched in the stone: symbols and crude human representations. Maximus doubted very much that they'd been made during the age of Christianity. Directly ahead was a second door, the wood blackened by age. He unlocked this as well and pushed it open.
Excerpted from Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt. Copyright © 2013 Elizabeth Hoyt. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
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