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By Candace Camp
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved. ISBN: 1-55166-729-0
Chapter One 1876
The oil lamp in the center of the long table was turned low, eerily lighting the faces of the people around it, throwing eyes and hair into deep shadows and dancing along the sharp lines of brow and cheekbone, making the silent attendees look gaunt and mysterious. All eyes turned toward the large wooden box a few feet from the table, dark and looming. There was no sound from inside it.
Then the lamp went out, and one of the women gasped. Blackness enveloped them. Hands turned cold, and pulses sped up. Everyone waited. There, in the dark hush, it was easy to imagine a ghostly finger trailing coldly across one's shoulders, to think, with a heart-pounding combination of fear and anticipation, that someone might speak from across the black void of death.
Even Olivia Moreland, despite the fact that she was there for a far different purpose, could not help but feel a little thrill dart up her back. But it was not enough to keep her from her business. Slowly, carefully, using the tricks she had learned from the very people she intended to expose, she eased backward, shielded by the blackness surrounding her, and separated herself from the ring of people around the table.
She paused for a moment, giving her eyes a chance to adjust to the lack of light; then she started forward slowly. It was still difficult to see, as the only light in the room was the glow from the hallway creeping in around the door. She did not want to alert anyone to the fact that she was up and walking. It had to be a surprise to everyone when she reached the medium's cabinet. All her attention was on the dark box before her; every nerve in her body seemed to quiver, tense with expectation. She was almost there....
A hand lashed out and wrapped around her arm, fingers digging painfully into her flesh.
Olivia shrieked and jumped. A deep masculine voice cried out, "There! I have you!"
All around the table, women echoed Olivia's shriek, and there was the clatter of a chair overturning and a general hubbub of voices and movements.
Whatever instinctual, primitive fear had flooded Olivia at the sudden grasping of her arm, it subsided at the sound of a very real and human voice.
"Let go of me!" she snapped, trying to pull her arm away.
"I think not - until you have explained yourself."
She continued to struggle, hissing, "Stop! You are ruining everything!"
"No doubt I am," he replied in a faintly amused tone. "It is always so unpleasant to have one's duplicity revealed."
As the two of them exchanged words, there was the sound of a thud, followed by a muttered curse, and at last a match flared into life at the table. A moment later, someone lit the oil lamp and there was light in the room. Olivia found herself staring down into the cool gray eyes of her captor.
A faint shock passed through her, a feeling almost of recognition, though she realized immediately that she had never seen this man before. She was certain that, if she had, she would have remembered him.
He was seated at the table, his chair pushed a little away from those on either side of him, and he was half-turned and leaning back in order to grasp Olivia's arm. His shoulders were broad, and Olivia could well attest to the strength of his hands and arms. His face was lean, with high, wide cheekbones so sharp they looked as if they could have cut paper. It was a hard face, a look emphasized by the cold intensity of his eyes. Only his mouth - wide, with a full lower lip - would have softened his face, but it was at the moment pulled into a thin line. His hair, thick and dark, nearly black, was shaggily cut, as if someone had taken a pair of scissors to it - or, perhaps, a knife. The ungentlemanly appearance of his hair was echoed in his clothes - made of clearly fine materials, but just as clearly sewn by someone other than one of the well-known London tailors, as well as being a trifle out-of-date. She would have thought him foreign on an initial glance, except that his voice had been unmistakably that of an upper-class Englishman.
There was a moment of silence as everyone else in the room stared at the tableau.
"I don't have to explain myself to you!" Olivia retorted, desperately searching for a good reason for her to have been walking about. She twitched at her skirts, which had managed to become twisted, showing an entirely inappropriate ruffle of her petticoat on one side. There was a lock of hair that had escaped from her neat bun, as well; she could feel it curling down beside her face. She realized that her appearance put her at a disadvantage, and she was made even more uncomfortable by that steady silver-gray gaze on her face. But she refused to let this man cow her. Olivia was quite aware that she was small and unremarkable in appearance - a little brown wren of a woman, she had more than once thought of herself, especially when compared to the other, more peacocklike members of her family. But she had learned to counter that impression with a steady and stubborn refusal to be intimidated.
She cast a disdainful look down at the stranger's hand, curled around her upper arm. "I demand that you cease this bullying at once."
"I think you have to explain yourself to the company in general," he countered, but he relaxed his grip enough that it was no longer actually painful.
"Exactly what were you doing sneaking about the room? Were you about to manifest yourself as a 'visitor from beyond'?" His deep voice was laced with cynicism.
"Of course not!" Color flared in Olivia's cheeks. She was painfully aware of the gazes of everyone else in the room fixed on her. "How dare you?"
"Sir, this is scarcely the behavior of a gentleman." One of the other men in the room spoke up, a portly fellow with a great curling mustache and plentiful muttonchop sideburns - such hirsute magnificence grown, Olivia suspected, to compensate for the man's shiny bald pate.
Excerpted from Mesmerized by Candace Camp Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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