Finally free of her suffocating marriage, widow Daisy Ellis Craigmore is ready to embrace the pleasures of life that have long been denied her. Yet her new-found freedom is short lived. A string of unexplained murders has brought danger to Daisy's door, forcing her to turn to the most unlikely of saviors . . .
Their growing passion knows no bounds . . .
Ian Ranulf, the Marquis of Northrup, has spent lifetimes hiding his primal nature from London society. But now a vicious killer threatens to expose his secrets. Ian must step out of the shadows and protect the beautiful, fearless Daisy, who awakens in him desires he thought long dead. As their quest to unmask the villain draws them closer together, Daisy has no choice but to reveal her own startling secret, and Ian must face the undeniable truth: Losing his heart to Daisy may be the only way to save his soul.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Kristen Callihan
ForeverCopyright © 2012 Kristen Callihan
All right reserved.
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth, Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth…
London, April 1, 1883
Lord above, was there a better sight than a woman flush with passion, her skin dewy and pink, her breasts bouncing from the force of his thrusts? The woman beneath Ian moaned and arched up to meet him, her red-gold hair catching the afternoon light as it spilled over white linen. What could be better than tupping a woman? A paid woman. Did she truly want to be here? Want him? He frowned as his concentration slipped a notch, and with it, the thick knot of pleasure in his balls eased.
Bugger. Stay on point, lad! His locked arms wobbled once. Once. Enough to put him off rhythm. Enough that the smell of penny perfume and stale sheets drifted up to him. Then came the foul scent of oft-used woman and boredom. His pleasure ebbed like seawater off sand. Shit!
The whore stilled, her fine red brows pinching in confusion.
Head in it! Head in it! Alas, neither head was listening. More like retreating. Horror washed cold and sure over his skin as little Ian died a quick, limp death.
“My lord?” The whore was lifting her head now, her green eyes bewildered. So close to the original, she looked. But not enough. It wasn’t enough anymore. “Something amiss?”
For a moment, Ian couldn’t answer. Really, what did one say? He’d didn’t have the experience to know. Her confusion faded, replaced by something worse: gentle pity.
“Aw, now, love. ’Tis all right.” She patted his arm as he remained frozen in shock, save his cock. The lazy bastard slid out of her, shrinking back like a frightened turtle. She had the good grace not to visibly take note, but held his gaze. “Happens to everyone.”
Not to me! He wrenched away and rolled onto his back to face the gilded ceiling. Perhaps the mattress would open up and swallow him whole. “I’ve been tired, ah…?” Did she have a name? Had he asked? His skin grew clammy, crawling along his frame. Ian wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and sleep for a few decades. Oblivion was getting harder to find.
The woman leaned on one elbow to regard him. In the cool light, the lines around her eyes and mouth deepened, betraying a hard life burned far too quickly. “Yes, tired is all.” Another pat, like pacifying a lame dog, and then she sat up. The bed creaked as she put her legs over the side of the bed and tossed the thick mantle of her hair over a bony shoulder. “We needn’t speak of it again.”
He flew upright and rounded on her. “No. We needn’t.”
Her brows lifted, a tremor of fear making her perfume sharper. Ian relaxed his expression and forced himself to breathe. He’d growled. Damn it all. Control. But the wolf within him was getting harder to hide away lately. He tried for a pleasant expression as he reached for his coat. “I didn’t please you, lass, and I’m sorry for it.”
A sound of shocked amusement left her lips and the corners of her mouth twitched. “To speak plainly, sir, it isn’t your job to please me, now is it?”
Ian laughed shortly. “Ah, now, Jeanine, your honesty is a humbling thing.”
Jeanine. That was her name, though more likely Jenny. Despite certain techniques, she was about as French as a pint of blue ruin. He pulled out far more notes than planned and handed them to her. “Consider that my apology.”
Her fingers curled around the money as she eyed him. She was a shrewd one. He didn’t like them stupid. Made things harder in the end. They got ideas of becoming mistresses. Fortunately, with a reputation as a profligate, no one much cared what Ian did as long as it was outrageous. Good entertainment always calmed the savage beast that was London society.
Jeanine-Jenny’s mouth curled into a friendly smile. “ ’Tis a fine apology, me lad.”
Now that they were done, she’d let her Irish show.
Jeanine-Jenny slid from the bed and gathered her things, giving him a flash of firmly rounded arse. Not even a stir of appreciation. Trying not to think of little Ian, the bastard turncoat, he rested his hands upon his knees while she dressed in thick silence. His contentment almost returned as she reached for the door. But her green eyes flashed at him from over her shoulder at the last moment. Every muscle in his body tensed as he read that look.
“I’ll be as quiet as the grave,” she assured.
The door shut with the muted thud of a lid being placed upon a coffin.
London, April 18, 1883
Three hundred sixty-six days, ten hours, fifteen minutes, and… Daisy glanced down at the heart-shaped gold watch pinned to the dip in her bodice, a strategic placement designed to draw the eye. Strategic placement, perhaps, but it made it a bugger to read the time. The tiny face flicked in and out of shadow as the carriage lantern swayed gently overhead.
Seconds needn’t be counted anymore regardless. She was free. Daisy looked out into the boiling gray fog that shrouded the streets of London. Moreover, three hundred sixty-six days, ten hours, fifteen minutes, and however many seconds was quite sufficient a time to stay in mourning over a man one hated. Even if that man had been one’s husband. Especially if, she corrected, smoothing out a wrinkle in her azure silk skirt. Azure. Lovely word. It rolled over the tongue, promising adventure and foreign climes. She loved azure. Loved color. Though, for a time, she had loved black too. Black had been her banner of freedom. A marker announcing the shift from the bondage of marriage to the emancipation of widowhood.
Daisy was finished with black now. One ought to curse the queen for her dogged devotion to mourning, thus causing countless widows to guiltily follow suit. Only it was quite romantic, and Daisy could not fault a romantic heart. As for herself, she’d done her year of mourning, enough to satisfy wagging tongues. Now it was her time.
Barnaby, her driver, called out to the horses. The carriage made a sharp turn down a narrow lane that would take her to her future. Amusement, laughter, life. A place where women did not wear black, unless one wished to be thought of as mysterious. No one had ever thought of her as mysterious. Infamous, perhaps.
Suddenly, her insides clenched with such force that she trembled. Loneliness and fear urged her to shout at Barnaby to turn round. Her bed was safe and warm. What if she was all talk? What if the infamously fun-loving Daisy Margaret Ellis—she refused to call herself Craigmore—was nothing more than a coward?
“Why don’t we get a bit of fresh air?” The man nuzzling Daisy’s neck let out a small laugh at his jest. “Fresh” air being a myth in London. Daisy refrained from rolling her eyes. After all, his lips felt wonderful as they made a soft, slow circuit over her skin. It had been over six years since she’d been touched in passion. He nipped the tender juncture at the base of her neck, and she shivered, her nipples tightening in anticipation. Wine coursed through her veins, heating her blood and painting her world in soft, nebulous colors.
Around them, couples had paired off, finding their own dark corners in the overcrowded town home to do what they might. Men with the single-minded purpose to win congregated around gaming tables, barely noticing the women who adorned their shoulders. A few danced to the endless tunes played by the orchestra Alexis had hired for the night. As for Alex, Daisy hadn’t yet spotted her.
Being newly widowed herself, Alex had chosen to live among the demimonde. The ton, Alex declared, was too tiresome. Daisy agreed. The ton had all but turned their backs on Daisy when Craigmore died and left her nothing by way of monetary support. Surely the bloody man had assumed she’d end up in the streets as a destitute wretch. Little had he known about her own resources.
Daisy eyed the man before her, a well-formed youth with a slightly coltish way about him. “Fresh air would be lovely.”
A languid heaviness stole over her as she leaned into him. He smelled of cheroots, fine wool, and young male. His hard body against hers was a wonder. What did it matter that she’d forgotten his name?
His arm locked around her shoulders as he led her through a maze of corridors. Gaslight flickered low. Blue smoke and hot flesh turned the air hazy.
Daisy stumbled, and his grip tightened. “Careful. Don’t want you on your back. Yet.”
A true wit, this one. She cleared the thought away. She didn’t need to think, only to feel.
With a laugh, they burst through the back door. Daisy caught a breath of dank, coal-tinged air and saw the flash of wet pavers glistening in the moonlight, and then her companion shoved her against the wall. Thick ivy rustled against her ear as he leaned in and took, his mouth brutal. Daisy opened to it, ignoring the pain, looking for the pleasure. So elusive, pleasure. So easy to remember one’s self and lose the feeling. His tongue thrust past her lips, cool and thick. Ought a tongue feel cold?
Clouds scuttled overhead, and the bright disk of the moon shone down, setting the dismal little alleyway to glow like blue daylight. Daisy blinked up at the moon as her lover’s hands drifted lower, catching up her skirts, his breath hot and damp above her breast. Daisy strained against his questing hand as it groped her. This is what she’d been waiting for. Six years of living in hell, she’d waited to be wanted, to be looked upon as a desirable woman and not a thing of disgust.
Temptress of man, harbinger of lust. You are a worthless vessel whose only use is to receive man’s sin.
Anger coiled with her revulsion. Forget Craigmore, he is dead. His words cannot touch you. Follow the pleasure. But it skittered away as the wind shifted, brushing ice cold against her bare arms. Ah, but this alley smelled. Queer, like sticky sweet rot, and copper mixed with dirt. The stench sent a finger of ice over her spine. She murmured a protest. They were too exposed here, and she no longer wanted this.
“Easy, pet.” Hard fingers raked her thighs.
“I want to go inside.”
“Relax,” he said.
She pushed at him. “Inside.”
“I’m trying,” he said with a laugh.
She turned her head to get away from him and caught the sight just to the left of his shoulder. A spill of gray satin skirts, the ruffled edges kicking up in the wind, a pale length of arm extended outward as if begging for help, the sparkle of diamonds on a white throat, large, glassy eyes staring. And blood, so much blood. Black and shining in the moonlight. Daisy’s mind pulled the shapes, rearranging them to form a story. Alex. Alex’s torso torn open. And something bent over Alex, its face buried in the gore, nosing about as if sniffing the body. A scream locked in Daisy’s throat, so hard and cold that she could not get it out. Terror uncoiled, giving her the strength to push her lover away.
“What the devil?” he said.
A whimper broke from her lips as she tripped over her skirts and her companion turned. As if called, the thing lifted its head. A drop of crimson blood dripped from its jaw, and Daisy screamed. It snarled, rising on hind legs that were long as any man’s. Her would-be lover scrambled back, bellowing in fear as the monster charged.
Daisy’s head smashed against brick. Something hot and wet splashed over her cheek and neck. A body fell upon her, jerking and thrashing, grinding her into the hard ground, and then the screams, screams upon screams, pure unadulterated terror. It washed over her, taking her wits, sucking her down into the cool embrace of darkness.
Not far away…
Six whores and six failures were enough to make even the most optimistic of men throw in the sponge, as the Americans would say. There was fortitude, and there was humiliation. Ian knew he crossed that line around whore number three. So then, no more tupping. Fornicating as his father would have called it.
“Bloody, buggering, fucking, hell!” Ian’s curse was lost to the night, dissipating like heated steam in the cool, clean air of Hampstead Heath.
Sweating and swearing, he ran faster, his feet pounding into the soft earth. Defeat never sat well with him. Worse, there was nothing left to him other than this. Running, pushing his body to the limits of endurance. Biting back another foul oath, he ran harder, his blood pumping through his veins like molten glass, as his legs screamed for mercy. Only here did he feel alive.
The great black dome of the night sky soared overhead. Beyond lay London, a jagged landscape of church spires and haphazard buildings bathed in the silver light of the moon. A shiver of feeling danced over him. The moon. That glorious seductress. Her power pulsed through him like so much wine. She fueled him, and in return, the beast stirred.
For decades, Ian had ignored this part of himself. He’d kept his beast so tightly leashed it had become nothing more than a faint echo in his mind. And he had suffered for it. Grown weak and apathetic. Now its howl rattled about in his skull, growing louder and stronger.
Part of him reveled in the beast. Why not? He’d lost all other sources of pleasure. Why not let the beast at last have its fun? Why not let it out to play? Even as the thought rolled over him, an innate sense of self-preservation protested. He had not struggled through one hundred and thirty years of life to let a little thing like temptation suck him into total annihilation.
Swearing again, Ian turned toward London, away from the wild things that called to the beast, the small scurrying rabbits and the fearful does that, even now, Ian could scent. A bitter laugh escaped as his feet ate up the ground, leading him into London with uncanny speed. Perhaps one day he’d be back to take down a deer with freed claws. Would he soon find himself muzzle deep in hot, wet blood, eating warm flesh with mindless pleasure?
Earth gave way to stone, clean air turning thick and fetid as he pushed into the city. Around him, the buildings were a blur, the odd pedestrian little more than a streak of color and the stir of air as Ian ran past. He was that fast. Faster than he would be all month now that the full and glorious moon fed him.
A dray loomed before him, plodding along with its load of coal. He leaped, arcing over it, to land on quick feet and run onward. It was more populated here, throngs of idle humans mixing with street traffic. He wove around them without care, his feet splashing through some unholy muck and kicking up the scent of rot.
His shoulder brushed past a coffee monger pushing his cart along. What would he see? A man in leather moccasins brought back from the American West? The loose gray trousers and cotton shirt of a laborer? Items Ian Ranulf, newly titled Marquis of Northrup, would not be caught dead wearing. Surely not that trussed-up dandy. Lord Northrup would never be confused with this wild man running amok.
All at once, the strength left him, and he slowed. His breath puffed even and steady. The beat of his heart was as strong as ever in his chest. Unstoppable. Unending. The thought nearly brought him to his knees. Around him, the chatter of men and women enjoying the clear night scraped against his nerves.
Slowing to a stroll, Ian wandered down a twisted street where the press of bodies thinned out to lighter foot traffic. To his left, yellow light poured in wide blocks from the windows of an older town home, still beautiful but shabby in this unfashionable neighborhood. The strains of a reel and feminine laughter rose above the din of London nightlife.
Ian moved away from it, into the shadowy mouth of an alley, when through the thick mash of human sweat, rotting water, and sewage came the distinctive tang of blood. Human blood. Just below that, a finer note, that of wolf.
It was that scent, the wild, rangy stamp of wolf that had his hackles rising and a growl rumbling deep within his throat. Seventy years of doggedly keeping away from his kind was almost lost as he instinctively turned toward the scent, ready to tear into whoever dared to encroach upon his territory. He came to an abrupt halt. It wasn’t his territory. Not anymore.
Fight or flight, it warred within him until his chest felt ready to rip in two. A trickle of sweat rolled down his neck. He nearly moved away when a sharp feminine scream rent the air, followed by a snarl of rage. A man bellowed in pure terror. The snarls grew and then came the distinctive sound of tearing flesh, a man gurgling as though drowning. Blood, the perfume of it washed over Ian, making his knees buckle.
“Bugger!” He ran toward the scent without another thought.
Men were already spilling into the alley as Ian charged headlong into the fray. Someone shouted in shock. A woman fainted. A ripple of terror went through the throng of onlookers, heightening the sharp smell of fear. Men both retreated in horror and shoved forward in fascination. Women were quickly ushered away.
Ian shouldered a rotund man aside. The scent of wolf overpowered his senses. Wolf and blood. Jesus.
When yet another gentleman stepped in his way, Ian found his voice and said words he hadn’t uttered in years. “Move aside! I’m a doctor.” Though from the overwhelming amount of blood he smelled, he rather thought his rusty services would not be needed.
The crowd parted, and Ian took in the scene. Bile surged up his throat. Blood was everywhere, coating the walls of the town house, pooling upon the ground, and running along the cracks between the cobbles. A man—what was left of him—lay in a tangled heap against the wall, his face an unrecognizable hash of claw marks, his torso eviscerated. Just beyond, a woman suffered the same fate, though her face was unmarred. She’d died first. He’d bet his best walking stick on it. Already the stench of decay crept over her, and the body was stiff and white in the moon’s glow.
Ian crouched low and inhaled. Scents assaulted him. He let them come and sorted through the mix. Beneath the rot, terror, and blood was the rangy scent of wolf imbued with something off, bittersweet yet sulfuric. Sickness. What sort, he couldn’t tell, but it was well-developed. An odd fact indeed, given that werewolves weren’t susceptible to disease.
“He’s past help,” said the man beside him. Ian held up a staying hand and inhaled deeper.
Beyond the filth came a fainter scent—rose, jasmine, vanilla, and sunshine. Those notes held him for one tense moment, pulling the muscles in his solar plexus tight and filling them with warmth. It was a fresh, ephemeral scent that made the beast inside him sit up and take notice.
A small groan broke the spell. Someone shouted in alarm. The dead man moved, rolling a bit, and the crowd jumped back as if one. Ian’s pulse kicked before he noticed the soft drape of blue silk beneath the man’s twisted legs.
“Bloody hell.” He wrenched the body aside. It pitched over with a thud to reveal the crumpled form of a woman covered in blood and, oddly, vines, thick and deep green as they flowed down from the town house wall to envelop her.
“Step back,” he said sharply as one wayward man tromped forward.
“Lud! Is she alive?”
Ian made quick work of the vines, extending only the very tips of his claws to rake through them, but his hands were gentle as he touched the woman’s wrist to check her pulse. Slow, steady, and strong. It was from her that the scent of flowers and vanilla arose. Her features were lost under a macabre mask of crimson blood. Ian cursed beneath his breath and ran his hands over her form in search of injuries. Despite the blood, she appeared untouched. It was the man’s blood, not hers. She’d seen the attack, however. Of that, he was certain. She’d been the one to scream. Then the man.
He glanced about the alley and imagined the events unfolding. This couple had seen the first victim. They shouted, and then they were attacked. Ian brought his attention back to the woman.
She was a handful, lush curves, neat waist. He gathered her up in his arms, ignoring the protests of those around. Her head lolled against his shoulder, releasing another faint puff of sweet scent. A curling lock of hair, red with blood, fell over his chest as he hefted her higher and stood.
“She needs medical attention.” He moved to go when a gentleman stepped in his way.
“Here now.” The gentleman’s waxed mustache twitched. “You don’t look like any doctor I’ve ever seen.”
The crowd of men stirred, apparently taking in Ian’s odd attire for the first time.
Ian tightened his grip on the female, and she gave a little moan of distress. The sound went straight to his core. Women were to be protected and cherished. Always. He stared down the gathering crowd. “Nor a marquis, I gather. However, I am both.” He took a step, shouldering aside the man with ease. “I am Northrup. And it would do you well to get out of my way.”
Another murmur rippled among the men, but they eased away; not many wanted to risk tangling with Lord Ian Ranulf, Marquis of Northrup. Those who weren’t as convinced, he pushed past. He’d fight them all if he had to. This woman wasn’t getting out of his sight. Not until he’d questioned her. And he certainly wasn’t letting her tell the whole of London that she’d just survived an attack by a werewolf.
There now, that’s a good lass. Wake up, dear.”
Daisy was warm. Warm and heavy of limb. It felt wonderful. The thought formed, and then confusion chased it away. Beyond her dark cocoon came the comforting sound of tinkling water, like that of a bath being drawn. Where was she? Who was that crooning? And what had happened… Her eyes flew open on a gasp. The flickering light of gas lamps wavered above her. She caught a glimpse of mahogany paneling before a woman’s face came into view, wrinkled and kind, a gray halo of hair about her head.
“Easy, lass.” The woman clasped Daisy’s shoulder.
Daisy blinked down at her shoulder and realized that she was naked. Swaddled in eider down, but naked. “Where…” She swallowed. “What…” Her throat closed.
The elder woman gave her a little pat and then turned to adjust the taps on the enormous copper tub sitting in the center of the room. A man’s bathing room, with velvet brocades and a silver shaving kit gleaming on a nearby table. A masculine fragrance of wool, linen, and vetiver lingered in the warm air.
“You’ve had a terrible fright, I suspect.” The woman closed the taps and dipped a hand in the water to test it. Neither plump nor thin, the woman’s frame was sturdy. “Just right.”
The woman looked Daisy over. “You’re in the Marquis of Northrup’s home. His Lordship found ye and brought ye here.” She moved to Daisy’s side and gave her a kindly smile. “I was of a mind to wake ye before I got you in the bath. Bit of a nasty shock to be awakened by a bath, eh?” The woman’s eyes went soft. “Ye need cleaning up, lass.”
Daisy followed the direction of the woman’s gaze and saw her hair cascading around her naked shoulders in a red tangle of dried blood. So red it reminded her of her sister Poppy’s hair, and then she remembered. “Oh, God…” Her breath came in dry pants, the urge to gag, to scream making her shake. “That thing… my… friend…”
Her pants became rasps, and the woman wrapped a strong arm about her. “Hush, child, hush. You’re safe.” Work-worn palms soothed her arms. “Ease yerself before you become ill.”
Like a child, Daisy let herself be led to the bath. The water was blessedly hot, smelling of lavender and chamomile, and Daisy let out a sigh. The woman smiled in satisfaction before reaching for a pitcher and a bar of soap. “Let’s get ye clean, then.” Her movements were brisk, and Daisy relaxed under the efficiency until the woman hit a spot at the back of her neck. She hissed at the sting and reached up to feel a row of punctures in her skin. A violent shudder wracked her body.
“It bit me,” she whispered. She did not want to remember what it was. Her insides lurched and swayed, and she swallowed convulsively.
“Let me have a look.” Gentle fingers probed the wounds. “ ’Tis not very deep,” the woman said soothingly as she washed it clean. “ ’Twill heal in a tic, to be sure.” Even so, the woman got up and came back with a jar of ointment. Her fingers were strong and sure as she smeared the pungent stuff on Daisy’s neck.
The sting receded, and Daisy relaxed a bit more. “What is that?” she asked.
“An old recipe. Helps speed the healing.” She sat back down behind Daisy and took up washing her hair. “I’m Mrs. Tuttle,” the woman said. “You may call me Tuttle if ye like.” She let out a short laugh. “I havena been called anything else in an age.”
Daisy stared at the small coal fire glowing at the other end of the room. “I’m Daisy.”
The sound of her own name felt wrong. She felt wrong. Numb.
“Would you send word to my sister?” The sudden need to see one of her sisters was almost painful. Poppy, however, would ask too many questions and make her feel like a goose for recklessly attending a party with the fast crowd. No, she needed Miranda, who would offer comfort without judgment. Her voice cracked when she spoke again. “She is Lady Archer.”
“Of course, dear. I’ll send a messenger out directly.”
Strong fingers massaged Daisy’s scalp, and creamy cascades of foam slid over her breasts and arms, the foam pink with old blood. In the dim of the elegant dressing room, she could almost believe the blood to be a trick of light. Only it wasn’t. Bile rose in her throat. She drew her knees up and closed her eyes to the sight.
“Tuttle? The…” She licked her dry lips. “The man?”
Tuttle’s movement stilled for only a moment. “Passed on.” She crossed herself and then picked up the pitcher.
Warm water eased over Daisy’s head as she squeezed her eyes shut. “I don’t even remember his name.” Her mouth trembled. She’d only been looking for a bit of amusement, harmless pleasure. She felt sick to her soul.
Tuttle made a soft sound. “ ’Tis a terrible business, ma’am. Bless the Lord that yer unharmed.”
Daisy curled into herself as another round of water flowed over her, taking the gore away. “And Alex.” She swallowed down bile. “Alex was my friend.”
Tuttle washed her with neat economy and then gently helped her to her feet to wrap a thick towel about her. The quiet movements were oddly comforting, and when Daisy was settled again on the green-velvet settee, she felt a bit more clearheaded. Unfortunately, it also led her to realize that she’d let Tuttle see her unclothed. Unease tightened the muscles on her back. She glanced at Tuttle. The light was dim here, and Tuttle hadn’t remarked on anything. So perhaps she hadn’t seen.
Daisy adjusted the towel higher up her back as Tuttle handed her a glass of brandy. “The master sent this for you. It ought to be whiskey, but he thought that might be too strong for ye.”
Daisy took a sip of brandy as Tuttle bustled about. Liquid fire melted the ice in her belly, and her thoughts turned to her kind host. She couldn’t recall meeting Lord Northrup. Then again, it had been a year since she’d been out in society, and she hadn’t run in such lofty circles. Names, titles, and faces filtered through her mind, and she finally remember that the Marquis of Northrup was an old title belonging to some lord in Scotland for at least sixty years now. The man must be ancient.
Tuttle came near, holding up a rather flashy dressing gown of celadon green satin. The color would suit her sisters but most likely make Daisy look peaked. However, as it was that or go around swathed in a towel, Daisy slipped it on. Unfortunately, the garment, which smelled of cheap violet water perfume, puddled on the floor, the arms of it flopping far past Daisy’s hands. Made for a woman of Miranda’s stature too, Daisy thought grimly as Tuttle helped her hook up the front. The hooks strained over her breasts, and Daisy grimaced at the ill fit. Lord Northrup, the randy old goat, apparently favored tall redheads who wore harlot’s perfume.
Ian fiddled about with the decanters on his drinks table. He’d already poured himself a measure of scotch and had no real purpose for pulling out the random crystal stopper only to put it back in. With a sound of disgust, he pushed away from the sideboard.
The woman was above, getting bathed by Tuttle. If he closed his eyes, he could hear the gentle tinkle of water and smell the fragrance of his bath soap enveloping her.
He blew out a breath and plopped down in his chair by the fire. Grabbing his glass from the side table, he took a hearty swallow before scowling down into the amber liquid.
The woman. He had exactly one glimpse of her pale throat before Tuttle had shooed him away.
“I’m a physician,” he’d protested, when an implacable Tuttle had batted him back from undressing his patient.
“Oh, are ye?” Tuttle’s expression had been dubious. “I thought ye’d given that all up.”
Fine, he hadn’t practiced since 1865 but the knowledge was still there. “Cheeky woman, do not split hairs now. I’ve seen countless nude females in that capacity, and it doesn’t affect me in the least.”
“Aye,” Tuttle had snapped back. “An’ when ye can look at her with the detached politeness of a healer and not leer like some randy lad, I’ll let you examine her. Until then, out you go.”
This is what he got for treating his staff like pack instead of servants, and while he craved the close familiarity of others, now wasn’t one of those times. “Blast it, woman, I need to ascertain whether she is injured.”
“Ascertain, eh?” She shoved him toward the door. “Is that what you’re callin’ it now?”
With only a harried assurance from Tuttle that she’d check the lass for damage, he’d been banished from his own room as though he were some deviant incapable of basic professionalism.
A grumble sounded in his breast. Very well, he could admit that part of him had been looking at the woman with the interest of a man, and damned if he knew why. The poor thing had been covered in blood, and in all likelihood, was traumatized. That his breath had begun to quicken as his hands undid her top buttons suddenly made him feel small and wrong, a right cad.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered and took another long drink. The liquor sent a pleasant path of warmth down his throat and into his twitching gut. But it did not calm him. The silence in the library irritated the hell out of him. It struck him that silence was fast becoming his constant companion. Certainly he heard many things, talked to people on a daily basis, but on the inside he was alone.
Ian sank farther into his chair, and the twitchy, itchy weight of his situation intensified. As he looked at the door, his ears pricked up at the sound of the woman’s tread coming down the main stair, and his heart kicked within his chest. A pleasant jump along with a tightening of his gut. Although he hadn’t felt the sensation in months, years really, Ian realized the feeling for what it was: anticipation.
A sense of the surreal settled over Daisy as Tuttle led her through Northrup’s elegant town house. She ought not be walking. She ought to be dead. That she lived, breathed, felt the slip and slide of silk over her legs with every step was at once so normal yet so abnormal that she almost laughed. Her friend was dead. And her own would-be lover? She was prepared to shag him, for really she couldn’t call it making love, and now the man—whose name she still could not remember—was gone, slaughtered.
Temptress of man. Harbinger of a man’s lust and destruction.
God help her, her late husband’s words rang too close to the truth. Were it not for her going into the alleyway with that poor man, he might still be alive.
Her heartbeat sped up as Tuttle opened the door to a cozy library and ushered Daisy forward. What had her rescuer seen? Her steps faltered because suddenly she resolutely did not want to know.
As soon as she stepped into the room, he rose up from the leather wing chair by the fire in one fluid move. His eyes narrowed, taking her in just as she studied him.
Her breath gave a little catch as she moved closer. Most certainly, this was not the elderly Lord Northrup, but perhaps his heir. Good God, but this man was beautiful. Distractingly so. His was a masculine beauty that artists often replicated. Lean of face, saved from femininity by the sharp V of his jaw and the strength of his chin, with high cheekbones so defined they might have been cut from marble. Only his mouth was soft. Soft and mobile, the corners twitched as if wanting to smile.
However, there was nothing soft about his eyes. Deep set under dark brows that were currently slashed in a scowl, they pierced into her, their light color indistinguishable until she came close. A chuff of air escaped her. “Azure.”
One brow lifted a notch. “Pardon?” His voice was at once lilting and light, yet rough. Silk over gravel.
Daisy stopped and let her gaze travel from the tips of his polished shoes, over his lean form dressed to perfection, and up to those azure eyes that now danced with amusement. She would have remembered this man had she seen him before. “You are too pretty to be a noble.”
A bark of a laughter shot out, and Daisy felt a quirk of irritation. Damn her loose tongue.
Lord Northrup stepped closer, bringing with him the heady scent of vetiver and clean male. “I don’t think I’ve ever been called pretty before, lass.”
Very correctly, he caught up her hand and bent over it, his lips brushing her knuckles. His dark hair was the one wrong note in his otherwise flawless attire. It flowed in shining waves to the top of his shoulders. Barbaric. “If you’re not careful,” he said, “I’ll soon be blushing.”
Neither of them wore gloves, and his skin was dry and very warm. A stir of feeling wisped through her insides, and she fought the urge to back away. “I doubt that. I am certain you are quite used to such accolades.” She gave a careless shrug as she retracted her hand. “In truth, I should take care not to stand too close or risk being eclipsed by your splendor.”
He flashed a quick, practiced smile. “Oh, I don’t know.” He reached out and tugged a curl dangling by her cheek, the action making her insides jump. “You exude quite a shine yourself.”
No, she would not blush. Daisy never blushed. Not over a man’s attention. Yet her cheeks felt suspiciously warm as she turned away from him and wandered around the room. “Nonsense.”
He strolled near. “Ah, but sometimes speaking of nonsense is the best cure.” The gentleness in his tone made her heart skip a beat. He knew what she was about. He knew she strove to ignore the panic welling up like acid in her belly.
“Pay no mind to me, sir. There are times when my mouth and brain forget to hold a conversation.”
His mouth quirked, true amusement making him appear almost boyish. “Happens often, does it?”
Cheeky sot. Daisy gave him a repressive look from over her shoulder, and he chuckled, clearly unperturbed by her annoyance.
“I see you are quite well, physically, at least. But let us sit.” Catching hold of her hand once more and ignoring her murmur of protest, he tugged her gently toward the settee by the fire. He folded his long length next to hers. “I’m intrigued. If not by beauty, how then does one spot the garden-variety nobleman?”
He was too close, his gaze too warm for her comfort. Sliding her clenched fists under the borrowed dressing gown, she shrugged.
“Easily,” she said. “One need only look for the promise of beauty not quite fulfilled, a nose too large, eyes a bit too close together, or ears ready to set sail.”
Northrup’s head snapped back, his eyes widening. “You, madam, are a snob.”
She bit back a laugh. “Oh, to be sure. As I am certain you men are not cataloging a woman’s every feature from the moment she steps in the room.”
He grinned with the ease of a man who did so often. “As you did with me, you mean?”
Her lips tightened. “Pray, do not hold your tongue on my account.”
“Said one spade to the other.” He was smiling again, leaning in as if he might gobble her up. Damn the man, he had an infectious smile. She resisted the urge to return it.
Among the ton, Lord Northrup’s type of charm was as prevalent as weeds in a meadow. Light, amusing, and devoid of any true meaning. She used to long for such interactions. But after tonight’s horror, even that small amusement had lost its flavor. Yet she appreciated his efforts to distract her. Despite the bath and the bracing effect of the brandy, residual shivers of panic clung to her. She wanted to rub her arms until the feeling was gone.
Northrup rested an elbow on the seat back, and the light reflected in his long hair, turning it auburn. Wine and chocolate. Delicious. The look in his eyes said he had at least some sense of her line of thoughts.
“You wear your hair longer than fashion,” Daisy blurted out. “Why?” The question was in poor taste, but the cornered often react in haste. At least that was the reasoning she used on herself as she felt her cheeks prickle with embarrassment.
Obviously as surprised at her bluntness as she was, he took a moment to address her. “I’m in mourning for my father.” The corners of his lush mouth turned down as he glowered at some unseen thing before his expression cleared. “It is the Ranulf custom for a man to let one’s hair grow for three years after the death of a close family member.”
“Oh, I had no idea.” Her discomfort grew.
“How could you?” he answered with unexpected kindness.
Daisy found herself reacting to it. Her hand settled on his forearm for a brief moment. “I am sorry for your loss.”
He looked at the spot she had touched. “Thank you. Your concern is unnecessary, but kind.” He went back to studying her, and a look of bemusement wrinkled his brow. “You remind me of someone. Though I cannot place it.”
The feeling was mutual. He seemed at once utterly familiar yet completely foreign to her.
His look of concentration grew. “But I have never seen you before tonight. I would have remembered.” His tone was soft now, a confession that moved beyond small talk.
She had to smile at that bit of odd logic. “Certainly.” She meant to say it lightly yet her voice caught and faded as she met his gaze. Everything within her stilled and warmed. As if similarly affected, his smile slipped and his expression grew unguarded. Daisy’s breath hitched, for she saw in the depths of his eyes something that looked like longing.
It mirrored feelings she’d rather not think on, and so she sought to turn the conversation back to the benign. “Were you living in Scotland before the previous Lord Northrup’s passing?”
His straight brows drew together. “How did you know that my grandfather passed on?”
It was Daisy’s turn to frown. “Your title… Was Lord Northrup not your father?”
The current Lord Northrup’s look of confusion faded. “Ah,” he said with a little smile, and then sat a bit straighter. “My father was Lord Alasdair Rossberry. It is a bit of a muddle, I grant you, but he and my grandfather both passed”—a strange look flashed in his eyes before he continued—“around the same time. Thus I inherited two titles.”
The tips of his ears reddened as he grimaced. “I beg your pardon for not making a proper introduction. Ian Alasdair Ranulf, previously known as Viscount Mckinnon, at your service… Hell, I haven’t even asked your name.” One side of his mouth kicked up. “I’m usually much better at this sort of thing, only I confess—”
“I distracted you,” she finished wryly, but her heart had started to pound. Mckinnon, the name was familiar. Why? Alarm bells clanged within her tender skull.
“You’re very good it,” he admitted in a low voice.
“Only when I’m trying.” Daisy licked her dry lips and inclined her head. “Daisy Ellis Craigmore.”
Whatever she expected of him, it wasn’t the sudden shock in his eyes or the way he straightened and stepped away from her. “You are Miranda’s sister.”
Apparently shock was catching. All the warmth within her left as though she were caught in a draft, and then she knew. “You!”
Northrup’s slanting brows furrowed, but his tone was light when he spoke. “Me? Whatever do you mean?”
Daisy’s elbow slipped a bit as she scrambled to sit up straight. “You’re the beastly man who tried to poison Miranda’s mind against Archer.” Miranda had told Daisy all about it months ago, how Mckinnon had tried his best to convince Miranda to carry on an affair with him. And now Daisy was sitting in the parlor with the vile man.
He scowled. Whether it was toward the veracity of her statement or the fact that he’d been caught out, Daisy couldn’t be sure. The only certainty was the feral gleam in Northrup’s eyes and the way it made Daisy feel unaccountably nervous. However, having lived with much worse, intimidation did not easily cow her. She returned his look pound for pound, and his irritation seemed to grow.
“ ‘Beastly’ is it?” he all but growled. “I’ll kindly ask you to remember who took you in and saw you set to rights.”
A qualm of guilt lit through her, and he must have seen it for he stepped closer to loom over her in righteous indignation. “And I don’t recall you thinking me so beastly a moment ago.”
No, she’d rather liked him, damn the man. It made her cheeks burn to realize he had noticed this as well. In the heavy silence, she heard the clatter of a carriage pulling up beyond the front windows. A coach door opened and shut. Northrup’s nostrils flared as if catching a scent, and a strange look passed over his features. “Well, won’t this be cozy?” he said, as he straightened his coat. “I believe the lady in question has come to call.”
She was here. Miranda. He hadn’t seen her in months. And then it had been only a glimpse at some ball. He had wanted to speak to Miranda one more time. To apologize. Not for warning her about Archer—the bastard had no right to marry a woman without telling her the truth of what he was—but for putting the wariness in her eyes whenever she looked his way. Despite what others thought, Ian did not hold with frightening women. He had played out his dance with Miranda poorly.
He heard Miranda’s voice in the hall, sharp with worry as she asked his butler Diggs where to find Daisy. How she knew to come here Ian did not know, but her presence plucked at the nerves on the back of his neck. Ian closed his eyes for a moment and pictured Miranda, golden-red hair, her long, willowy form, and alabaster skin.
At one time, he’d fancied himself in love with her. And now? Seeing her was the last thing he wanted. He was thoroughly tired of redheaded women.
Beside him, her sister gathered herself together. She looked nothing like Miranda. Curling hair of morning sunlight mixed with polished gold. Enormous doe eyes, not the color of celadon but of summer skies. Daisy. A preposterous name. Frivolous. And yet he could not think of her as Mrs. Craigmore. The name did not fit.
Ian’s gaze slid lower. The unfortunate dressing gown she wore, a sad little orphan of some long-ago mistress’s wardrobe, did not fit but most certainly highlighted her undulating curves and that plump arse that practically begged a man to take hold of it. She surely was built for frivolity.
Ian resolutely tore his eyes from her lush form as the door opened and Miranda appeared, so beautiful it made a man’s chest hurt to look upon her. She spared him but a glance before rushing to her sister’s side.
“Panda. Oh, God.” Daisy pulled her close and shuddered so hard that Ian feared the woman might faint.
Miranda hugged her sister tight. “I was so worried. When you sent word that you’d been hurt…” She said nothing further but held on as if she might never let go.
They stayed like that, their bright heads close, glowing like sunrise and sunset, their slim arms locked in an embrace. Too pretty a picture for him. Damn, but he did not want this woman to be Miranda’s sister.
“Where is Archer?” Ian asked. The man usually hung about her skirts like an overgrown shadow.
Miranda lifted her head. Her words came out halting and reserved. “Home. Given the way you two are apt to get at each other’s throats, I thought it best that I come alone.”
He couldn’t help but laugh a little. “I am surprised he let you go.”
She gave him an admonishing look that was much like the one her sister had given him earlier. “It is you whom Archer does not trust, not me.”
Touché. He inclined his head in deference.
Miranda turned back to Daisy. “Are you harmed?”
Daisy shook her head, which made the wild tumble of her curls tremble. “I am well. Only frightened.”
A pair of green eyes turned to Ian, and he found himself bristling. “Because I get such joy in frightening innocent women.”
Miranda blanched. “Of course not. I am simply curious as to how my sister came to be in your care.”
“Then let us sit,” he said.
The sisters immediately curled up together on the settee, Miranda clasping Daisy’s hand in a show of comfort. Oddly, this made Ian want to smile. The temptation faded when Miranda pinned him with her green gaze. “Well then, how did you come across my sister?”
He hesitated. Hell, it was one thing to coax a story out of a frightened young lady. It was another to give up his secrets. Archer knew them. At least some. What was not clear was how much Archer had told Miranda. Right now, she was looking at him with a mixture of weariness and impatience. As to Daisy, he rather thought that if he revealed himself at this moment, she’d up and flee the room. He would not resent her one bit if she did.
Ian ran a hand through his hair. “I was in the area. I heard a scream and caught the scent of blood and ran to help. I found Mrs. Craigmore—”
“Daisy,” interrupted the very woman. She glanced around, taking in their shocked looks. “Don’t go reading anything into it. Given the choice between having to hear that name in reference to me and shocking society, I’ll take the latter every time, thank you.”
Ian admired her nerve. “For the sake of fairness, you must call me Ian.”
Miranda’s eyes narrowed a fraction. Good. He ignored her, or did his best to appear that he was. “At any rate, I found Daisy, saw that she was overcome, and took her to safety. End of the story.”
It was clear that Miranda didn’t believe that was all to the story, but she held her tongue, and Ian took advantage of the moment to turn to Daisy. “I am more interested in knowing what you saw, Daisy.”
Daisy took a deep breath and her breasts strained against the tight confines of the hideous green dressing gown. Ian found he couldn’t stand the sight of the gown. It shamed him that she should wear a whore’s clothes.
“I fear you will not believe me,” she whispered.
“Be assured, madam,” Ian said, “I will.”
Her bright blue eyes surveyed him as if checking for any sign of insincerity. “You seem so certain”—a bitter laugh escaped her—“when I wouldn’t believe myself.”
Ian leaned against the settee back. “What you saw appeared as something out of a fantasy, yes?”
“More likely a nightmare,” Daisy said with a burst of breath. But she would not continue. Her golden brows drew together as she glared down at her tight fists.
Ian looked at Miranda. Initially, he had wished she hadn’t come. But now he wondered if her presence might help. “I do wonder,” he said to Miranda, “how close a family you are.”
Fortunately, she read the question lurking there. Miranda touched Daisy’s hand. “Daisy, Lord Northrup knows about me.”
Daisy’s eyes flew to Ian in horror. Indeed, what Miranda could do was equally fantastic, and Ian suspected her family had kept her sister’s secret for a lifetime. After all, what would society say if they knew the lovely Lady Archer was a fire starter?
“And about Archer as well,” Miranda added.
“Which is why,” Ian said, “you can tell us what you saw without fear of judgment.”
Daisy cleared her throat, and as she recounted her tale, rage and the urge to do violence tumbled about in Ian’s chest. Hells bells, he knew too well the terror of confronting a fully turned werewolf. That this woman had faced one made the hairs rise upon the back of his neck and gave him an unsettling sense of helplessness. Yet he remained outwardly calm.
“I did not get a long look at it,” Daisy said, finishing her tale. Her eyes squeezed shut. “But that muzzle, the fangs, and the claws. It was a wolf. And yet it moved in an almost human way…” With a grimace, she shook her head and went quiet.
Ian sighed and told her the truth. “A werewolf is what you saw.”
It was almost comical the way her mouth opened and shut as if trying to form words and failing. All the color leached out of her soft cheeks. Her mouth kept working as she looked from Miranda to Ian and back around again. A little laugh escaped, but it died when she swallowed with visible effort. “A werewolf.” Her tone was scathing. She laughed again. “Right, then. A werewolf. Some fantasy beast of lore.”
“You think those claws and fangs nothing more than an elaborate costume, do you?”
“No! Although I… I suppose it is what I had hoped.”
“Unfortunately,” Ian said, “hope and reality are often at odds.”
The words settled like a shroud over the room. He regarded them for a moment. “I must ask a favor of you, Daisy.”
Gold curls coiled atop of her shoulder as she tilted her head. “What, pray tell, do you want?”
Ian crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I want you to refrain from telling anyone else what you saw.” He gave Daisy a small smile. “Given your reluctance tonight, I gather that you aren’t likely to say a word, but I need to be sure.”
“Consider yourself assured,” Daisy said with a touch of asperity. “I have no desire to be pronounced a raving lunatic.”
Her candor made him want to chuckle, and he wondered if this woman would ever hold back her opinion. “That is most sensible of you, madam. I have no doubt you would find the accommodations in Bedlam beneath your standards.”
Despite the insults she’d hurled his way earlier, Daisy slanted an amused look from beneath the bronze fan of her lashes, which set off an answering stir within Ian’s gut. Beside her, however, Miranda’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, and Ian fancied he could see the cogs turning in her brain.
“I well understand why Daisy would be reluctant to speak,” she said, “but it seems to me that your concern goes a touch beyond casual.”
Beneath the fold of his arms, his hands curled to fists, but he answered her easily. “Were the good people of London to hear that a werewolf is roaming the city, there would be panic. I don’t believe any of us want that outcome.”
“Understandable,” Daisy agreed, but she was frowning. “Only, well… ought they not be warned? What if it…” Her pretty lips parted on a strangled breath and she went pale. “What if it bites someone, and… well, turns them into one too?”
Myths indeed. His mouth twitched but he kept a straight face. “You cannot be infected by a bite, luv. A man is either born with the capability to become a werewolf or he is not.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” He could see the questions forming on the sisters’ faces; they gathered and brewed like clouds over a darkening sea. Ian stood, needing to quell the storm before it broke. “Look,” he said. “Go home, get some rest. All will be well. I swear to it.”
Daisy did not look so sure. Miranda, however, nodded as if his word, while not good enough for her, would have to do for now. Ian rather thought she would like to get as far away from him as possible. He did not like the Ian Ranulf that Miranda saw, but he had been that man for so long that he almost forgot who he had been before. The suffocating feeling was back, threatening to swallow him down. Because he did not know how to climb out of the abyss and walk with the light steps of his old, true self.
Miranda’s skirts rustled as she stood. “Well, then, thank you, Northrup, for looking after my sister. It was good of you.” Steeling herself, she offered him a hand in friendship.
Between her haughty look and Daisy’s earlier disdain, the devil in Ian could not resist coming out to play. They thought him a cad, did they? Then he would be one for them. He clasped Miranda’s hand and pulled her close. “Will you not call me Ian?” he murmured, bending over her hand to lightly kiss it. “After all we’ve been through? Together?”
He could hear her back teeth meet. He ignored it and leaned in until her scent surrounded him. A familiar, pleasant scent but surprisingly not enough to excite him anymore. “You know, the hero usually receives a boon in such circumstances. A kiss perhaps?”
Her mouth slanted. “Are you quite through?”
Ian gave her an innocent grin and let Miranda believe that he still wanted her. He didn’t, but bloody hell, her suspicions irritated. “Well, you know where to find me, sweet, should you feel the need to visit. Or perhaps I shall call on you.”
Daisy too had risen. The sight of her sent a qualm of disappointment through his gut. Beastly man was he? She had no idea. He turned his smile on her, refusing to look apologetic. He bent over her hand and murmured pretty words of some sort or other. It didn’t matter what he said; he just wanted them gone.
Miranda headed toward the door, her slim back straight and proud. Ian moved to follow when, through the buzzing within his ears, he realized that Daisy had not stirred.
He stopped, and seeing the action, Miranda did too. Daisy clasped her hands tightly before her. “I would like a private word with Lord Northrup.” Her blue eyes sought his. “If I may?”
Miranda scowled. “Daisy, it really isn’t necessary.”
Her sister’s expression was implacable. “I believe it is.” A soft blush colored her cheeks. “It may take more than a moment. If you do not want to wait, I will understand.”
Surprise had Ian rooted to the spot, but hearing those words spurred him out of his frozen state and he found the ability to speak. “She may take my coach home.” He made a small bow. “It is at your disposal, as am I.”
Daisy gave the smallest of smiles. “Good.” She turned back to her sister. “See? It is all arranged. Now stop mothering me. That is Poppy’s manner of deportment. I am fine, really.”
Annoyance colored Miranda’s high cheeks and pinched at her mouth. “Of course I shall wait for you.” She gave Ian a glare that promised swift death should he try anything untoward, which made him want to laugh. He managed to appear benign as he escorted Miranda from the room, while inside his heart pounded.
What did Daisy want? And why had she stayed? He had a fairly good idea. A smile spread over his lips, one that he feared looked rather wolfish. As it should be, for the wolf had a delectable morsel of prey waiting in his den. It was time to play.
The door clicked quietly shut as Northrup returned to the library. In Daisy’s mind, it might was well have been the slamming of a cage door. She pressed her damp palms against her thighs and tried to steady her erratic breathing.
Northrup set his hunter’s gaze upon her, and her heartbeat tripped with a pained thud. She knew why he believed she had stayed behind, and damn if some small part of her didn’t agree with him.
“All alone, my dear. As requested.” He strode back to her, his gait loose-limbed and sure. A predator’s stride. One might try to run, but it would be useless.
She drew her shoulders back and faced him head-on. He noted the gesture, for a contented smile oiled over his features. She ignored it, and the little flutters that were running riot in her belly. “Thank you for letting me stay.”
He sat next to her on the settee, and the fresh, wild scent of him hit her anew. “I’ve never been one to deny a beautiful woman.” He looked her over slowly, as if contemplating how to start a particularly fine meal. “Especially when she is so eager for a moment alone with me.”
He was so sure she would melt. And for some reason, that spark of confidence in his eyes made her want to take him down a peg. She ought to flirt. Flirting was a well-loved cloak that fit her perfectly. Only now, the very idea of flirting made her ill. Still, she would do it, if it laid a trap for him.
“Hmm. A penny compliment. I’m all astir.”
Sharp canines flashed in the firelight. “Immune, are you?”
“Only when flattery is given by rote.”
“Then I shall have to try harder.”
“Or give up.”
Northrup dimpled, his teeth clicking as his smile grew wolfish. “I never give up.”
He said it lightly, yet a flash of something dangerous, almost feral, lit his eyes, and Daisy wondered at the notion of truly being the object of this man’s obsession. A chill chased over her skin. Rather like being hunted, she thought.
She shrugged, lest he see her disquiet. “There is a fine line between persistence and being a pest, my lord.”
He chuckled, the wild light in his eyes shifting to genuine amusement. “Now why do I suspect you’ve crossed that line more than a few times, my dear?”
Daisy didn’t know whether to laugh or be shocked. “Perhaps you’ll find tonight to be one of those times.”
“Will I now? Then it is my turn to be stirred.”
He was making it too easy. A bubble of disappointment rose within, for she thought he’d be harder to lure, but then his blue eyes ran over her as heavy as a caress, and she became aware of the globes of her breasts straining against the deep V of the ill-fitting dressing gown.
“That gown is a tragedy on you,” he murmured in a low growl that rasped against her skin.
“So sorry,” she managed to say past the flush that left her oddly breathless. “You’ll have to take your objections up with the man who provided it for me.”
He grunted in amusement, his gaze not shifting from her body. “He is a fool. He is of a mind to take it off, lest it offend him further.”
Heat blossomed over her skin and settled between her legs. Such a shock, she almost choked on it. Her breasts rose and fell over the edge of her bodice in cadence with her breathing, and his eyes followed the movement.
“Oh, you are good,” she whispered as all that heat turned to delicate throbbing. Here was the excitement she’d craved earlier. Only now that she’d found it, she felt disoriented, as if she were a rider about to be unseated. Were he not possessing a tendre for her sister, she might have considered giving in to his charm. “I suppose this is you trying?”
One corner of his mouth kicked up. “Is it working?”
Yes. “If you need to ask, it probably isn’t.”
A snort escaped him. “Probably?” His eyes lifted to meet hers, and she almost crossed her legs against the unwelcome onslaught of feeling. Good God, he was potent. She’d underestimated him entirely. In heavy silence, they stared at each other.
His nostrils flared as if scenting her, and he suddenly grinned outright, a wolfish grin that set off tremors of alarm in her belly. “Liar,” he said. “I can almost taste your wanting, it’s so thick in the air.”
And then she knew; he’d been toying with her as well. Her pulse jumped, but she merely returned his look with one of bland disinterest, refusing to lose this game. “You, sir, are a bore.”
Something near a growl rumbled deep in Northrup’s chest. “If this is you bored, I cannot wait to see you excited.”
Slowly, oh so slowly, the blunt tip of his finger lifted to trail under her sleeve and along the bare crook of her arm with infinite care. Goose bumps rose in its wake, a pleasurable chill that had her yearning to lean into the warmth of his lean, strong body. Why did it have to be this man who made her breath quicken?
She smacked the finger away and stared into his too-blue eyes. “Do not mistake me for some witless hen who follows whatever cock is thrown into the roost.”
His chiseled features froze for a moment and then a smile slowly spread over his mouth, lighting him up from within. Dimples pulled at his cheeks, and Daisy caught her breath. No, she would not be moved.
“Cock?” he intoned, a hairbreadth from laughing. Blue eyes twinkled. “My dear, I’m the wolf.” He leaned in, bringing all his tempting warmth and masculine strength closer. His voice rumbled over her skin. “I eat the hen,” he murmured, “before I carry off what’s left of her.”
She laughed. She hadn’t meant to, but she could not stop it from rolling out, full and thoroughly unladylike. Lord Northrup scowled down at her, his expression so put out that she laughed again.
Daisy fought for a breath. “I’m sorry. It’s only… You are so… practiced.”
“Practiced,” Northrup repeated faintly, his fine features twisting into a male glower. He wiped a tired hand over his face. “Well,” he muttered as he slumped back against the settee, “if that doesn’t drive the final nail in the proverbial coffin.”
Her laughter died as abruptly as it had started, and she turned away from him. Daisy blinked up at the ceiling and suddenly a tear leaked from her eye. She whisked it away but he had seen. Something shifted in his eyes. “Ah, now, lass,” he whispered.
“You must think me a lunatic,” she said.
His voice stayed soft and soothing. “You have no idea what I’m thinking.”
She continued to gaze up at the coffered ceiling. “I always do that. Laugh when I ought to cry, cry when I ought to laugh.” She shook her head and a curl fell over her eye. She was too weary to bat it away. “My father died last year. When I heard the news, I just laughed and laughed.” A sigh left her. “I loved him, despite his faults, but I…” Daisy turned and gave Northrup a watery smile. “It wasn’t until a week later that I cried. Ridiculous, isn’t it?”
How she wished she could truly cry now, the messy bawling sort of cry. She felt it bottled up within her throat, but it wouldn’t break free. The dead deserved tears. She was making hash of everything this night.
Northrup settled down in a comfortable sprawl of long limbs and then looked up at the ceiling as she had done. “Oh, I don’t know. My father was murdered. When I heard the news, I did not cry, didn’t say a word actually.”
Northrup’s words tugged at her memory. Archer had known his father. The mad woman who chased after Archer had killed old Lord Rossberry, Daisy realized with a jolt. She cleared her throat and tried to sound calm. “What did you do?”
Northrup turned his head to peer at her. “I shagged a dozen whores.”
“All at once?” she muttered, which made him laugh. Flushing, Daisy looked away, but she could feel his knowing smile. Unfortunately, his nearness and the heat of his body made him impossible to ignore, or to stop from picturing him engaging in the act. She flushed again.
“No, luv.” His eyes crinkled at the corners as he watched her, but his voice was soft and serious when he spoke. “And it wouldn’t have mattered. Distraction works for only so long, you know.”
The room blurred before her as the tears finally came. Slowly, as if he feared startling her, Northrup reached out and took her hand. It was a shockingly intimate thing to do, and yet she felt comforted. His palm did not possess the smooth, cool skin of a gentleman but was rough and very warm. All that warmth seeped through her arm and up into her chest, and she found herself lacing her fingers with his. With his free hand, he passed her his kerchief and sat silently while she wiped her tears.
After a moment, he expelled a tired sigh. “You wanted time alone with me, lass. Now, why is that?”
Daisy turned and the springs of the couch groaned in the quiet. Northrup’s mouth parted on a breath, but his eyes held a hint of wariness. And rightfully so. She smiled a little sadly, suddenly wishing she hadn’t started down this road. She hadn’t expected to like him. “I want you to leave my sister alone. She isn’t for you.”
Her words hit him with visible effrontery. A laugh burst from his lips even as they twisted in a snarl of irritation. He let her hand go, but did not retreat into denial as a gentleman might. Instead he lifted a brow in challenge. “And if I do not?”
Northrup closed the small distance between them until she could see the ice-blue striations in his irises. “What shall you do then? Hmm?” His lips almost touched hers as he spoke. “Stomp one of those dainty feet in protest? Take me over your knee and rap me with one of your little evening fans?”
Daisy shook her head, and the tip of her nose brushed his. Northrup made an odd sound but did not pull back. She hadn’t expected him to. “As much as it would surely disappoint you, no. I don’t have to do any of those things. My sister is safe from you. She loves Archer and always will.”
His eyes narrowed to slits. “Then why warn me off?”
“As I said before, there is a fine line between persistence and being a pest. You, sir, have crossed it, and it paints you a fool.”
Dull crimson washed over his high cheeks as a growl rumbled low in his throat. Time to go. Daisy calmly gathered up her skirts and brushed against him as she rose. “You did me a kindness this evening, despite your unfortunate behavior toward my sister.” Northrup outright snorted at this, and she let her voice rise a touch. “The least I can do is return the favor and set you to rights before you make an even greater ass of yourself.”
It was rather gratifying the way his mouth hung slightly open, his body seemingly frozen upon the settee. “Good night, Lord Northrup. I thank you for your assistance.”
Her hand closed over the door latch when suddenly he was there, his big hand coming down on hers and holding it. “D’ye think ye can dress me down and simply leave, lass?” His Scots burr thickened with his agitation, rolling so deep and luscious that she shivered. Northrup crowded in, pressing against her hip, and she felt the hard length of him in crude detail. “I’m thinking you’d prefer I’d play with someone else.”
She eyed him over her shoulder. “Me, you mean?” she asked coolly, as if her heart was not bounding like a frightened rabbit within the cage of her ribs.
His square jaw bunched as he gave a sharp nod. Speechless for once. What a thought.
“You’re welcome to try, my lord.” She shoved him with her shoulders, catching him off balance, and he faltered back a pace. Daisy opened the door but stopped to look at him.
Northrup’s broad chest heaved with the rapid breath of a man in a temper, his vivid eyes flashing while his fists clenched at his sides. It ought to have frightened her, but it served only to send an unwelcome bolt of heat straight to her sex.
“However, I doubt that you could handle me. Somehow I think you prefer your women either unavailable or subservient. I am neither.”
Bout time you got here.” Henry Poole shifted on his small feet, looking left and right down the street as though expecting to be set upon by thieves before glaring up at Ian. In the distance, the soft chimes of church bells sounded. “Adele will be wondering where I’ve gone any moment now. We have breakfast together. Usually.”
“I am precisely on time, old boy,” Ian said as he strolled toward Poole. Despite the casual stride, edginess plucked at Ian’s spine. In all these years, he had never made peace with death. And avoided it whenever he could.
He eyed the small, rectangular outbuilding that made up Poole’s surgery. Not even the broad, well-trafficked streets of central London could blot out the subtle, sticky sweet smell of decay wafting from the building’s high crescent windows. He shifted his weight away from the building.
“And the hour was picked by you,” Ian reminded.
“Hmm…” Poole extracted his pocket watch to frown down at it in accusation.
Short, round, and turned out like an Antarctic penguin in his immaculate morning suit, Henry J. Poole was not the image one would picture for London’s foremost forensic surgeon. And though his round eyes and snub nose appeared childlike, the man had a sharp mind and a near vicious tenacity when it came to the study of human anatomy.
“Been avoiding Inspector Lane for hours,” Poole said, “on account of your little request. That man wants to view the bodies something fierce. Have you any idea the lies I’ve had to tell?”
“I’m certain they were quite inventive, Poole.”
“Bah. I don’t need the hassle. Ought to be concentrating on my practice, getting fifty quid to diagnose Lord Something- or-other’s dizzy spells.” He glared at Ian as if to make sure Ian was following his rant. “I don’t need to be helping the police. Or you either. I’ve got better things to do.”
“By all means,” Ian said, “let me incommode you no longer. I am certain Lord Something- or-other would be happy to pay for your services.”
Poole harrumphed. As well he should. The police needn’t use his services. There were other surgeons who were more than happy to oblige. But like most geniuses, Poole was fiercely competitive and thus protective of his unofficial role as the CID’s pathologist, lest some crack charlatan fill the position. It was a little-known specialty and did not receive the recognition it should. Something that irked Poole to no end.
“Let’s get on with it then,” Poole muttered.
“Not quite yet,” said a deep voice from behind them.
Ian silently cursed as Benjamin Archer strode forward, his gray eyes flashing equal parts amusement and censure. The nosy blighter.
“Planning a bit of fun without me, Northrup?” A smug smile stretched his face.
“As fun and you are generally at odds,” Ian said, “then yes, yes, we were.” He turned to glare at Poole who had made himself appear as small and unnoticeable as possible. “Ratting me out to Archer, are you?”
At this, Poole drew himself up. “So happens I owe him a favor or two as well.”
Ian snorted as Archer drew abreast of him. “Which includes,” said Archer, “letting me know the moment you contacted him to view the victims of this attack.”
Ian’s teeth ground together. Damn but this was work to be done by delegates of the lycan clan. And yet, after sending his man Talent to scout, Ian discovered that not a single clan representative had come out of the woodwork. Why? Ian feared he knew the answer, and he did not like it in the least. So now he was here. Where he least wanted to be.
Poole tucked away his watch. “Let’s get on with it, then.”
Excerpted from Moonglow by Kristen Callihan Copyright © 2012 by Kristen Callihan. Excerpted by permission.
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