A ZEBRA SHOUT FRESH NEW ROMANCE
They are the infamous lords, notorious noblemen who indulge their irreverence in public, but keep their personal struggles private. For a portrait artist, capturing the true soul of a high-born hellion is a daring proposition . . .
Clearly, Emma Trafford’s new neighbor is a lady killer—but is the scoundrel with the scar capable of murder? Emma can barely contain her precocious younger sister, Lily—the child swears she spied their neighbor engaged in foul play in his Bloomsbury love nest. But when Lily goes too far searching for “evidence,” Emma must save the imp by distracting Simon—with an all-consuming kiss rife with danger and desire . . .
Simon Marlton, Viscount Adler doesn’t know which is more infuriating: that an anonymous intruder set his soul on fire and left a deep longing in her wake . . . or that during their encounter his signet ring, a token of his painful past, went missing. With the memory of a faint scent of paint spirits and the knowledge that his neighbor Emma is a portraitist, Simon sets out to capture his thief. He draws Emma into a flirtatious game, commissioning the talented lass to paint him—and enticing them both to reveal their whispered suspicions and deepest
secrets . . .
About the Author
Renee Ann Miller writes sexy historical romances. She is a 2015 and 2016 finalist in the prestigious Golden Heart Contest® from Romance Writers of America®. Renee penned her first book at the tender age of seven and even drew the impressive stick figures—though clearly those characters weren’t as spicy as the ones she writes now.
Renee loves romantic stories, excessive amounts of chocolate, and gardening. She lives in the Northeast with her wonderful husband. Though she grew up in a household of hockey fans, her favorite sport is football. Renee swears it has nothing to do with watching muscled guys running around, but that’s debatable. You can find out more about Renee and the stories she’s working on at www.Reneeannmiller.com and connect with her at Twitter @reneeannmiller.
Read an Excerpt
Bloomsbury, LondonApril 1877
Simon Marlton, Viscount Adler, stretched out on the bed next to his mistress. With a coquettish smile, Vivian fanned her ginger hair over the white silk counterpane and arched her back, drawing his attention to her body, visible through her sheer peignoir.
The movement should have excited him. It didn't. He knew what was coming next.
"Whom shall we play tonight?" Vivian asked, running her finger over his bare chest to the waistband of his trousers. "Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra? We could be wicked and do an adaptation of The Vampire. You could be the bloodthirsty lord and I the poor dairy wench you seduce in the forest."
Simon gritted his teeth. He sorely regretted engaging an actress as his mistress, especially one between plays. He should have chosen a dancer, some limber woman who didn't feel the need to direct every sexual encounter, or plot it to death. And surely not one who screamed Encore! Encore! while she climaxed.
One more night of Vivian and he might play Cassius and throw himself down upon a sword. "When are you to begin rehearsals for your new play at the Lyceum?"
She twisted a shimmering tendril around her finger and pouted. "Sir Henry wants to do Hamlet. It offers few worthy female roles, though I would make a remarkable Ophelia." She sat up and dramatically flung her arms wide. "'O, what a noble mind is here —'"
"When will it begin?" he asked.
"Not for several months. I shall be bored senseless." She placed the back of her hand theatrically to her forehead and sank onto the pillows.
Good Lord, several months. Simon stifled a groan.
Vivian propped herself up on her elbow and lifted her glass of claret off the bedside table. "Adler, why don't you invite some guests to your country house? We could put on a play."
Eating pigswill held more appeal. How foolish to think the actress's company would settle the discontent plaguing him as of late. Perhaps a short reprieve from Vivian would put her in a more favorable light.
"How about a holiday in Paris?" he asked.
She sat up so abruptly, her wine spilled. Red droplets glistened on the pristine counterpane. She blotted them with the edge of her translucent garment, smearing the red into the bedcover. "How lovely! When do we set sail?"
We? Good God, no. He'd jump ship before they sighted land. "I have business to attend to in Town."
"I can wait so we can journey to France together. On the ship you could play Blackbeard and I the noblewoman you have kidnapped."
A nerve twitched in his jaw. "No."
"There must be a ship leaving Dover tomorrow," he said, ignoring her suggestion.
"Tomorrow?" A small line formed between her thin brows.
"Yes, while there you could do a bit of shopping. Visit that Charles Worth fellow who is all the rage. Purchase yourself a few gowns."
Her hazel eyes widened. "Gowns?"
"Yes. My carriage will take you to Victoria station first thing in the morning."
* * *
Emma Trafford tapped softly on her sister's bedchamber door and inched it open. A single candle on a bedside table sent scant light into the dark room. Lily, dressed in a white cotton nightgown, stood before the window, her blond hair and slender twelve-year-old body illuminated by moonlight.
"Lily?" Emma whispered.
With a gasp, Lily spun around and tucked a pair of opera glasses behind her back.
Why, the little hoyden! If that gossipmonger across the street saw Lily spying upon her, the whole of Bloomsbury would know before daybreak.
"Are you watching Mrs. Jenkins?"
"Indeed not. One could expire from boredom observing her snooze all day."
Emma released the air in her lungs and glanced out the window. The London sky was absent its perpetual fog. Perhaps Lily had turned her mind to more intellectual pursuits. "Were you observing the constellations?"
"Ah ... yes, indeed, the stars." Lily nibbled her lower lip.
One day, when they were old and gray, Emma would reveal to her sister that Lily always bit her lower lip when she lied. "No, you were not. Now confess."
Lily shuffled her bare feet. Even in the dim light, Emma could see the two red spots on her sister's porcelain cheeks. "I'm observing the woman who recently moved into the town house next to Mrs. Jenkins. Have you seen her? She looks to be your age, perhaps a bit older. She wears feathered hats and gowns with huge bustles. Late at night, a fine carriage pulls up and an exceedingly tall gentleman enters the house."
"You were spying on them?" Emma tried to keep the shrill tone from her voice.
"Well, tonight they didn't close their shutters, and I was ever so curious."
Emma gasped. "Lily, that's scandalous."
"Ha! If you think I'm scandalous, you should see them. Do you wish to hear what they wear to bed?"
She did, but before Emma could lie and say no, her sister barreled forward. "The woman is dressed in a nightgown that barely hides her bosom. And the man, well, he's wearing just his drawers." Shock and titillation colored Lily's voice.
"Oh my goodness." Emma dashed to her sister's side and outstretched her hand. "Lillian Marie Trafford, give me those glasses. Now!"
Lily jutted out her bottom lip and handed over the opera glasses. "Em, the man has arms as thick as Titian's depiction of Mars. And he has the largest —"
Emma clapped a hand over her sister's mouth. She didn't know what Lily intended to say, but the child spent too many hours at the lending library examining books on Renaissance paintings, and Emma feared it wasn't a love of art that piqued Lily's interest.
"Not another word." Emma removed her hand.
"But he looks nothing like old Mr. Peabody when he drank too much punch at Mrs. Green's Christmas party and removed his shirt and trousers." Lily leaned close and spoke in a hushed tone. "He looks more like the paintings of the naked men on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But larger. More powerful."
Oh my. Emma stifled the salacious images working their way through her mind.
"If you don't believe me, take a peek." Lily pointed at the window, her eyes bright.
The temptation to join her sister in wickedness tugged at Emma. She'd never seen a man wearing only his drawers. Well, except for Mr. Peabody, but his prune-like anatomy and pencil-thin legs hadn't impressed her in the least. And the one time she'd been intimate ... that had been a debacle she didn't wish to recall. She set the opera glasses on a table and drew the curtains closed.
"Get under the covers, and promise me you will not spy on the neighbors again. Especially those neighbors." She pulled her sister toward the bed.
With a sullen expression, Lily climbed under the blankets and folded her arms across her chest. "I promise."
Emma pressed a kiss to her sister's cheek. "Now sleep well, dearest, and blow out the candle as soon as I close the door."
Across the central corridor, Emma slipped into her bedchamber and padded to the window. The curtain rings rattled on the rod as she pulled the material closed. Unable to resist, she parted the fabric an inch and peered out. The town house across the way glowed like a balefire in the dark night. Their new neighbors certainly didn't want for money.
She moved away from the window. After she changed into her white cotton nightgown, she settled between the sheets with a book of Tennyson's poems.
A half hour later, Emma stared blindly at a page. Doubtful the man across the way resembled Michelangelo's nudes. Men like that were only in artists' imaginations. She set her reading aside and turned down the wick on the bedside lamp, shrouding the room in darkness.
Boom! The bedchamber door flew open and slammed against the wall.
"Em!" Lily's frantic voice cut through the gloom like a shaft of light.
Heart pounding, Emma bolted upright. "What's the matter?"
Lily rushed forward, her pale face illuminated by the globed candle she held. "You must summon a constable."
"What's happened?" Emma tossed off her bedding.
Her sister's empty hand fluttered in the air. "The man. I-I believe he's killed the woman. He tore the thin material from her body, then settled under the sheets and climbed atop her. Her head thrashed back and forth while he ... Oh, it was horrid. And when he was done, she just lay there not moving, eyes closed, with an odd expression plastered on her still face. She's dead!"
More than once, Emma had contemplated the joining of a man and woman — compared it to what she knew. Her single experience had left her sore, shamed, and ruined. But there were times she'd imagined a husband gently removing his wife's clothes in the dark. Or if they were daring, leaving a single candle lit. She'd never imagined all the lights on. Perhaps her imagination was lacking.
Lily's voice startled Emma from her torrid thoughts. "Lily, you promised you wouldn't spy on them."
"I know, but ..."
Emma scooted to the other side of the mattress and lifted the blankets. "Get into bed."
Her sister's mouth gaped. "Aren't you going to summon a constable?"
She sighed. "Dearest, sometimes married men and women partake in activities in their bedchambers that girls of twelve should not be privy to. They ... they play games."
"This was not a game! A game would be blind man's bluff or twenty questions. This was depravity. Murder. Just like the murders Inspector Percival Whitley solves."
Lily had a fertile imagination, and those penny dreadfuls she read about Inspector Whitley of Scotland Yard did not help. "Get into bed," Emma repeated. "I'm sure it was a game."
After setting the candle on the bedside table, Lily climbed in next to her. "If that is the type of amusement married couples engage in, I shall become a spinster." Lily grabbed Emma's hand under the sheet. "Is that why you didn't marry Charles? Because you knew once married you'd have to partake in such wickedness?"
Emma's chest tightened as shame overwhelmed her. Charles had asked for her hand three years ago, on her twenty-first birthday, a week after Papa died. She'd allowed Charles to convince her that they didn't have to wait for the sanctity of marriage to join with each other. He'd professed his love and told her he couldn't wait anymore. That madness might overtake him if he couldn't make love to her.
Three days afterward, he'd called and said his father was not in accord with the betrothal. How foolish she'd been to think a baron's son would marry out of his station, especially a portraitist with no fortune.
"We realized we didn't suit," Emma said, shoving aside the guilt over her reckless behavior.
"I'm glad" — Lily snuggled closer — "for I hate to think of you being forced to play such wretched games."
Charles had married last year, an earl's daughter, and his wife was now round with child. She dashed at the moisture filling the corners of her eyes. Silly to shed tears. She didn't need Charles or any other man. If she sold enough portraits, she could support herself and her two siblings all on her own.
Forcing a smile, Emma tucked the blankets around her sister's slender shoulders and kissed her cheek. "Goodnight, dearest."
* * *
The early sun shone through the morning room's windows, brightening the faded blue walls. Emma sat at her secretaire and perused the bills in front of her. Once she finished painting Mrs. Naples's portrait, she'd have nearly all the funds for Michael's boarding school tuition, along with enough to pay the coal merchant. Though not enough to pay what she owed Mrs. Flynn. The housekeeper continued to work for them even though Emma hadn't paid the woman her full salary in months. For all her gruff ways, Mrs. Flynn possessed a soft heart and a motherly tendency toward them.
The double doors swung open, and Lily stormed into the room with as much drama as the night before.
"I told you that man murdered the ginger-haired woman!" Lily grabbed Emma's hand and tugged her across the room.
"I do not want to hear another word about murder." Emma planted her heels into the threadbare carpeting.
Her sister stomped her foot and pointed at the window. "See for yourself."
The headache, which had begun as Emma looked at the bills, grew stronger. She pressed her fingers to her temples. "I insist you cease this spying."
"But Inspector Whitley says one must carefully search for clues, for they will always reveal the villain."
Emma attempted not to roll her eyes heavenward at the mention of the fictitious inspector. Setting a hand on the window's casings, she gazed outside. Two burly men were hefting a large trunk onto a dray across the street. "What is it I'm supposed to be witnessing?"
Lily groaned. "Don't you understand? The woman's body is stuffed in the trunk."
"You know no such thing."
"What else could it be?"
"They might be cleaning their attic."
A tall gentleman with broad shoulders stepped out of the town house. He was impeccably dressed in a navy overcoat and top hat.
"That's him!" Lily clasped Emma's arm, her fingers tight enough to leave marks.
The man lifted his hat and raked his fingers through shiny black hair.
Lily's warm breath puffed on the back of Emma's neck. "Criminals are always dark and dangerous in appearance. And if he isn't dastardly looking, I don't know what one would call him."
Emma swallowed. She would call him beautiful. The perfect subject to paint. His face all hard angles. His jaw strong and firm. His nose chiseled. He reminded her of a panther she'd seen at Regent's Zoo. Striking, yet if one were foolish enough to reach out to stroke its fur, surely they'd lose an appendage.
Her gaze shifted from his broad-shouldered body to the trunk. It was indeed large enough to hold a woman's body.
Oh bother. She was letting Lily's imagination play havoc on her own mind. "I will not make accusations against him." He looked not only dangerous, but also wealthy — a man financially capable of destroying them if they libeled him. "You have no proof."
"Proof? I told you what I saw last night. Now the trunk. What more do you need?"
"And I told you —"
"Yes, yes, a game. What balderdash."
The drayman's voice calling to the horses to move on drew their attention back to the window. A closed carriage with yellow wheels now stood in front of the town house as well.
"See," Emma said, pointing at the fancy equipage. "The woman is probably inside."
Lily bit on the nail of her index finger. "If you hadn't been arguing with me, I might have seen something. I'm going to go outside and peek in the carriage."
Emma grabbed her sister's hand. "You will do no such thing. Anyway, it has already started up the street."
Lily wrenched her hand free and pressed her nose to the pane of glass. "Drat, I know what I saw, and I shall prove it to you."CHAPTER 2
Emma dipped her brush into the cerulean paint on her palette and lightly dabbed at the canvas. She stepped back and appraised her work. The portrait of Mrs. Naples and her dog, Alfred, needed a few more touches. A dab of white to highlight, a smidgen of gray to shadow, and the painting would be complete.
Thankfully, the widow and her pug no longer needed to sit for Emma. Mrs. Naples believed Alfred to be her late husband reincarnated. Emma hoped, if that were true, Mr. Naples had exhibited better manners than his namesake, who was the most flatulent animal Emma had ever had the displeasure to meet.
The tall longcase clock on the first-floor landing struck twelve times, resonating through the house. Stifling a yawn, Emma rubbed the back of her hand across her heavy-lidded eyes.
Surely, folly to continue when fatigue pulled at her limbs like leaden weights and the paraffin lamps burned low. She laid her brush down atop her palette and picked up a turpentine-soaked rag to scrub the paint off her tools and fingertips. The woodsy scent of the solvent filled her nose. Tomorrow she would finish the portrait, and most of the funds for Michael's tuition would soon be in hand. She set the rag into its bowl and glanced out the window. Blue moonlight illuminated the white stone of the town house across the way. The residence had stood silent all day. The servants, like their mistress, had all disappeared. A movement caught her attention. She set her hands to the glass and peered at a slim form dashing across the street.
Emma sucked in her breath. The mint-drop slowly dissolving in her mouth flew down her throat. With a cough and an unladylike curse, she slipped the window's latch. By the time she threw the sash up, her sister had already opened the wrought iron gate of the darkened residence and was disappearing down the servants' steps.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Never Deceive A Viscount"
Copyright © 2018 Renee Ann Miller.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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