He vowed to never fall in love...
Meg Anthony was never raised a lady. Instead, she grew up amongst grifters who used her unique “finding” ability for their own selfish purposes. Recently, she's been taken under the wing of the Duke of Camden and the Order of M.U.S.E., learning not only the fine art of becoming a lady, but how to use her extraordinary talent to help others.
But Meg's gift is a beacon to unsavory characters who would possess her.
Charged with her protection, Lord Badewyn knows—too well—that his wild, Welsh castle is no safe haven for this lovely, all-too-desirable creature. Part human, part fallen angel, he is one of the Nephilim. He is a recluse sworn never to love. As the dangers to Meg grow more threatening, he cannot help but find himself tempted beyond all reason...and tested to see if he has both a heart and a soul.
The Order of the M.U.S.E. series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 The Curse of Lord Stanstead
Book #2 The Madness of Lord Westfall
Book #3 The Lost Soul of Lord Badewyn
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The Lost Soul of Lord Badewyn
The Order of the M.U.S.E
By Mia Marlowe, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Diana Groe
All rights reserved.
Meg Anthony stood tiptoe on the top of the chimney, the highest point above the gambrel roof of the Duke of Camden's town house. She leaned on the iron weathercock. More than four stories down, people and carriages moved up and down the broad Mayfair street. They seemed like child's toys. No one glanced up at her.
Well, they wouldn't, would they?
She spread her arms and took a flying leap.
The ground rushed to meet her, but before she could crash headlong into His Grace's miniscule front garden, Meg willed herself to slow and come to a complete stop above the hydrangea, heavy with blooms. For a blink, she hovered, wishing she could detect scents in her spirit form. Then she floated upward, light as a soap bubble and as free of care.
It was always like this when she exercised her gift. The abandon, the exhilaration, the sense that anything she could think, she could do — flying free of her body was the closest thing to heaven she could imagine. Unfortunately, she had to be mindful that while her spirit soared during these times, her empty body died a little as it waited for her essence to return. She needed to be quick.
Especially since this was an unsanctioned use of her Finding ability. If the duke discovered she'd done it, he'd pitch a fit. Of course, it might be considered disrespectful to think of such an important person as His Grace doing something as common as pitching a fit, so she set that idea aside. Besides, more than she feared his anger, she feared he might wash his hands of her entirely and ban her from the Order.
It would be the worst that could happen.
She'd never felt she belonged anywhere until His Grace brought her into his household to join his band of psychic operatives. But she wasn't wellborn like the other members of the Order of the M.U.S.E. Honestly, sometimes the business of learning to read, and the even harder task of learning to carry herself like a lady, ground her down to a nub. Meg needed a few moments to refresh herself. Nothing was better than flitting above the streets of London. She reveled in a God's eye view of its residents, darting about with the speed of thought and passing through bricks and mortar as if they were water.
Since Meg didn't have anything in particular she was seeking during This Finding session, she decided to pop into the neighbor's house to have a look about. The family who'd occupied that residence during the Season had left London the week before, escaping to the country as the full heat of late summer and the Thames' low tides turned the city into a miasma of foul scents and even fouler tempers. When that happened, Meg was grateful that she couldn't smell a thing while she was disembodied.
All the furniture in the front parlor was draped with sheets to guard against dust. Even the paintings had been hung with linen, but the maids had neglected to cover the large mirror at the base of the stairs in the foyer. Meg drifted by it.
No one had ever claimed to have seen her when she was in this state, but she could see herself in mirrors. Not clearly, of course. Her image was translucent, as if she'd been scraped thin enough to allow light to shine through her. She grinned at her spectral reflection. When she was like this, with the glory of pure spirit radiating from every bit of her, she wasn't as plain as she thought.
Then she heard repeated thumps coming from above her. She shot upward through the painted ceiling and floor joists to the first floor. Meg was glad that she could make no sound in her present form, because what she saw made her want to scream.
There were two men, sweating and swearing as they tried to work a wall safe from its hiding place amid lathe and plaster. They evidently couldn't crack it, so they'd decided to take the whole thing away with them. Seeing a burglary in process was bad enough, but what really startled Meg was that she recognized the pair as her Uncle Rowney and Cousin Oswald — the two people in all the world she'd hoped never to see again.
Meg shivered. She thought she'd left them behind when she had run away and hid herself in the city, taking a position as a lady's maid. Then when her psychic gift had brought her to the Duke of Camden's attention, she'd felt doubly safe from her past. But it couldn't be a coincidence that Rowney and Oswald were trying to burgle the house next to the one she'd called home for all these months. They were looking for her. She floated closer to listen.
"You sure this is worth the trouble?" Oswald grunted with effort as he leaned his considerable bulk on the crowbar. The safe didn't budge.
"I'm tellin' you, I was walking out with Mrs. Tesh, the cook what worked here till the family moved away, and she swore his lordship left any number of things behind in the safe on account of them not havin' one at the country house." Rowney crossed his arms over his chest, content to watch the younger man do all the work.
Some things never change, Meg thought.
Oswald adjusted the angle of the bar and tried again. "What kind of things?"
"His mistress' jewels, for instance. Don't do to let the wife stumble across those, do it? And a bit of blunt for emergencies. A good bit, I'm told," Rowney said. "According to Mrs. Tesh, his lordship don't exactly trust banks."
"And why should we trust Mrs. Tesh? Peaching on your employer is never a good idea."
"She's got no call to be loyal. His Nibs gave her the sack when they left. Said they already had a cook at their place in Sussex. Couldn't be bothered to keep two on. He gave her a reference, but since she can't read, she's afraid to use the blasted thing. Who knows what lies Quality folk might take into their heads to write about them what work for a livin'? Ain't one of 'em worth spit."
The Quality folk Meg had fallen in with were worth a good deal more than spit. Lady Easton, the Duke of Camden's sister, worked tirelessly with her, trying to educate her well enough to pass as a lady. And if there was a single soul in the world whom Meg wanted to make proud of her, it was the duke himself.
"This'd be a lot easier if we still had Meggie with us. She'd be able to poke in there and tell us for sure was it worth me bustin' my spleen over." Oswald reared back and brought the crook of the crowbar down on the hinges with all his strength. The steel was unforgiving and the shock seemed to reverberate up his arms. Spouting a long string of profanity, Oswald threw the bar across the room. Wood splintered under the sheeting when it struck the covered highboy.
Meg shuddered. Even though she knew her cousin couldn't see her, his nearness made her feel prickly all over.
"Never you fret over that, my boy," Rowney said. "I've had my eye on the high and mighty 'Miss Anthony' for weeks now. She's close. Right next door, in fact. The Duke of Camden has her cozied up in his place. She don't venture out lest she's in some pretty high-toned company, but she'll get lazy about it one of these days. And then we'll pinch her right off the street."
Panic gripped her with both hands and squeezed. Rowney was right. If they nabbed her, her uncle and cousin would force her back into their life of drawing latches and picking pockets. She had to be extra careful every day to stay free. They only had to get lucky once.
"You and Meggie will be tyin' the knot before you know it," Rowney went on.
She couldn't listen to more. The thought of marrying Oswald made her want to start shrieking and never stop. But she couldn't so long as she floated outside of her body.
So long ... How long has it been?
Another kind of panic seized her. What if she'd stayed away too long? Quick as thought, she zipped through the walls shared by this town house and His Grace's, then up another story to the chamber that had been assigned to her.
Her body was slumped in the comfortable wing chair near her cold fireplace, but a candle burned on the low table before her. She preferred to have someone lay their hands on her shoulders to help anchor her to earth during a Finding. Failing that, she'd discovered that the light of a candle also served to ease her re-entry into her house of flesh.
But her body wasn't alone. Gaston LeGrand was standing over her still form, a frown on his face. He reached a hand toward her shoulder and then drew it back, clearly undecided about whether touching her would help or hinder her return at this point, since he hadn't been with her from the beginning of her dash into the spirit realm.
Meg hovered over her body. She almost didn't recognize herself.
It was as if that body in the chair belonged to someone else. The waxy pallor, the dead stillness, the chained-to-earth heaviness — how could it house something as light and heaven-born as her breathless essence? But she slipped back into it, anchoring her spirit to the body that became hers once more.
A deep lungful of air hissed over her teeth. Her heart lurched from its nearly stopped state into a galloping rhythm. Meg tingled all over as her freshly animated skin sent frantic messages to her brain. She was suddenly aware of the scratchy lace on her petticoat beneath her muslin gown and the feel of old leather on the arms of the chair beneath her fingertips. As if she were a hedgehog waking after its long winter sleep, her eyelids fluttered open. She looked up into LeGrand's scowling face.
"His Grace, he will not be amused." And neither was LeGrand. When it came to Meg's safety, he was like the disapproving older brother she'd never had. "What is so important that you would risk his noble wrath?"
She hadn't intended to tell. In truth, she wanted to forget that Rowney and Oswald were only a few walls away, but she had to give LeGrand something. The duke was deeply concerned about the risk she ran each time she used her gift to Find objects or people who had gone missing. If she admitted that she just wanted to lark about without her skin for a while, it would upset His Grace out of all knowing. So she let the fact that the neighbor's empty house was being burgled spill out of her.
"Should we send for a Runner?" she asked. His Grace had a number of Bow Street Runners in his pay who could be relied upon to clean up any criminal activity the Order of the M.U.S.E. stumbled upon in the course of their work.
"If the thieves, they are there now, they will be gone by the time Runners arrive," the wiry Frenchman said. "Some of the servants I will take and make to apprehend these miscreants."
As he turned to go, Meg grasped his arm. "Be careful. They're dangerous."
"And you will be knowing this, how?"
She could have kicked herself, but LeGrand needed the warning.
"Because I know them."
That evening, the Duke of Camden summoned the members of the Order of the M.U.S.E. to his study. M.U.S.E. stood for Metaphysical Union of Sensory Extraordinaires. Never mind knowing what it meant, Meg could barely pronounce it when His Grace had first discovered her unusual ability to Find and brought her into his psychic fold. She was the only Finder in the group.
But the others had gifts of their own. For example, Garret Sterling, Lord Stanstead, possessed the ability to Send a thought into another's mind so thoroughly, they believed the Sending more than their own senses. Pierce Langdon, Lord Westfall, had been his psychic opposite, being able to hear the thoughts rolling around in the heads around him. After he suffered a clout on his head during a recent mission for the Order, the voices of other minds had been silent for a while. Then, before he left for an extended honeymoon in Scotland with his non-Extraordinaire bride, the voices had returned. Only now, Westfall was able to control which voice he chose to listen to so that they only intruded into his head one at a time.
There were three elementals in the Order — magical persons with an affinity for one of the four ancient elements. Gaston LeGrand was a water mage, able to bend liquid of any sort to his will. Lady Stanstead, née Cassandra Darkin, was a fire mage, as was Vesta LaMotte, a witty courtesan who often provided the Order with an entrée into the Prince Regent's intimate circle. This was useful since the express purpose of the group was to protect the royal family from psychically-charged objects intended to harm them. The Duke of Camden blamed himself for King George III's occasional bouts with madness. His Grace was convinced that something malignant had slipped through his gauntlet and was playing fast and loose with His Majesty's mind.
"Well, Miss Anthony," the duke said as he paced the perimeter of the chamber. "What have you to say for yourself?"
"I'm most terribly sorry, I'm sure." She was. Terribly. Especially when she glanced at the mottled bruise blooming around LeGrand's left eye.
Uncle Rowney and Cousin Oswald's burglary had been thwarted. According to the Frenchman, the older fellow was limping when the thieves tore down the back alley behind the row of town houses, but the pair got in a few good licks before they ran off. In addition to LeGrand's black eye, His Grace's handsome footman James was missing one of his front teeth. This was a disaster of biblical proportions for one in his position, because above average height and a pleasing face were the foremost qualifications for a footman. In any other establishment, James might have been given the sack since his looks had been spoiled, but the duke had promised that as long as James' work continued to be excellent, a lost tooth was of no consequence to the dignity of the Camden table.
He seemed to be less forgiving of Meg. "Being sorry does not change matters."
"Oh, Camden, stop it. You're frightening the girl," Vesta said. She was the only one of the group who dared reprimand His Grace. And she excelled at it through constant practice.
"She should be frightened. She disobeyed a direct order. I expressly forbade her to use her gift until we are assured she may exercise it safely," Camden said to Vesta before turning back to Meg. "Do you not understand that the use of your Finding ability could result in your death?"
No one knew that better than she, but Meg decided silence was the best course. She nodded mutely.
"In a way, it's a good thing she disobeyed," Lady Stanstead said. "Otherwise we'd never have known her uncle and cousin were so close and that they still plan to abduct her."
"What's this?" Camden demanded.
When LeGrand had given his account of the afternoon's events to the duke, he'd tactfully left out Meg's connection with the thieves. Evidently, he'd felt no need to do so when he shared his exploits with the rest of the Order.
"We thought you were aware of the threat, Your Grace." Lady Stanstead sent Meg an apologetic grimace. "You'd better tell him, Miss Anthony."
Meg sighed. The members of the Order knew she'd been engaged in some shady dealings before she became a lady's maid because her skills as a pickpocket had been put to good use once or twice. When she tried to teach Lady Stanstead some sleight of hand, she'd confided in her about her horrible family.
Now Meg launched into the sorry tale for everyone's ears.
Her Uncle Rowney wanted her back under his thumb, she explained, so he could use her ability to Find as they roamed from town to town "looking for the main chance." The gang's usual plan was to discover somebody who'd lost someone or something of value and then convince them that Meg could retrieve the item or loved one ... for a price. She didn't mind Finding objects so much. But it was gut-wrenching to watch people give all they had for the least bit of news about a missing person. Often, the person was either dead or had abandoned their family willingly. Meg hated delivering either of those outcomes. It was part of why she'd run away.
The other part was Rowney's plan to marry her to Oswald. She had to admit it was the best way to assure her compliance. She'd have no choice but to be obedient and outwardly grateful to the men who held power over her. As a married woman, she'd be considered little better than a child or an imbecile by the courts and have no say in where she went or what she was forced to do.
No matter what that might be.
It was hard to keep secrets in a group of psychics, but Meg had managed it. His Grace would be understandably upset. After she finished with her story, Meg folded her hands on her lap to hide their tremble as she waited for the duke's anger to fall on her. Why hadn't she trusted him with everything from the beginning?
The duke didn't say anything for the space of several heartbeats. Then he sank into his wing chair and crossed his legs. "Well, this alters matters."
Excerpted from The Lost Soul of Lord Badewyn by Mia Marlowe, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2015 Diana Groe. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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