A Spy Mission of Christmas Eve - Tracey Devlyn
Tracey Devlyn writes historical romantic thrillers (translation: a slightly more grievous journey toward the heroine’s happy ending). She’s a co-founder of Romance University, a group blog dedicated to readers and writers of romance, and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, Chicagoland’s exciting new reading salon devoted to romantic fiction. An Illinois native, Tracey spends her evenings harassing her once-in-a-lifetime husband and her weekends torturing her characters. For more information on Tracey, including her Internet haunts, contest updates, and details on her upcoming novels, please visit her website at www.TraceyDevlyn.com.
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Welcome to the Marchioness of Hollingsworth’s annual masked ball. Every year, the marchioness invites the ton to enjoy a night of merrymaking on the evening before Christmas. This year, however, many unsuspecting guests will dine, dance, laugh, and steal kisses—and, perhaps, a whole lot more—while a secret meeting takes place upstairs. A meeting that will be the final spark to another war between England and France. Or, will it?
‘Twas the Spy Before Christmas
by Tracey Devlyn
Evangeline Tyler edged away from the curtained shadows of the balcony to get a better view of the crowded ballroom below. The masked guests blurred in a spiraling canvas of watercolor as they whirled around the dance floor. Delicate lines of ivory, blue, yellow, green, and a multitude of other colors tangled with bold strokes of black. Boughs of pungent pine draped doorways and window frames and clusters of mistletoe hung in opportune nooks. Candlelight from three enormous chandeliers shimmered above the large room, creating a warm, festive glow.
A discontented sigh escaped from between Evie’s lips. The ton’s gaiety made the dismal course of her life feel all the more pronounced. With three-year-old Viscount Renfield tucked snuggly into his warm bed, she had the rest of the evening to do with as she pleased. But there was nothing for her to do and nowhere for her to go. She had no one with whom she could laugh or dance. No one with whom she could share stories of old. Even if she had someone, she would never reveal the horrors of the last decade. Some memories were just too painful to be told.
Evie closed her eyes against the splendor of the moment and swallowed back her anguish. When she opened them again, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. A masculine figure in a black mantle and domino exited the servants’ staircase and strode furtively down the corridor toward the family wing. Careful not to expose her location to the revelers below, she sidled out of her hiding spot and then glanced around for help. Alone, as usual.
Without thought, she followed on shaky legs. Sweat gathered in the creases of her palms and blood pounded in her ears, drowning out the receding music and laughter. Her quarry slowed, and Evie ducked behind a table standing beneath a gilded frame. She parted her lips to lessen the sound of her shuddering breaths.
From this vantage point, she could see his black-clad legs paused outside the door leading to the marquess’s bedchamber. The door opened, and the mysterious gentleman slipped inside. She rushed back to the servants’ staircase and pushed open the door that led to the narrow, dimly corridor flanking the opposite side of the family’s bedchambers. When she reached the small door to the marquess’s dressing room, she wondered briefly what madness had possessed her to come even this far.
It had to be her unending boredom that compelled her to turn the latch and duck inside. Had she been listening to her instincts--the same ones that had saved her from working the streets and withering away in some workhouse--she would have taken the more conventional approach of fetching one of the male servants. But she hadn’t been listening and now she was huddled in a dark room, with a stranger nearby. A stranger who could be a murderer, for all she knew.
The moment she eased the door closed, the lock clicked in place. A frighteningly interesting fact, especially since she had not touched the key. She glanced around, though she could see nothing beyond the impenetrable darkness. Then something brushed her cheek.
She jumped back. “Who’s there?”
Shadows shifted, and she could now make out the vague silhouette of a rather large man. Could he hear the desperate thumping of her heart? She was quite certain the revelers below heard it.
“You first, mademoiselle.” His soft, persuasive voice was both alluring and dangerous.
He must have inched closer, for his spicy masculine scent filled her nose. “Evangeline Tyler. And you?”
“The governess.” His voice grew warmer. “A most unexpected surprise.”
“Do we know each other, sir?”
“To my regret, no.”
Now that her eyes had adjusted, she could see he still wore his black mask. She studied his strong, square jaw and full lips. They were familiar somehow, but she couldn’t pinpoint where she might have seen the combination before.
“Then how do you know I’m the governess?”
“It’s a special talent I have.”
Since he had not killed her yet, she ventured another question. “What are you doing in Lord Hollingsworth’s private chambers?”
He smoothed his finger down her cheek, over her chin and then along the hollow of her jawline until he reached her earlobe. The intimate trail sent prickles racing across her skin.
“Some things are better left unsaid, mademoiselle.”
The warning, so gently conveyed, was more effective than the bark of a military command.
“Perhaps it’s best I leave now.” She fumbled for the key. Why couldn’t she have followed the intruder into any other chamber? The servants’ entrances to Lord Hollingsworth’s bedchamber and study were the only ones in the whole house that sported locks.
He tsked, clasping her hands in his. “I cannot allow you to leave just yet, Miss Tyler,” he said. “But I can try to set your mind at ease about my presence.”
For some inexplicable reason, his restraint did not frighten her, as it should. Quite the contrary. The more she was in this stranger’s presence, the more comfortable she became. Bold, even.
“I’m listening,” she said.
“Your employer is in possession of vital information. Information I’ve been sent here to retrieve. Nothing more.”
“So, you are a thief?”
His tempting lips curled into a roguish grin. “Intelligence gatherer. Do you see the difference?”
“Not entirely,” she said with an answering smile. “Though now you sound like a spy.”
All amusement faded, and he reached up to cradle her face. “There’s something else I should like to gather before I leave.”
His talk of leaving, joined with his possessive touch, formed an awful knot in the center of her chest. “What would that be, sir?”
Evie’s body shook with an unfamiliar craving. Never in her two and twenty years had she experienced physical attraction for a man. Admiration, yes. Longing, no. She wanted his kiss. Needed it, in truth.
She pressed closer, until her lips were a whisper away from his. “Yes.”
Leaning in, he inhaled deeply as if gathering her scent as well as her kiss. He brushed his lips over hers, once, twice. On the third pass, he claimed her mouth in a warm, luxuriant kiss.
Unable to remain motionless, she slid her hands around his firm middle and smoothed her fingers up the wide planes of his back. He was so large and overwhelming, and her pure feminine side delighted in this fact.
He deepened the kiss, and she rose up on her tiptoes to meet his demand.
A door in the outer bedchamber opened, and they froze mid-kiss. Masculine voices carried through the open door to the dressing room, but Evie could not make out their words.
The black-clad stranger turned the key and eased open the servants’ door. He grasped her hand and moved into the corridor. Evie remained rooted in place. His masked face turned toward her, and he must have understood her hesitation. He stepped back and kissed her again.
Then he was gone.
A terrible, crushing weight pushed against her chest. She thought of her dreary life, of her ever-lasting loneliness. She thought of the comfort and security she felt in the stranger’s arms.
“Where is it?” a man yelled from the bedchamber.
Evie picked up her skirts and ran after the masked stranger.
He leaned against the wall, waiting. When he saw her skid to an abrupt halt, his teeth gleamed white in the low lamplight. He held out his hand.
She returned his smile and twined her fingers with his, squeezing tight. As she ran toward an unknown future, Evie heard a clock in the distance chime toward the twelfth hour.
A very happy Christmas, indeed.
A British agent flees her French captor’s torturous dungeon and falls in love with the decoder responsible for her imprisonment.
British agent Cora deBeau has spent the last three years seducing secrets from the most hardened of French spies while searching for her parents’ killer. When her latest assignment goes awry, she suffers at the hands of her French captor until Guy Trevelyan, the Earl of Helsford and master cryptographer, saves her during a daring rescue. Scarred and wary of men, Cora shies away from the one man who could heal her savaged heart.
After rescuing Cora from a French dungeon, Guy discovers it was one of his deciphered messages that led to her captivity. Guy strives to earn her forgiveness while outwitting their enemy. But will he find the scars on her wounded soul run too deep?
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