Fiona Ferguson and her twin sister Mairead are missing. Sisters of an alleged traitor, they have been cast out by their noble grandfather, who believes their brother's reputation will taint them. Furious at the old man's behavior, Drake's Rakes Alex Knight and Chuffy Wilde set out to find the sisters.
What Alex and Chuffy don't know is that they are also leading agents for the traitorous cabal The Lions right to the women. Caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse, the sisters and their rescuers are forced farther and farther into the slums of London to escape not only the Lions, but Minette Ferrar, a notorious assassin looking to revenge herself on Ian Ferguson by killing his sisters. What Fiona Ferguson cannot escape, though, is the dawning realization that she is falling in love with Alex Knight, who is burdened with secrets that pose the most danger of all.
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He arched an eyebrow. “Lord Whitmore again? Please, Fiona. Don't do that to me. When I hear Lord Whitmore, I think of my uncle, who had six fingers and thought bathing was a trick of the devil.”
She giggled. “I can understand your wanting to maintain the distinction.”
“Every time you call me Lord Whitmore, I will call you Eloise.”
She glared at him, the curtains clutched to her chest like bedclothes, as if she were a maiden in threat of seduction. “You wouldn't.”
He shrugged. “It is your name. Lady Eloise Fiona Ferguson Hawes.”
“No one knows,” she hissed.
He leaned in very close. “I do.”
She reared back and almost tipping the ladder again. “That is patently unfair.”
He shrugged and reached up for the curtains. “All is fair in love and safety.”
She refused to budge. “I do not believe that is precisely the quote.”
Grinning, he put his foot on the second rung, just beneath her. “Close enough.”
And then he made the mistake of looking into her eyes. Her blue, blue eyes that were suddenly black with arousal. He heard the sharp intake of her breath and saw the erratic pulse beating at the base of her long white throat.
His own body reacted just as it had every time he'd gotten close to her. He focused in on her, his grip on her tightening. Still she didn't move, caught in the circle of his free arm, her hip pressed against his chest, her mouth just above his. All he had to do was climb another rung, and he could satisfy a four-year-old craving.
His heart was galloping suddenly, and he could feel a bead of sweat roll down his back. He could see a glow on her forehead, her upper lip. Her eyes widened, as if she could read his thoughts, and he could scent something new. Arousal. Need. Hunger. His own body was shaking with it. He swore his cock had taken on a life of its own, and his brain simply shut down.
He leaned a bit closer, his foot still on the step beneath her and paused, giving her a chance to escape, to clout him in the head if necessary. She didn't. She watched him the way prey might a raptor, unsure and wary. He didn't blame her. He wasn't certain how much control he had over himself. It had been so long since he'd had a woman. So much longer since he'd really liked the one he had.
Slowly, so he didn't startle her into tipping the ladder, he rose up and set his other foot on the rung. She was frozen in place, one hand fisted around the blood-deep velvet, the other clenched against the ladder, as if she was still uncertain whether to use it.
She didn't. She inhaled, her mouth opening just a bit, as if there wasn't enough air. As if she were struggling to stay afloat.
Sink, Alex wanted to say as he lifted himself face-to-face with her, mouth-to-mouth. Sink into me.
“I knew it!” a voice screeched behind him, shattering the moment. “What did I tell you about lettin' them jackanapes in here?
Fiona reared back, as if he'd attacked her, again throwing the ladder off balance. Alex instinctively pulled back to stabilize them. He pulled back too far and the ladder tipped.
There was a lot of yelling and a couple of muffled thuds as Alex landed on his back, cushioning Fiona's fall. He wasn’t so lucky.
“Are you all right?” Fiona asked immediately, leaning over him.
“Serves him right,” the housekeeper snapped from the doorway.
He had hit his head so hard he was seeing stars. But he was smelling cinnamon and Fiona, so he really couldn't complain
“That is enough, Mrs. Quick,” he heard. “Alex? Your eyes are open. Can you hear me?”
Rather than admit that he was too distracted by the plump pressure of her breast against his chest to answer, he simply closed his eyes and groaned. The act would have been unworthy of him if his head weren't pounding and his arse aching from hard contact with the floor
“Mrs. Quick,” she was saying, her hand on his cheek. “See if Mr. Clemson is outside. Send him for the doctor.”
He knew his injuries didn't merit such concern. “No doctor.” He blinked a couple of times until the multiple Fionas resolved into one. “I'll live. My head is a bit bruised is all.”
In retaliation, she took away both her hand and breast, which almost set Alex to groaning again. She actually smacked him on the arm. “Then don't frighten me like that....again.”
“Don't know why you let him in here at all,” came the grumble from the doorway.
Untangling them both from the curtains, Fiona sat up. “Thank you, Mrs. Quick. I think we're all right now.”
“Ya think that, do ya?”
Fiona gave her the kind of glare that betrayed her aristocratic heritage. The housekeeper, still grumbling, clasped her hands in a parody of good servile behavior and stalked off down the hall.
Fiona looked back down to where Alex lay, and he could see the cost of the last tumble on her face. He should have been outraged. He was lying in a nest of curtains with a fresh headache and the humiliation of his fall, and she was...laughing.
She tried so hard not to. She held her hand to her mouth. She shook her head. He could see her shoulders heave. He would have chastised her, except the minute he opened his mouth, he burst out laughing, too.
“You are not very beneficial to my amour propre,” he wheezed up at her.
She couldn't stop laughing, full-throated, full-bellied, as if too much suppressed laughter had simply spilled over. “I...I....didn't...”
“Mean it,” he managed, making it up as far as sitting beside her. “Yes, I know.”
She frantically shook her head. “Think anything could be so...funny!” She was gasping, bent over her hands at her waist. “The look on your face!”
He had meant to get up, to reassert his mastery of the situation. He refused to sacrifice this perfect moment with her on the floor. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, he wiped at the tears that coursed down her cheeks.
“It's not that funny,” he groused.
She started laughing again. “Oh, yes it is. You can have no idea of how long it's been since I had the chance to laugh. Since I last saw your sister, I think.”
He had to grin. “Well, yes. Pip would set anybody to laughing. She's a ridiculous little thing.”
For that he got a resounding smack on his chest. “Do not dare speak ill of my best friend.” She hiccuped, her eyes widening a bit. “My only friend, actually. Except for Sarah and Lizzie. And now that Sarah is married to my brother, I have no idea at all how we will meet again.”
There was the faintest plaintive note in her voice that made Alex want to curl her completely into his arms and shield her from hurt. Dear God, how lonely she must have been. “I promise,” he said instead. “I fully respect my sister's loyalty. It's her good sense I frequently question.”
Her breathing was evening out. She nodded. “Pip does have a knack for acting before thinking.”
“She's like a whirlwind.”
“She needs to finally capture her Beau,” Fiona said with a definite nod. “That would settle her down.”
Alex snorted. “Poor Beau. He'd never have another moment's peace.”
And for a long moment, they just sat there in a pool of sunlight and velvet, his arm around her and her head on his shoulder. It felt so good. So whole.
It couldn't last. If he didn't move, he'd damn well take her here on the floor. He opened his mouth to tell her, and then made the mistake of meeting her gaze again.
Her lips were still parted, but she wasn't laughing anymore. He could see the pulse jumping at her throat, and her hands were clenched again, as if she were trying hard to keep them to herself.
He didn't know why. Lifting his own hand, he cupped her cheek. Again he gave her the chance to pull away. Again she didn't. His own heart started to skip around. He was rock hard. There was no longer a question. He had to kiss her.
New York Times best-selling author Eileen Dreyer has won five RITA Awards from the Romance Writers of America, which secures her fourth place in the Romance Writers of America prestigious Hall of Fame. Eileen is an addicted traveler, having sung in some of the best Irish pubs in the world. Eileen also writes as Kathleen Korbel and has over three million books in print worldwide. Born and raised in Missouri, she lives in St. Louis County with her husband Rick and her two children.
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