An unexpected passion ignites as secrets are exposed in Sophie Barnes's captivating Regency-set romance...Despite the diversions offered at Thorncliff Manor, former spy James, the Earl of Woodford, has one purpose in staying there. He must find an encoded book that exposes a conspiracy within the British aristocracy. And he must do so without revealing his purpose to the clever, tempting Chloe Heartly. The lady has a knack for appearing wherever it is least convenient. In the library. In the salon. And, especially, in his arms...Somewhere within Thorncliff's labyrinth of rooms lies the journal Chloe desperately seeks. When she realizes the brooding, handsome earl is hunting the same quarry, Chloe enters into an uneasy partnership. But in the face of public danger and enemies hiding in plain sight, both must decide how much they're willing to risk to solve the mysteries of the heart.
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Chloe shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand and saw a carriage approaching. It bore no crest and was drawn by four magnificent black horses, their tails whipping the air as they plodded along in perfect unison. “I wonder who it can be.”
“Someone important, I’d imagine,” Fiona said. “See those markings on the wheels? That’s a Robertson carriage—one of the most expensive there is.”
Stepping aside, they watched as the carriage rolled past them, allowing a brief glimpse of the two men within. One was older and appeared to be extremely well groomed and stylish while the other . . . Chloe’s heart took flight, skipping along as she met his dark and brooding gaze. He was a young man in his prime, with unfashionably long hair falling across his brow and temple where it blended with the shadow darkening the edge of his jaw. Politely, he dipped his head in greeting as the carriage continued along the road, but his mouth was uninclined to hazard a smile and his eyes remained sober.
Chloe watched as the carriage disappeared around a bend up ahead. A breeze licked between her shoulder blades and she realized that she’d allowed her shawl to slip. Repositioning it, she pulled it tight against the breeze and recommenced walking.
“Who was that?” Fiona asked almost immediately. “Did you recognize either of them?”
“One of them—the older gentleman, that is—is the Marquess of Hainsworth. I had the pleasure of sitting next to him a few years ago when Newbury and I were invited to visit the Duke and Duchess of Pinehurst for dinner. He was most agreeable—both interesting and amusing.” She frowned at the recollection. Newbury had thought her too welcoming of Hainsworth’s company. He’d glared at her continuously from across the table.
“What about the other gentleman?” Fiona asked, forcing Chloe back to the present. “Might he be Hainsworth’s son?”
“No. Hainsworth has no children.” Slanting a look in her sister’s direction, Chloe nudged her gently with her shoulder. “I hope you’re not contemplating your prospects already, Fiona. With our other sisters still unwed you’re not in any hurry to—”
“Don’t be silly,” Fiona said as she nudged Chloe back, making her stumble. “I am not contemplating marriage or anything that might lead to it.”
“I’m relieved to hear that,” Chloe told her. “It’s terribly important for you take your time with such a . . . permanent decision.”
“I know,” Fiona murmured, her brow creasing in a frown that looked misplaced upon her otherwise smooth forehead. As if discomforted by it, Fiona suddenly smiled, erasing all traces of any concern. “But I am curious, you know. I always have been.”
Chloe allowed a faint smile. “Well, in this instance I’m sure that your questions will likely be answered. As soon as we return to Thorncliff you may inquire about Hainsworth’s companion from the butler.”
Fiona’s eyes glowed like a pair of pearls caught in a ray of sunshine. “Then let’s return quickly so that this mystery may be solved.” Her steps quickened, forcing Chloe to hurry after her.
“Honestly, Fiona, I don’t understand the urgency. He’s either going to be a peer or gentry, neither of which is likely to be of interest to you since you’re not in the market for a husband.”
“If it makes any sense, I simply cannot stand the not knowing.”
Born in Denmark, Sophie Barnes spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She's lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish, and Romanian. But, most impressive of all, she's been married to the same man three times—in three different countries and in three different dresses.
When she's not busy dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading.
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