New York Times bestselling author Amanda Quick returns with a thrilling new venture into romance and mystery, featuring the most unusual, highly compatible--undeniably combustible--pairing of Tobias March and his mesmerizing partner, Lavinia Lake.
An invitation to a country house party at Beaumont Castle provides a perfect solution to Tobias and Lavinia’s most exasperating challenge: how to escape the chaos of London for a remote, relaxing--and above all romantic--retreat from prying eyes and wagging tongues. But the lovers’ plans are foiled when their first cozy interlude of the weekend is disrupted by the appearance of a stunning woman from Tobias’s past. Aspasia Gray’s beauty is as haunting as her connection to Tobias. Her long-deceased fiancé was a friend of his--in addition to being an eccentric assassin. The mysterious nature of the bond between Tobias and Aspasia makes Lavinia more than a little uncomfortable. Especially as her first encounter with Aspasia occurs when she finds her in Tobias’s bedchamber...
It seems Aspasia is seeking protection--and solace--after receiving an ominous message that eerily recalls the past. Suddenly the obstacles standing betweenTobias and Lavinia appear greater than just a little London gossip--and far more deadly.When events at the castle suggest someone is imitating the dead killer’s methods, the team of Lake and March fervently pursue the investigation--and each other--as their leads take them from Society’s most elegant haunts--and most discreet hideaways--to London’s shadiest backstreets. As their relationship heats up, so does the intrigue. Soon Lavinia will have to employ all her talents to flummox the scoundrel who so rudely interrupted her rendezvous. And then she and Tobias can get back to more pleasurable affairs.
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Amanda Quick, a pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz, is a New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of contemporary and historical romances. There are nearly thirty million copies of her books in print, including Seduction, Surrender, Scandal, Rendezvous, Ravished, Reckless, Dangerous, Deception, Desire, Mistress, Mystique, Mischief, Affair, With This Ring, I Thee Wed, and Wicked Widow. She is also the author of Slightly Shady and Don’t Look Back, the first two novels featuring Lavinia Lake and Tobias March. She makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Frank.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The first indication he got that his carefully laid plans for the night were doomed came when he opened his bedchamber door and found Cleopatra standing in the hallway.
“Bloody hell,” he said very softly. “I was expecting Minerva.”
His long-anticipated vision of a night of passion spent in a comfortable bed with his lover and occasional business partner, Lavinia Lake, faded into a hazy mist.
His past had come back to haunt him at a most inconvenient moment.
“Hello, Tobias.” The woman in the hall lowered the green and gilt mask attached to the little gold post in her hand. The cobra diadem that graced her long, elaborately braided black wig gleamed in the light of a nearby wall sconce. Wry amusement lit her dark eyes. “It has been a long time, has it not? May I come in?”
It had, in fact, been three years since he had last seen Aspasia Gray, but she had changed very little. She was still a stunningly beautiful woman with a classical profile that was well-suited to her guise as the queen of Egypt. He knew that her real hair was a deep, rich brown. Her tall, elegantly proportioned figure was displayed to advantage in a pale green gown trimmed with gold embroidery.
The last thing he wanted to do tonight was renew old acquaintances, Tobias March thought. But the sight of Aspasia Gray had definitely shattered the mood. Memories from that very dark time three years ago crashed over him with the force of storm-driven waves.
He collected his wits with an effort and quickly surveyed the darkened hallway behind Aspasia. There was no sign of Lavinia. Maybe, if he acted swiftly, he would be able to rid himself of his unwelcome visitor before his evening was entirely ruined.
“I suppose you’d better come in.” Reluctantly, he stepped back.
“You have not changed, sir,” she murmured. “Still as gracious as ever, I see.”
She entered the firelit room with a soft rustle of silken skirts and a whisper of exotic perfume. He closed the door and turned to face her.
He had not noticed any Cleopatras at the costume ball earlier in the evening, but that was not surprising. Beaumont Castle was a huge, sprawling monstrosity of a house, and tonight it was crammed with people. He had been interested in only one particular guest.
The invitation to the house party had come through the auspices of Lord Vale. Tobias’s first, automatic inclination had been to decline the offer. He had little interest in such affairs. House parties, in particular, struck him as tedious at best, albeit his experience of them was limited.
But then Vale had reminded him of the one singular attraction of a properly organized country-house party.
Yes, there are the lengthy, boring breakfasts and the frivolous conversations and the silly games, but bear in mind this vastly important, highly relevant point: you and Mrs. Lake will each be provided with a private bedchamber. Furthermore, no one will pay the least attention to which of those bedchambers you decide to occupy at night. Indeed, the true objective of a well-planned house party is to provide ample opportunities of that sort.
The reminder of the true nature of a large house party had struck Tobias with the force of a lightning bolt. When Vale, who had no intention of attending the Beaumont affair, graciously offered the use of one of his private carriages for the journey, Tobias had felt himself inspired.
He had been surprised, not to say greatly relieved, when Lavinia agreed to the plan with very little fuss. He suspected that her enthusiasm was generated in large part because she viewed the house party as an excellent opportunity to fish for new business. But he refused to allow that fact to depress his spirits. For the first time in their acquaintance, they would enjoy the luxury of being able to spend the better portion of not one but two entire nights in the cozy warmth and privacy of a real bed.
The prospect had been dazzling. For once there would be no need to sneak about in remote sections of the park or make do with the desk in Lavinia’s little study. For three glorious days he would not be obliged to rely on the benevolent graces of Lavinia’s housekeeper, who could sometimes be persuaded to take herself off to shop for currants when he came to call.
He certainly savored the all-too-brief encounters alone with Lavinia in town, but those occasions—stimulating though they were—tended to be rushed and occasionally nerve-racking. The weather had a nasty habit of delivering rain on afternoons when he chose the park for a tryst, and one never knew when Lavinia’s niece, Emeline, might select an inopportune moment to return home.
There was also the unpredictable nature of the business in which he and Lavinia were engaged. When one offered one’s services to persons who wished to commission private inquiries and investigations, one never knew when a client might knock on the door.
He looked at Aspasia. “What the devil are you doing here? I thought you were in Paris.”
“I am well aware that you have a tendency to be blunt to the point of rudeness on occasion, Tobias. But surely I deserve a warmer welcome from you. It is not as though I am only a casual acquaintance, after all.”
She was right, he thought. The two of them were forever linked by the events of the past and by a dead man named Zachary Elland.
“My apologies,” he said quietly, “but the truth is, you have caught me very much by surprise. I did not see you this afternoon when the other guests descended on the castle, nor did I notice you at the costume ball tonight.”
“I arrived quite late, after the evening festivities had commenced. I saw you at the ball, but you were preoccupied with your little redheaded friend.” Aspasia stripped off her gloves with languid grace and held her hands out to the fire. “Who on earth is she, Tobias? I would not have said that she was your type.”
“Her name is Mrs. Lake.” He did not bother to conceal the edge to his words.
“Ah, I see.” She looked down into the flames. “You are lovers.” It was a statement, not a question.
“We are also business partners,” he said evenly. “On occasion.”
Aspasia glanced at him, fine brows lifted in a faintly quizzical expression. “I do not understand. Do you refer to some financial dealings in which the two of you are engaged?”
“In a manner of speaking. Mrs. Lake and I both make our livings in the same fashion. She takes commissions for private inquiries, just as I do. We investigate certain cases together.”
She smiled fleetingly. “I suppose the private-inquiry business is a step up from being a spy, but surely it is not nearly as respectable as your previous career as a man of business.”
“I find it suits my temperament.”
“I will not ask how your partner made her living before she went into this odd profession.”
Enough was enough, he thought. There were limits to one’s obligations to old acquaintances. “Aspasia, tell me why you are here. I have plans for the remainder of the night.”
“Plans that no doubt include Mrs. Lake.” Aspasia sounded genuinely apologetic. “I truly am sorry, Tobias. Please believe me when I tell you that I would not have come to your bedchamber at this hour had it not been extremely urgent.”
“Can this matter wait until morning?”
“I’m afraid not.” She turned away from the fire and walked slowly toward him.
Aspasia was a woman of the world. He knew that she was well-schooled in the fine social art of concealing her private sentiments and feelings. But now he glimpsed a disturbing shift in the shadows beneath her cool veneer. He had seen that same emotion often enough in others to recognize it instantly. Aspasia Gray was afraid.
“What is wrong?” he asked, somewhat more gently this time.
She sighed. “I did not come here to spend a few days rusticating in the country. As of last night, I had no intention whatsoever of accepting the invitation to Beaumont’s house party. Indeed, I sent my regrets some weeks ago. But things changed. I am here now because I followed you, sir.”
He glanced at his pocket watch lying on the dressing table and saw that it was nearly one o’clock in the morning. The house had settled down for the night. In a few minutes Lavinia would knock on his door. He very much wanted to get rid of Aspasia before that happened.
“Why the devil did you chase all this way after me?” he asked. “It’s a six-hour drive from Town.”
“I had no choice. This morning I went straight to your address in Slate Street but you had already departed. Your man informed me that you had left for Beaumont Castle and would be gone for several days. Fortunately, I remembered that the invitation mentioned the costume ball. I managed to find this wig and a mask at the last minute.”
“You received an invitation to this affair?” he asked, curiosity stirring.
“Yes, of course.” Aspasia brushed that aside. “Lady Beaumont sends invitations to everyone in Society. She delights in entertaining. It has been her passion for years, and Lord Beaumont is only too happy to indulge her.”
Everyone in Society certainly did not include Lavinia or himself, he reflected. They managed to hang around on the fringes of the polite world thanks to connections with some wealthy, powerful former clients such as Vale and Mrs. Dove, but that association did not automatically qualify them to be placed on any hostess’s regular guest list.
Aspasia’s pedigree, on the other hand, was impeccable. She was the last of her...
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