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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK
IMPRINT: Erotic Romance
Copyright © 2009 by Emma Wildes
E-book ISBN: 1-60601-396-3
First E-book Publication: January 2009
Cover design by Jinger Heaston
All cover art and logo copyright © 2009 by Siren Publishing, Inc.
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This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Siren Publishing, Inc.
Copyright © 2009
“Our own charming Leon a spy. Can you believe it, Countess?”
Madame Vichy flicked her fan shut, her small dark eyes bright, leaning forward. “Why, everyone is so very shocked, the ballroom is abuzz. He is such a gentleman, such a loyal subject of France…or so we all thought.”
It was true. One of the guests had arrived and announced that Leon Medes, a respected banker and youngest son of a wealthy nobleman, had been arrested earlier that day. He was apparently charged with espionage against his own country, and the entire mansion hummed with whispers.
“Many people are not as they seem,” Lara Moore, Countess Edgerton, murmured, moving her fan languidly. “Goodness but it is warm in here. Please excuse me. I must get some air.”
Edging through the throng and gaining the open terrace doors, she slipped outside. Her hands shook and her stomach felt as if someone had knotted it into a tight ball. Taking a deep breath, she fought to regain her composure.
Above her, the sky was a black velvet blanket sprinkled with tiny diamonds, the summer air like fine wine, warm and smooth. Walking over to the balustrade, she leaned against it for support and reminded
herself sharply that falling apart at this particular moment was the last thing she needed to do.
“Are you quite well, Lady Edgerton?”
The sound of the familiar, smooth male voice made her straighten and turn to summon a polite smile with supreme effort. A few paces away, she saw a man in impeccable evening clothes, the diamond winking in his snowy cravat a match for the glittering stars above. His eyes were very dark, as was his hair, and that coupled with the insufficient light gave him an almost supernatural air. Lara said, “Good evening, Monsieur de Comte. I was not aware you were in attendance. I…yes, I am well enough. It is just a bit warm in the ballroom.”
Of all people,
she thought with an inward frisson of dismay.
Anton Garcin, Comte de Roussel, smiled, his teeth gleaming white. “Ah, yes, the excitement over Medes’ arrest has raised the temperature inside, hasn’t it? How unfortunate for his family. I imagine he will be hanged quickly. The emperor is not fond of spies.
As an Englishwoman living in Paris, you must have mixed feelings.
After all, he was passing information to your government.”
She fought a shiver that fingered her spine, yet Lara somehow kept her smile in place. “We were not well-acquainted, but it does seem a shame.”
“I am sure you think it a very great shame.”
There was something in his voice she didn’t like; a lilt of subtle sarcasm.
“Whenever someone loses their life, even if they deem it a worthy cause, it is a tragedy.”
“Now, Countess, you must do better than that.” As he stepped closer, he arched a brow, the words said softly. “Even out here in the shadows, I can see the panic in your eyes. And I think,”—reaching out, he grasped her arm,—“yes, as I suspected, your pulse is racing.”
All Lara could do was stare up at him, his long fingers firm and unrelenting around her wrist. Roussel was one of those too attractive
men she always avoided—tall, dark, and athletic, the impressive lineage of his aristocratic family exceeded only by his vast fortune.
In her experience, the handsome
always had a willing female on his arm, and the facile charm of his smile could summon more at any moment.
It did her reputation as a cool, aloof widow no favors to be seen in the company of a known womanizer. She had made it a point to keep their previous social encounters brief and polite, always finding an excuse to end their conversation. He had pursued her for a while after her arrival in Paris, but then seemed to understand she did not wish further acquaintance.
“M...monsieur,” she stammered. “I appreciate your concern, but I think perhaps I should go back inside.”
He made no move to let her go and the masculine scent of his cologne mingled with the fragrance of the roses in the gardens below the terrace. “You do not appreciate my concern at all, I venture to guess. Tell me, Lady Edgerton, what will you now do with the paper you were supposed to give to Leon Medes this evening?”
Lara felt the blood drain from her face, but she said sharply, “Comte, I do not know what you are talking about and I would appreciate it if you would release me.”
Instead of complying, he moved even closer, looming over her and she had to tilt her head back to look up into his face. Without warning, he slid one long-fingered hand into her low-cut bodice, his touch deft as he explored her breasts, ignoring her gasp of outrage. He found the piece of vellum with ease, and pulled it free. “An unoriginal storage place,” he said dryly, “but absolutely delightful. I will keep this.”
Her mind whirled, a sudden dizzying sense of her own danger making her feel almost weak as she watched him slip the note into his pocket. “I—”
“You, what?” he asked pleasantly. “Please don’t try to tell me that was your list for the dressmakers or a thank you missive penned for a
gift. I know you are an intelligent woman. That is one of the many things I admire about you. You must realize I have suspected for quite some time that you were aiding Medes and his colleagues. You came to France for just that purpose. And were an excellent choice if I may say so. A beautiful, young widow, cultured and well educated, charming but distant. I imagine you haven’t taken a lover during your sojourn here because of your covert activities. It would be unfortunate if someone got close enough to grow suspicious, would it not?”
During his speech, Lara felt the noose being adjusted around her neck. Being caught was always a possibility. She had known that when she embarked on this mission. It was a stark reality now.
He went on relentlessly, “And I fear I am not the only one.
Jacques Lacroux is speculating openly now that Medes is in custody, and your name has come up. Surely you know how dangerous he is?”
. Fighting the urge to swallow, she asked quietly, “What will you do?” Comte de Roussel was powerful and well regarded by Bonaparte, and as far as she knew, a loyal Frenchman.
The man holding her smiled then, that infamous seductive smile that usually made every woman in sight melt. “My carriage is waiting.
We will go inside and make our excuses to our hostess, saying you are unwell, and that I am escorting you home.”
At twenty-four, she was not an innocent young girl anymore and the look in his eyes was unmistakable. She had seen men look at her with that same gleam often enough to recognize it. “But I take it I will not be going home, after all, will I, monsieur?” she asked coolly. “It is easy enough to guess the price of your silence. Tell me, how are you better than Lacroux?”
In the shadowed light, she thought the
mouth tightened a fraction, but he merely said, “Perhaps you should consider, madame, that being under my protection will make you infinitely less vulnerable. I am Roussel and I have a great deal of influence.”
Gazing up into his starkly handsome face, she knew without a doubt he was perfectly correct. However, she disliked being coerced and he was giving her absolutely no choice.
How many women would rather hang than sleep with a darkly attractive man?
“You could have any woman in France,” she said without inflection. “Why are you doing this?”
“My motives are…complicated. Shall we go?”
The woman sitting across from him was a little flushed, but otherwise she wore her typical expression of serene self-possession.
Long dark hair, so glossy and thick, was gathered in an intricate, heavy knot at her nape, her fashionable blue gown designed to show off the opulence of her breasts and narrowness of her slender waist.
Her features were delicately lovely—ebony brows gracefully arched above long-lashed dark blue eyes, her cheekbones were high, and her mouth was pink and invitingly soft.
Everything about Lara Moore was intensely feminine and infinitely alluring. She would be passionate in bed, Anton mused as he overtly studied her. He knew women and under that cool exterior, there was hidden fire. He hardened simply thinking about the night ahead, his groin tightening.
He was very tired of wanting her and being thwarted in all the avenues of proper pursuit.
The carriage rocked, going around a corner, and minutes later, they alighted, the entire journey having been made without a word.
The Hotel de Roussel was well lit, an enormous grand residence with many wings. Escorting her up the steps and inside, he saw her take in the delicately hand-painted ceilings in the vast main hall, her gaze traveling over the mosaic floor to the huge curving double staircase.
Her mouth curved. “Do tell me,” Lady Edgerton said with cynical amusement, “that you do not live here all alone.”
“I have a set of apartments, as do other members of my family, but most of my relatives are currently at our country chateau to avoid the summer heat. Please, I’ll have one of the servants take you upstairs.”
“Where no doubt you’ll be joining me.” There was a glimmer of resentment in her tone, her beautiful eyes veiled by those lush lashes.
“No doubt,” Anton agreed smoothly. Giving instructions to one of the footmen, he also ordered wine to be brought to his bedroom, and anything else the lady might require.
A young maid came to take his guest upstairs and he watched her go before heading down the hall to his study. Once there, he took out the note she had been carrying, breaking the seal and seeing it was a list of names, all wealthy men who contributed money to the republican cause. Carefully burning the slip, he waited until he saw it curl and crisp in the hearth, before he left the room.
“Little fool,” he muttered to himself as he climbed the stairs.
There wasn’t a man on the list who didn’t have a great deal to lose, and by virtue of just possessing it, she was in grave danger. Not to mention that Lacroux was a vicious man, an agent of the emperor who had an enmity for all women, his aberrant interest in the lovely countess remarked more than once in the high circles of society. If it had been Lacroux and not himself who had caught her with the list, she would be on trial in days.