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Authors: Summer Devon

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Powder of Love (I)

BOOK: Powder of Love (I)
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Powder of Love



Summer Devon


Powder of Love

Copyright © March 2011 by Summer Devon

All rights reserved. This copy is intended for the original purchaser of this e-book ONLY. No part of this e-book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without prior written permission from Loose Id LLC. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

eISBN 978-1-60737-957-7

Editor: Sandra Rychel

Cover Artist: Anne Cain

Printed in the United States of America

Published by

Loose Id LLC

PO Box 425960

San Francisco CA 94142-5960

This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


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Chapter One


New York, 1880

The lawyer stood in Rosalie’s library, twittering with agitation. Mr. Dorsey rocked—heel, toe, heel, toe—as he handed her a velvet-lined leather case containing an emerald-and-diamond necklace and earrings. “I wanted to give you the two most valuable objects from your cousin’s estate. The rest of the jewels were entailed. These emeralds belonged to Lord Williamsford’s mother.

“And then there’s this.” He laid the other object—a box—on her desk and gave it a look of loathing as he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. He wiped his hands thoroughly, and at last settled into the leather chair at the other side of the desk.

Rosalie tossed the emeralds’ case onto the desk and reached for the box. She stroked the red-tinted, gleaming wood.

Mr. Dorsey squeaked and coughed. “You must take care when you handle that, Miss Ambermere.”

“Oh. Why?” Her forefinger traced circles over the plain lid.

He twisted the end of his gray mustache and looked unhappy. “Your cousin…” His voice faltered, and he twisted some more.

Rosalie remained patient. Mr. Dorsey was like a pop-eyed, anxious creature that had to be coaxed rather than bullied. She picked up the box, which was surprisingly heavy for its size. “Mr. Dorsey, I understand your reluctance to speak ill of the dead, but if you have something important to tell me, please do. I won’t take offense if you say something unpleasant about my cousin.”

“Miss Ambermere, I-I can only say I didn’t trust Lord Williamsford.”

“Indeed, I’m glad to hear that. Neither did I.” She stroked the little box again and was seized by the urge to rub her cheek against the sleek wood.

He coughed again. “Therefore, it might be best if you take one of the two very generous offers I have received for that particular item. Immediately.” He pointed at it, and she swore his finger trembled. “I don’t think you ought to handle this box unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

She rested it on her lap. “What does it contain?”

He cleared his throat and pinched the bridge of his nose. It might have been a response to the pollen in the air, but more likely Mr. D. was trying to think of new euphemisms with which to confuse her.

“I do need to understand what I have inherited,” she said gently.

Mr. Dorsey frowned at the box. “The late lord, your cousin, though he had a very pleasant demeanor, I’m afraid he was not entirely a gentleman.”

Rosalie’s mouth twitched, but she managed to hold back laughter.

Cousin Johnny, her father's heir, had been thoroughly wicked. A man with too much time on his hands, he’d taken up the art of seduction as full-time employment. He had a dreadful reputation, which was precisely why she had sought him out. Her visits to him had formed part of her campaign to force her father to banish her from England so she could return to the States and her mother.

Rosalie’d been smart enough to bring a maid and two footmen when she went to call on her cousin. During their meetings, he’d made several efforts to get under her skirts, but when she said no and refused to remain alone in the room with him, he didn’t hold a grudge.

You’re the only good gel I know. And the only family member to acknowledge me
,” he’d announced.

No wonder he had been shunned. For no matter how polite the conversation at the start of the visit, the subject had always shifted to his favorite topic. Rosalie supposed she was ultimately grateful for the information she would not have got elsewhere—at least not in such detail.

As she looked down at the curious little box, she realized she’d miss Johnny, the rogue, shot through the heart by an enraged husband.

The dark wood object, the size of a small cigar box, seemed to beckon her, and she began to pry off its lid.

“No!” Mr. Dorsey, that man of inaction, sprang from his chair.

She stopped at once. “Gracious, sir, I promise not to faint at the sight of one of his strange little objects.”

“It’s far worse than an offensive object. I made the mistake of opening that box, and even the slight effect…” He shuddered. “Inside that box is another wooden container. And inside that container is a small horn of a substance the texture of salt. And just a grain of that…” He sank back into his chair, pale and staring as if recalling some frightening memory. “It is unseemly for any woman. Or any man, for that matter.”

She ran a finger along the seam of the box and decided not to open it—yet. But she had trouble keeping her hands away from the pleasing, shiny surface.

Rosalie shifted sideways on her chair and wished she hadn’t had her corset drawn so tight. “Mr. Dorsey, I won’t know what I should do with this thing unless you tell me exactly what it is.”

“Do you know the word ‘aphrodisiac’?” he asked hoarsely.

She nodded. Though she wasn’t entirely certain of the meaning, she knew it had to do with sexual congress and desire.

His glazed expression softened with relief—obviously he hadn’t wanted to have to explain. “It is a true, ah, one of those. I wish I had been dishonest enough to keep it from you, but I knew it would bring you a good deal of money. I-I didn’t want to deprive you of your cousin’s most valuable asset, and I also did not want to…to succumb to its allure.”

She looked at the slight, balding man with his potbelly, oversize ears, and perpetually wrinkled forehead that gave him the worried expression of a well-fed pug. Mr. D., succumbing to allure?

“Oh,” was all she could think to say. She tapped the box with her fingertips and liked the small click her nails made on the surface. “You think I should sell this? But if it’s so dangerous, perhaps it should not be in anyone’s hands.”

He nodded miserably. “Yes, I have thought of that as well, but I didn’t—I don’t—I must say, I trust your judgment in the matter, my dear Miss Ambermere.”

He wanted to be rid of the object and didn’t want to be responsible for its destruction or its sale. She was quite fond of Mr. D., but no one would call him resolute. She’d learned that long ago; she’d watched him interact with her father, the bad-tempered bear.

When she had inherited the unentailed portion of her father’s estate two years earlier, she’d immediately engaged Mr. D. as her American man of business because she’d had enough of men telling her what to do, and compared to most men, he was as meek as a chambermaid.

His lack of advice was the consequence of her choice.

Very well, she would cope with the strange object on her own and probably without much more information, since she guessed no gentleman would discuss the matter with a female. Johnny’s collection wouldn’t be mentioned in mixed company.

“Tell me, what happened when you opened it?” she asked.

He turned deep red. Sure enough, he said, “No. Suffice it to say it should be opened by no one. Sell it, Miss Ambermere. Be rid of it.”

She smoothed her fingers over the box. “You say two people wish to buy it? Who are they?”

“They are Walter Clermont and Gideon Reed.”

Odd that her heart sank as if she’d heard bad news. She put a hand to her mouth. “Ah. So that is why they visited me.”

He raised his bushy gray brows. “You know the gentlemen? They called upon you at the same time?”

“Yes, a couple of days ago. When they came to call, Mr. Clermont told Beels that we’d been introduced at a country house in England.” She wrinkled her nose. “To be honest, I don’t recollect meeting him there.”

“Oh dear.” His foot waggled—hard.

“No need to worry, Mr. Dorsey. He was pleasant enough.” That was not exactly true, but she didn’t need her lawyer to lecture her that she shouldn’t let strange young men into her parlor. She had a companion to remind her of that.

“What did you think of the gentleman? Mr. Clermont, I mean.” The lawyer shifted, and now his foot tapped the floor. Heel, toe, heel, toe. “What I mean is, ah, did you find him interesting?”

“Not particularly.”

Mr. D.’s shoulders seemed to relax, and the noise stopped. “I hear he’s a favorite with the ladies.”

“I’m not surprised. He was…flirtatious.”

She had spotted him as a flirt the minute Mr. Clermont had bent to kiss her hand and then showed her the slow, practiced smile of a man who was certain of his own appeal. He’d worn a yellow waistcoat and a bright blue, slightly military-cut jacket. With his blond hair, yellow trousers, and spats, he’d reminded her of an elegant bird.

Mr. Clermont and Mr. Reed—day and night.

Clermont had introduced Reed as “
my traveling companion
.” Mr. Reed might have been his opposite, and not only because he had dark hair and eyes and was tall and solid, while Clermont was pale, slender, and willowy.

Mr. Reed had been dressed in a plain, dull tweed suit and rarely uttered a word. All the charm and vivaciousness in the pair belonged to Mr. Clermont. Mr. Reed didn’t snarl, but he didn’t bother to make conversation. Tall, dark, and impassive. Drat the man for having any sort of effect on her. But oh, how many times her gaze had returned to his solid form.

Recalling him now, Rosalie wondered what had drawn her eye and decided he’d seemed more concentrated than most of the gentlemen she met. Concentrated what, though? Masculinity. From his unruly hair to his unfashionable boots, he contained pure male essence. And those hands…

She sat in her chair across from Mr. D. and thought about Mr. Reed’s hands touching hers. Young unmarried ladies generally did not offer to shake, but Miss Ambermere had wanted to make sure these men understood she was no retiring violet. And she received a handshake that had shaken her to the core.

Mr. Reed had worn no gloves, and since she hadn’t been expecting visitors, neither had she. When they grasped hands in greeting, his naked fingers had touched hers, creating an unfamiliar, unexpected prickling. Palm slid against warm, dry palm.

At the time, Rosalie had actually shivered. She’d looked into his face, expecting a smirk at her response, and instead saw an echo of her own emotion—a flash of surprise followed by a trace of annoyance and confusion.

A simple, formal greeting, lasting no more than three seconds.

But now she relived it, wondered how it would have felt if he’d let go of her hand and touched her face, brushed his fingers over her mouth, as she did now, allowing her fingertips to feel the shape of her cheeks. And if he’d inserted the end of his finger into her mouth so she might taste—

“Miss Ambermere. Are you all right?”

She smiled brightly and tried to recall what Mr. Dorsey and she were discussing. Of course. He’d told her why the two gentlemen had visited her.

The strange box, not her after all. She licked her lips. “When you say Mr. Clermont and Mr. Reed are making offers, plural, you mean they aren’t working together?”

He nodded. “I hadn’t known they were acquainted until you told me. They approached me separately. Reed came to see me yesterday. With two separate buyers, perhaps some sort of auction might be best?”

“Very odd.” Perhaps that explained their unlikely companionship. Neither wanted to allow the other more access to her, or rather her cousin’s possessions. “I wonder why they did not mention what they wanted from me…”

She suddenly remembered that during their visit, Mr. Clermont had retired to use the facilities and had been absent a very long time. In fact, after several minutes of sitting in silence with Rosalie and her companion, Miss Renshaw, Mr. Reed had jumped up and gone after him, mumbling something about making certain Clermont was all right.

They seem very amiable gentlemen, but odd
,” Miss Renshaw had remarked faintly. Her instincts had been on the mark, as usual.

“Oh no. When Mr. Clermont left the room and was gone so long…he must have been hunting for the box,” Rosalie said now, but Mr. D. wasn’t listening.

He twisted his mustache end. The right side was definitely tighter than the left, giving his face a lopsided, startled look. “Miss Ambermere, perhaps an auction would be too drawn out and you ought to dispose of the thing as soon as possible.”

She frowned down at the rich, smooth wood. “I’m not sure. If it is such a strange weapon, I shouldn’t sell it to anyone, except perhaps to a physician.” But she wasn’t thinking of the box, only of one of its potential buyers.

So strange that disappointment was her first response to finding out the real reason for Mr. Reed’s visit had nothing to do with her after all.

She saw his large hands holding the dainty white-and-blue china cup and saucer. His hand clasping hers, palm to palm, no gloves. Oh heavens. His fingers, knuckles. His powerful-looking wrists and the glimpse of hair. Could that hair cover much of his body? His throat and face had been bare, with only a shadow of a dark beard.

Impatience irritated her and didn’t just affect her mind. She could have sworn her bustle chafed the skin of her lower back—unlikely through the layers of corset and chemise. If only she could rip off some of the clothes. Run upstairs and put on her favorite nightdress. Feel nothing but silk against her flesh—

“Miss Ambermere, are you unwell? Dear me. Did you put your hands to your face after touching the box?”

She tried to draw a deep breath and didn’t succeed. “Is the substance that potent?”

“I wish I knew, but I haven’t attempted to locate a doctor. Perhaps you should consult an expert. If you can locate one.” He twiddled his mustache a few more moments, then pushed himself up from the chair.

For a moment he stood, rocking; then Mr. D. gave her a nervous glance and made a show of taking a watch from his waistcoat. “Gracious, look at the time. Miss Ambermere, I must be on my way. No, no time for tea. I thank you.”

He rocked harder, then said, “Please lock the jewels and the box up, my dear. Keep them safe and away from…people. And sell that box and its powder as soon as possible. I’m having your cousin’s other valuable items delivered this afternoon. Several crates. But I wanted to give you these personally.”

He looked down at the box and put his hands behind his back, as if resisting touching it one last time. With a bow, he declared he’d see himself out, but she walked with him to the door. After bidding him good-bye, she washed her hands.

BOOK: Powder of Love (I)
12.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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