Authors: Dorothy McFalls
|Taken by Moonlight|
|Barking Dog Press (2012)|
A restless Regency lady who is the only hope for a pack of werewolves. A mysterious gentleman with a deadly plan. A stolen kiss leads to a decision that might get them both killed when passions burn brighter than moonlight.
In memory of Abu.
Sometimes I wondered if you were a wolf in pup’s clothing. Despite the challenges we faced together, you were a damn good dog. Thank you for sixteen years of unconditional love. Run free, my sweet pup, run free.
“Is that her?” Vlad Kaverin demanded, his voice brisk, imposing, as if he expected the world to bow at his feet. The large man flexed his oversized muscles, straining the seams of his superfine jacket as he took several steps across the highly polished ballroom to stand with his hands on his hips directly beneath a brightly lit chandelier.
“Could you keep your voice down to a low growl?” Dimitri shouldered the Russian back into the shadows. Vlad hadn’t stopped snarling since they’d arrived. The sight of his sour expression alone would no doubt send half the gently bred ladies present at the ball tonight into a fit of vapors. Vlad, who was built like a rugged dock worker with his large hands and wide, muscular body, clearly didn’t fit in with the bon ton crowding the ballroom that night.
Neither could Dimitri claim to be one of England’s elite, for that matter. But he’d lived with the humans long enough to know how to fake his way through high society. “Were supposed to keep a low profile,” Dimitri whispered to his pack’s alpha.
“Don’t tell me what to do. Just answer my question. Are you sure it’s her?” Vlad’s low growl warned that just how close the alpha was to attacking, which wasn’t wise. Quick, deadly movements might work when hunting in some deep, dark wood, but success in the ballroom required a predator’s ability to bide his time, carefully luring the prey to come to him.
“Yes, I am certain,” Dimitri said with a sigh.
That was all he planned to say about the lady in question. He’d barely moved his lips even. And he certainly didn’t budge from where he stood leaning against a marble column in the Duke of Duncaster’s ballroom.
Dimitri watched with a slow, deceptively bored gaze as Lady Amelia Routledge allowed herself to be led out to the dance floor on the arm of yet another popinjay. Earlier in the evening he had taken his turn. Her sun-streaked light brown hair sparkled like diamonds threaded through silk as she passed under the gilded chandelier hanging high above them.
“Well, I don’t know,” Vlad growled. “She looks nothing like Sasha or Lev.”
“It’s her.” Dimitri had watched the graceful creature over the past year. Had even been close enough to smell the scent of their pack on her skin.
Keeping tabs on her the month she’d spent at her family’s country estate in the far northern reaches of England had proven difficult, but for Dimitri, stealth came as naturally as breathing.
“Well, then, if that’s the case, I should bed her immediately,” Vlad said.
Dimitri dug his nails into his fisted hands until he felt his own blood stain his white gloves. “Naturally, I bow to your authority.”
Lady Amelia wore a muslin gown that reminded him of a summer-blue sky. It matched her sparkling blue eyes. Her ripe young breasts pressed against the delicate fabric as if begging for a man’s touch. Her full, heart-shaped lips formed a natural pout. Lips like those could keep a man edgy all night long. And her long legs… Dimitri could imagine only too vividly how they’d feel wrapped around his hips.
He blew out a ragged breath. He’d spent countless days dreaming of the beautiful lady. Everything about her called to his baser, wilder instincts, and a few possessive ones he hadn’t realized existed. He sure as hell didn’t want Vlad anywhere near her, an innocent and delicate lady of the realm. So he pushed that image out of his mind. Instead, he watched as Lady Amelia danced with another gentleman.
Pale and as lovely as the moon, she reminded him of finely spun glass. Precious and extremely breakable. She was no doubt the kind of empty-headed young lady who would be easy to get along with, a trait prized in the ballrooms of London. She’d make an ideal wife to any one of the gentlemen present tonight.
Which was most, most unfortunate.
The lady was a beautiful flower, a diamond of the first water. Beautiful and useless. Once the pack got their hands on her, he couldn’t imagine anything but disaster in Lady Amelia’s future. And it troubled him more than he liked.
What the hell had the humans done to the offspring of two of the world’s most powerful wolves?
The pack’s future rested in her hands? Her helpless hands? Well then, that was it. They were already doomed.
Vlad and his pack were going to eat her alive.
* * * * *
m such a fraud.
Lady Amelia Routledge—Lia to her friends—danced the quadrille as if she were a clever automaton, smiling sweetly at all the appropriate places, but just going through the motions. She had loving parents, a generous dowry, and every advantage a young lady could hope to have. And yet, she selfishly wanted more—
It wasn’t baubles or diamonds or anything so garish, nothing that could be bought that she craved. Nor friends or admirers. She had no shortage of either. Her parents, the Earl of Hawthorn, the renowned diplomat and his countess, loved her and doted on their only child as if the sun rose and set just for her. Because of them, she never wanted for anything. She considered herself the most fortunate lady in London.
And yet, something was missing from her life. An emptiness burned in her chest. Her mind constantly whirled. Her body felt restless. She rarely slept anymore. In her search for fulfillment, she’d dedicated hours every week to her charity work. She’d sought scholarly pursuits that more often than not left her head pounding.
She’d even fallen in love…once.
She could quote Shakespeare, Keats, and Byron, name the constellations in the night sky, discuss the merits and hazards of the Corn Laws, and tell anyone who cared to ask why love wasn’t worth the time. But she couldn’t douse the infernal fire that grew hotter with the passing of every day. Even now, despite the frivolity of the ball, it scorched her, threatening to consume her.
She’d give anything—
thing—to find the cause of her unhappiness.
“You dance exquisitely, Lady Amelia,” her latest partner, Lord Duncan, commented as the set drew to a close.
” Lia answered with a gentle tilt of her head. “And you were a delightful partner. You only managed to stomp my toes three times.”
Lord Duncan chuckled. Unlike most of the eligible gentlemen in the room, he had no desire to win her or her tempting dowry.
“Have you seen Clarissa—er—Miss Sutton this evening?” he asked. This Season hapless Duncan was hopelessly in love with Lia’s cousin, Clarissa.
“She was dancing with Captain Jakes, I believe.”
“Ack, my poor dove’s feet! You should have told me so I could have saved her from that lead-booted cad.”
“And I suppose your feet are feathers?”
Lord Duncan scowled. “I apologize for that. My mind wasn’t on the dance.”
“No, it was on Clarissa. Come.” She patted his arm, not ready to let him go just yet. “Escort me to the refreshments room. You can tell me more about that young gelding you’re thinking of purchasing.”
He brightened at the mention of his horses. He could speak for hours on that particular topic. Lia half-listened as they made their way across the crowded ballroom.
She felt safe clinging to her old friend’s arm when so many of the gentleman at tonight’s ball wanted to dance with her, or talk with her, or flirt with her. It was a hazard of possessing such a large dowry and having spent one too many Seasons on the marriage mart. At one-and-twenty, everyone expected her to be well and wed before the Season’s end.
Marriage, what a dreadful thought. She usually handled the pressure without a jot of trouble. But tonight she was in a mood to snarl and snap.
She hated being confined in such a crowded space while pretending she was nothing more than a mindless, empty-headed twit. Being forced to play such a game while trapped in an overheated crowded space would overset anyone’s nerves.
But no, if she were to be honest with herself, it wasn’t the ballroom that had her nerves on edge tonight. It was the devilishly masculine, dark-eyed Lord Carew making the back of her neck prickle and her cheeks feel flushed.
He was watching her. She could feel his heated gaze even now.
His intense interest frightened her.
, she firmly told herself as she and Lord Duncan edged their way through the crowd toward the far end of the room. She’d been frightened,
intrigued, by Lord Carew. Definitely
fascinated by his wickedly dark eyes or brooding looks that made him perfectly suited to play the tragic hero in some horrid gothic novel. She didn’t even like gothic novels.
She’d waltzed with him. Though his gloved hands had never strayed from their proper places, and he never stepped closer than what society deemed acceptable, that singular set had set Lia’s heart to pounding. His intoxicating scent, a delicious aroma that conjured images of fresh dewy mornings in the woods and vast open spaces, had left her uncharacteristically giddy. And though the waltz had ended several hours ago, she could feel his warm touch on her body as if he possessed her still.
Even more unsettling than her uncharacteristic reaction to him had been the knowing look she’d read in his dark, sensual gaze. It had flickered there for just a moment and then was gone. It had made her feel as if he knew her smiles and flirts were as fake as the jewels in Aunt Lettie’s necklace.
But she was being ridiculous, wasn’t she? How could
know anything beyond what she’d showed him? After all, she knew so very little about
His emergence on the London scene about a year ago had caused quite a stir. The Town tabbies were still all atwitter about it. The eleventh Viscount Carew had died without an heir. His widow, the Viscountess, had led a lengthy and extensive search to locate a relative who could save the Carew line. And yet, she’d failed. All of the Carew property and assets were in the process of reverting back to the king when this mysterious stranger appeared on the widow’s stoop clutching a family Bible and various other bundles of paperwork that proved he was the one and only heir to the Carew title. Apparently, he was a distant cousin to the former bushy-haired, hawk-nosed Carew. A
Unlike his predecessor, this newest viscount was as handsome as sin.
Well, certainly he wasn’t
handsome. No man was
handsome. Or worth the bother.
Lia searched where she’d last seen him lounging like a careless roué against a pillar. Sure, he had a certain indefinable luster. He was dressed much like every other gentleman present that night, with a high-collared black dress coat and tails that fell to the backs of his knees, snowy white waistcoat, gleaming ankle boots, and matching breeches. His shirt wasn’t as frilled as many of the gentlemen’s. But the frills, Lia decided, wouldn’t have suited the hard angles of his jaw. His neckcloth, the purest of whites, was folded in a quite pleasing and elaborate horizontal Ballroom Tie knot that, like his clothes, were the height of style. There was nothing overtly special about his outfit. He simply filled out his clothes with superior grace, especially his breeches.
It was wrong for a lady to notice a man’s muscular thighs. But how could she not? His exquisite legs made her yearn to write sonnets, which was very, very unlike her.
His hair, as black as the midnight sky, was longer than fashionable. It made him look as if he’d fallen out of the pages of a maudlin Minerva Press novel. That dratted gothic hero image again. A troubled, romantic lord, hiding some deep and convoluted secret. What a ridiculous thought.
The blasted man was turning her into a fluff brain.
He’d attracted quite a crowd since the end of that last set. Some of the loveliest and most eligible ladies on the marriage mart now surrounded him, all properly chaperoned of course. He said something that made the older matrons in the group giggle and blush.
Lia worried her lower lip and swallowed a lump of jealousy. What in blazes was wrong with her? She
want anything to do with him. She
want him flirting with her the way he was currently flirting with a certain pretty little blonde over there. And she certainly
want to be giggling or blushing like a ninny.