When a Lady Desires a Wicked LordBy: Tara Kingston
(Her Majesty's Most Secret Service)
You always believed in the power of love.
I miss you more with each passing day…
London, October 1892
Alexandra Mary Quinn did not believe in ghosts.
She was, above all else, a logical woman. Even as a child, she’d dismissed tales of hauntings as rubbish. Still, she could not deny the chill wafting over her skin, a shiver that had nothing to do with a drafty window.
Lamplight gleamed against the polished brass amulet she cradled in her palm. The Pharaoh’s Sun. When Professor Stockwell had entrusted her with the mysterious artifact he’d recovered in the tomb of a long-dead king, he’d spoken of a curse. Rather casually, he’d mentioned a tragic fate said to be visited upon any who possessed the pendant.
Of course, her eminently rational mentor had placed no value on morbid whispers.
But now, on a night rife with thunder and gloom, and with a bit of loneliness tossed in for good measure, the dire rumors broke through the barrier of reason and set her nerves a bit on edge.
She heard a faint creak of the floorboards in the corridor outside her study.
Goose flesh peppered her skin. Her pulse raced. A phantom had most certainly not produced that barely detectable sound. Even if a disembodied spirit did wander among the living, such an ethereal entity would not possess sufficient mass to cause the wood to squawk in protest.Alarm jolted through her like an electric current. This could not be her imagination. Someone was in the house.
Dear God, I am not alone!
Suddenly, the amulet felt heavy in her hands. Clutching the pendant, her fingers trembled.
She gave her head a shake to clear it. She was made of stronger stuff than this. A bit of a noise would not set her off kilter.
There was no time to debate her next course of action. Quietly, she slid open the top drawer of her desk, placed the amulet within a padded, velvet-lined box, and retrieved her Sharps Pepperbox revolver.
Extinguishing the light, she closed the door and waited in the darkness, out of sight. With any luck, the person who’d seen fit to invade her home would pocket a bit of silverware or a crystal candlestick and make their exit.
Boot heels pounded against the planks. Heavy, lumbering footfalls. The intruder was a man of considerable size. The footsteps grew louder. He was near. Her pulse thundered in her ears.
Keep going. There’s nothing in this room of interest to a thief.
Unless the intruder had not come for something so mundane as silver or her modest jewelry.
The amulet flashed in her thoughts.
Her pulse raced. She pulled in a steadying breath. Then another. Professor Stockwell had been adamant that the artifact not fall into the wrong hands.
She had to protect the relic.
The footsteps slowed.
The intruder was there, just beyond the door.
Fear careened through her. Standing in stark relief against the gaslit hallway, the man’s towering form nearly filled the doorway. If only the dim light would fall upon his features—as it was, she could not make out even a rough impression of his face.
Light glinted on his hair, silvery gray like moonlight, though the intruder was not advanced in years. Broad, unbowed shoulders and a rigidly upright posture made that evident. Whoever he was, he was powerfully built. Her fingers curled tight around the grip of her pistol. Her aim must be precise. If not, the Sharps would slow down—but definitely not halt—such a massive figure of a man.
Devil take it, she should have been prepared for this. It wasn’t as if she had not received fair warning. The professor’s most recent letter had alluded to a threat—a very human menace that had nothing to do with superstitious tales of evil. At the time, she’d convinced herself the wary old scholar had allowed fear to get the better of him—the theft in his residence at Cairo had seemed nothing more than a simple burglary.
Pity she’d been mistaken.
A peculiar scent wafted to her nostrils, a strong blend of bitter herbs, as if in a medicinal tonic applied to the skin. With an almost casual lack of haste, the stranger roamed her study. The intrusion was an affront. This was her private space. He was violating her personal refuge. How dare this man boldly move through her home?
Tempted to call out and order him away, she bit back the words. Confronting the man would be a fool’s mistake. With any luck, he’d find nothing of worth in a room filled with books and documents and leave just as quickly as he’d come.