Masquerade Secrets

By: Janelle Daniels

Eyeing the crystal decanter and two glasses that rested on a table, she picked up one of the glasses, pouring herself a large dose of scotch. The drink burned on the way down, making her eyes water.

There really was only one choice. She would spend this year in servitude so that she would be free for the rest of her life. She would never remarry. She would never answer to anyone other than herself after this.

She just wished that the old woman wouldn’t get so much satisfaction from ordering her around. She could only imagine what Lady Evelyn would have her do in retribution for her brother’s blessed life.

Another spike of anger coursed through her. “The witch.” Finishing her drink, she threw the glass into the fireplace, relishing the sound of it shattering. It felt good to destroy something. Made her feel more in control.

Picking up the matching glass, she had every intention of destroying that one as well.

“Stop right there.” A man’s voice, deadly in the soft, deep way he spoke, startled her. “I think I’ve seen quite enough.”

“Who’s there?” Victoria peered into the darkening room. With the sun almost set, and the fire low, she couldn’t see the stranger clearly.

The man step stepped further into the light, and Victoria couldn’t help but gasp. He was rugged, earthy in his appearance, but the slash of attraction that cut into her was a surprise. His hair was mussed, like he had raked his hands through it many times throughout the day. Cravat gone, his shirt was opened and smudged with what looked like dirt. The smudges didn’t detract from his looks though; they only enhanced the dangerous feel of him. His skin was bronzed, the muscles of his chest gleamed with a slick of sweat, no doubt produced from whatever activity had dirtied his appearance. It was too far to see his features clearly, but she got the impression they were angled, rough. He didn’t look like a servant, but neither did he look a nobleman.

“Who are you? Why are you here?” Victoria heard the edge in her voice, but didn’t apologize. The combination of her attraction for him and the surprise she had felt from his appearance, unnerved her.

“I should be asking you the same question.” He moved slowly around the room, coming closer to her. Stalking her like prey.

His scent hit her first: sweat, earth, and spice. It should have been unpleasant, but surprisingly, it wasn’t. It appealed to her, attracted her more than any scent the fops in London used. “I am the Dowager Duchess of Norwich and I am a guest here.”

Her answer seemed to give him pause. “I see,” he said, giving her a quick once-over.

His words left her with the impression that he found her wanting in some way. Her spine straightened. “I don’t know who you think you are, but I order you to leave. I wish to be alone.”

A dangerous glint entered his eye as he took a threatening step forward. “I am the Earl of Lynwood, and I answer to no one.”

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