Enigma Earl. The Phantom of London. That’s what the gossip pages call Lord Edward Greenwich, a mysterious nobleman who doesn’t show his face in London Society. With a reputation like that, no wonder Lydia Montgomery is horrified to be dragged from bed and packed off to live with him to save her mother from penury.
While Lydia has received all of the training a lady should endure, she’s decidedly un-ladylike. She despises her corset and isn’t interested in marriage. She’d prefer to remain unmarried and spend her time improving her art. But if she wants a chance at happiness, she’ll have to set aside her fear of the earl and discover the man hiding behind the beast.
Will Edward and Lydia’s greatest discovery be each other before time runs out?
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“A treasure map?”
Her fingers traced faintly familiar patterns on yellowed foolscap, leading to an X. On one corner, fingerprints left red-brown paint, smears more like it, unlike any pigment she’d ever seen. The table’s edge bit her mid-section as she hugged the drink to her chest in one hand and leaned over for a better look. With her other hand, she brushed the red-brown tincture. Tiny flecks clung to three fingers.
“What is this?” She brought her hand closer for examination, rubbing her thumb over the color. “Dried blood!” She cried, jerking back as if the map turned into a hissing snake, almost spilling her drink.
Lydia scrubbed her fingers up and down her skirt, but like all things exotic, the slashed X and scribbled notes bewitched her. Numbers, longitude and latitude most likely, made neat rows on one corner. Where was this mysterious place? And the faintly familiar design bothered her, hanging on the periphery of recall. She sipped her drink and hugged the glass to her chest.
“’Herein lies the…the—” She squinted and leaned closer, angling the paper for the best advantage. “—heavens, the poor soul who scrawled this needs to learn the King’s English. The clero…clerodendrum…clerodendrum thom—”
“Clerodendrum thomsoniae. A bleeding heart vine.” Lord Greenwich’s voice shot into the room. “And that’s Latin you’re reading, the language of science and intellectuals.”
Lydia whipped around, facing the direction of the cultured voice. As she whirled, a golden arc of Scotch sprayed from the glass, raining wetness. To stop the spray, she jerked abruptly, overcorrecting, and the glass tilted, sloshing liquid on her dress.
The Earl filled the doorway, leaning against the door jam, arms folded loosely as if finding a woman snooping in his room was a common occurrence. A cringing chill scraped her skin, the same as when she was a child caught in the thick of wrong doing. Fire sparked in his lordship’s eyes and the way his scarred jaw ticked: What would he do? That molten stare of his raked her bodice.
“My dress?” She shook her head, befuddled, until she followed the cant of his glare. “Oh dear.”
A wet spot blossomed, the strong smoky peat of Scotch marking her like some kind of immoral woman with its stain. Grim-faced, his lordship moved across the room with long, quick strides. He reached for the glass she clutched to her chest in a death grip.
“I’ll take that.”
His chill tones sent goose bumps down her spine. Long masculine fingers slid over hers.
“I know this looks bad,” she said, swallowing the lump in her throat, not letting go of the glass.
“Yes.” Hard brown eyes stared back, giving no quarter. “Very bad.”
“Awful…for many reasons,” she whispered dry-mouthed.
He pulled on the near empty glass. She held fast. Her fingers pinched fine crystal as if the glass were some kind of talisman. Lord Greenwich’s jaw muscle flexed.
“Give. Me. The. Glass.”
Some strands of dark blonde hair had gone awry of his queue, flanking his jaw. Lydia stared wide-eyed at the masculine hand covering her own, then meeting his hard stare.
“You won’t hit me, will you?”
His eyes flared wide as if the idea were ridiculous. “I don’t hit women. But you will give me the glass.”
“Yes, of course.” Numbly she followed the exchange of her hand curving in his and stinging embarrassment made her study the carpet. That’s when she saw the puddle at her feet.
“Lud! Look what I’ve done.” She dropped to the floor, using the hem of her underskirt to alternately rub and dab the spot.
“The rug is the least of my concerns,” he said, extending a hand. “Up with you.”
Lydia knelt at his feet. She followed the line of scuffed boots, past traces of dirt smeared breeches, to the calloused hand offered to her. This thoughtful, gentleman’s gesture was in stark contrast to his anger. She swallowed hard as excruciating embarrassment at demonstrating the worst kind of invasive, voyeurism crumbled under a weightier issue: her mother’s fate.
Why hadn’t she thought of her mother before snooping in his room?
“Come, now.” The earl’s proffered hand flicked brusquely at her. “While I’m sure my legs make for an interesting view, I’d rather we converse face to face.”
The sarcasm aside, his words held a certain promise. Or could it be the beginning of her getting the boot? Another chill skittered down her neck. This loomed like the worst kind of trouble but with ominous consequences. Lydia set her hand in his and she moved awkwardly upright, swallowing hard and unable to meet his eyes.
“I can explain.”
Lord Greenwich placed the glass on the table and settled in the faldstool chair, sprawling his booted legs before him; he could be the very picture of Caesar giving audience to a humble citizen. The stern line of his mouth, however, promised dire judgment.
“Yes, I’d very much like to hear why you were in my room, uninvited, and rifling through my things,” he said, propping an elbow on the chair’s arm.
The earl leaned his unscarred cheek into his index finger and waited, acting as judge and jury on her person. Hadn’t he done the same last night? The floor seemed flimsy under the soles of her stocking feet. No corset. No shoes. A woman could never gain the advantage poorly dressed. Lies, a fleeting temptation, failed to appeal: nothing from that avenue would be plausible anyway. Truth gave the simplest and best path. She clasped her hands together, hating the sunken pit that was her stomach and hoped for mercy, yet her shoulders drooped as one already condemned.
“I…I wanted to learn more about you. That’s all.” She said, licking her lips. “I apologize for the intrusion. This was…I was terribly wrong.”
His eyebrows shot up at her last pronouncement. The index finger pressing his unscarred cheek began a slow circle over his temple as silence ticked between them, but the light in his lordship eyes hinted at his mind working those simple statements of hers, measuring them.
“And drinking my single malt gives you intimate knowledge of me?” His lips twitched with something between a cold smile and doubt.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Growing up, Gina wanted to be an author. Fast forward past college, into the working world, marriage with two boys, and that’s when she discovered sleep’s a luxury. With shelves of history books and a fertile imagination, it didn’t take long for her to put the movies playing in her head on paper. Ever the introvert, she was thrilled to partner with her excellent agent, Sarah E. Younger of NYLiterary, because that’s when the fun really began.
When not exploring adventure and romance on the page, she enjoys life in southern California with her husband and two sons. She credits her mom with helping her love a good story, but her husband saw the light in her eyes when it came to writing romance. He gets extra credit for being a great kisser and uber supportive… plus he tolerates her wild hairs for organic gardening, visits to crumbling castles, and meanders through musty museums.
If you’re meandering the cyber world, Gina welcomes your visits: