The mission did not go quite as Robert Ware—known in society as the new Earl of Kirkland—planned. A spy in the service of His Majesty, Robert is a “guest” at a masquerade party as he retrieves vital information for a murder investigation. Until he’s quite unexpectedly interrupted by an exquisite, masked woman with glittering green eyes. And a pistol she has cocked and aimed right at him…
Lady Sophia Merrill has defiantly taken up justice’s shining sword, determined to expose the brigand who murdered her eccentric but brilliant father, and stole his latest invention. Now she must masquerade as Robert’s betrothed, in order to infiltrate the Inventor’s Society and find the killer. But the undeniably potent attraction between them not only imperils the investigation, but Sophia’s reputation…and both of their lives.
Sophia’s chest tightened uncomfortably. It was one thing to tell her cousin she was engaged in the privacy of her workshop, but another entirely to have it announced in Lady Cameron’s ballroom. There would be no going back; she was agreeing to a betrothal with Robert Ware, the Earl of Kirkland, however long, to aid in investigating the Inventors’ Society.
“Good,” Robert said. “We will waltz at the ball and convince everyone of our story. Shall we practice?”
He stepped close and put a hand on her waist. Their eyes locked and her cheeks grew warm under the heat of his gaze. His shaving soap—a subtle scent of bay rum—teased her nostrils.
“We cannot,” she blurted out. “There’s no music.”
He captured her right hand in his. “No matter. We’re just practicing, remember? Put your left hand on my shoulder and follow my lead.”
Sophia slowly raised her arm, and her fingers grazed his shoulder. The heat from his body seared her fingertips through the cotton shirt. Her pulse skittered alarmingly.
He began to move, smooth and practiced. “That’s it, Sophia. One and two and turn…you have the basic steps. Excellent.”
Only it was far from excellent. She was highly conscious of his hand at her waist, his sinewy body inches from hers. A tingling began in the pit of her stomach at his nearness. She stumbled; he steadied her.
Robert looked down, his stare bold as he assessed her. “The ball will be a good test to see how well you can handle the deception.”
“I assure you, I can handle anything.”
“Anything?” He pulled her a fraction of an inch closer.
His touch upset her balance, and she inhaled sharply. He was purposefully trying to unnerve her. “Deception comes that easy to you?”
“It’s a requirement of my job.”
“I must keep that in mind when dealing with you, my lord.”
He stopped dancing, but his hand remained around her waist. “We are entering the enemy’s lair. I need to be certain you won’t panic.”
Her chin rose a notch. “I never panic.”
His voice was cold and exact. “Dispassionate control is required, or else dangerous mistakes can occur.”
“If you’re trying to intimidate me into backing out of the house party, then you’re failing. I have mettle, my lord. Your seductive tactics won’t work on me.”
He arched an eyebrow. “What do you know of seduction?”
“I’m not completely ignorant. I’m twenty-four years old, and despite what you’ve heard, I’ve attended numerous balls, danced with plenty of gentlemen, and strolled through moonlit mazes. I’ve been kissed before.”
Ocean-blue eyes studied her mouth. “Where?”
She frowned. “My lips and even once on my neck.” She pointed to a spot just beneath her chin.
His gaze dropped to where her finger pointed, then slowly lowered to the skin just above her bodice. Her pulse skittered.
“Then you won’t mind if I test your mettle?”
She stood frozen.
Looking into her eyes once again, he came close, moving slowly. He mouth brushed across hers, once, twice, a featherweight touch before she stepped back. Her fingers flew up to cover her lips.
“Just as I thought,” he drawled. “You lack experience. A few stolen kisses inside a dim maze are not sufficient.”
She bristled with indignation. “Not sufficient? Whatever else do you have in mind?”
“This.” Pulling her close, he swooped down and kissed her.
His lips were full and warm, teasing hers. His tongue ran over her bottom lip with tantalizing persuasion, and she gasped. He took advantage of her parted lips to slide his tongue into her mouth. He tightened his hold, and her breasts pressed against his solid chest.
Sweet heaven! He was right; her prior experiences fell far short when compared to the feel and taste of him.
Despite her prior misgivings, her instinctive response to his kiss was powerful. Her skin grew hot; her heart pounded an erratic rhythm. Her fingers rose of their own volition and trailed up his forearms. She felt the sprinkling of hair, touched the soft cotton of his rolled-up shirtsleeves, then moved higher to grasp his broad shoulders. His muscles were hard slabs beneath his shirt. Arching her body into his, a low growl rumbled in his chest. Encouraged, her tongue grazed his, tentative at first, until shivers of delight raced down her spine, and she returned his kiss.
Lifting his lips from hers, he trailed kisses down her throat, past the spot she had initially pointed to below her chin. Then his lips seared a path above her bodice and the overwhelming heat spread…flooding her limbs and pooling low in her belly.
It was everything she had ever dreamed a kiss would be and more. So much more.
She moaned low in her throat, winding her fingers around his neck and trying to cajole his lips back to hers.
He stiffened and pulled back, a frown marring his brow as he gazed upon her upturned face.
She ignored the strange aching in her limbs and tried to calm her pounding heart. To her dismay, he did not appear the least affected by the kiss.
He does this all the time, she thought. Women must throw themselves at him!
Then she looked into his eyes and changed her mind. There was a wild darkness in the blue depths, a hint of tightly reined lust that was startling in its intensity.
“Did I pass your test?” she asked.
“I believe I had mentioned dispassionate control.”
She stiffened, momentarily abashed. “Despite your newly acquired title, you are not a gentleman.”
“I wouldn’t be successful if I were.”
She took a step back from his towering frame. “I may be impulsive, but you are quite arrogant, my lord.”
“Do not judge me too harshly, Sophia. You may think my tactics ungentlemanly, but my past results are unquestionable. I will find who is responsible for your father’s murder and unravel the mystery behind the Inventors’ Society.”
She couldn’t ask for more, could she? Still, she was having difficulty settling her racing heart.
Robert reached into his pocket and placed a flash of gold in the palm of her hand. “I believe this belongs to you.”
She glanced down. “My locket!”
“I had the latch repaired. I apologize for my barbaric methods.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
She met his gaze. “I don’t think that’s proper, my lord.”
“The world will soon think us engaged.”
“Still, I don’t think—”
“In private, then. The title is new to me and we are to work together, correct?”
A flutter of nerves swam low in her belly. “All right, Robert.”
He handed her the ledger. “This is yours as well.”
Her father’s leather-bound book felt heavy in her hands. “Thank you for returning it, my lord…Robert.”
“That’s it.” He walked her to the door and raised her hand to his lips. “Until the Camerons’ ball tomorrow night.”
Her treacherous body tingled from the contact, and she nervously bit her bottom lip.
“Are you sure you can carry this off, Sophia?” he asked.
“Yes.” No! She wasn’t certain of her resolve around him.
“What about your story?” she retorted. “What will you tell your friends and acquaintances about me?”
“Leave them to me.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Award-winning author Tina Gabrielle is an attorney and former mechanical engineer whose love of reading for pleasure helped her get through years of academia. She often picked up a romance and let her fantasies of knights in shining armor and lords and ladies carry her away. A Spy Unmasked is the first book In The Crown’s Secret Service series. The second book in the series, At The Spy’s Pleasure, is coming in April 2015 from Entangled Publishing. She is also the author of adventurous Regency historical romances, In The Barrister’s Bed, In The Barrister’s Chambers, Lady Of Scandal, and A Perfect Scandal from Kensington Books. Tina’s books have been Barnes & Noble top picks, and her first book, Lady Of Scandal, was nominated as best first historical romance by Romantic Times Book Reviews. Tina loves to hear from readers. Please visit her website for free monthly contests and giveaways. www.tinagabrielle.com You can also find her at her blog * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter