Lady Elaine Prescott, the most timid member of the Brethren, has spent much of her time in the shadows, forever blending into the background. From her unconventional perspective, she studies people and their behavior, gleaning information most overlook, and she is content in her quiet little world. When her unusual habit puts her in the right place at the wrong moment, she witnesses a violent crime, and her life is threatened. To her dismay, Elaine finds herself in an unwelcomed spotlight and in need of a knight.
Sir Ross Logan is a master spy and the mysterious head of the covert Counterintelligence Corps. In dark spaces he lurks, scrutinizing those he is charged to defend, and it is an easy and uncomplicated existence for a man of many secrets. In the midst of a murder investigation, he is tasked with guarding a noblewoman, the gentle lady he has furtively admired for years. Young and unspoiled, she is everything he is not, and he vows to protect her. While he doubts not his ability to save her from a lethal villain, can Ross defend Elaine against himself?
Secrets lurked in the shadows, beckoning as a welcomed friend for the undaunted. Unfettered by social conventions, the spotlight of which forced many a lord or a lady to conform to the expectations of others, the blackness functioned as a form of liberty, wherein revelers conducted their covert games without threat of discovery or retribution. It was in those dark spaces Lady Elaine Horatia Prescott found comfort and strength.
As the youngest member of a large, extended family comprised of spirited ladies with bold personalities and equally intrepid men, the famed Nautionnier Knights of the Brethren of the Coast, daring sea captains descended of the Templars, the warriors of the Crusades, she often hugged the background, taking pride in her ability to hide in plain sight. Searching for some sense of herself, something not influenced by the rich history of her ancestors or her colorful relations, she fought to construct her own identity on her terms.
What she had not expected was to find love.
With great care, she moved swift and sure as she approached her target, skulking amid the outskirts of the crowd that filled the Hawthorne’s ballroom, during the height of the Little Season. As she neared, he shifted, and she paused just shy of touching him and held her breath.
In one fail swoop, he pivoted, slipped an arm about her waist, pulled her into a corner, and bent to whisper in her ear. “Lady Elaine, you are the only person capable of sneaking up on me, and I am not sure I appreciate your skill.” Sir Ross Logan, the enigmatic head of the Counterintelligence Corps, brushed the crest of her flesh with his lips, she suspected not by accident, and her knees buckled. “Why do you not dance? Why do you not take your place among the ton, with the other debutantes? Do you not wish to snare a husband, marry, and have children?”
“On the contrary, I want all those things with someone of my choosing.” She cupped his cheek, and he retreated, much to her chagrin. “But I am here because you are here.”
“Elaine, you must stop this nonsense.” Now he withdrew and attempted to push her aside, but she resisted, even as her heart plummeted. And despite his complaints, he would not hazard courting attention, so she held her ground. “I am not the man for you.”
“How do you know that?” It was not the first time he rejected her, and she surmised it would not be the last. “Why will you not give us a chance at happiness?”
“Because I have nothing to give you but misery and regret.” As usual, Ross offered the same excuse.
“I disagree.” As usual, she would not be deterred. “And I will not yield my cause, no matter your protestations.”
“Neither will I.” To convey his position, he folded his arms, but he could never fool her. “Go back to your world of perfume and petticoats, as I have work to do, and I require no partner.”
“As you wish.” Of course, she knew well the routine and her part to play in their typical drama. So she marched into the fray, unabashed and poised in her determination. A potential solution tripped before her, and she extended assistance, as would any woman of character. “Sir Kleinfeld, are you all right?”
“Oh, my lady.” With a toothy grin, he brushed off his lapels and bowed. “Did I step on you?”
“No.” Elaine giggled, because he was well known for such behavior. “How are you enjoying the party?”
“Not very much, I am sorry to admit.” Frowning, he glanced over his shoulder. “The elder Miss Hogart refuses to grant me the honor of the Allemande.”
“Perhaps she will change her mind, when she spies you in a graceful performance of the waltz, with me.” In a valiant appeal to his pride, she curtseyed. “What say you, Sir Kleinfeld?”
“Lady Elaine, you are the soul of charity.” When she rested her palm in the crook of his elbow, he covered her hand with his. “You know, if my affections were not firmly planted in Miss Hogart’s garden, I should court you.”
“You flatter me, sir.” To her credit, she mustered the courage to brave the rotation with one of the clumsiest, but good-natured, members of her set.
And so she ventured into the breach, imperiling her feet in her quest to win Sir Ross. After the third trouncing of her toes, she swallowed a grunt of pain and prayed her savior would not linger, else she might suffer broken bones. Just how long would her beau wait? As if on cue, her rescuer presented himself as she predicted.
“May I intrude?” Ross tapped Archibald on the shoulder. “As I believe Miss Hogart seeks an audience.”
“Capital.” Without so much as a backward glance, Sir Kleinfeld gave her into Ross’s care, and that suited Elaine just fine.
“I know what you are doing.” Ross took her in his arms, twined her fingers with his, and they whirled in the soft light of the cut-glass chandeliers.
“I beg your pardon?” She lifted her chin and avoided his stare.
“Do not dissemble with me, Lady Elaine.” The tone of his voice declared she had scored a direct hit, and she reveled in her small victory. Near the side wall, he pulled her closer. “How dare you deliberately put yourself in jeopardy to bait me, as that buffoon could have seriously injured you.”
“But you are not the man for me, so you would never answer a supposed summons.” Let him counter that. “Or did you lie?”
“You lured me into the open, without thought of my mission or the risk to my safety, just to meet your selfish aims.” Now that hurt. “I ought to spank you.”
“Name the date and time, and I shall accommodate you.” Swallowing her trepidation, she looked him in the eye, and he cast the hint of a grin. “I challenge you, sir.” She licked her lips. “Resist me.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bestselling, Amazon All-Star author Barbara Devlin was born a storyteller, but it was a weeklong vacation to Bethany Beach, DE that forever changed her life. The little house her parents rented had a collection of books by Kathleen Woodiwiss, which exposed Barbara to the world of romance, and Shanna remains a personal favorite.
Barbara writes heartfelt historical romances that feature flawed heroes who may know how to seduce a woman but know nothing of marriage. And she prefers feisty but smart heroines who sometimes save the hero, before they find their happily ever after.
Barbara earned an MA in English and continued a course of study for a Doctorate in Literature and Rhetoric. She happily considered herself an exceedingly eccentric English professor, until success in Indie publishing lured her into writing, full-time, featuring her fictional knighthood, the Brethren of the Coast.