When society reporter Adeline Ellsworth’s cousin, a police inspector, is murdered in 1896 San Francisco, she immediately sets out to uncover the truth. This could be her chance to leave frivolous fashion gossip behind for a career reporting on important issues. But her investigation leads to danger—and she wakes up tied to Alec McCairn, Lord Peyton.
In California to set up a new office, the Scottish peer definitely wasn’t looking for a romantic entanglement, especially with an independent, opinionated reporter. But he suspects the beguiling Adeline is in over her head and too proud to ask for help. He vows to protect her, no matter how hard she balks.
A widow, Adeline guards her heart carefully and doesn’t want Alec ruining her chance to expose this corruption, no matter how attractive or charming he is. But then the main suspect kidnaps her younger brother and demands Adeline’s research as ransom. To save him and crack the case, they must work together. But the biggest mystery they end up solving might just be how to capture each other’s heart.
San Francisco, 1896
Opening his eyes, Alec MacCairn groaned. Pain radiated from the lump on the back of his head. A lantern hanging from a hook gave off a dull yellow glow that did little to light the room. Rough wooden walls, some crates, and bits of broken wood didn’t offer many clues, though the quiet slapping of waves against a wooden hull and a small porthole on one wall gave him an idea of where he might be. Flexing his arms, he knew they were tied behind him and someone was at his back. What the hell happened? he thought, anger roaring through him.
“This is all your fault,” a familiar female voice said. “You do know that, don’t you?”
Dropping his chin to his chest, he realized he was not alone—and just whom he was bound to.
“How in that twisted brain of yours can you possibly think that?” he asked. “In no way did my attempt to stop your meddling get us here. I can assure you, Miss Ellsworth, this sits squarely on your shoulders.” He had approached her at the mayor’s party earlier in the evening. He’d recognized her as the reporter who’d interviewed him for the society column of her newspaper. He still didn’t know why she had been acting so secretive, hiding behind columns and scribbling notes on a small pad. He had pulled her aside to ask what she was doing, when they’d been attacked.
Pain ripped through his shoulders. He knew Adeline Ellsworth was twisting her body around as much as the ropes would allow, trying to look at him. “Of all the … If you hadn’t alerted those miscreants to our presence, we wouldn’t be in this conundrum now!”
“I was trying to protect you from yourself.”
“And see how well that worked.”
Alec could feel her against his back, wriggling like a worm on a hook, trying to loosen the ropes that bound them together.
“Stop squirming so I can think,” he snapped. “When we are out of this, you have a great deal of explaining to do.”
“You have ruined months of investigation. I’ll never find out what really happened.” The anger in her voice was palpable.
“It was your blasted eavesdropping that got us in this mess,” Alec grumbled. “If you hadn’t tried to listen to conversations not meant for you, we wouldn’t be here now.”
“That’s what I do, Lord MacCairn.” He could hear the disdain in her voice as she used proper address. Even though he had told her when they first met it was unnecessary, she persisted. At first she’d called him Viscount Peyton until he made it clear he would not accept the address from an American. “I am a reporter. I try to tell the world of the injustices being done.”
“I’m sorry, aren’t you a society photographer and reporter? I didn’t know I was in the presence of Nellie Bly.”
“I am working toward being taken seriously as a journalist. This investigation is part of that.”
“Well that won’t help get us out of these ties, now will it?” Alec flexed his wrists, trying to stretch the ropes. He could feel Miss Ellsworth trying to follow suit.
He noted that while their hands were tied to each other, their legs were tied separately. Hers were tied together, while his were stretched to the sides and tied to the chair legs. If one of them could reach down and get the sgian-dubh from his boot, he could cut them loose. Twisting against the ropes, he tried to see her over his shoulder.
“Miss Ellsworth, do you think you can lean to your left and reach my ankle?”
“There is a small knife tucked into the top of my boot.” He felt himself being pulled to the side as she stretched to reach his calf. As her fingers crawled down his leg, the random thought crossed his mind of how pleasant that would be in another time and place.
“I’ve got it!” she cried triumphantly as she straightened back up, instantly easing the ripping pain in his shoulder. “Can you feel it?”
He stretched and twisted his fingers until he felt the smooth steel of the knife blade. Wrapping his fingers around it carefully, he took the knife from her, rotated it until he grasped the handle, and positioned the blade alongside her wrist.
“Try not to move, so I don’t hurt you.” Alec closed his eyes, concentrating on the feel of the blade, keeping it from twisting and cutting into her skin. After what seemed an eternity, the rope parted and their arms separated. He pulled his arms up, removing the remnants of rope dangling from his wrists. Leaning over, he cut the ropes binding his ankles, stood, and turned to free Miss Ellsworth. When he saw the raw red skin where the rope had chafed her, his temper flared.
“Hold still while I cut the ropes on your ankles.” He leaned down, gently grasping her leg. “Are you injured?” The knife easily sliced her free.
“Other than a little stiffness and raw skin, I am fine. Thank you.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diane grew up in the deserts of New Mexico, riding her horse for hours and creating characters and stories along the way. After graduating with a degree in journalism and a minor in history, she married and had two wonderful children. Now a grandmother of three and living in Colorado, she has brought those characters to life in her books.
She is a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Hearts Through History Romance Writers (HHRW), and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW).