Miss Margery Derrington and her dear aunts are in dire straits. Their discovery of a rare medieval manuscript will hopefully stave off their creditors—if it’s worth what they hope. Margery reluctantly allies with a reclusive scholar to use the book to pursue a treasure that could exceed her expectations. Amidst danger, secrets, and an insatiable attraction, is Margery gambling just her financial future . . . or her heart?
Academic Rhys Bowen can’t believe he has his hands on the elusive de Valery text. Solving its hidden code and unearthing its legendary treasure would establish him as one of Britain’s leading antiquarians, finally casting him out of his brilliant late father’s shadow. But when a centuries-old organization convinces Rhys of the perils of disturbing the past, he must choose between his conscience…and the captivating woman he’s sworn to help.
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Rhys turned his attention to Miss Derrington. She appeared fresh and lovely today, garbed in a blue traveling costume edged with black velvet. A wide-brimmed bonnet shielded her blond hair, but a few curls brushed her temples.
He oughtn’t look at her so closely. They were business associates at best. At worst, adversaries vying for the same treasure, which she didn’t even know existed. Yet. He’d thought about whether he should have told her, but until he was certain there was even a code to decipher, why bother?
“We should discuss our visit,” he said. “You must never go anywhere alone, and you mustn’t do anything to encourage Stratton’s interest.” Though she’d likely do that by simply breathing.
Miss Derrington eyed him inquisitively. “I’m well aware of your cousin’s reputation. I shall be on my guard.”
“You must be. Stratton is a dissolute fiend. Make sure Mrs. Edwards is with you at all times. In fact, I will insist that you sleep in the same chamber.”
“There you go with ‘must’ and ‘insist.’ Have you always been so dictatorial?” she asked.
Mrs. Edwards shrugged. “It’s no trouble; we shared a room at the White Lady.”
Rhys gave Miss Derrington a look that communicated something to the effect of, not everyone thinks I’m dictatorial.
Miss Derrington exhaled softly. “I suppose adjoining chambers will suffice. Thank you so much for consulting with us,” she said with false sweetness.
He ignored her sarcasm. Protecting her was his responsibility while they were traveling together, and Stratton was a legitimate threat to a young lady like herself. “I worry that I should have come alone,” he muttered.
“With my book?” She shook her head. “There was never any chance of that.”
Right. “Then you must adhere to my guidelines. You’ll leave the door between your adjoining chambers open so that Mrs. Edwards can hear you if you need assistance.” Rhys would request a nearby chamber as well, though that would undoubtedly pique Stratton’s curiosity.
In fact, perhaps Rhys ought to infer that Miss Derrington was already taken. It wouldn’t be foolproof—things such as marriage and engagements hadn’t always prevented Stratton from attempting scandalous behavior—but it might work. There had to be some honor among families, even for Stratton, didn’t there?
Was there honor in keeping a man’s son from him? For the boy’s well-being, yes.
Miss Derrington set her hand atop the bag that held the book nestled beside her. “I shall be cautious.”
They fell into silence for a good quarter hour or longer. Soft snores emanated from Mrs. Edwards’s corner.
Miss Derrington turned her head from the window to look at Rhys. “Are you and Stratton close? While you possess a somewhat irritating predilection for condescension, your behavior is at complete odds with his scandalous reputation.”
Rhys fought the urge to smile at her description of him. He ought to find her irritation annoying, but was instead charmed. He decided he might enjoy tormenting her—at least a bit. “Our familial connection is distant. I’ve only visited him a handful times: a few occasions as a child, his weddings, and once with my father to see his de Valery manuscript. I did attend one of his house parties, left early, and swore never to repeat the mistake.”
“I see. I understand Lady Stratton simply disregards his mischief?” Her tone held a strong note of disbelief.
Rhys had met her twice—the wedding and the house party—and found her to be lovely, if withdrawn. He felt sad for her lot and wondered what she would say if she knew the first Lady Stratton was still alive—at least for now. “She has little choice in the matter, unfortunately.”
“Indeed,” Miss Derrington murmured. “It doesn’t recommend the institution of marriage, does it? Is that why you are unmarried, Mr. Bowen?”
Her gaze found his, and he was struck by the frank curiosity in its depths. There was something more. Her eyes reminded him of a hothouse—a mix of earthy brown and vivid green. Exotic. Sultry. Perhaps he’d been reading too much romantic poetry of late.
“I haven’t felt the need to take a wife.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Too wrapped up in your books?”
“Perhaps.” Definitely. “And why do you remain unwed? I can’t believe you haven’t had offers.” She was far too lovely, too intelligent, too bewitching.
“Believe it or not, I haven’t,” her answer came quick and carried a touch of irritation. “Furthermore, I haven’t felt the need to marry either.”
He’d been jesting with his answer. It wasn’t so much that he hadn’t felt the need, just that he hadn’t considered it at all. But with her, he imagined she had to have considered it—women in her position really had no other choice. Sooner or later, she’d likely marry. And he suddenly envied that faceless man.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
USA Today bestselling author Darcy Burke wrote her first book at age 11, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations. Darcy writes hot, action-packed historical and sexy, emotional contemporary romance.
A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her devoted husband, their two great kids, and two Bengal cats. In her “spare” time Darcy is a serial volunteer enrolled in a 12-step program where one learns to say “no,” but she keeps having to start over. She’s also a fair-weather runner, and her happy places are Disneyland and Labor Day weekend at the Gorge. Visit Darcy online at her website * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * ~ * Newsletter Sign-Up