The Temptation of Your Touch
In this scene, our intrepid heroine Anne Spencer is summoned to serve her master...
To Anne’s credit, she didn’t even flinch when that thunderous shout came echoing through the halls of Cadgwyck Manor later that night. The convivial conversation she and her staff had been enjoying around the long pine table in the kitchen ceased abruptly.
In an ominous silence broken only by the cheery click of Nana’s knitting needles and Piddles’ snoring, Anne took one more sip of her succulent soup before laying down her spoon. She dabbed delicately at her lips with her napkin, then rose from her chair. “If you’ll excuse me, it seems the master is in need of my services.”
As she started for the door, the rest of them eyed her as if she were marching off to the gallows. She forced herself to maintain her even pace as she climbed the stairs and crossed the second-story gallery, keenly aware of Angelica Cadgwyck’s mocking gaze following her every step from the portrait on the landing.
Her composure wasn’t tested until she passed the third-floor staircase at the far end of the gallery and saw the man barreling down the long corridor.
Heading straight for her.
Lord Dravenwood looked as if he’d just marched out of the gates of hell. Soot blackened his face, making the whites of his eyes gleam that much more vividly. His hair was wild and his coat missing entirely. Each of his furious strides left a blackened footprint on the shabby carpet runner. A billowing cloud of smoke trailed behind him.
Another man in his predicament might have looked comical. But perhaps one had to have a sense of humor to look comical. He just looked murderous.
Ignoring her instinctive urge to snatch up the hem of her skirts and flee in the opposite direction, Anne donned her most unflappable expression as he halted in front of her. His broad chest was still heaving, although whether with rage or from exertion she could not tell.
Given the sparks of unholy wrath shooting from his eyes, it seemed only fitting that he smelled of fire and brimstone as well. His ash-smudged shirtsleeves had been shoved up to reveal muscular forearms generously dusted with curling, dark hair.
“You bellowed, my lord?” she inquired, jerking her gaze away from that rather riveting sight and its unanticipated effects on her composure and back up to his face.
His sharp eyes missed nothing. “I do hope you’ll forgive my shocking state of undress, Mrs. Spencer,” he said with scathing courtesy. “I had to use my coat to fan the smoke out of the study before it choked me to death.” His eyes narrowed in an accusing gaze. “When you informed me the study would be a pleasant place to enjoy an after-dinner brandy, you neglected to mention it would turn into a death trap the minute I lit the fire that had been laid upon the hearth.”
“Oh, dear.” Anne touched a hand to her throat in what she hoped was a convincing display of dismay. “Are you quite all right?”
“Fortunately, I was able to smother the flames and wrestle the windows open before being overcome by the smoke. When was the last time that chimney was cleaned? Seventeen ninety-eight?”
Anne shook her head, heaving a bewildered sigh. “I don’t understand what could have happened. Why, I checked the damper myself only this morning when Pippa and I were airing out the room! I would have sworn the flue was ...” She stopped abruptly, lowering her eyes before casting him an uneasy glance from beneath her lashes.
Dravenwood folded his arms over his chest, an expression far too cynical to be called a smile quirking one corner of his lips. “Let me guess. You think the ghost was the one who tampered with the flue.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, my lord! You said yourself there was no such thing as ghosts.”
His jaw tightened. “What I said was that men are perfectly capable of creating things to haunt them without the aid of the supernatural.”
“And quite right you are about that, I’m sure. Perhaps it was simply a malfunction of some sort. I’ll send the maids to clean up the study and have Dickon check the flue right away.”
“Very well. Then you can send Hodges to my chambers. As you can see, I’ll be requiring some assistance with my bath.”
A flutter of panic stirred in Anne’s throat. She had not anticipated this complication. “Perhaps Dickon can check the flue in the morning. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to assist you in the bath if you’ll just give me a moment to—”
“Send Hodges,” Dravenwood commanded. “Unless, of course”—he leaned toward her in an unmistakably menacing manner, his stern voice betraying not so much as a hint of humor—“you’d rather assist me.”
Bonus Sneak Peek