The Scoundrel’s Seduction by Jennifer Haymore (May 27, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $8.00)
TEMPTATION KNOWS NO BOUNDS . . .
Undercover agent Sam Hawkins has devoted his life to protecting king and country. So when he receives orders to assassinate a ruthless traitor, he doesn’t question his mission. But Sam didn’t know his deed had a witness–the beautiful and mysterious betrayer’s wife. Now he has no choice but to take her as his prisoner-one he can neither trust . . . nor resist.
Élise, Lady Dunthorpe, will do anything to escape her powerful captor–including seducing him senseless. She didn’t know of her miserable husband’s crimes, but she has secrets of her own, secrets that threaten everything she holds dear. With his piercing dark eyes and gentle touch, Sam inflames Élise’s deepest desires, but how could she ever trust a man who won’t let her go? Caught between the crown he’s sworn to serve and the woman he’s come to love, Sam will risk his heart–and his very life–to keep her safe.
About Jennifer Haymore:
As a child, Jennifer Haymore traveled the South Pacific with her family on their homebuilt sailboat. The months spent on the sometimes quiet, sometimes raging seas sparked her love of adventure and grand romance. Since then, she’s earned degrees in computer science and education and held various jobs ranging from bookselling to teaching inner-city children to acting, but she’s never stopped writing.
You can find Jennifer in Southern California trying to talk her husband into yet another trip to England, helping her three children with homework while brainstorming a new five-minute dinner menu, or crouched in a corner of the local bookstore writing her next novel.
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Sam watched Dunthorpe skim the papers, his movements growing more frantic, his eyes widening at what he was reading—all the sordid details about the plot, with the slight twist eliminating Dunthorpe from the list of those at fault and instead pointing to him as the hero.
“You bastard. This isn’t the schedule.” He flung the papers away. They fluttered to the floor as Dunthorpe lifted dark, furious eyes at him. “Who are you?” he growled.
Sam raised a brow. His heart wasn’t even beating hard. He might as well have been sitting in his desk chair reading the Times.
What did this say about him? If nothing else, it said that he was too far gone to ever feel truly human again.
He shrugged and said softly, using his own, English-accented voice, “I am a concerned citizen. For God, king, and country, my lord. We cannot let you destroy it.”
He reached into his coat again, this time drawing out his weapon, cocking it at the same time. But Dunthorpe was faster than his aging appearance made him out to be. The man scrambled backward, hands fumbling with the desk drawer behind him. He jerked it open and yanked out his own pistol as Sam advanced on him, aiming.
Sam possessed the advantage. He had plenty of time. His heartbeat had still not increased in tempo. He was perfectly calm.
He squeezed the trigger while Dunthorpe’s gun was still pointed at the floor.
The resulting boom of gunfire echoed through Sam’s skull, loud enough to rouse every Londoner in a half-mile radius. Dunthorpe lurched backward and slammed into the desk, his body flailing as if he were a rag doll before crumpling to the carpeted floor.
For the first time, Sam’s heart kicked against his ribs. Now he needed to hurry. Needed to vanish before the authorities were summoned, before Richards showed his face in this room. Sam didn’t want to hurt the butler—there was no evidence that he had been privy to any of Dunthorpe’s traitorous deeds.
Sam glanced at Dunthorpe’s fallen body, saw that the shot had been clean, straight through the man’s heart. He quickly bent down to check for a pulse. The viscount was already dead.
Rising, Sam strode to the window and shook the curtains to signal Laurent that he was on his way down. Then he turned and made for the door.
A noise stopped him in his tracks. A tiny, feminine whimper. One he wouldn’t have heard had every one of his senses not been on high alert.
He homed in on the source of the noise, turning to that little round table tucked into the corner. It was covered with a silk tablecloth whose edges brushed the carpeted floor.
In two long strides, he was at the table. He ripped the tablecloth away, sending the china tea service that had lain upon it crashing to the floor. Hot tea splashed against his boots, steaming when it made contact with the cold leather.
It smelled damn good—strong and brisk. He wished Dunthorpe had offered him some.
A woman cowered beneath the table.
A small, blond, frail-looking woman dressed in white and curled up into a tight ball, as if she might be able to make herself so tiny he wouldn’t be able to see her.
Goddammit. A woman. Sam ground his teeth.
She glanced up at him, her midnight-blue eyes shining with terror. “Please,” she whispered. “Please.”
Her slight French accent clicked everything into place. He knew who she was, of course. It was the surprise of seeing her so out of her element—cowering under a table—that had shocked him into not recognizing her immediately. He’d laid eyes on her once before, when he’d
been watching Dunthorpe’s movements. A month ago, she’d been on Dunthorpe’s arm as they’d strolled into the Royal Opera House.
It was Lady Dunthorpe, Dunthorpe’s beautiful, elegant, cultured French wife. She’d emigrated from France during the Revolution, after her entire family had suffered
the wrath of the guillotine. She’d been rescued, sent to relatives who had found sanctuary in England, and had married Dunthorpe ten or eleven years ago. It was then that Dunthorpe’s ties to the French had grown much stronger.
Because, of course, she was in league with him. She must be.
She wasn’t supposed to be here tonight. She’d been at her residence in Brighton and wasn’t due back in London for another week. Men had been watching the house for days, and no one had reported her entering or exiting the building.
“Get up,” he told her brusquely.
Her eyes flicked toward Dunthorpe, who lay on the floor, blood seeping across his chest and turning his gray coat black. She drew in a terrified, stuttering breath. But she didn’t get up.
Sam considered his options. Killing her with Dunthorpe’s pistol was the first idea that came to mind. The odds were that she was as guilty as Dunthorpe was.
But Sam had drawn solid lines between those acts he would and would not commit. He would steal, lie, torture, and assassinate in the interests of king and country. He would not commit cold-blooded murder of an innocent British citizen, even to save his own hide. He would not perform any act that would put a member of his family in danger. And he would not kill a woman.
Those lines were all he had left—all he had to use as the threads by which he grasped on to the unraveling spool of his humanity.
Killing her was out of the question.
He could leave her here.
But she knew too much. Just from the short conversation he’d had with Dunthorpe, she would have learned enough to put everything at risk.
That left the only other option, one that was almost as unpalatable as the other two. He had to bring her with him.
“Get up,” he repeated. His voice sounded harsh even to his own ears.
“I . . . don’t . . . Please, I . . .” She moaned, appearing to make a valiant effort to follow his command but failing, her limbs trembling too violently to support her.
He jammed his pistol back into his coat pocket and crouched down beside her, aware that his time was already up. They needed to leave this place. Now.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he told her, and he prayed that it was true. “But I need you to come with me.”
She made a little moaning sound of despair. With a sigh, Sam scooped her into his arms and rose. God, she was a little thing. Light as a feather. But she was stiff in his arms.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said again. Although he didn’t blame her for not believing him. How could he? She’d just witnessed him kill her husband in cold blood.
He turned to the door, to the only escape from this room, and froze, tucking Lady Dunthorpe’s rigid, shaking body tightly against him.
Running footsteps resounded on the wooden floor of the outside corridor, and then the door flew open.
Damn it. He’d run out of time.