Here’s an excerpt from the forthcoming My Lady Quicksilver, wherein our dutiful Master of the Nighthawks first meets his adversary… Or should I say, heroine?
The guild loomed over Chancery Lane, an alley running along both sides, as though the row houses on each side feared to touch it. Leering gargoyles kept watch on the roof; inside each gaping mouth was a spyglass that—by use of a clever mirror system he’d designed—transmitted inside images of the street so that his men could keep watch without being seen. Stepping through the pair of glossy black double doors, Lynch found himself in the main entry. It looked like the typical London manor and it was easy to penetrate—not so easy to escape. If he pressed the security breach button a chain-and-lever system would drop heavy iron bars over every opening.
A faint creak on the floor above drew his eyes upward. From the faint hint of bay rum in the air, he recognized Garrett. Nobody else wore bloody aftershave.
Lynch took a step forward, then froze as the scent of something else caught his attention. Warm flesh. Linen and the mouthwatering tang of lemon. Just a hint of woman.
His hunger stirred. He was overdue for his allotted measure of blood. That had to be the problem.
Garrett appeared at the top of the stairs, lean and stark in his black leather body armor.
“There’s a woman here,” Lynch stated. “Who is she?” His men knew the rules. All assignations were to be on their own time and not in the guild.
Garrett sauntered down the stairs. “She’s here for you.”
“Me?” He paused.
“For the secretarial position. To interview with you.”
“Bloody hell,” he muttered, stripping his great cloak off. He tossed it on the hatstand. “I forgot. I thought I said no more women? I want someone with a stronger constitution and more fortitude.”
“It’s the nature of a woman.”
“Aye.” Garrett grinned. “That brutal sense of honesty is why you keep a lonely bed.”
Lynch scraped a weary hand over the stubble on his jaw. That hadn’t always been the case. “It could have something to do with the fact I’ve not been to bed for two…possibly three days.” He considered it. “Definitely three.”
“I’ll have some coffee and blood sent up. And a plate of biscuits for the lady.”
Lynch gave an abrupt shake of the head. “Don’t bother. She’s not staying. Blood however…blood would be much appreciated.”
Climbing the stairs, he paced toward his study on cat-silent feet. All the better to observe. The door to his secretary’s study cracked open an inch. The scent of her was much stronger here. The heavy overlaying perfume of lemon verbena and linen lingered in the air. Some scent she’d dabbed on her wrists and throat he imagined.
The narrow slice of door presented him with a view of dark blue skirts, the bustle hooked up in a style fashionable almost five years ago. A thick velvet wrap the color of midnight covered slim shoulders and her hat disguised her features. He couldn’t tell whether she was young or old, pretty or plain.
He could tell, however, that she was examining the enormous map of London that covered the far wall. Red pins dotted the map, carving out a large swathe of East London and red string ran between each pin, creating an incomprehensible spider web for those who didn’t know what it meant—sightings of Mercury that he’d been able to verify or the location of several humanists he’d uncovered. Some he’d left in place. It was enough to know who they were. He had larger prey to catch.
Lynch’s hand slid inside his waistcoat pocket and the small scrap of leather inside. No perfume there. His fingers had long since rubbed away any trace of scent. But close his eyes and it would be a simple matter to recall the hot scent of her, laced with the burning smell of iron slag in the enclaves and the choking pall of coal. Mercury wore no perfume. His cock throbbed at the thought and Lynch ground his teeth together. Devil take her.
The woman in his study ran her fingers along the map, the jaunty hat swiveling to survey the room. Searching for something? Or merely bored? He hadn’t asked how long she’d been waiting, though since it was but morning, it couldn’t have been too long. Nobody was allowed out at night between the hours of nine and six during martial law.
Easing the door open, Lynch slipped inside without a sound. The woman froze, as if she sensed him immediately. Her head tilted to the side, revealing the fine line of her pale jaw and a pair of rosy lips. From the prickling uneasiness in her stance and the stiffening between her shoulder blades, she hadn’t been around a blue blood often. No doubt she was one of the working class, her ears full of rumors and superstitions about how a blue blood lusted for blood, their hungers insatiable. Or how the Echelon kept factories filled with human slaves.
“Sir Jasper.” She turned slowly, the light striking over her fine features. Eyes the color of polished obsidian met his. Lynch stopped in his tracks. She was just past the first blush of youth, but…no…He looked closer. Her tip-tilted nose and fragile features gave the impression that she was younger than she was. Her sense of poise told another story.
Lynch raked his gaze over her. Skin like porcelain, so pale and creamy it almost glowed in the soft dawn light through the windows. Her eyebrows were coppery wings, arching delightfully as she examined him back. He couldn’t see her hair for the hat and netting, but he imagined it was the same fierce copper of her brows. She was slender enough through the torso that her heavy skirts swamped her and her hands were hidden by kid-leather gloves that she hadn’t bothered to remove, as etiquette demanded. To present the wrists or the throat to a blue blood was tantamount to exposing a breast.
So she did have some experience with blue bloods. Interesting. Lynch had to amend his previous assessment of her. She was wary enough that the experience had not been a good one, he suspected.
“How do you do?” she asked, pasting a smile on her rosy lips and offering him her right hand.
Lynch stared at it. “Let us get to the point, Miss—?”
“Mrs. Marberry.” Slight emphasis on the first word.
He frowned. “I’m afraid your services are not required. There was a mix-up with the advertisement. The position has already been filled.” His eye caught a letter on the desk, the address written in gold ink. From the Council of Dukes then. He started toward it. “Garrett will see you to the—”
“Obviously not by a woman,” she replied tartly. “With their weak constitutions and all.”
Lynch stopped and looked at her. She’d overheard him in the entry. Cool brown eyes met his. A challenge. If she thought he would be embarrassed, then she didn’t know him very well.
Opening her reticule, she tugged out a sheaf of papers. “I have references from my last two places of employ. I worked for Lord Hamilton in the War Office, and then for Lady Shipton as her personal secretary. I assure you”—her voice became a drawl—“after that, nothing could shock me or turn my stomach.”
Lynch crossed his arms over his chest. He’d dealt with the Shipton case. A jealous blue blood husband and an adulterous consort whose predilections had surprised even him. He’d thought he’d seen it all by now. “You are aware that both your previous employees are dead?”
“Not by my hand, I assure you.”