Audrey Jordan isn’t your typical Regency lady. To escape unrequited feelings for her brother’s best friend Griffin Berenger, she entered a life of a spy. But her current case has brought her back to the man she once loved and lost, a man who is now a broken widower. Audrey and her brother are stalking his neighbor, a man who may be plotting to kill the Prince.
Staying in Griffin’s home, Audrey is reminded of all the desires and feelings he once stirred in her. As for Griffin, he finds himself obsessed with Audrey, and driven to protect her even if it threatens her case. But as their desire for each other grows, the case Audrey and her brother are investigating heats up. And if she cannot arrest the blackguard in her sights, she may not live, let alone get to live happily ever after with the man of her dreams.
“He looks so sad. So alone,” Audrey whispered as she looked down the high hill to the cemetery below. Griffin Berenger stood at the gate of a bleached stone crypt, his forehead resting against the metal barrier and his hands clenched the steel bars. She could feel his pain as tangibly as if it were her own.
“He is alone.” Noah calmed his antsy horse with a gentle pat on his flank. “Now that Luci is dead.”
Audrey she squinted into the sun to get a better look at Griffin. She hadn’t expected the wash of emotion he inspired in her. It was a strange mixture of pity for herself and sorrow for him.
Why couldn’t she just look at him with the cool, collected gaze of a woman unaffected? After all, she had struggled for years to gain control over her sometimes-wild feelings. Now all that training seemed to fall away, leaving her drained before she’d even spoken to the man she once believed she loved.
“He seems different,” she murmured, more to herself than to her brother.
From the distance it was impossible to see his features clearly, but he seemed taller, broader than she remembered. And his hair had darkened a bit over time to a deep gold. But it was more than those physical things that made him appear changed. He held himself somewhere between fierce pride and utter defeat.
Noah shrugged. “Much has happened in five years. To both of you.”
Sliding her gaze away from Griffin, Audrey turned to her brother. Noah was watching her.
“Perhaps this is a mistake.” She looked away to hide her conflicted heart. “It’s only been six months since she died.”
“No.” Noah shook his head. “I know him better than you do. This will be good for him, too, I promise you.”
Shrugging one shoulder, she didn’t answer. After seeing Griffin lost in his grief, she didn’t know if he was ready to do anything, let alone the favor she and Noah were about to ask of him. To be fair, she wasn’t certain she was ready, either.
Noah reached out to touch her hand lightly. “I shall talk to him and make all the arrangements. All you need do is come in afterward.”
Audrey smiled at the comfort he offered. Her brother, of all people, had some understanding of what she was going through. “Yes, all I have to do.”
All she had to do was go into the room once Noah had convinced Griffin to help them. Oh, and keep herself from fainting with nervousness, and remember to breathe, and speak, and make an effort to appear calm. Just because she’d never been able to do any of those things near Griffin before…
Rolling her eyes, Audrey watched her brother as he turned his horse toward the house. Though she hadn’t seen Griffin in a long while, it had been even longer since she spoke to him. Since that fateful day in his study when she’d made such an idiot of herself.
“He probably doesn’t even remember,”she consoled herself quietly.
Noah glanced over his shoulder at her. “Did you say something?”
“Nothing at all,” she lied as she guided her horse toward Bentley Square.
Just before they headed down the other side of the hill, she looked toward the cemetery one last time, but Griffin was gone.
“My lord,” Cotter said, knocking softly on Griffin’s office door before he stepped inside.
“I thought I told you not to disturb me while I’m working.”
Griffin looked up to glare at the man. With a sigh, he turned his attention to the papers on his desk. No matter how hard he tried to convince people otherwise, he knew the truth. He wasn’t working. He hadn’t worked for six months.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have a visitor,” the man answered, his tone unchanged even after Griffin’s emotional response. Griffin supposed all the servants had grown accustomed to his outbursts. There had been so many since Luci’s death.
“I don’t wish to see anyone, tell the person to leave,” he muttered with a wave of his hand.
“You don’t want to see me?”
With a groan, Griffin glanced back up to see Noah Jordan leaning in the doorway. He couldn’t turn his best friend away, no matter how much he wanted to be alone.
Cotter looked at him expectantly and his graying eyebrows arched just a fraction, as if he would be willing to toss the Earl out if required. Sizing up the difference between the two men, Griffin thought he’d like to see the butler try, but instead he nodded.
“Thank you, Cotter,” Griffin sighed. “That will be all.”
After the other man had gone, Noah pushed the door shut behind him. He hovered near the entryway for a moment, but when Griffin said nothing, he moved to sit across from him at his desk. Noah studied him intently, then shook his dark head.
“And a fine hello to you, too.”
“I’m sorry.” Griffin leaned over to shake his friend’s hand. “I wasn’t expecting guests. I’m not exactly prepared to be a good host.”
Noah chuckled. “You never were great company to begin with.”
Griffin couldn’t help but respond with a grin, the first time he’d smiled in months. The expression felt odd and he relaxed his face into its regular somber expression.
Noah sighed as he leaned back in his chair. “I see you’re still torturing yourself.”
Griffin gripped his hands into fists in front of him. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“On my way to the house, I saw you standing at Luci’s grave,” his friend said softly. “How many times must I tell you that her death wasn’t your fault?”
The memories created by Noah’s words gave Griffin a painful jab of sensation which he quickly shoved aside. Noah had been the first person to visit him after Luci’s death. He’d tried desperately to convince Griffin that all would be well in time. His friend obviously still wanted him to believe that.
He cleared his throat. “Why are you here?”
“Always so direct, my friend,” Noah mused. “Exactly why you wouldn’t make a good spy.”
Relief washed over Griffin. For whatever reason, Noah had seen fit to give him a reprieve and didn’t appear to be starting a long, drawn-out discussion about Griffin’s dead wife. He rose to mix them both a drink in celebration.
“I never wanted to be a spy. That’s the life you chose, my friend.”
“Haven’t you ever been the least bit interested in it, though?” Noah took the drink he offered with a nod of thanks.
Griffin sat back down and swirled the scotch he had poured for himself. Somewhere in the darkest recesses of his sensible heart, he supposed he had wondered about the secret, dangerous life his best friend lived.
“Why do you ask?”
“I’m not here for personal reasons,” Noah admitted.
“Are you arresting me?” Griffin leaned back in his chair.
“No.” Noah laughed easily and Griffin envied him the ability. “But I do require your help in a case I’m working on.”
“I hate to be the one to tell you, but the war is over and Napoleon is locked away in Corsica.” Griffin set his drink on the desktop and laced his fingers together as he leaned forward. “What’s this really all about?”
His friend gave him a slightly superior smile. “The war may be over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all is well. I’m about to tell you something that isn’t public knowledge, and I must ask you to keep it a secret.”
Wrinkling his brow, Griffin looked closely at his good friend. Over the years he’d become aware of Noah’s job in the War Department, of his dangerous work on the Continent, but he had never been privy to any specific details. He’d never even thought to ask about them.
“You know you can trust me,” he said. “After all, I’ve never breathed a word about your occupation to anyone.”
Noah nodded. “I do know that. It’s why I’m here. Do you remember late last month when Louis XVII came in to Town to celebrate the routing of Napoleon and his return to power?”
Blinking, Griffin tried to recall. He hadn’t exactly been keeping up with the news lately. His breakfast copy of the Morning Chronicle sat untouched as often as it was read.
“I remember something about it.”
Noah took a deep breath. “Few people know this, but someone tried to kill the Prince Regent and Louis that day.”
Both Griffin’s eyebrows shot up in shock. “My God, I should keep up on the news more!”
His friend gave a slight smile. “The attempt wasn’t in the news. Our local agents diverted the attack, though we did lose one of our best men as a result. It has become very clear to my superiors and to the field agents that there is a serious plot afoot to assassinate the Prince.”
“How do you know this attack wasn’t just some unstable person who doesn’t like His Highness? Hell, half the country hates the man. By that theory, we’d all be suspects.”
Noah smiled. “I knew I could depend on you to ask the proper questions. The way the assassination plot was carried out was far too exacting for it to have been the random attack of a madman. We think we know who’s behind it-”
“Then arrest him, problem solved,” Griffin interrupted.
Noah ran a hand through his dark hair and Griffin saw a rare flash of frustration on his friend’s face. “I wish it were that easy. First, we don’t have enough evidence to be absolutely confident. Secondly, this man is not acting alone. Arresting him won’t ease the danger, only slow the plans of his group for a time. We need to find out more information before we move in to eliminate their entire crew.”
It was obvious Noah was building up to something. Griffin nudged him along with little subtlety. “This is all very interesting, my friend. But what does any of it have to do with me?”
Noah’s face twisted with what looked like dread. “Our target is the man whose London home is adjacent to yours.”
As shock rippled through him, Griffin thought of his two immediate neighbors. One was an elderly couple whose children were all married off and spread about the countryside. The other was…
“You aren’t telling me Douglas Ellison…” he burst out, his eyes widening.
“Is probably a traitor, and definitely a killer,” Noah confirmed with a sharp nod.
Griffin tried to remember an image to go along with his neighbor’s name. Ellison was what Griffin’s mother called nouveau riche, a man who had come into a large amount of money without the benefit of a title. He kept to himself, though Griffin had always thought him rather dandified when he chose to think of him at all.
“It’s hard to believe. Nearly impossible.”
“I’m sure it is,” Noah chuckled. “Most people don’t suspect their neighbor to be an assassin. He wouldn’t be a very good one if they did, would he?”
Griffin lifted his eyes to look at his friend in amazement. Noah was talking about murder and political intrigue with the same tone he would use to discuss a squash game!
“I’m still not certain why you need me.”
Noah’s seriousness returned. “With the Prince declaring a summer Jubilee and all the Royalty from the continent and military leaders coming to town, the War Department feels Ellison and his group will have the perfect opportunity to strike again and do a great deal of damage. We’re trying to prevent that attempt while gathering enough intelligence to arrest Ellison and his men.”
“And I come in…?” Griffin asked impatiently.
“I’m getting to that.” Noah said with a purse of his lips. “We’ve begun to infiltrate Ellison’s organization with a female agent. She offers Ellison a few opportunities if he marries her…respectability, money, etcetera…and he’s been courting her for a little more than a month. We need to go to London to allow this woman to be close to Ellison, all the while keeping her safe.”
“And since I live next door to the man…” Griffin began with a groan as his friend’s rationale became clear to him.
“I wondered if we might stay in your home, with you as our host,” Noah finished.
“Why don’t you stay in your own home?” Griffin asked. “Won’t that seem a bit suspicious?”
“I started renovating my London estate the moment I was told of this plan. My father is furious, but it isn’t as if the antiquated place didn’t need it.” Noah stood. “Griffin, I know this is asking much of you, especially so soon after Lucinda’s death. But I need your help.”
Damn his friend for knowing exactly what to say. Griffin rubbed his hand over his chin.
“How exactly will this plan work? If a woman stays with you and me, unattended in my home, her reputation will be ruined, and there goes Ellison’s respectability. Why wouldn’t he lose interest in her?”
“Her respectability won’t be in jeopardy.”
Griffin interrupted him with a snort. “How could a woman’s reputation not by sullied by spending unescorted nights with a widower and the biggest rake in all of London?”
Noah’s grin widened to an unbelievable length before he chuckled, “I think you need to meet my agent before you ask that question.”
As if on cue, the door swung open and a young woman stepped inside. Her dark auburn hair was spun up into a loose chignon and she wore a pretty azure blue gown that accented the bright color of her eyes. The color that matched Noah’s almost exactly. The eyes Griffin had stared into once and seen…
“I know you remember my sister,” Noah said.
Griffin could hardly breathe as he stared. In front of him stood the woman who had haunted his dreams for the past five years. The woman he had tried so hard to forget.
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“…full of heated kisses and a push and pull that leaves you on edge…” – Illuminate Book Reviews
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“…well worth reading…” — Love Romance Passion