Undercover revenge meets unstoppable desire in the latest Nemesis, Unlimited novel from award-winning author Zoë Archer
CAN A COMMON CAUSE
Alyce Carr has no time for the strange man in her little Cornwall village, no matter how breathtakingly handsome he is. Life in Trewyn doesn’t allow for much fun—the managers of the copper mine barely provide the miners and their families with enough food. Outsiders are suspect and flirts are unimaginable, but Simon Sharpe is as keen as his name…and Alyce can’t ignore him for long.
LEAD TO A SHARED PASSION?
As the founder of Nemesis, Unlimited, Simon Addison-Shawe is well accustomed to disguise and deceit. Yet he’s not prepared for Alyce’s dogged defense of her people and the injustices the copper mine has dealt them. With Alyce’s help he can change the fate of an entire town, and convincing her to join him is only part of the thrill. Together, they ignite a desire in each other much too powerful to deny. But at what cost?
“An innovative tale…Memorable characters, unusual settings, and new twists on old plot tropes make this novel irresistible.” – Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Top Pick! 4 1/2 Stars! This Nemesis Unlimited installment is another exhilarating adventure romance from the multitalented Archer whose strong, inventive plots, amazing characters and jaw-dropping stories take readers’ breath away.” - RT Book Reviews
RT Reviewers Choice Nominee for Best Innovative Historical Romance
Alyce strode back to the village on a path she knew as well as her own heartbeat. Generations of miners in their heavy boots had worn a track into the green hillsides. They left their legacy both beneath the earth and upon it. Just as she did. But her steps were fast, and she kicked up dust with each angry footfall. If all of the miners had walked with the same amount of fury that she felt, the path would be a trench, six feet deep.
As she walked, the conversation—or rather, lack of conversation—with the managers dug into her mind, like shards of metal.
It’s simply not cost effective for the company store to replace almost a hundred pounds of butter just on your say so, Miss Carr.
“Cost effective, my arse,” she muttered to herself. They always had some excuse, some barely thought-out rationale. Would it make any difference to them if she was a man instead of a woman? Would they listen to her, take her grievances more seriously?
Doesn’t matter, does it? Since I’m the only one trying to make a change.
“Miss Carr! Miss Carr!”
Caught up as she was in her own roiling thoughts, she barely heard a man call her name, or the sound of boots hurrying to catch up with her.
Only when he said her name again directly behind her, did she stop walking. Had to be a surface captain, ready to chastise her for leaving work early—even though she had the managers’ permission. She was just about to say so, when she turned to face the man pursuing her.
It was him. That stranger who’d been in the engine house.
“Seeing as how it’s my new home,” he said, “I was hoping you could show me the way to the village.” He didn’t sound at all winded, even though it looked like he’d been running to catch up with her. With his thumb, he pushed back the brim of his cap, revealing a thatch of wheat blond hair.
In the engine house, she’d only had a brief glimpse of him beneath the gas lights—seeing mostly the winter blue of his eyes—but now they were out in the sun, and she could observe him more clearly.
“Got the job, then?” she asked.
“Good thing, too,” he answered. “I need the work and that pump engine needs a nursemaid.”
He wore a laboring man’s clothes, filling them with a leanly muscular body that had seen its share of work. Growing up and living amongst men who spent hours a day tearing ore from the ground made her no stranger to the sight of a young man in prime condition. But something about this man—the confidence in the way he carried himself, the stretch of rough wool across his broad shoulders and down his long legs—made her aware of his physicality.
“Men aren’t nursemaids,” she pointed out.
He gave an affable shrug. “A friend of mine told me that the definition of a man is that he does whatever’s necessary. And if that pump engine needs me to change its nappy and rock it to sleep, then I’m the man for the job.”
She tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but her thoughts briefly scattered like startled thrushes when she got a good look at his face. Blessed saints, she didn’t know men could look like this. All clean lines, high cheekbones, and elegantly carved jaw bones. His lips were thin, but the bottom lip was unexpectedly full. Someone long ago in his bloodline must have birthed an aristocrat’s bastard, for there was no denying the natural nobility in his features.
It seemed a strange contrast to the clothing he wore and his accent—which she placed somewhere around Sheffield, and not the nice parts of that city, either.
A face was just a face—nobody had power over how they looked. It didn’t matter how handsome this man was, he was only that: a man, like any other.
She pointed to the path, worn into the ground. “If you’re looking for the village, follow this for another mile and a half. It’ll take you right there.”
“Since we’re headed in the same direction,” he said with a smile, “may as well keep one another company.”
For all her bold talk, she was a woman, and not entirely immune to a handsome man’s smile.
Still, she said indifferently, “As you like.”
Setting down one of his bags, he extended a broad hand to her. She hesitated for a moment, not really wanting to touch him, but he glanced down at his hand and saw that machine grease smudged a few of his fingers. With an apologetic grimace, he wiped his hand on his trousers—drawing her attention to his thigh—and then offered her his hand again.
“Simon Sharpe,” he said. “Just got hired as a new machinist.”
It would be downright rude not to shake his hand, so she did so. The contact of palm to palm sent a fast shiver of awareness through her. “Alyce Carr,” she said, trying for a level voice. “And you’d be wise to take up your bags and find work elsewhere, Simon.” Only the managers and bosses referred to the miners and workers by their last names.
She let go of his hand and walked toward the village. He quickly fell into pace beside her.
“Wheal Prosperity’s the only mine that’s hiring right now,” he said. “Don’t have much choice in the matter.”
“There’s always emigration. Or you could try something different—like the music halls.”
“I get seasick something terrible, so crossing the ocean’s out. And as for the music halls”—his low, husky laugh trailed along the nape of her neck—“they’d only pay me not to sing and dance.” His gaze was sharp and curious as he looked at her. “You work at Wheal Prosperity, but if it’s as you’re implying, why don’t you leave?”
The managers rode by on their trap, trailing thick clouds of dust as they returned to the village, and paying her and Simon no attention. Coughing, Alyce tried to wave the dust away. Finally, it settled, the trap already a speck in the distance.
For a moment, she debated whether or not to be honest with him. There was always the possibility that he could be yet another of the owners’ snoops, hunting out agitators. But she’d never made a secret of her complaints, and she hadn’t yet been fired.
Because they know I can’t do a damned thing against them, and I’m one of their best bal-maidens. To them, I’m just a gnat. A very productive gnat.
“Can’t,” she answered bluntly. “I assume they gave you a chit to pay for your food and lodging for the week.”
“Five shillings’ worth.”
She whistled. “A princely sum. And did you read the words on the bloody thing?” She recited them from memory. The words themselves were stamped upon her very brain. “Payable in Merchandise, Non Transferable. That’s how we’re all paid now. With that damned chit.”
“And there go anyone’s hopes of saving actual money. Couldn’t even buy a train ticket to carry you to someplace new.”
A narrow stream dotted with rocks crossed the path they walked. Every so often, some enterprising person from the village thought to set a wooden plank or two across the stream to make it easier to cross, but the planks never lasted. People rather liked skipping across the rocks—a little reminder of childhood play.
Simon nimbly jumped from rock to rock and landed on the other side of the stream with just a few strides. He set his bags down and reached out a hand for her. To help her across.
The gentlemanly gesture flummoxed her. It was so natural for everyone who lived in the village to cross the stream that no one ever thought to give anyone assistance. And she still didn’t like the idea of touching him. No, that wasn’t quite true. She didn’t like the sensations in her body caused by touching him. This man who was an utter stranger.