Scoundrel


The Blades of the Rose:
Book 2
From Zebra Books
ISBN-10: 1420106805
ISBN-13: 978-1420106800

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The Blades of the Rose are sworn to protect the sources of magic in the world. But the work is dangerous—and they can’t always protect their own…

READY FOR ACTION

London Harcourt’s father is bent on subjugating the world’s magic to British rule. But since London is a mere female, he hasn’t bothered to tell her so. He’s said only that he’s leading a voyage to the Greek isles. No matter, after a smothering marriage and three years of straitlaced widowhood, London jumps at the opportunity—unfortunately, right into the arms of Bennett Day.

RISKING IT ALL

Bennett is a ladies’ man, when he’s not dodging lethal attacks to protect the powers of the ancients from men like London’s father. Sometimes, he’s a ladies’ man even when he is dodging them. But the minute he sees London he knows she will require his full attention. The woman is lovely, brilliant, and the only known speaker of a dialect of ancient Greek that holds the key to calling down the wrath of the gods. Bennett will be risking his life again—but around London, what really worries him is the danger to his heart…


Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review and Pick of the Week

“Zoe weaves a delightful spell…cleverly blending history and magic in new, delightful ways…”
—Elizabeth Vaughan USA Today bestselling author

“An innovative and exciting romantic adventure with just the right touch of the paranormal…”
—Jennifer Ashley, USA Today bestselling author

Note: at this point in the story, our heroine knows our hero, Bennett Day, as “Ben Drayton.”

Feeling liberated, London pressed further into the garden, taking one of the paths off into a pretty little alcove, fragrant with rosemary.  It was darker here, and she took a moment to look up at the sky, wanting to see constellations.  Now that she was truly in Greece, she might feel more connected to the ancient myths that gave the stars their names.  But the city was too bright.  Only a crescent moon shone, and a glimmer here and there of a star.  It had been better out at sea.

She would be at sea soon enough.  And then taken to a completely uninhabited island, according to her father, its only occupants a small team of French archeologists at a distance from the camp where she and the rest of their party would be based.  Though the island lacked for all facilities and comforts, London eagerly anticipated her work on Delos.  A little dust and some lizards did not bother her, not when the true experiences of life awaited.

London bent to sniff at the tiny pink blossoms on the rosemary bushes, but a strange awareness prickled along her neck.  She straightened and looked around.  Everything was silent, save for the chatter of the hotel guests inside, the slight rustle of the tall cypresses in the breeze.  The distant nighttime sounds of Athens, too, carts in the street, voices in Greek bidding each other a pleasant evening.  Despite this, she could not shake the notion that she was not alone.

“Hello?” she called out.  “Father?”  Then, “Sally?”

“Never would’ve forgiven my mother if she’d named me Sally.”

London stifled a gasp as a familiar, deep voice rumbled from the darkness.  Then the lean, agile form of Ben Drayton half-emerged from the shadows.

“Mr. Drayton,” she breathed, pressing a hand to her pounding heart, “you quite startled me.”

“My apologies,” he said, still keeping largely to the shelter of night.  In the dimness, she was just able to make out certain details about him.  He wore the clothes he’d had on in the marketplace, definitely not dressed for dinner.  Not with those tall boots that had seen much wear, the serviceable fabric of his coat.  But London hardly attended to his clothing.  She had told herself, in the intervening hours since seeing Mr. Drayton, that she must have embellished her memory.  No man was truly that beautifully formed in face and body.  A romantic fancy brought about by an exotic setting and too much time reading books at home.

Ah, but no.  Her recollection had not played her false.  Here, in this perfumed evening garden, he was just as athletic, just as seductively handsome, perhaps even more so.  Nighttime felt appropriate, a milieu that suited him, with its promises of dalliance and danger.

She found her voice.  “I did not hear you.”

He came closer, skirting the edges of light.  “Rotten habit of mine, sneaking around.  Used it to great effect taking strawberry tarts from the buttery when I was supposed to be in bed.”

“So I am the strawberry tart, in this analogy.”

He chuckled, warming her.  “I’d never call you a tart, my lady.”

London wanted to be a little daring, almost as daring as he was.  “But if I was a berry, I wonder what kind I’d be,” she said with a teasing smile.

“Something sweet and wild,” he said, voice low and husky.

London had only just mastered her breath and his words made them catch again.  Her gaze strayed towards his mouth, the mouth that said such wicked things.  She made herself turn away, play with her ebony-handled fan.  What was wrong with her?  All she wanted to do was cross the small distance that separated her from this veritable stranger and pull his mouth down to hers, learning what he tasted like.  She never even did such a thing when married.  She would not now, of course, but the impulse was strong, stronger than she would have suspected in herself.

She had to turn her mind in a less…wanton direction.  “Are you a guest of the hotel, Mr. Drayton?” she asked.

“No.  Visiting someone at the hotel.”

She turned back and started.  He stood closer so that only a few feet separated them.  She did not know any man could move so silently.  Perhaps he was part feline, after all.  Would his body have the warmth of a large cat, as well?  It seemed likely.  “A friend?”

“Not a friend.”

“An acquaintance, then?  Who?  Perhaps I know them.  We may have someone in common.”

“Doubt it.  I sincerely hope you don’t know them.”

“What disreputable company you must keep, sir.”

“Those I consider my friends are disreputable in the best ways.”  He surveyed her with a long, slow perusal that lingered boldly on the exposed flesh of her arms, her shoulders.  A look like a caress, and her skin responding in kind.  No gentleman looked at a woman in such a fashion.  But this Mr. Drayton, she was beginning to understand, only spoke and dressed like a gentleman.  Underneath the polish he was all rogue.  “Sweet and wild, indeed,” he murmured.  He eyed her formal dinner gown.  “A little too much splendor, though.”

“Not too splendid that I can’t cause a bit of trouble in Monastiraki,” she answered with an impish smile.  “See what a scoundrel you have turned me into.  I still have that piece of pottery.”  She poked into the small evening reticule that dangled from her wrist, until she produced the shard and held it out to him.  “My ill-gotten gains.”  When he bent closer to peer at the fragment, she said, “Take it.  I’ve had enough of Darius the Third.”

He plucked it from her hand, his fingers brushing hers as their eyes held.  She felt a hunger low in her belly stir to life.

He held the shard up to read it better in the soft light.  “Darius the Third,” he repeated.  “Really?”

She wondered whether he would dismiss her linguistic skills or condemn them.  “I hope you don’t question me, too,” London said with a lightness she did not quite feel.  “That’s what got me into trouble at the marketplace.  I dated it based on the inscription.  But,” she added quickly, “if someone claims that an antiquity comes from the era of Darius the Great, they oughtn’t sell something from Darius the Third’s reign.”

He lowered the piece of pottery and looked at her, speculative.  “You know the difference.”
London debated whether or not to prevaricate.  She could pretend she knew less than she did, or make light of what was her greatest passion and accomplishment.  But the encounter with Drayton in the market square had convinced her that she could free herself, that she had the strength to own herself with pride.  And if he did laugh at her or find her unnatural, then she could weather that, too.

“I do,” she answered, direct and clear.  “I’ve studied languages my whole life.  The more ancient, the better, but I know dozens of modern ones, as well.”

“The vendor in Monastiraki insulted you in Greek.”

“I understood every word he said, and what you said to him.  Do not doubt me, handsome rogue,” she added in accentless modern Greek.  Then, in an ancient dialect he would never know, she said, “I want to kiss you and see your skin in the moonlight.”

He stared at her, narrowing his eyes.  Not contemptuous or patronizing, but something else, as if she was the missing piece to a puzzle he assembled in his mind.

She felt a new kind of unease under that keen scrutiny.  “What is it, Mr. Drayton?”

He narrowed his eyes.  “Tell me why you’re in Greece.”

“I shall not, sir,” she answered at once.  Father had been explicit in his instructions to her.  She could not speak to anyone of their purpose.  No matter what attraction drew her to Ben Drayton, he wasn’t to be let into her confidence, not about this.

The teasing rogue was gone, and a new hardness entered his voice, his posture.  “No husband with you here.  A relative, then.  Father.  Brother.”

London stiffened, growing more alarmed.  “This conversation is over, Mr. Drayton.”  She tried to brush past him, but his large hand clamped onto her arm, holding her fast.  London’s temper and fear spiked.  “Release me, immediately.”

“What do you know about the Heirs?” he demanded.

“The airs?”

“Heirs,” he repeated, positively menacing.

“Whatever you are talking about, it is lost on me.  If you do not release me at once, I shall scream.”  She wished she could do more than scream, but London knew nothing about how to physically protect herself.  Now that she faced real danger, she fervently wished she knew how to throw a punch.  She very much doubted her feeble efforts would have any effect on the exceptionally strong Drayton.

“London?”

“Mrs. Harcourt?”

The voices of her father and Fraser cut through the heavy garden air, coming towards her.  Before London could utter a single word, Ben Drayton was gone, vanishing into darkness noiselessly.  She gulped and shivered, feeling the hot imprint of his hand on her arm.