It’s Downton Abbey, Nemesis-style, in Winter’s Heat, an exclusive new novella from award-winning author Zoë Archer
An auxiliary Nemesis agent and a former client go undercover as servants at a country estate during the Christmas season to expose corruption among London society’s powerful elite. Michael and Ada never thought they would again be working side by side in the pursuit of justice. Now that they’re on a case together, the attraction they had once shared flares to life, making a dangerous assignment even more unpredictable. Can they take the heat?
Michael paced the tiny stillroom. He barely saw the rows of bottled cordials and preserves lined up on the shelves. All his attention was fixed on the sounds in the corridor outside, listening to footsteps going back and forth—and waiting for one particular set of footsteps.
Despite his gloves, he rubbed his palms on the front of his snug dark blue livery breeches, trying to dry his hands. He tugged on his blue and silver braided livery jacket and smoothed the front of his silver waistcoat. There was no use pretending his case of nerves came only from the upcoming mission.
The door to the stillroom opened and shut quickly. Ada stepped from the shadows of the doorway. Light from the small, high-set window lit her wary face.
Wary, but to him, an unforgettable face. Her starched white cap partly covered her dark brown hair, smoothed down into a tight bun. Her hazel eyes looked at him with caution, and her small candy of a mouth was drawn tight.
“I half thought you wouldn’t show.” He was careful to keep his voice low to avoid detection from outside.
“I half thought not to come,” she answered softly, though her tone was still sharply edged. “They didn’t tell me you’d be my partner.”
“Had you known, you’d have refused the assignment?”
“Don’t be daft.” She looked appalled he’d even suggest the idea. “But I might’ve been better . . . prepared.” Her gaze flicked to him, then away.
He, though, looked his fill. The past six months had treated her well, shown by the trim fit of her dark uniform. She’d lost some of her housemaid’s boniness that had hollowed her cheeks and pinched her waist. How might she feel in his arms, with these sleeker, lusher curves?
He crushed that thought like a cigarette beneath his boot heel. The mission always came first—and she looked as though she’d try to snap his wrist clean off if he so much as touched the ties of her apron. He couldn’t blame her.
“Simon planned on sending someone else,” he admitted. “I changed his mind. This is your first real assignment for Nemesis—”
She scowled. “You forget my help in the past?”
“Like hell. A damned fine job you did.” He didn’t miss the quick flare of pleasure in her gaze, or how she smothered it.
Damn. This wasn’t going to be the reunion he’d imagined.
“But you haven’t been one of the chief agents on a case. I couldn’t . . . ” He struggled to find the words. “The only one I trusted to look after you on your first job was me.”
Yet she was set on being angry. She folded her arms across her chest. “You don’t trust me, after everything Nemesis has done for me. After everything I’ve done for them.”
God, he wanted to run his hands through his hair, but it was slick with the massive amounts of pomade he was required to wear while in service at Covington Hall, and he’d get it all over his gloves.
“Bloody right they trust you,” he growled, “but any operative’s first real assignment needs a senior agent’s help.”
“Are you a senior agent?”
“Getting there,” he admitted.
“Then why send you?”
“I’d just gotten back from a mission. They told me what was happening at Covington Hall, and that you’d be there. Straight out, I said I’d be the one to partner you. Nemesis didn’t tell you because they didn’t know—not until thirty minutes before I left for Wiltshire.”
He didn’t say that he’d been bone-tired from his last job: six months in a shady duke’s retinue as they traveled across the Continent. Michael had finally gathered the evidence he’d needed of the duke’s trafficking of kidnapped girls, then took the first steam packet across the Channel. He’d literally stepped off the hackney at Nemesis headquarters, suitcase in hand, and learned of the mission at Covington Hall and that Ada would be one of the agents. With her experience as a housemaid in a great house, Simon had vouched for her as the perfect operative for the job. Michael would’ve endorsed her, too, but he’d been out of the country. Minutes after arriving at headquarters, he was on the train, heading to Wiltshire. Weary as a dog, he still hadn’t been able to catch any sleep on the ride. His mind was a boxing match between thoughts of the mission and seeing Ada again.
“Simon wired the house with my character,” he continued. It showed how respected Simon Addison-Shawe was in the world of the elite that his recommendation for a last-minute staff addition had been accepted without question. “Just like you. His word got me the job. To do the mission. And see you again.”
She continued to gaze at him warily.
You thought it’d be so bloody easy? A few words from you and she’d melt into your arms?
She’d always had a strong will. And it dawned on him that the very thing that drew him to her could force them apart. Did keep them apart.
He’d been a green fool to believe she’d be happy or eager to see him again. A knife of disappointment sliced into him.