by Wendy LaCapra
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Sophia Baneham has lived in the poison of her dead father’s shadow for longer than she cares to admit. Now she exists outside of polite society’s influence, holding gambling parties for London’s most dangerous men. When a man walks into one of her soirees, a compelling mix of charisma and icy control, he offers the lady of sin a wager she can’t refuse…
Lord Randolph is a spy in the service of His Majesty, but he’s given an oath to protect the daughter of his mentor. Even as his gamble of marriage starts to spiral out of control and his passions ignite, Randolph is determined that he’ll handle things his way…
But when danger closes in, Randolph won’t just have to protect Sophia from an intended killer. He’ll have to protect her from himself…
“Speak, Sophia,” he ordered. “Say something. Anything.”
She clapped her palms together and concealed her shaking fingers by tucking her hands beneath her chin. “What do you wish to hear?”
“I know you are angry with me,” he said with an edge of impatience, “and I am sure your pretty head is full of dark delusions. But the past does not affect what is between us. We have our marriage to consider now.”
The word marriage bounced off her gut like a coward’s blow.
“I am not angry” —she was furious— “and my pretty head is not full of delusions.” Not anymore.
He resumed his slow prowl until she felt his heat against her back. My. Had he always been so tall?
“Play ice-hearted queen, if you must,” he said, “but look me in the eye when you lie.”
“With pleasure.” Her skirts swished as she turned. She fit between his shoulders like a small painting fit an over-large frame, but victory did not always go to those with a physical advantage. She granted him the most dazzling of her smiles, a smile she used to knock men on their heels. Weaving a purr into her words, she added, “Then again, what does a hard look in the eye mean, one liar to another?”
Randolph had sense enough to step back.
“I did not tell you of my past connection to Earl Baneham,” he said low and quiet. “But my deception was for your protection.”
She hated hearing the Earl’s name on his lips.
Earl Baneham. Her father. Or, as they’d called him when he worked for the East India Company, The Ruthless. The Earl had taken pride in his reputation, and had insisted that any man he mentored show proof he possessed the same quality. Her gaze dropped to Randolph’s clean, gloveless fingers. She did not want to know what atrocity those hands had committed to gain access to her father’s lethal—and very secret—club.
She sidled away from Randolph…and closer to the poker. Information. She needed information. “How long did you work for Baneham?”
“There are few who assisted the government in the same capacity as I, who had not worked with your father.”
“Not an answer.”
He sighed. “I began assisting him during my grand tour.”
Five years? How could she have been so blind? She kept her dry, rough eyes wide open.
“Tell me,” she asked, “how well did you absorb the Earl’s tutelage? Did you memorize his book of rules?” She wagered he had a copy of those rules in his pocket. “Did you believe, like his other starry-eyed students, that he held every answer to questions of power and authority and governance?”
“He was wise and effective,” he said.
“More like brutal and cold-blooded. I do not need a lecture on the earl from one of his lackeys.”
He stiffened. “I was hardly Baneham’s lackey.”
“To the Earl, everyone was a lackey.”
“Oh?” he asked. “Why then, did he trust me with his most valued possession?”
“His most valued possession?” Her voice edged up like a cocking pistol.
The single syllable exploded in her mind.
“So, I am a possession the Earl could will to a particularly esteemed devotee?” She bared her teeth. “A possession from the Latin possidere—to be master of, to own.”
“A possession from the Latin possidere— to have and hold.” His smooth voice rolled over her fury. “I would protect you with my life, Sophia.”
Wendy LaCapra, a 2012 Golden Heart® Finalist, has been reading romance since she discovered Victoria Holt (in the library’s adult section!) From that point on, her only dream was to create worlds with historical richness, intrigue and pleasure. She lives in NYC with her husband and can occasionally be found gossiping about history and romance with the Dashing Duchesses or burning up the web with those mystical mistresses of resilience, the GH class of 2012 aka the Firebirds.
Wendy will award one of ten ebooks to ten randomly drawn winners via Rafflcopter.