“You need not worry. Young Blackmoor will very soon no longer be of concern. I plan to deal with him.”

“Forgive me if I have little faith in your ability to follow through on that promise.”

Alex was unable to keep the gasp from escaping as she realized what the villain on the other side of the door meant. The noise rent the air, jolting her out of her trance as silence fell on the other side of the door. She flew down the hallway, her soft calfskin slippers lending her a silent tread. Once she reached the orangery, she sank to the ground in the darkened room, allowing the sweet smell of citrus flowers to envelop her. Her heart was pounding with the realization of what she’d just overheard; she could barely think for the sound of her labored breathing.

The earl had been murdered. Gavin had been right. Alex shook her head, as though the action could erase her newfound knowledge. The elder Earl of Blackmoor was dead and Gavin was in danger. Blackmoor would no longer be a concern after this evening, they had said. She had to get to him first.

The thought had barely formed before she leapt to her feet, nothing considered except that she had to find Gavin. She started to exit the orangery when she heard a latch click along the hallway.

Pressing herself against the wall, she offered a silent prayer of thanks for the darkness and shadows that hid her position and she peered down the hallway as one man, then a second, emerged from the room. She couldn’t identify either of the figures for a moment—they simply appeared as shadows clad in formal attire—but as they moved closer to the light trickling into the passageway from the ballroom, her eyes widened in horror.

While she wasn’t entirely certain, she was fairly sure that one of the men was Lucian Sewell, Gavin’s uncle.

She stood still for a moment, frozen by the gravity of everything she had overheard, combined with the weight of the probability that Gavin’s uncle had murdered his own brother in cold blood. How was she going to tell Gavin that his uncle had killed his father? How was she going to tell him that, if he did not seek help immediately, he was going to be next? She had to get to him. They could be seeking him out right now.

After waiting a brief moment to ensure that the men had indeed returned to the ball and that she would not be discovered, she retraced her steps through the darkened corridor and back to the ladies’ cloakroom, increasing her speed as she went so that she was just short of a run when she burst into the ballroom…where she was immediately stayed by the crush of people at the ball.

Looking around her, she was desperate for someone she knew. Her brow furrowed as she stood on her toes and searched for Gavin, one of her brothers, Vivi, Ella, anyone.

“Looking for someone?” The voice, close to her ear, startled her and she gave a small shriek, whirling to face a grinning Lord Stanhope.

“Oh! Freddie!” She put a hand to her chest in surprise. “You’ve no idea how happy I am that it’s you!”

“As you can imagine, I hear that from women constantly,” he jested, but the wicked gleam in his eye dissolved quickly into concern. “What’s wrong with you, kitten? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I’m afraid it’s worse than that. But I can’t discuss it. I need to find Blackmoor.”

Freddie’s tone turned dark and menacing. “Has the rogue done something to hurt you?”

The question would have amused Alex in the past, but this evening she ignored him, waving a hand in frustration. “No. I just need to find him. Help me?”

“I’ll lay him out if he’s done something inappropriate.”

“Freddie. Stop being such a brute and help me. All right?” He nodded once, although he didn’t seem happy about it. “Capital. Go that way,” she said, indicating the direction of the orchestra. “If you see my brothers, or Vivi, or Ella, ask them to help find him. It’s a matter of great import.”

She started in the opposite direction, but he took hold of her arm and stayed her for a moment. “What’s going on, Alex?”

“I—I can’t tell you now. Please?” Her green eyes pleaded with him. “Please help?”

He locked gazes with her for a brief moment, as if attempting to read her thoughts. Something in her eyes must have convinced him. With a nod, he spun on his heel and disappeared into the crowd. She watched him go for a brief second, admiring his loyalty, before turning to find Blackmoor.

Only minutes later, she came upon Vivi and Ella, who had their heads bent in what looked like a serious discussion…or serious gossip. Alex approached them from behind, slipping her arms through theirs and interrupting, “Thank God I’ve found you. I need your help.”

Both girls looked up at her in surprise before Vivi replied, “We’ve been looking for you everywhere! What happened out there? You looked like Blackmoor had said something awful, the rogue! Are you all right?”

“He did say something awful. However, that is all quite irrelevant now, as something much worse has come to pass. I need to find him.”

“What kind of something much worse?” Ella spoke, concern in her blue eyes.

“I can’t take the time to explain right now.”

“Not even to us?” Vivi looked hurt.

“Not to anyone. I promise you’ll be the very first to know…after I find Gavin. Which I must do. Immediately.”

“Alex…” Vivi spoke with a warning tone in her voice.

“No. Vivi.” Alex slashed a hand through the air. “I am asking you for help. I will tell you everything later. I promise. Please, help me find him.”

“He left.” This from Ella.

“What? Why? Where did he go?” Alex turned and grasped her friend’s arms with both hands.

Ella gave Alex a startled look. “He left soon after you disappeared. Said something about balls not being the best places for him this season.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“No. Although he left through the gardens, so I assume he went home.”

“I have to follow him.”

“I beg your pardon?” Vivi and Ella spoke in unison.

“I told you, I can’t explain. There’s no time. You have to help me. I’m going out through the gardens. If anyone asks, tell them I had a fallen hem and went to have Eliza repair it.”

“Wait. Are you all right, Alex?” Vivi looked concerned.

“I’m all right. Just do this for me? Oh…and find Freddie. Tell him thank you, I found Blackmoor.”

“This is becoming more and more curious as the moments pass,” said Ella.

“Alex, you can’t just go traipsing off to Blackmoor House after him. You’ll be ruined if you’re caught!”

“I’ll simply have to risk it,” Alex said, wishing she had time to savor their confusion. “I’ll tell you everything upon my return. I promise.” She kissed them both on the cheek. “Oh. And if I don’t return in three quarters of an hour, tell your father where I went, Vivi.”


“I’ll be fine. It’s just a precaution.”

“What kind of precaution involves my father?”

“I’ll tell you everything upon my return,” she repeated. And, with that, she exited the room, making her way to the music room, which had an entrance to the gardens that offered a better chance of her not being caught in her escape.

Rushing though the dark garden that connected Worthington and Blackmoor houses, Alex did not take any time to think about what she would do if she were to interrupt a dreadful event. Instead, she thought only of Gavin: his grey eyes the color of the winter sea; his bold smiles that heated her very core; his generous spirit. Thinking of him focused her mind on one thing…she had to reach him before anyone else.

As she broke through the trees and found herself in the Blackmoor House garden, she pulled up short and inspected the house. She could see dimly lit windows on the upper floor, reserved for servants, but the rest of the home was dark, appearing uninhabited and forbidding.

She was just deciding how to enter the house when she sensed movement nearby. Falling back to press herself against a tree and blend in with the shadows, she watched as a small, dark figure crept across the back garden toward the window she knew led to the Earl of Blackmoor’s study. She focused intently on the figure, attempting to identify him. Try as she might, she couldn’t make out his face, although his physique seemed vaguely familiar. She watched in surprise as he worked the latch on the window, quickly unlocking it from the outside and lifting the sash, pushing it open.

It was clear that he was breaking into the house. It was also clear that she had to do something to stop him.

She gathered her courage, prepared to rush at him and stop his actions, when a light beamed brightly from inside the study, surprising her and sending the intruder scurrying off like a rat—around the corner of the house and across the garden. As she watched him hurry off, she felt a jolt of recognition. She was certain that he was the Baron Montgrave.

“My God! Ella was right!” she whispered to the night air. She’d made light of her friend’s overactive imagination and, this time, she should have listened!

Once the baron was out of sight, she followed his steps to the study window, which was still cracked open. Stepping into the soft earth beneath the window, she peered into the room to see Blackmoor at his desk, staring into nothingness, clearly lost in his own thoughts. She released an enormous sigh, grateful that he was unharmed—desperate to touch him and confirm his safety.

Reaching up, she rapped on the window pane sharply, startling Blackmoor from his thoughts. He stood up quickly, squinting at the window. Alex realized that he was unable to see her for the reflection of the light in the glass, so she called out softly, “It’s me!”

His eyes widened in surprised recognition as he moved quickly toward her, saying, “I’m certain I must be dreaming. There’s no way you’d risk your reputation quite so baldly.”

He threw open the window and leaned down on the sill, peering out into the night, meeting her nose to nose and continuing drily, “Tell me I’m dreaming, Alexandra.”

“I regret I cannot do that, my lord. It is indeed I standing in your flower bed…quite clandestinely.” Placing her hands next to his on the windowsill, she continued, “I need to speak with you. Help me in?”

He considered leaving her in the garden and then thought better of it. Reaching down, he grasped her arms and hauled her through the opening and into the study, waiting for her to steady herself before turning and closing the window. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off as he turned around. “You risked your reputation to follow me back here and, quite frankly, you had better have a decent reason to be skulking around my gardens instead of dancing the night away at your parents’ house.”

“I do. I’ve several reasons, actually, including the fact that it seems I’m not the only person skulking about your gardens this evening.”

His eyes widened in surprise at her words. “I beg your pardon?”

She stole a glance at the clock on the fireplace mantel. “I cannot stay long, and neither can you. We have to return to Worthington House.”

“Why? Haven’t we been to enough balls this season?” he quipped.

“It’s not the ball. It’s that you cannot stay here by yourself. Someone is planning to kill you. I just watched an aborted attempt to enter the house through this very window. I think it was Baron Montgrave.

“He’s gone now, and I can’t be sure. You scared him off with the light.” She pushed on, urgently. “I know that wasn’t the most tactful way to tell you, but we don’t have much time. You see…only moments ago at the ball, I overheard a private conversation between two men who sounded very much involved in what could only have been espionage. They made it quite clear that you have access to some very dangerous information or, rather, that your father was privy to some information that he should not have been privy to and, more importantly, that they were willing to kill to be sure that, first, you don’t have the opportunity to share this knowledge you may or may not have with anyone else, and, second, you do not have the opportunity to learn this information to begin with.” She grasped his hand and pulled. “We have to leave here. Now.”

He did not move. “We’re not going anywhere until you’ve explained slightly more than you already have.”

She sighed impatiently. “I don’t have time to explain any more! Someone could climb through that window at any moment and surprise us!”

“It does seem a popular entryway,” he observed.

“How can you jest at a time like this?” she said. “Did you not understand me? Someone is plotting to do away with you!”

“Alex. Try to stay calm.”

“Stay calm?” she burst out, frustrated. “You weren’t there! You didn’t hear them speaking as though killing you would fit in between breakfast and morning visitors!”

“You’re not hearing what I’m trying to say, Alex,” he said calmly. “I know. All of it. I know that my father had information damning enough to kill for. I know it related, in some way, to the war. I know that information is believed to be hidden somewhere in Blackmoor House. I know that whoever killed my father is out for me. I know, and so does most of the War Office. We’re all waiting for the knave to make his next move, which we expect will be some time soon. Could have been just now, if what you say about an intruder running off is true. I assure you, we’re all prepared for it.”

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