|juliaross.net Night of Sin|
Night of Sin
(Originally published in Berkley Trade Paperback ISBN: 0-425-20013-2)
(Mass market edition ISBN: 0-425-20344-1)
Romantic Times "Top Pick"
A powerful Regency historical romance
|E-book coming!||First book in the Wyldshay trilogy|
Romantic Times: (Four1/2 Stars Exceptional) TOP PICK
"Though an exhilarating and highly sensual adventure romance, Night of Sin is a deeply introspective story of a troubled man coming to terms with his past misdeeds and the spirited woman who gives him a chance at salvation. Ross' gift for creating masterful plots and memorable characters is at its height...." Kathe Robin, Romantic Times
K.I.S.S. HERO: If a naughty and nice hero is your ideal fantasy, search out 'Wild' Lord Jack Devoran in Julia Ross' Night of Sin.
Romance Reviews Today:
“In spite of the mystery and life threatening adventure, NIGHT OF SIN is first and foremost a character driven tale. If ever a hero was dark and deep, it's Jack. Events that changed his very essence and made him wonder what he has become are hinted at, but the details are shrouded until the end. Anne is a delight, with a mind that is as open as her heart. The combination of world-weary hero and innocent heroine open to sensuality is taken to new heights through Julia Ross's bright and tasteful talent. Rich in atmosphere, emotions and ideas... it's a novel all too easy to get caught up in, so budget plenty of time for it; you won't want to put it down.
Midwest Book Review:
“A terrific character study ... Fans will appreciate gutsy Anne.”
Plot SummaryThe Adventurer:
Years of roaming the Far East have forged Lord Jonathan Devoran St. George—also known as Wild Lord Jack—into an intrepid, solitary world traveler, estranged from both family and homeland. He has no desire to return home, yet the theft of a sacred fossil has forced Jack back to England, where he waits and watches for the thief to make his next move.
To Jack's dismay, a sailor slips the prize to an unsuspecting young Englishwoman, innocently minding her own business. Seconds later, the man is murdered, and Miss Anne Marsh unwittingly becomes the unknown killers next target.
A perilous guardian angel, Jack sweeps Anne off to his ancestral estate for her own protection. Neither of them know how many obstacles will lie in their path before they reach the assumed sanctuary of Wyldshay. Safely engaged to another, Anne has never metanyone like Wild Lord Jack. Trapped in this darkly handsome aristocrat’s company, why not seize the chance to learn something new: about the world, about love, about wickedness?
|Night of Sin
In Chapter One we meet Lord Jonathan Devoran St. George, dangerous world traveler, who's just returned to Regency England. He sees a man die, discovers his quest is thwarted, and first notices a lady with an umbrella.
In Chapter Two he meetsthe lady, Miss Anne Marsh:
Some little rustle or clink woke her.
Anne roused herself from sleep. A faint light glimmered through the window, throwing the corners of the attic room into an impenetrable void. She listened for a moment, reluctant to move. The tick of a clock dropped into absolute silence, colored only by the underlying heartbeat of the night. The rain had stopped.
The fire had burned away to a dull glow. Beams and dressers bulked in dark distortions, but her petticoat foamed in a frozen white waterfall over the back of a chair. Other shapes reflected dimly in the polished coal scuttle at the grate. The moon must have risenor perhaps the glimmer was just starlight, shining coldly onto the town, the distant ocean, the cluster of ships lying in the harbor
There was a figure at the window.
Anne closed her eyes and opened them again. Every hair had risen on the back of her neck. No one was there.
Holding her breath, she reached for the tinderbox beside the bed.
Something clinked again. She slowly turned her head. Someone was lifting the sash.
Her heart thundered. She thought she might be sick.
Damp air streamed into the room. The intruder already had one foot over the sill.
Annes mind flattened into a blank screen, yet thoughts raced, like flocks of crows swooping and scattering over white sand.
Not at all what it was when Captain Sayle was alive. All that press of sailors and riffraff
A scream might wake Edith and Aunt Sayle, but not bring them in time
Arthur and she would never marry . . . Aunt Sayle and Edith would find her mutilated body . . . her mother and father would receive the message . . . everyone would be shattered
As the crows jabbered in her mind, Anne rolled out of bed to crouch on the floor against the wall. Hugging the shadows, she crawled toward the fireplace.
The intruder padded deeper into the room. Eyes and teeth gleamed. And something else: a shimmer, like moonlight on wire. Soft footfalls crept toward the bed. The figure halted, head tipped, then the mans face began to turn. God help herher nightgown was white!
Anne lunged for the poker and screamed at the top of her lungs. Flailing like a madwoman, still shouting, she swung the heavy iron in a wide arc. With a resounding crash, it caught on the corner of the dresser and almost wrenched her arms from their sockets. Wood splintered.
Shadows leaped into life.
The intruder flung himself back to the window, swung over the sill, and disappeared.
Anne dropped the poker, spun about, and collided with something tall and warm. Hands closed on her upper arms. Her scream choked into a terrified sob.
"Hush!" a mans voice said. "Youre very brave, maam, and display a most impressive prowess. Its all right now, though I think you may have demolished some furniture."
The hands pushed her back until she sat on the bed. The mad crows in her head burst into flight.
Footsteps pounded in the hallway. The door burst open. In nightcap and gown, Aunt Sayle stood in the doorway with a lantern in one hand and Edith at her shoulder. Light flooded into the room.
The maid brandished a blunderbuss. "Stay right where you are! Dont move! Put your hands up!"
"Which do you want, maam?" the man asked. "I cannot obey both of those commands at the same time."
"Let her go, or Ill fire!"
"Then I surrender." He released Annes arms, lifted his hands, and turned around.
He was dressed entirely in black: black coat, black shirt, black trousers, black boots. His hair and eyes swallowed the night. His head brushed the ceiling. His shoulders filled the spaces between the rafters.
A dark giant stood in the center of her bedroom, holding his hands up.
"Pray, dont shoot, maam," he said with a hint of humor. "The room is already damaged enough. This lady attacked the dresser with a poker."
"Keep your hands where I can see them!" Edith snapped. "Kneel down!"
He immediately dropped to both knees. It was the pose of a man waiting for his execution. Yet in spite of his submissive postureor perhaps because of itpower crackled about him, as if he carried his own thunderstorm in each empty palm.
Anne clung to her bedspread, wondering if shed ever have the nerve to sleep in here again. The attic room still looked innocent enough, though the corner of the dresser showed white shards where shed clobbered it. Someone had tried to murder her. There was a strange man kneeling on her bedroom floor. She felt ill.
"There were two of them," she whispered. "His accomplice had a weapon . . . a knife, I think. He escaped."
"Not my accomplice. My quarryif you hadnt interfered, maam."
The man turned his head to look at her. A swift impression of gilt and brown beneath thick black lashesbeautiful eyes. Eyes bright with reflected lantern light. And that face! Authority imbued with an absolute calm: the face of the archangel about to spread his great swans wings to shatter the sanity of mortal menand finding unholy mirth in it.
"I have a brace of pistols," he said, glancing back at Edith and Aunt Sayle. "You must either allow me to lay down my guns, or disarm me yourselves. Perhaps theres a more comfortable room where we might discuss it, somewhere more suitable than this ladys bedchamber?"
The women at the door wavered. The blunderbuss barrel clattered against the jamb.
"Or you may tie my hands, if you like," he continued. "If that would make you feel safer. Though I pray you will first close the window and bar the shutters."
Anne wanted to stand up. The blood was flooding back into her veins, but it seemed to be made of ice water and wine. She was sitting here in her nightgown in front of a dangerous angel. Her feet were freezing. Somewhere she had slippers. She really must find her slippers!
"This isnt funny," Anne said.
He looked back at her and smiled. Warm shivers raced up her spine.
"I am your prisoner, maam. You may do as you wish with me."
Heat flooded her cheeks. "I dont understand." Her voice sounded husky, as if she heard herself from very far away. She swallowed and started again. "Your speech is that of a gentleman. You obviously dont care whether we disarm you or not. Youre not in the least afraid, are you?"
"No," he said. "Youre perfectly safe now. We should close the shutters only to avoid the possibility of any further unpleasantness."
"Is this some ridiculous wager?" She gathered courage, though her heart hammered like a steam engine. "My brothers are fond of such things, though not, I think, of terrifying strangers out of their wits at night."
"Neither ridiculous, nor a wager," he said. "The shutters, if you please."
The sky outside loomed, a rectangle of darkness. Huddled in the doorway, Aunt Sayle and Edith stared at the window.
"There were two ruffians?" Edith asked at last. "The other one is still out there?"
"Ill close the shutters myself," the man said, "if you promise not to shoot?"
The blunderbuss wobbled. Aunt Sayle clung to the lantern with both hands. Neither woman moved.
"Ill do it," Anne said.
She tried to stand. Her bare feet touched the floor. The skirts of her nightgown flowed about her legs. Her knees folded like carriage steps.
In two strides the archangel caught her. She didnt see how he rose to his feet, or if he used invisible wings to fly the two strides. He scooped her up as soon as she began to fall, and tugged the quilt from the bed with the other hand. She clutched the coverlet as he carried her back to the center of the room, her giddy head pillowed against one shoulder, her bare feet dangling helplessly.
"Miss Marsh is unwell," he said. "Edith, you will set down that weapon. You will close and bar the window. You will do it now. Then you will make sure that all the rest of the doors and windows are similarly secure. Mrs. Sayle? I must apologize, maam, for startling you, but I must see to Miss Marsh."
Aunt Sayle sat with a thump on a chair by the door. "Oh, this is too dreadful! How do you know our names?"
"Your neighbors told me when I asked. They also told me that this lady is your brothers child. Now, Edith, the windows?"
As if mesmerized, Edith set down the blunderbuss and bobbed a curtsy. "Yes, sir."
"Mrs. Sayle?" He bowed, Anne still cradled like a child against his chest. The end of her long plait hung over his arm. "I pray you will forgive me if I take your niece downstairs? She is cold. She has suffered a shock. Once Edith has secured the house, we may all meet in your parlor for tea." He smiled again. "A strong cup of tea will, I think, put all to rights?"
Aunt Sayle stared as the man strode through the doorway. Anne looked back to see Edith hurrying to the window, while her aunt remained on the hall chair as if struck by lightning.
The giant ducked his head and began to carry his burden down the stairs. Anne quaked against the steady beat of his heart. This, surely, couldnt really be happening?
She had woken to an intruder. She had been snatched up by another. Instead of coming to her rescue, Aunt Sayle and Edith had leaped to obey him. In her terror she had spoken out more boldly than she ever remembered speaking to anyone.
It was as if a dream or a fairy tale had invaded the ordered routine of her life.
Above the collar of his black shirt, his throat glowed as if he were lit with his own inner flame. Heat enveloped her. Anne closed her eyes, yet her blood blazed with awareness: his quick breath, the strength of his arms, the fascinating, rain-washed scent of his skin. This stranger was carrying her. In her nightgown. In his arms. It was overwhelmingly improper. Scandalous. Yet to struggle or beg to be set down would only make matters worse, so Anne clung to the coverlet and her dignity, while her face burned.
The parlor was warm. The grate glowed with the remains of the previous evenings fire. The archangel set Anne down on the sofa. He tucked the quilt around her bare feet as if she were fragile, like an ivory fan, and smiled at her.
"Better now, Miss Marsh? I would ask for forgiveness from you, also, but Im not sure there are enough apologies available in the language. You must think me a ruffian. You have my word that I mean you no harm."
Anne curled back against the horsehair, tugging the quilt up to her chin, while the man walked to the grate and began to poke life into the fire. In spite of her discomfort with strangers, she knew herself to be a sensible, practical person, not given to vapors or panic. When reason failed, her father had taught her to try to find her way by listening to the still, quiet voice everyone carried in their heart. Yet her pulse hammered and her mouth seemed filled with dry glue.
"Its not my intention to give offense," the man continued. "But this is a rather irregular introduction, isnt it?" His back flexed as he added coal, then lit a taper to light candles. Brightness bloomed about the room. "Pretend that weve been properly introduced at your local Assembly Rooms, if you like. If that would make things easier."
"I dont think that I can, sir," Anne said. "Pretend such a thing. My father is an independent minister. Were Dissenters. Though were not as strict as some, I dont attend local dances. But who are you? Why did you ask our neighbors for our names? What do you want here?"
He turned. Every movement seemed to flowbalanced. That was it: balanced. As if strength came from somewhere deep at the core, as if suppleness streamed without effort. But she had not been wrong about his eyes, colored like winter forest shadows dappled with sunlight.
"If I told you, youd not believe it."
"Not believe what?"
His face, too, had been burnished, darkened to a tan acquired nowhere in England. The smooth skin was unbearably exotic, though she was certain from his accent that he was Englishand a gentleman.
"You may not believe what my purpose is and who I am," he said. "I discovered your names simply because I wished to find the young lady who lost her umbrella in the street this afternoon."
She was floating in some detached lunacy while holding inane conversations about umbrellas with the Archangel Michael. Though of course he wasnt really an angel, nor a giant: just a tall gentleman with a peculiarly graceful power.
He nodded toward the table at the window. A crumple of black fabric lay next to the glass model of a ship that Captain Sayle had brought long ago from Bristol. "That umbrella."
Anne clasped the quilt with both fists. Her stomach had tied itself in knots.
He was lithe and strong and young. His eyes were certainly remarkable: as if humor and intelligence shimmered over unknown depths of experience. Yet now that she saw him clearly, she wasnt sure that he was handsome. Not as Arthur Trent, with his brown curls and blue eyes, was handsome. This man was too intense, too unorthodox, for mere good looks.
"You broke into a strangers house during the night simply to return her umbrella?"
He walked across the room to gaze down at the glass model. "Not quite. I wouldnt so insult your intelligence, Miss Marsh. I had other motives, also, of course."
Light and shadows caressed his cheek, outlined a stunning purity of profile. The small shock sank in as Anne stared at him: No, he was not handsome, but only because he was beautifulwith the concentrated, passionate beauty she imagined in a tiger or a demon. A beauty in firm, full lips and carved bones that seemed as alien as that of a wild beastand thus safely removed from her world.
"Why couldnt it wait until morning?" she asked.
"So youre no longer afraid," he said, glancing back at her.
Was that true? Yes, perhaps it was. Her sense of unreality had deepened, as if she might wake at any moment to laugh about her odd dream, but she no longer felt that first unreasoning terror, and he, too, seemed a little more relaxed.
Anne pointed to the table. "When did you set it there?"
He ignored the umbrella and bent to examine the ship: masts, rigging, sails all delicately spun in perfect detail from Bristol glass. "Earlier tonight. I had reason to search the house. I did so as soon as you were all asleep."
"You searched the house? While we slept? How long were you in my bedroom without my knowing?"
"Two hours, perhaps."
"You snore very prettily," he said.
"I do not" She took a deep breath. "I do not snore. My sisters have never complained of it. If I snored, they would have let me know. Without question!"
"Thats better," he said. "Youre beginning to get a little color back."
The heat began again in her neck to flood slowly across her face, not like her earlier blush of embarrassment, but a sudden flush of awareness, as if something deep at the core responded involuntarily to his gaze. As if the intensity of that calm concentration betrayed a profound and very personal concernwhich was ridiculous, of course.
"I would ask, sir," she said, "that you do not fix your gaze on me in quite that way."
He glanced up at the picture clock on the wall, where the sails of a windmill turned and turned in a painted landscape, while the clock face smiled in the disk of a yellow sun.
"Youre uncomfortable. Of course. Any young lady would be."
Yes, uncomfortable, but only because in some strange way that concentration had been flattering, like the gaze of a man in love. The intensity of a man suddenly aware that this one woman was powerfully attractive, more than any other female he had ever met or was ever likely to meet.
All of which was absurd.
Anne knew that she was perfectly ordinary: mousy hair, gray-blue eyes, an overlong nose that dipped a little at the tip when she smiled. Someone whom gentlemen easily overlooked. Someone who knew that she ought not to care about such frivolous vanity, yet still felt the pain of being ignored while prettier girls were noticed first.
Yet that one moment had produced the most disconcerting, unsettling sensation of this most disconcerting night.
She looked back at him. The shape of his back and legs formed lithe, dangerous shadows in the busy room.
"You said, upstairs in my bedroom, that I was safe. How could you be sure? What if we had disarmed you, and that other man had come back?"
"You are always safe as long as I am here, whether I am armed or not."
"You want me to believe that you could have prevented his attacking me?"
His voice was rich, as if flavored by hidden mirth. "Believe it, though your valiant efforts with the poker did get a little in the way."
"I didnt know anyone else was there," Anne said. "If I had known, Id have attacked you, too."
"Try to take deep breaths and reassure yourself that Im harmless," he said, still with a hint of a smile.
"No, sir," she replied quietly. "I cannot believe that."
To Annes relief, Aunt Sayle stepped into the room. She had stopped to dress, though hastily. Her stockings didnt match. She was nervous, yet she was glowing, as ifin spite of her crooked cap, mismatched stockings, and graying hairshe were a girl in her first flirtation.
"My poor, dear lamb!" Aunt Sayle exclaimed. "That such a thing should happen in my house! But the window is barred tight now, and Edith and I have set the dresser in front of it."
Edith hovered in the doorway, also dressed. The maid seemed torn between excitement and servility. She might, if this man had not been careful, have made an unholy mess with the blunderbuss, but now she seemed only too ready to do his bidding.
He bowed to Aunt Sayle, then stood quietly, hands clasped behind his back, like a tiger settling down to wait beside a waterhole.
Aunt Sayle curtsied, dipping her head. "Im sure theres a very good explanation for all this, sir. Its too strange otherwise. Goodness, I have nothing in the house worth stealing, Im sure. And if you were a thief Well, it makes no sense at all."
"Tea before explanations." He smiled at Edith. "And perhaps some breakfast? It will be morning soon."
Edith bobbed a curtsy and disappeared into the kitchen.
Aunt Sayle sat down next to Anne to take her fingers in her lap and pat them. It was admittedly comforting.
"I have intruded into the home of sea captain, it would seem," the man said. "Your husband, Mrs. Sayle? This glass model was one of his ships?"
"That was the Gannet, sir, all done in Bristol glass."
"A fine ship. Captain Sayle was not a Dissenter like your brother?"
"No, sir. I embraced the Established Church myself when we married. My brother doesnt hold it against me."
"I have no doubt your husband was a fine captain?"
Aunt Sayle bloomed like a rose and launched into an account of her late husbands adventures.
He took a chair, booted legs crossed at the knee, and listened. He even asked an occasional question, as if this just were a social call and the captains widow were a countess. Anne thought he might still be faintly amused, though not at them, only at himself. He was so entirely at his ease and had put Aunt Sayle so completely at hers, which meant that he was either a charlatan or a member of a very privileged class.
The door swung open and Edith set down the tea tray.
"Ill have hot scones ready in no time," she said, before she bustled out again.
Mrs. Sayle poured. Fine gold rimmed the teacups. Edith had used Aunt Sayles best chinaher wedding china. Anne didnt know whether she ought to feel amused or resentful at that.
Jack watched the color creep back into Annes cheeks as she sipped at her tea: the gift of the forbidden realms of China. It wasnt the frantic color of her earlier embarrassment, nor the flush he had seen in the street from fresh air and cold. Just a warm blush over the cheekbones, like fine porcelain stained with a rose-colored wash.
He felt something catch at his heart. She had extraordinary skin: so white as to be almost translucent, as if she might bruise at a glance. The light eyes and nondescript hair were also very English. A light-skinned, fine-boned creature, muffled in layers of cotton nightdress and outraged propriety, she had weighed almost nothing in his arms.
Yet he had been searingly aware that she was female: a softness of thighs, the sweet pressure of a small breast. Her hair smelled of lavender water and roses, the fragrance of a Dorset summer garden basking in the sununderlain with the more disturbing perfumes of woman and sleep, scents confusingly suggestive of both tousled beds and innocence.
A moments distraction, obviously, when the beds of his dreams were aromatic with spices and musk.