MBA&M AND HACHETTE BOOK GROUP PROUDLY PRESENTS….
“LORD OF DARKNESS”
MAIDEN LANE SERIES #4
LORD OF DARKNESS
Grand Central Publishing
Coming February 2013
WHEN STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT
He lives in the shadows. The mysterious masked avenger known as the Ghost of St. Giles, his only goal is to protect the innocent of London. Until the night he confronts a fearless lady pointing a pistol at his head—and realizes she is his wife . . .
Lady Margaret Reading has vowed to kill the Ghost of St. Giles—the man who murdered her one true love. Returning to London, and the man she hasn’t seen since their wedding day, Margaret does not recognize the man behind the mask. Fierce, commanding, and dangerous, the notorious Ghost of St. Giles is everything she feared he would be—and so much more . . .
DESIRE IS THE ULTIMATE DANGER
When passion flares these two intimate strangers can’t keep from revealing more of themselves than they had ever planned. But when Margaret learns the truth—that the Ghost is her husband, Godric St. John—the game is up and the players must surrender . . . to the temptation that could destroy them both.
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EXCERPT from LORD OF DARKNESS
The night Godric St. John saw his wife for the first time since their marriage two years previously, she was aiming a pistol at his head. Lady Margaret stood beside her carriage in the filthy St. Giles street, her glossy, dark curls tumbling from the velvet hood of her cloak. Her shoulders were square, both hands firmly grasped the pistol, and a murderous gleam shone in her pretty eyes. For a split second, Godric caught his breath in admiration.
In the next moment, Lady Margaret pulled the trigger.
The report was deafening but fortunately not fatal, as his wife was apparently an execrable shot. This did not reassure Godric as much as it should have, because Lady Margaret immediately turned and pulled a second pistol from her carriage.
Even the worst shots could get lucky on occasion.
But Godric hadn’t the time to meditate on the odds of his wife actually murdering him tonight. He was too busy saving her ungrateful hide from the half-dozen footpads who had stopped her carriage here, in the most dangerous part of London.
Godric ducked the enormous fist coming at his head and kicked the footpad in the stomach. The man grunted but didn’t go down, probably because he was as big as a draft horse. Instead, the robber began a counterclockwise circle of Godric as his compatriots—four of them, and every one quite as well fed—closed in on him.
Godric narrowed his eyes and raised his swords, a long one in his right hand, a short one in his left for defense and close fighting, and—
God’s balls—Lady Margaret fired her second pistol at him.
The gunshot shattered the night, echoing off the decrepit buildings lining the narrow street. Godric felt a tug on his short cape as the lead ball went through the wool.
Lady Margaret swore with a startling breadth of vocabulary.
The footpad nearest Godric grinned, revealing teeth the color of week-old piss. “Don’t like ’e much, now, do she?”
Not precisely true. Lady Margaret was trying to kill the Ghost of St. Giles. Unfortunately, she had no way of knowing that the Ghost of St. Giles happened to be her husband. The carved black mask on Godric’s face hid his identity quite effectively.
For a moment, all of St. Giles seemed to hold its breath. The sixth robber still stood, both of his pistols aimed at Lady Margaret’s coachman and two footmen. A female spoke in low, urgent tones from inside the carriage, no doubt trying to lure Lady Margaret back to safety. The lady herself glared from her stance beside the carriage, apparently oblivious to the fact that she might be murdered—or worse—if Godric failed to save her from the robbers. High overhead, the wan moon looked down dispassionately on the crumbling brick buildings, the broken cobblestones underfoot, and a single chandler’s shop sign creaking wearily in the wind.
Godric leaped at the still-grinning footpad.
Lady Margaret might be a foolish chit for being here, and the footpad might be merely following the instincts of any feral predator who runs down the careless prey that ventures into his path, but it mattered not. Godric was the Ghost of St. Giles, protector of the weak, a predator to be feared himself, lord of St. Giles and the night, and, damn it, Lady Margaret’s husband.
So Godric stabbed fast and low, impaling the footpad before his grin had time to disappear. The man grunted and began to fall as Godric elbowed another footpad advancing behind him. The man’s nose shattered with a crunching sound.
Godric pulled his sword free in a splatter of scarlet and whirled, slashing at a third man. His sword opened a swath of blood diagonally across the man’s cheek, and the footpad stumbled back, screaming, his hands to his face.
The remaining two attackers hesitated, which in a street fight was nearly always fatal.
Godric charged them, the sword in his right hand whistling as it swept toward one of the footpads. His strike missed, but he stabbed the short sword in his left hand deep into the thigh of the fifth footpad. The man shrieked. Both robbers backed away and then turned to flee.
Godric straightened, his chest heaving as he caught his breath and looked around. The only robber still standing was the one with the pistols.
The coachman—a thickset man of middling years with a tough, reddened face—narrowed his eyes at the robber and pulled a pistol out from under his seat.
The last footpad turned and fled without a sound.
“Shoot him,” Lady Margaret snapped. Her voice trembled but Godric had the feeling it was from rage rather than fear.
“M’lady?” The coachman looked at his mistress, confused, since the footpads were now out of sight.
But Godric knew quite well that she wasn’t ordering the murder of a footpad, and suddenly something inside of him—something he’d thought dead for years—woke.
His nostrils flared as he stepped over the body of the man he’d killed for her. “No need to thank me.”
He spoke in a whisper to disguise his voice, but she seemed to have no trouble hearing him.
The bloodthirsty wench actually clenched her teeth, hissing, “I wasn’t about to.”
“No?” He cocked his head, his smile grim. “Not even a kiss for good luck?”
Her eyes dropped to his mouth, left uncovered by the half-mask, and her upper lip curled in disgust. “I’d rather embrace an adder.”
Oh, that’s lovely. His smile widened. “Frightened of me, sweeting?”
He watched, fascinated, as she opened her mouth, no doubt to scorch his hide with her retort, but she was interrupted before she could speak.
“Thank you!” cried a feminine voice from inside the carriage.
Lady Margaret scowled and turned. Apparently she was close enough to see the speaker in the dark even if he couldn’t. “Don’t thank him! He’s a murderer.”
“He hasn’t murdered us,” the woman in the carriage pointed out. “Besides, it’s too late. I’ve thanked him for both of us, so climb in the carriage and let’s leave this awful place before he changes his mind.”
The set of Lady Margaret’s jaw reminded Godric of a little girl denied a sweet.
“She’s right, you know,” he whispered to her. “Believe it or not, toffs have been known to be accosted by footpads in this very spot.”
“Megs!” hissed the female in the carriage.
Lady Margaret’s glare could’ve scorched wood. “I shall find you again, and when I do, I intend to kill you.”
She was completely in earnest, her stubborn little chin set.
He took off his large floppy hat and swept her a mocking bow. “I look forward to dying in your arms, sweeting.”
Her eyes narrowed on his wicked double entendre, but her companion was muttering urgently now. Lady Margaret gave him one last look of disdain before ducking inside her carriage.
The coachman shouted to the horses, and the vehicle rumbled away.
And Godric St. John realized two things: His lady wife was apparently over her mourning—and he’d better make it back to his town house before her carriage arrived. He paused for a second, glancing at the body of the man he’d killed. Black blood wound in a sluggish trail to the channel in the middle of the lane. The man’s eyes starred glassily at the indifferent heavens. Godric searched within himself, looking for some emotion…and found what he always did.
He whirled and darted down a narrow alley. Only now that he was moving did he notice that his right shoulder ached. He’d either damaged something in the brawl or one of the footpads had succeeded in landing a blow. No matter. Saint House was on the river, not terribly far in the usual way, but he’d get there faster by rooftop.
He was already swinging himself up onto the top of a shed when he heard it: shrill, girlish screams, coming from around the bend in the alley up ahead.
Damn it. He hadn’t the time for this. Godric dropped back down to the alley and drew both his swords.
Another terrified cry.
He darted around the corner.
There were two of them, which accounted for all the noise. One was not more than five. She stood, shaking, in the middle of the reeking alley, screaming with all of her might. She could do little else because the second child had already been caught. That one was a bit older and fought with the desperate ferocity of a cornered rat, but to no avail.
The man who held the older child was three times her size and cuffed her easily on the side of the head.
The older girl crumpled to the ground while the smaller one ran to her still form.
The man bent toward the children.
“Oi!” Godric growled.
The man looked up. “What th—”
Godric laid him flat with a right haymaker to the side of the head.
He placed his sword at the man’s bared throat and leaned down to whisper, “Doesn’t feel very good when you’re on the receiving end, does it?”
The oaf scowled, his hand rubbing the side of his head. “Now see ’ere. I ’as a right to do as I please wif me own girls.”
“We’re not your girls!”
Godric saw out of the corner of his eye that the elder chit had sat up.
“’E’s not our da!”
Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, making his blood boil.
“Get on to your home,” he urged in a low voice to the girls. “I’ll deal with this ruffian.”
“We don’t ’ave a ’ome,” the smaller child whimpered.
She’d barely got the words out when the elder nudged her and hissed, “Shut it!”
Godric was tired and the news that the children were homeless distracted him. That was what he told himself anyway when the rogue on the ground swept his legs out from under him.
Godric hit the ground rolling. He surged to his feet, but the man was already rounding the corner at the far end of the alley.
He sighed, wincing as he straightened. He’d landed on his injured shoulder and it was not thanking him for the treat.
He glanced at the girls. “Best come with me, then.”
The smaller child obediently began to rise, but the elder pulled her back down. “Don’t be daft, Moll. ’E’s as like to be a lassie snatcher as th’ other one.”
Godric raised his eyebrows at the words lassie snatcher. He hadn’t heard that name for a while. He shook his head. He hadn’t time to dig into these matters now. Lady Margaret would reach his home soon, and if he wasn’t there, awkward questions might arise.
“Come,” he said, holding out his hand to the girls. “I’m not a lassie snatcher, and I know a nice, warm place where you can spend the night.” And many nights hereafter.
He thought his tone gentle enough, but the elder girl’s face wrinkled mutinously. “We’re not going wif you.”
Godric smiled pleasantly—before swooping down and scooping one child over his shoulder and the other under his arm. “Oh, yes, you are.”
It wasn’t that simple, of course. The elder cursed quite shockingly for a female child of such tender years, while the younger burst into tears, and they both fought like wildcats.
Five minutes later he was within sight of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children when he nearly dropped them both.
“Ow!” He swallowed stronger language and took a firmer grip on the elder child who had come perilously close to unmanning him.
Grimly, Godric stalked to the back door of the St. Giles orphanage and kicked at it until a light came on in the kitchen window.
The door swung open to reveal a tall man in rumpled shirtsleeves and breeches.
Winter Makepeace, the manager of the home, arched an eyebrow at the sight of the Ghost of St. Giles, holding two struggling, weeping girls on his doorstep.
Godric hadn’t time for explanations.
“Here.” He unceremoniously dumped the children on the kitchen tiles and glanced at the bemused manager. “I’d advise a firm hold—they’re slipperier than greased eels.”
With that, he swung shut the home’s door, turned, and sprinted toward his town house.
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