Steam and Seduction, Book Three
Hidden identities, scandalous secrets…deadly attraction.
Frederique Murcheson’s introduction into society hasn’t gone smoothly—some would even call it a disaster. Only Freddie considers her debut a success. Her scheme to become a makesmith has gone off flawlessly. The only thing that could upset her plans now would be if someone discovered that brilliant tinker Fred Merchant is, in fact, a lady in disguise.
Wooing a spoiled heiress is not exactly Barnabas Smith-Grenville’s idea of high espionage. However, considering his brother disappeared on the job, supposedly into the most iniquitous of opium dens, he cannot expect much better. At least the assignment will afford him time to search for his brother, whom he suspects is in spy-related trouble rather than a drug-addled haze.
But when Freddie proves to be both irresistible and the key to the answers he seeks, Barnabas finds himself not only entwined in a scandalous mystery involving lethal submersibles and deranged dirigibles, but also in a dangerous game of the heart…
Excerpt from Gilded Lily
Excerpt from Gilded Lily, ©2014 Delphine Dryden; all rights reserved Berkley Publishing. Please do not reproduce in whole or in part without express permission from the author or publisher.
Barnabas admired Freddie’s quick thinking. He’d forgotten all about the hidden cupboard behind the paneling, but once she’d shoved the portfolio back into the safe, closed it, and hit the switch to lower the painting back into place, she whisked him into the cupboard and had the wall sealed behind them within seconds. The space for far too small for two people, particularly when one of them was wearing a voluminous dress. And it seemed like the type of place that would have numerous spiders lurking in it. It was too dark to see anything, but he could feel Freddie’s body brushing against his, the tip of her shoulder pressing into his arm, the springy push of her skirt against his legs. She seemed to be standing at an odd angle, and after a moment he realized she had her ear pressed to the wall. When he followed suit, he was close enough to hear her breathing. Her scent wafted up to him, the clean, delicate aroma of some flower he couldn’t identify.
It was hard to believe this sweet-smelling creature in the dark had, mere hours before, been arm-deep in the oily innards of a mechanical spit dog. Or, moments ago, broken into a safe to peruse documents that were almost certainly state secrets.
He should be turning her in to her father. Instead he wanted nothing more than to tag along and see what fantastic scheme she’d concoct and enact next. She was better than a penny dreadful. And something in the sound of her silk and lace skirt rustling in the darkness aroused him.
This attitude on his part was, he realized, hardly conducive to a continued career in the service of the Crown. Not that he was sure he wanted one, anyway, given how horribly things were going with Murcheson. He wasn’t sure he could live in a world of constant lies.
In the study, multiple male voices were raised in discussion of racing, with somebody in favor of one popular horse to win an upcoming event, and a vocal opposition speaking the praises of another. Somebody’s groom had dropped hints of a temperamental knee and a secretive visit from the animal surgeon, apparently. Another’s rider had assured him these rumors were balderdash, deliberately spread to throw off the odds. The clink of glassware suggested that the talk was a thin excuse for escaping the soprano and partaking of liquid refreshment.
Freddie brushed closer still, tipping her head up to whisper in his ear. “None of them sound like Father. If we both try to leave through the parlor door we might get caught. Probably safer to stay put and hope they decamp soon so we can leave as we came in.”
He inclined his head to return the whisper. “This is all a world of madness, but as you’re clearly mad too I suppose you’re in your element. I’ll defer to your lunatic judgment.”
“Don’t pretend you’re not enjoying yourself.”
He was enjoying himself rather too much. She was so very close, and it was such a small space.
“You’re a very exciting girl, Miss Murcheson.”
A soft puff of air crossed his cheek and ear, perhaps a laugh. It set every inch of his neck tingling.
“Men usually say things like that only when they intend to become a good influence on me.”
“I think you’re far beyond my influence. And besides, I don’t fancy my women in trousers.” This was a blatant lie but seemed an appropriate assertion to make. He really wasn’t supposed to fancy anything in trousers, was he?
“I’m in a skirt right now. And you take things too seriously for a man so young, Lord Smith-Grenville.”
“Call me Barnabas.” He should have invited her to call him Smith-Grenville. He’d skipped a step. Too late to take it back now, though. He wanted to hear her say his name.
“I will in a minute.”
Her vision in the dark must have been better than his. She found his lips with no trouble at all and pressed a lingering kiss there. He was so shocked he almost didn’t respond at first, but just when it seemed she might pull away he recovered himself and kissed her back.
It was clear from the start that one kiss would never be enough; they would need to do more of this and do it often. It was also clear that neither of them had any idea what they were doing. A great deal of awkward nose-bumping and tooth-knocking transpired before Freddie shifted her head to one side and Barnabas countered just so, and–bliss, heaven, a paradise of velvet lips in a sensual tussle in which no contender could ever possibly lose. Freddie sighed into his mouth, and Barnabas realized he would never be able to hide his erection when they left this magical cupboard. He was reacting to her like a schoolboy, a green lad, a . . . oh, sweet heavens, is that her tongue?
Yes, it was.
He met her move for move, catching up to her pace, exploring her mouth as if he might never have another chance. Warm and soft, and almost painfully intimate. He realized, when he ran the tip of his tongue along their edges, that her teeth were perfection. Strange it had taken knowing them this way for him to become aware of that simple fact. Teeth, tongue, lips, all of her, perfection. Kissing her felt like coming home at last, but finding that home was some wonderful new place straight out of his most secret dreams.
He would have happily spent all day at it, but Miss Murcheson pulled back woefully soon.
“Barnabas,” she whispered, to his delight.
“Freddie . . . I hope I may call you Freddie?”
“Of course you may, don’t be ridiculous. Only when we’re alone, though. This is extremely ill-advised, you do know that?” She actually sounded flustered for the first time since he’d met her. Though that might have been a side effect of the whispering.
“Oh, yes. Possibly the worst idea in the history of romantic encounters.” Her father would probably change his mind about that hanging if he found out, and have Barnabas drawn and quartered instead, for one thing. He needed to distance himself, no mistake. “When can we do it again?”