Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Painted Veil by Susan Carroll Excerpt

The Painted Veil by Susan Carroll

"My intentions toward you are quite dishonorable. The only promise I make is that there will be a great deal of pleasure for both of us...."

It was a dangerous time in London, as a murderous scoundrel called the Hook terrified rich and poor alike with his dastardly conquests. It was certainly not safe for Anne Fairhaven to walk darkened streets, even with a loaded pistol in her purse.

But desperation made one do reckless things. Anne's young daughter had been stolen from her in a vicious act of vengeance. And with a mother's unyielding love, she vowed to reclaim her child.

Such dire need forced her back into the glittering society she hated. She was willing to risk her life and even dance with the devil himself--the Marquis Mandell, a callous, cynical libertine with night-dark eyes and full warm lips that could tempt an angel to sin.

Though playing the hero was rare for a man cast in a villain's role, Anne stirred something in him that he believed lost long ago. As intrigue and peril lay devious traps, two lost souls discover that somewhere between heaven and hell, there is love....


Not even a footman was to be seen lingering about the square, not since Glossop's murder. Away from the excite­ment at the opposite end of Clarion Way, Mandell was quite alone, except for the cloaked individual who stood outside of his house.
Mandell tensed and might have reached for the sword-stick hidden in the handle of his walking cane, except that hooded figure was slight, obviously a woman.
She leaned up against his wrought iron fence, blocking the short path that led up to the stairs of the house. As Mandell drew closer, he saw the woman shudder and heard a muffled sob.
Stalking up behind her, he said, "I beg your pardon, madam."
He had spoken quietly, but even that caused her to gasp. She whirled around, clutching her hand to the region of her heart.
Mandell had entertained the notion that this must be some maid from one of the houses, likely disappointed in a rendezvous with a lover. But the richness of the woman's satin cloak dispelled that idea.
She was clearly a lady. But what the deuce was she doing in the street at this hour, and why did she have to be doing it upon his doorstep?
As she recovered her breath, she said, "Oh, it is you, Lord Mandell. You startled me."
So she knew him. But he didn't think he knew her. The voice was not familiar. As she took a wary step back, her hood fell back a little revealing a pale, heart-shaped face, and delicate features that conveyed an impression of haunt­ing sadness.
She was young, but not a chit just out of the schoolroom. She might have been pretty, but it was difficult to tell, her eyes being so swollen with her tears. Her hair certainly was beautiful, tumbling to her shoulders in a cascade of honey gold. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but Mandell could not quite place it.
After assessing her appearance, he asked, "Have we met before, madam? You are ..."
He waited for her to fill in the blank, but she only re­treated deeper into the shelter of her hood.
"That is none of your concern, my lord. Be pleased to pass on your way."
"Well, my Lady Sorrow, I would be happy to do so," he said drily, "but that is a little difficult when you bar my path, rusting out my gatepost with your tears."
"Your gate?" she faltered. "You live here?"
"To the best of my recollection."
She choked on a bitter laugh. "Is this not typical of my fortune? I do not even have the right house."
She mopped at her eyes with the back of her hand. Even in the dim light of the street, Mandell could see that her eyes were very blue, like violets from those long ago springtimes he had spent in the country instead of walled up in the stone and grit of London.
"Do forgive me, my lord, for being such a fool."
She tried to rush on, but Mandell blocked her way. He never sought to burden himself with anyone else's misery and he was not about to do so now. All the same he felt curiously loathe to let her go.
"You shouldn't be wandering about alone at night, mi­lady. It is not safe." He was not about to bring up the mur­der. If there was a chance she had not heard of Bert Glossop's death, there was no sense in terrifying her. In­stead he concluded, "Even here on Clarion Way, them is a danger of footpads."
"But I have nothing left of value for anyone to steal."
She ducked past him and moved off rapidly down the street, never glancing back. Mandell stood by his gate, watching her go. There might have been a time when he would have been intrigued enough to follow her. But he was far too jaded now to go pursuing mysterious young women through the streets. As he ob­served that proud slender shape vanish into the darkness, for a fleeting moment Mandell was sorry that this was so.


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