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Authors: Máire Claremont

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical Romance, #Victorian

The Dark Affair

BOOK: The Dark Affair
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RAVES FOR MÁIRE CLAREMONT AND HER MAD PASSIONS NOVELS

Lady in Red

“Wonderfully dark and intense. . . . Think the Brontës, du Maurier, and Holt. For those who relish the dark side, Claremont is their new queen.”


Romantic Times
(top pick, 4½ stars)

“[Dark] and intriguing. . . . Readers will be drawn to the determined heroine and her steadfast hero.”

—Publishers Weekly

“[A] must read for those who love intrigue, passion, and the darker side of the Victorian era.”

—Night Owl Reviews


Lady in Red
is a perfectly dark and compelling read that may well haunt readers. Máire Claremont knows how to capture readers’ attention and grip it with both hands.”

—Romance Novel News

“[A] captivating gothic romance dripping in emotional intrigue.”

—The Book Vixen

“Máire Claremont is now one of my very favorite historical romance writers, and I have
Lady in Red
to thank for that.”

—The Romance Evangelist

“This dark, intoxicating novel is an addictive read that will have you in tears by the time it’s over. . . . This was my first book by Ms. Claremont, and it certainly will not be my last!”

—HEAs Are Us

The Dark Lady

“With the first in the Mad Passions trilogy, Claremont establishes herself as a force in the genre—to be kept on readers’ shelves alongside Anne Stuart, Anna Campbell, and Jennifer Ashley.”

—Romantic Times

“Claremont delivers a tale of love, determination, scandal, and plenty of angst.”

—Publishers Weekly

“This is the debut novel from author Claremont, who weaves an absorbing, complex story through Victorian society, touching on some of the more disturbing aspects of the time . . . an intense, compelling read with a rewarding ‘good conquers evil’ ending.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“Has as much romance, adventure, passion, torment, and triumph as any one love story could deliver . . . a book to savor page by page and then add to your keeper shelf.”


New York Times
and
USA Today
bestselling author Grace Burrowes

“Dark, dramatic, and intense,
The Dark Lady
will keep you hooked to the very last page.”

—Anna Campbell, author of
Seven Nights
in a Rogue’s Bed

“Intense, bold, gripping, and passionate,
The Dark Lady
is a daring novel not to be ignored.”

—Leanna Renee Hieber, award-winning author of
The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

“Real, intelligent, and gritty but above all deeply romantic. In my opinion, Máire Claremont is the stunning reincarnation of the Brontë sisters.”

—Delilah Marvelle, award-winning author of
Forever a Lady


The Dark Lady
is magnificent in its darkness. It is richly detailed, and the characters and story line are unforgettable.”

—Romance Junkies

“A gripping historical romance debut . . . filled with action, drama, heartbreak, elation, and of course, romance.”

—The Romance Dish

“A gritty, passionate historical romance that is filled with tragedy, danger, guilt, and angst.”

—Romance Novel News (recommended read)

“A fantastic novel that has grand ambitions.”

—Night Owl Reviews

Also Available in the Mad Passions Series

The Dark Lady

Lady in Red

A Lady Undone
(A Penguin Special Novella)

SIGNET ECLIPSE

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014

USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Copyright © Máire Creegan, 2014

Excerpt from
The Dark Lady
copyright © Máire Creegan, 2013

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

SIGNET ECLIPSE and logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

ISBN 978-1-101-60935-4

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Praise

Also Available in the Mad Passions Series

Title page

Copyright page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Epilogue

 

Excerpt from THE DARK LADY

For you who came as an utter, delightful surprise. You were my companion on this journey.

I cannot wait to hold you in my arms.

And for Esaul. You never doubted I could fulfill my dream, and you were with me no matter how difficult.

Acknowledgments

All books are a labor of love. Some have more labor than others. So I must thank my book midwives. Delilah Marvelle and Jenn Le Blanc, you listened to me during this, one of the toughest years of my life. My gratitude is unending, you two. Katrina, you will literally cross oceans for a friend. I am in awe of the strength of your love. Julie Dater-Twomey, you were the first person I called when I wrote “The End.” Thank God, you were awake. And last, but so very important, the team of women who did so much to bring my book into the world: Helen Breitweister, Jesse Feldman, Kati Rodriguez. Without you, this book would have floundered in the seas of one very rough year.

To all you glorious women, thank you.

Chapter 1

London
1866

L
ord James Stanhope, Visc
ount Powers, was going to kill the ridiculous Irishwoman standing before him. In slow degrees. He was going to kill her for daring to mention his wife. For daring to even whisper his daughter’s name. He was going to rip her to bloody pieces for insinuating that he, the son of the Earl of Carlyle, was insane.

“My lord?” she asked, her voice rising above the howling, barking voices scattered through the warrenlike rooms of the asylum.

James blinked. The shadows of the cell’s single gas lamp danced over her. His mind abruptly skittered. Skittered to the swish and sway of her pressed gray skirts. The way they molded over her hips and the tiny form of her corseted waist. Astonishing. She was such a tiny thing. Barely coming up to his shoulder. Perhaps she stood as tall as his sternum. Perhaps.

Yes. One of the fairy folk.

He shook his head, but the motion felt as defined as movement through muddied water. What had he been thinking? Oh, yes. He’d been angry with the petite creature. Furious. But now? He swallowed, and the room swung on its axis and his body whooshed through the air . . . And yet he didn’t fall. He stayed upright on his boots, planted, despite the treacherous feeling of being adrift. He opened his eyes as wide as they would go and grunted against the unpleasant, rolling sensation. “What did you say?”

She stepped forward, her soft, crimson hair glinting in the half-light. “I’m askin’ only that you allow me to call you by your given name, my lord, not for the personal history of your opium exploits.”

Christ . . . The way her mouth worked as she spoke . . . Her rich, lilting voice sounded as if she were fucking every single word . . . Even her pink lips were lush. Soul-seducing erotic art. Gorgeous. Slightly pursed. Not for a kiss but in disapproval. He arched a single brow, determined to put her in her place. A damned difficult thing, considering he was the ward and she the interrogator. And the fact that his brain seemed entirely at its own command with very little rhyme or reason to his thoughts didn’t aid him.

He hadn’t taken any opium in days, but he still felt in the throes of it. It was most distressing. “Powers,” he said tightly.

She sniffed. That pert little nose, free of a redhead’s cursed freckles, tightened with her irritation. “That is your title. I ask again that you permit me the use of your name.”

In the shadowy light, her skin appeared translucent. He wondered if he reached out and put his hand on her, would it rest on mortal flesh? Or would it slide through her, ghostly female that she appeared to be? “My name was for one woman.” Why was it so hard to speak? He swallowed and slowly articulated, “And you are not she.”

She cocked her head to the side. Her curls, which had been smoothed back into a tight coif, slipped free at her temples, dusting her high cheekbones. “And you shan’t make me an exception?” She smiled. A pixie’s winning, devilish smile. “Lovely lass that I am?”

He smiled back. “I’d sooner rip your arms off.”

Her cinnamon brows lifted, a stunning imitation of his own disdainful gesture. “Indeed? And wouldn’t that be a great shame, fond as I am of my arms?” She licked her lips . . . Not a seductive gesture by any means, for there was nothing suggestive in her controlled demeanor, which exuded propriety from the tips of her booted ankles, up her charcoal frock, to the starched white collar ramming her neck straight. “Don’t you see? I wish us to be on equal footing. And if you are unwilling to be a gentleman, I shall have to be unwilling to be a lady.”

An image of her white body sprawled out naked on the stone floor flashed before him, her pristine gray skirts thrust up about her waist, white legs parted, stockings embracing her thighs. He was going to worship her. Bury his face into her sweet, hot folds. The desire that shot through him was so strong he could barely countenance it. Yet this woman, she appeared as marble. Perfect. Smooth. Pale as porcelain yet hot. She wouldn’t be cold to his touch. Oh no. She’d be wild and hungry and warm, opening herself to his tongue and caresses.

“How fascinating,” he said, finding his voice despite his strangely whirring thoughts and wondering if a woman such as she could ever possibly descend to his lack of gentility. “I’d love to see you not . . . the
lady
.”

Her cheeks flushed, yet all the same, her eyes narrowed around her startling gaze. Good Christ, her eyes were the wicked color of West Indies waters. Waters that had driven men to piracy. Perhaps her eyes would drive him to plundering. Whatever course, he was going to make those eyes heat with fire . . . and once the fire was lit, she would do whatever he bade. She would free him from this prison of madness. A prison he didn’t belong in.

“Your mind is in the same gutter in which you were found . . . James.”

James.

A pain so deep it lacerated his heart jolted him out of his swaying inaction. He darted forward, his long legs eating up the space, driving her backward without even touching her until she collided against the stone wall behind her. He thrust his hands out, slamming them on either side of her head against the wall. The frigid surface thudded harshly under his palms as he pinned her between his body and the stones. To her credit, she didn’t flinch despite the fact he towered over her.

The anger that had driven him forward kept him from weaving or losing his focus as he whispered out his warning. “Call me James again and you’re dead.”

Only his wife was allowed to call him James. Only his wife. And she . . . Sophia . . . Sophia was gone. Once there had been another woman—a woman just like him, lost on the road of opium—he’d thought might say his name. But that had been a mistake. She belonged to someone else. So no one would ever call him James again.

Certainly not this chit of a woman who dared enter his cell and treat him like an insect in a box to be speculated over.

“Luckily, I’ve secured my place with the angels and have no fear of dying.” Her chest lifted up and down in quick breaths, her corseted breasts pressing against the imprisoning fabric of her bodice, defying the calmness of her words. Her gaze locked with his eyes, strong, calm, unafraid . . . and intrigued. “You, on the other hand, seem bound for hell’s gate.”

“Hell and I are good friends,” he growled softly, letting his lips lower until he was but a breath away from her soft siren’s hair. “We’re always open to new members.”

Boot steps shifted on the other side of the bolted, thick iron door. His gaze twitched in its direction for a moment. The keepers had sensed his misbehavior. Ready to enter en masse and beat him into submission. Usually, it took at least three of them to subdue him.

Out of all the places he could have been sent to, this was one of the best. And yet it galled him he was here at all.

Even with his body so intimately close to hers, she didn’t call out for the keepers or order him strapped as the others had done. In the few days he’d been held here, the countless men his father had sent to reason with him had run within minutes, leaving him to be locked up with cuffs and manacles while he raged.

Why wasn’t she afraid?

And what the hell had his father been thinking to send in such a diminutive woman when he was in such a state?

Clearly, his father was desperate. Under no other circumstances would the old man have sent for a woman. And an Irishwoman at that.

He let his gaze trail over her face, lingering on those plump lips . . . He couldn’t recall the last time he’d had a woman. Months, at least. He’d given them up long before he’d been put in this cell. He couldn’t stand the emptiness of those fucks. But this one . . . There was something undeniably unique, as if she might strike him with her governess’s stick and then kiss away his hurts.

She
tsk
ed lightly, ignoring his intimidation and attempts to shake away her poise. “What you are doing now? ’Tis only securing yourself in this place.” She glanced up, her gorgeous eyes darting about the dank cell, with its damp interior and inadequately proportioned bed. “Is that what you wish?”

He hesitated, considering her words. He wasn’t mad. He wasn’t. And yet his father had placed him here. For his own good, so the old man had said. A small, snaking voice whispered through his head that perhaps he
was
mad. Madder now than any mercury-muddled hatter. The thought shuddered through him, leaving him brimming with fury and pain that this had happened to him. “My wishes are not your concern.”

“Ah, but they are.” That careful gaze probed him without mercy. Pushing against his barriers, determined to breach him. “Without my say, you shall wither in these rooms.”

Who the hell did she think he was? He slammed a palm against the wall, unwilling to be handled. “You can’t keep me here.”

She blinked once but then cocked up her chin, defiant. “I can.”

He swallowed hard, his gaze momentarily swimming. The ability to focus his thoughts under her onslaught of information was unraveling. Quickly. The need to get rid of her, to make her leave so that a woman of such beauty and poise wouldn’t see him in such a disgusting state, sent him drawling. “Sod off.”

Apparently, the insult was of no new occurrence, for her countenance remained untouched. “Now, you’re not actually thinking such uninspired drivel assists you?”

How long had she been doing this that she didn’t care he treated her thusly? How many men had insulted her? Attacked her? Fucked her body in their minds? The very notion was galling to him. In fact, his insides tensed, burning with a sudden violence to destroy all those men. Even in his strange state. But he didn’t wish her to know that he cared. That he was capable of caring about someone else’s welfare. “I don’t give a damn.”

She tilted her head back, the tight weave of her locks bumping against the slick stones behind her. “I don’t believe that. Not for all the holy saints in the heavens above.” She hesitated. “You don’t know who I am, but I know you. You’re a good man. You don’t hurt women, my lord. The only person you hurt is yourself.”

He snorted.

“It’s the only reason your father convinced me to come.”

“More fool you.”

She pressed those perfect lips together before saying, “You’ve forsaken yourself and the man I know you to be.”

He sucked in a sharp breath, hating that he didn’t know what she was speaking of. “You know nothing about me.”

Her gaze softened. “I know you sent three thousand pounds to Ireland. To the west.”

Blinking, he thought back. It wasn’t possible that such a thing would make her think so highly of him, was it? “And?”

She sighed. “Do you know how many you saved? Just with those funds, you made it possible for my family to care for the starving.”

He yanked his gaze away from her earnest one. “It was only money.”

“It was everything,” she said firmly. “And I won’t let you forget it.”

“You don’t have the power to let me do anything.”

“There I must disagree with you. Your father has given me that power. For now.”

His fingers curled, nails scraping lightly against the unforgiving surface, desperately wishing to reach out and touch something as beautiful as her hair. How would it feel, to touch something beautiful again? To have something beautiful let him touch it?

The way she looked at him, as if he weren’t the very dregs of society, sparked something deep within him, urging him to believe. But he couldn’t. He’d gone too far down the road to ruin to ever come back.

“I can help you,” she whispered.

He flattened his palms, disgusted that he’d contemplated her under his touch or that she might indeed help him. He would never again deserve beauty or help. And because he had to convince
her
of that simple fact, he found himself lowering his head toward hers as he murmured, “How unfortunate for you to think so.”

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