Authors: Amy Quinton
The Agents of Change, Book 2
Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © Published 2015, Amy Quinton. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Liquid Silver Books
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
What happens when you throw together a charming Marquess and a lady who lies? Anything!
England 1814: He is a marquess with a woman to protect and an assassin to thwart. She is…not nice.
The Marquess of Dansbury is a strong, charismatic man living a charmed life as an agent for the crown. His past isn’t without tragedy, but he is too amiable to allow misfortune to mar his positive outlook on life. Until now…when he finds himself tasked with protecting the one woman in the world he actively disdains, Lady Beatryce Beckett.
Lady Beatryce Beckett is mean. She ruins other women on purpose. She lies. She cheats. She even steals. And she takes particular pleasure in provoking a certain marquess. In short, she’ll do anything to get what she wants: freedom from her abusive father. But she is strong (she’s had to be), worthy (who’d have thought it), and in love…
It will take a special man to see the true woman beneath the surface…and a strong woman to allow him that glimpse. Is the Marquess of Dansbury up to the task?
To my friend, Angela Lawson Mizell, for the talks off topic, the coffee, the laughs, the talks off topic, the texts, the reviews, the talks off topic…and the many moments discussing plot points. Oh, and the long talks. Off topic.
And to my friends and family for your continued support and encouragement.
I would like to thank my editor, Ansley Blackstock, for the superior editorial work. I would like to thank my cover artist for the beautiful cover art. Finally, I would like to thank everyone at Liquid Silver Books for, again, gifting me this opportunity and for their hard work and dedication to producing quality books for our readers.
“Lady, you are the cruell’st she alive.”
― Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
The Rutherford Ball…
Clifford Ross, 7th Marquess of Dansbury was altered…forever changed. He had known nothing before that precise instant, nothing before he saw her. But then he did, and he was captivated. His world righted itself…he hadn’t even known it was askew. And in that moment, his life split into two distinct halves: Before her and
But wasn’t that so like life? A journey made up of a succession of moments, each point altering its direction. And after each change, one could never go back to their previous reality, no matter how much one wanted to. Sometimes the change was slight, and other times? Well, this was one of those times. He knew it. Could feel it in his bones.
Her laugh preceded her, the sound slow and husky and sensual. It slid over his skin and enveloped him like warm, silk sheets. He burned to step out of the shadows, his body straining toward the sound. He tamped down the impulse.
Then, she stepped out onto the terrace and into a small pool of light, offering her gaze to the moon. His heart skipped its next beat before thundering away. But he didn’t move or make a sound. Regardless, she lowered her head and looked right at him; her gaze pierced him in the darkness.
He was sure her eyes were blue…Adonis blue…though he couldn’t be sure in the low light. Regardless, they all but pinned him in place against the balustrade. His cock hardened to solid oak as lust slammed into him from out of nowhere. He no longer heard the strains of the waltz or the murmur of voices from the crush of people mingling inside. He homed in on her, only her. He ached to smell her…to taste her…to take her.
Then, she smiled. Not a wide, blinding, light-up-the-night kind of smile, just a simple quirk of her mouth. She glanced down at her feet for a moment, then, back up and threw him another twist of her lips as she peeked at him through her lashes. And in that instant, Clifford Ross…wanted. He wanted it all. With her. Not just sex and sweaty sheets…well, that, too…but also life and love and time. He didn’t know why he felt this way; she simply reached inside and latched onto his soul with her smile, and he was powerless to stop her. He shoved aside his base urges; his mind now racing, fast cataloguing a succession of questions.
Who can introduce us? How quickly can I court her? When can I marry her?
Before, he’d been a confirmed bachelor. After, he imagined silly things like making her laugh, chasing her about the garden, giving her a puppy. It was all irrational, but those thoughts flashed through his mind nonetheless. Trivial moments. Life. With her. His imagination brought to life by her laugh and her gaze, which was no insignificant thing for her regard held power.
“Lady Beatryce, sweet,” a disembodied voice called. In response, she stood taller, visibly stiffened.
He knew that voice—Lord Middlebury. Oh, yes. He knew that voice very well. He was infuriated by the intimacy that curled around the sounds it made, not to mention his disgust at the man who owned it.
He’d called her “sweet”, dammit.
Middlebury joined Lady Beatryce on the terrace and slid his arms around her waist. Possessive. Sensual. Familiar. Then, he rested his chin on her shoulder.
Dansbury clenched his fists in anger. She didn’t look away; her eyes remained locked on
, watching her from the shadows.
Middlebury leaned in. “Where have you been, love? I’ve been searching for you.”
“I-I’ve been here the entire time; I needed the air.” Her voice was smooth and sultry, if a trifle unsettled. If he noticed, Middlebury didn’t acknowledge the hitch.
Middlebury’s hand slid up her side until his arm landed around her shoulders. “What are you looking at, love?”
She shuddered and turned toward Middlebury, breaking their tenuous connection. The loss curdled in his gut despite everything he was witnessing.
She looked up at Middlebury and smiled a sexy, inviting smile. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” She all but purred the words.
Dansbury noted every detail, and he still wanted to crush the stone behind him with his bare hands. Better yet, he wanted to strangle Middlebury.
Middlebury grinned, but what arrested Dansbury’s attention was the other man’s hand, the one attached to the arm dangling over her shoulder…hanging. Just. So. The hand that he wanted to rip off and feed to his dogs. The hand that started…Kneading. Her. Breast.
His banked lust surged to life; and it incensed him. Two long fingers pinched her nipple, and his own cock twitched in answer. His instinct was to charge, take possession of what was his. Claim her peaked nipple. Break those damned fingers.
Absurd. All of it.
“Not here, darling,” she murmured.
“You? Modest? Since when?” Middlebury chuckled as he tweaked her nipple again.
“H-How’d it go?” She ignored Middlebury’s rhetorical questions…and his wandering hand.
“You know how, love. Same as always. Miss Saintsbury’s reputation is in tatters, just like you planned.”
Dansbury’s blood turned to ice. He was fury tempered with disillusionment and a hint of embarrassment over his earlier whimsical thoughts. Lady Beatryce turned and pressed her forehead to Middlebury’s chest, but she twisted her head in
in the shadows.
Her eyes appeared bleak.
Ha! After what he’d just seen and heard? Not bloody likely.
And he was chagrined; worse, he was a fool, for he’d been taken in by her beauty. She was magnificent and the most stunning thing he’d ever seen. But now, he could see she was also hard. It was written in the way she stood and the nuances in the way she moved in the face of her paramour. Yes, she was a diamond, but she was also fast, unscrupulous, and a liar.
In that moment, he hated her. And he vowed to never be deceived by her again.
He turned his back and ousted her from his mind. There was a reason he was hiding in the dark; a reason he did not approach her before. He had a contact to meet and trouble to find. He would meet his contact, dispatch with said trouble, and find the girl whose reputation lay in ruins by this pair of scoundrels. Who knew? Maybe he could help.
Yes, that was him. And this was his life. A world he’d thought he’d known. A world that would never be the same.
He walked away a tad melancholy; as if he’d lost something he never really had.
“A witty woman is a treasure; a witty Beauty is a power.”
― George Meredith, Diana of the Crossways
Beckett House, London…
May 1814, One Year Later…
Father was up to no good.
Well, he was always up to no good, but this was different and much more serious. The Earl of Swindon was angry and mean and as vile as a…as a…as a peppered scoundrel. When he wasn’t pretending to be the doting father that is.
But he was always sure of himself—or at least, sure of his own arrogant superiority. La, she hated the smug expression he’d wear when putting her in her place. But she hadn’t seen that arrogant mien at all in two weeks or more. Instead, there was an underlying sense of fear about the man.
He was utterly terrified, actually.
And Lady Beatryce Beckett needed to find out why. Knowledge was power and in her case, often offered some measure of protection.
In addition to Father’s odd behavior, suspicious men watched the house at all hours of the day. Bea didn’t recognize any of the strange men; they didn’t belong in this area of Mayfair. And, somehow, they always happened to disappear whenever a runner was nearby. Surprise.
Father was oblivious to their unwanted observers, but once, she’d caught him start with alarm after catching sight of a particularly large brute wearing a dark, hooded cloak. That man had stood right in the middle of the street, shrouded in black, and stared up at the house, his arms crossed and his stance wide. A dancing bear wouldn’t have been more obvious.
Even Father had noticed that one.
The hooded man had stood there for several minutes, before turning and walking away, nonchalant-like, as if this were a normal, everyday thing to do. As if he commanded everything and everyone around him. Arrogant, like Father. No one else in Beckett House had noticed the event, or if they had, they hadn’t remarked upon it. And none of their neighbors had mentioned the event either, which was rather disturbing to say the least.
Today, Step-mother and Father were away at a garden party held by some faceless society hostess. Her three younger sisters had gone, too, but Bea had pled a headache at the last minute and remained behind. Father rarely left the house, so this was her best, and possibly only, opportunity to search his study for clues—short of in the wee hours of the morning, which Bea was loath to do. Those hours were hers.
Bea stopped in front of her father’s study, deliberately stepping over the squeaky floorboard in front of the threshold. She looked left and right, then sucked in a breath and gathered her courage. She opened the door, quiet as a mouse, for she didn’t want to alert the servants even if they held no love for the earl.
Hell, they held no love for her for that matter. And she supposed she had earned their animosity, but she would never admit it—nor acknowledge that she cared. She didn’t care. They were beneath her notice.
Inside the study, the room was dim as the fire was banked low—Father was ever frugal. Bea left the door cracked and made her way across the room. She opened the curtains covering the large window behind the earl’s desk to let in more light.
She skipped the obvious hiding places and headed straight for the bookshelf to her left. A few weeks ago, she’d spied Father scrambling to replace a book on this very shelf. He never read, so the action was remarkable.
She searched the middle shelf for a disturbance in the dust.
She grabbed the book; it felt lighter than it should, so she opened it.
Aha! It was a false book, and inside was a small key.
Right. Now to find the lock.
Bea replaced the book, minus its treasure, and turned to study the room. She tapped the key against her lips while she considered the most likely place to look.