He’s seductive, interesting, and oh so very sexy. But could he be too dangerous for Mary?
Mary’s father was in trouble, and it ended up killing him. He left Mary alone, with no answers and too many questions.
James Poole arrives at her home, and immediately sees that she’s sultry, and too damn hard to stay away from. Could his attraction to her prove fatal?
Mary refuses to trust him, but that doesn’t stop her from teasing him mercilessly. He sees her basically undressed, and she seems unphased by it.
At the same time, she finds herself thinking of him. Constantly. He does good work, and he makes her feel interesting, exciting emotions.
He’s handsome, yes, but he’s more fit for the war than for accounting. And who would hire someone just out of university?
Was he sent to murder her, too? Or could he be the key to unravelling the whole conspiracy?
Will Mary let her desire get the better of her? Will she let him explore every secret part of her body? Could James thoroughly satisfy her, and leave her panting and desperate for more?
The sun was already streaming in through her window when Mary Geis rose. It still felt odd to her, and she had rolled over several times to go back to sleep when she woke at times that felt natural and normal to her.
She put up a front of indifference and laziness, but beneath all that she wanted to sleep in even still. The reality of her life after her father’s death had been all too bleak, and the chance to avoid even a little bit of it by closing her eyes was a welcome distraction.
She dressed quickly, without Rebecca. She wasn’t in the bed beside hers, and wasn’t waiting in the hall for her, so clearly something must have come up. It wasn’t as if Mary couldn’t dress herself, after all.
Afterward she made a bee-line for the library, as she had been doing for days. She kept her head down. The truth was that she was still tired, even after all the sleep she’d gotten already. She didn’t want to look or think too hard until after she’d had a cup of tea and been reading a bit.
She tried to forget the day before, and the powerful, attractive young man who had barged his way into her house by opening her book to where she’d marked it the night before. It took her only a moment to find her place once more, but reading was slow going. For every sentence she read, it seemed as if she had to read it twice more to comprehend It, and then start again at the top of the paragraph to understand a word of it.
When she finally set the book down with a weary sigh, the clock showed nearly noon, and she’d barely made it five pages. What was she to do?
She looked out the window and tried to figure things out again. This new steward, Mr. Poole. He was far too young to have any experience, she knew. That he’d been in the army only served to cement it. Perhaps he knew nothing at all about running a house.
If he were sent by whoever plotted against her family, it would only make sense that they would be the type who had been in the army. He was big enough to be dangerous, and yet he had manners enough to fit in among the servants her father had kept.
With a frown, Mary noted that she hadn’t seen Davis around for the entire day. That in itself was not unusual—he had spent days before serving her father, and she was relegated to one of the maids for service. But she was the only one in the house, now, who would have any sort of need for a butler.
“Davis,” she called out experimentally.
She waited a moment for the sound of the door to open. Nothing came. She waited another moment longer and then stood. What on earth could have happened, that he wasn’t here? She let out a long, tired sigh.
Perhaps she should stay here. Whatever it was, surely he would be back before long, and she would look awfully foolish for having worried. She sat back and opened the book again, but she didn’t read. She looked at the open pages blankly, and then pushed her chair back and stood once more. She should have been notified, at least, if he were going to go out.
That she wasn’t was reason enough for concern. She marched out of the room. Whatever was going on, she would get to the bottom of it. Rebecca wasn’t waiting outside, of course. And she wasn’t in the attic, sewing, either.
Mary’s chest felt tight, and her vision started to dim. Whatever was going on, it was bad. She began to think that perhaps, for the first time in her memory, she was well and truly alone.
If her fears were well-founded, and someone was planning something untoward towards her family, she was now well and truly alone. She couldn’t do anything at all to prevent it.
She nearly stumbled down two flights of stairs on her way to the kitchens. They were empty, every pot and pan in its place. The sink was completely clean, the floor sparkling. When the cooks had left, they had done their jobs in cleaning up after the place.
She leaned against the counter and tried to still the beating of her heart and slow her breathing, which came in harsh, ragged bursts that utterly failed to give her any sort of sustenance. She needed to get out, to escape. She didn’t care about the house any more. She just needed to feel safe.
As she breathed, Mary tried to think. If there was something going on, then this was the final coup de grace. What’s more, she realized as a pit opened up in her stomach, there would be no escape. Not for a young woman, alone and unarmed.
She began going, in her mind, what her options were. The servants seemed to be gone, arranging for her to be left alone for some nefarious purpose. The new man, the “steward”—or perhaps “assassin”—was the only question in her mind. He was not part of the house’s regular staff. And if he were still around, then he would be the instrument of her destruction. Of that much, she was certain.
She took a deep breath to steady herself and closed her eyes. She folded her hands in prayer, and for a long moment prayed to Holy Mary for her protection. She touched her breast a moment, and then began the long, perhaps final, climb up the stairs to the main floor.
The house was silent save for the sound of her shoes, clicking sharply on the floor, and with the absolute quiet it seemed to echo throughout. The sound was lonely and seemed to create a feeling of finality, one that was mirrored in Mary’s heart.
At last she stood at the study door. It was closed, but when she pressed her ear against it, she heard nothing. No scratching of a pen, no one walking back and forth inside, no shuffling of papers. Finally, she knocked lightly; if she was quiet enough, she hoped, nobody would answer.
But after a long moment, as she held her breath, the door did open.
A big man in a waistcoat, with close-cropped hair, broad shoulders, and strong, attractive features stood behind it. He had a reproachful look on his face as he looked down at Mary.
“Where has everyone gone? What have you done with Davis and Rebecca?”
He inhaled a deep breath through his nose and the square posture of his shoulders softened slightly.
“I’ve sent them home, Miss Geis.”
Mary recoiled as if she’d been slapped. He didn’t attack her outright, and his hands were empty. If he were an assassin, he ought to get it over with. Her only hope, if it could be called that, lay in continuing to feign ignorance.
“Whatever for, Mr. Poole?”
“They couldn’t be kept, Miss.”
Mary bit her tongue to keep from speaking too soon. She needed to think. He was big enough to snap her in half without thinking. Like a twig for kindling.
How much longer could the charade go on for? She was tired. Tired of the fear, tired of the lies. She closed her eyes for a moment. What right did he have to do any of this? Her face twisted in anger, and she slapped him with the full weight of her body.
James made no effort to stop her. Her hand stung, she thought, more than his face appeared to. She slapped him again, with her other hand.
“Well,” she said, defiant. “Do your worst.”
James Poole looked at her for a moment, confused. He looked at her face, and then over her shoulder. Then he frowned.
“If that’s all, ma’am. I need to get back to work.”
Mary looked up at him, her face angrier and angrier.
“Very well, then.”
She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction, she decided. Whatever happened now, she wouldn’t be able to stop. But if he weren’t going to admit to it, then she wouldn’t reveal that she knew. The door was closing as she thought of one last, closing jibe.
“And Mr. Poole?”
The door stopped, and opened up once again. James Poole stood on the other side, filling the door frame and obscuring her view of the room inside.
“Don’t ever do anything of this sort without my express permission again. Is that clear?”
“I apologize, ma’am. It won’t happen again.”
“Good,” she said, turning on her heel and walking away.
Why did he torture her like this? What motive could he have? She was right there before him, and if he were going to do her harm, that had been as good an opportunity as one could hope for.
If he hadn’t, though, then why had he been so secretive and so unilateral in dismissing her household servants?
It made no sense. But Mary knew one thing. There was a hidden advantage that he hadn’t thought of when he had tried to get her alone. She was free, now. Free to pursue the mystery of her father’s death away from prying eyes, because there was only one person in the entire house to stop her.