He couldn’t breathe.
The air was sucked from his chest in a whoosh, and blackness crowded the edges of his vision. It was only through sheer force of will that Noah managed to stay on his feet, for his knees were threatening to buckle and his stomach was threatening to rebel. An icy sweat covered his skin, and nausea was rolling through him in waves. Nothing could have prepared him for the beautiful ambush that was this woman.
She was watching him silently, those hazel eyes of hers almost gold in the setting sun. She knew. She knew, she knew, she knew. It pounded through his head, echoing deep in his bones.
She knew who he was, or who he had been, though how she had discovered his identity was horrifyingly unclear. He tried to put his thoughts in order, but his mind refused to cooperate.
She reached out a hand, as if to steady him, but he jerked away from her.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, her voice seemingly coming from a great distance. “This was . . . ” She blew out a breath. “This was not how I intended this at all.
“No,” he managed to say, the words jumbled in his head and not making sense. He wanted to deny everything, but he couldn’t seem to form the necessary sentences.
“Just hear me out—”
Elise looked down at her hands. “I know very well that you are Noah Ellery, heir to the duchy of Ashland. Pretending otherwise is a waste of our time.”
His breath was coming back, small sips of air that were pushing the darkness from the edges of his vision. “Not me.”
Elise sighed in obvious frustration, and with what looked like regret on her face. “You’re a terrible liar.”
He wasn’t a terrible liar. He was a brilliant liar. He had lived a lie for fifteen years, and no one had ever discovered his secret until now.
“Abigail needs you.”
He focused on those words, focused on the implications of that sentence.
Abigail needs you.
She had not made mention of his father. Or his mother. Only his sister.
The one person in his childhood who had not looked at him with pity. Or anger. The one person who had defended a small boy when no one else would. The one person who had never tried to fix him.
The urge to retch diminished slightly, though a new dread curled through him. What had happened to Abigail?
Was she hurt, was she—
“She’s fine.” Elise was watching him carefully, and he hated that her blindsiding him had made him give so much away. “But she needs your help. She needs you to come home. To London.”
He stared at her before he spun, charging out of the garden into the darkening pastures. He didn’t know where he was going, but he needed to move. He could no longer simply stand still under the assault of the secrets that Elise DeVries wielded.
He wasn’t sure how far he had gone before he stumbled to a stop, the greyness of twilight making a valiant effort to stay the shadows. Somewhere closer to the river, an owl hooted, an eerie sound that echoed across the pasture. With a start he realized that Elise stood beside him. He’d not heard her, nor had he expected her to be able to keep up over the uneven ground.
“Who are you?” he asked abruptly, a welcome anger replacing the shock. Replacing the feeling of betrayal and the humiliation. He had trusted her. Let down his guard and allowed himself to believe that he felt a connection with this woman. Jesus Christ, but he had kissed her.
“I work for the firm of Chegarre and Associates in London. I was hired to find you.”
“What is Chegarre and Associates?” he snapped. “Lawyers? Investigators?” Though if they were investigators somehow tied to the Runners, he would already have been arrested.
“Not exactly. We help people find solutions to situations that are . . . difficult. People turn to us when regular channels of the law or society have failed them.”
That meant nothing to him. “And I’m…believe—” He stopped and concentrated on his words, letting the anger run freely, letting it crystallize his thoughts. “And I’m supposed to believe anything you say?”
He heard Elise sigh unhappily. There was a faint rustle of fabric, and she held something out to him in the palm of her hand. Something that gleamed dully in the fading light.
“Abigail gave me this to give to you. So that you would know I spoke the truth when I found you.”
He recognized it instantly, though he’d never expected to see it again. He reached out and took the brooch from Elise, careful not to touch her. The steel rose was warm against his skin, the edges smooth where it lay in his hand. He remembered the day he’d had John make it for her. He wrapped his hand around it tightly and closed his eyes.
“Abigail’s husband is a smith. He recognized Mr. Barr’s work, so I came to Nottingham to find him, and hopefully, a clue to your whereabouts.” Her voice was quiet and without inflection. “I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect you.”
by Kelly Bowen
Released: July 26th 2016
Series: Season for Scandal #2
Published by Forever
Love takes the stage . . .
Elise deVries is not what she seems. By night, the actress captivates London theatergoers with her chameleon-like ability to slip inside her characters. By day, she uses her mastery of disguise to work undercover for Chegarre & Associates, an elite agency known for its discreet handling of indelicate scandals. But when Elise is tasked with locating the missing Duke of Ashland, she finds herself center stage in a real-life drama.
Noah Ellery left the glamour of the London aristocracy to pursue a simpler life in the country. He's managed to avoid any complications or entanglements-that is, until he lays eyes on Elise and realizes there's more to this beautiful woman than meets the eye. But when Elise reveals her real identity-and her true feelings for him-the runaway duke must confront the past he left behind . . . to keep the woman he loves forever.