In Stefanie Sloane's spirited and witty new series of intrigue and passion, a dedicated spy learns the meaning of surrender.
To Young Corinthian agent Marcus MacInnes, the Earl of Weston, his latest mission involving a smuggling ring with ties to Napoleon seems ridiculous at first, but becomes all too threatening as pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. And the most troubling piece of all? Miss Sarah Tisdale, an unconventional beauty whose lust for life is rivaled only by her ability to drive Marcus to distraction. When her family comes under suspicion, Marcus must watch her very closely--even if her touch ignites the fiery desire burning beneath his cool facade.
When it comes to suitors, Sarah's lush curves and kissable lips aren't enough to compensate for her willful nature. She's tasted disappointment before, but flirting with the sinfully handsome Marcus is a pastime worth savoring--even when it leads to wicked pleasures. When Sarah's life is in jeopardy, Marcus discovers that the passion between them can no longer be denied--and he'll do anything to keep her in his arms.
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June 28, 2011
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Excerpt from The Angel in My Arms by Stefanie Sloane
Sloane: THE ANGEL IN MY ARMS
Marcus MacInnes, the Earl of Weston, looked out over Lulworth Cove and chuckled. "Well now, Sully, you've seen it for yourself. Aye, it's my own personal Jericho. Wouldn't you agree?"
The valet's swarthy face remained unreadable, the lines around his eyes deepening as he squinted, his gaze focused on what lay below them. The cove's blue water lapped at the hulls of fishing boats. On the shore, the village dozed sleepily in the warm sunshine.
Exactly the sort of spot where a gentleman might just be sent to rusticate from a gunshot wound. Especially if the gentleman happened to be a spy.
Sully turned to look directly at his master. "It looks quiet enough, I'll give you that."
Marcus smiled wryly before turning his horse back onto the leafy path. "Indeed."
Sully followed suit, kneeing his bay gelding next to Marcus's chestnut Thoroughbred. "There could be smugglers."
Marcus slowed his mount just long enough to give the valet a dubious look.
"Or not," Sully admitted somewhat dejectedly.
Marcus ducked his head to dodge a low-hanging limb and the green leaves of one of the massive whitebeam trees that lined the trail. "What a waste of time."
But there was nothing he could do about it. He'd been given an order, and he'd bloody well follow it.
Marcus was a Young Corinthian, and that meant something.
He and Sully continued on in silence. Their horses, Marcus thought absently, seemed thankful for the slower pace after the three-day ride from London to Lulworth, a sleepy hamlet located in Dorset along the southwestern coast of England.
The shaded lane curved and ahead of the two riders rose Lulworth Castle, Marcus's home. Originally built as a hunting lodge, the impressive structure had been expanded over the years until it was the largest home in the district.
The unentailed castle belonged to Marcus, due to his mother having been an only child. Yes, it was all his. And it was undeniably magnificent. But it was not where he wanted to be.
Marcus was a member of the Young Corinthians, a clandestine spy organization led by Henry Prescott, Viscount Carmichael. There was an unwritten rule among the Corinthians never to question an assignment. The life of a spy demanded complete loyalty and unswerving belief in your superior's judgment. Something Marcus had suddenly found particularly disagreeable.
The moment a bullet found its way into his leg during a mission this past spring, Marcus had known that his role within the elite organization would change dramatically. Until his injury healed fully, he was more of a liability than an asset in the field.
Nevertheless, when Lord Carmichael suggested that Marcus investigate recent smuggling activity near his ancestral home in Dorset, Marcus nearly abandoned his well-practiced charm and told his superior exactly what he thought of the assignment.
Finding yourself with a bullet in your leg was one thing. Having your superior send you off on a fool's errand was quite another.
He couldn't deny that in all likelihood he'd made himself somewhat of a nuisance to Carmichael as he impatiently waited for his blasted wound to heal.
And if he admitted that much, then he really could not blame Carmichael for dispatching him to the Dorset countryside when news of a possible connection between radical revolutionaries and local smugglers had the Prince Regent's drawers in a twist.
As Carmichael had informed him over plates of roast beef at their club, a string of recent robberies in London was believed to be related to the suspicious activities in Lulworth--both somehow tied to Napoleon's supporters.
Marcus had only stared at Carmichael in disbelief, a heavy goblet of brandy poised halfway to his mouth. Really, it was too much to be believed.
But still, Marcus reluctantly realized, if he were to be completely honest, his irritation with the assignment had as much to do with the location as with the smuggling investigation itself.
As a boy, when not in Inverness at his father's estate, the family had split its time between London and Lulworth. At least in London he'd been able to lose him- self amid the constant thrum of social and sporting events. But the same could not be said for Lulworth. The hamlet's inhabitants had never gotten over his Scot- tish father's stealing away the fairest of their English roses. It hadn't helped that the elder Lord Weston embraced his role as the brutish Highlander with particular relish. His habit of donning a tartan and broadsword whenever his relatives visited the castle had only made things worse.
The locals hadn't liked the father, and as a result, they didn't like the son. And Marcus had known, from a painfully early age, that he simply did not fit in. Not in Lulworth, where everyone from the baker's son to the solicitor's daughter saw him as nothing more than the son of a thief. Not in Inverness either, where the blue English blood in his veins meant he'd never be a true Highlander.
"I've sorely missed Cook's pheasant," Sully said, pulling Marcus from his thoughts.
The stone castle stood before them with all the welcoming warmth of a midwinter snowfall.
"You're an accomplished liar, Sully, I'll give you that." Marcus's amiable tone belied his most recent grim thoughts. "But I know you too well. It's Cook that you've been looking forward to, not her creamed peas."
"Pheasant," Sully corrected him. "And it's quite a succulent bird that she cooks," he protested. "Though her creamed peas are quite delicious as well."
Marcus reined in his horse and raised a hand. "Far be it for me to intrude upon the ways of love," he said sardonically, prompting a harrumph from his valet.
With a noticeable lack of his usual ease, Marcus awkwardly swung a leg over the saddle and lowered himself to the ground, an instant stab of pain shooting up from the healing wound in his thigh. He ground his teeth together until the sensation subsided, then drew the soft leather reins over Pokey's head and handed them to Sully. "I'm going to walk off this stiffness. I'll be along shortly."
Sully gave Marcus a considering look then leaned from the saddle to take the reins. "Are you up to it?"
"Awa' an' bile yer heid!" Marcus growled, though the valet's thoughtfulness made him smile.
"Oh," Sully began, turning the two horses toward the stables, "I'll be missing that burr of yours while we're here. Can't be playing Lord of the manor sounding like one of them Jacobites though, now can we?" he teased. "I'll be in the kitchen, then."
"Oh, that's a given," Marcus shot back in a painfully perfect London accent. For as long as he could remember, he had made it a habit to hide his burr from everyone but Sully and the Scottish side of his family. There was simply no good reason to remind people of his ancestry.
"I'll send the hounds out if you've not limped your way home by dark."
"That's terribly thoughtful of you, old friend."
"Don't mention it--"
"And I do mean old," Marcus added with a gleam in his eye.
He could just make out another harrumph as Sully rode on, his pace quickening as he disappeared into the copse of trees that separated the expansive lawn of Lulworth from the rest of the grounds.
Marcus stretched, trying to ease the aches in his travel-weary muscles without irritating his wound further. He turned and strolled, limping slightly, toward the wood, his destination undecided. The tension that had gripped his gut when he'd first spied the castle slowly dissipated as he moved farther into the trees. He tugged at his carefully tied cravat, a low sigh escaping his lips as he yanked the length of white linen free of its intricate knot and unwound it from his throat. He mopped his brow with the dust-covered cloth before dropping it into the pocket of his deep brown riding coat.
The shade from the green-leafed canopy of oak trees provided some relief, but Marcus needed more. He stopped to orient himself, looking north, then east. Realizing that he wasn't far from the lake where he'd fished as a child, he set off at a faster clip.
A refreshing swim was precisely what he needed. The water would cool his body, clear his head, and, hopefully, tire him to the point that he no longer cared about where he was.
A high-pitched scream shattered the quiet and stopped Marcus in his tracks. A second scream followed, and Marcus ran, willing his wounded leg to keep pace with the rest of his body as he crashed through a bank of quickthorn bushes.