I've already written the prologue to "Secrets and Lies", and I'm so excited to write more. I decided to share this with my friends, and yes, even to tease you a little with my story. My reviewers don't label me "Queen of Tease" for nothing!
On secret assignment from President Grant, Nicole Bastian is tasked with investigating a string of train robberies in which several caches of government gold were stolen. The stakes are high and she is utterly devastated when she uncovers information that indicates the man of her dreams, Ashton Lee, the wealthy co-founder of Conrail is the number one suspect.
Desperate to remain cool and impartial, Nicole strives to keep her suspicions quiet until she learns what he keeps from her.
New York City, 1870
When had the man of her dreams turned into her worst nightmare?
Terror seized Nicola Bastian’s whole body as she stared at the pistol pointing straight at her. Holding her breath, she dared not even breathe, yet her heartbeat hammered so quickly, she had to do something to calm herself. Slowly, she released a small bit of air between her lips as she forced her frightened brain to start functioning. There had to be a way out of this mess. Not often had she found herself in situations like this, but when she did, she had always squeezed out of the predicament.
After all, she was a trained Secret Service Agent as was her brother and father. She was in the family business for a reason. She was so very good at it.
Yet, ever since meeting Ashton Lee, things had not gone as planned. Especially when she had allowed him to capture her heart.
Nicola moved her focus from the black, shiny weapon in his hand, up to the distrustful eyes of Conrail Railroad’s co-founder, Ashton Lee. He was one of the wealthiest men in New York City…and was number one on her suspects’ list for the recent train robberies, as well.
She tried to gulp down the fright lodged in her throat, but it wouldn’t move. Keeping her legs from trembling, she slowly shifted her arms in front of her and clasped her cold fingers. After licking her suddenly dried lips, she cleared her throat. “Mr. Lee. Wh-what are you doing here?”
He stepped into the room a little farther until reaching the low-burning lamp on the side table. He turned it up and seconds later, the light brightened the room. She squinted from the sudden brightness until her vision adjusted. When she was able to see him more clearly, a frown marred his handsome face. Her heart twisted.
“I live here.” He arched a critical eyebrow. “Or had that somehow slipped your mind as you wandered through my house uninvited?”
No matter what, she couldn’t tell him what she suspected him of doing.
“Forgive me, Mr. Lee, but I entered your house uninvited, assuming you wouldn’t mind. I…um, I seem to have left my wrist purse somewhere, and I thought perhaps I’d left it here when I visited you the other day.”
Gradually, the hand holding the pistol lowered, but suspicion still sparked in his eyes. “Then you should have sent me a note and I would have searched for it. But instead, you waited until you thought I had left before sneaking in and coming to my study. When you were here the other afternoon, we sat in the parlor, so why would you think your wrist purse was in my study?”
Silently, she grumbled. She really needed to think up better answers. Right now, however, her heart was beating frantically and her mind was spinning out of control. She couldn’t think straight to save her life.
Shrugging, she said, “Pardon me, once again for assuming, because I had just figured you would bring my purse in here to keep it safe until I came for it.” Hopefully, he’d believe that statement. For a moment, she thought it had worked, because his arm lowered another inch.
He studied her through a hooded gaze. Still his mouth hadn’t moved from the distrustful scowl he wore when he first entered the room. She didn’t dare say anything more, but she felt she needed to convince him that she wasn’t trying to steal from him.
Doubtful, he’d suspect her of being a secret agent. After all, women usually didn’t have occupations like this, and she’d worked so hard to try to present herself as a carefree heiress who didn’t know how to use her mind. To be sure, Ashton Lee would be shocked to know this wasn’t her at all, which is why he must never know. She must protect her true identity.
He took another step toward her. “I see your reasoning, Miss Bastian, however, you haven’t answered my question on why you came when you thought I was gone?”
Oh, dear. She moistened her mouth with another swallow before answering. “I had actually dropped by, but the lights were out. I knew it was late, and…and I really didn’t want to bother you with something so mundane. I thought if I could sneak in and just peek in your study, no harm would be done.” She smiled as charmingly as she could muster with quivering lips.
“Miss Bastian,” he said, coming even closer, “do you make it a habit of going out after dark to visit men at their homes, and then sneak in when the lights are out?”
What is wrong with me? Never before had she felt so dumbstruck. “Well, no, but—”
“Nicole,” he whispered her name closing the space between them as he stood in front of her, “I have always wondered something about you from the very first time we met. I couldn’t quite understand what had me so perplexed, but I felt as if you were holding secrets.” He swept the fingers of his free hand along the curls by her cheek. “I now realize that you are not the woman you have pretended to be.”
Ice chilled her blood. No! He couldn’t possibly know that. She wouldn’t admit the truth to him even if he threatened her life. Then again, with him holding a gun on her, perhaps her life was at stake. “I-I-I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh, my dear, Nicole.” He shook his head slowly. “It is time to stop playing this game with me. I’ve suspected who you were for a few days now.”
She gasped. “You thought I was lying to you when I was here the other day?”
“Not at first, but the more we talked, the more I realized your charade.”
He couldn’t possibly have guessed. “I, Sir, do not have a charade! If anyone has one, it’s you.”
“And how did you come to that conclusion, my dear?”
Once again, he had put her on the spot. When would her mind start functioning correctly? She needed to think rationally soon. “Oh come now, Mr. Lee. You cannot tell me that you haven’t heard the rumors.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Rumors? Of what, may I ask?”
Uncomfortable, she laughed lightly. “Have you not heard of the train robberies these past few months? Not only important government mail was stolen, but several gold bars were taken, as well.”
“You don’t have to explain about the robberies. Because I’m one of the owners of the rail line, I know what is going on. But what does this have to do with me?”
She swept a still-shaky hand through the air around her, motioning to the room’s décor. “It’s rumored that your coffers have doubled in the past few months. Now tell me, Mr. Lee, is it just a coincidence that this happened around the same time as the train thefts?”
An indescribable expression crossed his features and darkened his face. She couldn’t tell if he was extremely humored at her comment, or shocked that she would say such a thing. He kept silent for a few awkward moments as his gaze bore deep into hers. She didn’t dare say anymore until he gave her his reply.
Slowly, the unfathomable expression left his face as a grin tugged at his mouth. He moved closer, not stopping until he was mere inches away. The bulk of her gown rubbed against the material of his trousers. Uncertainty jumped inside her, and although instinct told her she should be afraid of him, fear was not the emotion swirling inside her stomach and warming her blood right now.
The pistol he clutched fell to his side, but his weapon of choice now was his limb-melting gaze and sensual grin. In a way, this one was more dangerous.
“Nicole,” he said in a husky tone, “are you seriously accusing me of thievery?”
A quick thought flitted through her head. He must be some kind of thief because he’d nearly stolen her heart. And he had certainly taken away her control over this situation!
Up this close, the few freckles across his nose were more prominent, and the dimple in his cheek made her want to stroke the pad of her finger across it. Instead, she did her best to remain still, even if her insides were having a jumping match at the moment. “I’m not accusing you of anything, Mr. Lee. I’m merely pointing out the similarities.”
“Didn’t I ask you the other night to call me Ashton?” His voice deepened.
“Then why aren’t you?”
“Because I thought…well, you see…I just don’t think—”
“Nicole, do you know how lovely you are when you’re flustered?” He used his other hand to caress her cheek.
A shiver of excitement rattled through her, and she cursed him for being able to do this. Why had he said such a thing—now, of all times? Had it slipped his mind that he’d caught her in his house, and that he was holding a pistol? Or had she somehow gained control over this conversation without knowing it?
Then it struck her like a thick piece of wood between the eyes, and the realization made her heart sink. He was trying to change the subject. For some reason, he didn’t want to talk about the train robbery or that he’d suddenly came across more money. He was using his charm to weaken her. That only meant one thing.
The man was guilty. Ashton Lee was indeed the train robber—or at least one of the men involved. Because of his position with the company, he was probably the one who had planned this whole thing and hired the thugs to do the dirty work.
“You think I’m flustered?” she asked, her voice cracking.
His grin grew wider. “Aren’t you?” His touch moved from her cheek to her bottom lip. The pad of his thumb rubbed the skin, his gaze staying on that spot. “In these past few weeks of knowing you, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you stumble over your words. In all this time, you have been such a confident woman. You say what’s on your mind. So to answer your question, yes, I do think you’re flustered.” He paused, then added, “And I find it adorable.”
Slowly, his head moved closer as his hand dropped to her shoulder. He’s going to kiss me! Yet knowing this didn’t make her want to stop him at all. Instead, she was encouraged and grasped his waistcoat with both of her hands, waiting…anticipating his lips on hers.
His warm breath touched her mouth just before his lips did. Sighing a satisfied breath, she leaned into him, pressing her mouth intimately against his. Strong arms wrapped around her body, settling her in his embrace a little better. When her hands felt imprisoned between their chests, she slid her palms up over his shoulders and to his nape.
Although gentle, the kiss was also wild. He kissed her like he couldn’t get enough, slanting his head from side to side. She responded with the same eagerness.
Inside her heart, emotion grew—very tender; very endearing. But inside her head, doubts crept in, reminding her that he only acted this way as a diversion. It shouldn’t matter how charming, handsome, and sweet he’d been to her—and how incredible she felt kissing him—he was guilty. He would eventually be arrested and thrown in prison for his crimes. Unless the judge decided to hang Ashton, instead.
Her conscience screamed for her to stop the kiss, but she couldn’t. Indeed, he was a thief, because he’d taken away her control once more. This time, however, she didn’t mind that much, especially when a few pleasurable sighs released from his throat. At least she wasn’t the only one enjoying this moment.
Within seconds, his lips grew soft, his actions tender, his kisses slow, almost leisurely. He left her breathless. How could a heartless criminal show her so much affection? It was obvious he did care about her in some way.
When he finally broke the kiss, he seemed to have difficulty breathing as well. His hazel eyes smoldered with desire while he held her stare. She scrambled for something intelligent to say, but as before, she was a loss for words.
Soon, the scowl reappeared on his face and he frowned. “You kiss too well for an innocent woman. Just as I had suspected, you are not whom you’ve proclaimed to be.” He released her and stepped several feet away, raising the pistol to her once more. “Such a shame I have to kill you. We could have been good for each other.”
Fear bolted through her again. This time, it nearly had her body crumbling to the ground. He couldn’t kill her! This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. There must be a way to convince him otherwise.
Sadness darkened on his face and he shook his head. “Believe me, Nicole, I wish things would have turned out differently.”
The fire of a pistol exploded through the room. Darkness quickly filled her mind as she collapsed on the floor.
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