Former covert field agent for the Prime Minister, Felicia Adler wants a normal life living as a wealthy widow. Unfortunately, a man from her past won’t allow her this comfort. He’s back to bring havoc into her life and play with her heart just as he’d done four years ago. But her mother’s disappearance forces Felicia to rely on him. If that’s not enough, her spirits are trying to keep her out of danger and help her find love in her life, once again.
Investigative officer for the Metropolitan Police, Sebastian Harrington sails all the way to Italy to find the thief he’s been hunting for over a year now. When he meets her face-to-face, he’s shocked to see the woman who’d stolen his heart and crushed it four years prior. Now he needs to find evidence against her, have her arrested, and transport her back to England to stand trial. If only his heart will allow it.
I've posted Chapter One for your reading enjoyment.
If Sebastian Harrington had asked the people in high society whether they thought the widow, Lady Adler, was a thief… they’d laugh in his face. Why would the young widow want to steal jewels when she was wealthy in her own right? She’d received a large inheritance after her husband’s death. Inwardly, Sebastian chuckled. He didn’t believe for one moment that Lord Adler had died because his heart had failed. Sebastian would bet money that the young widow had been behind her husband’s death.
Of course, he would have to solve that case at a different time. Today, he was after a thief.
However, he’d recently heard rumor that Lord Adler had been deeply in debt at the time of his death. Could she still be so wealthy after paying all the creditors? This was the reason for Sebastian’s clandestine visit to her place of residence. Lady Adler’s manor resembled the stately home of the Duchess of Devonshire, except that it was charmingly smaller. It had only two stories instead of four; and four, not eight, gray marble pillars in the front.
Cautiously, he crept around the outside of the manor. The half-moon suspended in the cloudless sky was his only light. As he passed by each window, he glanced inside. The pollen from the bushes wafted around him, making him sneeze, but continued to push his way through. His foot bumped against a large rock, causing him to stumble. Thankfully, he quickly righted himself.
Sebastian came upon the window of the dining room, and immediately noticed the crowd. Hitching a breath, he pulled back and flattened himself against the outer wall. As an experienced spy, he knew to stay in the shadows.
Sebastian had been chasing this particular thief for almost a year. The trail had died in England, but then, not too long ago, his contacts had informed him that a woman matching the thief’s description had booked a passage to Capri, Italy. There was no hesitation on his part. He was determined to catch this woman and make a name for himself.
This specific case started when thefts from wealthy homes surrounding London were reported. It was most interesting that the jewelry pieces taken were only those items purchased from distant countries. Sebastian had studied the homes that had been robbed and interviewed those involved, but no clues had been found. Remarkably enough however, there was only one person linking them together – the young widow with blonde silk hair and a body of a goddess, Lady Adler.
Coincidence? He thought not.
Since he’d been in Capri, he’d spoken to the local police and, just as he’d suspected, they too, were having some of their wealthier homes broken into and jewelry stolen.
Sebastian moved slowly as he peeked in the window again. About twenty guests filled Lady Adler’s dining room, all appearing to enjoy dishes of mutton, pickled crab, and what looked to be potato pudding along with broccoli ala sauce.
The evening’s cool breeze picked up, causing the branches from the bushes and nearby trees to sway with the rhythm of the wind. He muttered under his breath. This would make listening for sounds around him more difficult. But he could do it.
Sebastian skimmed his gaze over the guests. Most of them had the typical olive-colored skin of those born and raised in Italy, while three of the women had fair complexions. One of the three women had to be the thief.
Since he’d never seen the woman up close, he relied on her description from his informants. All he knew was that she was exceptionally lovely, her hair was blonde, and she was petite. After asking questions around Capri about her these past few months, he’d learned that Lady Adler was also quite charming, and that her eyes could seduce a monk.
A horse’s neigh rang out in the distance. Startled, he jerked away from the window and searched the grounds. Down the slope of the yard several carriages had gathered. One of the horses couldn’t stand still, even though the driver tried to calm the animal.
Sebastian breathed easier and glanced back through the window, locating the three ladies once more. Two of them were easy to study. They were both blondes, and they each wore a gown made from the finest material. They appeared to be in their mid to late twenties.
The third lady sat at the head of the table, her back toward him. The light from the chandelier gave the darker blonde ringlets hanging well past her shoulders a hint of brunette gleam. His suspect had lighter hair.
Another sound, masked by the wind, ripped through the air. It almost sounded like a branch snapping. He quickly glanced up to the trees. The wind wasn’t blowing hard enough to break the limbs. He swung his head in the opposite direction. There were no people coming outside, either. Only the drivers by the carriages were sharing the evening shadows with him, and they were far away enough not to see an intruder.
When a shout of laughter echoed through the dining room, he whipped his gaze back inside the room. The guests were laughing as all eyes turned toward the lady with her back to him. Although her hair wasn’t light enough, he still wondered if this was indeed the hostess – the woman he was after. She reached across her plate with her left hand and moved the silver serving bowl in front of her an inch or so to the right. The large diamond ring circling her fourth finger glinted under the light of the chandelier hanging above the table.
As an investigator for the Metropolitan Police over the past four years, he’d learned to follow his instincts. After collecting evidence and statements from witnesses, he pondered over the suspects for hours, trying to discern who was guilty. Most of the time, his gut told him he was right.
There had been a time a few years back when his instincts had failed him. He was trying to solve a case dealing with an art thief – or so he’d thought – and yet, the woman he’d trusted and nearly given his heart to, had lied to him. The end result was that the case fell apart. Sebastian was blamed and almost arrested for the thefts. The incident nearly ruined his reputation. To this day, he continued to blame that woman. Felicia Hamill was pure evil disguised with a beautiful face and angelic laugh. Unfortunately, her deceit and betrayal had turned her repulsive in his eyes.
Sebastian shook away the dreadful memory. There was no use dwelling on the past. He had another case to crack. His instincts wouldn’t fail him now.
The woman sitting with her back toward him, gestured with her hand, and a footman immediately hurried to her side. He bent closer as she whispered something in his ear. The servant nodded, straightened, and quickly left the room. Without a doubt, the woman in question was Lady Adler.
It didn’t take long before the group rose and left the dining room. From Sebastian’s hiding spot, he tried to see which part of the house the guest would be going to next. Thankfully, it only took a moment to realize they were moving into the next room.
He highly doubted he’d catch her stealing from the guests. It didn’t take a professor to realize she wasn’t foolish enough to do that. However, she would certainly do something this evening that would let him know that he had his thief. From his experience, thieves usually slipped up when they were in a relaxed situation, and what was more relaxed than having a dinner party in one’s home?
Pushing through the shrubbery, he made his way toward the window where light poured out into the darkened night. A branch scratched his cheek. Another branch whipped across his forehead, stinging his skin. Finally, he made it to the other window, and just as he did before, he cautiously leaned toward the pane, ready to peer inside.
“I say, señor. Do not move another inch, or I shall shoot you for intruding.”
Panic sliced through Sebastian, and he snapped his head around toward the man’s shaky voice. As his vision focused on the man standing in the shadows, he recognized the lanky Italian footman he’d seen inside whispering to Lady Adler. The servant grasped a pistol in his unsteady hand, and pointed it at Sebastian.
Little did the servant know that Sebastian had been expertly trained to snatch the weapon away in a split second, however, nervous shooters were always trigger-happy. Sebastian would not push his luck this time.
He slowly lifted his hands. “I’m unarmed,” he lied, since he always carried a knife in his boot.
“Señora Adler wishes a moment of your time.” The footman motioned the pistol. “Please follow me, señor.”
Confusion filled Sebastian as he carefully stepped out of the bushes. “I don’t understand. What do you mean she wishes a moment of my time?” He pointed toward the wall. “I was obviously hiding. How does she know I’m here?”
The corner of the man’s mouth lifted victoriously on his stern expression. “Oh, believe me, Señora Adler knows everything.”
Sebastian would admit the woman was crafty, but he certainly wouldn’t go as far as to say she knew everything. However, this evening, she was proving him wrong, which of course he didn’t like one bit.
He followed the servant through the manor’s wide entryway. Several paintings of landscapes hung on the walls, as well as green, silver, and black tapestries. The footman continued down one of the side corridors with Sebastian at his heels. More paintings hung on the walls, reminding him of the time he’d tried to catch a fraudulent artist. Several expensive vases and small statues sat on small tables in between each room. Lady Adler must be an art collector.
Finally, the footman stopped at the last room located at the end. He knocked and poked his head inside.
“Señora Adler? I brought the man as you requested.”
“Splendid. Show him in.”
Her voice was soft, but thankfully, there was no underlying irritation in her tone.
The servant opened the door wider and motioned for Sebastian to enter. Curious, he stepped inside and doffed his hat. The lighting was surprisingly dim. Lady Adler stood in the back of the room near a small bookcase. Once again, she wasn’t facing him. He grumbled under his breath. Would he ever get to see her face?
He waited a good two minutes as she pretended to search for a book, her delicate fingers skimming over the shelves. Now that he was able to get a better look at her, he realized she did fit the description he’d been given for Lady Adler. She was slender – and nicely so – and very petite. She wore a blue high-waisted gown and white bows hooked her sleeves up near her elbows. Her hair appeared silkier now that he could see her better, but it still didn’t wasn’t as light as he’d been told.
He quickly took his fill of the room before she could turn around. This had been a gentleman’s study at one time. The tapestry was brown and black, as well as the heavily-cushioned chair by the hearth. Sebastian half-expected to see heads of animals mounted to the wall and the rifles used to kill them. Perhaps that was in one of her other rooms.
He was tired of the game of silence she was playing with him. She’d had him brought in at gunpoint, and he wasn’t about to let her take charge now that they were alone.
He cleared his throat. “Madam, would you mind telling me why you had your footman drag me in here?”
“What is your name, sir?”
He gritted his teeth. Why wasn’t she turning to look at him? Obviously, she was trying to hide something. “I’m Mr. Sebastian Harrington, if you must know.”
Her shoulders shook as a small laugh came from her. “I should have suspected.”
That laugh! It was as if he was suddenly standing in the Thames wearing nothing but a towel in the dead of winter. A chill, as numbing as frost bite, covered him from head to toe. The ice blocks around his heart thickened in protection.
Slowly, she moved away from the bookcase, coming toward him. As she stepped into the light, his gut twisted with recognition. Those high cheekbones, the dimple in her right cheek when she smiled, and the way she haughtily lifted her chin could only belong to one woman.
Felicia Hamill – the woman of his nightmares.
Shaking her head, she stopped behind the desk. “Oh, Bash, why do you insist of spying on me?” Her gaze dropped to his cheek, and she immediately pulled out a white handkerchief from her sleeve. She moved toward him, handing him the cloth.
His gaze bounced between her face and the handkerchief, but he didn’t take it. He couldn’t. Anger filled him. He fisted his hands as his whole body stiffened. She’d caused so much turmoil in his life, making these last four years nearly torturous. She was the reason he’d stopped his small detective business and joined the Metropolitan Police. And she was the reason he had a hard time trusting his friends, and especially the women who had come into his life.
She shrugged and brought the handkerchief to his cheek. He jumped back and glared. Sheepishly, she showed him the cloth held spots of blood.
“Your cheek is bleeding,” she explained in a kind voice. “It must be because you were sneaking through my shrubbery.”
Sebastian slapped a hand to his cheek, and the sting from where the branches had scratched him throbbed. But he didn’t need her help. Never again!
He breathed slower and tried to control the rage shooting through him. When he finally collected his thoughts, he folded his arms and glared at her. “Well, if I had known the thief I was looking for was you, I would have arrested you immediately.”
“Thief?” She threw back her lovely head and laughed as she moved back behind the desk. “I fear you have it all wrong, once again.”
How could he keep a handle on his temper when she infuriated him so? “Actually, I believe I have it right.” Self-assured of his decision, he stepped closer to her desk. “Out of all people, you, my dear, should know my abilities. I have cracked open every single case I’ve ever had. You, of course, tried to tamper with evidence, but eventually, I figured it out. However, once you left, my stroke of good luck picked up and I’ve impressed many people over the years, especially the Metropolitan Police.”
She sighed and smiled sweetly. Inwardly, he boiled. Her smile could cut through glass, he was certain of it.
“Bash, I don’t believe you will ever change.”
“I won’t.” He straightened. “Which means, I will find the evidence needed to arrest you, Lady Adler.” He tapped his finger on his chin. “I’m most curious, though. However did you weasel your way into acquiring a title? What lies did you tell Lord Adler to convince him to marry you?”
The softness of her expression changed. No longer was her mouth shaped in a pleasant smile, but instead, her lips thinned into a straight line. Her dazzling blue eyes didn’t twinkle with mirth, but instead shot invisible daggers at him.
She took a deep breath before leaning on the desk and resting her palms on top. She held his gaze.
“Mr. Harrington, you will never find any evidence, because I’m not your thief. I’m no longer the woman you once knew. When I first met you in Devonshire, I used the name Hamill, but my birth name was Templeton. And for your information, I am a lady. Not more than eighteen months ago, I married Lord Edwin Alder. He died six weeks after we’d wed when his heart stopped.”
Sebastian studied Felicia’s expression and concentrated on her voice. Her tone didn’t give him any reason to believe she was sorry her husband had passed. Her expression was blank. But then, he should be used to that. He’d never been able to read this woman.
“Then what are you doing in Italy?”
She gave him a pitiful look. “My husband had houses in a lot of countries because he traveled so much.”
He narrowed his gaze on her and nodded. “I also remember how easily you lie.” Cockily, he sauntered toward the window. “I haven’t forgotten what a talented chameleon you were, and so I cannot help but conclude that you must be performing even now.” He stopped at the window and peeked at her over his shoulder. “After all, bad habits are hard to break.”
Sebastian wanted to tear his gaze away from the stunning woman, but he couldn’t – not when several emotions played on her face. Dare he believe she was remorseful? Of course not. As he’d just admitted, she’d been an amazing actress. And yet, he detected tears in her eyes. Unfortunately, she blinked quickly, and so what he thought he’d seen was gone.
“As much as I’d love nothing more than to talk about old times,” she said in a tight voice, “as you saw through the dining room window, I do have guests. I need to return to the game room where we are playing cards.”
Confusion filled him once more. He left the window and moved in front of her. Up this close, recollections of when he thought he was falling in love resurfaced, but he quickly ushered out the betraying memories. “You saw me through the window? When?” But as soon as he said it, his mind replayed the moment when she had reached in front of her and moved the silver serving bowl. Silently he berated himself. Of course! She had seen his reflection through the silver. Why hadn’t he thought of that?
Gradually, her smile returned, as did the sparkle in her eyes. “I see from the look on your face that I don’t have to answer that, do I?”
“No,” he grumbled.
“Splendid. Now I hope you will excuse me—”
“Wait.” He grabbed her arm. Warmth spread through him, starting from where he touched her skin, heading for his heart. Quickly, he dropped his hand. He couldn’t… wouldn’t allow that feeling to return. “Why did you have your servant bring me in here?”
“I had a feeling you were the one spying on me.”
“Why?” He arched an eyebrow.
“I’d heard that you were in Capri, but I didn’t want to believe it.”
Who could have possibly told her that? He’d have to find the person quickly and put a stop to their blathering. “Well, believe it.”
“Now that you know who I am, I shall let you leave.”
Shaking his head, he chuckled. “What if I want to stay? After all, I still need to find the evidence to arrest you.”
“I fear, Mr. Harrington, you won’t find it tonight. I need to entertain my guests, which means I won’t have time for you.” She crossed her arms over her bosom. “Now, shall I have Alberto show you out or will you be able to retrace your footsteps all the way out of the house and off my property by yourself?”
Although he didn’t want to grin, he couldn’t help it. “I can find my way.”
“Splendid. Then I bid you farewell, and I wish you a good evening.”
As he watched her leave the room, his gaze slid down her backside. He’d always enjoyed watching her walk. The sway of her hips and the bounce in her step had always brought a smile to his face. Except, he wouldn’t show that expression this time.
Now that she was gone, temptation swept over him. He should sneak through some of the rooms – more as morbid curiosity than anything. If she had hidden the stolen jewels in this house, she wouldn’t have left Sebastian alone. She trusted him just as much as he trusted her… which was very little. Unless, she left him here as means of proving to him that she wasn’t the thief. He had to remember, she was a clever woman.
He moved toward the door, but just before reaching it, Alberto, peeked inside. Sebastian grumbled softly. It looked as though she hadn’t left him alone after all. Her ever-present guard-dog was on watch tonight.
“Señor, do you wish me to show you out?” Alberto asked.
“No, but I thank you for asking. I know my way.”
Sebastian placed the hat on his head as he retraced his footsteps, just as Felicia had asked. Strange to think that she was back in his life, again. But the odd thing about all of this was… he wasn’t as angry as he figured he’d be. In fact, he looked forward to the challenge of proving to her what a great detective he was.