Our hero, former spymaster Christian Hawkes, has just regained consciousness (after an attack) in a strange room—unbeknownst to him, at The Grand Palace on the Thames, a boarding house on the docks—when he notices the room's doorknob turning, and...
He was just about to shake out his shirt so he could drop it over his head when something glinted moved his peripheral vision. He pivoted sharply.
The doorknob was slowly turning.
He realized he’d already subconsciously scanned the room for weapons when he at once seized the lantern as the best likely projectile. He could hurl it or bludgeon with it.
His breath suspended, his every muscle locked and cocked like a loaded pistol, he watched that doorknob complete its revolution and the door open soundlessly, because of course the doors wouldn’t creak at The Grand Palace on the Thames.
A young woman slipped into the room and gently, slowly closed the door. He noted slim shoulders. A long neck.
The way her dress poured in a lyrical line from her shoulders to waist to sweetly flaring hips instantly communicated something primal to his groin.
Her brown hair shifted to dark gold when she turned into that beam of sun.
And saw him.
She froze. Her hand flew up to cover her heart.
“Oh! Mon di—you are awake. I am so sorry!”
His breath left him as though he’d been punched.
He slowly, slowly lowered the lamp. He loosened, but didn’t relinquish, his hold on it. It seemed important to touch something ordinary to anchor him to earth.
Wonder crescendoed into a strange sort of unspecific fury—very like he’d been captured against his will. Then receded gently again into wonder.
He’d been blessed by the sight of beautiful women before, but could not recall ever before experiencing what amounted to sensual panic. As if he would be imperiled somehow if he didn’t do something about her at once.
That jolt he felt was like a key turning in a lock. He instinctively knew he’d already been fundamentally altered somehow.
His muscles remained tensed, absorbing her impact as if she were a rogue wave. He took a surreptitious breath.
He supposed he could blame laudanum or fever for the strange sensation. And he would have, if he’d been more cowardly, and less brutally honest with himself.
That this should happen while he was pale, ill, half-naked, sticky with sweat, and hadn’t made love to a woman in three years . . . well, he was just going to do what he did so well, and that was brazen it out.
He had no sense of how much time had passed while they regarded each other in apparent amazement.
“It pains me greatly to hear that you’re sorry I am awake,” he said gravely.
Her smile was swift and small and illuminated her entire face. It lasted mere seconds. Her faint accompanying blush made him restless.
But the woman seemed to have been shocked mute. Her fingers were curled into her skirt, as if she, too, needed to hold on to something lest she be borne away. Her eyes were blue. Blue like that rogue wave slapping the devil out of him. Blue like the color of the sky just after sunset, right before darkness takes over. He knew these blues. He’d counted them to himself while he was in his cell, so he wouldn’t forget the most beautiful things in life.
Lavender shadows of sleeplessness curved beneath them.
“If you’ll indulge me in what may sound like a mad question, madam . . . are you real? Or are you perhaps an attendant in a sort of surprisingly pleasant waiting room for the afterlife, where I await judgment?”
She had a dimple. That dimple all but speared his heart.
“I am real, sir,” she assured him. “But downstairs there is a sitting room if you would like to sit in one. And an epithet jar which will judge you if you curse in company. The charge to curse is one pence. But there is a room to smoke in, I’m given to understand, and you may curse there.”
He listened to this in bemusement, bizarrely enchanted.
“I shall look forward to it,” he said somberly.
She smiled again, slowly, wryly, knowing she was being humored.
He frowned a little when she did it, as if to punish himself and her for enjoying her smile more than he wanted his next breath.
“May I ask how you feel, sir?” she asked shyly. Her hands were folded before her now.
“Like an anvil has been dropped upon me from a great height. But I probably feel better than I smell.”
“Oh! You do not smell very ba . . .”
There was no way for her to finish that sentence that didn’t imply she’d sniffed him.
He shook his head reproachfully. “And I thought this hurt.” He pointed to his bandage.
She smiled again, somewhat crookedly, eyes crinkling at the corners. But didn’t apologize.
Which was when he decided he liked her. But somehow he’d known he did and would.
The silence that fell was as textured as music.
The palms of his hands hummed as though they could feel the shape of her face cradled in them.
It was shaped a bit like a heart.
There was scarcely a dip in the center of her top lip, otherwise it would have been a heart, too. Her mouth was the same pale pink shade as those petals bursting from the vase, and it looked as plush as the pillow he’d discovered beneath his head this morning.
And then, as if from a nasty wound, reality seeped in.
What was it Brundage said?
Aurelie’s mouth had inflamed him. She had a mouth like Therese d’Artois.
Hawkes went rigid. Wary now.
Perhaps he was still dreaming.
Because why the bloody hell would Lady Aurelie Capet feel free to waltz into the room in which he’d apparently been carted after he’d been stabbed?
Copyright Julie Anne Long, June 2022, Avon Harper Collins
The Palace of Rogues #5
"I am in awe of her talent."— Julia Quinn
In the fifth installment of USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long’s charming Palace of Rogues series, a rakish spy finds more than he bargained for in his pursuit of an earl’s enchanting runaway fiancée.
The mission: Find the Earl of Brundage’s runaway fiancée in exchange for a fortune. Child’s play for legendary British former spymaster, Christian Hawkes. The catch? Hawkes knows in his bones that Brundage is the traitor to England who landed him in a brutal French prison. Hawkes is destitute, the earl is desperate, and a bargain is struck.
Fleeing a savagely shattered dream, the sheltered Lady Aurelie Capet finds refuge in an alias and the warmth and kindness of the Grand Palace on the Thames—until a gorgeous, mysterious disturbance to her peace literally topples through the door.
An unexpected, fierce desire that feels destined, dangerous—and devastatingly sweet—ignites between the sheltered beauty and the jaded spy, and as they slowly unravel each other's shocking secrets Hawkes closes in on the truth about the earl. Soon it’s clear they can have no future without vanquishing the past: Hawkes knows that loving her means avenging her. Aurelie knows that loving Hawkes means freeing him to do that, no matter the cost.
Romance Historical [Avon, On Sale: June 28, 2022, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780063045101 / ]
San Francisco Bay Area native Julie Anne Long originally set out to be a rock star when she grew up (and she has the guitars and fringed clothing stuffed in the back of her closet to prove it), but writing was always her first love. She began her academic career as a Journalism major, until she realized Creative Writing was a better fit for her freewheeling imagination and overdeveloped sense of whimsy. And when playing guitar in dank, sticky clubs finally lost its "charm," Julie realized she could incorporate all the best things about being in a band-namely drama, passion and men with unruly hair-into novels, while also indulging her love of history and research. Since then, her books have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Rita, Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice, the Holt Medallion, Bookseller's Best, and The Quills, and reviewers have been known to use words like "dazzling," "brilliant," and "impossible to put down" when describing them.
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