I know, I know, it’s a day early–I’ve been posting new chapters of my serialized novel on the 1st and 15th of the month, but tomorrow I have a special surprise for you and need the day on my blog to share it. But today, I’m offering the 5th chapter in The Seduction of Miss Darkin, Book 1 in The Order of the Muse series.
If you haven’t read the first 4 chapters, please click here to get caught up!
“Nothing in the world is single; All things by a law divine
In another’s being mingle– Why not I with thine?”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Love’s Philosophy
The world around them faded into indistinct sounds of alarm and billowing smoke. She struggled for only a moment in his arms, but then it seemed her flesh heard the call of his and she quieted while he explored her lips. Garret drew the air from her lungs and replaced it with his own. She moaned softly into his mouth and submitted to the gentle exploration of his tongue. Then she grasped his lapels and thrust in her tongue to glide the tip along the roof of his mouth.
His gut clenched in anticipation. It wasn’t often a woman wrested control of a kiss from him. He wondered what she’d do next.
He didn’t have long to wait. Cassandra Darkin took from him, savaging his lips, ragged with need. He planted his feet firmly and let her have whatever she cared to pillage from him.
Vesta LaMotte had warned him that a fire mage was an elemental of the fiercest kind. Consuming, devouring, once they came into their gift, their physical needs were ravenous, almost uncontrollable. Females of the type were rare, but the few Vesta had encountered were just as ferocious in this regard as the males.
And more insatiable.
If Garret initiated a sensual dalliance with one, he should be prepared to be used up by the experience as a cord of dry wood surrenders to flame. The way his body responded to Cassandra’s demanding kiss, he didn’t think it would be a bad way to go.
Suddenly she pulled back and the fire around them was instantly snuffed out, as if a giant’s hand had pinched off an equally over-sized candle flame. But even though the blaze was extinguished, the room was still awash in dark smoke.
“Very good,” Garret said. “Now we need to get you out of here. The Duke of Camden is anxious to meet you. Will you be so kind as to accompany Viscount Westfall and me back to Camden House so we can introduce you to His Grace?”
She huffed in surprise. “I most certainly will not. I can’t go anywhere with you. We’ve not even been properly introduced.”
“After a kiss like that, I hardly think proper introductions signify in the slightest.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “How can you think to present me to His Grace? I doubt you even know the duke.” Miss Darkin pulled free of his embrace and darted forward into the smoke, calling out her sister’s name.
Garret followed. He hadn’t wanted to do this, but he was forced to Send her a strong suggestion of compliance. It was usually enough to knock all other thoughts from his target’s head, but she kept clawing her way through the gloom, coughing as she went, as if she hadn’t received his implanted thought at all. He caught her hand and brought her to a halt.
When she turned to face him, he Sent her another directed thought, a stronger suggestion this time, that she should desperately want to go with him. Without question.
Her arched brows nearly met over her fine straight nose. “Why are you looking at me like that? Are you soft-headed? Now release me at once. I have to find Daphne.”
“I’m sure Westfall will see to your sister’s safety. Meanwhile, the backstairs look to be less crowded. Come.”
“No. Let me go.”
“Suit yourself. If His Grace asks, you must tell him I tried to do this the easy way.” Garret hefted her over his shoulder, her shapely bum pointed at the fire-darkened crown molding, and strode purposefully toward the servant’s staircase in the far corner where the smoke seemed less dense. Cassandra Darkin screamed, but when every woman in the place was shrieking, what was one more?
Of course, the woman he carried was also pummeling his back with her fists, but there was so much confusion, no one took notice.
Before Garret ducked down the narrow servant’s stairs, he Sent a quick message to Westfall, hoping the man could detect a deliberate thought headed his way amid the bombardment of panic that must be assailing him. Garret informed the viscount that he had secured the fire mage and would be leaving with her forthwith.
If Westfall met them at the ducal coach, well and good. If not, he’d have to make his own way back to Camden House. Cassandra Darkin was squalling like a scalded cat. If Garret didn’t steal her away amid the cover of general panic, there’d be no way to accomplish it later.
The lady didn’t seem disposed to come willingly and no amount of Sending seemed to change her mind.
“Put me down this instant, you miserable cretin!” she demanded, her voice echoing in the smoky stairwell. A fit of coughing dulled the bite of her words as Garret hustled down the flight of steps.
“Since you asked so nicely, rest assured I’ll comply,” he said. “As soon as we’ve reached safety.”
“As if you . . . give two figs . . . for my safety.” Her words came out in short bursts as his jogging steps forced air from her lungs. “A man who forces his attentions on a woman is not to be trusted.”
“Neither are you if you think I forced that kiss on you. I may have initiated things, but by God, you gave as good as you got, and you know it.”
Whether from the sting of truth or lack of oxygen, she fell silent. Garret wasn’t disposed to complain no matter which was responsible for the blessed reprieve. He wasn’t accustomed to having to work so hard. Women generally found him charming even without a well-aimed suggestion from his gift. His Grace had detected Garret’s thought invading his mind, but Camden was the only one who had ever recognized that Garret’s implanted idea was not his own. Cassandra Darken acted as if she’d not even received his Sending. No one had ever deflected one of his directed thoughts so easily.
Cassandra Darkin might be a fire mage, but she was obviously much more as well.
The stairs ended in a small stone-floored scullery. Garret shouldered the low door open and pushed into the alley behind Almack’s.
Fire truck bells clanged an urgent message as they raced toward the scene. Men shouted. Women and horses screamed. The fire was out, but until the building was cleared, there was still danger from thick smoke. Garret wished he’d thought to toss a chair through a window to give it a way to escape and fresh air to enter the assembly room.
“We’re safe,” Cassandra said. “Put me down.”
Garret ignored her and broke into a dog-trot around the building to where His Grace’s equipage was waiting at the head of a long queue of coaches. He gave a quick glance up and down King Street, looking for Westfall, but didn’t see him anywhere.
First things first, he thought ruefully. Delivering Cassandra Darkin into the duke’s custody where she couldn’t set any more fires was more important than playing nursemaid to a half-mad viscount who, by rights, still ought to have been in Bedlam. Garret opened the carriage door and unceremoniously hustled in Miss Darkin. Then he barked an order to the driver to return to Camden House with all speed. Garret barely had time to slam the door behind himself and settle on the squab opposite Miss Darkin before the equipage lurched forward and began bouncing along London’s cobbles.
A bar of yellowish light shot into the coach each time they rattled past a street lamp, illuminating Cassandra’s face every few seconds. Her luminous skin was stretched taut over her cheekbones and pinpoints of flame seemed to flicker in the depths of her amber eyes. But she didn’t seem angry.
With the whites showing all around, her eyes flared with fear.
“You can’t do this,” she said quietly.
Her half-whisper was far more compelling than her earlier screams. Garret’s conscience pricked him for a blink, but he shrugged it off.
“And yet,” he said, “I just did.”
“My father is a very wealthy man. If it’s money you want—”
“I’m not abducting you. Well, not in the usual sense. I’ve told you the truth. Look around you. This is the Duke of Camden’s equipage.” Even in the half-light of the occasional street lamp, the interior of the coach bespoke opulence. Garret moved over to sit beside her so she could see the duke’s crest embroidered in gold thread on the tufted seat. “For better or worse, you’ve come to His Grace’s notice and he wishes to see you.”
She made a scoffing sound. “Do you know how likely I think it is that a duke wishes to see the daughter of a knight?”
“In the ordinary scheme of things, you’d be right, but you and I both know you are far from ordinary.” Even more than her penchant for flames, Garret wondered why his thoughts had no impact on her. If you can hear me, smooth your hair behind your ear.
Her hands remained in her lap, fingers laced. “If the Duke of Camden wished to make my acquaintance, His Grace might have called on any day at my father’s home.”
“He wasn’t certain whether it was you or your sister,” Garret said. “For all the duke knew the one causing the fires might have been the lass who empties your chamber pots.”
That earned him a frown, then her gaze returned to her lap where she studied her gloved hands with absorption. Even though she was doing her best to ignore him, he felt a tug toward her unlike any he’d ever experienced. She was a presentable girl, with fine, even features and a bosom that was rather spectacular, but she certainly wasn’t the most beautiful woman Garret had ever seen. And yet, his chest constricted when her chin trembled.
“I did not cause those fires.”
Garret heard barely concealed desperation in her tone. He remembered the gut-wrenching sickness of the first time he dreamed a future for someone and watched in helpless horror as it inexorably came to pass. Cassandra Darkin was meeting a part of herself she hadn’t suspected existed and didn’t much like. The acquaintance wasn’t likely to improve with time, and there was little help for it.
“Perhaps you didn’t cause them on purpose,” he said as gently as he could. “But can you deny there have been . . . unexplained conflagrations in your life of late?”
Her shoulders sagged.
“You admit it.”
“I admit nothing, Mr. Sterling.”
The streetlamp they passed flared white-hot. She might seem to be riding passively in the duke’s coach, but inside he sensed she was a bubbling cauldron. The glass in the next lamp shattered as they approached and flames licked down the iron post before sizzling to smoke and vapors at the pavement.
“My dear Miss Darkin, if you aren’t responsible for that light show, I’ll eat my cravat.” He took one of her hands. She tried to pull it away but he held her tight. “We’ll have a series of infernos dogging us all the way to Camden House, unless I help you find a more harmonious frame of mind.”
“How do you intend to do that?”
“A spooked mare requires a soft word and a gentle touch and—”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Sterling.” She lifted her chin and stared pointedly out the window, avoiding his gaze. “What young lady doesn’t live to be compared to a horse?”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I only meant the same principle might apply.” Garret resisted the temptation to gather her into another kiss, though the urge was strong. Cassandra Darkin was a prickly sort and he liked his women soft-spoken and biddable. Still, covering her mouth with his at least had the virtue of shutting her up. “I’ve never had dealings with a fire mage before, you understand.”
“A fire mage?”
“That’s what the duke believes you are.”
Curiosity made her fist unclenched in his hand. When he stroked her palm, her fingers uncurled completely.
“And a fire mage is . . . what exactly?”
“A powerful elemental.” When her furrowed brow told him she still didn’t understand, Garret continued. “An elemental is a magician of sorts with a special affinity for one of the four elements—earth, water, air or, in your case, fire. You are able to bend the flames to your will.”
“No, I’m not. That’s just the problem. I have no control.” Her hand began to tense so he laced his fingers with hers to keep them from closing up again. “I’m not even sure—no, I’m positive I didn’t cause any of those fires. How could I?”
“It’s a gift. Just as some people are quick to comprehend mathematics or intuitively grasp languages, your mind is able to harness fire, whether you understand how you’re doing it or not,” Camden said.
One finger at time, he tugged at her glove until he was able to peel it from her hand.
“No, don’t do that.”
“I must,” he said. “At Almack’s distracting you with a kiss allowed you to focus well enough to put the fire out. A few light caresses ought to see us safely back to Camden House.”
As if to prove him correct, there seemed nothing out of the ordinary about the next street lamp they passed.
“There you see,” he said. “You’re calmer already.”
She arched a brow at him. “I wouldn’t lay money on that were I you.”
Hope you enjoyed this installment of The Seduction of Miss Darkin. Here’s your chance to get in on the creative process. If you have suggestions, questions or ideas you’d like to toss out for this story, I’m all ears.
I’m in Kansas City now for the RT Booklovers Convention. When I return I’ll draw the winner from among the commenters on my serialized novel. Someone will receive their choice from my Rock*It Reads!