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Authors: Jeannie Ruesch

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical romance

Cloaked in Danger

Cloaked in Danger
By Jeannie
Ruesch

Aria Whitney has little in common with the delicate ladies of
London society. Her famous father made his fortune hunting archaeological
treasures, and her rustic upbringing has left her ill prepared for a life of
parties and frippery. But when Gideon Whitney goes missing in Egypt, Aria must
embrace the unknown. Armed with only the short list of highborn men who’d backed
her father’s venture, she poses as a woman looking for a husband. She doesn’t
intend to find one.

Adam Willoughby, Earl of Merewood, finds London’s strangest
new debutante fascinating, but when he catches her investigating his family’s
secrets, he threatens to ruin her reputation. He doesn’t intend to enjoy it so
much.

When their lustful indiscretion is discovered, Adam finds
that he regrets nothing. But now, as Aria’s father’s enemy draws near, Adam must
convince his betrothed that she can trust him with her own secrets...before it’s
too late.

98,000 words

Dear Reader,

Happy 2014! You know, I love futuristic romance, and I swear it wasn’t that long ago that I was reading books in the genre that used years like 2014 and 2015 to indicate a time that seemed really far out. Of course, I suppose I’ll be saying something similar twenty years from now, when it’s 2035. (And isn’t
that
a weird thought?) As it happens, in the lineup this month we have both a futuristic romance and a hero who travels
from
the future, and both give a unique look into a future that’s actually a little further out.

I love the premise of Libby Drew’s time-travel male/male romance,
Paradox Lost
, in which a time-travel guide who takes clients to “whenever” must travel
back
to 2020 and enlist the aid of a PI to find a missing client. And in PJ Schnyder’s
Fighting Kat
, Kat and Rygard go deep undercover, posing as gladiators. In the interstellar arena, it’s all about who’s the strongest predator…

I mentioned futuristic romance, but how about a trip to the past in Jeannie Ruesch’s historical romantic suspense,
Cloaked in Danger.
Aria Whitney’s life has taken her from the sands of Egypt to the ballrooms of London, but when her father goes missing, can the handsome earl with a dark secret help her find him, or will a dangerous scandal threaten both their lives?

In
Mistress by Magick
, Laura Navarre concludes her fallen angel Magick Trilogy, a riveting historical fantasy romance trilogy set in Tudor times. Also wrapping up a trilogy this month is Fiona Lowe. In
Runaway Groom
, the third book in the Wedding Fever trilogy, can a Harley-riding Aussie guy on the road trip of his life allow an uptight and disgraced lawyer to steal his heart? The first two books,
Saved by the Bride
and
Picture Perfect Wedding
, are now available, as well.

Debut author Anna Richland delivers
First to Burn
, the first book in her Immortal Vikings series with a hero straight from the time of Beowulf. Wulf Wardsen is an elite soldier whose very existence breaks all the rules—and he’s deep in the military zone of Afghanistan with an army doctor determined to do everything by the book. Meanwhile, Cindy Spencer Pape brings back her very popular steampunk romance series, The Gaslight Chronicles, with the latest installment,
Ashes
&
Alchemy.

This January, Heather Long delivers the start of a new series of contemporary romances. If you like your romance a little on the crazy, cracktastic side, this book is sure to please. Cinderella had her fairy godmother and Princess Mia had her grandmother, but Alyx—she gets a software magnate who knows that in his world,
Some Like It Royal.
And speaking of cracktastic, Kelsey Browning has another installment in her steamy Texas Nights series. Roxanne Eberly wants nothing more than to make her lingerie store a success. Enter up-and-coming attorney Jamie Wright, who’s all tangled up in Roxanne’s life...and her lingerie...in
Running the Red Light.
If you want to start from the beginning, pick up
Personal Assets!

Mystery fans will be glad to welcome another installment from Jean Harrington in her Murders by Design series. In
Rooms to Die For
, when interior designer Deva Dunne finds a body hanging from a balcony in the gorgeous Naples Design Mall, she soon learns she’s caught up in a mall drug bust gone viral.

We’re thrilled to offer a large lineup of debut authors this month, in addition to Anna Richland. Joining us with books in the new-adult, erotic romance and contemporary genres are a new group of incredibly talented authors we’re proud to welcome to Carina Press. Elia Winters debuts with erotic romance
Purely Professional.
When a journalist explores the submissive side of her sexuality with her Dominant neighbor, she must confront what these encounters mean for her own sexual identity, her career and her budding relationship.

Three debut authors bring new-adult offerings to Carina Press. Danube Adele proves the new-adult genre is more than just contemporary romance in
Quicksilver Dreams.
One moment Taylor was just a regular girl working two jobs to pay her bills, and the next, she was reading minds, dreamwalking and being saved from bad guys by her sexy neighbor, Ryder Langston. In
Tell Me When
by Stina Lindenblatt, college freshman Amber Scott begrudgingly lets Marcus Reid into her life, but she didn’t expect the king of hookups would share his painful past. And Kristine Wyllys brings us the first of two steamy, dark-edged stories full of action, vivid storytelling and emotional intensity. Don’t miss
Wild Ones.

Our last debut author, Rhonda Shaw, caught me by surprise with her book,
The Changeup.
People who know my sports tastes know I don’t normally go in for baseball. And those who know my reading tastes know I don’t usually go for an older heroine/younger man set-up. But Rhonda’s story hooked me from the start and I’m pleased to be releasing her first book this month. I hope you enjoy this contemporary sports romance as much as I did, and perhaps find a new book boyfriend in sweet and sexy pitching phenom Chase Patton!

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but I will make one—we’ll continue to strive to bring you a variety of fantastic books from authors who deliver stories that you’ll want to talk about. Thank you for joining us for another year of publishing at Carina Press—we’ll do our absolute best to make it an amazing one!

We love to hear from readers, and you can email us your thoughts, comments and questions to
[email protected]
. You can also interact with Carina Press staff and authors on our blog, Twitter stream and Facebook fan page.

Happy reading!

~Angela James

Editorial Director, Carina Press

www.carinapress.com
www.twitter.com/carinapress
www.facebook.com/carinapress

Dedication

To Dave, for being the best husband any woman (or writer) could ask for.

Acknowledgments

A book is not a solitary venture—it takes a lot of people along the way to make the vision a reality. And it wouldn’t be possible without the support, love and encouragement from so many. My love and thanks to my husband, Dave, for being my partner in all things and for knowing instinctively what I need at any time: your belief in me, a kick in the rear at times, and for being the provider of yummy treats. Honey, you are my rock. And to Connor, for being my joy and for the hugs whenever Mama is working. I love you both.

This book wouldn’t be what it is without my amazing editor, Alissa Davis, and the team at Carina Press. Thank you for believing in my story and giving it your magical touch. I’m so honored to be a Carina Press author.

To my critique partners over the years who’ve seen the various stages of this book—Maggie Van Well, Christyne Butler, Alison Pritchard and the entire group at ChatRomance for their friendship and unflagging support. Michelle McLean, thank you for your input! My many, many thanks to Margie Lawson for making me a better writer. And a shout-out of thanks to Hannah Grace Stevens, for being such a champion for me. I so appreciate you!

To my family and friends—thank you all for your love and support.

Chapter One

Aria Whitney curled shaky fingers around the cold metal key she’d nabbed from the desk drawer. Voices filtered in from beneath the door for the tenth time in a score of minutes, and the knots in her stomach tightened. She turned to survey the dimly lit room.

Searching a man’s study was proving far more risky than she had anticipated.

In retrospect, she should have conceived a less foolhardy plan. Chosen a time when the man was not throwing a party. Or at least not a party with a guest list the size of a small village.

As Aria’s father often lamented, forethought was not one of her strengths.

“Dear God, please let me find something.” Her skills at asking for divine intervention were rusty, but she would settle for even a dribble of help.

She had searched almost everything. The windowless, wood-paneled room contained simple furnishings: couch, chaise, an armoire and desk, all impeccably maintained and neatly organized. It hadn’t taken long.

All what she might expect of a duke, with one exception: a chest that edged the wall—a piece so ostentatious it all but grew talons, snatched you and forced you to gaze upon its shiny gold embellishments. It seemed foolish to bother. Who would put something worth finding in such an obvious place?

But Papa wouldn’t have overlooked the chest.

Worry billowed in her gut like the heavy edges of a burlap tent.

“Miss Whitney is a title hunter.” The prickly words, snapped out by an even pricklier feminine voice, slid under the doorway.

“Are you sure you saw her walk this way?” The high-pitched voice was close. Too close.

Aria twisted around to watch the door.

The door she had left unlocked.

“I am certain she’s doing something scandalous.” Glee punctuated every syllable.

“And we’ll be certain the good people of London are well aware,” came the snide reply.

Since she had thrust herself into this impossible world, she had made few friends. And if someone caught her snooping around in the study, the tentative progress she’d made would be destroyed.

She would lose all ability to saunter through this world freely.

Her only opportunity to find her father.

The beat of her blood hammered in her head. She took silent steps across the hardwood and stopped at the door, flattening her hands against the painted surface.

“Did you see her dance with my George? Twice! And the way she boldly introduces herself to her betters. I shall not let George fall prey to her manipulations.”

“Don’t be silly. George adores
you
. She’s nothing...”

Their words turned unintelligible, and Aria bit down hard on her lower lip to keep from yelling a few insults after them. Her father’s men had taught her to swear like a sailor—in five languages, no less, so she had plenty to choose from.

Instead, with a quick flick of her wrist, she locked the door, dropped her head to rest against the solid wood.

A stupid mistake, one she couldn’t afford.

With that kind of carelessness, her reputation would be in tatters by the end of the week. That fact was as indisputable as the distance between England and her father’s encampment in Egypt. But she’d be damned if she’d let those prattling ninnies be the cause of her disgrace.

The temptation to find, fluster and annoy the debutantes beckoned, but she had to focus. She couldn’t remain cloistered in the duke’s study forever.

“Title hunter,” Aria muttered. “Hmmph.” How that persona grated.

Returning to the mahogany-and-gold chest, she ran fingers over the cool bumps and curves of the ornate carvings, pulled the icy old padlock into her palm. The key was discolored with rust, clearly unused. It could have passed for any relic her father dug up from the ground.

Aria wiggled it back and forth in the lock, frowning when the levers didn’t disengage.

Perhaps it wasn’t so simpleminded to hide something inside. The genius lay in the fact that the lock wouldn’t open unless assaulted by a hammer.

Footsteps echoed against the wooden floor in the corridor. Why wouldn’t those gossipmongers go away?

She turned back and wiggled the key some more. Drat! The key wouldn’t turn. Her heart pummeled her chest. Aria yanked the key out and tried again with an unsteady hand.

Click.

Ah! Relief charged through her, buzzing her skin with warmth. The padlock slipped out of its casing. The lock clanked loudly against the chest.

“Is someone in there?” a muffled, but very male voice asked through the door. The doorknob rattled; the door shook. “Why is this locked? Who the hell locked my study? Blythe? Where is the blasted key?”

The duke.

Aria’s heart stopped for a moment that stretched with the agony of a camel ride across a formidable desert. Her next heartbeats thumped together, sending a rush of urgency through her.

She twisted the key to remove it, but it wouldn’t budge. She yanked, but her swollen fingers made her clumsy. This was ridiculous. She had solid arm strength, thanks to years of digging in the sand and dirt and reining in horses across long treks, but this small lock made her feel as useless as a child.

A heavy-handed knock pounded the door once again.

She was so close! Just one more minute—

The door rattled, followed by the clinking sound of a key unlocking it.

Finally, the key in her hand slid free of the lock. She palmed it, leapt up with a decided lack of grace, the best she could manage without tangling in the endless layers of fabric in her blasted ball gown.

God Almighty, but she missed her breeches and boots!

She scurried to the couch nudged against the adjacent wall, dropped onto her back, and just had time to fling an arm over her head, her hand fisted about the key. The door flew open and light filtered in. She heard the soft rustle of skirts. Footsteps on the floor.

Then a cloud of jasmine floated above Aria, and she calmed the urge to push the looming presence away and escape.

“Michael, over here.” The voice was feminine, soft, with a thread of alarm in the tone. “I think she’s hurt.”

Warm, gentle fingers touched her arm, and Aria snapped her eyes open, discovering a set of worried green ones inches from her face.

“Shhh, do not distress,” Lady Blythe Ashton said.

Aria sat up, rested the back of her hand to her forehead. She felt ridiculous, but she
was
posing as a debutante.

“Did someone hurt you?” the duke demanded.

“No.” Aria struggled to soften her tone to a sleepy one of a debutante taking respite from the crowd, rather than a woman caught invading his privacy. “Of course not. I had a headache and thought to lie down. I hope I didn’t intrude.”

“There are plenty of rooms upstairs. You have my permission to make your way to one of those.” He crossed his arms in a gesture that might have been intimidating, if it hadn’t been so petulant. “And why did you lock the door?”

“Do be quiet, Michael—she’s in pain.” Lady Ashton’s warm smile and delicate blond beauty offered the perfect contrast to his darker, more brooding appeal.

“Then a quieter place would be more suitable,” the duke said.

“Please forgive him. He is simply, well, a man.” Amusement threaded the word. This woman was being gracious, friendly. Aria hadn’t been shown much kindness since she’d invaded society several weeks ago.

“Then perhaps
we
can go upstairs?” The duke’s tone was that of a five-year-old asking for a treat.

And then their purpose dawned on Aria. Prickly heat infused her cheeks. They had escaped their own party for
privacy
.

That realization sunk to the middle of her stomach with the weight of a thousand pounds of sand. The Duke of Ravensdale
cared
for his betrothed.

Aria’s path to gaining his confidence and finding out what he knew about her father had just become challenging. Without the easy route of flirtation and pursuit, how was she to get the information she needed?

She searched the floor for her shoes, pushed by a need to escape. “I should return to the party. My head feels remarkably restored.”

“We should return, as well. It is our betrothal party, after all.” Lady Ashton crossed her arms, arched a brow, and Aria swore she could hear the tiny tapping of a foot.

“But it’s doubtful we’d be missed at all,” the duke muttered, loud enough for Aria to hear.

Shoes in place, Aria turned to leave, offering, “Thank you for the use of your study, your grace.”

Once out the door, she strode down the corridor, her gait more suited to boot-covered feet sinking in the sand than slippers and silks, but no matter how her stepmother tried to correct that, Aria couldn’t—or yes,
wouldn’t
—change the way she walked.

Stopping outside the doors of the ballroom, she leaned back against the cool wallpapered wall. Her insides were knotted tight as a sailor’s hitch. But she lifted her chin, squared her shoulders and painted a smile on her face. She was nothing if not pragmatic.

The duke’s name was on her father’s list.

And she would become better acquainted with each and every one of the men whose names her father had scrawled on that piece of paper, be they betrothed, married with ten mistresses or hiding from matrimony. She would find out what they knew about his disappearance.

But the duke... she needed a new plan on how to approach him, so tonight she would focus on one of the other men.

Fortunately, it would never occur to the ton that she didn’t dream of ascending into their hallowed realms, and they had bought her ruse without a blink. After all, money excused any variety of unsuitable traits, and Aria’s father had plenty of wealth.

She swiveled on a slippered toe to peer in the wide-open double doors. The small but sumptuous ballroom overflowed with partygoers, who had doubled in number during her absence.

The gentlemen milled about, sizing each other up as if their birthright and bank accounts had been inked on their foreheads.

The ladies were worse. They acted with one single thought in their combined empty heads: secure a marriage. Whether for themselves or a relative, that goal tainted every discourse, every conversation.

The very idea of marrying someone here, spending her life among them, sent shudders down her spine. But what she thought about it didn’t matter.

She squared her shoulders and prepared to live up to her newfound reputation as a calculating flirt.

And perhaps she’d find George—somebody’s George—and dance with him again just to be contrary.

* * *

“Ariadne is a most unusual name, Miss Whitney,” Lord Wittleton said an hour later, his mouth pursed in a manner that spoke of his dislike for anything unusual. He’d cornered her between a silk-papered wall and a group of matrons including her chaperone, Lady Beasley, sitting in a circle of chairs. The collective scent of their individual perfumes reminded her of a less-than-pleasant stroll down the spice alley of Istanbul’s Great Market—so many strong odors competing for attention, they singed the ability to smell right out of her nose.

“Yes, my father—” A lump ballooned in her throat, but she forced it back. “He is fascinated by Greek mythology.”

Wittleton stared blankly.

“Ariadne is from mythology. The woman who fell in love with Theseus.”

The response was a slow blink.

“Theseus, the Athenian who killed the Minotaur?” She took a sip of her punch.

His lecherous gaze wandered down to her bodice. “Yes, Theseus. Minotaur. Of course.”

Good heavens, this man held sway with some of the most prominent men in the room? Had they met him?

Not that he’d offered introduction to any of them. But he’d become her only option thus far, as her chaperone, Lady Beasley, had proven little help in that regard, preferring to sit against the wall gossiping with friends and partaking heavily of the wine offered. And since the young women of marriageable age and their mothers had declared Aria Enemy Number One, they were more inclined to toss her over the balcony than smooth a path to potential matrimony.

Once again, she would have to take matters into her own hands.

“Has your headache improved, Miss Whitney?” The melodic voice pulled her from her thoughts, and she turned to find the duke’s betrothed a few feet away.

Aria considered kissing her for interrupting. “Yes, thank you. I do hope I didn’t—well, interrupt something.”

“Ravensdale will survive, though he’ll not admit it.” She turned to the man next to them. “Lord Wittleton, I am parched. Perhaps you might fetch me a glass of punch?”

He tore his attention away from Aria’s cleavage long enough to note the half-full glass in Lady Blythe’s hand.

“This punch is at least twenty minutes old and not remotely refreshing any longer.” To the lady’s credit, her lips didn’t even twitch.

“Of course, of course.” Lord Wittleton’s nose wiggled, and then his head dipped as he once again ogled Aria’s bodice.

Curse him to Hades. Aria lifted her half-full glass of punch, intent on dumping it over his head. Instead, Lady Blythe plucked it right out of her hand and shoved both glasses at him. “You’re ever so kind.”

The wretched man stomped away.

“I should have let you douse him.” Warm amusement coated her words. “And I did not realize in the study that you are Gideon Whitney’s daughter, or I might have peppered you with questions.”

Caught off guard, Aria cocked her head. “Whatever for?”

“Curiosity has abounded about you since you began attending events. Especially given that you settled in London last year. The fact that you did not participate in society the way your father did, well, it has caused a stir.”

“And you thought to assuage the curiosity?”

“I admit to being curious.” Her arms opened, as if encouraging trust, confidences. “But not for anyone’s gossip. I met your father a while back, and I found him utterly charming. I hope he is here tonight?”

Aria tried not to flinch. “He’s away on business.”

“What treasure is he hunting this time? He regaled a group of us with one of his hunts—that is what he calls them, right? What an incredible adventure.”

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