Authors: Lynne Connolly
Tags: #Georgian;Eighteenth Century;Bacchus;gods;paranormal;Greek gods;Roman gods;Dionysus;historical;Paranormal Historical;Gods and Goddesses;Psychics
The fight for their love will be a battle of Olympian proportions.
Even Gods Fall In Love, Book 2
Wherever he goes, Blaize, Marquess of Stretton, hears the jingle of keys as society mothers lock up their daughters. No wonder: he is secretly the embodiment of Bacchus, god of wine and madness.
Yet his melancholic heart is lonely. Until he enters a ballroom, hunting for the Titans who destroyed his father. One look at Lady Ariane Wells and he is consumed with an instant, almost violent compulsion to protect her from the attentions of another man who smells of Titan—Marcus, Duke of Lyndhurst.
Ariane is no shy debutante. She knows what she wants, and it is the stunningly handsome Blaize, even if it means defying her powerful mother. When Blaize disappears, Ariane embarks on a treacherous cross-country chase to find him, knowing that if she fails, she must marry her mother’s choice: Marcus.
Now that Blaize knows the true identity of his captor, he will fight for Ariane even if it means using his terrifying ability to drive everyone around him insane—including himself. For if he doesn’t save her, he will truly go insane—forever.
Warning: Contains a rake who can make a woman’s good sense completely melt away, and a debutante who isn’t afraid to spread her wings to fly in the face of convention. Could make even the bluest blood boil.
Mad for Love
London, Spring 1755
“If you listen hard you can hear the sound of keys turning in locks,” d’Argento remarked, gazing around the crowded ballroom. In spring, at the height of the Season, the matchmakers were in full cry. Everything glittered, from the jewels to the spangles sewn on some of the gowns and waistcoats to the brilliance of the chandeliers above. The pier-glasses set between each window reflected the light back at the participants.
Blaize enjoyed the spectacle but preferred to remain apart from it, if he could. He glanced at his friend, a cynical smile quirking the corners of his mouth. “Mothers locking up their daughters, you mean?”
“From you. They like me.” D’Argento arched a brow, daring Blaize to disagree with him. Why should he when he was telling the truth?
Blaize laughed outright. His reputation was bad, but d’Argento could meet him and even overtake him in the right mood. However, d’Argento had only recently arrived on these shores and they didn’t know him very well. Yet. “If only they knew. You’re a new conquest for them. Pretty, isn’t it?”
Blaize moved across the ballroom toward a waiter bearing a tray of wine, his manner easy, not revealing his need for the drink. “All those silks and satins, the candlelight—in our day we had torches and drapery.”
“Our day?” d’Argento purred, but the sound held a warning. “It’s always our day, my friend.”
It had been his day for the last thousand years, although Blaize himself could only claim a couple of hundred. But his forebears had borne the same gifts—or curse, as he preferred to call them on occasion—for as long as human memory lasted.
One day he would forget and allow the oblivion of total madness to descend on his soul. The way to do that was to stop drinking alcohol. He couldn’t afford that indulgence, but it remained a tantalizing promise just out of reach.
He snatched a glass of wine off a tray and tried not to gulp. D’Argento watched him with satisfaction. “If you had not done that, my friend, I would have forced it down your throat. The last time was enough for me.”
“I liked Bedlam. One day I will claim it for my own.”
“It’s already yours.”
“Not yet.” The wildness, never completely at bay, receded as the wine filled his system, but it never completely left him.
Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.
He was that god. Bacchus, the god of wine and madness was here, alive and well in this exclusive, beautiful room in the person of Blaize, Marquis of Stretton. If they knew, the mamas would do more than glare.
The Comte d’Argento—or as the legends had it, Mercury, messenger and physician to the gods—stood next to him, watching and waiting. They’d come here searching for more of their kind. After their enforced dispersal thirty years before, the quest had become Blaize’s
. Nothing else mattered next to that. Once completed, he’d allow himself the sweet forgetfulness of insanity.
He sensed something. Just a twitch, a tinge of the mental communication they could use or disguise at will, but it flashed through his senses like wildfire. A buzz, like a sound only a bat would hear.
“Feel that?” d’Argento said sharply.
“Yes, but only a little.”
“It’s the first hint we’ve had for months.”
They’d been hunting the lost gods, the re-creations of the divinities destroyed in an explosion thirty years ago. Nearly thirty-one now. They’d lost most of their number and the battle between the Olympians and the Titans, which had died down in recent times, revived in full force to clash swords, minds and bodies in the ballrooms of fashionable London. Blaize and d’Argento were two of the few gods to escape the slaughter, the others scattered, living in hiding or simply ignorant of their true nature.
That nudge of a mind against his meant back to work. They needed to discover what it was and if it was deliberate communication or accidental. “We should split up. The mamas love you, so you take the ladies and I’ll stroll to the card room and see what I can find there.”
“Torturer.” D’Argento adopted a plaintive tone. “You have a way of turning every situation to your advantage.”
Blaize chuckled. “One of the best parts of a fearsome reputation as a rakehell is being avoided by designing mamas.”
“Not all of them are designing. And you’re rich enough that most don’t care.”
He deposited his empty glass on a tray and seized another before the waiter could pass him. “True enough. So I’ll take the ones that don’t want anything but enjoyment and good company.”
Grumbling under his breath, d’Argento left him. After pasting a smile on to his face, Blaize headed for the corner where the older matrons clustered closest. He only avoided them because of their marriageable daughters, for scandalous though he was, he still held one of the highest titles in the country. Marquess of Stretton, no less. A less scrupulous mama might still try to net him for her daughter. The daughter would get a great deal more than she bargained for.
He took his time strolling down the window side of the elegant room, a salon converted to a ballroom for the occasion. All fashionable elements lived in this gilded space, every candle in the two big chandeliers was lit. Wall sconces enhanced the glitter, while mirrors over the fireplace and between the windows added to the glare. Too much, in his opinion, but it reflected off the jewels and shining fabrics of the people pacing the stately moves of the minuet played by the quartet stationed in one corner of the room.
He could appreciate the sight, though often he wished himself a thousand miles away. Still smiling, he managed to snag and drink two more glasses of red wine before he reached the end of the room. People stopped him to exchange words and he began to relax, the tension caused by abstinence leaving him, sanity returning, the wildness banked down deep inside. Resting, not gone. While he walked, he scanned, tracking the room for a trace of that supra-normal buzz. Blaize didn’t care how many people watched his progress and his consumption of wine. They could think what they liked, as they always did. Besides, he wasn’t the only person taking advantage of the generous hospitality their hosts offered. The Dowager Duchess of Kentmere and her daughter had newly arrived from Scotland. In London they were known by repute only, but by this display they were certainly not short of the means to throw an elegant ball. He was about to leave the room, heading for the smaller salon beyond, when he felt it again. Another twinge, like catching a nerve unaware, and then it disappeared. He had no idea if the flicker was meant to draw him or if the owner was unwittingly sending it, but someone had contacted him mentally, and it wasn’t d’Argento.
He glanced around. He didn’t know everyone here. A young woman snagged his attention. Her hair gleamed dark through its covering of fashionable powder, her eyes clear and blue. She was innocent, respectable, no doubt wellborn. Everything he’d determined to avoid. Short, slender, a fairy of a woman, she appealed to him like no other.
His heart beat harder, then subsided. A warning, and a recognition. One hammer blow against his chest told him the truth.
This woman was
. Deep down, something primitive and unreasoning called to her. She belonged to him. Even though men thronged around her, he’d kill them all to get to her.
Every rational bone in Blaize’s body screamed against him approaching her, but she drew him like no other person in this place tonight. His cock twitched most inappropriately. He wanted her in private, alone, where he could strip that pretty pale blue gown from her body and feast on her pearly skin. He stared at her like an untried boy, yearning to touch her, to take her.
Despite having calmed the beast inside him with wine, it strained at the leash, drawing him as inevitably as a snake drew a rabbit. Blaize was used to being the rabbit. He chafed at the reversal of the roles.
The older lady sat on a wide sofa, her voluminous skirts spread wide. She held court while the younger woman, her daughter, stood just to one side of the sofa. As he approached, Blaize took note of her pure, cut-glass accent. “Indeed, Scotland was good enough for us, sir. Edinburgh is an elegant city with many attractions. You know it?”
She took her time turning, a play for power. He glanced around, found someone he knew, Lord Siddling, and put a subtle persuasive hint into the man’s mind. Siddling glanced at him and bowed. “May I have the pleasure of introducing someone to you, ma’am?”
She scanned him. Blaize took care not to let his attention stray to the young woman standing by the sofa smiling gently. Too much interest and the guardian would slam the door on him. He’d wait to be invited in.
With only a brief second of
what am I doing?
astonishment, Blaize went through the introduction. “Delighted to meet you, Duchess,” he murmured, his breath whispering over her hand.
An invisible net closed around him, gilded and glittering, but only one of his kind would see it. The pretty snare sent to trap a man in seduction—a spell. It was nothing he couldn’t slice his way out of. He’d escape long before the cords strengthened enough to hold him.
This woman had psychic power of some kind. She might even be one of his own, but some mortals had powers too, and a few witches remained, despite the purges of the last century. Although—could they cast a spell powerful enough to ensnare a god? Certainly they could, especially if the god in question went eagerly to his fate. But they couldn’t hold him.
Blaize made his bow to Lady Aurelia Welles, and when he took her hand, he touched his lips to her skin. Barely, lightly, but he might as well have pressed his naked body to hers.
Shock arced through him with the power and intensity of pure emotion, no reason in the way. Civilization dropped away from him and he wanted to grip that little hand and drag her away so he could have her to himself. It took a considerable effort of will to batten it down.
Not that he would, of course. Not yet, at any rate. But he wanted her.
Aurelia gazed at the man who’d had the temerity to kiss her hand. Very few gentlemen did, either here or in Scotland. With that brief, barely there kiss he’d attracted her attention. His intention, she imagined. The thrill of real contact in this most artificial of places.
Everything stilled as he lifted his head. Clear grey eyes met hers, his gaze frankly open, with a gleam she couldn’t interpret or didn’t dare to. Possessive? Surely not in a man she’d only just met. Not someone she didn’t know. If Aurelia were the fanciful kind, she’d have imagined they’d bound themselves together with that first touch.
Those things didn’t happen outside the old romances, and they
ended happily. She should remember that. A reasoned, negotiated marriage was what she should be looking for. A suitor like the ones who had sworn to follow them down from Scotland to London. However strongly she emphasized that in her mind, rational thought dissipated in the presence of Lord Stretton.
Her mother spared her a glance. “Are you quite rested from the exertions of the dance, my dear?”
Aurelia took a step closer to Lord Stretton. Near enough to feel his warmth over the heat of the candles and the other people standing around, talking. And her usual court of admirers, the men she almost took for granted. They surrounded her every time she appeared in public, even in the presence of women as wealthy as she was, and far more beautiful.
His lordship bowed. “Would you care to dance, Lady Aurelia?”
Relieved to get away from the tedium, delighted and nervous in equal measure, she smiled and glanced at her mother, who gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Go, girl. Let me discuss the newest gossip with Lady Nottingham. I know how such nonsense bores you.”
Resting her hand on his arm in the approved manner, she let him guide her away. “You dislike gossip?” he asked. “If so, you’re the first female I’ve met for a long time who feels that way.”
“Just discussing it for hours,” she confessed. “I don’t consider myself too high-minded for it or anything like that. But once I’ve heard it, then it’s done.”
“A woman of determined aspect.” He smiled, an edge of wicked adventure in his gaze. She repressed a shiver. His increased intimacy had a definite effect on her.
“Doesn’t that deter you?” It had certainly done so to a few men of her acquaintance, even though they usually came back. She sometimes used the forthrightness of her nature to turn them away, but it didn’t work for long. But her mother seemed in no hurry to marry her off quickly, as many did. As the daughter of a duke, she said, Aurelia could afford to pick and choose. That Aurelia had been grateful for.
He drew her, the sun to her daisy. So much that the power of her attraction for him scared her. It threatened her good sense and the control she kept hold of so firmly she didn’t know what it was like to let go. Usually she liked the men she attracted, no more. Some she disliked, some she tolerated. Nothing else. But this—a man she’d just met, whose clever grey eyes seemed to take her in with a glance—this was unlike anything she’d known before.
They walked to the part of the room designated as the dance floor. When the servants had rolled up the carpet yesterday afternoon, her mother had breathed a sigh of relief that the floor was polished wood and didn’t need too much doing to it to make it presentable. In hired houses sometimes the floors had rougher surfaces.
At least they’d started on the country dances now. Formal patterns like strip the willow and threading the needle would separate the partners for large portions of it. He was dangerous. With every smile, and the way others looked at him, she knew. Some stared openly until he stared back. Others gave him a glance and turned away to gossip. Wherever he passed, he didn’t go unnoticed. She could slink through a ballroom and if people didn’t know who she was, they wouldn’t take any notice of her. He’d never go unremarked whether they knew him or not. His presence was too powerful for that.
“Is it tedious being so notorious?” she asked as they took their places.
He shot a startled glance at her, eyes wide, and then the corners creased when he smiled. Goodness, that was far too attractive. For a moment she’d reached the real man, the person behind the glossy exterior. Then he covered up again, drew his smooth society aura around himself, and the quartet struck up.