Read McAlistair's Fortune Online

Authors: Alissa Johnson

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Romantic Suspense, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense, #Westerns, #Fiction, #Historial Romance

McAlistair's Fortune (25 page)

BOOK: McAlistair's Fortune
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“Who you were?”

He nodded and placed his hands behind his back where she couldn’t see them curl into tight fists. “You have asked me of my past, of my days as a soldier.”

“Yes,” she said with a small, careful nod.

“I…I was not a soldier, not in the traditional sense.” He cleared his throat. “I was responsible for discharging certain individuals whose immediate and silent removal was vital for the safety of our country.”

“You…” Her face scrunched up as she deciphered that convoluted—and well-rehearsed—bit of information. “You killed people?”

He could barely hear himself speak over the hard pounding of his heart. The truth now, he told himself, she deserved the truth. “I was an assassin.”

Her hand flew to her chest. “An…You…I don’t know what to say to that.”

He wanted to go to her. He had an almost painful urge to wrap his arms around her, to bind her to him long enough for the chance to explain, to plead his case. But he feared her resistance, her rejection, as strongly as he desired her touch. So he settled for walking to the door, turning the key in the lock, and dropping the key in his pocket.

She watched him with an eyebrow cocked. “Why would you do that?”

He walked back to stand before her and thought his words through before speaking.

“I have tried to keep you at arm’s length for this very reason. I warned you that I was not meant for you. You refused to listen.”

“If you were so very certain of it, why did you…” Two spots of pink rose high on her cheeks. “Why did we—”

“I am only a man. We made love because I wanted you, beyond reason. I proposed…because I love you.”

Her shock was evident, and painful to see—why hadn’t he had the courage to tell her before now?—but he pushed forward before she could speak—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he stumbled forward. It was so damnably hard to find to find the right words.

“I…I never thought you could…” No, that wasn’t right. It hadn’t been a resistance on her part. “I thought perhaps you shouldn’t…” No, pointing out why she
shouldn’t
was a terrible idea. He blew out a frustrated breath and tried again. “I was resigned, almost, to not having you. But you…you changed things. You gave me…things.” Oh, bloody hell. “You made me laugh. You gave me hope. And love.”

He looked down at his hand, flexed his fingers. “It is one thing to…to not reach for what you desire. It is another to let what you have…what you
love,
go without a fight.” His gaze came up to settle resolutely on hers. “I’ll not let you go without a fight. You’ll listen to what I have to say.” Suddenly remembering that his high-handed tactics were in part responsible for his current groveling, he added a belated, and somewhat anticlimactic, “Please.”

It was clear by her serene expression that sometime during his spectacularly dreadful speech, Evie had gotten over her shock. She stared at him in silence for a moment, then cocked her head to the side, and asked, “Do you know what I find troublesome?”

Did the woman want a list?

She didn’t wait for his response. “That you should claim to love a woman in whom you have so little faith.”

He started at the accusation. “I have every faith—”

“Then why insult me?” she demanded. “Why imply the love I’ve offered you is so weak, so fickle, that I would toss it and you aside because of a murky time in your past? And without even allowing you a word in defense?”

It was a trifle more than “murky,” as she so delicately put it, and he had no defense to speak of, but McAlistair knew better than to argue against himself. “My apologies.”

“Accepted.” She held out her hand expectantly.

Though it cost him to do so, he fished the key out of his pocket and handed it to her. He watched, a little baffled, as she simply palmed the key.

“Aren’t you going to unlock the door?” he asked.

“No, I want to finish this.”

“What happened to trust and—”

“I’m not the one in the habit of hiding away.”

He might have been annoyed at the sentiment if he hadn’t seen the corners of her lips twitch. She was teasing him.

He took a seat next to her and took her hand to press a kiss into her palm. “I don’t deserve what I intend to keep.”

She smiled a little and closed her hand as if to keep the kiss. “Whether or not you have me and whether or not you’re deserving is still up for debate. I believe you were telling me what sort of soldier you were.”

He nodded and sat back, but he kept hold of her hand.

“I worked for William Fletcher, for the War Department. I accepted missions to…to…”

“Assassinate,” she prompted.

He nodded. “Yes, but only those whose actions endangered the lives of our own men—spies and traitors. Those who couldn’t be brought to trial because of their rank, or because they were not British, or because of information they would reveal.”

“John Herbert’s father?”

“A prominent member of the War Department,” he said. “He sold a list of agent names to the French. Several of those agents paid for his betrayal with their lives. I didn’t kill at random, Evie, or for money. I was paid, I wouldn’t have you think otherwise, but I didn’t kill for money. I believed in what I was doing.”

“I see.” Evie stared at their joined hands. The idea of executing a man without a trial troubled her deeply. The fact that every soldier who fired a shot on a battlefield did essentially the same thing was cold comfort.

“War is a dark and ugly business,” she murmured.

“It is, yes.” He gripped her hand tighter. “And it is easy…too easy, for a young man to grow comfortable in that darkness. After a time, it is easy to forget it is another life taken.”

“Is that why you stopped?” she asked, looking up. “Why you wouldn’t tell me of this?”

There was a long pause before he said, “I failed in a mission. I killed the wrong man.”

Her heart contracted painfully in her chest. “You…”

“That surprises you.”

“I…yes,” she admitted. “It shouldn’t, I suppose. You’re only human, after all, and humans make mistakes. But when that mistake results in the death of an innocent man—”

“It wasn’t a mistake,” he corrected, his voice growing cold. “Not in the sense you mean. And he wasn’t innocent.”

“I don’t understand.”

He nodded, but it was a moment more before he spoke. “You asked earlier if the Burnetts had ever been found.”

She shook her head, clearly confused by the jump in topic. “You said no.”

“I lied.”

McAlistair steeled himself against the hurt in Evie eyes. The truth, he reminded himself. All of it.

“I found him. In the very house of a man I’d been sent to silence. He was living under an assumed name and working, of all things, as a tutor.”

She made a sound of disgust.

Perversely, he found comfort in her reaction. “My target was having a house party—”

“You were going to sneak in and kill a man during a house party?”

“No, I wanted a lay of the building—the rooms, where the staff slept, that sort of thing. I charmed an invitation.”

Later
he would sneak in and kill him.

“It was night. The guests were drinking champagne in the ballroom.” Bought, he remembered, at the cost of four good lives. “I checked on the children, saw they were asleep, the governess next, and then the tutor.” His jaw clenched. “He was awake still, at his desk, his door open.” The sickness and anger had boiled up in him and spilled over. “He hadn’t seen me. I could have walked away, come back, and completed my mission.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. I didn’t.” He thought of the sleeping children. And he remembered that hard, dark shelf. “I killed him. I compromised the mission for personal revenge and walked away.”

She was quiet for a long moment. “I don’t suppose I want to know how.”

He’d slit his throat in one long, clean slice. “No.”

“Are you sorry for it?”

“Not as sorry as I should be.”

“You condemn yourself for this,” she said softly. “Do you look for me to condemn you, as well?”

“I—”

“Because I’ll not. I’ll not offer condemnation for doing what you thought was right.” She lifted a hand to his face. “I love you. The man you are today and the man I think you will be in time to come. I can’t offer anything but that.”

It was enough. It was more than enough. It was his every dream come true. “You’ll not regret this. I swear to you—”

“A moment, if you please.” She held up her hand. “There is still the matter of my needing
keeping.”

He winced. “I apologized for that.”

“In a roundabout sort of way,” she allowed. “And I accept that apology. But how am I to know it won’t happen again? How—”

He’d known she would ask. “When do you next go to meet a woman in Benton?”

She started at that non sequitur. “What? Why?”

“I would prefer…I would
much
prefer you allow me to be a part of what you do. But…” He steeled himself for what he was about to offer. “If you ask it of me, I will give you my word that I will not follow, defend, or assist you in any way.”

She pursed her lips thoughtfully. “You told me once before that I wasn’t to trust your word.”

He hadn’t a sound argument against that, but he tried to find one anyway. “I wanted to push—”

“That will have to change once you’re a member of the Cole family.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Coles keep their words. As my husband, you will be expected to—”

She cut off when he laughed and stepped forward to sweep her off the settee and into his arms.

“Your wound,” she gasped.

“It’s fine.” He hadn’t thought of it in days. “You’re in earnest? You’ll marry me?”

“Are
you
in earnest? Do you love me? Because—”

“I’ve loved you for eight years.”

“—that’s all I needed to…
Eight?”

“I’ve loved you since the first time I heard you laugh.”

“Oh…well…” She gave a perfunctory smile. “That’s nice.”

His mouth quirked with amusement. “But?”

“It’s nothing. It’s only…it’s only that…I wouldn’t have minded if you’d fallen in love at the first sight of me…fallen in love with the way I look.”

“Ah, well, I didn’t.” He bent his head slowly to hers. “I fell into lust.”

Her mouth curved into a smile right before he took it in a long, lingering kiss.

There it was, lemons and mint. He followed the taste of it across her jaw.

Her voice sounded tremulously in his ear. “McAlistair?”

He caught the lobe of her ear between his teeth, making her gasp. “Hmm?”

“I…” She sighed heavily as he trailed hot kisses down the side of her neck. “I…the wedding. About the wedding…” She sighed again. “The vows.”

He brushed his lips across her collarbone. “Yes?”

“I’ll promise to always love you. And—” His tongue darted out to taste the hollow at the base of her neck. “Oh, my.”

“Always love me,” he prompted.

“Yes, and…and always honor you.”

“Mm-hm.”

“And obey you on those occasions when I am in agreement with—”

Evie broke off at the hard puff of breath against her neck. McAlistair’s shoulders began to shake with suppressed laughter. “Evie. Sweetheart.” He lifted his head and took her face in his hands. “It would be my great misfortune to be saddled with a gentle, delicate, naive wife. Just give me the promise of love.”

She grinned, lifted her hands to frame his face in turn, and pressed her lips to his. “You have it.”

Critics Are Charmed by Alissa Johnson!
TEMPTING FATE

“Johnson follows her debut with a delightful spin-off. Her rapier wit and comedic timing lure readers into a romance that proves laughter is best shared with those you love.”


Romantic Times BOOKreviews

“She had me hooked from the beginning. Her voice is just terrific…”

—The Good, The Bad and The Unread

AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT

“[A] triumph of wit and passion.”


Chicago Tribune

“Quite enjoyable…lively and fun.”

—The Good, the Bad, and the Unread

“As Luck Would Have It
is a tale written with a wicked web of intrigue. The author has created a delicious combination of luscious ingredients, a pleasure for all, leaving the reader fervently looking forward to Ms. Johnson’s next romance.”


Affaire de Coeur

“A seductive debut filled with rapier-sharp repartee, passion and espionage.”

—RITA Award—winning author Sophia Nash

“Brimming with humor and tenderness, Johnson’s debut is a joyous book from a bright new star.”

—Kathe Robin,
Romantic Times BOOKreviews

Other
Leisure
books by Alissa Johnson:

TEMPTING FATE

AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT

Copyright

A LEISURE BOOK
®

June 2009

Published by

Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Copyright © 2009 by Alissa Johnson

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been
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and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical,
now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the
publisher.

E-ISBN: 978-1-4285-0680-0

The name “Leisure Books” and the stylized “L” with design are trademarks of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

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BOOK: McAlistair's Fortune
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