Authors: Gina Lamm
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Historical, #Adult
Copyright © 2013 by Gina Lamm
Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Aleta Rafton
Photography by Jon Zychowski
Cover models: Dylan Solon/Agency Galatea; Megan Klehr/G&J Models
Stylist: Brynne Rinderknecht
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Fax: (630) 961-2168
Even though he’ll probably never read it, this is for my Daddy. Thanks for never ever giving up on your “knee baby.” I love you.
Her sword glittered as it swung in a wide arc, whistling as it cleaved the air. She smiled as the goblin bolted.
“Jamie, I need heals.”
Ignoring the call for help, she advanced on another goblin. The tide was turning now. Her allies had almost annihilated the threat.
With a wild cry, she loosed a spell on the disgusting creature. It staggered backward before recovering and charging on her in a berserk rage, eyes wild and fangs extended. Her next swing missed, and she took a critical hit.
“Jamie, for chrissakes, we’re dying here!”
Some quick spellwork took care of the goblin, and Jamie reluctantly turned her attention back to her allies. Whoops. Three of the guild’s portraits were glaring red, signaling their imminent deaths.
“Hang on, guys. I’m here.”
Targeting the leader, she cast her most powerful healing spell. The computer screen flashed: OUT OF MANA.
She fumbled in her bags for her mana-restoring potions. She’d just managed to find one, clicking to activate it when the screen went gray. YOU HAVE DIED. RESURRECT NOW?
The guild’s groans sounded through her headset as she slumped back in her seat.
“Jamie, where the hell were you?”
“Worst. Healer. Ever.”
“I wouldn’t use your heals for a paper cut, Jamie. That was pathetic. Haven’t you ever run this level?”
She shoved her long highlighted brown hair over her shoulder, glaring at the computer screen. “Of course I have. I can heal this run in my sleep. I just got a little carried away with the mobs. It won’t happen again.”
Kurt, the guild leader, let out an audible sigh over the chat channel. “Fine. One more run. Everyone ready?”
Jamie readied her character’s potions and spell rotation.
. They figured since she was the only girl in the guild, she should be the healer. She didn’t mind healing, especially in the more difficult dungeons, but she wanted to do her part to take down the bad guys too. It wasn’t fair. Men never took her seriously. That’s why she played these games. It was supposed to be a level field. But the game, like her life, was rarely ever exactly what she thought it should be.
The Lords of Discord guild cleared the dungeon run easily that time, with Jamie focusing on healing alone. She picked at the chipping mauve polish on her fingernails between fights, only needing to keep half an eye on the large computer screen.
“Great job, Lords.” Kurt’s voice held a ton of relief as he divvied up the loot.
After securing her share of the rewards, Jamie said her good-byes to her guild-mates, logged out, and switched to her other character, Killaz. A hulking Amazon melee class in a chain-mail dress with a huge two-handed sword, Killaz was how Jamie saw herself in her mind’s eye—kick-ass, tough, and more than a little bit intimidating. As she cut a swath through the forest full of giant spiders, she wished that she was anything like that in real life.
Killaz, then that jerk Logan wouldn’t have broken my heart and walked all over me like a dollar store welcome mat.
After an hour of grinding out daily quests, a vibration in the front pocket of her shorts made her jump. Her groan echoed through her junky living room when she saw the text: “Go help Pawpaw Milton with the antiques or I’ll sell your Comic-Con pass. Love, Leah.”
Jamie slogged up the stairs with a huge sigh, studiously ignoring the piano with half-written songs strewn across the bench. The last thing she wanted was to move dusty furniture and knickknacks in the triple-digit heat. But her best friend, Leah, had had enough of Jamie’s post-breakup isolation and had put her foot down where it hurt—right on the pop-culture fan’s trip to the Holy City.
As she drove downtown to the storage unit she was helping Pawpaw Milton clear out, she tried to believe that everything would go back to normal. Well, before-Logan normal. With Leah’s help and this part-time job, maybe she could get there. Maybe even start writing music again. And besides, she’d grown up a lot since the last time she’d worked at the antiques store. Her first summer job there had ended after only three days. The antiques were probably way less fragile now.
The resounding crack of glass echoed through the storage unit, making Jamie flinch. Pawpaw Milton had left her alone in the unit to go to an estate auction. The hundred-degree heat had her dripping with sweat—not the best condition for handling two-hundred-year-old crystal.
Jamie hoped that Pawpaw hadn’t noticed the pretty bowl tucked away in the corner. She carefully shoved the evidence of her klutziness into a large black garbage bag.
doesn’t know won’t get me fired,
she figured, though she couldn’t exactly shake the guilt.
Holding the end of her ponytail atop her head, she gulped from the giant bottle of water like a frantic desert survivor. This was hell.
Jamie pulled her phone from her pocket: 2:00 p.m. Another three hours to go before she could escape to her cave and take a shower. Oh well. It would be worth it in two months when she got to Comic-Con. Hopefully.
She unknotted the bottom of her tank top and dried her face and hands with the tail of it. Even in her thinnest tank top and shortest shorts, she still felt overdressed for this weather.
After carting out and cataloging a number of fragile items without incident, all that remained was the large furniture on the opposite side of the unit. Well, other than the big sheet-covered monstrosity behind the table.
Reaching up, she stood on tiptoes to toss back the corner of the dust cover for a quick peek. But she tugged just a little too hard, and the white fabric billowed as it floated down on top of her, dust and cobwebs coating her sweat-slicked skin. Arms flailing, she fought free of the cover, stomping it in a fit of frustration when it lay on the concrete at her flip-flopped feet.
“What the hell is your problem?” Jamie yelled at the innocent-looking mound of fabric. It said nothing, just laid there looking smug.
She turned her back on it to see what it had been covering.
The piece was a tall bureau, made of a rich mahogany that almost glowed gold from deep within the wood. It sloped outward in the middle, wider at its drawer-filled base than the top. Mirrored doors covered the upper portion.
She touched the wood lovingly. It was beautiful, cool to her skin even in the sweltering heat. When she’d reached up as high as she could, she sighed and trailed her thumb down the center of the shiny mirror on one door.
Her thumb dipped into the center of the glass.
With a gasp, she pulled, trying to free her hand. It wouldn’t move. She was stuck.
She yanked backward with all her strength. The mirror pulled on her hand, drawing her farther into the glass. She braced against the bottom of the bureau, using her legs to give her leverage. She was in up to her wrist now.
“Help!” she yelled, frantically scrabbling against the mirror’s hold. “Somebody, please!”
Using all her weight, she jerked backward, nearly dislocating her shoulder in the process. The mirror refused to release its hold. She whacked the slanted middle with the flat of her free hand in frustration.
With one last effort, she braced her feet against the bottom drawer and pulled with all her might. Without loosing its grip on her, the furniture tilted dangerously, almost tipping before she hit the floor to right it again.
Well, this sucks,
she thought, slumping against the bureau. Her right ear was traveling through the mirror now.
So much for Comic-Con. So much for her place in the Lords of Discord guild. So much for showing Logan she could be fine without him. She hadn’t really been doing a good job of that anyway, but dammit, she deserved better than being consumed by antique furniture!
Once she gave up fighting, the pull went much faster. Within moments, the glass had swallowed her entire head.
Jamie blinked. And blinked again. A large, very masculine bedroom was spread out before her, filled with luxurious furniture and dark fabrics. In front of the huge four-poster bed, a greyhound sat slumped on one hip, legs sprawled open like an old bald man watching Skinemax.
She leapt off the cold wooden floor and turned. The bureau was behind her. At least, it looked like the same bureau. The wood was brighter, the mirrored doors even shinier. It looked like a brand-new piece of furniture.
She tapped the glass. Solid. She pressed her hand flat against it, pushing. Nothing.
She put her hands on her hips, turned, and glared at the dog.
“What the hell just happened?”
Claws scrabbling against the wooden floor, the dog barreled straight for her. She barely had time to put her hands out to ward him away before the tall animal plowed into her, tail wagging and tongue lolling. Caught off-balance by the force, she went down like a rock. The slanted corner of the bureau caught her temple, and everything went black.
Lord Micah Axelby, Earl of Dunnington, was having an unusually fine day. He had just returned from calling on Miss Felicity Lyons, a most amiable young lady. After a turn in the park in his phaeton, in which he had spoken civilly to no less than three members of society’s elite, he’d returned her and her chaperone to her home. He had asked her to accompany him to the theatre the next evening. She had agreed in a most well-bred manner. He was becoming quite sure that she would do well as a countess—now that his difficulties seemed to be over.
He tossed the reins to a waiting footman and descended from the phaeton. The chill of the air turned his breath to frosty smoke as the sun fell lower in the sky. The pleasant afternoon was a mere memory now, giving way to the cold March evening.
“Welcome home, my lord,” his butler said as he assisted the earl in removing his hat and coat.
“Thank you, Thornton.”
“Will you be dining at your club this evening, my lord?”
Micah rubbed his hands together. “No, it’s too cold to be gadding about. I’ll dine here.”
With a nod and a bow, Thornton disappeared into the kitchens.
Micah sighed, content to his bones for the first time in many a fortnight. He headed up the stairs to his bedchamber, intending to dress for dinner.
“What the bloody hell?”
“Baron, to me,” Micah ordered the dog. With one last lick on the woman’s nose, Baron rose and trotted to his master’s side.
Micah knelt beside the girl, pressing his fingers to her throat. A pulse beat there, underneath her clammy skin. At his touch, a shiver went through her body and she moaned softly.
Micah thought as he sat back on his heels,
she’s alive at least
She needed care, and as a gentleman, he couldn’t ignore that, despite the fact that she was in his home uninvited. With a gentle hand, he pushed back the hank of hair on her temple. The knot was faintly bruised, and he frowned.
“Yes, m’lord?” asked a maid timidly from the doorway.
“Fetch Mrs. Knightsbridge. This, ahem, person requires attention.”
She bobbed a curtsy and disappeared in a flash of wide eyes and frilly mobcap.
“Damn and blast,” he muttered to himself as he picked up the courtesan and deposited her on his bed. He must be mad.
Micah paced at the end of the bed, wondering what the devil he was going to do with this chit.
The last thing he needed was a stranger’s death on his own damned bed. Baron hopped on the bed and resumed his position curled protectively near the female. The jostling of his hound settling next to her drew another moan from the woman, just as Mrs. Knightsbridge entered the room, followed by the still surprised maid.
“Yes, your lordship? Muriel said you needed my…Good heavens!” The round housekeeper splayed a palm on her ample bosom.
“Yes, good heavens indeed. It seems that my home has been invaded by a young woman in a shocking state of undress. However, she has been injured, and she requires attention. I will leave her in your capable hands. Please alert me when she wakes.”
Jamie’s head swam, visions and voices swirling around her like a tornado. A drummer beat in her skull, sounding suspiciously like the bass line to a Puddle of Mudd song. Each thump of the drums brought a spear of pain into her brain. What the hell had just happened?
She was cold now. She hadn’t been cold before. She’d thought she would melt in that storage building. Pawpaw Milton’s storage building. The one full of antiques. The antique bureau that had eaten her.
Then a dog, then a deep voice with an absolutely scrumptious accent. She really had to stop playing online games. They were giving her freaky visions.
“Ooh, Mrs. Knightsbridge, she’s coming ’round.”
“Quiet, Muriel. Let me see to her. Hello? Can you hear me, dearie?”
Well, crap. Everyone in my dream has a British accent
. Jamie opened her eyes and screamed aloud at the two strange female faces only inches in front of her.
The younger one wore a frilly white cap and a high-necked, drab brown dress. Her pale face was surrounded by wisps of unremarkable brown hair. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen. The other woman, much closer to her sixties, had gray-streaked hair that was pulled back severely from her face. Her dress was as old-fashioned and conservative as the teenager’s was, but there were laugh lines at the corners of her clear gray eyes.
Jamie looked around, panicked. She was lying in that huge bed she’d seen from across the room. The dog that had knocked her down was nowhere to be seen. How had she gotten into the bed? She’d passed out by the bureau, hadn’t she?
shit. I need to get out of here
. A panicked squeak escaped her as she tried to throw the covers back and rise from the bed. The older woman grabbed her hands, stopping her.
“Let me go!” Jamie struggled against the woman’s surprisingly strong grip, but she wouldn’t let go.
“Oh dear, hysterics. Pass the smelling salts, Muriel.”
Jamie thrashed and kicked as the young maid held her against the pillows. Mrs. Knightsbridge shoved a vile-smelling vial under Jamie’s nose. The pungent odor brought tears to her eyes and she coughed as she pushed the older lady’s hands away. The maid released her captive’s shoulders as Jamie grimaced at the odor and covered her nose with her hand.
Ugh, that smell.
“Oh God, what the hell is that stuff?”
“Language, miss!” Mrs. Knightsbridge’s eyebrows climbed nearly to her hairline.
Jamie stopped her struggles immediately at Mrs. Knightsbridge’s tone. “Um, I’m sorry?” How confusing. Had she really offended a dream lady? “Where am I exactly?”
“You really do not know? Oh dear. And what an odd way of speaking you have. This is more complicated than I had imagined. Muriel, please fetch his lordship.”
“Yes, Mrs. Knightsbridge.” After bobbing a quick curtsy, Muriel disappeared through the door.
Mrs. Knightsbridge gave a small smile. “Now then, you mustn’t fret. You are safe here in Lord Dunnington’s home.”
Jamie shook her head, sure she hadn’t heard right. “Lord Dunnington?”
“Yes, his lordship Micah Axelby, Earl of Dunnington.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’re joking. This isn’t real. I’m going to wake up in front of that god-awful storage building after a huge case of heat stroke.”
“I am sorry, miss, but I am most definitely not jesting. Lord Dunnington found you here in his chamber in a sorry state indeed. Have you lost your protector?” She patted Jamie’s hand sympathetically.
Jamie sat upright, slack-jawed as she stared at the woman. Protector?
“I don’t need a protector. I’m completely capable of taking care of myself.”
Mrs. Knightsbridge shook her head. “You poor dear. You must have gone through such a trauma.”
“I’m sorry.” Jamie threw the covers off and swung her legs over the side of the bed.
“I need to get home.” Her knees wobbled as she took two steps toward the bureau. Her head swam and her stomach roiled, but she paid them no attention. She needed to wake up fast. This was too damn weird for words.
“You cannot go, miss. His lordship…”
“Is here and would like an explanation for your presence in his home.”
Jamie turned on her heel at the deep, masculine voice and was completely gobsmacked at the sight of the man in the doorway.
He looked like Colin Firth from that A&E miniseries Leah had forced her to watch over and over again when they were twelve. He was tall, dark-haired, and his chocolate-brown eyes pierced Jamie from beneath low brows. He wore an old-fashioned kind of outfit, the ones with sinfully tight pants, a waistcoat, a jacket, and that kind of frothy looking lace beneath his dimpled chin. His face wasn’t perfect, but it was stunningly handsome, and the sight of him sucker-punched Jamie in her already-churning guts.
“Holy crap,” she whispered, staggering backward and sitting on the bed.
“Your lordship, she seems to have lost her wits.” Mrs. Knightsbridge wrung her hands. “She has no recollection of entering your chamber.”
“Is that so?” Colin’s twin drew himself up even taller, that imperious look fitting his masculine face so well. His clean-shaven jaw tightened as he looked down his nose at Jamie. “Perhaps the watch will be able to assist her in remembering how she came to be lying in front of my new bureau.”
“Bureau,” Jamie said, echoing the unfamiliarly accented pronunciation. “Bureau! That’s it! The bureau!”
“Completely queer in the attic.” Mrs. Knightsbridge shook her head, the corners of her mouth drawn down. A strange twinkle in her eye made Jamie wonder if the older lady honestly thought she was crazy.
“No, the bureau! That’s how I got in. I was in the storage unit, and it was a billion degrees, and the dust cover fell on my head, and I touched the mirror on the door and I got eaten by that damn bureau!” Jamie stood and pointed at the offending furniture, wishing she could hack it to pieces for the weirdness of this dream. Of course, if it were only her and Mr. Firth, then that would have been okay. But he’d have to get over the proud grumpiness. Not sexy.
“Saints preserve us,” Mrs. Knightsbridge said. Did she sound excited, or was that just Jamie’s screwed up brain?
The earl addressed the housekeeper, ignoring Jamie completely. “Leave us, Mrs. Knightsbridge. I have some questions to ask of this…person.”
Jamie wanted to be offended at his pointed pause, but she was too busy swallowing convulsively. Damn smelling salts.
“My lord.” The rotund woman drew herself up to her full height, which wasn’t especially impressive next to the towering earl. “It is not at all proper. Are you sure you wish to be alone with her, especially after…”
He waved a hand to stop her. “I am quite capable of guarding my own virtue, and I doubt she is in a position to have any virtues of her own.”
“Hey!” Jamie’s ire rose at the thinly veiled put down. “I’m very virtuous!”
Mrs. Knightsbridge curtsied and left the room. Jamie could have sworn that the little round lady winked at her before the door clicked shut.
When he turned his attention back to Jamie, she clutched the neck of the robe closed at her throat, suddenly feeling vulnerable. The earl was tall and handsome, and really, really pissed. He stepped toward her, his shiny boots thunking solidly on the patterned carpet.
When he was only two feet from her, his brows lowered, a nervous thrill went through Jamie as his deep voice rang out. “Who are you?”
She sucked in a breath. “Who are you?” she countered, rankling a little at his tone.
He tapped his fingers lightly against the side of his thigh, the only sign that he wasn’t as cool as he appeared. “Madam, I can assure you, if your intention is to acquire a new protector, I am hardly likely…”
“What is it with everybody assuming I need protection? I’m completely capable of taking care of myself.”
His nostrils flared, and he stood up even straighter. She hadn’t realized that was possible. She was face-to-buttons with a very nice waistcoat until she tilted her chin upward to look him in the eye.
He looked down at her, disapproval clear in the corners of his downturned mouth. “You may have heard that I gave Collette her
, but I assure you I am not in need of a mistress at the moment. And breaking into my home is not the best way to garner my favors.”
“Mistress?” Her jaw went slack. “You think I’m a hooker?”
He shook his head, a perplexed expression on his face. “I do not take your meaning.”
Jamie crossed her arms in exasperation. “Listen, who are you?”
“I am Micah Axelby, Earl of Dunnington, as you well know since you managed to infiltrate my home without my servants’ knowledge.”
“I didn’t know whose home this was. How could I know where that fricking mahogany monstrosity would spit me out? And seriously, who has servants?”
He looked over his shoulder when she pointed at the bureau again. When he looked back at her, the disbelief on his autocratic features was almost comedic. “Are you daft?”
“No, I’m not daft. I’m pissed. I don’t want to be here, and it’s cold, and I don’t know why you’re giving me the fifth degree about every damn thing! Ugh, I really need to wake up soon.”
The earl sighed and looked at the ceiling. She couldn’t stop the little thrill in her chest at the sight of his lean throat. Why’d he have to be so damn good-looking?
“Let us begin again. Your name, please?”
“I’m Jamie. Jamie Marten.” She stuck out her hand.
Instead of shaking it, as she anticipated, he turned it and bowed over it. His hand was warm, his long fingers strong but gentle as they gripped hers. The courtly gesture left her feeling warmer inside, but her uneasiness grew.
dream, right? Then why does he feel so damn real?
He released her hand and clasped both of his behind his back. “Well, Miss Marten, it is quite odd for a young lady to have the name of a man, and odder still for her to appear in my bedchamber.”
“Mike, do you mind telling me where I am exactly?”
He arched a supercilious brow at her. “I beg your pardon?”
“Where are we? It’s not a hard question.”
He raked a hand through his dark hair, a delicious chaos taking the place of the formerly ordered strands. “We are in my townhouse, in Grosvenor Square, in London. I trust you know where London is?”
Her knees turned to Jell-O again, and she sank back down onto his bed. Whoo boy. London? England London? As dreams went, this was the most vivid she’d had. It was making her feel ill.
“Okay, so I guess your accent is legit. What’s with the costumes, though? Do you do historical reenactments or something?”
“Costumes?” He shook his head in exasperation.
“So those are what you wear every day?” A chill ran through her, one that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room. “Mike, what year is it?”