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Suzanne Robinson

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An Attraction to Danger

His gentleness vanished, submerged in the molten fierceness of the black-souled ruffian she’d come to know. Silken tones caused a shiver to run through her.

“Now my precious little imp, tell me, my well-bred lady, my sweet, who else knows your secret.”

“I—” Her voice cracked and she had to start again, wishing she didn’t sound so fainthearted. “I decline to tell you.”

He moved nearer then; she was forced to step back and landed in the chair. Nightshade swiftly bent down and placed his hands on the arms of the chair so that she couldn’t escape. He was so close she could feel the heat of his body and catch the spiced-wood scent of him. Prim shrank back, all the while trying to meet his dark-eyed, vandal’s stare.

“Miss Dane,” he whispered. “I’ve persuaded many to do what I wish. Don’t make me have to persuade you.”

Bantam Books by Suzanne Robinson

T
HE
R
ESCUE
H
EART OF THE
F
ALCON
T
HE
E
NGAGEMENT
L
ORD OF THE
D
RAGON
L
ORD OF
E
NCHANTMENT
L
ADY
D
ANGEROUS
L
ADY
V
ALIANT
L
ADY
D
EFIANT
L
ADY
H
ELLFIRE
L
ADY
G
ALLANT

and her romantic short story
in the Bantam anthology
W
HEN
Y
OU
W
ISH
 …

T
HE
R
ESCUE
A Bantam Book / February 1998

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©1998 by Suzanne Robinson.
Insert art copyright © 1998 by Lina Levy.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books.

eISBN: 978-0-307-79119-1

Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

v3.1

T
his book is dedicated to
my niece, Stephanie Woods
.

When I create my female protagonists
,
I favor qualities like bravery
,
intelligence, humor, and creativity
.
Stephanie combines all these
with grace and beauty
.

Contents
1

London, 1860

Nightshade
. The word spread throughout the low districts of the city. It floated like a whisper in the black fog, slid down alleys on oily bricks and cobbles, and burned in the fumes of tallow candles—
Nightshade
. Nightshade had returned, as if from the dead.

A pauper sitting on a stoop in Shoreditch thought he caught a glimpse of Nightshade’s shadow. He muttered his suspicion to a basketmaker, who shivered and passed the word to a herring-hawker at Billingsgate. There in the fish market, word hurtled from mouth to mouth with the bawls of the vendors: “Now’s your time, now’s your time! Cod here, cod here! Who will buy my fine grizzling sprats? Who will buy? Fish alive, fish alive, fish alive alive-o!”

In Houndsditch Street, not far from the docks, the fog turned yellow, and the gaslights grew dim near the
Black Fleece Tavern. Inside, the light wasn’t much better, but the fog was kept at bay. It wouldn’t have dared enter, for the place was guarded by Big Maudie, its owner, and among the clientele were the worst ruffians London’s slums had to offer. Big Maudie, who was six feet in height, shoved her sleeves up over her red elbows, toyed with the cudgel she wore stuck in her belt, and surveyed her patrons.

Something was wrong. She couldn’t quite understand what it was, though, for no one was fighting. Lobster Bill and his mongrel dog were asleep by the fire. A few of Inigo Ware’s gang were drinking in a corner while a group of sailors sang off-key with Mayhew banging at the piano. Maudie shrugged and was about to return to her place behind the bar when she glimpsed a tattered silk skirt. At a table near the door lounged Alice Treacle and Ha’penny Hazel. What were they doing here so early? There was still plenty of trade on the streets.

It was chilly for October, and Maudie’s nose, cheeks, and chin were redder than usual. She rubbed her nose and glanced around the front room again, noting that Gin Ginny was already on her third glass. And there was Fanny Milch. As Maudie scowled at Fanny, a woman bearing a tray stacked with meat pies, custards, and beer joined her. Larder Lily. That made five, and every one of them taking care not to be seen watching the door.

At that moment, the door opened. Yellow mist floated into the tavern and evaporated. Candles sputtered, and conversation ceased. A short figure trotted out of the fog with a knock-kneed gait, ginger hair
dripping from the moisture. Badger Scoggins. Badger was followed by Cyril Prigg, one of the countless dealers in stolen goods who infested the city. Maudie sucked in her breath as she realized the significance of the two being together. Badger and Prigg. She skewed her gaze around to the expectant women. Even Ha’penny Hazel’s dull eyes had a bit of spark in them, and they all looked like eager magpies after a bit of ripe fruit. There was but one who excited that mixture of nubile anticipation and anxiety in her jaded street friends.

“Nightshade!”

A gentle voice behind her said, “Yes?”

Maudie yelped and whirled around to scour the shadows. “Nightshade.” Her throat was dry and her lips stuck together. “Nightshade.”

“I already know my name, Maudie,” came the whisper that sent tiny, sweet spikes of pain into her muscles.

Maudie licked her lips, then licked them again because her mouth was so parched. Finally she was able to speak. “You back again, then?”

“I do so detest people stating the obvious. You know that.”

He hadn’t moved from the shadows. Maudie recovered enough to be annoyed with herself for allowing Nightshade to get the better of her so soon. But how could she be blamed for it? He was but a tall shadow topped with gleaming ebony hair. Most of his face was shrouded in darkness; dim candlelight revealed his eyes, dark and hard, like topaz in desert sunlight. They said he got his dark coloring from a grandfather who’d been a Spanish sailor. Perhaps his
disturbing intensity, that air of being on the verge of violence, derived from his grandsire as well. Whatever the case, Nightshade himself had earned his name, for he was as deadly and as subtle as that herb.

Some said he’d been given the appellation because, like nightshade, he was the servant of the devil. Who but a servant of the dark one could appear and vanish at will? He certainly made people think of Satan—dark of color, vicious of tongue, with all the benevolence and mercy of a guillotine. And he was back after having vanished for so long that Maudie and everyone else had thought him dead. Only the devil could do that.

BOOK: Suzanne Robinson
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