Read The Serpent Prince Online

Authors: Elizabeth Hoyt

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Historical, #England, #Romantic Suspense Fiction, #Suspense, #Great Britain, #Aristocracy (Social Class) - England, #Revenge, #Single Women, #Aristocracy (Social Class)

The Serpent Prince

BOOK: The Serpent Prince
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Contents
“Oh, cruel angel.”

W
hy do you call me that? Is that a name you give many of your London ladies?” said Lucy.

“No, only you.” He touched a fingertip—only a fingertip—to her cheek. Her skin was warm, even in the night air, and soft, so soft.

Then she stepped away. “I don’t believe you.”

Did she sound breathless? He grinned like a demon in the dark, but didn’t answer. God, he wished he could simply pull her into his arms, open her sweet lips beneath his, feel her breath in his mouth, and her breasts against his chest. He stood and ventured a step towards her, until they almost touched and she had to turn her pale face up to his.

A lock of her hair bridged the scant inches between them and caressed his throat. She reached her hand out, hesitated, then touched his cheek lightly with one fingertip. He felt the contact sizzle throughout his body down to his very toes.

Indulge in the
Tales of Elizabeth Hoyt
Praise for
The Leopard Prince
“An exhilarating historical romance.”

Midwest Book Review
“4½ Stars! TOP PICK! An unforgettable love story that ignites the pages not only with heated love scenes but also with a mystery that holds your attention and your heart with searing emotions and dark desire.”

Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine
“Not to be missed . . . a delight from start to finish. The story is so well written, the characters so engaging, that one would have to call Elizabeth Hoyt the new master of the historical romance genre.”
—HistoricalRomanceWriters.com
“Hoyt creates another of her powerful stories of love and romance.”
—NovelTalk.com
“Hoyt isn’t afraid to play with conventions while taking risks . . . She gets into the soul of her story and lures the reader in.”
—PaperbackReader.net
“A spellbinding and sensually charged novel that grabs you from the first page . . . Hoyt is a fresh new voice in historical romance.”
—TheMysticCastle.com
“Four-and-a-half stars! Absolutely fantastic . . . filled with witty dialogue and sparkling characters.”
—TheRomanceReadersConnection.com
Praise for
The Raven Prince
“A sexy, steamy treat! A spicy broth of pride, passion, and temptation.”
—Connie Brockway,
USA Today
bestselling author
“A very rich, very hot dessert.”

BookPage
“Hoyt expertly spices this stunning debut novel with a sharp sense of wit and then sweetens her lusciously dark, lushly sensual historical romance with a generous sprinkling of fairytale charm.”

Chicago Tribune
“Will leave you breathless.”
—Julianne MacLean, author of
Portrait of a Lover
“Hoyt’s superb debut historical romance will dazzle readers with its brilliant blend of exquisitely nuanced characters, splendidly sensual love story, and elegant writing expertly laced with a dash of tart wit.”
—Booklist
“A terrific Georgian romance starring a fascinating heroine.”

Midwest Book Review
“A mixture of Jane Eyre and folk tale . . . sensuous and passionate . . . a book that kept me immersed and entertained until the end . . . this book has a bit of every-thing with a turn of the page. A bit out of the ordinary,
The Raven Prince
is a great find.”
—RoundtableReviews.com
“You’ll adore Hoyt’s intelligent characters and their spicy dialogue as much as the heated love scenes.”

Romantic Times BOOKclub Magazine
“Offers an unexpected take on seduction . . . A must read.”
—FreshFiction.com
“A romance novel that refuses to blend in with count-less other historical romances that fear even the tiniest deviation from the tried and true.”
—MyShelf.com
“5 Hearts! A fantastic and unusual book. The story captivated this reviewer from the beginning . . . Ms. Hoyt created a terrific cast of characters for this novel . . .
The Raven Prince
is a very good debut noveland you will definitely want to keep an eye open for more books by Ms. Hoyt.”
—LoveRomancesandMore.com
“I’m strongly recommending that you go out and buy
The Raven Prince
.”
—PaperbackReader.net
O
THER
T
ITLES BY
E
LIZABETH
H
OYT
The Raven Prince
The Leopard Prince
For JADE LEE, the critique partner who has it all: coffee, chocolate, and wisdom . . . not necessarily in that order.
Thank you to MELANIE MURRAY, a wise and wonderful editor, and to my agent, SUSANNAH TAYLOR, for always watching out for the details.
MAIDEN HILL, ENGLAND

NOVEMBER 1760

The dead man at Lucinda Craddock-Hayes’s feet looked like a fallen god. Apollo, or more likely Mars, the bringer of war, having taken human form and struck down from the heavens to be found by a maiden on her way home. Except that gods rarely bled.
Or died, for that matter.

“Mr. Hedge,” Lucy called over her shoulder.

She glanced around the lonely lane leading from the town of Maiden Hill to the Craddock-Hayes house. It appeared the same as it had been before she’d made her find: deserted, except for herself; her manservant, puffing a ways behind her; and the corpse lying in the ditch. The sky hung low and wintry gray. The light had already begun to leak away, though it was not yet five o’clock. Leafless trees lined the road, silent and chill.

Lucy shivered and drew her wrap more closely about her shoulders. The dead man sprawled, naked, battered, and facedown. The long lines of his back were marred by a mass of blood on his right shoulder. Below were lean hips; muscular, hairy legs; and curiously elegant, bony feet. She blinked and returned her gaze to his face. Even in death he was handsome. His head, turned to the side, revealed a patrician profile: long nose, high bony cheeks, and a wide mouth. An eyebrow, winging over his closed eye, was bisected by a scar. Closely cropped pale hair grew flat to his skull, except where it was matted by blood. His left hand was flung above his head, and on the index finger was the impression where a ring should have been. His killers must’ve stolen it along with everything else. Around the body the mud was scuffed, the imprint of a boot heel stamped deep beside the dead man’s hip. Other than that, there was no sign of whoever had dumped him here like so much offal.

Lucy felt silly tears prick at her eyes. Something about the way that he’d been left, naked and degraded by his murderers, seemed a terrible insult to the man. It was so unbearably sad.
Ninny,
she chided herself. She became conscious of a muttering, drawing steadily closer. Hastily, she swiped at the moisture on her cheeks.

“First she visits the Joneses and all the little Joneses, snotty-nosed buggers. Then we march up the hill to Old Woman Hardy—nasty biddy, don’t know why she hasn’t been put to bed with a shovel yet. And is that all? No, that’s not all by half. Then,
then
she must needs call round the vicarage. And me carting great jars of jelly all the while.”

Lucy suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. Hedge, her man, wore a greasy tricorne smashed down over a shock of gray hair. His dusty coat and waistcoat were equally disreputable, and he’d chosen to highlight his bowlegs with scarlet-clocked stockings, no doubt Papa’s castoffs.

He halted beside her. “Oh, gah, not a deader!”

In his surprise, the little man had forgotten to stoop, but when she turned to him, his wiry body decayed before her eyes. His back curved, the shoulder bearing the awful weight of her now-empty basket fell, and his head hung to the side listlessly. As the pièce de résistance, Hedge took out a checkered cloth and laboriously wiped his forehead.

Lucy ignored all this. She’d seen the act hundreds, if not thousands, of times in her life. “I don’t know that I would have described him as a
deader,
but he is indeed a corpse.”

“Well, best not stand here gawping. Let the dead rest in peace, I always say.” Hedge made to sidle past her.

She placed herself in his path. “We can’t just leave him here.”

“Why not? He was here before you trotted past. Wouldn’t never have seen him, neither, if we’d’ve taken the shortcut through the common like I said.”

“Nevertheless, we did find him. Can you help me carry him?”

Hedge staggered back in patent disbelief. “Carry him? A great big bloke like that? Not unless you want me crippled for sure. My back’s bad as it is, has been for twenty years. I don’t complain, but still.”

“Very well,” Lucy conceded. “We’ll have to get a cart.”

“Why don’t we just leave him be?” the little man protested. “Someone’ll find him in a bit.”

“Mr. Hedge . . .”

“He’s stabbed through the shoulder and all over bloody. It’s not nice, that.” Hedge screwed up his face until it resembled a rotted pumpkin.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to be stabbed, through the shoulder or not, so I don’t think we can hold that against him,” Lucy chided.

“But he’s begun to go off!” Hedge waved the handkerchief in front of his nose.

Lucy didn’t mention that there hadn’t been any smell until he’d arrived. “I’ll wait while you go fetch Bob Smith and his cart.”

The manservant’s bushy gray eyebrows drew together in imminent opposition.

“Unless you would prefer to stay here with the body?”

Hedge’s brow cleared. “No, mum. You knows best, I’m sure. I’ll just trot on over to the smithy—”

The corpse groaned.

Lucy looked down in surprise.

Beside her, Hedge jumped back and stated the obvious for both of them. “Jaysus Almighty Christ! That man ain’t dead!”

Dear Lord.
And she’d been standing here all this while, bickering with Hedge. Lucy swept off her wrap and threw it across the man’s back. “Hand me your coat.”

“But—”

“Now!” Lucy didn’t bother giving Hedge a look. She rarely used a sharp tone of voice, making it all the more effective when she did employ it.

“Awww,” the manservant moaned, but he tossed the coat to her.

“Go fetch Doctor Fremont. Tell him it’s urgent, and he must come at once.” Lucy gazed sternly into her manservant’s beady eyes. “And, Mr. Hedge?”

“Yes’m?”

“Please run.”

Hedge dropped the basket and took off, moving surprisingly fast, his bad back forgotten.

Lucy bent and tucked Hedge’s coat around the man’s buttocks and legs. She held her hand under his nose and waited, barely breathing, until she felt the faint brush of air. He was indeed alive. She sat back on her heels and contemplated the situation. The man lay on the half-frozen mud and weeds of the ditch—both cold and hard. That couldn’t be good for him, considering his wounds. But as Hedge had noted, he was a big man, and she wasn’t sure she could move him by herself. She peeled back a corner of the wrap covering his back. The slit in his shoulder was crusted with dried gore, the bleeding already stopped to her admittedly inexperienced eyes. Bruises bloomed across his back and side. Lord only knew what the front of him looked like.

And then there was the head wound.

She shook her head. He lay so still and white. No wonder she’d mistaken him for dead. But all the same, Hedge could’ve already been on his way to Doctor Fremont in the time they’d taken to argue over the poor man.

Lucy checked again that he was breathing, her palm hovering above his lips. His breath was light but even. She smoothed the back of her hand over his cold cheek. Almost invisible stubble caught at her fingers. Who was he? Maiden Hill was not so big that a stranger could pass through it without notice. Yet she had heard no gossip about visitors on her rounds this afternoon. Somehow he’d appeared here in the lane without anyone noticing. Then, too, the man had been obviously beaten and robbed. Why? Was he merely a victim, or had he somehow brought this fate upon himself?

Lucy hugged herself on the last thought and prayed Hedge would hurry. The light was fading fast and with it what little warmth the day had held. A wounded man lying exposed to the elements for Lord knows how long
. . .
She bit her lip.

If Hedge didn’t return soon, there would be no need of a doctor.

BOOK: The Serpent Prince
2.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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