An enigmatic woman, a determined spy, and a love that could shake the foundations of Europe…
“Heartless” Cordelia Bering refuses every marriage offer she receives. Yet men still try to win her, drawn by her sharp wit and intoxicating green eyes. But Cordelia knows a marriage could reveal her deepest secret and truly endanger her life. Besides, she hasn’t met a man worth considering, until…
Sebastien Thorne, a spy in the service of the Crown. One of the elite agents in the group known as the Zodiac, he comes to London determined to solve a mystery with roots on the Continent. He won’t let anything distract him. But is Cordelia a distraction, or the key to the mystery? As he learns more about the “heartless” woman, he becomes embroiled in secrets, plots, and a design that could change the future…and Cordelia is at the center of it all.
A Heartless Design is the first book in the Secrets of the Zodiac, a series that blends romantic suspense with the rich background of the Napoleonic War period.
A Heartless Design
Cordelia was stunned by the appearance of the man she knew only as a devastatingly handsome mystery, and the one she thought had been watching her house earlier. She’d convinced herself she was wrong, but perhaps she shouldn’t be so quick to absolve him.
“Lord Thorne, ma’am,” Ivy announced, even as she saw her employer’s expression. The maid glanced nervously around the room.
“Thank you,” Cordelia said distantly. Then she blinked, and was the mistress of herself once more. “Please find Aunt Leona—Mrs Wharton, that is—in the gardens and let her know she has a guest. Now.” She nodded to her maid with a significant look.
Ivy curtsied and left the room.
Cordelia glanced once at Jay, and then at the designs spread on the table between them. Although there was no reason for the papers to be hidden—after all, they weren’t even hers—she was uncomfortable with this particular man perusing such work in her house. If only she had learned his name last night when he found her in the garden! She would have known what to expect today.
Her friend caught the look and moved to put the papers away. Before he could, Sebastien stepped right up to look at the papers as if he had every right in the world to do so.
“Miss Bering, I am sorry. I have no one else here to offer a formal introduction,” he began.
He didn’t look the least bit sorry to her. “It is too bad that my aunt is still on her way inside,” Cordelia replied.
Fortunately, Jay redirected Thorne’s attention. “Good afternoon. I am William Jay, sir,” he said, standing up. “How do you do?”
Thorne acknowledged him with a brief, almost mocking bow. “How do you do. I do hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”
Cordelia was now certain she did not like the idea of Lord Thorne and Jay in the same room. She cleared her throat, and then said lightly, “Certainly not. In fact, Mr Jay was just on his way out. He has a number of other calls to make.”
“But you both look to be hard at work on those.… What are these?” He leaned over the designs and made a show of examining them. “Is this for a boat of some type?”
She took a breath, then said, “Yes, it is for a boat of some type. My dear friend Mr Jay is an engineer.” She stressed the dear friend slightly.
“Is the boat for you?”
“For me?” Cordelia asked.
“Why is he showing you plans for a boat?”
“That is none of your business,” Jay said, affronted.
“It’s all right,” Cordelia said, smiling at Jay to reassure him. She turned to Thorne, losing the smile. “Mr Jay was one of my father’s last students. He was showing off his latest work to me. I think it’s very kind of him to remember his teacher’s family so well.”
Sebastien looked nonplussed. “Of course,” he managed. “Most thoughtful.”
“But alas, he does need to be going,” Cordelia went on, throwing Jay an encouraging glance.
“I could certainly stay until Mrs Wharton returns,” Jay offered, even as he began to put the plans back into his leather case.
“That’s not necessary,” Cordelia said. “I do not wish to put you to any trouble. Thank you so much for calling on me.”
“Very well, Miss Bering,” Jay said, then coughed. “I am glad to leave you in good health. Please convey my message to Mr Lear, and do let me know if there is anything at all I can do to aid him.”
“I will,” Cordelia assured him. “Now you must hurry on. I wouldn’t want to make you late for your other appointments.”
Still with misgivings, Jay fled the room, followed by Thorne’s cool gaze. “Mr William Jay,” he said quietly. Cordelia didn’t like his tone at all.
She stood up, watching Sebastien as though he were a panther about to strike. “So you are Lord Thorne. And I am to believe you actually do know my aunt?” Cordelia asked skeptically.
“Yes, although I think the last time I saw her I was about thirteen years old. She is the one I hoped to find here today.” He smiled in a way that almost made him look harmless. Almost. “I’ll be honest, Miss Bering. I did not expect to meet you again. And certainly not here, nor in this capacity.”
“What capacity are you referring to?” she asked.
“I am most interested in renewing some old acquaintances, now that I’ve been elevated to my father’s title.”
“Why now?” she asked. Why right after someone robbed me and you tried to seduce me?
“I am just back from abroad, and I find the adjustment to London rather jarring. I like to have people I can trust about me.”
“Yes, you said you traveled.” Cordelia said in an even voice. “Are you back from France?”
“Yes, in fact,” he replied, his expression becoming far more guarded.
“Is it very difficult to come and go, considering the tensions between our governments?” Cordelia knew she shouldn’t goad him, but she couldn’t resist. There was something very wrong about his appearance at her house.
“I’ve never been one to let obstacles get in my way,” he said.
“Of that I have no doubt, my lord,” Cordelia looked him directly in the eyes. Before he could respond, Leona stepped into the room.
“Cordelia, darling, Ivy told me we had a guest…” Leona’s face lit up. “My Heavens! It can’t possibly be…Sebastien Thorne!”
“Mrs Wharton. How do you do.” He bowed, and smiled a bit smugly. He plainly enjoyed the look on Cordelia’s face.
“So you do know each other,” she said.
“Oh, yes. What a surprise,” Leona laughed, the silvery sound temporarily disarming them both. “Sebastien Thorne. Except you’re not just Thorne any more, are you? I’d heard something…”
“He is the Earl of Thornbury,” Cordelia said, recalling the words on the card she’d been shown.
Leona raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? You must be introduced to my niece, Miss Cordelia Bering.”
“We are acquainted already,” Cordelia said, then bit her tongue. Oh, how could she ever explain the manner in which they’d actually met?