A rogue in search of a new life, a brilliant woman betrayed, and one path through a prison of lies…
Ashley Allander has been a rake, rogue, scandalmaker, and heartbreaker. Now, with one last chance to redeem his name, he becomes a spy. The Zodiac’s newest recruit leaves London behind to find an elusive inventor, but his target proves far stranger. Ash discovers an aloof host, bright lights in the sky, and a woman who is either an innocent prisoner…or completely mad.
Elanora Morgan is desperate. Her life’s work has been stolen from her. She’s been declared insane and kept far from anyone who might help. She gambles everything on a mysterious newcomer, risking her reputation, her life, and her heart to regain her freedom.
Together, Ash and Nora hold the key to a conspiracy between two warring nations. In the midst of danger, they find an improbable love, and the chance for a new future…if they live long enough to reach it.
A Mad and Mindless Night is the sixth novel in the Secrets of the Zodiac, a series of historical romances: Featuring sexy storylines, complex characters, and international intrigue, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.
Beneath Sleepless Stars
Violet stared out the windows toward the lake she’d not even seen up close. She requested the maid to bring out her riding habit. Once dressed, she quickly strode out to the stables and asked for a horse to be saddled for her. One of the hostlers brought out a beautiful black one, who looked as eager to be outside as she felt.
“Will you want a groom, your grace?”
“Oh, no need. I only want to see the grounds and the lake.”
The boy nodded in comprehension. “The grounds will be muddy and slippery, your grace, after so much rain. Mind how you go.”
“Thank you for telling me. I shouldn’t be more than an hour or so.”
Then she was off. The cold air was glorious on her face. Winter hadn’t let go entirely, but Violet could smell hints of spring in the air. Not of flowers, but of mud and earth, of clean running water.
Violet circled the main house, looking over the various wings. She tried to guess the age of the oldest parts of the building, and saw where the newer additions had been added. She always considered Hawebeck Place large, but it would fit into this place several times over.
She rode past a few gardens, the beds mostly free of snow and ice but still quite bare. In the spring, it would be lovely there.
Actually, the whole estate must be gorgeous in the warmer months. Even in the last, grey part of winter there was a certain charm to it. She liked how the Abbey settled into the landscape, and how the lawns changed to meadows and then into woods beyond. She was eager to see what the coming months would bring.
The lakeshore was barely fringed with ice, so pockmarked and thin it looked liable to crack under any weight. She gave the shore a wide berth, not knowing if the edge would be too muddy to ride through. But she could see how the water would reflect the image of the Abbey at one end, and the sunset when viewed from the other side.
She came to the western edge, and then rode on to the strange building she saw the previous day. It really did appear to be a ruined tower. She rode all around, and tried the one door, but found it locked. How very odd. And intriguing. She’d have to come back soon.
In the moment of silence before she nudged her horse forward, Violet caught the sound of rushing water. A stream lay beyond, perhaps draining from the lake to…somewhere. She rode on for several minutes, invigorated enough to investigate the mysterious sound. She found the little stream and followed it, approaching the line of trees in the distance.
Just as Violet was about to ride down a narrow path through the woods, she turned, hearing something behind her.
Hooves. Someone was riding toward her, fast. A moment later, she could see Alex, riding as if the devil drove him. In another moment, he was nearly on her. He slowed the horse with a sharp command, then circled her.
“Is something the matter at the house?” Violet asked nervously.
“Something is the matter right here,” he growled. “What in the devil’s name do you think you’re doing?”
Violet, of course, had never seen Alex angry, and she had no idea how angry he was likely to get. The day before he’d seemed so cool, as if nothing could affect him. What had she done?
“I wanted to go for a ride, to see the grounds,” she said nervously. “Why is that so strange?”
“It’s been raining here for six days, and you are completely unfamiliar with the land. It’s dangerous out here after so much rain!”
“How so?” She looked around, seeing nothing that hinted of danger.
“The riverbanks are known to collapse under even a little weight. The locals know enough to stay away until the ground dries. You should have a groom. Who let you go riding alone?”
“I refused the offer,” she said. “I wanted to see the place for myself, and I’m not exactly riding off into the wilderness. We can see the Abbey from here.”
He moved the horse closer, almost touching her own. “Don’t make excuses. You could have been killed!”
“As if it would matter to you—you don’t even know me,” she said, her voice finally rising in response to his unreasonable, unforeseen anger. “Or do you only care that the ton will start gossiping about your curse again?”
The duke didn’t even answer her. He instead grabbed her roughly and pulled her to him. Violet was too shocked to protest when he leaned forward and kissed her with punishing force.
It was not an act of love, or even passion. It was pure dominance. He wanted to show her she belonged to him. She could not leave him. She could not disobey him.
Violet felt the anger and power behind the kiss, and she wanted to melt away into a puddle to avoid the duke’s wrath. But the kiss made it hard for her to breathe at all, let alone move. Her body began to arch toward him, even as she raised her hands to push him away.
“Your grace,” she gasped, trying to catch her breath. “Please…”
He pulled away abruptly. “Never think I don’t care where you are every second of your life. You are my duchess now, and you cannot scurry about like a country mouse. You belong to me and you will behave like it.”
Violet dropped her head at the rebuke. She was not fit to be a duchess, and they both knew it. Her lips began to throb, unused to the kiss. Her first kiss from him. She had wondered if she would enjoy his attentions. It seemed she had found her answer.
“Look at me, Violet,” he said quietly, coldly.
She raised her face, unwillingly. The outburst was over, and the man of stone was back.
“Never do something so foolish again,” he warned. “And never go off alone. Do you understand me?”