For Her Spy Only ONLY

a Masquerading Mistresses novella by Robyn DeHart

England, 1814

When Winifred is rescued from her snow-stranded carriage by the notorious and reclusive Alistair, Marquess of Coventry, she is instantly drawn to him. Jilted by her betrothed and socially ruined by untrue rumors, Winifred is tired of paying for crimes she didn’t commit and decides to play the seductress London society claims she is. Thinking a night of passion shouldn’t leave any lasting effects, she instead finds her heart marked forever.

Six years later, Alistair is working for the Regent as a spy. A search for Napoleon’s English supporters leads him to the beguiling Winifred, recently widowed with a young son. He hasn’t forgotten how the unconventional beauty warmed his bed, and the heat between them rekindles immediately. The spymaster is determined to uncover all of plucky Winifred’s secrets. Especially the one regarding her son…



Title: For Her Spy Only (Masquerading Mistresses, #2)
Author: Robyn DeHart
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 103 pages
Release Date: July 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62266-744-4
Imprint: Scandalous
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Praise for For Her Spy Only :

“Sizzling romance… DeHart makes the romance believable and enticing.” –Publishers Weekly

Excerpt from
For Her Spy Only
by Robyn DeHart

Copyright © 2014 by Robyn DeHart. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.


24th of December 1808, near the coastline of Sussex

Miss Winifred Wilmington pulled her green velvet cloak tighter around her. She exhaled and the puff of air was visible, so cold was it inside the carriage.

“We are going to die in here,” her maid, Polly, wailed.

Winifred rolled her eyes heavenward. “I seriously doubt that,” she said. “It is rather cold, but I suspect someone will be along soon enough and rescue us.”

“I could remind you that it was my suggestion that we leave earlier in the day. Or yesterday,” Polly grumbled. “It is the eve of Christmas, who else is traveling?”

The thought had crossed Winifred’s mind as well, but she certainly wouldn’t put voice to it. “Holmes went to search for help. Certainly he will find someone to assist us.”

There was no need to panic, as that would solve nothing. Therein lie the significant difference between herself and her longtime maid. Winifred was nothing if not practical. It was a skill she had learned out of necessity. One did not get jilted at the altar without adjusting one’s expectations of life and other people. In any case, she was somewhat concerned about being stranded in this frigid carriage all night, though she was hopeful that someone would come along to save them.

Polly sat up. “Do you hear that?”

Polly was so apt at creating drama, no doubt the woman thought she heard wolves outside. “What?” Winifred asked.

“A carriage is coming,” Polly said.

Winifred strained her ears, and certainly enough it did sound as if wheels were drawing nearer. Hope bloomed in her chest. The wheels rumbled and the horse hooves clattered louder and louder until they were upon them before they rolled to a stop.

“As long as it’s not a highwayman, I suppose we can consider ourselves rescued,” Winifred said.

Polly gasped, her hand going to her throat. “A highwayman!”

A male voice sounded outside the carriage, obviously speaking with his party unless Holmes had found this particular someone to salvage them.

There came a rap at the door. Winifred leaned forward and opened it.

A tall gentleman stood there in a great coat with a top hat perched upon his head. He held a cane in his hand. “Madams,” he said, the timber in his voice deep and rich.

A chill skirted over Winifred’s arms despite the cloak encasing her body. “Good evening, sir,” she said. “I hope my driver, Holmes, didn’t get you out of bed to rescue us.”

“I beg your pardon, I know no such man. I came upon your rig by happenstance.”

“Well, then, I should thank you for stopping to assist us. Can our carriage be repaired?”

“I do not know, nor am I inclined to look,” he said.

That wasn’t very gentlemanly of him. She opened her mouth to tell him precisely that—

“I will offer you a ride,” he said before she could comment.

Winifred considered his words. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it would do. “Yes, my grandmother’s estate is not far from here. We would very much appreciate it.”

“No,” he said.

She started to thank him for his hospitality and then his words sank in. “I beg your pardon? Did you or did you not offer us a ride?”

“To where I am going. I am not a coach for hire.” He tapped his cane against his chest.

She had the childlike urge to mock him, but thought better of it. Her options for getting out of this predicament were rather limited, so she best mind her manners.

“In the morning, you may have the carriage take you to your destination,” he continued. “But in this weather, I am going nowhere else.”

“And where is it that you’re going?” Winifred asked.

“Coventry Hall,” he said.

Nerves prickled at her neck, standing the little hairs on end. “You are?” Winifred asked.

“Alistair Devlin, Marquess of Coventry,” he said with only a shadow of a bow.

“Oh good heavens,” Polly said, finally breaking her silence. She shook her head violently. “Miss Wilmington, we mustn’t go with him. We can wait for Holmes.”

“Don’t be rude, Polly.”

“Yes, don’t be rude, Polly,” he repeated. “I don’t believe you’ll have any other options tonight.” His shoulders rose in a slight shrug. “Though you could certainly choose to stay here and freeze,” he said. “I have made the offer.” He turned on his heel and walked away.

“Miss Wilmington, you know what they say of him,” Polly said once he was out of earshot. She gripped Winifred’s arm tightly. “Mary, who works for Lord Garrick, says she knows the housekeeper that used to work at Coventry. He is a killer,” she whispered. “Murdered his own wife, tossed her right off a cliff, they say.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” But of course Winifred had also heard those rumors and plenty more when it came to the Marquess of Coventry. He had a most interesting reputation. Of course the fact that he rarely, if ever, was seen in London, only fueled said rumors.

Unfortunately the man was right. The odds of someone else coming along to rescue them were very slim. “It is a good offer,” Winifred said. “Our only offer, as it were.”

“He could be dangerous,” Polly warned.

“He is a peer of the realm. Rumor or not, there is a code of etiquette.” When Polly looked unconvinced, Winifred continued. “Consider that being tossed off a cliff should result in a rather quick death, whereas freezing in this carriage would be slow and painful, I suspect.”

Polly closed her eyes and shook her head as if warding off the image.

“Excuse me, I should like to get down please,” Winifred called out. Nerves fluttered in the pit of her stomach, though it could have been the chill from the opened carriage door. Several breaths passed before a footman appeared to assist her to the ground. “Oh, you must be one of the marquess’s men. Thank you.”

The man nodded, but said nothing. The snow swirled around her, soft as a whisper, covering her face and sticking to her eyelashes. She put her hands in her muff and walked quickly toward the other carriage.

Polly raced up to meet her. “Miss Wilmington, think of your reputation.”

“Don’t be silly. I am a spinster who was jilted. Besides, my reputation has already been damaged. Furthermore, my reputation certainly won’t matter if I freeze to death, now will it?”

“I shall not ride with that man,” Polly said with a firm nod of her head.

“Suit yourself, you can wait for Holmes. Do try to stay warm,” Winifred said.

“If you go with him, I shall resign,” Polly warned.

“Don’t bother, I shall simply dismiss you,” Winifred said.

Polly made a growling noise, yet still followed behind. “I shall come with you to keep you safe, but I refuse to ride inside with him.”

“Do whatever you wish. I am riding inside where it promises to be nice and cozy.”

And with that a gloved hand reached out of the carriage door. She took a deep breath, placed her hand in his, and climbed into the carriage. A lantern hung from a hook, illuminating the interior. She took a seat on the plush bench across from the marquess. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

“I instructed my footman to stay and wait for your driver.”

He certainly did not appear to be murderous. Not that she had any notion of what a murderer might do or say.

“Your maid, she is going to ride outside?” he asked.

“She’s a stubborn lot,” Winifred said.

“You sacked her,” he said.

“Third time this week.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Polly and I have plenty of disagreements.”

He nodded, then picked up the book that had been sitting on the seat next to him. The carriage lurched forward.

She eyed her unlikely travel companion. He wasn’t a friendly sort; formidable was more what she’d consider him. He was tall and lean and imposing, but younger than she had expected. She’d heard of the Marquess of Coventry, but had never before seen him. His reputation in London was notorious. He could not be more than thirty. His cane leaned against the bench next to him, and his gloved hand held onto the gold knob on top. An ugly scar slashed across his left cheek, leading up to his eye.

He looked up from his reading as if he sensed her perusal. His eyes were a startling shade of green, like the first bloom of spring after a blistering winter.

“My name is Winifred Wilmington,” she said dumbly.

“Indeed,” he said, then went back to his reading.

She felt her brow furrow. “What are you reading?” she asked.

“Shakespeare. As You Like It,” he said.

She was quiet for a moment, trying to recall if she’d read that particular play. It seemed she must have, but she couldn’t recall a single thing about it.

“You know I am not afraid of you,” she said. Her mother used to chastise her about her chattiness, but Winifred had a tendency to talk when she was nervous. And the marquess’s silence had her quite addled. “I don’t think it’s very intelligent to believe everything you hear about a person.”

“I see,” he said, not bothering to look up from his book.

“Oh yes, people are quite spiteful with the rumors they spread.” She forced herself to stop talking as she was about to tell him a particularly nasty rumor, but that would be gossiping. She knew she became chatty when she was nervous, and she certainly did not need to say something she would later regret. And she knew the sting of being on the other end of those rumors. When Theodore had left her standing alone with the priest and the church full of onlookers, people had made all sorts of conclusions.

“What is it that people say about me?” he asked, again not looking up from his book.

She studied him for a moment, trying to gauge if he was toying with her. He must know what people said. Even the servants gossiped about him.

He looked up at her and once again she was caught in those unusual eyes. His right brow rose expectedly.

She swallowed. “That you murdered your wife.” Her voice came out weak.

“But you do not believe that,” he said.

“No, I do not.” She shook her head. “You are obviously a responsible and kind gentleman.”

You do not know me,” he said. He set his book aside. His glove gripped the gold knob on his cane.

“No, but you stopped to assist a stranded lady. That says volumes about your character, my lord,” she said, quite pleased with her logic.

He leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. “How do you know I’m not taking you to my castle to ravish you?”

She sucked in her breath. His words should have driven fear into her heart. They should have made her second-guess climbing into this carriage with him. Instead she became acutely aware of how she must look with her traveling cloak and bonnet. She resisted the urge to pat her hair.

“Are you? Going to ravish me, that is?” she couldn’t help asking. No man had ever been so forthcoming with her, and the effect was rather intoxicating.

He crooked his finger at her, beckoning her forward.

Curiosity gripped her. She leaned toward him. He had lovely eyes, mossy green with long lashes.

He grabbed her by the chin and pulled her closer, then caught her mouth in a kiss. So shocked by the touch, her lips parted, giving him a brazen invitation to deepen the kiss. His lips were soft and unfamiliar, yet seductive, intoxicating. Her eyes fluttered closed and her hands gripped the fabric of his great coat around his shoulders. And then the kiss was over, ending as quickly and abruptly as it had begun. He leaned back in his seat and she was left in the middle of the carriage with her eyes closed, no doubt looking very much the goose.

“You should not be so trusting,” he said.

He was right. Of course he was right. Yet, she felt no fear with him, even at the liberty he had just taken. She felt only curiosity and something that was probably desire, at the very least attraction and intrigue. “You never answered my question,” she shot back once she’d regained her senses.

“Which was?”

“If you were intending to ravish me once we arrived at your castle?”

His lips quirked up in a half smile. “I suppose you’ll have to wait and see.”

Winifred wasn’t certain what she’d been expecting of Coventry Hall, but it was quite luxurious for a looming cliffside castle. The room she’d been given hosted a huge four-poster bed, elegantly carved and covered in the richest of fabrics. The fireplace, already lit, heated the room, and a plush carpet covered the stone floor. If she closed her eyes and concentrated hard, she imagined she could hear the waves crashing into the cliffs below.

Despite the rumors, the Marquess of Coventry was most certainly not what she would have expected. She wouldn’t deem him charming, but rather appealing. His face wasn’t one that most might consider dashing, with his dark features and sharp angles—and that scar. But there was something so alluring in his thickly lashed green eyes. He was mysterious, and she found that attractive.

When they’d arrived at the castle, he’d suggested she get changed, warm up, and then come back down to the dining hall for a light meal. She crept out into the corridor and followed it to the stairs that wound down to the second floor, where he’d said she’d find the dining hall. The castle was quiet, without many servants milling about. Candles sat in sconces against the walls lighting her way.

The rich aroma of food caught her attention and she followed the scent until she reached two large wooden doors. She opened one and peeked inside. A massive table bisected the room, and on one end a sideboard sat covered with dishes of food. Her host already sat at the head of the table, and a footman served him a plate.

The marquess looked up at her. “Are you coming in or not?”

“Yes,” she said stupidly. She chose the seat to his right and immediately a footman brought her a plate. “This is your light meal?” She pointed to the heaping platters on the sideboard.

“The cook didn’t know what you would eat.” He shrugged, bringing attention to his broad shoulders. “We don’t receive many visitors here.” Though the dining room was rather large, his deep voice curled around her, an echo of the intimacy of their dinner.

The rest of their meal went by with little conversation. The food was delicious, but all Winifred could think about was her impulsive question in the carriage. Asking him if he intended to ravish her. What had she been thinking?

She’d been thinking about that kiss. A spontaneous and passionate, albeit brief kiss between strangers. It had been more enthralling than any of the embraces she’d shared with Theodore. Though he’d been her fiancé for nearly half of a year, he’d never done more than give her chaste kisses that left her cataloging things she had left to accomplish that day. But the marquess’s kiss had evoked thoughts and sensations that left her only wanting more.

More of him.

And had her thinking of the ridiculous. Of suggesting that he should ravish her. What would it matter? Her prospects of marriage had already been ruined. Who would care if she gave her body to an attractive stranger in a mysterious castle on the eve of Christmas?

He pushed his chair back from the table and stood.

“What is it you normally do after you eat?” she asked, coming to her feet as well.

He pinned her with those intense eyes of his. “Retire to my study and read.”

“Splendid, I very much enjoy a good book.”

Was a study a good place to host a seduction? She certainly had no notion, but it was worth an effort. Was she actually intending to do this? She took a deep breath and nodded as if agreeing with herself. The worst he could do was say no.

The room reminded her much of the comfortable study of her father’s closest friend, the royal cartographer Sir Reginald Mirren. She took in heavy wooded panels, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and a large, imposing desk. But what the marquess had in his study that she had not seen before were the medals. Several of them graced one shelf, and they gleamed in the candlelight.

“Were you in the military?” she asked.

He glanced up from his book and nodded. “I work for the Crown.”

“Still? You are active? Are you a captain?”

“I have no classification. I merely work for the Crown.”

She wasn’t certain what that meant, but he seemed finished with the conversation, so she allowed it to drop.

It took her the better part of thirty minutes once they were settled in the library—him in a large leather chair, her in a softer chaise—to pull together the nerves to approach the subject.

She cleared her throat.

He did not look up from his reading, no longer the Shakespeare, but now a book from Sophocles.

“I should tell you,” she began. “That is, I want you to know that I am open to the possibility of being ravished.”

That stole his attention from Sophocles, though aside from one cocked eyebrow, his expression was unreadable. “I beg your pardon?”

“Well, I find myself quite intrigued by the kiss we shared, and if you do not object, I should like to explore—”

“Are you trying to seduce me?” he asked. His tone spoke of surprise, but certainly a man as confident as he would not be caught unaware by a woman taking a fancy to him.

“I am. Though perhaps not successfully. You seem surprised.”

“Surprised by your boldness, perhaps.”

“I know it is unbecoming for a woman to be so bold,” she said, suddenly feeling quite embarrassed and wishing a hole would open in the floor and swallow her.

He set his book aside and stood. “On the contrary.” He took a step toward her. “I find your brazenness refreshing.”

Warmth spread through her arms and legs.

“What of your reputation?” he asked.

“Well, it would seem that I have recently been accused of being a wanton harlot.” She swallowed hard. It had taken her several months to learn to ignore the stares when she shopped for new dresses on Bond Street. And her invitations to social gatherings had all but dried up. “I was thinking that if I have to endure such rumors, I should get to behave thus at least once.”

The marquess eyed her a moment, then tipped his head back and laughed riotously. “Miss Wilmington, you are most assuredly a refreshing female. Why is it that people claim you are a wanton?” He held up one finger. “Though I could point out that if this is not your first proposed seduction, that could be the reason.”

“No, of course not.” She smiled in spite of herself. “This is the first time…that is, you are the first man I have proposed such a thing.” She inspected her fingernails, concerned that if she told him the truth about Theodore that he might decline her offer. “I was engaged and my would-be groom left me at the altar. He then told people that he’d done so because he’d discovered me in the arms of another man. A blatant lie, but it would seem that people don’t care about my side of the story.”

“Is this seduction your way of trapping me into marriage?” He took a couple steps closer to her. “Because as you’ve heard, I had to kill my first wife to get out of that union.”

She laughed.

“Most people don’t find me amusing.”

She stepped closer to him, so close that she could feel the heat radiating off his body. “I’m not most people.”

“Why me? Why seduce me?”

She looked up and was caught in the depths of his green gaze. “I find you intriguing and attractive. And judging by my reaction to the kiss in the carriage, it is safe to say that I desire you.”

“I see.” He was quiet for a moment, as if weighing her argument. “I have precautions to ensure you will not get with child.”

Her heart fluttered. “Does that mean you accept?”

“I am a peculiar sort, Miss Wilmington, a bit of a recluse, most say. I much prefer the company of books to that of people.” He laced his fingers with hers. “But I am still a man and when a beautiful woman offers herself to me, I shall gladly accept.”


Chapter One

June 1814, six years later

Alistair Devlin, accused murderer, recluse, master code-breaker, and secret spy for the Crown of England, loathed the bustle and noise of the city. Two weeks ago, when fellow members of the Seven, the elite group of spies working to uncover a traitor who’d infiltrated the English government, had brought him Lord Comfry’s journal, Alistair had assumed he’d be able to decipher the code quickly.

Despite Alistair’s usual ease with codes, this one was proving more challenging, and he had yet to decode the murdered man’s journal. The worst part of these two weeks was that he had spent them in London. There were far too many people, not to mention the stench from the streets permeated the air, but the worst part was the ignorance of nearly everyone around him.

Alistair was quite accustomed to being the most intelligent man in the room. It had been this way since he’d been a young man, and he had never had an easy time at accepting the mental limitations of others. He had no patience for idiots.

The good news was, he finally realized why he’d struggled with this particular code.

He’d been approaching the code incorrectly. He had been using every code he’d collected since he began working for the Crown. He’d finally realized that the code was actually rather simple and the random numbers and letters were, in fact, latitude and longitude coordinates. He needed only the help of Sir Reginald Mirren, the royal cartographer.

He tapped his cane on the top of his Hessian boot and waited for the carriage to stop. He had only made the acquaintance of Sir Reginald Mirren on a handful of occasions; the man was the best cartographer in London. He’d been commissioned by the King to make a series of maps, and it was these maps that Alistair needed to uncover Comfry’s hidden message. If Alistair was correct in his estimation, Sir Mirren would have, on hand, all of the maps necessary.

Finally the carriage rolled to a stop and Alistair exited the rig. The brick townhome was modest, reaching to three stories with a faded black door that boasted a brass number three on it. This was the address he had for Sir Mirren. He marched himself up the front steps to the stoop and slammed the brass knocker onto the door.

Several seconds passed and Alistair was beginning to think that no one was home, but then voices sounded from the other side of the door. He couldn’t understand their words, but knew that more than one person spoke. Suddenly the door opened.

“How may I help y—” The words died on her lips as she looked up at him. “Alistair, er, my lord? How did you—? That is, why are you—? What are you doing here?”

“Winifred Wilmington.” He let his eyes roam the length of her. She looked the same, though perhaps more tempting with her face flushed from exertion. What precisely had she been doing behind that door only moments before? “I could ask you those same questions. I am here to see Sir Mirren.”

She exhaled in one quick puff and opened the door wider. “Please come in.”

He followed her inside and she led him to a door down the corridor on the left. As they entered the room, it was quite evident that this was Sir Mirren’s study. That didn’t explain what Winifred was doing here. He hadn’t seen her in…it had to have been six years, since that fateful Christmas Eve he’d found her stranded in her carriage, trapped in the snow. They’d spent several days locked in his castle making love. And then—after the snow melted, making travel safe once more—she’d left and he’d never heard from her again. Which suited him just fine since he had no room in his life for females. Not since Sarah.

She sat behind the desk and motioned for him to sit adjacent to her.

“There is no delicate way to say this. I’m afraid Sir Mirren is dead,” she said abruptly.

He frowned and tapped his cane against his boot. “I am sorry to hear that. Were you related to Mirren in some capacity?”

“I am his widow.” She looked down at her dress, then blushed. “I know it is dreadful that I am not still in mourning, but there are extraneous circumstances.” Her brow furrowed and it was then that he noticed she did look somewhat different. Delicate lines fanned from her eyes. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Married? To Mirren? Since when?”

She chewed at her lip and her brows rose. “Since shortly after we met, actually.”

She’d quite obviously had been engaged to marry Mirren when she’d had her affair with him. “I thought you had been left at the altar.”

“I was. My union with Reggie occurred after we met, my lord. He and I had been friends for a while and a marriage seemed a logical conclusion to our relationship.”

She wasn’t at all the woman he’d thought her to be—impulsive, passionate. No, this woman before him spoke of practicality. Not at all the Winifred who had invited herself into his bed. The woman who had taken refuge in his castle, in his arms, had been bold, refreshing—he shook his head, unable to reconcile the Winifred he’d bedded to the woman looking at him.

Well, none of that mattered now. He had other concerns at hand. “I need use of your husband’s maps.”

“His collection of maps is quite extensive. Perhaps you could narrow the selection for me?”

“I don’t see why that is necessary.”

Her eyes darted to the door behind him, then back to him. “If you could tell me which maps specifically you need to see, then perhaps I could locate them and have them brought to you.”

“Your husband had hundreds upon hundreds of maps. You couldn’t possibly search through them and find the ones I need.”

Her posture stiffened, and her eyes narrowed in a glare. “Rest assured I am certainly capable of doing so. And I am certainly more familiar with my husband’s collection than you are.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. It would take you days to sort—“

She stood, her glare intensified. “So now I am ridiculous?”

Somehow they had ended up in an argument. If people would simply concede to his requests, these sorts of fruitless battles would not ensue. She had no reason to be irritated with him.

“A man I barely know comes to my home, insults me, and demands to paw through my late husband’s belongings, and you find me ridiculous?”

“I merely didn’t want to inconvenience you. It makes far more sense for me to do it as I know what I’m looking for. There is truly no reason for you to get involved.”

A door sounded in the corridor, then voices, followed by a childish giggle. Winifred came around the desk. “I don’t see how I could grant you permission. Good day to you, my lord.” She walked as if to leave the room.

He grabbed her arm as she passed him. “Winifred, it is of utmost importance that I have access to those maps.” His form towered over her slighter one. She’d grown fuller over the years, and the curves did lovely things to her body. She was still a most handsome woman. He pulled her closer.

She swallowed visibly, her gaze darting to his mouth.

“I shall consider it, but you must be forthcoming with me,” she said.

“The way you have been with me?” he asked before he thought better of it. Had he expected her to send him an invitation to her nuptials? “My apologies, it is not my concern whom you married.”

An expression clouded her features, an emotion he did not recognize. Fear, perhaps, though her jaw was clearly set with stubbornness. “I shall consider it. I shall send notice to your address and let you know what I’ve decided.” And then she disappeared out of the room.

Damnation. He was a spy. An elite spy, at that. He would not be outmaneuvered by a woman, no matter how alluring her curves. By the time that Alistair entered the corridor, it was empty of people. He was tempted to return to the study and search for the damn maps himself, but he’d been in the room long enough to know that unless there was a hidden compartment in there, the maps were elsewhere in this townhome.

Once in his carriage, he sat for several moments before directing the driver to his club. Perhaps it was time to make some inquiries as to Sir Mirren’s widow. Again he was struck by the oddity of Winifred and Mirren’s union. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he was angry about how she’d returned to London fresh from his bed and rather quickly aligned herself with the mapmaker. But the fact was he didn’t get angry with other people. Anger required a certain amount of emotion and he didn’t care about people that much. And he didn’t understand why most of them spent so much of their time wallowing in their own shallow emotions.

That was why he didn’t like to deal with people. They were so damn inconvenient. And illogical. Despite his reputation, he was most definitely not a murderer, but there were times when he was glad that most of his life was spent in isolation.

Winifred must have turned eight shades of blue, she’d been so nervous. Good heavens, when she’d opened the door, she hadn’t expected to find Alistair on the other side. She’d have been less surprised had the Reaper himself been there, hand outstretched, waiting to pull her into the beyond. But it had been Alistair. Thankfully Oliver hadn’t been home at the moment; though when he’d arrived with his governess and had giggled in the corridor, she’d thought that Alistair would question her. But he hadn’t seemed to notice, or care. Still, it was unsettling that Alistair had found her even if he’d been looking for Reggie instead.

Gracious, Alistair hadn’t changed a bit. He was impossibly dashing and she’d wanted nothing more than to melt into him when he’d pulled her close. She’d scarcely been able to breathe, simultaneously worried he’d kiss her and worried he wouldn’t.

Granting him access to Reggie’s maps would have him in her home, as they were simply too large for her to transport. That, in turn, would put him near her son, and that simply could not happen. There had to be another way. Perhaps she could merely have him come when Oliver was out with his governess, in the park feeding the ducks. But how often could a boy feed ducks?

Of course, she could always tell Alistair the truth. How many letters had she written him over the years explaining precisely what had happened? She’d kept them all in a box under her bed. But she knew she couldn’t tell him. He’d made it abundantly clear six years ago that he had no intention of ever marrying again, nor fathering a child. He’d even taken precautions with her, but obviously they hadn’t been successful. He didn’t want Oliver, and Reggie had kindly given the boy a name so no one need know the truth.

But how could she stand to be around Alistair and keep that secret? She’d never been a very good liar. That little voice inside her questioned her motive. It was the same voice that had convinced her to seduce Alistair in the first place, so she wasn’t certain there was merit to the argument. Still, was Oliver the only reason she didn’t want to be around Alistair, or did it go further than that? Was she afraid to be around him because she knew that once she granted him entrance to her life again, it was only a matter of time before she invited him to her bed?

She was simply going to have to turn down his request.