Twice as Wicked(2)

By: Elizabeth Bright

Alice instinctively flicked the locket open.

And stared.

She stared harder.

Red-gold hair. Piercing blue eyes. A cleft in a strong chin.

It was not her face.

Good lord.

Queasiness shot through her stomach. It was the first thing she had felt in two months. It wasn’t pleasant, by any means, but it was something.

She pried the miniature from its casing. It was a simple oil, but surprisingly detailed and lifelike for something so small. The materials were high quality. She turned it over. The initials NE were scratched into the wood. She turned it around again.

Who could it be, but Adelaide’s lover?

Alice became aware of a curious sensation traveling through her limbs, filling all the spaces that had been a dark void since her sister’s passing. It felt like poison, but Alice cared naught. At least she felt.

She knew he had money.

She knew his initials.

She knew his face.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough.

She would find the villain.

And she would destroy him.

Chapter One

London, 1817

He saw her before she saw him.

Standing at the top of the staircase, Lord Nathaniel Eastwood, Viscount Abingdon, had an excellent view of the Duke of Wessex’s ballroom and all its occupants—none of whom were half so beguiling as the stranger scowling into her lemonade. A huge crystal chandelier whirled dizzily overhead, casting a kaleidoscope of rainbows over the dark hue of her hair. It was impossible not to notice her. She was wearing a dress of rich red velvet, a vivid contrast to the other young maidens who were clothed in white and pale pastels.

She was, he told himself grimly, exactly the type of woman to put arsenic in one’s porridge. It was, unfortunately, a topic with which he was intimately familiar.

And yet, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.

Nathaniel hated balls. He hated London, too. Yet here he was, subjected to both horrors at the very same time, an unhappy circumstance he blamed entirely on Wessex. Every season it was the same thing. Wessex would lure Nathaniel from his peaceful estate in Hampshire with the promise of Something Important, which usually turned out to be a scrape involving a woman, who was, more often than not, married. Sometimes it was not even that and Wessex was merely bored.

Like this time.

All eyes were on them now. Nathaniel began to sweat. He felt their stares, and while he could not hear their whispers, he could easily imagine what they said. There is the charming duke and his awkward friend. Or perhaps they paid him no notice at all. People rarely did when he was standing next to the illustrious Wessex.

Nathaniel glanced at the lady in red. Then he looked away again.

He began to plot his escape. Surely, he could leave after half an hour? That would not be too rude, would it? By that point, Wessex would be occupied with his next victim and would barely notice his presence, anyway. Perhaps he would get a lemonade at the table where the lady in red was standing and then walk the perimeter of the room, saying hello to anyone necessary and leaving the rest alone. Then it would be safe to leave.

He would not dance, of course. Nathaniel never danced.

Again, he looked to the lady in red. Again, he looked away.

“She is something, is she not?” Wessex murmured by his side.


Wessex gave him a speaking glance. It had clearly not escaped his friend’s notice just which female had captured Nathaniel’s attention. “The lady in red.” He eyed the girl speculatively. “A bit sullen, perhaps, but that just adds to her charm. One gets the instinctive feeling that she would not bore a man with chatter of bonnets. If her dance card is not yet full, it will be when I’m through with her.” He spoke with the cocky assurance of a man whose advances were never spurned.

“Hmm.” Nathaniel grunted noncommittally. Lord Sebastien Sinclair, Duke of Wessex, was a rake. One couldn’t expect a rake to ignore a specimen like the lady in red. Why should Nathaniel care if Wessex danced one, three, or twenty dances with the girl? He did not care. But he did want to give his friend a small push down the marble staircase—not enough to kill him, but enough to leave him bruised and unable to dance. Call it an occupational hazard. A rake had to expect the occasional push down a stairway.

Nathaniel was not a rake. He was too brusque to be charming and too unfashionable to be dashing. And as he was already in peril of being pushed down any number of staircases, he felt no need to add to the danger with scorned ladies and cuckolded husbands.

Which was why he had no intention of making the acquaintance of the lady in red. She could take her silky hair and her lovely throat and that adorable scowl and go to— Their eyes met.

Chapter Two