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Excerpt for EVERLASTING ENCHANTMENT
    Book Four in the Relics of Merlin series
Long ago a great wizard was born with magic in his very
blood. He lived for thousands of years and went by many
names, but the one we know best is Merlin.
Merlin passed his magic down through his offspring, and the
power made his children rulers. Some inherited more magic
than others, and eventually titles reflected their gifts. In
Britain, kings and queens held the strongest power. After the
royals, dukes had the greatest magical abilities in that they
could change matter. Marquesses could cast spells and
illusions and transfer objects but not change them. Earls
mastered illusions, while viscounts dabbled in charms and
potions. Barons had a magical gift, which could be as simple
as making flowers grow or as complicated as seeing into the
future.
And then there were the baronets. Part man, part animal, the
shape-shifters were Merlin’s greatest enchantment… and
eventually his greatest bane. For out of all mankind, they
were immune to his magic.
Merlin created thirteen magical relics from the gems of the
earth, a focus for some of his greatest spells. After Merlin’s
disappearance, his children tried to find the relics, since these
items held the only magic stronger than their own. The relics
proved to be elusive until his children discovered that the
shape-shifters they so despised could sniff out the power of
a relic.
Over the centuries the relics faded to legend. But the most
powerful of Merlin’s descendants did not forget, and shape-
shifters
became the secret spies of many rulers.

London, 1839

Where magic has never died…

The Duke of Ghoulston’s coach rocked to a stop
in front of Buckingham Palace and Millicent Pantere
growled low in her throat. A throng of finely dressed
lords and ladies made their way beneath magical shimmering
arches of color into the massive double doors
of the palace to young Queen Victoria’s ball.
“I don’t belong here,” murmured Millicent as anger
curled through her belly. Why couldn’t the duke have
ordered her to fight a legion of ogres armed to the
teeth? Now that she could have managed with relish.
But no, he had to send her up against the cold eyes
and knowing whispers of the nobility. As if she had
any hope of fooling them into thinking she was a lady.
The door of the coach flew open and the duke’s
footman leered in at her. “Time for the ball, Cinderella.”
Millicent’s low growl turned into a snarl. She had
the satisfaction of seeing the footman blink with fear
before the duke spoke from the seat across from her.
“You’d best behave yourself,” he remarked, those
black eyes glittering even in the shadows. “We’ve
doused you with perfume but we can’t be sure it will
entirely hide your scent from the other shape-shifters.
You animals have such gifted noses.”
Millicent tried to take a deep breath but her new
corset stopped her halfway. The blasted thing crackled
whenever she moved, the fabric stiff against her back
and belly, the whalebone inserts lacking the suppleness
of age and wear. When she gathered her brocade
skirts together and exited the carriage, they felt just
the same—stiff and unnatural. She suppressed the urge
to kick at the horsehair petticoats when they threatened
to trip her up as she stepped onto the glittering
walkway. Instead she swept her gloved hands gently
over the swell of fabric below her waist, adjusted the
heavy satin cloak about her shoulders, and waited with
feigned patience for the duke to join her.
The coach bounced upward as the duke stepped
out. Time and rich food had robbed him of the handsomeness
he must have possessed as a youth, but the
powerful confidence he radiated almost made up for it.
His sharp black eyes swept over her as he held out his
arm. “You look lovely, my dear. See to it that all the
months of preparation are not wasted tonight.”
“It won’t work,” snapped Millicent as she took his
arm with a forced smile, revealing the slightly long
canines at the corners of her mouth. “You can’t turn
an animal into a lady in just a few months.”
“You’d best make it work,” murmured the Duke of
Ghoulston as he squeezed her arm. “You have more
to lose than I.”
He swept her into the crowd on the walkway,
his height a match to hers, only his top hat making
him appear taller. Arches of brilliant, magical color
towered over their heads, the flagstones glittered at
their feet, and the walls of the palace reflected the
enchanted light within their diamond-studded
walls.
Although she could look through the illusion if she
tried, Millicent did not bother using her immunity to
magical spells to do so. She might as well derive what
enjoyment she could from her task.
She squinted against the glare. Even after months
of living aboveground, she still couldn’t get used to
the abundance of light. The people up here appeared
to be spoiled by sunshine, for even at night they had
to light their streets and rooms too brightly with fire
and magic.
They entered the doorway, gave up their coats to a
footman, and made their way to the ballroom, lining
up with the other guests as they waited for the young
queen to appear. Millicent tried not to crane her neck
upward and stare. The colored arcs continued into
the ballroom and swept across the enormous ceiling,
cascading down the walls in sapphire, crimson, and
yellow. It reminded her of something she’d seen once,
but she couldn’t quite recall it.
“Rainbows,” whispered the duke as he followed
her gaze. “Surely you’ve seen a rainbow before?”
“Of course,” she replied. Although sunshine didn’t
often penetrate to the depths of the Underground,
she’d found an old complex of tunnels where shafts of
sunlight filtered down the slimy brick walls, making
a splay of color shimmer in the air. The magical
rainbows that decorated the ballroom outrivaled those,
however, even if they appeared to her only as a transparent
illusion. “Do not think I’m impressed by your
kind’s magic. I’m immune to your tricks.”
“Ah, but that’s what makes you so useful, my dear.”
He bestowed a fleshy-lipped smile on her. “That, and
your animal senses.”
Millicent scowled. “It might not even be a relic,” she
whispered. “Merlin’s relics are only a myth, after all.”
“Are they?” replied the duke. “Take a look around.
A good look.”
Millicent blinked against the glare, but studied the
room. They stood at the beginning of the line, among
the upper nobility who possessed the highest titles and
therefore, the most magic. At the end of the line stood
the shape-shifters
who were immune to magic. Most
of them rivaled the other nobility with their physical
beauty, but that wasn’t what held her attention. The
duke had told her that aboveground, the Master of the
Hall of Mages—uncle to the queen—championed
the baronets. If the Duke of Ghoulston thought Millicent
could steal this relic he suspected was hidden here, it
made sense that other baronets could sniff out a relic as
well. Perhaps that explained their value to the Crown.
“Are there usually this many baronets at a ball?”
“Good girl. No, they detest society as much as we
detest them.”
Millicent’s nostrils flared. Now that she knew their
nature, she could catch the scent of the other weres,
despite the smells of perfume and melted candle wax
and fairylight dust. “Predators. All of them.”
“They hunt, my dear.”
She nodded. The Underground harbored many
shape-shifters.
But besides Bran, who could shape-shift
to bear, they mostly consisted of jackals and hyenas
and the like. Scavengers. She’d never seen so many
akin to her. She smelled lions and tigers and leopards.
Oh my.
Millicent frowned. “And you expect me to find this
relic before they do?”
“You have an advantage, my dear. Me.”
If he called her my dear one more time… Her anger
stirred the beast inside her and Millicent counted
beneath her breath to ten. By the last count the red
haze had cleared, and she could think rationally again.
She huffed out a breath. She should be grateful for the
duke’s arrogance, if it meant that she would succeed
in her task.
The duke’s gaze followed hers, and his bushy brows
lowered as he stared at the group of shape-shifters.
“If anything goes wrong, meet me back at my underground
castle. Use the graveyard entrance I showed you.”
“So you’re not as confident as you pretend to be,”
scoffed Millicent.
The duke squeezed her arm painfully. “Do not, by
any means, return to my mansion in Gargoyle Square.
Do you understand?”
It took all of her willpower not to fling him across
the room. “Don’t worry. The beast of darkness will
return to her lair.”
He nodded in satisfaction, completely missing the
sarcasm in her voice.
A hush descended over the guests and a diminutive
woman entered the room. Millicent would never have
guessed her to be the queen if her ladies and advisors
hadn’t surrounded her. Queen Victoria slowly went
down the line of nobility, stopping occasionally to
speak to an honored few. By the time she reached the
Duke of Ghoulston, Millicent’s muscles had tightened
like a bowstring within her costume. She would never
be able to fool the Queen of England into thinking
she was a lady.
“Ah, Lord Ghoulston,” said the queen, holding
out her hand. “Did you ride today?” Her blue eyes
looked at him owlishly. The queen had an innocent
gaiety that made Millicent feel much older than her
one-and-
twenty
years. And tarnished by comparison.
The duke swept his fleshy lips just above the
surface of her lace glove and straightened. “Yes,
Your Majesty.”
“How did you find the weather?”
“Er, quite fine.”
“That’s good. I also went riding… and who is this
lovely lady?”
Millicent kept the bland smile on her face by sheer
force of will.
“The cousin of a cousin,” replied the duke. “Up
from the country to experience the delights of London.”
Millicent remembered to curtsy. She managed it
without falling over and with only a slight pinch from
her corset, rising with a grin of relief.
“I see.” The queen leaned toward her conspiratorially.
Millicent bent down, embarrassed by her height
for the first time in her life. “The gigot sleeves are
quite out, you know.”
Millicent had no idea what the queen meant. She
glanced at her puffy sleeves, seeing little difference in
the queen’s own, except for a narrowing at the shoulders.
She struggled for a response. “Thank you for the
advice, Your Majesty.”
The queen smiled beatifically and moved down the
line. Before Millicent had the chance to comprehend
that the queen had actually thought she was a lady, and
had spoken to her as one, a real lady stepped in front of
them. “Willie. What a pleasure to see you.”
Millicent smothered her smile at the lady’s use
of the duke’s first name. She wondered how many
people managed to get away with the impertinence,
and took an instant liking to the other woman.
“Lady Yardley,” crowed the duke. “You look
as elegant as ever. May I introduce you to Lady
Millicent?” He lowered his voice. “She’s just up from
the country and this is her first soiree.”
The woman turned and gave Millicent the full
force of her smile. Despite the past several months of
training to transform her into a true lady, Millicent
now could see the real definition of one. Lady
Yardley’s auburn hair had been curled at the sides of
her head and formed into an elegant knot at the top—with
not a single strand loose about her face, unlike
Millicent’s own straggling coiffure of inky black hair.
The woman’s soft hazel eyes spoke of sophistication,
while Millicent’s own amber gaze glittered with the
hardness of surviving in a cruel world. The lady’s calm
demeanor commanded respect, something Millicent
could never hope to imitate.
The duke scowled at Millicent and she remembered
to curtsy again. He gave Lady Yardley a look that
apologized for the ill grace of a country bumpkin.
“Millicent, my dear. May I introduce Lady Yardley,
Lady of the Bedchamber to the queen, and daughter
to the Earl of Sothby?”
“How do you do?” mumbled Millicent.
The duke’s ploy of passing Millicent off as a country
lass appeared to work. Lady Yardley’s eyes softened
with sympathy and she held out her arm. “This must
appear all very grand to you, I’m sure. Just remember
that half is magic and the other half self-delusion.”
Millicent smiled uncertainly and stared in alarm at
the lady’s silk-glovedhand.
What under-the-earth was she supposed to do with it?
Lady Yardley solved the dilemma by curling her
arm under Millicent’s. “Allow me to introduce you,
dear girl. Your striking looks are sure to cause a stir
and I shall be ever so grateful to be in the thick of it.
You don’t mind, do you, Willie?”
“As you wish, Lady Yardley,” mumbled the duke
as he gave Millicent a triumphant wink.
Millicent allowed the lady to escort her through
the press of people. She feared that the duke might
be a tad too confident. Just because he’d managed
to pair her with the cream of society didn’t mean
the lady had fallen for their ruse. She expected her
companion to halt at any moment and denounce her
for an imposter.
Instead she found herself introduced to one
gentleman after another, until they had a trail of
handsome young men following in their wake. Not
only did they accept her as a lady but not one of them
suspected her were-nature.
And fortunately Lady Yardley didn’t introduce her to any
baronets, who would surely be able to sniff out her secrets.
Millicent began to relax. To her surprise, she began
to enjoy herself.
When the orchestra struck up a tune, Millicent
declined one dance invitation after another, even
though she gave the rainbow-draped
floor more than
one wistful glance. She’d just been taught the steps to
waltz a few weeks ago and didn’t trust herself not to
stomp upon her partner’s feet. Besides, she didn’t want
to draw any further attention to herself. Lady Yardley
appeared to be doing a bloody good job of that already.
“You are breaking hearts right and left,” laughed
the lady. “Don’t you wish to dance, Lady Millicent?”
“Please, call me Millicent,” she replied. She’d
always hated the title of lady, since it lacked an estate
to make it meaningful. And in general, people had no
use for titles in the Underground.
“Then you must call me Claire.”
“Well, Claire, I’m afraid I’m only used to
country tunes.”
“Of course, I should have realized. Still, it’s been
such fun being the center of attention. But you don’t
appear to enjoy that either, do you? As your new
friend in London, I’m determined to make your first
ball memorable. You’ll have to give me a clue as to
how I might manage to accomplish that.”
Millicent felt dismayed by Claire’s declaration of
friendship. And then she reminded herself that Lady
Yardley’s friendship could only be as real as Millicent’s
own charade. She had best concentrate on her task so
she could go back to where she belonged.
She glanced around and noticed that two baronets
had their gazes locked on her from across the room.
A solid chap with a mane of golden hair and a scarred
face studied her with a confused frown. The other
shape-shifter tossed a thatch of orange-streaked
hair off his forehead and stared at her with an angry, almost
hungry gaze. They started to move in her direction.
“I should very much like to meet Lady Chatterly,”
blurted Millicent. The duke had told her that rumors
had the relic in the possession of Lady Chatterly, and
although Millicent had hoped to eventually meet her,
she feared that she now didn’t have the time for a
chance encounter.
Lady Yardley’s elegantly arched brows rose in
surprise, and then she giggled. “Oh, my. I should have
known. She is rumored to be rather fast, isn’t she? I
imagine her reputation would shock… and fascinate
you, yes?”
Millicent lowered her lashes. “You won’t tell
His Grace about my request, will you? I’m afraid he
wouldn’t understand.”
“Why, Willie has—”
The woman gave a delicate cough. “No, of course not. I shan’t
breathe a word of it to him.”
“Oh, thank you.” Millicent looked over her
shoulder. Two pairs of predatory eyes blinked back at
her. She suppressed the growl that threatened to shoot
up her throat and turned back to her companion. “I’m
most eager to meet the, er, famous lady. Shall we?”
Instead of taking offense at Millicent’s tug on her
arm, Claire laughed and pulled in the opposite direction.
“She’s this way. And don’t think I didn’t catch
that little stumble. I think notorious would be a more
likely description than famous.” She breezed right past
the two baronets, who glared at Millicent and spun to
follow them.
The crowd parted easily for Lady Yardley. Not so
for the baronets, and they soon lost the men in the
press of people. Millicent breathed a sigh of relief. And
then she realized the direction Claire had taken.
Millicent ducked her head as they pressed through
a group of baronets. She hardly dared to breathe.
She had intended to escape only two, and now Lady
Yardley had dragged her into a pack of them.
“That’s a charming dress,” said Claire, eyeing
Millicent’s brocade gown, chatting gaily away, as if
being surrounded by predators didn’t matter to her
one whit. “Where in London did you find a seamstress
who can craft such skillful rosettes?”
Surely her companion knew that baronets had the
strength to rip them to shreds? Millicent could barely
focus on a reply, while every hair on the back of her
neck stood upright with alarm. She had no idea where
the dress had come from. But she’d learned that when
in doubt, a half-truth is better than an outright lie.
“His Grace provided me with a wardrobe. He said my
country clothing would put him to shame.”
“Hmph. Well, he was probably right. Willie has
always had impeccable good taste. I think that’s why I
admire him so—you certainly aren’t blocking my way,
are you, sir?”
A large man with a hawkish nose stood in front
of Lady Yardley, his enormous liquid eyes fixed on
Millicent. He bowed aside at her companion’s words
but not before he shot Millicent a look of raptorial
hunger. Ordinarily a bird of prey wouldn’t frighten
her. But a shifter’s were-form could be larger than
their human form. Did Claire truly not know what
type of creature she brushed aside? Or did her status as
a lady provide her with such confident security?
Millicent didn’t have such protection.
Her companion finally tugged her into the space
between the shape-shifters and another cluster of aristocratic
gentlemen.
Millicent took a deep breath and refused to turn around and look
into the eyes of all the weres that burned holes in the back of her
neck.
She’d noticed several female baronets among them,
but apparently the aristocracy knew of their natures
and they also weren’t allowed to penetrate their group.
But the gentlemen parted for Lady Yardley and her
companion. The Duke of Ghoulston had been right.
Millicent’s anonymity provided her access.
The heightened senses of her were-nature
allowed her to overhear the comments of the aristocrats
as she passed.
“Here come two more ladies.”
“Hush. I’m trying to hear what they’re saying.”
“Well, I’d jolly well give my best horse to know
what they’re hiding,” said his fellow loudly.
Lady Yardley’s mouth curled into a secretive smile.
“Haven’t you heard? Lord Dunwist told me that
his wife has been acting strange lately. Ever since
she made friends with Lady Chatterly, she’s been as
demanding as his mistress.”
“Good gawd, man, that’s preposterous! Ladies
should behave according to their station.”
“I hear there’s some sort of powerful magic involved.”
“Damn it, man. I say we should do something
about this.”
But they didn’t appear to know precisely what
that might be, because as Millicent passed through
their group to where a circle of ladies stood, not a
one of the top hats made a move to follow them. A
tall woman with iridescent strix feathers in her hair
glanced up and smiled. The circle of women opened
to let them in, their wide skirts smashing back together
as they closed the gap behind them.
“Lady Chatterly,” said Claire. “How good to see
you again.”
The feathers trembled. “We were just about to
retire to the salon. It seems that we have attracted
some attention.” Her clear gray eyes focused on
Millicent. “And who have we here?”
“Allow me to introduce you to Lady Millicent.
She’s from the country.”
Millicent blinked innocently at the notorious
lady, who bestowed an anticipatory smile upon
her. “She may join us, since you vouch for her,
Lady Yardley. It should be… amusing to have her
amongst us.”
With a sweep of her skirts, Lady Chatterly made
for a door set near a golden urn at the bottom of
one of the rainbows. The other ladies followed, their
gowns looking like so many silk flowers clustered in
a bouquet. Millicent snuck a glance behind them as
she passed through the door into the salon. The group
of curious gentlemen followed, and the shape-shifters
watched with angry, hooded eyes.
The last lady through the door firmly closed it
behind her, drawing the bolt with a resounding snap.
The room had been decorated years ago, rather
garishly, with portraits of the royal family in huge gilt
frames, heavy furniture of mauve and crimson, and
silver candelabra stands in every corner. A fireplace
large enough for Millicent to stand nearly upright in
crackled with a merry blaze against the autumn chill.
Lady Chatterly enthroned herself on a chair set
before a highly polished table. “Ladies, please sit
down. I have much to tell you and I fear we have
little time.”
Millicent sat near the closest window, the cold
seeping in around the panes and cooling her hot
cheeks. Sunshine spoiled the dwellers aboveground
in other ways, for they kept their rooms too warm
for someone who had lived her entire life in the cold
dank of the Underground. She watched the eager
faces of the other ladies, hoping that whatever Lady
Chatterly had to say would involve the relic. Claire
took a seat close to Millicent, as if to protect her,
which she found endearing.
“First,” said Lady Chatterly, “we must strengthen
the wards to keep the prying magic of our men from
the room.”
Millicent’s heart skipped as several of the women
clasped hands to perform a warding spell. She blew out
a sigh of relief when several of the ladies just folded
their hands in their lap. They must not have the title or
the power to perform such a spell, and wouldn’t think
it amiss that Millicent didn’t join in either.
She could see the magic forming as a slight haze, feel
it prickle the skin on her arms, but otherwise the spell
didn’t affect her. It wouldn’t affect the other weres in
the ballroom either, so the doors and walls would have
to suffice. Millicent hoped they were thick.
“Now then,” said Lady Chatterly when they
finished the spell. “There’s a back exit across the
room.” She nodded toward the far wall. “And a
carriage waiting for the one the relic will choose. As
some of you already know, the only condition is that
you tell no one the relic is in your possession, and you
return it to me on the morrow. Are you newcomers
clear on that?”
Several women nodded their heads, although a few
looked frightened. Millicent mimicked the expression
of fear while her mind calculated with truly frightening
intensity. The duke had been right; the relic existed.
These women had been harboring a dangerous secret.
But why would Lady Chatterly allow other women to
borrow such a powerful thing?
“You are so generous, my lady,” breathed Millicent,
trying to sound adoring instead of suspicious.
Lady Chatterly shrugged. “I made a promise.” She
didn’t elaborate on her explanation and Millicent
resisted the urge to press. Besides, what did it matter,
when it only made it easier for her to get her hands
on the relic?
Instead Millicent worried about what the woman
meant when she said the relic would choose one
of the ladies. She would have to follow the woman
somehow, catch her alone or asleep in order to steal
the thing. At least she had a significant advantage
over the other shape-shifters
still in the ballroom. She would know which of the women
had the relic. She studied the ladies around her, some old,
some just barely out of the schoolroom.
Lady Yardley leaned forward, her hazel eyes bright
with reflected candlelight. “He’s real then?”
“Of course.” Lady Chatterly gave her a dreamy
smile. Several other women nodded just as dreamily
with her. “Quite real, I assure you.”
“And how will the relic choose?” persisted Claire.
“Really, darling, you must quit being so mysterious
and give us more information. There are too many of
us innocents here tonight.”
The feathers in Lady Chatterly’s hair swayed with
her nod. She removed her gloves and then set her
reticule on the shiny surface of the table. The fidgeting
of the younger girls ceased as they all stared at the
embroidered silk bag. An expectant silence fell, only
the muffled strains of the music from the ballroom
disturbing it.
Lady Chatterly loosened the drawstring and
removed an exquisite ivory fan, a gold-embossed
dancing card, and a silver filigree perfume box. Silk
swished and corsets strained as the ladies leaned closer
for a better look. With a dramatic flourish, the lady
dug something out from the very bottom of the bag,
set it on the table, and swept everything else aside.
Some of the ladies sighed with disappointment,
but Millicent’s heart skipped. It looked old. Old
enough to be a true relic. A solid band of dull silver
with a round stone set in the center. The blue-gray
shimmer of the jewel hypnotized her for a moment;
the wink of the fire reflected in the depths made
her heart twist with something she couldn’t define.
“What is that gem?”
“A moonstone,” murmured Lady Yardley. “A
common enough jewel, although I’ve never seen one
with quite so much translucence.”
“Each of you will try it on. Like so.” Lady Chatterly
slipped the large band easily over her hand and up her
arm. “I know it looks rather big, but if you’re chosen,
it will tighten to a snug fit.” She stared at the relic for
a moment, then sighed in disappointment as it fell off
her wrist. “Well, one can still hope.”
“What do you mean?” asked a rather matronly woman.
Lady Chatterly answered the question in a roundabout
way. “He will come to you at midnight and
disappear with the dawn. He won’t appear twice to
the same woman, so there’s no use in keeping the
relic longer.” Her gray eyes glittered as her voice
lowered to a husky whisper. “He will make your
every desire come true. And some that you didn’t
even know you had.”
“Who?” demanded Lady Yardley.
“His name is Gareth Solimere and he wears the
clothing of a knight of the Round Table… yes, as in
King Arthur. He has been trapped in the relic for a
long time.”
Questions spun through Millicent’s head. She could
see her questions mirrored on the faces of the others,
but Lady Chatterly held up her hand to forgo them.
“Trust me, they are not important. Once you look
into his brown eyes, run your fingers through his
ebony hair, feel the touch of his lips upon yours…”
Giggles and gasps followed her words but Lady
Chatterly seemed lost in rapturous memory. Millicent
rolled her eyes in disgust. So that’s what all these
women were in such a twitter about? A man? Her
mother had taught her about men. Enough to know
to stay away from them.
She fought the urge to stomp from the room.
One of the youngest girls—her cheeks a bright
pink—had the temerity to say, “What did he do to you?”
“Aah. Shall I make my reputation even more
notorious?” Lady Chatterly asked herself rather loudly.
“Is it possible?” countered Claire with a laugh.
“Certainly.” Those pale gray eyes sparkled in challenge
and her feathers danced a jig on her head. “I
thought I knew myself. I have been married, after all.”
The few women who had kept themselves apart
from the circle around the table suddenly drew closer.
The room had been fraught with tension since they
entered. Now the walls fairly vibrated. Even Millicent
couldn’t resist the urge to lean forward expectantly.
Lady Chatterly’s voice lowered to a mere whisper.
“He knew exactly how to ignite my passion. He knew
how naughty I’ve been…”
Her hand flew to her breast as her breath quickened.
“He slowly removed my clothing piece by piece…”
A handful of the younger girls, and a few of the
older, swooned.
“…and he spanked me soundly.”
Skirts flew up right and left as several of the ladies
fainted. Millicent reflexively rose to catch someone
but couldn’t decide whom and froze in indecision.
Lady Yardley blinked at her in surprise. Millicent’s
were-nature allowed her to move faster than an
ordinary human, so it was probably just as well she had
frozen before fully betraying her true nature. She gave
Claire a weak smile and slowly sat back down.
“I stand corrected,” said Lady Yardley as she pulled
smelling salts out of her reticule and handed them to
another woman to administer to the fallen. “Your reputation
is now even more notorious, Lady Chatterly.”
The matron who had spoken earlier gave an elegant
snort, then quickly slipped off her gloves, pushed
back the voluminous sleeves of her black gown, and
held out her arm. Lady Chatterly gave her a knowing
grin and slipped the band of silver over the woman’s
knobby-knuckled hand up to her wrist. Then easily
pulled it off again.
“Maybe next time,” murmured Lady Chatterly in
sympathy before trying it on another woman. And
then another.
Millicent’s heart started to pound and she felt a little
faint while the lady drew closer as the relic failed to
tighten around anyone’s wrist. Bloody corset. It didn’t
allow one to breathe properly. Of course they would
expect her to try it on.
Lady Chatterly suddenly stood next to her,
tapped her slippered foot impatiently while Millicent
carefully removed her gloves. The lady thrust the
bracelet at her. The cold metal touched her fingers
and Millicent suppressed a shudder. She had nothing
to fear. It wouldn’t choose her… she had no use for
any man. Besides, her immunity to magic meant it
couldn’t cast a spell on her. Although hadn’t Lady
Chatterly assured them that the bracelet, and the man
trapped within, were as real as the chair she sat upon?
Then she would be just as vulnerable as any of these
other women.
But the last thing she would ever desire in her
life would be a man. No, she was nothing like these
other women.
When the metal warmed and tightened around her
wrist, it took every ounce of willpower Millicent had
to suppress a choking snarl. Magic might be making
the bracelet shrink, but the metal felt wholly of this
earth, and her immunity to magic would not help. She
wanted the relic for the duke, but not this way! She
tried to push the bracelet off, but it would no longer
fit back over her hand.
“Ah, the country girl,” crowed Lady Chatterly.
“Don’t look so alarmed, dear. You wanted to gain some
sophistication from a trip to London, and now you shall
have more than you could have ever dreamed.”
Millicent dug her fingers under the silver, trying
to rip the thing off using the full strength of her
were-self.
Several of the women patted her shoulder
in congratulations and then headed toward the door
to the ballroom. Millicent turned and stared at Claire
in horror.
“I didn’t think… truly, I’m so sorry, Millicent.”
“Nonsense,” snapped Lady Chatterly. “You did her
an enormous favor. The girl just doesn’t know it yet.
Now, come along. The ladies are anxious to get back
to the ball and we must get you out of here before
they open the door.”
Millicent could only nod and follow. Her plan
had been to steal the relic so she could give it to the
duke. She had no desire to possess it herself. And she
certainly didn’t care a whit about the man trapped
inside, or his ability to pleasure a woman.
Lady Chatterly led her into a dark hallway and
handed Millicent over to a young footman who took
her out into the night and ushered her into a black
carriage. The horses snorted and stomped their way
into the foggy streets of London while Millicent tried
to reassure herself.
Lady Chatterly said the bracelet would stay on her
wrist for only one night. So Millicent figured all she
had to do was let this Gareth person know it had been
a mistake for the relic to choose her, and then give it
to the duke the next morning.
Surely it would be as easy as that.
And then the gem on the bracelet began to glow,
and a man appeared across from her, and Millicent’s
mouth dropped open.