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Lord of Darkness
Read by Emma Taylor
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He lives in the shadows. As the mysterious masked avenger known as the Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St. John’s only goal is to protect the innocent of London. Until the night he confronts a fearless young lady pointing a pistol at his head-and realizes she is his wife . . .
BECOME LOVERS . . .
Lady Margaret Reading has vowed to kill the Ghost of St. Giles-the man who murdered her one true love. Returning to London, and to the man she hasn’t seen since their wedding day, Margaret does not recognize the man behind the mask. Fierce, commanding, and dangerous, the notorious Ghost of St. Giles is everything she feared he would be-and so much more . . .
DESIRE IS THE ULTIMATE DANGER
When passion flares, these two intimate strangers can’t keep from revealing more of themselves than they had ever planned. But when Margaret learns the truth-that the Ghost is her husband-the game is up and the players must surrender . . . to the temptation that could destroy them both.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Duke of Midnight
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Have you ever heard tell of the Hellequin?…
—From The Legend of the Hellequin
The night Godric St. John saw his wife for the first time since their marriage two years previously, she was aiming a pistol at his head. Lady Margaret stood beside her carriage in the filthy St. Giles street, her glossy, dark curls tumbling from the velvet hood of her cloak. Her shoulders were square, both hands firmly grasped the pistol, and a murderous gleam shone in her pretty eyes. For a split second, Godric caught his breath in admiration.
In the next moment, Lady Margaret pulled the trigger.
The report was deafening but fortunately not fatal, as his wife was apparently an execrable shot. This did not reassure Godric as much as it should have, because Lady Margaret immediately turned and pulled a second pistol from her carriage.
Even the worst shots could get lucky on occasion.
But Godric hadn't the time to meditate on the odds of his wife actually murdering him tonight. He was too busy saving her ungrateful hide from the half-dozen footpads who had stopped her carriage here, in the most dangerous part of London.
Godric ducked the enormous fist coming at his head and kicked the footpad in the stomach. The man grunted but didn't go down, probably because he was as big as a draft horse. Instead, the robber began a counterclockwise circle of Godric as his compatriots—four of them, and every one quite as well fed—closed in on him.
Godric narrowed his eyes and raised his swords, a long one in his right hand, a short one in his left for defense and close fighting, and—
God's balls—Lady Margaret fired her second pistol at him.
The gunshot shattered the night, echoing off the decrepit buildings lining the narrow street. Godric felt a tug on his short cape as the lead ball went through the wool.
Lady Margaret swore with a startling breadth of vocabulary.
The footpad nearest Godric grinned, revealing teeth the color of week-old piss. "Don't like 'e much, now, do she?"
Not precisely true. Lady Margaret was trying to kill the Ghost of St. Giles. Unfortunately, she had no way of knowing that the Ghost of St. Giles happened to be her husband. The black leather mask on Godric's face hid his identity quite effectively.
For a moment, all of St. Giles seemed to hold its breath. The sixth robber still stood, both of his pistols aimed at Lady Margaret's coachman and two footmen. A female spoke in low, urgent tones from inside the carriage, no doubt trying to lure Lady Margaret back to safety. The lady herself glared from her stance beside the carriage, apparently oblivious to the fact that she might be murdered—or worse—if Godric failed to save her from the robbers. High overhead, the wan moon looked down dispassionately on the crumbling brick buildings, the broken cobblestones underfoot, and a single chandler's shop sign creaking wearily in the wind.
Godric leaped at the still-grinning footpad.
Lady Margaret might be a foolish chit for being here, and the footpad might be merely following the instincts of any feral predator who runs down the careless prey that ventures into his path, but it mattered not. Godric was the Ghost of St. Giles, protector of the weak, a predator to be feared himself, lord of St. Giles and the night, and, damn it, Lady Margaret's husband.
So Godric stabbed fast and low, impaling the footpad before his grin had time to disappear. The man grunted and began to fall as Godric elbowed another footpad advancing behind him. The man's nose shattered with a crunching sound.
Godric pulled his sword free in a splatter of scarlet and whirled, slashing at a third man. His sword opened a swath of blood diagonally across the man's cheek, and the footpad stumbled back, screaming, his hands to his face.
The remaining two attackers hesitated, which in a street fight was nearly always fatal.
Godric charged them, the sword in his right hand whistling as it swept toward one of the footpads. His strike missed, but he stabbed the short sword in his left hand deep into the thigh of the fifth footpad. The man shrieked. Both robbers backed away and then turned to flee.
Godric straightened, his chest heaving as he caught his breath and looked around. The only robber still standing was the one with the pistols.
The coachman—a thickset man of middling years with a tough, reddened face—narrowed his eyes at the robber and pulled a pistol out from under his seat.
The last footpad turned and fled without a sound.
"Shoot him," Lady Margaret snapped. Her voice trembled, but Godric had the feeling it was from rage rather than fear.
"M'lady?" The coachman looked at his mistress, confused, since the footpads were now out of sight.
But Godric knew quite well that she wasn't ordering the murder of a footpad, and suddenly something inside of him—something he'd thought dead for years—woke.
His nostrils flared as he stepped over the body of the man he'd killed for her. "No need to thank me."
He spoke in a whisper to disguise his voice, but she seemed to have no trouble hearing him.
The bloodthirsty wench actually clenched her teeth, hissing, "I wasn't about to."
"No?" He cocked his head, his smile grim. "Not even a kiss for good luck?"
Her eyes dropped to his mouth, left uncovered by the half-mask, and her upper lip curled in disgust. "I'd rather embrace an adder."
Oh, that's lovely. His smile widened. "Frightened of me, sweeting?"
He watched, fascinated, as she opened her mouth, no doubt to scorch his hide with her retort, but she was interrupted before she could speak.
"Thank you!" cried a feminine voice from inside the carriage.
Lady Margaret scowled and turned. Apparently she was close enough to see the speaker in the dark even if he couldn't. "Don't thank him! He's a murderer."
"He hasn't murdered us," the woman in the carriage pointed out. "Besides, it's too late. I've thanked him for both of us, so climb in the carriage and let's leave this awful place before he changes his mind."
The set of Lady Margaret's jaw reminded Godric of a little girl denied a sweet.
"She's right, you know," he whispered to her. "Believe it or not, toffs have been known to be accosted by footpads in this very spot."
"Megs!" hissed the female in the carriage.
Lady Margaret's glare could've scorched wood. "I shall find you again, and when I do, I intend to kill you."
She was completely in earnest, her stubborn little chin set.
He took off his large floppy hat and swept her a mocking bow. "I look forward to dying in your arms, sweeting."
Her eyes narrowed on his wicked double entendre, but her companion was muttering urgently now. Lady Margaret gave him one last look of disdain before ducking inside her carriage.
The coachman shouted to the horses, and the vehicle rumbled away.
And Godric St. John realized two things: his lady wife was apparently over her mourning—and he'd better make it back to his town house before her carriage arrived. He paused for a second, glancing at the body of the man he'd killed. Black blood wound in a sluggish trail to the channel in the middle of the lane. The man's eyes stared glassily at the indifferent heavens. Godric searched within himself, looking for some emotion… and found what he always did.
He whirled and darted down a narrow alley. Only now that he was moving did he notice that his right shoulder ached. He'd either damaged something in the brawl or one of the footpads had succeeded in landing a blow. No matter. Saint House was on the river, not terribly far in the usual way, but he'd get there faster by rooftop.
He was already swinging himself up onto the top of a shed when he heard it: shrill, girlish screams, coming from around the bend in the alley up ahead.
Damn it. He hadn't the time for this. Godric dropped back down to the alley and drew both his swords.
Another terrified cry.
He darted around the corner.
There were two of them, which accounted for all the noise. One was not more than five. She stood, shaking, in the middle of the reeking alley, screaming with all of her might. She could do little else because the second child had already been caught. That one was a bit older and fought with the desperate ferocity of a cornered rat, but to no avail.
The man who held the older child was three times her size and cuffed her easily on the side of the head.
The older girl crumpled to the ground while the smaller one ran to her still form.
The man bent toward the children.
"Oi!" Godric growled.
The man looked up. "What th—"
Godric laid him flat with a right haymaker to the side of the head.
He placed his sword at the man's bared throat and leaned down to whisper, "Doesn't feel very good when you're on the receiving end, does it?"
The oaf scowled, his hand rubbing the side of his head. "Now see 'ere. I 'as a right to do as I please wif me own girls."
"We're not your girls!"
Godric saw out of the corner of his eye that the elder chit had sat up.
" 'E's not our da!"
Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, making him snarl.
"Get on to your home," he urged in a low voice to the girls. "I'll deal with this ruffian."
"We don't 'ave a 'ome," the smaller child whimpered.
She'd barely got the words out when the elder nudged her and hissed, "Shut it!"
Godric was tired and the news that the children were homeless distracted him. That was what he told himself anyway when the rogue on the ground swept his legs out from under him.
Godric hit the cobblestones rolling. He surged to his feet, but the man was already rounding the corner at the far end of the alley.
He sighed, wincing as he straightened. He'd landed on his injured shoulder and it was not thanking him for the treat.
He glanced at the girls. "Best come with me, then."
The smaller child obediently began to rise, but the elder pulled her back down. "Don't be daft, Moll. 'E's as like to be a lassie snatcher as the other one."
Godric raised his eyebrows at the words lassie snatcher. He hadn't heard that name for a while. He shook his head. He hadn't time to dig into these matters now. Lady Margaret would reach his home soon, and if he wasn't there, awkward questions might arise.
"Come," he said, holding out his hand to the girls. "I'm not a lassie snatcher, and I know a nice, warm place where you can spend the night." And many nights hereafter.
He thought his tone gentle enough, but the elder girl's face wrinkled mutinously. "We're not going wif you."
Godric smiled pleasantly—before swooping down and scooping one child over his shoulder and the other under his arm. "Oh, yes, you are."
It wasn't that simple, of course. The elder cursed quite shockingly for a female child of such tender years, while the younger burst into tears, and they both fought like wildcats.
Five minutes later he was within sight of the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children when he nearly dropped them both.
"Ow!" He swallowed stronger language and took a firmer grip on the elder child, who had come perilously close to unmanning him.
Grimly, Godric stalked to the back door of the St. Giles orphanage and kicked at it until a light appeared in the kitchen window.
The door swung open to reveal a tall man in rumpled shirtsleeves and breeches.
Winter Makepeace, the manager of the home, arched an eyebrow at the sight of the Ghost of St. Giles, holding two struggling, weeping girls on his doorstep.
Godric hadn't time for explanations.
"Here." He unceremoniously dumped the children on the kitchen tiles and glanced at the bemused manager. "I'd advise a firm hold—they're slipperier than greased eels."
With that, he swung shut the home's door, turned, and sprinted toward his town house.
LADY MARGARET ST. John started shaking the moment her carriage left St. Giles. The Ghost had been so large, so frighteningly deadly in his movements. When he'd advanced on her, his bloody swords gripped in his big, leather-clad hands and his eyes glinting behind his grotesque mask, it had been all she could do to hold herself still.
Megs inhaled, trying to quiet the quicksilver racing through her veins. She'd spent two years hating the man, but she'd never expected, when she finally met him, to feel so… so…
She glanced down at the heavy pistols in her lap and then across the carriage to her dear friend and sister-in-law, Sarah St. John. "I'm sorry. That was…"
"An idiotic idea?" Sarah arched one light brown eyebrow. Her straight-as-a-pin hair varied from mouse-brown to the lightest shade of gold and was tucked back into a sedate and very orderly knot at the back of her head.
In contrast, Megs's own dark, curly hair had mostly escaped from its pins hours ago and was now waving about her face like a tentacled sea monster.
Megs frowned. "Well, I don't know if idiotic is quite—"
"Addled?" Sarah supplied crisply. "Boneheaded? Daft? Foolish? Ill-advised?"
"While all of those adjectives are in part appropriate," Megs interjected primly before Sarah could continue her list—her friend's vocabulary was quite extensive—"I think ill-advised might be the most applicable. I am so sorry for putting your life in danger."
Megs blinked. "What?"
Sarah leaned a little forward so that her face came into the carriage lantern's light. Sarah usually had the sweet countenance of a gently reared maiden lady—which at five and twenty she was—belied only by a certain mocking humor lurking at the back of her soft brown eyes, but right now she might've been an Amazon warrior.
"Your life, Megs," Sarah replied. "You risked not only my life and the lives of the servants, but your life as well. What could possibly be important enough to venture into St. Giles at this time of night?"
Megs looked away from her dearest friend. Sarah had come to live with her at the St. John estate in Cheshire nearly a year after Megs's marriage to Godric, so Sarah didn't know the real reason for their hasty nuptials.
Megs shook her head, gazing out the carriage window. "I'm sorry. I just wanted to see…"
When she didn't finish the sentence, Sarah moved restlessly. "See what?"
Where Roger was murdered. Even the thought sent a shard of dull pain through her heart. She'd directed Tom the coachman to drive into St. Giles, hoping to find some lingering trace of Roger. There hadn't been, of course. He'd been long dead. Long lost to her. But she'd had a second reason to look around St. Giles: to learn more about Roger's murderer, the Ghost of St. Giles. And in that, at least, she'd succeeded. The Ghost had appeared. She hadn't been adequately prepared tonight, but next time she would be.
Next time she wouldn't let him get away.
Next time she'd blast a bullet through the Ghost of St. Giles's black heart.
"Megs?" Her friend's gentle murmur interrupted her bloody thoughts.
Megs shook her head and smiled brightly—perhaps too brightly—at her dear friend. "Never mind."
"Goodness, are we here already?" Megs's change of subject was not subtle, but the carriage was slowing as if they'd finally arrived at their destination.
She leaned forward, peering out the window. The street was dark.
Megs frowned. "Maybe not."
Sarah crossed her arms. "What do you see?"
"We're on a narrow, winding lane and there's a tall, dark house up ahead. It looks very… um…"
Megs glanced at her companion. "Yes?"
Sarah nodded once. "That's Saint House, then. It's as old as dust, didn't you know? Didn't you see Saint House when you married my brother?"
"No." Megs pretended to be engrossed in the dim view out the window. "The wedding breakfast was at my brother's house and I left London a sennight after." And in between she'd been bedridden at her mother's house. Megs pushed the sad memory from her mind. "How old is Saint House?"
"Medieval and, as I remember, quite drafty in winter."
"And not in the most fashionable part of London, either," Sarah continued cheerfully. "Right on the riverbank. But that's what you get when your family came over with the Conqueror: venerable old buildings without a lick of modern style or convenience."
"I'm sure it's quite famous," Megs said, trying to be loyal. She was a St. John now after all.
"Oh, yes," Sarah said, her tone dry. "Saint House has been mentioned in more than one history. No doubt that'll comfort you when your toes turn to blocks of ice in the middle of the night."
"If it's so awful, then why did you accompany me to London?" Megs asked.
"To see the sights and shop, of course." Sarah sounded quite cheerful despite her gloomy description of Saint House. "It's been forever since I was last in London."
The carriage jerked to a halt at that moment, and Sarah began gathering her needlework basket and shawls. Oliver, the younger of the two footmen Megs had brought with them, opened the door to the carriage. He wore a white wig as part of his livery, but it didn't disguise his red eyebrows.
"Never thought we'd make it alive," Oliver muttered as he set the steps. "Was a close one with them footpads, if'n you don't mind me saying so, m'lady."
"You and Johnny were very brave," Megs said as she stepped down. She glanced up at her coachman. "And you, too, Tom."
The coachman grunted and hunched his broad shoulders. "Ye an' Miss St. John best be gettin' inside, m'lady, where 'tis safe."
"I will." Megs turned to the house and only then noticed the second carriage, already drawn up outside.
Sarah stepped down beside her. "It looks like your great-aunt Elvina arrived before us."
"Yes, it does," Megs said slowly. "But why is her carriage still outside?"
The door to the second carriage popped open as if in answer.
"Margaret!" Great-Aunt Elvina's worried face was topped by a cloud of soft gray curls intertwined with pink ribbons. Her voice was overly loud, booming off the stone buildings. Great-Aunt Elvina was rather deaf. "Margaret, the wretched butler won't let us in. We've been sitting in the courtyard for ages, and Her Grace has become quite restless."
A muffled yelp from inside the carriage emphasized the statement.
Megs turned to her husband's house. No light betrayed human habitation, but obviously someone was at home if a butler had earlier answered Great-Aunt Elvina's summons. She marched up to the door and lifted the great iron ring that served as knocker, letting it fall with a sharp bang.
Then she stepped back and looked up. The building was a hodgepodge of historical styles. The first two floors were of ancient red brick—perhaps the original building. But then some later owner had added another three stories in a paler, beige brick. Chimneys and gables sprouted here and there over the roofline, romping without any seeming pattern. On either side, low, dark wings framed the end of the street, making a de facto courtyard.
"You did write to tell Godric you were coming," Sarah murmured.
Megs bit her lip. "Ah…"
A light appearing at a narrow window immediately to the right saved her from having to admit that she hadn't notified her husband of their trip. The door opened with an ominous creaking.
A lone servant stood in the doorway, stoop-shouldered, his head topped by a flaking white wig, a single candlestick in one hand.
The man drew a slow, rattling breath. "Mr. St. John is not rec—"
"Oh, thank you," Megs said as she walked straight at the butler.
For a moment she feared the man wouldn't move. His rheumy eyes widened and then he shifted just enough so that she could glide by.
She pivoted once inside and began removing her gloves. "I am Lady Margaret St. John, Mr. St. John's wife."
The butler's shaggy eyebrows snapped down. "Wife—"
"Yes." She bestowed a smile on him and for a moment he merely goggled. "And you are…?"
He straightened and she realized his posture had made him look older than he really was. The man couldn't be past his midthirties. "Moulder, m'lady. The butler."
"Splendid!" Megs handed him her gloves as she glanced about the hallway. Not impressive. There appeared to be a veritable village of spiders living in the beamed ceiling. She spotted a candelabra on a table nearby and, taking the candle from Moulder, began lighting it. "Now, Moulder, I have my dear great-aunt waiting in the carriage outside—you may call her Miss Howard—as well as Miss St. John here, Mr. St. John's eldest little sister… if that makes any sense at all."
Sarah grinned cheerfully as she deposited her own gloves in the bemused butler's hands. "I haven't been to London in several years. You must be new."
Moulder's mouth opened. "I—"
"We also have our three lady's maids," Megs continued, handing the candle back to the butler as he snapped his mouth shut, "four footmen between ours and my great-aunt's, and the two coachmen. Great-Aunt Elvina would insist on her own carriage, although I have to admit I'm not sure how we'd have all fit in only one carriage anyway."
"It would never have worked," Sarah said. "And your aunt snores."
Megs shrugged. "True." She turned back to the butler. "Naturally we brought Higgins the gardener and Charlie the bootblack boy because he is such a dear and because he's Higgins's nephew and rather attached to him. Oh, and Her Grace, who is in a delicate condition and appears to take only chicken livers well minced and simmered in white wine these days. Now, have you got all that?"
Moulder goggled. "Ah…"
"Wonderful." Megs shot him another smile. "Where is my husband?"
Alarm seemed to break through the butler's confusion. "Mr. St. John is in the library, m'lady, but he's—"
"No, no!" Megs patted the air reassuringly. "No need to show me. I'm sure Sarah and I can find the library all by ourselves. Best you deal with my aunt's needs and see to the servants' supper—and Her Grace's. It was such a very long journey, you know."
She picked up the lit candelabra and marched up the stairs.
Sarah trotted up beside her, chuckling under her breath. "Luckily you've started in the right direction, at least. The library, if I remember correctly, is on the first floor, second door on the left."
"Oh, good," Megs muttered. Having once screwed her courage to this point, it would be fatal to back down now. "I'm sure you're looking forward to seeing your brother again just as much as I."
"Naturally," Sarah murmured. "But I won't be so gauche as to ruin your reunion with Godric."
Megs stopped on the first-floor landing. "What?"
"Tomorrow morning is soon enough to see my brother." Sarah smiled gently from three steps below. "I'll go help with Great-Aunt Elvina."
Megs's feeble protest was made to the empty air. Sarah had already scampered lightly down the stairs.
Right. Library. Second door on the left.
Megs took a deep breath and turned to face the gloomy hallway. It'd been two years since she'd last seen her husband, but she remembered him—from the little she'd seen of him before their marriage—as a nice enough gentleman. Certainly not ogrelike, anyway. His brown eyes had been quite kind at their wedding ceremony. Megs squinted doubtfully as she marched down the corridor. Or were his eyes blue? Well, whatever color they'd been, his eyes had been kind.
Surely that much couldn't have changed in two years?
Megs grasped the doorknob to the library and quickly opened it before any last-minute second thoughts could dissuade her.
After all that, the library was something of an anticlimax.
Dim and cramped like the corridor, the room's only light came from the embers of a dying fire and a single candle by an old, overstuffed armchair. She tiptoed closer. The occupant of the ancient armchair looked…
He wore a burgundy banyan frayed pink at the hem and elbows. His stockinged feet, lodged in disreputable slippers, were crossed on a tufted footstool so close to the fireplace that the fabric nearest the hearth bore traces of earlier singeing. His head lolled against his shoulder, casually covered by a soft, dark green turban with a rather rakish gilt tassel hanging over his left eye. Half-moon spectacles were perched perilously on his forehead, and if it weren't for the deep snores issuing from between his lips, she might've thought Godric St. John had died.
Of old age.
Megs blinked and straightened. Surely her husband couldn't be that old. She had a vague notion that he was a bit older than her brother Griffin, who had arranged their marriage and who was himself three and thirty, but try as she might, she couldn't remember her husband's actual age being mentioned.
It had been the darkest hour of her existence, and, perhaps thankfully, much of it was obscured in her mind.
Megs peered anxiously down at the sleeping man. He was slack-jawed and snoring, but his eyelashes lay thick and black against his cheeks. She stared for a moment, oddly caught by the sight.
Her lips firmed. Many men married late in life and were still able to perform. The Duke of Frye had managed just last year and he was well past seventy. Surely Godric, then, could do the deed.
Thus cheered, Megs cleared her throat. Gently, of course, for he was the main reason she'd come all the way to London, and it wouldn't do to startle her husband into an apoplectic fit before he'd done his duty.
Which was, of course, to make her pregnant.
GODRIC ST. JOHN turned his snore into a snort as he pretended to wake. He opened his eyes to find his wife staring at him with a frown between her delicate brows. At their wedding, she'd been drawn and vague, her eyes never quite meeting his, even when she'd pledged herself to him until death do they part. Only hours after the ceremony, she'd taken ill at their wedding breakfast and been whisked away to the comfort of her mother and sister. A letter the next day had informed him that she'd miscarried the child that had made the hasty wedding necessary.
- "Lord of Darkness...illuminates Hoyt's boundless imagination... readers will adore this story."—RT Book Reviews
- "Hoyt's writing is imbued with great depth of emotion ...Heartbreaking ... an edgy tension-filled plot."—Publishers Weekly
- "I adore the Maiden Lane series, and this fifth book is a very welcome addition to the series . . . [It's] sexy and sweet all at the same time . . . This can be read as a standalone, but I adore each book in this series and encourage you to start from the beginning."—USA Today's Happy Ever After Blog
- "Lord of Darkness is classic Elizabeth Hoyt, meaning it's unique, engaging, and leaves readers on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next book . . . an incredible addition to the fantastic Maiden Lane series. I Joyfully Recommend Godric and Megs's tale, for it's an amazing, well-crafted story with an intriguing plot and a lovely, touching romance that I want to enjoy again and again and again . . . simply enchanting!"—JoyfullyReviewed.com
- "Beautifully written . . . a truly fine piece of storytelling and a novel that deserves to be read and enjoyed."—TheBookBinge.com
- On Sale
- Feb 26, 2013
- Hachette Audio