Heiress for Hire (Duke's Heiress #1) - Madeline Hunter

Chapter One

Did you kill him?

The voice spoke in his head vaguely, as if traveling through distance and fog. Not as the voice of his conscience, the way he so often heard the question. A different voice now. A female one.

I doubt it. Help me here.

He looks dead to me.

I promise that he isn’t dead. Now, take this and hold it while I . . .

A bit clearer now. Closer. So close it made his head bang with pain. Each word created a hammer blow. The more words, the more blows, and the closer they sounded.

I should call Jeremy to come here.

We do not need Jeremy. See?

Bam. Bam.

Bad enough already, without that.

We are not the ones at fault here. Hold the lamp closer, so I can make sure it is safe. Wait, give the lamp to me . . . This is no ordinary thief, from the looks of him.

What are you doing with that?

Bam, bam, bam.

Bringing him around so I can find out who he is and why he is here.


The fog disappeared, washed away by an onslaught of liquid that forced him back to full consciousness. He tipped his tongue out to lick some drips on his lips. Not water. Wine.

He did not open his eyes right away. He spent a few moments accommodating the pain screaming on his scalp. His legs felt strange and his arms hurt. He tried to move both and could not. He realized they were both tied behind him, and together, bowing his body. Someone had trussed him like a sheep, only backward.

He opened his eyes to see the end of a pistol mere inches from his head. His gaze traveled up the arm that held it, until he looked into the furious dark eyes of a very handsome dark-haired woman. She held the pistol like she knew how to use it. Her bright gaze said she hoped he gave her a good reason to.

Hell. Tonight was not progressing at all the way he had planned.

* * *

“He looks to be coming to,” Beth said. She raised the bed warmer as if to give another blow.

“Put it down. He is tied and I have my pistol.”

“He looks big. The ropes may not hold him. He may overpower you. I should be ready just in case.”

“He will not attack me.” He had indeed come to. His long lashes moved. After a moment he strained against the bonds. Minerva waited for him to accommodate his situation.

His garments appeared very high quality. Blood now stained a cravat once pristine and crisp. His face might be called handsome if not for the strong bones that made the angles more severe than now fashionable. Something about him made her inner sense send out warnings that prickled her spine. He appeared to be a wealthy gentleman and . . . official. Whatever his reason for entering this house, it had not been to steal a few shillings.

Various reactions assaulted her while she trained her pistol on his harshly handsome face. Fear. Vulnerability. She experienced a surge of the unsettled spirit that had plagued her for over a year once, and that she thought she had banished forever.

Finally those lashes rose. Sapphire eyes focused on her pistol, then his gaze moved up until he looked right into her eyes. He again strained at the ties that bound him.

“Minerva Hepplewhite, I presume? My name is Chase Radnor. I apologize for the lack of a proper introduction.”

Beth sucked in her breath. “Odd for a thief to be so particular about etiquette and such.”

Except he was not a thief, was he?

“You can untie me,” Radnor said. “I never take chances with pistols, and I am not a danger in any case.”

“You are an intruder. I intend to leave you like that while I swear down information against you,” Minerva said.

“If you do it will come to naught and will only delay my mission. Now, untie me. I have something important to tell you that will explain why I am here.”

She hated how that provoked her curiosity, and also her trepidation. He might tell her that the investigation into Algernon’s death had been revived. Then again, he might reveal that at long last the poacher involved in that accident had been found. Or he might tell her that he had come to take her to gaol.

She collected herself. It was foolish to build monsters out of this stranger’s presence. There had been nothing to indicate he knew about her former identity and life.

“Explain yourself first.” She