A Study In Seduction - By Nina Rowan

Chapter One


March 1854

Every square matrix is a root of its own characteristic polynomial.

Lydia Kellaway clutched the notebook to her chest as the cab rattled away, the clatter of horses’ hooves echoing against the fortress of impressive town houses lining Mount Street. Gaslights burned through the midnight dark, casting puddles of light onto the cobblestones.

Lydia took a breath, anxiety and fear twisting through her. She looked up at town house number twelve, the dark façade perforated with light-filled windows. A man stood silhouetted behind one window on the first floor, his form straight, tall, and so still that he appeared fixed in that moment.

Beneath the glow of a streetlamp, Lydia opened her notebook and leafed through pages scribbled with notes, equations, and diagrams.

She’d written his name at the top of a blank page, then followed it with a numbered list of points, all related to the gossip and suppositions surrounding his family.

As she reviewed her notes, the back of her neck prickled with the strange feeling that she was being watched. She snapped the notebook closed and shook her head. Chiding herself for being unnerved by the shadows, she climbed the steps.

She reached for the bell just as the door flew open. A woman dressed in a vivid green silk gown stormed out, nearly colliding with Lydia on the front step.

“Oh!” The woman reeled backward, her eyes widening. In the sudden light spilling out from the foyer, Lydia saw that her eyes were red and swollen, her face streaked with tears.

Lydia stammered, “I’m… I’m sorry, I—”

The woman shook her head, her lips pressing together as she pushed past Lydia and hurried down the steps.

A curse echoed through the open door as a dark-haired man strode across the foyer, tension shimmering around him. “Talia!”

He didn’t cast Lydia a glance as he followed the woman down the steps. “Blast it, Talia, wait for the carriage!”

The woman turned her head to glare at the man and tossed a retort over her shoulder. Lydia couldn’t discern the words, but the cutting tone was enough to make her pursuer stop in his tracks. He cursed again, then went back to the house and shouted for the footman. Within seconds, the servant raced down the street after the woman.

“John!” The tall man turned to shout for a second servant. “Ready the carriage now and see Lady Talia home!”

He stalked up the steps and brushed past Lydia. He seemed about to slam the door in her face, but then he stopped and turned to stare at her. “Who the bloody hell are you?”

Lydia couldn’t speak past the shock.

Alexander Hall, Viscount Northwood. She knew it was him, knew in her bones that this was the man she sought, though she had not laid eyes on him before now.

Despite the hour and his anger, his clothing was precise, unwrinkled. His black trousers bore creases as sharp as a blade, and shiny gilt buttons fastened his silk waistcoat over a snowy white shirt.

His dark eyes flashed over Lydia. That look—keen, assessing, close—caused her breath to tangle in her throat.

“Well?” he demanded.

Every square matrix is a root of its own characteristic polynomial.

The locket. Jane. The locket.

“Lord Northwood?” she said.

“I asked who you are.”

His rough baritone voice settled deep in her bones. She tilted her head to meet his hooded gaze. Shadows mapped the pronounced Slavic angles of his face, the sloping cheekbones, the clean-shaven line of his jaw.

“My name is Lydia Kellaway,” she said, struggling to keep her voice steady. She glanced at the street, where the footman had stopped Lady Talia at the corner. A carriage rattled from the side of the house and approached. “Is she all right?”

“My sister is fine,” Lord Northwood snapped, “aside from being the most obstinate, frustrating creature who ever walked the earth.”

“Is that a family trait?” Lydia spoke before thinking, which was so contrary to her usual manner that her face heated with embarrassment. Not wise to insult the man from whom she needed something.

She almost heard Northwood’s teeth grind together as his jaw clenched with irritation.

He followed her gaze to where the footman and coach driver had convinced Lady Talia to enter the carriage. The footman gave Lord Northwood a wave of victory before climbing onto the bench beside the driver. The carriage rattled away.

Some of the anger seemed to drain from Northwood, which bolstered Lydia’s courage. Although she had no contingency plan for how to handle arriving in the middle of a family quarrel, she couldn’t possibly leave now.

Her spine straightened with determination as