Wicked Liaison - Meara Platt

Chapter 1

Devonshire, England

July 1818

Hen’s teeth.

“This can’t be happening,” Gideon Croft muttered, promising himself this would be his last mission for the Crown. When it was over, he intended to retire to a sedentary life in a quiet seaside village in the south of England. Indeed, it was a promise he desperately wished to keep, but not because he was particularly keen to retire.

He’d made himself this promise because he wanted to live.

However, this outcome appeared less and less likely as the day wore on.

A rifle shot had torn through his side over an hour ago and was going to kill him unless the wound was soon treated. The flow of blood had to be stanched or there would be no rescue for him. He’d done his best to stop the bleeding, pressing his hand to the gaping flesh, but he was weakening and could not hold out much longer.

He was going to die and he was angry about it.

Worse, he was going to die alone and undiscovered because no one knew he’d crawled into this abandoned smugglers cave. No one would find him as he lay on his back in a crimson pool of his own blood, soaked to the teeth and shivering with cold upon the slimy, moss covered rocks.

The cave would soon flood with the rising tide, perhaps washing his body out to sea.

He had to get out of here, but even the slightest movement sent jolts of pain through his body and shooting straight into his temples. His head was still pounding, so it took him a moment to realize these new sounds he was hearing were voices in the distance.

Or was his mind playing tricks on him?

As the voices drew nearer, he realized others were making their way into the cave. Had the villains who attacked him now come to finish him off? Escaping them would be impossible. He was weak, barely able to lift his rifle. The weapon was wet and useless to him anyway. So was his gunpowder, wet and useless. He could strike the flint a thousand times and never create a spark.

He tossed the rifle aside and reached for the only other weapon at hand, his knife. He knew how to use it and meant to take down as many of those villains as he could before they finished him off.

As the voices grew louder, he slipped the blade from the sheathe within the lip of his boot and held it hidden at his side.

“Throck, I see him,” a surprisingly sweet, feminine voice called out, raising a lantern to light the cave. “Oh, thank goodness. He just moved. He’s still alive.”

Having no care for her own safety, the young woman set the lantern on a hook on the wall - perhaps a remnant of old when the cave was in active use - and knelt by Gideon’s side. “He’s badly hurt, Throck. Let’s take him to the house. We’d best tend him there, but let’s use the secret passageway. No one can know we’ve found him. They’ll kill him for certain.”

She caressed Gideon’s cheek. “Sir, are you awake?”

Had the man knelt first, Gideon would have stabbed him in the neck. A swift, clean kill. But the woman? There was such gentleness in her voice, he could not bring himself to harm her. “Who are you?” he managed to croak, easing his grip on the knife and trying to sit up.

“Don’t move, you’ll make the bleeding worse. Throck will carry you. You’re safe now. We won’t hurt you. Please put your knife away.”

She must have noticed the silvery glint of the blade.

When he hesitated, she placed her hand lightly on his, but did not try to take his weapon. “You may keep it. Just put it back in your boot. Or would you like me to do it?”

“I’ll do it. What’s your name?”

She glanced at the giant of a man she’d called Throck. He was as tall as an oak tree and had the muscular frame of an ox. Gideon was a big man, but he looked like a puny child next to this giant.

“My name is not important,” she said, now nibbling her lip as though fretting. “What is yours?”

Gideon was surprised by her retort. Where was the harm in knowing her name? “What a coincidence, mine is not important either.”

“I see.”

He couldn’t help but grin in response to her renewed fretting. “We’ll save the formal introductions for later,” he suggested, hoping to survive long enough to learn her identity.

She motioned to Throck