Home > Firelight (Darkest London #1)(8)

Firelight (Darkest London #1)(8)
Author: Kristen Callihan

“And if I say no? What will you do? Is there another girl you might ask?” She shouldn’t care really, but her basic curiosity could not be quelled.

He flinched, a tiny movement, but on him it seemed as obvious as if he’d been struck by a blow.

“No. It has to be you.” He sucked in a sharp breath and straightened like a soldier. “To speak plainly, there is no other option left to me. As to what will I do should you say no, I will continue to live alone. In short, I need you. Your help, that is. Should you grant it, Miss Ellis, you shall want for nothing.”

The man in the black mask seemed to stand alone, apart from everything. Miranda knew loneliness when she saw it. Her mind drifted over another memory, one hard repressed. One of herself standing in the very same corner of the vestry, watching as Martin cut their engagement and walked away. And it had hurt. God, it had hurt. So much so that the idea of doing it to another made her queasy.

Lord Archer had shown his weakness, given her a chance to cut their agreement. He’d given her power over him. The man was clearly intelligent enough to have done so with purpose. A chance at equality was unexpected.

Still, none of that might have mattered. Foolish was the woman who gave away her freedom out of sympathy. No, it was not sympathy or the hope of power that prompted a decision; she felt something when in the presence of this strange man, a tingling thrill that played over her belly, the sense of rapid forward motion though her body stood still. It was a feeling long dormant, one gleaned from taking a sword in hand, swaggering through dark alleys when all proper girls were in their beds. It was adventure. Lord Archer, with his black countenance and rich voice, offered a sense of adventure, a dare. She could do nothing short of picking up that gauntlet, or regret it for the rest of her days. Perhaps, then, she could help them both. The idea of helping rather than destroying filled her with a certain lightness of heart.

Miranda collected the blasted train that threatened to trip her and straightened. “We have kept my father and sisters waiting long enough, Lord Archer.” She paused at the door to wait for him. “Shall we go?”



Chapter Three



It had been a brief ceremony, without sentiment. A few words spoken, and Miranda Rose Ellis had disappeared. She glanced down at her wedding ring, a glowing round moonstone held aloft by a thin gold band. Now, as Lady Miranda Archer, she rode in an elegant town coach opposite her new husband. A cantankerous grumble of thunder sounded overhead and, with it, a flash of blue light. Lord Archer’s black mask gleamed for an instant, the high curves of its cheekbones and the rounded eye sockets highlighted in the dim. Miranda’s heart missed a beat.

Silver streaks of rain slid down the window, obscuring the view as they crossed a small gully. She leaned closer only to have the window fog over from the warmth of her breath. She wiped it away, heedless of marring her kid gloves, and was rewarded with the sight of her new home as they turned up the long drive.

Rising up four stories, it broke from the gentle crest of land like the crags of a mountaintop. Lightning flashed above the rain-slicked slate roof, bringing the sharp gables and multiple chimneys into fine relief against the rolling sky.

Her palm flattened against the icy window. The Gothic-styled house was almost as wide as it was high. It dominated the land, lording like a great hulking beast. Large bow windows gleamed like pale jewels in a crown, but showed nothing of light or life within. Only a small lonely little light over the front portico guided the way home.

The coach shuddered to a halt, and the steady drum of the rain upon the roof abated. Lord Archer stepped swiftly from the cab and promptly took hold of her elbow. She bit the inside of her cheek and stood straight as she climbed the cold marble steps. I shall not cry.

Wind howled across the portico, and the brass lantern hanging high above swayed. Behind them, the four blacks stood placidly, rain dripping from their shaggy manes, steam escaping in bursts from their nostrils as they waited for the outrider to take down Miranda’s traveling valise.

A not-so-gentle squeeze upon Miranda’s arm made her turn around. No, she could not run to the safety of the coach. Enormous black double doors loomed high before opening to reveal the figure of an elderly man outlined in pale lamplight. More gloom.

They walked through the doors and into… light. And warmth. A large hall opened up before them, the sight making her falter. Easily the width and breadth of her old home, the hallway was filled, not with cobwebs and dank wood as she had imagined, but light and beauty. White-and-black marble floors laid out in a checkerboard design shined beneath her heels. The woodwork was painted crisp white, and the walls covered in black lacquer. Such a color ought to have made it very dark but the walls gleamed like jet under the light of crystal sconces and an elegant chandelier of cut crystal and golden filigree. Russian, she thought, looking up at it; nothing that beautifully crafted could be anything but.

Lord Archer watched her appraisal. “You were expecting something different?”

“I… yes,” she admitted. “The house appeared so foreboding when we came up the drive.”

“We arrived during a storm.” A sudden moan of wind from the other side of the doors punctuated his statement. “Very few houses appear hospitable in such conditions, especially if they are unfamiliar.”

“That is true.”

“But you still expected something different,” he said, studying her as though she were a specimen under a microscope.

How he knew the truth, she could not comprehend. Long before the storm, her wild imaginings had pictured dark corridors, gloomy rooms, and dusty halls laced with cobwebs.

His penetrating stare did not abate. “My home is my haven. Should I not make it comfortable?”

“Of course.” Desperately, she looked to the elderly gentleman who stood as straight as a mainmast not two feet away. He’d taken Lord Archer’s coat and hat when they entered, and had done so with such quiet efficiency Miranda doubted Lord Archer had truly noticed him.

Lord Archer caught the direction of her gaze and stiffened. “Hullo, Gilroy. Didn’t see you there. You have everything prepared?”

“Good evening, my lord. Yes, my lord.”

Around a network of wrinkles, Gilroy’s kind eyes gleamed deep brown. Miranda nodded in greeting as Lord Archer took the mantle from her shoulders. “This is Lady Archer.” He handed Gilroy the mantle.

“Gilroy is our butler, majordomo, what have you,” he said to her as though the idea of titles irritated him a little.

“I am honored, my lady.” The man gave a short bow. “On behalf of the staff, we shall endeavor to serve you well.”

“I am confident you will,” she said, reaching for the same quiet dignity. The idea that she had a staff was almost enough to send her running to the carriage. Only Lord Archer would assuredly haul her back.

Lord Archer took her elbow once more and they walked down the length of the hall, past artworks of pastoral scenes and portraits of bewigged ladies and gentlemen.

“Do you have a valet?” Miranda asked, turning back toward Lord Archer as they moved past a small front parlor done up in lemon yellow and white with delicate Grecian style furnishings.

“No. I am a grown man, well capable of dressing and shaving myself. Gilroy takes care of incidentals.” He waved his hand in distraction.

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